Thomm Quackenbush, author

05.03.06 8:06 p.m.

The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.  

-Marcus Aurelius

 



Previously in Xenology: Xen needed to fulfill his purpose of playing with words. Emily was a hero. Emily's father was diagnosed with terminal brain and lung cancer.

Brandy Snifter of Anguish

When fate shuts a door, it opens a window. Then it slams another door shut just as you notice it is open because fate drinks our anguish out of a brandy snifter.

Emily got the news that her India program was cancelled due to lack of participation and, unless she wants to do a similar program in Peru - and she does not, since her area of specialization is East Asian studies - she is out the $500 she spent already, not counting several inoculations that made her arms blotchy red. Just as she was decrying - emphasis on the crying - her fate to her mother she received a call from the rich mother of young triplets to whom she weekly teaches tae kwon do. Their babysitter - who was supposed to go to Israel with them for a month to watch the kids - cancelled on them, so they now want to pay Emily to travel with them for a month, including a week in a castle in London.

A side effect of all of this is that Emily can and will now go on my family's yearly vacation in August to Lake George. While I know it is a foreign concept to some that I can so enjoy going to the same place every year, it means a great deal to me and is like a second home I only occupy one week out of every fifty two. When I thought for quite some time that I would be going this alone, I couldn't picture it. I feel this might sound codependent and it may well be, but having her at my side has informed and annually improved the situation. Even when fearing the apocalypse was coming because all of New York lost its power, having her with me made Lake George a better place.

Perhaps I am a little superstitious and undoubtedly paranoid, but the last time a girlfriend did not join me on vacation, we broke up a few months later. Granted, Kate not wishing to go was probably indicative of a growing fault line in our relationship. Additionally, we had spent two weeks of our summer wandering about the Canadian permafrost (which is to say, all of Canada) and she did not feel she could sacrifice another week of work to visit a place she had already seen in some breadth. So she stayed in Dutchess County and sat by a YMCA pool as a lifeguard. Emily would have been on an adventure of her life. I cannot say the adventure of her life, as hers promises to be an adventurous life of international studies.

Then, recovering from Emily's change in summer locations, I received a call from Motley Fool, a financial web magazine for whom I filled out a flippant application (including telling them that, if I had to choose a superpower, I would want spontaneous and uncontrolled evolution) and who was actually interested in me as an editor. I may occasionally talk a good game about my pedagogical prowess, but editing is what I seem to be made to do. Though the job was perfect and came close to sating my need for ego gratification, it was also several states away in Alexandria, Virginia. I politely declined and the woman interviewing me immediately asked me to reconsider, as I was so attractive a candidate.

I suppose I can take some solace that some company out there believes I am talented enough to suggest I move several states away to work for them and, when I applied, I only thought that they were in the city. Still, it seems to underscore the idea that I won't exactly find my destiny outside the door of my apartment. In fact, there just seems to be lettuce leaves and cigarette butt tossed from the windows of my upstairs neighbors.

Duck, Duck, YOU'RE ON FIRE!

"Have you left the house yet?"

"No, I was about to," I lied. I had just gotten out of the shower and, though I could theoretically be out of the door in ten minutes, I wouldn't be.

"That's fine, stay there. The house next to Orien's is on fire. We have to go put it out. I'll call you when things are clear. Bye."

"But... what? Fire? Wait!" I insisted to the dial tone. Didn't she know that they have people who put out fires who I do not intend on marrying? Scorched eyebrows are attractive on so few people.

Had I not spent the morning being far too lazy, I would have been on my way to Emily's clan's Beltane ritual. Owing to the sour mood I had been in all weekend since I had lost my way on a road I had driven dozens of times before, I felt intensely misanthropic and so was inclined to believe this fire was an excuse from on high that I could hide under my quilt and ignore the world for another day. But Pagans are a tenacious bunch and, despite the roads being closed and the house literally being reduced to a three-foot pile of rubble, the party sallied forth with only an interruption for the four amateur firefighters to shower and change.

I am a playful resistentialist, a school of philosophy that states that inanimate objects can be consciously hostile. In this case, so irritated was I that I was going to this Beltane ritual, that my girlfriend had been on fire, and that I managed to get turned around again that my car's "service engine soon" light came on. The car knew that I was in a bad mood and sought to find a way to make me feel a little more stressed. Before deriding my superstition at associating the events, ask yourself if you have ever believed a computer broke down just as you were finishing your final paper for a class just to spite you. Exactly the same thing.

Incidentally, not only had Emily managed to beat back the fire from the surrounding forest and thus from Orien's house, but she had rescued the family's three dogs because she couldn't trust the firefighters would arrive in time. Her melted sandal bottoms were testament enough to her bravery. (As a side note, Keens are much better firefighting sandals than Birkenstocks.) Orien related a story to me upon my arrival wherein Emily, surrounded by flame and in her liquefying Birkenstocks, calmly called out, "A little help?" While I would prefer her safe in a pile of pillows, having her heroic and hilarious is a nice concession prize.

After herding me toward a hamburger covered in guacamole, knowing well the food will improve my misanthropy in a matter of minutes, Emily handed me a rectangle of cardboard and stated, "You have to make a mask."

I bit into my burger and replied, "No I don't. I don't have to do anything I don't want to."

"No," she corrected me, "you do. We are all making masks. You must."

"In that case," I quickly resolved, "I will be Batman." This may well be one of the reasons that I get a reputation as a Discordian, a Pagan sect irreverently devoted to chaos and specifically the Greek goddess thereto Eris. I cut my cardboard into a poor approximation of a child's Batman mask and minimalistically decorated it with black, sparkly puff paint. The whole idea of making masks, while not without its precedent, seemed far too silly to me to give much actual effort. Emily, however, fashioned hers into the tree line of a forest because she is a better Pagan than I am.
The monkey chased the weasel  
Maypole

After we danced and made the maypole (Emily had misestimated the height of the pole and thus had to tie three very different spools of ribbon together), night fell and it was time for the actual ritual. Everyone began to robe up, which is a practice I find strange. The divine knows what I look like and putting on my costume from my interim at the Renaissance Faire does not bring me a whit closer to it. If anything, I am taken away from divine thoughts because this is the outfit I used to sell overpriced jewelry. I almost understand being skyclad - ritually naked - than wearing a costume to commune with the sacred. However, these are largely Gardnarians and their costumes are an important part of the ritual. This is not to say that they did not then don their cardboard masks. When Emily fretted that she had, against the rules, worn her watch into circle, I pointed out that we were also wearing glowing bracelets and pipe cleaners provided by the high priest and priestess. Certainly, our ancestors would have if they had the choice.

It should also be further noted that, while we were technically wearing our "robes," they were over and under several other layers of clothing to combat the cold, leaving Emily and I looking like homeless elves. At least I had a cardboard Batman mask to protect my identity.
Emily, post homelessness  
No longer a firefighting elf.

The ritual was fairly standard - standard rituals are the lifeblood of Gardnarians - and ended with the scarf game, a game not unlike "Duck, Duck, Goose" except with kissing. I had made it clear that I was no okay with anyone trying to kiss Emily, as she had years ago had a run in with a presumptuous Isaac Bonewits. While Isaac was there, he was with his wife Phaedra and seemed too comfortable in his chair to attempt forced osculation of young girls. People largely avoided our part of the circle, which suited me fine. Eventually, someone picked the woman to my left, with whom I had been talking for most of the ritual. She selected me so that I could be the one to select Emily. As per the rules of the game, I chased her largely around the circle and caught her. She resisted, as was also an unwritten rule of the game. "Do I have to knock you over?" I asked her, "Because I'll do it!" She conceded that this was unnecessary and I gave her a hug. Emily didn't fight nearly as much, though she would have been better able.

When an exceptionally tall clan member got a little too close to the Beltane bonfire in his black robe (which could have been a tent but was certainly not off the rack, as though any of our robes are), I whispered to Emily, "I hope that's a holocaust cloak."

"I am the Dwead Piwate Woberts. Thewe will be no suwvivows!" Emily whispered back. This is why we get on so famously.

The night ended with a scavenger hunt game that required that we ask people sexually charged questions and wear underpants on our heads, in the spirit of the holiday. One could get extra points for shagging in one of the provided tents or receiving a massage in a room set up for the purpose. The winner received a "basket" of sex toys. As most people gave up or enjoyed the scavenger hunt purely for itself and because Emily is the competitive sort, she ended up winning the hunt. Her prize? Four sample sized lubricants that could easily fit in one's pocket. My goddess demands things that vibrate.

Last Words

Emily told me that, if I have anything to say to her father, this is the week in which to do it. His mind has finally begun to catch up to the deterioration and weakening of his body. He can no longer remember what he was doing or what he has done. Emily was driving him home from having lunch and he had to be reminded why he was in the car, where he was going, and that he had eaten. He can no longer even remember what day or hour it is, his short-term memory has become so poor. The clock reads eight and he starts getting ready for bed, not realizing it is eight in the morning.

There are moments of great cognitive clarity still, sunbeams through his clouding brain. Yesterday, he told Emily that he was comfortable with death. He only worries that he will miss her terribly, a statement I find most devastating.

As much as I revel in words, I don't seem to have any for him and callously think that he wouldn't remember them anyway. This may be my last chance to speak with him and I simply do not know what to say. It is a trifle late to ask for his daughter's hand, since I proposed a year ago and have considered it mine for years before that. It isn't as though I can wish him a bon voyage. Where he is going isn't the place of postcards and trinkets. I suppose I don't have to worry about saying the wrong thing - he really won't remember any flub I make - but I am paralyzed at the idea of saying anything at all. When last I saw him, fat cheeked and wheelchair bound, we talked of nothing, passing the daily pleasantries. I doubt he recalls even that.

What scares me so? He is dying, I know that. Unlike with Todd, I am actively prepared for his death. I joked to my mother (so I would not cry) that I hope he dies at a time that does not impact any of Emily's summer plans. Before he started falling to senility, he made similar statements.

Last night, Emily asked me what one wears to a funeral. "Black," I assured her, expanding no further. I don't remember what I wore to my grandmother's funeral and I was too much of a coward to go to Todd's and so have no outfit to try to remember. My good black pants are currently swirled orange because I added bleach instead of detergent to the wash. I will have to correct this before I need them again, as orange swirls are far from funereal.

My conception of the world is surprisingly small and, somewhere in the back of my mind, I halfway thought Dives Dives's mortician boyfriend Auratus would be the one to prepared Emily's father for the other side, but that will not be. I think he is getting cremated and his ashes scattered somewhere appropriate, New Mexico perhaps. I don't really know. I don't even know if I should know.

Soon in Xenology: Five years.

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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