Thomm Quackenbush, author

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06.18.07 10:37 p.m.

Earth's crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God: But only he who sees takes off his shoes.  

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 


Momentarily Here

It is only as I am leaving that I begin to feel I was there at all. Kristin - the friend of the Telephonically Estranged Sarah, not Zack's partner Cristin - invited my "people" and me to a Heaven and Hell party in Tivoli. A man on the phone assured me that, while this was technically a costuming occasion, I would be welcome in casual clothing. As such, I arrive half an hour early wearing no more costume than a white dress shirt over a black t-shirt and blue jeans. I felt I should let the viewer decide if this makes me divine or infernal, though for comfort the costume quickly reduced to simply the t-shirt and jeans, losing all pretense of potentiality.Naughty Screwtape!

The party was not my speed or, more likely, I did not allow myself to find my speed within it. Dan Kessler, the only of my people I managed to successfully invite, had more interest in exploring the only street in Tivoli that seems to count. He has less love for New Paltz with every passing day that he grows older and it stays the same age, and aimlessly muses a move to this more mature but liberal town. As he was my designated social buffer for this evening - I was unsure as to Kristin's level on involvement with the event, which turned out to be "hostess" - I felt the need to indulge this three block wandering.

I was not invited out of the blue. In the midst of having a difficult time spending significant amount of free time alone, I had called everyone in my address book I suspected lived within an hour of Anemia. Despite that our last significant contact involved both Sarah and drama, I had enough regard for her to keep her occupying a few dozen characters in my pocket. It was a week before she left the invitation on my voice mail, not bothering to identify herself.

I did warm up to the party, though not as much as I could have despite Kristin's guilty exhortations on her way to smoke breaks that we should mingle with the other guest at the bar. Bars in general are not my native land and I tread lightly within them. Dan had the balm of music - a band set up in a corner for the better part of an hour before we left - so forcing me to socialize somewhat. At best, I managed to insist to a man dressed (in one of the more liberal uses of the term) as Adam from Eden that he should allow me to take a picture of him for posterity. These people, as truly lovely as they seemed, didn't feel like my people and so I could only watch and hope.Beer from the Tap of Knowledge!

As we linger outside the front doors, joining Kristin while she smokes and chats with partygoers, I watch a man tearing flowers and whole plants out of the ground of buildings on the street. Years of working in a library in close proximity to a group home has given me a heightened sense in recognizing mentally ill behavior, a sense that would have been grossly unnecessary here. He was middle aged and understandably dirty from a distance. I could also tell that he was not dangerous in the least, unless one places a high value on one's gardening, and ignored enough to be a usual phenomenon. He slowly makes his way over to us and I ask if I could take his picture. But for the low light level on the street at this hour, I would have already done it a dozen times. To capture him, I needed both his permission and the flash, neither of which would work without his being in my proximity. He smiles, perhaps because I called him "sir", and went so far as to pose. Then he follows me back toward the bar. Flowers for you

No one seems to mind his presence much, particularly when he hands out his nightly quarry with no rhyme, reason, or respect for sexual dynamics. I get wilting red flowers and the stalk of something that still had roots, the latter which I promptly planted. He assures us in a nervous way that he is allowed to pick all these flowers because he does gardening work for the owners, but that we'd get arrested for picking flowers.

I return to the bar, where Kristin engages in a conversation with a man I hadn't met. After a few moments of not joining them, a small, attractive woman taps me and asks if I work there.

"No, why?"

"I'm hungry and I wanted to know if they are still making food." I size her up in a glance and decided that she is my kind of people, either owing to her resemblance to Ani Difranco or the twinkling in her eyes from the candles that makes her almost cherubic.

"I don't work here, but I can happily get you someone who does." She smiles and I went to get Kristin. I explain the situation and feel the rapport between us - the almost conspiratorial appreciation for the world - flare when she laughs. But I know the grill is closed and has been for half an hour, I just want the excuse to seem legitimately helpful.

I broke the news as best I could and she, Corinne, thanks me for my troubles and returns to her bar across the street. I want more of an interaction and Kristin chides Dan for not seizing the opportunity to flirt with an attractive woman in need who I guarantee would have been receptive. I again feel that flare between Kristin and me as I wondered how she knew Dan was single and, furthermore, knew that this girl would have adored Dan after five sentences.

I don't feel wholly resolved in respect to strange Corrine. I couldn't go after her to introduce her to Dan, no matter the degree of idiocy I display to actual social mores. It was past midnight and everywhere within walking distance is closed. All I could think of was the Laundromat a few blocks down, the only light in the dark. I excuse myself for the party yet again, not bothering to tell Dan that I am leaving the building, and walk there. As I expected, it has a vending machine that gave me Cracker Jacks after three tries.

I enter her bar, waving off the bouncer's inquiry for a cover change, and find her immediately.

"It's not really food, Corinne, but it is better than nothing."

Neither her thanks muffled by the music nor the derelict florist makes me feel I had been more than a ghost passing through these cardboard flame and clouds on opposing walls of the bar. Instead, this comes when I tell a thin girl I am leaving and to convey this message to Kristen. I don't wish to be a bad guest, but I also wish to go home now. She tells me that she will convey this to Kristin, then asks me to remind her of my name.

"Thomm," I say, noticing she is not releasing my hand.

Something in her demeanor changes. "Thomm what?"Like angels

"[My Surname]," I say and see the light of recognition in my eyes.

"You're Sarah's friend. I've heard of you. I'm Alison."

"What have you heard?" Depending on the moment in our friendship, lithe Alison could have heard less than complimentary remarks. I think for a moment that I would see no reason to refute them, as I was or am very likely exactly what Sarah described me to be.

"I've heard of you," she repeats with due emphasis.

"'Of' is good. I can handle 'of.'"

She does not let me leave so easily now. She reintroduces me to the boy who had been dressed - or undressed - as Adam. "This is Ben," she tells me. I nod and we shake hands. "Ben, this is Thomm [My Surname]." At my name, he too recognizes me and the handshake becomes more social, with a hooking of thumbs and a smile. I try to summon up every Sarah story I know involving the name Ben and/or Alison, getting the taste of crushes and confessions, roommates and run-ins, echoing in my mouth.

"This is just like seeing fictional characters spring to life. Very odd," I say, leaning against the table and trying to trace the exact details. I really should take notes or make charts of these relationships in the lives of important others, but suffer the myopia of only understanding events if I am the center of the spoke or can at least see the spokes. I can hear a dozen stories about a person and still be almost surprised that they are real when the eventual meeting occurs. In the case of Alison and Ben, I have heard their stories for a least half a decade without so much as a picture.

In seeing them and in really being seen by them, it truly is real to me. I have a context and faintly understand not feeling these are my people for the definite reason that they are actually Sarah's people. While Sarah is my people without a doubt, the transitive property cannot be applied to interpersonal dynamics.

I almost want to stay, now that I feel we at least have a mutual topic of conversation, but I know I can't. I tell Alison that I am around and will hopefully return this way soon and again to give my apologies for leaving while Kristin is momentarily elsewhere and while I am momentarily here, caught between heaven and hell.

Soon in Xenology: Emotional maturity.

last watched: Dead Like Me
reading: Lost Girls
listening: Avenue Q

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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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