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08.21.05 6:30 p.m.

The art of intimacy is literally the art of the angels, for it is the art of learning to fly beyond the darkness of the world.  

-Marianne Williamson


Previously in Xenology: Xen proposed to Emily.

My Brother

A man approaches me and says, "I see that you have long hair like me. Do you have a have a hair tie I could have, brother?"

He was a scruffy, long haired guy under thirty. I had seen him talking intently on the payphone when I pulled into the gas station and thought then that he was one of my people. My people tend to be itinerants and poets, which does not say a lot about my future.

I said I might have a spare one and began rummaging around in my pockets, because I felt that he was like me and wanted to do him a good turn. Were he an immaculately made up woman in a business suit, I would have been less inclined to be helpful. Such a person would likely not resemble my own mental picture. When I taught my communications class at the high school, I tried to get my students to understand that advertisers use them by casting celebrities in the commercials. The students would subconsciously think, "Why, that cola product has given a disgusting amount of money to a celebrity with whom I identify culturally. That must be the product for me." They didn't understand it and I was very much falling for this mental trick now.

"I'm from Naples," he continued as though I asked. He had the hair and complexion for the area, he did not have a discernable accent. "And where I am from, we do not cut our hair for a certain amount of time when we lose our freedom or a loved one."

I have no idea if this is true and wanted to ask him which it was, freedom or love. My hair is only long because I want to have long hair, which is something of a shallow reason comparatively. I did not ask him, because I wasn't sure if this was polite conversation and didn't want to have to provoke a stranger into a harrowing tale of a dead lover in exchange for a bit of rubber and thread. Also, had he answered in anything more than a sentence, I would have been late for work. I wish that, in these situations, I could give people a business card that says I recognize them as a member of my species and stop there.

"I don't have a hair tie. Sorry," I explained. As we walked away, I thrust my hand into my pocket and my finger touched one. "Or I do?"

I handed him the hair tie over my car's roof.

"Thank you, my brother."

Boy Brain
Emily, Thrilled  
Manipulator of boy brains!

"I want to marry you," I proclaimed, apropos of very little. Emily and I were lying on the futon and watching television together, our hand entwined and our stomachs full of a meal we dubbed Chicken Shedletsky that Emily refused to let me put soy sauce on.

"Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that," she said, not taking her eyes off the television. "But it can wait for the commercial."

My brain did not panic. I was sure it was something innocent.

"You wanted to talk to me about something?" I asked when the commercial came.

She turned to me with importuning puppy eyes. "When are we going to get married?"

I paused, by boy brain trying to formulate a response. We were in no rush. We had discussed how we were not rushing into marriage. I was just happy to be with her.

After a few second, she cracked up.

"I'm kidding! I had been planning that all day. It was worth it just to see your face."

"How did it look?"

"Utter terror."

I kissed her appreciatively. "And that is why I'm sticking with you."


"I think I'm going to train down in Jersey tonight, so I won't be home until late," Emily states, then amends, "After ten."

"Oh," I sigh, "Okay. I might not be home. I might go out. Or not."

I hadn't seen Emily for more than two conscious hours since Sunday. She has been at the animal shelter, or her school, or training in New Jersey, or on call for the shelter at her parents' apartment. Soon she will be starting to take a class at New Paltz to work toward her degree in elementary education.

It's said that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it just makes me feel terribly lonely and resentful that she has to choose any of the above over time with me. Before vacation, she was laid up with or recovering from mono, and so had been home all the time. I grew accustom to her presence, making her continued absence now all the more aching.

"Don't worry, this way we'll get to spend the next few days together." This isn't true. Thursday, she will not be home until 7:30 and Friday she will be on call again. Saturday she will work. It won't be Sunday until we can actually spend any time together again, and the following Monday, New Paltz will take her time.

She has to train to improve. I do understand that. I just want more of her to myself and wonder when the time will come that she can have a schedule that more closely syncs with mine. Or even that of a normal twenty-five-year-old, as I cannot imagine most work over sixty hours a week and spend the bulk of their time when they are home asleep.

In other countries, Japan aside, I am told that leisure is built into the day. The siesta, for example, in Spain where towns are shuts down so people can relax. In Paris, according to these anecdotes, people receive up to a month paid vacation every year. Life should not be work, as far as I am concerned. I am not my job. I just learned that I am very likely going to be hired back as a permanent substitute teacher, albeit in less of a sinecure, and I am contemplating whether it is even worth my time to remain working at the library. That job is hardly difficult. I am writing the first draft of this section while I ignore children there. But it would consume my time and I find no joy in the idea of working nearly sixty hours a week.

These are hardly new complaints, but they have suddenly seemed all the more pressing now that I see Emily less frequently than I see the nebbishly precocious seven-year-old at the library who tries to correct everything I say.

I don't know when the day will come that she will had significant time to relax and, more personally important, spend with me.

She works herself as hard as she can until she breaks a limb or her body rebels and allows germs in just to slow her down. I could not live as she does, but that is not being asked of me.

Sand Crabs
Anne and Jerame  
Anne and Jerame

"What was your favorite part?" asked Emily from the driver's seat. I think she speaks in order to keep me awake to keep her awake. The days had been a long one with an early start, which are never my favorite species of day.

I thought for a moment, generally dreading these sorts of question. I know they are just to provoke reflection and conversation, but I find it so hard to pick such things out. Events are a whole to me, with only drastic exceptions poking out in either direction. This is not the case today. "Playing with the sand crabs," I answer, stuffing a handful of low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar, low-cholesterol popcorn into my mouth.

Emily and I had gone with her friends Jerame and Anne to the Jersey Shore. It was a hot day, apparently the perfect sort for a beach going trip. After a few mouthfuls of salty brine and a barefoot walk over sands that resembled glowing coals, I was not so sure I appreciated the beach. I don't like the sun, for one, as it turns me an unbecoming shade of pink.

When the tide went out, it left behind deep ponds between sandbanks. In one of these was trapped a school of tiny fish and many sand crabs. I made sport of spotting them, grabbing the fist of sand in which they dug, and sifting it through until I held a tiny crab. Then I constructed boats for them out of upturned shells and sent them on long sea voyages until the boats sunk and they returned to the sand. I'm sure I looked as though I was much younger than my quarter decade, but I did not care and that was the point.

While I played in the sand, Emily darted after shining orange jingle shells. This was how we discovered the shoals and I, as the only one with pockets, became the repository of the found shells.

I do not think I have been much of a beach person since I was very young. My parents took the family on a vacation to Virginia Beach. In the course of boogie boarding on a Styrofoam plank, I was swept out too far into the ocean for my parents' comfort. I attempted to ride the waves back in but, catching too large of one, I was tumbled underwater for a while and deposited on the shore head first. That rather killed the ocean for me.

A new phenomenon has taken hold and I do not know what to make of it. People, upon learning that I proposed to Emily, offer us gifts. The handmade blanket Anne is knitting for us is one thing. I can appreciate that instantly. What confound me are the checks. I simply do not understand the protocol. We are not married yet; wedding gifts I completely fathom. We had just agreed that, at some point, we will live together and have a legal, rather than simply spiritual, commitment. This is, apparently, vastly different from what we are doing now, in that the party is larger.

Soon in Xenology: Dives Dives's concert.

last watched: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
reading: Our Lady of the Forest
listening: The Dresden Dolls

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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