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10.14.06 7:34 p.m.

I feel that there is an angel inside me whom I am constantly shocking.  

-Jean Cocteau


Previously in Xenology: Xen was a social cicada, emerging every seventeen years to make a lot of noise before hiding again.

The Day of Two Carolyns

My nieces try several methods of getting me in the hay maze with them, effete physical force, cajolery, pouting bottom lips, yet the fact remains that the seated attendant has no reason to let me in without the nominal fee I cannot pay and my allergies would hate me for it anyway.

I smile kindly to the girl, "My nieces don't know that I have aged out of hay mazes."

"So have I," she agrees, "but that never stopped them being fun."
Becky, Alyssah, mom, and Leelee  
Hay ride

I appreciate her point and, to a different extent, the contrast of the color between her own bottom lip and lip ring as my nieces decide to attempt to drag my brother Dan instead. I return to the rest of my family, finishing up the hot dogs and popcorn that have somehow become such a traditional part of our yearly pumpkin picking. This farm changed nothing about the annual experience, a fact we repeatedly mentioned to the indifferent staff. We enjoy our consistency.

As we are leaving, I look back to the keeper of the maze and an idea strikes me. I ask my mother for a piece of paper so I can give this girl Bryan's phone number. My mother and I had been harassing him about keeping the long distance company of a girlfriend he insists he neither likes nor respects. His webpage points out that they broke up in the fall of 2006. He has just yet to work up courage enough to inform her. Consistency owing to the fear of anything different we simply cannot enjoy, particularly when it means picking up from the train station a girlfriend he calls a "stupid bitch" to her face so he can fail to breakup with her for another weekend. My family will have to endure her dozens daily phone calls for another week.

I interrupt this girl in her conversation with a friend, saying, "My brother is sadly a bit shy, but he wanted me to give you his number." Granted, he didn't know he wanted this and specifically asked me not to when I announced my intentions, but what sort of big brother would I be if I didn't help him out just because he doesn't know he needs my help? He certainly made no real effort to stop me; I would have put up very little of a fight if he presented any objection more stirring than "no."

Her eyes flicker and the lip ring wiggles enticingly. I forget her face in the situation, but I know the ball on her lip ring. "Then I would be happy to receive it," she says, surprising us both. I try not to think to far in advance; too much awareness of the future sucks all the joy out of the present when I am doing something impetuous and foolish. Still, I touch her hand to pass her this envelope and cannot be happier with her part in this improvisation.

"I'm Thomm, by the way," I say.

She extends a longimanous hand my way and I take it in mine as she says that she is Carolyn. I probably say something trite about how I please it was to meet her; I truly don't remember, though it was and I hope she contacts Bryan. In a few simple words, she has impressed me, something I cannot say for many.

Gliding down the hill too fast and too roughly, I just manage to keep my balance. I fall so rarely and do not wish to do it going thirty miles an hour. It was stupid to attempt even the foot of this hill, but I had been doing so well with lesser inclines. Only my joints and head are protected from severe damage and that hardly seems enough. The rest of me can still be scraped and torn and feels like it may be if I continue to concentrate on anything but the horizon and my hips. Through nothing more than inevitability, friction, and gravity, my skateboard slows to a more navigable speed next to a blonde woman. She is attractive, older than me, but undiscernibly so. I give my customary smile, trying to convey something to the effect that it is a wacky world where people ride skateboards next to people who don't, but that is the world in which we find ourselves and there is little either one of us can do about it now. There is a certain stigma to skateboarders and I do not know how deserved it is; skaters do not make up my social sphere. Until a few weeks ago, I did not regard myself among their ranks and am not sure I do now except in the most literal sense. I do however feel that many people may not encounter one close up and I would like their interaction to thus be pleasant so they don't shuffle me into a stereotype. It has happened to me only once that I have noticed in my few weeks of skateboarding, when an old man stopped his car to yell at me that I was crazy in the head. I pointed out that I didn't take mental health advice from anyone without an advanced degree and glided away from his extended middle finger and rusted truck.

The blonde is not so content to let me ride out of her life.

"You look familiar. Where do I know you from?"

I stop my board. It would be rude to do otherwise. "I don't know. I sub for a few districts in the area. Maybe that is why?"

Her eyes tell me that this is not why, but she asks me if I want to be a teacher. No, I always tell people who ask me this, but I am a teacher. We walk down the street and she grows impressed that I have taught at Vassar, that I am so young and have a Master's (I did not ask her age, it did not occur to me and would not seem polite if it did). I do not think that it is at all strange that we are walking until I wonder where she is going. I search my memory for what she was doing when I passed her at a fair clip and come up with no clue but the keys in her hand. I find it strange to see people walking at all, but like her well enough, giving no concern to past or future. I can be guileless when it doesn't occur to me to be otherwise; I took all this at face value while I tried to place this woman. Only later does Emily inform me that I was being picked up, a conceit I find strange. I was a sweaty mess in elbow pads and an "I [heart] NY" shirt. There would be no reason for this woman to decide that this was attractive. Were I dressed and showered, perhaps. In retrospect, I wished this could be possible, save that it would likely preclude the pretense of our momentary relationship. She was accepting of my state, shaking my hand despite the fact that it was dunned with WD-40 and dirt from holding the axle of my board. "It's only dirt," she says, "I'm Carolyn."

Yet another Carolyn, I think, and smile in a way she takes for her own. I wonder at the omen of a day with two Carolyns.

We chat for much of the length of this street, moving at a leisurely and normal pace. She asks me questions, I answer and neglect to ask much of her. I get my answers from her reactions, from her statements that I would have better luck teaching in Canada or that America was hanging itself with its freedom. The latter comment perplexes me, and I try to suss out from our banter whether it was meant with sarcastic quotations. I imagine it must, though only because I would feel off put to be told by a stranger as she did that she loved my openness and to secretly share such dissimilar philosophies.

We part with her saying that she hopes we will meet again. I tell her my street address, but she didn't know the street. I clarify that it is just up the hill I was climbing.

I remove my pads and store my board, returning to the hill in vague hope that she would somehow come outside again. When she does not, I stare at the cerulean sky and listen for messages from migrating birds. It was good enough to be on a grassy hill on a waning autumn day. It was good enough to have engaged a strange Carolyn for a handful of minutes.

Twenty Seven

I pull back from hugging Joann goodbye a second time. She had said something charming about people living in the moon - it was apparently an allusion I didn't get and just felt her charming for saying something eccentric. I look at her and feel for a moment that I should kiss her. It is not precisely that I want to kiss her. I find her sweet and intelligent, but I am rather in love with Miss Emily and Joann is fond of her long distance boy. It was simply that parting under such a moon on such a night momentarily requires a kiss. Some minute glitch in my programming, but I wonder if she feels it too.
Wouldn't you feel kissy?  
This hasn't happened in a while and perhaps is the sort of flaw that caused my popularity amongst some in high school. I most clearly remember it once in Kate's apartment, when she was looking for something on the bottom of the refrigerator and I was standing over her, talking. She rose and the clove cigarette and shampoo scent of her head triggered an urge to kiss her. Even urge is not correct, more an instinct I had to question and fight, though hers may have been a more conditioned response; I have, after all, kissed Kate a great deal more than I ever intend to kiss Joann.

We had just exited Jacki's and Kevin's new place, which is to say the former home of Zack and Cristin. It seemed utterly foreign and familiar simultaneously, dimensions superimposed. It seemed rooms came into existence and spaces changed shape, though I was later informed that I simply had not been allowed in messy rooms by the former occupants. Jacki has also had more years to collect an abundant, coordinated variety of attractive detritus. Kevin teased me, asking if I would be awarding points for their decor as I did for him on our first meeting. So the house arbitrarily gets a 27 after factoring in a one point deduction for spite.

I was there only because Joann told me to be and to bring my "people". Until I arrived with Zack, Cristin, and Dan Kessler - how I interpreted "people" - in tow, I did not know if I was indeed expected. Kevin and Jacki seemed happy enough to see me, however, and did seem in the midst of a dinner party so I suppose Joann wasn't punking them.

I felt too social, a pitch in my voice growing too voluminous. I actively silenced myself once it was half-jokingly pointed out to me that necrophilia does not make for good dinner conversation. How on Earth did I become the sort of beast who needs reminding?

Worse, I somehow got on the topic my teenage romantic peccadilloes and, off his surprise, asked Dan if this lessened his opinion of me. He said something typically philosophical about the malleability of opinion, but the answer was yes. The retrospectively funny serial monogamy of my youth contrasted and dulled the emotional brand of me he had assembled in his mind.
Jacki and Kevin  

Dan was quiet for the rest of the evening and I am not arrogant enough to assume I am the cause. I had to look past Zack at the table to make sure that Dan was still there. As I had felt so boisterous, his silence concerned me. Perhaps this is simply his reaction to social settings in which he does not know people and lacks the benefit of a musical instrument.

I wondered how Zack and Cristin felt seeing what their house has become. I was not helpful to their achievement of closure, not hiding my notion that Jacki and Kevin "won". I know Cristin complimented the fresh paint, though Jacki is fairly certain the landlord did not have time to paint. Zack said that he was glad to be rid of a house he couldn't afford, but I imagine this makes him a little sad if only because I would be sad to see what became of my Walden apartment.

My people left, but I stayed to listen to others talk. The lateness of the hour killed my extroversion, but it felt so long since last we have had any quality time with them. Why waste it simply because I am heavy-lidded? When else will I hear about Joann's relationship or... almost anything about Kevin? It occurred to me that, despite liking him, I don't know much about him.


Emily is crying and I don't know why, only that it might be because I brushed off her morning fashion critique owing to my lateness. Her tears do not inspire rational thought.

I hold her until her tears ebb and she can tell me, "My dad's not going to call and wish me a happy birthday."

"No, love, he isn't," is all I can think to tell her. This is her first birthday without him. These moments come sporadically, in street people singing Dylan or turquoise jewelry. I never know what to say in these moments and so hold her as long as I can.

Soon in Xenology: Sarah. No zombies.

last watched: Little Miss Sunshine
reading: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
listening: Tidal

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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