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01.29.07 9:32 p.m.

Nobody sees a flower, really - it is so small we haven't time, and to see takes time.  

-Georgia O'Keefe


Previously in Xenology: Xen needed frequent escapes from Anemia.

Always This Girl

There is this girl because there is always this girl. There may always be this girl.

As we exit 60 Main, Dan points to a pretty blonde seated in the corner, her attention focused on something in her lap. "She is a huge fan of [my musical pseudonym] Ambivalent Elephant, but we haven't actually met yet." There is a tonal shift in his voice to suggest that he would not mind changing this fact, but we leave without casting another look her way. I marvel at and envy the idea of comely fans who don't know me on sight or, at that, those that do. I've been told - but given no objective proof - that I have fans who I know I would not recognize and who are nowhere near as concentrated as his. This is one of the many perks to being a cutting edge musician in a college town rather than a confessional writer on the internet.

Dan is not for want of female companionship; this is not his interest in getting to know this girl. If anything, he is overwhelmed. When I arrived at Dan's apartment, he quickly unraveled the threads of the present tapestry of his romantic life with the deft of Jocasta. Lora, his on-again, estranged-again romantic interest, has returned to the area for an unspecified amount of time and for equally as uncertain reasons. While he assured me with his every gesture that he is utterly content with the reunion, she eschews commitment of any color. As she apparently explained it, the moment she is labeled someone's girlfriend, she feels an inescapable urge to cheat. As such, she has no issue with his seeing other women as it gives her excuse for reciprocity and rootlessness. I must have raised an eyebrow, my internal prejudice causing an involuntary muscle twitch, because Dan amended that she hasn't been with anyone else. He didn't sound convinced of this arrangement, but sounded willing to be convinced. Dan added that there is an unnamed girl he would otherwise pursue, but forbears owing to Lora.

There was a time when I came down very harshly against anything resembling polyamory or open relationships. Despite the fact that it was none of my damned business what two (or more) consenting adults do as long as it doesn't wake the horses, I saw it as an easy way for an abusive and unfaithful person to sucker a gullible partner into cuckoldry without guilt. I knew a bi woman who made the arrangement with her straight husband that she can sleep with whatever women she cares to. In exchange, he can bed men, if he didn't happen to find the idea against his nature. If he kisses another woman, he is being unfaithful to his wife. I perceived polyamory as a web of kinky sex games and low self-esteem. I think now that this perception is accurate and informed, but applicable only to the annoyingly vocal and visible minority. Non-traditional relationships can and do work and I am simply not exposed to many positive examples. Thus, I withhold hope and judgment.

Dan looks at the door of the house on Water Street, where a small photocopy is affixed. I barely make out the monochrome screaming face before Dan announces, "That is for the protest. We won."

"Protests can be won?" I ask, since it just seemed like the sort of thing that happens without any thought of resolution. Short of the other side - heretofore called "The Man" - curling up and dying, winning does not seem like a possibility. One protests in New Paltz because it is Tuesday and the sun rose again. I don't get a chance to further examine the flier to see what we won, but am grateful for our evident success without my contribution or foreknowledge.

We open the door and enter the house without hesitating to knock or announce our presence. Such an open door policy could be dangerous, but I've never heard it abused. A stranger might enjoy their hospitality all night without arousing suspicion, like some Biblical angel in human drag. Perhaps the New Paltz residents will share the fate of the majestic dodo, eons of safety robbing them of their own wings until a predator arrives from distant shores intent on their plumage and tasteless meat though largely for the easy sport. Then, they will protest effetely and vehemently.

The occupants of the house - I'm not exactly sure who pays for their rooms and who simply is present - are holding a potluck tonight for no more reason than they would need to protest. Dan was not in the mood to cook and I did not know of this option for the evening's entertainment until I'd arrived unannounced at Dan's apartment, so we reasoned that our (potentially uninvited) presence would be deemed acceptable if we refused their food.

The occupants hug Dan and gave me a vague nod, as though they couldn't commit to confirming we'd met before. I don't hold it against them, as their names in my head were "Auburn Haired Lesbian" or "Female Dan". I quickly remedy these deficits, eavesdropping until they are mentioned by others and thereby gain names like Marigo and Ella.

A boy walks into the tiny kitchen and begins to make peanut sauce rice noodles. In moments, he is talking about conciliatory blowjobs. Initially, I assume that this is a reference to the bonobo shirt he wears. Bonobos are a species of primate that are hypersexual, that solve their conflicts not with fists but penis fencing and genital rubbing. They engage in a wide variety of sex play, from infancy to well past monkey menopause, with no regard for resultant pregnancy. Humans are not the only species that use our mouths both to cause and soothe battles. It is quite hard to retain one's anger at a partner confessing to denting the car door when the confession is so swiftly followed by fellatio.

Meeting Shulie, Dan's friend, I strain without success to recall the stories I've heard. Until I have a face and persona to ascribe the stories, my brain keeps the sparest of files, a fact which I immediately rue. Something in her manner is immediately familiar and compelling, a deserved confidence. Though he says nothing unusual, I feel a curious energy pass between Shulie and Dan and what to know its source. Is she the nameless interest, I immediately want to know but think better of asking. She thinks nothing of approaching me and talking as though we were old friends slowly remembering our inside jokes.

Time passes from hand to hand like the various vegetarian dishes as we move into a bedroom where ambient music fills the air. I interact, feeling all the more social for my liberation from Anemia. I cannot get quite enough of any one conversation and absorb stories, one boy stopping the tide of conversation in the room by relating that he first heard a band when he was hiking on a mountain in Japan. We all stare at him, cold envy and intrigue, along with vague hope that this is nothing more than collegiate bragging. The guileless look on the boys face reveals that he means it, but that he is nonetheless satisfied that we are all impressed. Dan soon relates an anecdote that a visitor once asked Niels Bohr why he, a man of science, hung a horseshoe in his home. Was Bohr really so superstitious that he believed it would bring him luck, the visitor wondered. Bohr replied, "Of course not; but they say it works even if you don't believe in it."

Here, Marigo walks in and turns to face the wall and, the room filled with ten people flitting between proximal conversation on philosophy and art, pulls her shirt over her head, revealing an utterly, delightfully bare back and the curve of her small, naked breasts. The conversations may continue, I am not certain. I am far more focused on the side of her left breast, silhouetted in the lamplight. There is a bathroom two seconds walk away and several empty rooms, so I feel no masculine shame in unabashedly looking at her - more than a gaze but short of a leer - since it seems she does not mind being observed. Had she asked the room to divert their gazes while she followed a caprice and removed her shirt, I likely would have obeyed the request but thought her strange. As it stands, I think very little and absorb very much.

She pulls on a man's shirt and makes her way across the room, where she calls into the hallway for the owner of the room and shirt, to make certain her use of both is permitted. "What the hell is she going to do if it isn't?" I ask Dan in sotto voce. He simply smiles and shrugs. He had told me that these parties go in this direction, particularly in the summer, and I reaffirm that I wish to be invited to any party where there is increased promise of the nudity of most any and all of these girls. He asks if Emily will be as interested, not in the fashion that he wishes to see her nude, but that he expects her to find likewise interest both in the parties and guests.

I cannot pretend that my interest is divorced from the fact that naked, college girls are obviously compelling and this act, coupled with the light kisses Marigo receives from Shulie by pouting and lying across her lap, plants the niggling seed of a crush in me. I am desperate to summon Dan's stories from the recesses of my brain, to put these strange moments in some semblance of context, but nothing useful comes. Later, I will research Marigo on the web as if to disabuse myself of this persistent and aimless attachment, but she happens to be motivated and passionate. Thus, her stripping is liberated instead of slutty, though I won't deny that it is exhibitionistic. It is her house (I think...) and it is likewise her right to be as free as she wishes. I would wish her to be no other way.

The crush, amorphous as it is, will not abate and cannot reach its typical conclusion at the lips. This crush belongs to the evening as much as to Marigo, though it wears her half clothed body for the sake of convenience. Its climax is not to be erotic but literary; like an obsessive Buddhist monk, I will carry I will carry the image of Marigo's nude back for days, the distance enriching the memory with impossible lighting and a confidently pure look over her shoulder a half second before she pulls the new shirt over her head, until I do the crush the honor of purgative publishing.

When I leave to return to the tundra of Anemia, Shulie makes a point of saying that she hopes to see me again soon. The glint in her eye and heft of her voice telegraphs sincerity and she has won my interest, if she didn't have it immediately. Marigo says nothing that I remember, nor should she. While she is a memory I will toy with for a while, one I will pin to a mounting board to examine at my leisure, I am nothing but a spectator and familiar face to her. She might know me on sight, but she wouldn't know I was her fan for fifteen indelible seconds.

Soon in Xenology: Teaching. Shulie. K.

last watched: Pan's Labyrinth
reading: Say You Want a Revolution
listening: Wolves in Wolves' Clothing

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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