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09.22.05 9:38 a.m.

Pain nourishes courage. You can't be brave if you've only had wonderful things happen to you.  

-Mary Tyler Moore


Previously in Xenology: Xen hung out with Coley.


I saw her enter and my breath caught in my throat. Someone had mentioned that "Nicole" might be coming to the Mid-Hudson Pagan Network meeting, our first in a year, and I immediately flashed upon her. There are a lot of Nicoles in this world and little beyond egocentric paranoia would suggest it would be Coley. Last I knew she was concertedly ignoring my existence owing to shit in our collective past. Yet, walking toward our table in Denny's (hardly a phrase that should ever appear in a story), her hair fluttering behind her a perennial blonde-white, I was struck mute.

She sat down across from me, smiling to herself and began talking to a squat woman to her right. I trace "COLEY!" on Emily's leg with my finger needlessly as Coley introduces herself to Emily.

"I've heard so much about you," Emily informs pleasantly, "I'm glad to finally meet you." This is a bizarre sort of understatement and I almost laugh. Coley had, at one point, been a crucial part of my life and there are more than a few stories in my repertoires that concern her. Coley seems apprehensive at first - what could I have told Emily but everything? - but it deliquesces once their hands touch. Emily isn't malevolent - impish at her worst - and I have to believe this come across to Coley.

I can't take my eyes off of her as she chats to he people on either side of her, it having been so long since I was in her company in any form, to say nothing of being around her while she seems happy. Years, in fact, though every day of that a waste. We should have spoken sooner. We should have been made of finer stuff.

She smiles shyly like a dead princess, a gesture that I love and had forgotten, talking about how she received a Halloween themed invitation to a wedding. Emily and I exchange looks, amused at her reaction to what we consider a good idea.

I could only stay at the meeting for a little while after Coley appeared. Emily and I had a more pressing engagement we did not know about until a few hours before the meeting, which supplanted my spending time sipping glasses of water at a diner franchise. Prior to Coley's arrival, I was only a little remorseful to be fleeing with undue haste. With her addition, I almost wanted to blow off our other plans to just watch her.

Days before, I woke Emily up from an early morning dream by stating quite clearly "Coley's dead." She asked what I meant by that, before realizing that I was very much asleep. I don't remember any attached dream to this statement, though Coley had been on my mind since I saw her friend at The Cubbyhole. To dream of the death of a loved one suggests that one is lacking a quality that loved one embodies. It may also indicate that whatever that person represents is not part of one's own life.

I wanted her to look different, older, but she didn't. She was my estranged sister frozen in time. To her, I am sure I look like a grinning idiot. I couldn't contain how happy I was at her proximity. If she looked different, I may not have loved her so much in retrospect, remembered her so fondly. My mind may have recognized her as a different person, instead of someone I missed quite a lot.

I do not know that she thought or felt anything approaching this upon seeing me, but she came knowing that I would almost certainly feel obligated enough to attend a meeting of my own devising. Perhaps that is significant, perhaps she was just encouraged to come by the people talking to her, members of her new circle in Rosendale and to damn with me. I do not know and, aside from her genial nature, cannot know. I assume the best, though, because it makes the world a brighter place in which to live.

Pagans and Partygoers

"Who's she?" I ask Emily, barely moving my lips. Our telepathy is weak in the presence of Pagans and partygoers, both of whom will question our motions and gestures.

The woman in question was across the field in front of Orien and Christine's home, traipsing happily through the circle of drummers gathered for Orien's birthday. She stopped suddenly to speak with Dives Dives, who dropped her precious drum to give the blonde girl a tight hug. That was considerably high praise.

"That's Ann," Emily informed, kissing my earlobe to hide her half of the conversation. I raised an eyebrow to telegraph obliviousness and she continued, "Ann is Christine's ex and Dives Dives's new roommate."
Dives Dives and Ann  

"She is Dives Dives's new roommate?" I ask incredulously, forgetting to disguise myself. "I thought Ann looked..." distinctly less specifically Emily's type? " Sara over there," I finish instead, motioning to a woman who is largely unlike Ann. This would certainly be a big step up for Dives Dives, given that the last roommate was a petulant little bitch child who had not been beat enough by parents, friends, and life in general.

"Oh no. Ann's hot," Emily informed me, knowing what I meant anyway.

Soon after, Ann found Emily and me in the kitchen, picking at cold party food.

"Ann, eat some of the cookie cake we brought," I insisted as a means to strike up conversation, though it didn't seem like a great effort. The potentiality of conversation between us was dry brush and those beads in her hair doubled as Strike Anywhere matches. The cookie cake was a fluke and coincidence that I needed to get out of the house before I ate it all. Zack and Cristin had come over last night and we decided to make cookies from scratch, save that we didn't actually have a baking sheet. As such, things were too thick but still quite too palatable to be allowed to remain.

"Yes, eat a blondie," Emily agreed, giving the creation its proper name. "They're delicious."

"What's a blondie?" Ann asked, finding her way into a chair in a very comfortable way. Already, it was not like talking to a stranger, merely a friend whose middle name I did not yet know.

Emily picked one up and offered it. "It's like a cookie, but thick and in squares - "

"Exactly like a cake made of cookie," I interrupted.

"Can't. Gluten is my mortal enemy." She picked up a box of cereal and proffered it our way. "I have this instead."

I took one of the small yellow balls and ate it. "Corn pops?"

"Organic hippy corn pops," she smilingly agreed, popping a handful into her mouth.

We chatted over the foodstuffs we found mutually nutritive and the conversation soon evolved into a game. "So, Tony or Orien?" Ann asked.

"Orien," Emily said quickly and firmly.

"I don't really go in for guys," I protested.

"Neither do I," Ann said.

"Fair enough. Tony, then."

By this time, we had moved outside and were cuddled in upholstered chairs that won't last fall. Every part of Ann was in the chair like it was her personal blue fabric womb.

Dives Dives soon found her way from the drumming and curled up next to Ann. I see far too little of Dives Dives these days, as she is busy being a purposeful musician with numerous gigs or seeing Chrysater, who she insists is actually named Brandon. I know several Brandons (all jerks) and only one Chrysater, so he will continue to be so called in my brain.

Emily and I were distracted from the game for a moment when I had to deal with Little Orien setting fire to something behind my head. "O, I like my hair, please don't burn me."

When I returned my attention, Dives Dives was looking between Emily and me. "I can't pick between them, Ann."

I did not hear Ann's answer.


You have to consider that maybe you aren't built for stability or the safe choice and the Forces That Be will conspire to derail you from every attempt at a comfortable life. This is not to necessarily state you are destined for something better, merely that god doesn't plan on you relaxing much.

Getting my Master's in Education was supposed to be the reasonable choice, a fallback with dental benefits. Being a male in the teaching profession, as well as a person termed by the government as "highly qualified", should have meant there would be a plethora of jobs waiting for me even if I did happen to value grammar over mathematics and science. In my free time, I could continue to be an odd duck writer, but at least I had a stable foundation on which to build my castles in the clouds. Only, that isn't what has happened. After nearly two hundred applications since I graduated - and that number isn't inflated in the least, unfortunately - I have only my library job for ten hours a week. My savings are dwindling, though not much faster than I had anticipated. I have a cushion, but my job search is no longer restricted to simply teaching jobs. I have more or less come to understand that I am not supposed to be teaching in the way I expected; there is no public school English classroom waiting for me in the foreseeable future. I have to deduce where reality wants me to be and do what is intended for me. I'm pretty sure it isn't waiting tables.

I went to a job fair today at a local hotel in lieu of sitting home waiting for the exterminators to clean up after our recently vacated neighbors. There were only three or so jobs at the fair for which I had the slightest interest and experience, but it certainly couldn't hurt more than spending the day fighting effetely through writer's block.

I dressed in appropriately formal clothes, nice but not idiotic. In ninety degree heat, you look like a moron in a full suit. I can't imagine having a long career with any business that didn't comprehend something as simple as dressing for ambient temperature. As I dressed, I recited as much as I could remember of The Telltale Heart. Practicing monologues as always helped me relax and focus, one of the few remaining quirks from when I fancied myself an actor.

Once at the hotel, I made my way to the booth for a special education school, where they smiled but told me I was not qualified. I smiled twice as familiarly in return and insisted they take a resume from me so I would have fewer to lug around. This was repeated in several more booths for which I may have been tangentially or accidentally qualified. They smiled the same and I forced resumes on them all. I was out of there in less than twenty minutes, feeling it was nearly a waste of a nice dress shirt.

I returned to my apartment in time to tell the exterminators that we did not require their services. "We have very sensitive pets," I explained.

"Didn't you get a notice that we would be coming?" he asked as condescendingly as his girth would allow.

"Oh, we got it. We just don't want you spraying poison in here. We haven't seen any bugs." This was a lie, we just didn't hate baby roaches more than we liked our pets.

The man continued looking down his nose at me.

"Thank you anyway. No exterminating here today. Goodbye," I said, closing the door in his face.

In the midst of my many and disparate job applications, I have had to fill out a few on-line surveys called things like "Professional Disposition Examination" or something equally as euphemistic. They are supposed to assess if I will make a good employee by asking radically personal and irrelevant questions. I just finished one that continually asked if I would rather perform CPR on a child or use humor to ease a situation. Apparently there is fear that someone may answer this question wrong.

In order to make quite certainly I am employable, they ask these questions more than one hundred times in varying permutations. I believe this is a social psychology experiment, and that the questions matter less than the fact that I bother to waste an hour answering them. Clearly, if I am dedicated and bored enough to think this was a good idea, I am dumb enough to work for less than I deserve. At this point, having been seriously under employed for almost a month, they aren't necessarily wrong.

Soon in Xenology: Job hunting. Academic Solutions. Gadabouts. Ambivalent Elephants.

last watched: Corpse Bride
reading: Prey
listening: Chantal Kreviazuk

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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