Thomm Quackenbush, author

08.05.06 6:53 p.m.

May our joys be deep and our wounds be sacred.  

-Marianne Williamson

 



Previously in Xenology: Emily existed many years before she met Xen and she had a dog she loved very much.

Toine

The day was supposed to go differently, but what day isn't? It is the frailty of making plans at all and one of the reasons I am a fond Taoist, trusting the Way far more than I can my expectations.
Emily!  
At Six Brothers

I awoke and Emily informed me that I had a simple choice before me: Mystic Aquarium or Atlantic City. As I am still so unused to having any money and want to keep it, I opted for the porpoises. She vetoed this plan by telling me that she would rather go to Atlantic City, that she felt an impulse she could not put into words. I agreed, not wanting to buck the fates.

"Why didn't you just tell me you would rather do that?" I asked.

"I didn't know I did until I asked you."

We called my mother to walk the dog - though I think she assumed we were up to something more than we were telling her - and were on our way, listening to Neil Diamond croon our road trip music. We got nearly halfway there before the plan turned sour and we realized that other people might also feel that Saturdays were a good day to gamble. And by "other people" I apparently meant "all of New York and much of Pennsylvania". We abandon this plan in a few minutes, knowing waiting in traffic was not the gamble we sought. We turned around and headed back to the fair land of New York. This too was not to be as Emily asked me, apparently assuming I would decline, if I wanted to see the diner where she had spent the majority of her adolescence.

"Of course."

"What?"

"I would love to see this diner. It will be like seeing the set for a TV show that went off the air before I could tune in."

I wish I could tell you that this place, the Six Brothers Diner, was fabulous in some way. The fašade suggested it should be, build in characteristic diner style upon a hill requiring us to hike no fewer than twenty steps to reach the door. I considered that the owners of this diner had bucked the trend of Greek nationality and were Aztec pyramid builders, plying their craft where they could. Within, the only thing to differentiate it from any other diner build since the 1950's was the amount of stories that immediately poured from Emily lips. This was where her crew went after every show - and bear in mind that she went to a performing arts high school, so shows were nearly constant. No one on staff remembered her, though I was psychically willing the most senior members of the staff to walk by our table in hopes that one of them would gasp recognition. We thus ate a generic meal, splitting it between us, and bid the Six Brothers adieu, just faceless travelers. This didn't seem to bother Emily much.

Next, as we were in the area, she wanted to visit her old mall. I held out very little hope that this would be any better. Malls are all but one animal and share the capitalist DNA that varies little; they reproduce by budding and have little chance for evolution. The only mutations permitted are those of the occupying viruses; the individual stores, which comes from an incestuous template, all inbred and polydactyl.

We missed the mall on our first attempt, but stumbled upon a story. Turning around in a parking lot, Emily said, "Krauser's has toine."

"Pardon?"

"Krauser's has toine."

"Who or what is Krauser's?"

She motioned to a small convenient store bearing the name over its doors. "And toine?"

"Toine is a kind of iced tea only sold at Krauser's. It had more sugar and caffeine than any other beverage that existed then. We - the cast and crew of shows - used to drink it all the time. There was raspberry toine too, but it really wasn't very good."

"That sounds... actually a bit revolting. Why is it called 'toine'?"

"Because the person who introduced it to our school was named Antoine."

"So it isn't actually called toine?"

"No, but the people at Krauser's would probably still know what we wanted if we asked for toine. Not that Krauser's, though."

"What is it actually called?"

"Iced tea. Obviously."

Quest

$200 to diagnose the problem and $17 to fix it.

It took fewer than five hours from start to finish. I was only there at the end. Our dog Quest would not get up and refused to eat anything, even when hand fed chicken by Emily. He had seemed depressed for days, but he is a greyhound. When he wasn't depressed, it was completely out of character. He had been vomiting on the floor the last few weeks. Never very much or often, but it was the sort of thing one should notice more. I assumed he ate something bad for him and the internet backed me up when I searched, concerned. I could tell myself that things might have been different had we paid attention sooner, but it may have been a blessing that we did not.

The vet quickly figured out that Quest had a tumor the size of a football on his liver. On a dog that skinny, it is hard to hide anything, but he had managed. Emily tearfully accepted the prognosis that his death could be forestalled a month at most. She brought him home, intent to hand feed him and care for his every whim while he waned and whined. She was going to skip our vacation to Lake George to make sure he was comfortable. When she got him home to take him for a walk, he excreted quite a lot of blood onto the grass and she knew she couldn't wait, that it was cruel to do so. I rushed home from Vassar, where I had been sardonically relating the story of our cancerous dog to Jacki. Black humor is sometime the only defense mechanism I have against overwhelming pain, the tough mask so soft and saline around the eyes.
Quest and Pyewacket  
And he was a demon. Did I mention that?

I arrived home to Emily, who was little more than a series of spider web cracks being held together by tears. Quest knew nothing, seeming genuinely chipper owing to cortisone and prednisone shots the vet had given him. It was much harder for me that he appeared healthy, even enthusiastic. When Emily's last dog died, it knew that it was being taken to the vet to be euthanized and was somber. The decision left no doubt then.

We took Quest for one last walk, both of us barely maintaining our composure. One of our neighbors, one of the nameless masses, said what a beautiful dog he was. The man had yet to see our tears. Emily, swallowing a sob, explained that he was getting old and amended that by saying that we were taking him to the vet to be put down. The man was completely taken aback, having walked into a melodrama when he was expecting nothing more than pleasantries. He was so removed from his context and comfort that he just muttered what a shame it was and walked into his building, ignoring the task he had begun.

The car ride was so hard, knowing that we were transporting the condemned. It would have been easier if he knew, but I would have said the opposite were things different. I am glad that he didn't; it would only have been easier for me. We started referring to him in the past tense, even as we petted his head and commented on his awful breath. There was no need to break the habit; we would spend the rest of our lives speaking of him as something that was. We eulogized lamely, talking of how he ate a lot of grass in his lifetime and irrationally loved the snow despite having no natural insulation. In so many ways, he wasn't a dog. He was just a very high maintenance houseplant, as we were oft to say, but we loved him as though he were a dog.

We had to wait a long time at the vets, trying to keep from bursting out in tears and frantically petting the dog, knowing we soon would never again know the softness of his long nose. I was especially fond of his ears and said I wanted to keep them, but didn't actually allow myself to process the thought. He walked to us and hid his nose between our legs, one of the more charming habits of greyhounds.

Emily's mother had joined us and said such difficult things as "Is this really necessary?" I assured her that it was in unison with Emily, that Emily knew this dog so well that she was the only person I would trust to act as his stead. The dog and she healed from trauma together and he was her best and only friend for a while. He was the only one who knew all of her secrets, the one to whom she cried when her father received his death sentence diagnosis.

In the vet's office, people were still milling about despite the lateness of the hour. A woman with a goat sat there, pulling on his horns. Quest regarded this all nonchalantly, just thinking he was back at the vet where the nice man in the white coat would rub his head. He had come such a long way in regards to people, now actually curious and social. It took years before he would do anything but hide when I was in the same house as him. The people waiting all asked in turn why Quest was there, the polite chitchat. It seems perilous to ask that sort of question in vet offices for the very answer we gave. They commiserated with their own stories of deceased pets, but we didn't need any of that. Their pets weren't ours, nor their pain.

Emily wanted to be alone when Quest was put down. I offered to be with her, but she said that this began with only the two of them and should end the same way. I sat silently next to Emily's mother. Even when we heard Emily's wail signifying that he had been injected, neither of us moved or said a word. There was nothing to say.

We had to transport his body to Emily's old employer, the Warwick Valley Humane Society, where they were going to cremate him for free. It was so hard for me to feel him in the backseat. And hour ago, he was alive and rubbing up against me. Now he was meat, covered in a blanket and awaiting immolation. And, as much as I tried to drive the thought away, I knew we were the reason he was dead.

Emily has given so much of her life to this dog, shaped so much of it in caring for him. I don't know what comes now. He is the reason we are in Wappingers Falls and not the city; no city apartment in our price range would allow us a greyhound. He is the reason we could not take long trips or be away from the house for more than ten hours.

I miss things that annoyed me when he was here, like tripping over him on the way to the bathroom at 3AM or having to take him on a walk immediately before falling asleep or waking up, no matter the weather. He was not a convenient dog and was not best served by living in an apartment with two busy people, but we loved him as best we could. We knew his sensitivity, how we couldn't so much as raise our voice when we arrived home from a long day to discover that he soiled the rug, because he would have spent the past hours crying and fretting over his accident. Never had I met a dog who worried so much and felt so guilty. While I had seen dogs express temporary guilt when they knew they were caught at something untoward, I did not know that it could be persistent enough to become a neurosis and defining character trait.

I know I am spinning through the Kubler-Ross stages of death, thinking things like "I would give anything just to be able to walk him once more at midnight when it is approaching zero degrees." I wish I could be less typical in this. I cried for Quest almost as I did for Emily's father, which seems grotesque. Our cat, who apparently regarded Quest as her kitten, searched for him for days, crying as only a cat can do.

Emily has been through so much this summer; the death of her father, traveling to a war zone, and now having to be there as her dog was killed. I fear that she is balanced on a precipice and don't dare imagine what the next trauma could bring. It is said that misfortune comes in threes. If so, she is now safe and owed quite a lot by karma.

Emily said she thinks Quest was thrilled to see her father again. She cried with delight at the idea that her father would be able to play with Quest once more. Maybe it is like Pascal's Wager, but I want to believe in the immortality of the soul because consciousness is such a fantastic gift that is feels cruel and unfair to end it so quickly. I guess one can take society as a collective. We contribute what drops we can and better the world how we can. But I don't know if that is enough; I want to believe in the individual immortality of the soul, not that I have bettered humanity and that is my immortality. As Woody Allen said, "I don't want immortality through my works, I want immortality by not dying. So far, so good."

Already Emily talks about getting a new dog to fill the hole left by Quest, the subroutine and focal point. I do not want this. I could give practical reasons, such as that I have no place for a dog in my life at present. His was an attachment grown too strong, my helping Emily fulfill a promise she was in no state to make. But that isn't it, not wholly. Quest's death has left a dog-shaped hole in my life, but it is a hole I am willing to preserve in memory of him. You can replace dogs about as readily as people and no pet will ever again be Quest. I am willing to ache to remember that.

In the end, I just miss my dog.

Soon in Xenology: More Summer Institute for the Gifted. Lake George.

last watched: Chinatown
reading: The Last Unicorn
listening: Fashion Nugget

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

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush