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12.28.03 12:51 a.m.

The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival.

 -Franz Kafka  

Previously in Xenology: Jesus was born according to some, but Christmas is for Pagans and atheists. Xen and Keilaina had history.

Spoony Bard
Before I could leave Zack's concert, his mother pulled me aside and handed me a piece of green construction paper featuring an invitation.
"Zack invited you to our family's Christmas Eve party, right? It's being held right here, so you know the way."
I squinted, hoping my memory of this would flood back if my eyes were slits. "No... I don't think so."
"Yes I did! I told you at our last sleep-over right after you tried to convince us that the next Harry Potter book was Harry Potter and the Locker Room of Discovery," Zack insisted.
Spoony Bard  
Spoony bard
"Yes, he did invite me, I guess. I certainly would think that a fun sort of sport. But he didn't give me such a nice invitation, so I clearly forgot." To properly program Xen's date book function, one must look directly into his eyes and say the date and time of the event. Or ask him to write it in Flea, Xen's back-up date book function.
I brought Emily and Kei as my dates to this soiree. As Zack is either keen on The Betsy or moments away from dating her, I cannot in good conscience say Kei was his date. Therefore, she is my spare date in case Emily goes flat suddenly. Given my fear of social situations, particularly those involving the extended families of my close friends, I need all the external support I can muster.
While I was there and given that it was Christmas Eve, I decided to make good with the gift giving.
"Here guys," I said, handing Zack and Kei small packages.
Zack tore into his, revealing the tome of ancient wisdom The Zombie Survival Guide. "What... This is great. Now the undead will learn the meaning of terror!" It is possible that he did not actually say this, but it sounded so good in my head. What he said possibly sounded like, "Zombies? Bad zombies go squish now."
"Oh, I love it," happily interrupted Kei. The "it" she loved was a silver Raphael angel pendant.
"Kate once gave me one of these many a year ago and said it would watch over me. I always thought it was a good sentiment. And if it isn't, I also have your choice of monkeys," I added, pulling black and brown monkeys from my backpack, each with its own bow. One must be prepared.
Emily, Keilaina, and I felt more comfortable in our shared cocoon, despite our valiant efforts to be social butterflies. We spent most of the party, when I was not sent off to procure soda and stuffed mushrooms, singing Christmas carols to ourselves (Emily leaning toward the traditional and myself, the Nightmare Before). We found that our range increased when using translucent cutlery as monocles and nose plugs. No one seemed to take notice of us, or perhaps they were just being polite.
And that, my friends, is the true spirit of Christmas Eve.

Why, I Could Make a Christmas Tree
I awoke Christmas morning with all the gifts I could need already in my bed next to me in the form of a blonde ninja with a bum knee. This is the ideal way to wake up in general, as it makes it worth chasing away the dreams of invisible cats and girls in blue dresses.
The living room of my parents' home was teaming with presents, stretching from one wall to the other. As much as my father videotaping the opening of every present and molesting the tree to find a fragile pickle, a literal room full of presents is our family's tradition. One year, I recall them stealing and wrapping my Halloween candy in order to better accomplish this goal.
Despite taking pains to retain my ignorance of what I would be receiving, the whole situation affected me far less than in usual. I am not maintaining that I possess of affect between Stoicism and Zen, I just didn't experience the dizzying thrills that childhood belief in the Fat Man imbues. Perhaps my heart grew three sizes too small. Still, despite my emotional peaks, receiving mysterious parcels was not a bad way to spend a morning.
I knocked on my father's bedroom door at my mother's behest to remind him that his presence was humbly requested at his earliest convenience. My father was already up and getting dressed, so I just politely reminded him that Christmas was occurring soon and Dan and his brood were on their way.
Merry Christmas?  
Merry Christmas?
When Dan and the children appeared ten minutes later, I went to check on my father's progress, as he had yet to make an appearance. His room was empty and I knew with no further confirmation that he was nowhere in the house and had, indeed, fled the property in his car. I couldn't imagine where he had gone, nor why he had chosen to do this. I merely knew he was gone. Where does a lonely man go on Christmas morning to get away from his family? I cannot imagine. I knew that he, unlike Bryan, was not at the trestle. He would need something both comforting and self-destructive, so I suggested that we call the local diners.
Despite this, my mother insisted that Christmas go on as normally as possible. To my mother, Christmas is less a holiday as a biological imperative. It would take a force far stronger than my father's sudden absence to cause this morning to be derailed in the least. Our cat Starkle had escaped and, though this was clearly in her thoughts, her absence was no more pressing as my father's. Oh, both certainly would be once the wrapping paper from the last gift was torn free of its package, but not before.
We had our usually morning, though with the addition of Dan's children. They burbled and cavorted through the empty wrapping paper, which would have been adorable had not this been accompanied with them sneezing and coughing in everyone's faces and feeling the compulsion to use everything but a tissue to fail to keep their noses clean.
"Just so we are clear," said M through a faux smile while watching the bell of her pajama pants drooled upon, "we are not having children for a very long time. This is not a question. We. Are. Not."
I saw little reason to disagree.
Both Starkle and my father reappeared during Emily and my post-Christmas morning nap. Starkle refused to give up the secrets of her escape, but my father was more forthcoming. He took it as an affront that I had lent my mother my new (used) car and that she alone had been invited to watch Dan's girls unwrap gifts at his apartment.
I was shocked when my mother told me this, "Lend you my car? I never did that. My car. I gave you the keys so you could move it because I had no interest in waking up at six in the morning and going outside to do it. Moving my car isn't a privilege. It is a task one must undertake to leave the house. He's welcome to move my car if he likes, especially if I am asleep."
"Yes, and why would he want to go up to watch the girls unwrap gifts?" mused my mother. "It wasn't like I was going up there to drink beer with Dan. Dan and Becky assumed he wouldn't have been interested. Anyway, because of this, he isn't going to unwrap the gifts you and I got him because he is only unwrapping the presents of people 'who actually love him.'"
I pursed my lips, restraining a rejoinder, and returned to my room to sort my gifts into piles of who loves me the best. The piles were pretty even, though varied. Granted, I only had two gifts from Bryan and a gift card from Dan, but the piles were still pretty big.
The next morning, my mother was sobbing because another of our cat Kizmet, clearly loved better by her, had gone missing. Though she did not overtly say it, she blamed the cat's disappearance on my father as she did with Starkle. (Later, we discovered that it was wholly Bryan's doing. He had, despite it being December, left his window open. Small furry animals, when trapped in his room, will escape in any way they can and an exit to the winter world was better than remaining trapped.)
Added to this, my father had again focused his discontent toward the tangible manifestation of my mother's Christmas spirit, O Tannenbaum. He grumbled in the presence of the tree and threatened to expel it, fully decorated, forcibly from the house through the nearest window. I still wasn't done sorting my presents into shapes and colors of love, so I ignored this. I saw no good coming of asking my father to not hate the tree.
Merry Christmas!  
Merry Christmas!
I do understand that the holiday season is a fecund breeding ground for resentment and depression. I also fully understand that my family is not the most supportive group at all times and can easily get wrapped up in the daily dramas of our own lives. However, no one was slighting my father in the least. We wouldn't. Strange and conflicted though we may be, we have a fierce loyalty to one another. (Shh! I am happier to believe this.) I for one was sad that he had missed Christmas morning with us, as his videotaping and color commentary are as much tradition as eggnog and a great deal less unctuous.
He later explained to me, after he unwrapped the glass chess set I bought for him, that he had just felt unappreciated by the family. Specifically my mother, but I didn't see this as anything particularly revelatory or new. He had, I sensed, hoped that some physical or emotional object would block his departing. "If your mother parked behind me or Dan arrived a little sooner. Or if you came in and talked to me when you saw me sitting on my bed."
"I didn't think anything of it. I thought you were getting dressed for Christmas morning and was giving you privacy... Though you were putting on shoes and that wouldn't make much sense..." I didn't know what else to really say to him. Aside from Bryan's occasional quasi-Oedipal conflict/post-adolescent rants that he can't stand my father - whom he is, of course, a great deal like - I do not believe that my father should feel less than supported and loved by his children. He unloads his personal problems on me frequently and has a good drinking buddy in Dan. Even Bryan talks technology and attends computer shows with him.
I would like to chalk this up to the season. I would like for this to be copasetic, for my father to be happy and loved. I never want to have to worry about how my father is spending Christmas morning.

We were crowded around the island in Emily's kitchen, preparing a feast of pasta shapes and red sauce when Keilaina self-deprecated that she might not be a good kisser.
"You are a good kisser Kei, judging from that one time," I assured her.
Oh no!  
"I kissed Xen?!"
"What do you mean? You mean when I accidentally kissed you on the lips a few weeks ago?" It was a slip where we both went for opposite cheeks and missed in the middle.
"No... I meant when you intentionally kissed me a few years ago. I believe we were on your sofa and the Yankees were playing?"
"Oh, yeah. Andy Pettit is the sexy."
"But I see I'm not, given how forgettable I was," I pouted.
"No, it's not like that. I just don't think of you as having a gender."
"So I'm a eunuch to you?"
"Yeah! I mean, no."
"Wait," interrupted M, "when you say 'kiss,' do you mean kiss."
"Yes. A kiss. With tongue. Then again, I am smooth like a Ken doll betwixt the legs, so what do I know of your human kisses?"
M bit her lip. "I'm not sure how I feel about this."
"It was right after the Kate break up, thus ancient history. I can think of a lot worse rebound crushes one could have," I defended.
Kei took her turn to interrupt, "When you say 'right after,' what sort of a timeframe are we talking?"
"A matter of days. Less than a week. Why?"
Suddenly offended, she exclaimed, "I thought it was like a month!"
"Huh. I really thought I had made it clear at the time that I was just getting out of a relationship."
"Well, you did talk about her a lot..." mused Kei.
"Don't let that fool you, he did the same with me."
"In my meager defense, Kate had recently gone on dates with me when I met you, M. Though I am sure glad I am a eunuch right now or you two might kick me. On that thought, I think the pasta is done."
Over our hearty meal, Keilaina came to speculate on Zack's mysterious nine partners.
"Give me a napkin, we'll figure this out," I suggested. "We know about Cat, Veronica, and Patti, because he dated them."
"Wait," interjected M, "didn't he cheat on Veronica and Patti?"
"He did indeed. With one another though, so that doesn't increase the tally. There was that obnoxious blonde one... Corky or Cori?"
"Cody," said M.
Oh bother.  
Think... think... think...
"Right. And Pursia."
"He slept with Pursia? Like, Pursia from Sweeney Todd Pursia?"
"That would be the Pursia."
No sooner had she heard this last bit than she quickly began to groan. "Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Emily (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).
"What about the Betsy?" asked Kei.
"Oh no. The Betsy is a virgin," I explained. "The Betsy is staying a virgin. Zack may be able to charm the strings off a guitar, but he cannot charm the pants off The Betsy. At least not in that sense."
"So, we have about three girls totally unaccounted for," I mused.
I'm in love with a eunuch.  
I'm not a bad kisser
This precipitated all of us making lists of people with whom we've had sex (very short lists) and kissed. Keilaina has kissed twice as many people as I have kissed and three times as many as Emily. It's like a word problem for serial kissers.
"Hey, you have me marked down as being a good kisser!" I grinned. "I thought you couldn't remember kissing me?"
"I suddenly remembered."
"It was hot, wasn't it?" I laughed.
"Hey!" exclaimed M, "I am sitting right here!"
"It was pretty good," admitted Kei, "for a eunuch."

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

last watched: UFO File
reading: Giovanni's Room
listening: Aimee Mann
wanting: To see Conor.
interesting thought: For a eunuch, I am sexy.
moment of zen: trying to make my father feel loved.
someday I must: have a place to put a working, gold plated replica of Leonardo's plane.

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.

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