Thomm Quackenbush, author

05.15.05 9:03 p.m.

A peaceful sorrow at home is best I'll ever be able to offer the world, in the end, and so I told my Desolation Angels goodbye. A new life for me.  

-Jack Kerouac

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen met Dives Dives.

People Are Strange When You're Estranging

I leaned against the mortared stone wall of the country club and retrieved my phone from my pocket. Emily had vanished minutes earlier, searching for her phone in her car so that the rest of her crew could get a hold of her when they arrived. I could see her wandering outside and was about to call her and wish her well in her search when I saw that Melissa had called me several times and very recently. It was not yet eleven in the morning. This was very curious.

"Melissa?" I asked into the phone when it connected, "What's up?" Melissa was going to be joining me in watching Emily fight at the competition and I was anticipating her backing out for some perfectly understandable reason.
Melissa  
Cherry blossoms

"Have you spoken to Stevehen? Did he call you?"

"No," I ventured slowly. "Why?"

"He's moving. To Massachusetts."

"What? When?" I was glad to have the wall's support.

"Today. I told him to call you and he said he was going to."

"Has he left yet?"

"I don't think so."

I hung up on her and dialed in Stevehen's number. When I heard his weary voice on the other line, I accused, "Massachusetts?!"

"Yeah," he explained as though already far away, "I need to get away from here and get my head together. This whole Melissa and Tina thing... I'm sorry." He paused as though waiting for an inevitable blow. None came.

The line was quiet for a moment and I asked, "When does your train leave?"

"In about half an hour. I'm sorry I didn't call you."

"I'm in Poughkeepsie... I could probably get there in time to run after it tearfully," I offered.

"No, that's okay. They would probably look down upon that sort of thing."

"Fine. Take care of yourself, okay?"

He sighed, relieved. "I will, I'll be back in August."

"What are you going to do in Massachusetts? You know they eat their young, right?"

"I am going to stay with my sister for a few weeks. Her fiancÚ has an interview lined up for me. Then I'll get my own place."

"Stay gold, Stevehen. Stay gold." I may not have actually said this, but I certainly felt like I should intone something both juvenile and profound.

I did not mention Tina or ask exactly how she was left by this news; I felt that she was the unspoken elephant in the proverbial room. I would call her and play innocent, sympathizing with whatever information I was given.

Melissa arrived soon after. Emily, who was floored and irritated by the news that Stevehen was solving his problems by imposing a moratorium on dealing with them, was sitting on a mat thirty feet away and patiently waiting to do her Tae Known Do form for the judges.

Melissa was taking the news better than I had expected, given that Stevehen and she had been getting to be rather close friends (read as: sleeping together) prior to his sudden departure. If anything, the biggest irritation to her about this was that he had waited so long to tell me.

It was not as though anyone's bad reaction was going to alter Stevehen's mind. Much more drastic action would have been required to stall him, though I do not know that anything could have stopped him. In August, I will kidnap him and deprogram him, but it was too late for that now.

Later in the day, as Melissa and I sat at a picnic table and discussed how best to make this into a movie and who should direct (we felt Cameron Crowe would do the best job, given the material), she finally put me to the job of calling Tina. I had offered to do it sooner while Emily was present, and put her on speakerphone, but this was deemed too tacky and voyeuristic rather than as a time saving device.

Tina, to my surprise, was copasetic with Stevehen's quite sudden departure. In fact, after she completed all required classes in two years, she intended to join him in Massachusetts and have a white picket fence with 2.25 children. I have never pictured Stevehen as the white picket fence type and his disappearance does nothing but confirm my suspicions.

Tina also informed that Stevehen's job interview was at a place where they embroider shirts and hats. This is not a position into which I would have readily placed Stevehen. Tina was under the assumption that Stevehen had moved to Massachusetts owing to his inability to get a job in the Hudson Valley, but there is a whole world between Dutchess County and Massachusetts.

Emily's competition commenced as she fought some other young lady several weight classes below her. Despite this handicap, the other young lady was given first place and many of Emily's points were ignored. I wouldn't dare intimate this was because the competitor's coach was one of the judges or because 90% of the other competitors were from her or an associated school. I am merely stating facts.

Emily and her crew left once the other school started literally kissing one another, despite the flurry of dirty looks that they were not participating in the mass osculation.

After a congratulatory meal at Red Lobster, I called up Dives Dives and, as we had asked her to join us at Angela's art show that night, queried if she would want to play sooner.

"Of course, my darlings!"

"Ask if I can shower at her house," whispered Emily.

I covered the phone and stated that this seemed like a very good idea.

Emily became offended and pouted. I just looked at her while Melissa clued her into the fact that the idea of a hot, wet Emily in the domicile of Dives Dives seemed like a sexy good idea, not that she smelled. This was more than okay with Emily.
Xen  
I rock on the stuffed guitar

Dives Dives's apartment, like Dives Dives herself, is amazing. It is in a large brick house that she rightly describes as a commune, presided over by a landlady who is a vintner and shares wine with her tenants frequently. The apartment itself is large and contained multiple rooms divided by doors. Coming from a studio to my old bedroom, this is quite a novelty. Her home smells of perfume and incense, with crystals on every windowsill and handmade art on the walls. There is a stream that runs through the property to the Hudson River, a few hundred feet away. When it rains much, the stream swells to the edge of Dives Dives's porch.

"I want to get rid of my upstairs neighbor. She is such a bitch, the sort of girl that no one liked in high school - not me, I was nice to everyone - and she just never got that chip off her shoulder. We are all about the hippy love here. We share our food. She doesn't talk to anyone and actually knocked on our door the other day to make my boyfriend move his car at eight in the morning. I've actually considered turning to dark magick and do a banishing ritual."

I sidled up to her and hugged her shoulders. "You should do that. That would be a very good idea. Emily and I want very much to live with you. Very much."

"And I want that, but I would never do a banishing ritual on Tiffany or anyone."

"Her name is Tiffany?" Of course her name would be Tiffany. They always have names like that. "I hate Tiffany so much."

Emily came out of the shower at this time, drying her hair. "Who are we killing?"

"Tiffany," I answered.

"I hate Tiffany so much. Who is Tiffany?"

Dives Dives smiled a wide grin at us and answered, "The upstairs neighbor..."

"...Who is in our apartment!" I finished emphatically.

Despite this, Dives Dives thought the banishing was a still bit extreme. "She's pregnant, you see," mewed Dives Dives. "She came downstairs last week and said, 'I just thought you'd want to know that I'm pregnant,' as though I should care in the least. This was the first time she had spoken to Oberi or me in months."

Demonstrating my one track mind, I asked, "And this pregnancy will in some way force her to leave immediately, right?"

"We can only hope. The landlady doesn't want her here. Tiffany currently suing the town of New Paltz because she tripped on a sidewalk and supposedly broke her leg, but she lives on the second floor and ran right up the steps every day. My landlady said she wanted Tiffany out her before she decides to sue again."

We made our way to Angela's art show at Bard. I tried to explain Angela's milieu to Dives Dives before we arrived, so she would be forewarned.

"So she paints circles?" Dives Dives asked.

"Well, yes. And now she has gotten into 'soft sculpture' which seems to be ten foot long guitar dolls."
Angela's Art  
I get this!

"What does her art mean?"

I bit my lip. "M?"

Emily, the question being passed, answered, "I don't really know, I've never seen them. But from what you've told me, I would say they are art for art's sake. Which isn't always a bad thing. Cristo does art for art's sake and the world takes note."

I nodded, but added, "And Angela makes many, many circles out of very mixed media."

"And giant stuffed guitars?" Dives Dives got it.

"Yes, exactly."

Do not get me wrong. I am not and would not disparage Angela's artistic ability. I have seen some of her work that is impressive.

Angela's art at this show indeed featured circles in various permutations, though largely coming out of or going into people's heads or torsos. My favorite piece had actually been scribbled on the front door window just before the show started and was of a nude woman in the fetal position with a large red translucent circle emanating from between her legs.

I stood back, appreciating it. When Emily came over, I exclaimed, "I get this. It makes me think of the power of the feminine. Of motherhood."

"...And it is drawn on the window in dry erase maker," she added.

"Yeah, that part sucks, but that makes the beauty of it all the more fleeting, like a sand painting. It also, unfortunately, means that my favorite piece here is going to be erased by the janitor in a few hours."

Dives Dives, Emily, and I later tried to construct a narrative from the other pieces that went something like, "Naked Angela looks sad because she gave birth to the magic space egg, which will hatch and spawn a new race of burqa Jawas, which will sex her up to create more space eggs. The circle is complete." Suffice it to say, we may have missed some of the nuances of her work.
Dives Dives  
She sees the bliss

After stealing more than our fair share of the wine, grape, and chips that were provided to the guests, we three left Angela and Melissa to their entertaining of Mario (or vice versa) and went to Blythewood Garden. We collected flowers on the way, an act Dives Dives mirthfully did without question.

Dives Dives was suitably impressed with the garden, as I knew she would be, and more so pleased with the piezoelectric sparking of the smoky quartz gravel.

I took Dives Dives by the hand and drew her to the statue of the young woman that resides in one of the grottos. After placing the flowers she had collected on her way to the garden in the lap of the Lady, I touched her shoulder to get her attention. "Would you... would you do me a favor? Look at her face and tell me what emotion you see?"

Dives Dives did this without a moment's thought or questioning. I was growing increasingly impressed with her unspoken understanding of sacred acts. "She is in bliss. Complete and utter bliss."

I was so unbelievably ecstatic that she had passed this test that I threw my arms around her and kissed her cheek.

We returned to the show, but only briefly. Melissa was well into being pleasantly drunk, so we did not feel she would much lack in our presence particularly given that we had been away for forty-five minutes already. We walked to the food table, each stole a large handful of grapes, and snuck away by telling Angela that this was what we are doing. We are very subtle.

Out extracurricular plan was to bake some cookies at Dives Dives's, but the Sandman afflicted my two lovely girls and we decided to end the night when we dropped Dives Dives off.

Before we did, she told of this story. A year ago she dreamt that she came upon a conventional witch (which to us would have been a wise grandmother in a long dress, as we do not have green skin) standing in front of a house on her street. At this time, Dream Dives Dives had been running away from a mob of angry people and so was startled. "They're coming," Dream Dives Dives warned. "No, my child," the witch said, "you are one of us and are protected." A while after this dream, she was walking with a friend when she passed this house. Her friend, apropos of nothing, stated that that house was owned by a medicine woman a hundred years ago.

I feel, with good reasons, that this all portents to a promising friendship.

Cupcakes for the SOUL

My students threw me a going away party, though I tried to make it abundantly clear that I was not going anywhere but down the hall to the library. It was supposed to be something of a surprise and the students had done a very good job of keeping it that way. I was only forewarned because a perfectly lovely French teacher had let slip that her eighth period class had requested their work since they wouldn't be in class.

I was anxious when eighth period rolled around, uncertain of quite how the celebration would manifest. In the first five minutes of teaching that class, my teacher ordered the class to put their stuff down and follow her to the auditorium. I followed as well, smirking nervously out of habit.

The auditorium was already packed with nearly all of the students on my team. I held back and observed as long as was feasible, making it look like mingling. The other student teacher for whom this was thrown was crying effusively and graciously receiving gifts from students.

I wandered around as students hugged me occasionally and I returned the gesture to the smallest degree tact would allow. I do not want strange children hugging me. I did not receive gifts and my formers students' interest in me lasted only until the bags of chips were opened. This, indeed, was merely an excuse for a party. I was comfortable in this capacity, but might have been more reassured were there homemade cupcakes of some sort.

Then, my teacher puckishly informed me, I was expected to give a speech. None of my memorized speeches were appropriate for a crowd that quite literally was working with Dr. Seuss only days before.

The other student teacher went first, muttering something heartfelt and planned. He had known and not told me. I do not remember what I said, not being one for speechifying or memory under pressure. I do not feel much about having completed me student teaching. It was not something I wanted to do, but I am grateful that I will not have to enter a school again if I am not being justly paid.

Soon in Xenology: Our cancer year. Apartment hunting and killing.

last watched: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
reading: Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today
listening: Wreck of the Day

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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