Thomm Quackenbush, author

04.24.06 9:16 p.m.

No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently.  

-Agnes DeMille

 



Previously in Xenology: Emily needed a degree to fulfill her purpose of helping people. Emily's father was diagnosed with terminal brain and lung cancer.

Uncanny Valley of Death

"I don't really want to make French toast at my father's any more. Let's just get bagels."

"Not that I mind, M, but why?"

Emily hesitated a moment. "Honestly? Because I just don't want to spend that much time over there. Am I awful?"

I assured her she was not. Though her father is dying, it will never cease to be Emily's welfare that is my primary concern.

The animal control truck greeted us at the entrance to her father's street. Emily chatted amiably with her former coworkers who were in search of two escaped roosters. I began to see how much Emily misses her old job. Its schedule may have been a pain in the ass and is to credit with our two bizarre cats, but it made her feel purposeful. She was affecting change in the greater world, which is entirely her modus operandi and the reason she is soon to indenture herself to an international studies department until she becomes Dr. Shedletsky-[My Surname].

When we entered the house, her father was in a wheelchair working on an amorphous painting that he assured me will not always be so brown. I was quietly startled to see him in a wheelchair, a chrome and rubber testament to his condition.

He was a bit churlish over breakfast, passive aggressively and improbably deriding all those people who bring him chive cream cheese for his bagels, the very flavor Emily got him and which he was slathering on the bagel she sliced for him. I continually expect his mind to turn to dust, but the only symptom seems to be irritability and a decreased concern with tact. Emily tells me that these probably have little directly to do with his cancer. He just no longer cares to censor himself to others, a prohibition that ostensibly formed much of the personality I knew.

The night before, over a meal of Chinese food, we looked through old pictures of the Shedletsky clan in search of one of little Emily in a green dress and pigtails. Emily does not age, just grows taller. Her father, however, transforms constantly, from monochromatic child dressed as Robin Hood to bearded, fiery-headed twentysomething artist to benevolent, snowy haired patriarch to his final incarnation as a bald chipmunk.

To my chagrin this morning, I found myself casing his apartment like a thief in the night, knowing full well that there is a chance that this may become my home if he should end his lease upon the earth before the one on his apartment. It was an uncomfortable position in which to be and I did not relish it. I felt I was a vulture staring at a rather alive but doomed animal, tapping my talons impatiently for the dying breath.

After breakfast, Emily and I walked her father outside to sit in the sun. We had to leave the doors open behind us, as opening them while we were gone would prove an unwelcome challenge for him.

We headed a few blocks to the main strip of Warwick, which is a hipper place than I realized. After Emily picked up The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying from the bookstore where her clan drums (tre hip) and ordering conversational Nepali tapes for her trip to India, we wandered. Soon, we ended up in a guitar shop where a man with a young face and gray, curly temples tried to convince Emily to take the guitar lessons he teaches.

"Do you know anyone renting apartments in the area?" Emily asked the amiable guitarist after a minute of unsuccessful convincing.

He happily gave us directions around the block and, so impressed was I with this serendipity, I asked if he knew of any local teaching jobs. He did not, but at least we had an apartment lead. We cannot ask too much of the Fates or they bring Irony down on our heads.

The apartment was well appointed from what we could see, but that was not much considering that we were looking through a dark window. Someone next store directed us to speak with the proprietress of the garage across the street. She found us before we could try very hard to get to her. She was some kind of kobold badly wearing the skin of a woman, too much blue eye makeup to easily pass for human. She gave us two numbers to call, the owner and his brother, and released us before we could unmask her and force her to lead us to her mine full of gold.

No one answered either number and, leaving messages, we went on our way only to be corralled by the kobold and neighbor when we happened upon that street again. The owner's brother was apparently in the corner bar and these two had decided it was a good idea for us to harass this man while he was getting sloshed. Best of all, the only information we had was that he was an older man named Sam. At one in the afternoon, everybody in a bar is an older man, so we took to loudly proclaiming that we were looking for Sam. In a more dramatic and hackneyed world, this would result in our being unceremoniously ushered into a dimly lit room by a couple of slabs of sinew and interrogated at the butt of a revolver as to why we were looking for the Boss, but this was Warwick. Everyone in the bar just looked confused and one man, already a sheet and a quarter to the wind, reticently said he was Sam. After introducing our situation and ourselves, he told us to call his brother - which we had done - and dismissed us from his short-term memory with a gulp from his glass.
Emily, hunting chicken  
You are big. You are chicken.

Exiting the bar, we saw a rooster walking up the sidewalk across from us as though he were a casual weekend shopper out for a stroll. I walked to the parallel sidewalk and followed far enough behind that the rooster was not too spook it and still keep an eye on him. Emily dialed the animal shelter and fairly ordered them to our coordinates immediately. When she caught up to me, the rooster was pacing back and forth at the other end of a driveway. She disappeared for a moment to warn the owner of the adjoining house that we weren't burgling livestock and returned, wishing she had a net. Instead, she approached the rooster with the plan of trapping it under a garbage can. The rooster, recalling its less earthbound ancestors, attempted flight into the welcoming heavens but gravity and genetic disuse had other plans. In a fit of squawking, the bird landed on the other side of the fence and was effectively trapped in the backyard until reinforcement could arrive. When they eventually did, the bird strutted about, ignorant that he was the smaller combatant, and eventually recouped enough energy to attempt his flight again, this time resulting in a trip down a steep embankment and freedom in the form of a crowded street.

I would like to point out for posterity that I was positively no help in capturing this fowl, aside from pointing my camera where it was. I am an artist and am therefore useless in combat.

After checking to make sure that her father had gotten back into his apartment without trouble, we left Warwick for Emily's mother's house. The plan was that Emily and I would have Passover dinner at her mother's apartment around four and make it to my parents' house in time to dye Easter eggs with our nieces, but that plan was quickly derailed by a Passover turkey that simply refused to cook. We should have just cooked that damned rooster. As such, and after a computer animated story of Jesus on the religious channel wherein everyone in this Uncanny Valley had short hair - a factor that would have gotten them all killed for sympathizing with the Romans - we left her mother's apartment just as it started smelling deliciously of turkey trimming and arrived at my parents' in time to gobble down greasy pizza. The pizza wasn't wholly a pleasant experience, to be honest, but it beat smelling more palatable food on an empty stomach.
Leelee  
I swear to you, she is holding coordinates in her little tea colored fist.

Speaking of stomachs, my future sister-in-law Becky is growing large with the fetus that will be my new niece or nephew. It is peculiar to see the family growing, literally and figuratively. It does not seem like so long ago that I was terrifying my nieces for the first time simply by standing there (granted, I was in a Halloween costume with an exposed brain at the time). Now I have to contrive elbow eating carpet sharks to get a rise out of them. I am a good uncle though, when I am not explicitly telling them never to listen to me because I do not have their best interest in mind. During our town wide Easter egg hunt - which honestly involved global positional systems to find the clues - I carried them around on my back or held their hands to prevent them getting squished by cars or eaten by wolves. As I felt the need to tell them this was why I was protecting them, I likely need a not of remediation if Emily is ever going to convince me that I want children of my own.

I suppose I should end with something pithy about Easter being a time of renewal, that even though there is impending death, life keeps on forwarding its genetic agenda, but I just don't buy it. It is too saccharine and the joy I feel about the coming of little Alyssa or Dan 2.0 does nothing to touch the pain of seeing Stuart Shedletsky deteriorate. If this were that hackneyed world, both events would happen back to back during a Very Special two part episode. As it stands, this is reality and we cannot ask much of the Fates or they blight us with Irony.

In. Why, you?

This morning, taking the dog on his dawn walk, I saw my neighbors having breakfast. They had pulled their kitchen table out to the slab of concrete that constitutes a porch in our development and were drinking orange juice while the sun rose for them alone. The female of the couple, a short haired pleasantly geeky woman whose name I knew for about a week, waved to me eagerly as a child would. I was so jealous that I wasn't having this experience and felt that I was invading their dawn. I refused to let the dog stop on his walk within their line of vision. No matter what Emily might say about our future, this simply isn't in our present. Such a simple act to envy so.

I do not expect this to change once we move to the city, and we most definitely seem to be doing that before September. Either we will be residents of Astoria or NJ. For all the weight those names have, I might as well be saying that I am a prospective resident of either Narnia or Lilliput. She is trying to pull strings to get me a job at the Montessori school that indoctrinated her to sort her Halloween candy by size, color, and type. I want to tell her not to, but most of my jobs have occurred because someone knew someone who knew me. At least I will have my share of a life.

Emily says I will love the city and the area around NYU especially, that the coffeehouse culture and people watching would inform my writing but my writing comes from lack. Delirious was spawned from the college career I did not get to have, thin fantastical metaphor covering what I witnessed from the outside.

I don't know how to do basic city things, like hail a cab or figure out on which subway car I should be. I suppose someone will explain these things to me, because I cannot very well ride my bike all over the city nor am I yokel enough to drive in the city. I suppose I will have to get rid of my car, which is rather a bother but it will mean paying substantially fewer bills each month.

I have the cliché fear of mugging and burglaries, though I don't think I actually know anyone who has dealt with either while in the city. I've visited, but knowing my suburban home was only a dozen train stations away have me buoyancy enough that nothing could touch me.

It feels like such a drastic change, but NYU is the number one college in the country for international studies. This was done cleverly, if unintentionally. When she first got into George Washington (the 21st best college for international studies), I was petrified of completely breaking from everything I knew. In NYC, I can at least hop on the aforementioned train and be raiding my parents' refrigerator in a few hours. I am therefore almost grateful that she we will be moving there, whereas I would be utterly lost if she got into NYU first. This is what is called the "door-in-face" technique, wherein one is asked to do some extreme or unpleasant favor with the knowledge that they will happily agree to do a lesser favor when declining the first. "Would you help me disembowel this elephant?" NO! "Well, how about helping me move?"

Hmmm... I'll have to try that, actually.

It will mean a whole new life, and one without Emily's whiny yet constant companion. No, no me; the dog. When Emily was going through one of the roughest patches of her life, her parents got her Quest, her jittery greyhound and they healed one another. Can she let him free to have a life in the country now?

Will the dog's life in an orchard somewhere surpass ours in the Big Apple?

Home is Where the Dog Lives

And the world changes again and we find ourselves back at the beginning. Emily came to what she is calling her epiphany yesterday afternoon and pronounced that it would overall make the most sense for us to stay in our Wappingers Falls apartment and have her commute to the city on days that she has classes. Her reasons, in descending order of probable importance are as follows:

  1. She will be able to keep the dog to whom, she reminds me with tears in her eyes yet again, she made a sacred commitment which she must honor. She so cannot bear the idea of parting ways with him, even to a rich family with much pasture for leisurely galumphing, that she had been biting back morbid depression for weeks at the idea that he might feel abandoned by her. I respect her stance, though I find its extremity a bit unsettling. I do not have much faith in the cognitive process of any creature that is bullied by a small black cat.
  2. She wants very much for us to have a home and the idea of coming back to the apartment from India to a pile of boxes fills her with emptiness. Our apartment is relatively proximal to our friends and family. There are certain perk to not having to manufacture a life out of whole cloth in the span of two weeks.
  3. We can more likely get married when and where we please.
  4. She feels it is much more likely that some local district, having met me a few times already, will be inclined toward actually hiring me in a real capacity. I have expressed my reservations.
  5. She likes trains and we have two stations within a few miles of us.

This is not to say that there will not be great adjustments. Our rent is going up by sixty dollars a month for reasons that are a little beyond me but seems to amount to "because they can." She will have to get a new part time job and is presently leaning toward becoming a waitress. She wants to utterly redo the apartment. I will still have to find a real job, because I will have to shoulder a greater portion of the bills.

But things seem brighter for both of us, though I have some guilt that she is remaining here. She assures me she is not doing it for me, though my happiness is a welcome side effect. At least I will not have to figure out how to hail a cab quite yet.

Soon in Xenology: Beltane fires. Last words.

last watched: Ice Age 2: The Meltdown
reading: History of Magic and the Occult
listening: The Greatest Songs Ever Written (By Us)

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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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