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09.18.07 6:36 p.m.

My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just to enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate.  

-Thorton Wilder


I Swear To You

Leaning covetously over a first edition of a witchcraft book that has seen over seven decades of marginalia and wear, I hear Dan before I see him. Dan had called and suggested we meet his paramour Ashley in Tivoli. She was news to us - usually Dan gives fair warning of his romantic intentions - and we are eager to imagine what she would be like. She had to be musical in some fashion, Dan would have no less than a siren for a potential partner. She would be beautiful, but unusually so. Looking at her, one should immediately detect an air of left leaning politics and a life that has seen just the right amount of struggle to smooth out some of the more jagged edges adolescence gives. A good smile, that is essential or Dan will have none. And her hair may be of whatever color pleases God.
Dan and Ashley  
It looks affectionate, but they are actually glued together.

I knew Ashley immediately beyond the sketch I'd fashioned and she recognized me as well as one of those background actors that pop up intermittently but whom central casting has finally condescended to give a proper role. My first real impression of her was positive, in that it was not negative. This may seem self-evident, but I tend to either immediately like someone or have absolutely no interest in them, a condition they can never adequately repair. I am not disinterested in Ashley. She is square faced and lovely, her looks natural and unrefined. She would not do as a companion for many but suited the innate college town liberalness of Dan Kessler well. She seems to fit him and I am intrigued to know first hand how Dan behaves in a relationship, my only other knowledge coming from his accounts of past loves and a handful of flings that never took root.

After a long meal of Emily and me gently probing the hills and valleys of Ashley's history - summers working at an organic farm, subsidized by parents, a major in something unmarketable but enlightening - everyone else begins to make sounds as though the evening is quite over and goodbyes are nearly in order after Ashley plays us a song. I, in turn, keep saying, "But we do not have to stop hanging out, right? We don't have to go home." I love my apartment now that I am further moved in, but I currently feel considerably less positively toward the institution to which it is attached. It has been my first week again in their employ and I want only to extend my freedom, to enjoy one of the last nights that will feel like it belongs to this summer.

We pull our car around to them so that they can play their song. My schema was too small - I expected only to hear something on their car's CD player - and radically widens as I make out the shapes of stringed instruments against the night. In the dusty parking lot behind the venue where I last spent a night in Tivoli, Ashley sings and plays a love song to Dan's accompaniment and I am enchanted. I will begrudgingly let the evening end here, serenaded by a new friend, if it absolutely must.

But it doesn't. After the song, they do not put away their instruments and, still playing like they were leading me from Hamlin, we walk toward a nearby park to try our luck under the citrine light of the streetlamps. As we stroll, Ashley sings of loving fearlessly and it frankly seems like the only reasonable course of action on an evening such as this.

Emily and I swinging until slowed by vertigo, we listen as our friends riff on one another's melody interspersed with actual songs. We do not listen alone, however, as soon a man bikes over to us, demanding to see our poetic license. Dan points out that I might be the only one expected to actually have one, but I retort I am much more for the prose. This doesn't seem to bother the bike messenger either way, as he simply responds, "You don't look like one of the bad guys."

Standing with one foot on the swing, I say, "You can't see me very clearly in this light." Though the reverse is far truer, he having ridden through the grass with the streetlights behind him. He is the silhouette of a haggard man, a shadow that has seen a week of five o'clocks and an outfit that greeted this stubble every morning. I do not need eyes to know that he is drunk; it trips nearly every other sense.
Dan and Ashley  
Ashley, presented in Serial Killer Vision.

As a lull appears in the soundtrack of the night, a cricket solo, I approach Ashley and hold her, giving her a small kiss on the cheek and telling her, "Thank you." She holds me a little tighter and it feels that something crucial passes between us. This is precisely what I've needed all week as I was patronized, criticized, harassed, bored, condescended to, told to cut hair I just did, and outright insulted at staff meetings. From a school that concurrently regards me as expendable and as though I should give so much of myself to the job that I should literally relinquish a portion of my salary back to the school, it is invigorating to find a moment to which I am utterly indispensable and to which I give the whole of my focus. It is not merely that it is leisure or beautiful, though of course this is the case, but it is what my soul needs most to experience.

He leaves for a nearby house and returns with a guitar of his own, assuring us, "I'm not a pedophile. I'm an animal lover, but I've never been convicted." Emily is too polite to laugh and our minstrels are otherwise occupied, leaving only me to stifle myself. Self-deprecating bestiality is one of my buttons.

I feel Emily is more than capable of defending herself should our new acquaintance turn from lovable drunk to disagreeable alcoholic, so I move to the slide to take pictures of Dan and Ashley as they wander the basketball court and play. I do not wish to be noticed as I snap photo after photo that will not come out as I wish. Ideally, I would always have a high quality hidden camera embedded in my eye.

I return to Emily, dancing about in a conversation with Mike, our drunk friend, in time to hear him affirm some slurred point or another. "Why would I swear to God?" he corrects, "I swear to you." He stumbles drunkenly to his abode on this note and we take the hint, finally ending the night.

Soon in Xenology: Stability and progress.

last watched: Becoming Jane
reading: Pride and Prejudice
listening: Avenue Q



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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