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06.28.04 10:54 p.m.

I cannot tell and I shall never know how many words of mine might have given birth to cruelty in place of love and kindness and charity.  

-Clarence Darrow


Previously in Xenology: Xen was fired and sought a new job.

Bird in the Hand
Emily nudged me away at six in the morning. Six in the morning is one of my greatest nemeses. He taunts me with dawn and screeching birdsongs. He often disables my greatest weapon against him, the powerful sensory deprivation bandana and earplug combo.
She went out to walk her dog Quest, while I prepared myself for the car trip ahead of us. It would be nine plus hours in my little Saturn so we could get to Maine for Emily sister's wedding. Bear in mind, it was Thursday and the wedding was occurring Sunday. We could be, at the very least, unfashionably early.
I got a glass of water and gulped it down, my stomach still asleep and disinclined to view anything else as a necessary nutrient. Six AM tried to seduce me to the Light Side by glittering sunrise through the bottom of my glass, but I was wise on his tricks. Dawn vistas are powerless against sleep-deprived apathy.
I put my glass down, only stopping to watch the sunrise for six or seven minutes, and noticed a bird flying around the house. I don't usually hallucinate birds. Ordinarily, it is just people calling my name or black hydrocephalic creatures standing quizzically against street signs. It wasn't even a particularly exotic hallucinatory bird, just a little brown chickadee. Surely my psyche can do better than that, especially given that it kept bashing itself into the windows. Product of my mind should have more sense than that.
As it flew by me and hit into a window, I snapped it up in one hand and scrutinized it. It seemed too calm for a wild bird, but it did not look like any of the birds Emily's parents kept in cages. They were all washed out greens and oranges. I took the chickadee over to the cages and introduced it to the other birds.
"Homunculus, it this bird a friend of yours? Alistair? Leander? Napoleon?" I asked the more foreign caged birds. Homunculus gave no notice of the chickadee nor the chickadee of Homunculus. I petted the chickadee with my thumb. "You are still way too calm about this whole situation, bird. We are taking you to see Emily."
I walked out to the end of the driveway and waited for Emily to turn the corner with her greyhound, which she did after a moment.
"Do you know this bird?" I thrust it toward Emily accusatorily, like it was proof she'd been having an affair with Dr. Doolittle.
"It is a chickadee," she answered simply.
"I know that, but you don't know him on a personal basis, right?"
"Nope, he's just a bird."
I stared the bird in its glossy black eye. "So why are you so calm?"
Emily answered for the bird. "He's in shock."
This had not occurred to me. Birds, in my limited experience, were the vicious beaked descendants of dinosaurs who would rather bite through your hand than let you pet them. I was chagrinned to have so long detained a wild, if obviously stupid, bird and opened my hand. He pecked at it experimentally and then flew onto the ground, where he bit a piece of grass.
"Quite the way to start a day," Emily reflected.


The mania has left for now
Hours later, our legs cramped and nearly vestigial and our arteries full of fast food fat, we arrived in Maine, though unfortunately we had miles to go before we slept. Coincidentally and despite the stimulating effects of a Breakfast of Champions audio book, we had both become blitheringly insane. "Around Augusta, I slowly stated to lose my mind," Emily happily informed me while chewing on the edge of our directions.
"Vasselboro," I answered, as it had become every third word for us since the passed through the aforementioned town. "The worst part is, we don't know Einstein's last words," I said, even I not knowing from where.
"They were German," Emily helpfully reminded.
"Yes, and his nurse was not, which is fine. However, she couldn't just remember how they sounded? Poppycock! Balderdash! Haberdashery! Did that sign just say we're in Waldo?"
"We found Waldo!" Emily chirruped.
"Not only that, we entered him. Sensually. Like a lover would."

"Did you see that sign?" I exclaimed from what I am sure Emily thought was a deep sleep.
"YARd SALES!" retorted M, as that is precisely how the sign had phrased its message, little d and all.
"The scurvy dogs be sellin' 'yarr!' 'Yarr' be free for the takin' by all pirates. That's not grammatically correct anyway. It could be singular."
Emily looked at me, flabbergasted. "Many pirates still say yarr. They don't say 'yarrs.'"
"Not the yarr, the sales. They are only having one..." Having an odd moment of lucidity, I added, "Next time Lauren gets married, she should do it closer."

Once we had settled into a guest house belonging to the groom's parents' friends, had fallen unconscious for several joyful hours and awoke to realize our bodies require food that was not flash fried, we found ourselves in a small restaurant called Marlintini's. They did, in fact, offer a beverage called the marlintini, but the combination of point nosed fish and alcohol is only a delicacy in Japan.
Over a dinner composed of all of the bounties of the sea breaded and fried, the story came out that Lauren almost couldn't get married. The Maine authorities demanded that she produce proof that she was not still wed to her ex-husband Jack. As she had not been married to Jack for many years, it did not occur to her that such paperwork would be necessary. She wasn't, after all, gay and should thus be allowed to marry as often as she felt necessary unfettered by statutory restriction. As the evidence of the divorce was thousand of miles away in New York City, Lauren felt at a loss. Then she remembered her rabbi. Jen, the ninja rabbi, not only talked herself into Lauren's apartment building but managed to convince the Spanish speaking landlord to break into Lauren's apartment so she could retrieve the papers. She is, after all, a woman of God. Why would she need the landlord to break and enter his tenant's apartment if it were not for holy business?

Theoretical Astrophysicist
"When I travel," said a fusty man to my right, his voice think with a Maine accent, "I tell people that I am a theoretical astrophysicists. They tend not to ask questions after that. Of course, if they did, I would be at a loss." We were sitting in a tiny eatery that could, at its peak, only accommodate twenty people. Fifteen people currently occupied its steadily cramping quarters and the party to which I apparently belonged accounted for thirteen of that number. The majority of the people, the hypothetical theoretical astrophysicist included, were complete strangers to me. They seemed to be friends of the groom's parents and were concertedly planning every aspect of Chris's and Lauren's wedding and subsequent marriage, as though the hand-lacquered wooden table on which they ate their strawberry waffles were a cosmic chessboard.
Lauren and Chris  
They are but pawns now
Emily's parents were discernibly uncomfortable with this situation. These weren't their friends, yet they were holding Geneva Convention worthy talks (if the Geneva Convention was entirely composed of upper crusty Mainers) about the quality of Lauren's dress. To say they felt left out of their daughter's wedding planning does not do justice to how woebegone they truly were. When they arrived, nearly every important aspect of the planning had been done by people who were now and who would remain complete strangers. True, Emily's parents had planned one wedding which, despite my notable absence, was said to have been a wondrous occasion. But that marriage had failed. They should get do-overs.
"My father was a diamond dealer," interjected Emily's mother into the din, "so when he traveled, he obviously had to cover for the fact that he was transporting millions of dollars in diamonds. Before he would leave for his trips, he would pick a role - that he was an insurance salesman, that he was a foot doctor - and he would keep this ruse up for the duration of his trip. No matter what anyone asked, my father would say he had the dullest of jobs and would talk about them at length."
The Mainers laughed with their characteristic convivial heartiness and then immediately returned to their respective conversations planning Lauren's life.

"You don't understand because you are the prodigal son," Emily growled as we returned to the car after breakfast. "You are the good one in your family, the smart one, the one who is accomplishing things. I will never be that to my parents."
I put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, but thought better of saying that I knew where she was coming from or that I felt her pain or any of that aphoristic shit that isn't at all true.
"Lauren has a doctorate. Lauren is getting married for the second time. Lauren is just perfect to my parents and I am nothing." She got into the driver's seat of my car and put out her hand for the keys. No matter the fact that she knows she will be driving, she always insists upon giving me my keys back for safe keeping.
"You are accomplished," I soothed. "You are a nationally ranked blackbelt in Tae Kwon Do, something Lauren will never be. You are brilliant and witty. Plus, Lauren is ten years your senior. She's had a lot of time to accomplish what she has." I honestly had no expectations for this to work. I don't want you to think I am na´ve about the nature of Emily.
She put the key in the ignition, but made no move to start the car. "But nothing I do matters to my parents. They don't know anything about me. The other day, my mother said that she didn't really think I was a nature person. I'm a fucking Pagan! I would spend all of my time outside if I could. They won't even trust that I can find my way back to the house, even though I know I can get there faster." This latter boast had been a bone of contention between them since the prior night, when Emily politely suggested that they were going miles out of their way to get back from the restaurant and they had, in essence, told her to be quiet because they knew better. It was a tiny thing, even though Emily was right about how to get home. All of these tiny little grains of sand have eroded Emily's confidence in herself and in her parents to this point, where she is biting back tears in the driver's seat of my car. It wasn't a breakdown. That would imply a sense of catharsis, but the doubts and insecurities engendered in Emily are far too deeply buried under these grains of sand to be purged in one dismal Maine morning.

Soon in Xenology: A wedding. A job. Crouching tigers. Mikvas. Zack's new apartment. Fireworks. Sex toys.

last watched: Vampire Clan
reading: Bridget Jones's Diary
listening: Day I Forgot
wanting: For Maine to clear up a little bit.
moment of zen: Getting through yet another bit of Chinese Water Torture with M.
someday I must: be a best man or eat strawberry waffles.

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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