Skip to content

12.20.03 12:26 a.m.

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.

 -Friedrich Nietzsche  

Previously in Xenology: A long time a go, in a galaxy far, far away, Jen left Xen for Nick. In a slightly closer space-time, Zack played his guitar.

I walked into mart during my lunch break from the library. (I have decided that, given that it sells the overpriced "art" of people in Beacon, it likely is only to be written in lower case in order to challenge one's perception of upper case letters and proper grammar. Also to be pretentious.)
While visiting Zack at the house he was watching for a friend, I had noted a stiff plastic bag from mart and asked what they sold.
"Art, or things that could be considered art."
"Oh," I noted absently, far more interested in the other store he had mentioned earlier that sold foreign, handmade toys.
"Jen works there on Saturdays," he added off my disinterest.
"Oh?" Jen? My Jen... well, the Jen that I once thought mine. But Jen nonetheless.
Incidentally, the house Zack was watching had once been proffered up to rental for Emily, Zack, and me from his friend. It was small and cozy, with creaking wooden floors. The moment I was informed, this tiny place was superimposed by a reality that might have been. (It would not, actually, have been as the woman was only going to allow us to rent it when she started her bed and breakfast and this deal fell through to her immense disappointment.)
"Zack, would you show me around?" I importuned. Aside from the living room and its creaky floors were several bedrooms.
"This," he said of a large room on the bottom floor, "probably would have been mine if we rented this place." It was be no means spare, but seemed empty. I think, as it often my flaw, that I personified the house as an extension of Zack's friend. From what I could piece together, she had recently lost the companionship of her fiancÚ of several years. Two enthusiastic dogs and a surly cat with a stiffly bent tail now occupied the house, aside from the woman.
He then guided us up a narrow stairwell to the woman's bedroom. It was painted the color of a broken but mending heart, which is roughly a deep red. The room seemed to be grafted from the pages of an upscale catalog.
Trying to break to M how nice the room was
"This is gorgeous, Zack. I want it."
"...And this would have been Emily and your room if we moved in."
"Is it too late?"
"My friend does still live here."
"I know that. She can have the rest of the house. I'll just live here."
The entire night was rushing through my head as I approached mart. I made my entrance as innocuously and neutrally as possible. I do not know the extent to which Jen is aware of my existence of late. Perhaps Zack mentioned me to her in much the same way he happened to tell me where and when she worked.
I browsed absently for a few seconds before faking slight surprise that Jen was running the shop. She looked older certainly, but this is to be expected. She was warm and familiar for my eyes and I smiled at her in turn.
"Hey Jen," I said calmly.
"I'm looking for a Christmas gift for Zack. An additional gift, I mean. I felt cheap. But I'm not sure this is the right place for it." This was the cover story I made up the moment I saw her to compensate for the fact that I wanted very little being sold. The shelves contained photographs and paintings, some priced higher than my car payments. In the center of this shop was a case full of "artistic" jewelry, which is to say that it was both charming and amateurish. Were I a nouveau riche girl, this would be all I would wear. Perhaps a shirt too, but not very much of one.
"Yeah, everything is overpriced. You could get him one of those little bowls?" she offered.
The bowls easily fit in the palm of one's hand and were glazed the colors of a box of elementary school crayons. "I'm not quite sure what one would do with these. Plus, fragile."
"He could store drugs in them. Everybody needs a small bowl for drugs."
"Zack is not much for the drugs. Drugs require money and an inclination to do them... But thanks anyway. What have you been up to?" I assumed enough ice had been broken successfully and pleasantly that I could make an attempt at my actual goal.
"I just graduated with a degree in graphic design, which means I am qualified to work here. I used to work in an erotic bakery."
"You did what?"
"Yup, boob cakes. Penis chocolates. I did it all. What's funny is when I told my mom. She was like, 'oh, you got a job at a bakery? That's great.' Then I explained, 'mom, it's an erotic bakery.' She had to put the phone down because she was laughing so hard. In about five minutes, she had called all of my family and told them."
"Rightly so."
"That's not the kind of thing you keep to yourself... I also worked at VH1 for a while. Well, I interned for free, then they hired me back for a little while. They thought the erotic bakery thing was great too. I used to bring them little chocolates."
"Damn, you are the coolness, Jen."
"My old boss at the erotic bakery clearly thinks so, because she keeps calling me up asking for me to work for her again. I told her 'I live in New York now' but she keeps insisting that she can get me an apartment."
"See, I find it comforting that a degree in graphic design can earn one the adulation of porno bakers... Hey, if you aren't doing anything, Zack is having a show tonight at the Howland Center. You should come." If you could not tell, my saying this made me feel intensely brave, especially as I could manage it with no hint of a quaver.
"No, sorry. I have to meet some friends in Philly tonight." I nodded, slightly disappointed. "But maybe some other time?"
"Yeah, definitely. Oh, and I will take... um... this." I said, handing her a box containing a fimo clay heart. I still needed to make some purchase to validate my pretense and felt this would please Emily.
"Quite the gift for Zack."
"It not for Za... Yes, it is quite the gift."
When I returned to my home, still grinning that I had managed such a pleasant interaction with Jen, my father was in a sour mood and was threatening to throw the Christmas tree out if it wasn't decorated. This was obviously an idle threat; my mother's allergies were under control and thus the tree was real for the first time in a handful of years. Had I been a small child, still wholly credulous, I might have felt a quake of panic at his words. As it stood, I cocked an eyebrow and went back to reading my book on people living in subway tunnels. It was not as though I did not have every intention to trim the tree with all due festive spirit. Rather, it seemed like a good way to spend a night, merely not this night. Ideally, Emily and Keilaina would be involved and there would be soy nog (as repugnant as that does sound). I saw little reason to treat it as a chore.
A Strumma strum strum  
Zack and his guitar
When I arrived at Zack's show bereft of the requisite new, unwrapped toy for a needy child, a man was already crooning on the small stage. The room contained a smattering of people; no more than ten and I seemed to be the only one under thirty. I sat quietly in the middle of a row and wondered it is would be impolite to play with Flea until Zack's set. The man on stage, Naked Albert, was quite good though he made odd emotive faces for each syllable as though the music were simultaneously fellating and sodomizing him.
"This guy is so full of himself," said a warm voice behind me.
"Is that what he's full of, Zack? It looks uncomfortable."
"I do not want to go on after this. How can I match what he's doing?"
"Carefully?" I guessed.
Luckily, a woman set to perform after Zack decided it was imperative that she sing immediately. I had seen said woman lingering around the library sporadically and thought little of her. She was middle-aged and frumpy, existing well below my memory radar.
"This is excellent! Now everything will be fine."
"Wait... how so?"
How so became readily apparent as this woman broke into a song she "wrote." It was The Little Drummer Boy. However, instead of pa-rum-pum-pum-pumming, she sang "a-strumma-strum-strum." Wherever the word drum appeared in the original, she changed it to guitar, adding too many feet to lines and ruining the rhyme scheme. Therefore, she wrote it.
"You are right, Zack. There is no way you will be remembered as the least talented artist here. She has served you well."
"And for this, I love her."
There was little chance that Zack would be remembered as a bad artist anyway, as only five people (counting Naked Albert, his girlfriend, and his mother) remained in the room. I suppose we cannot fault them.
Zack got on stage and strumma-strum-strummed his way through a Leonard Cohen song. I bounced in my chair happily and held an invisible lighter aloft. There was no reason, in my mind, to be less supportive just because I lacked fire. He was unfortunately unable to remember a word of his own song, through stage-fight or intimidation, so he said as much and walked off.
"I thought you did very well," I assured.
"I forgot the words to my own song," he sighed dejectedly.
"Yes, but it was in a very stylish way that made me confident that I would very much like the song should I ever hear it."

Soon in Xenology: Sleepovers. Recovery. Christmas. New Years.

last watched: UFO File
reading: Giovanni's Room
listening: Aimee Mann
wanting: Hibachi sushi.
interesting thought: I spoke to Jen.
moment of zen: assuring Zack he was good enough.
someday I must: Talk to Jen again.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

eXTReMe Tracker