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10.01.07 7:38 p.m.

We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.  

-Paul Bowles



On the roof of the loft - the flat an ever-changing collection of Dan Kessler's friends occupy - he sings a song about a romantic prospect. I have trouble listening to the words simply because there are words and not electronic warbling. I've been to several of his shows and never before had known he could sing. Ashley seems to have been largely resigned to the past subjunctive, someone who never was. I imagine his feelings for this new woman helped the healing process measurably. I don't know that I will see Ashley again; perhaps the central casting of my life could only afford to keep her as an extra.
Dan's crush  
Loft dweller

I mention Zack to Dan, ask if he has heard even a word from Zack since his departure. I will spare you the gruesome details but Zack left New Paltz alone (sans Cristin and dog) for a moratorium in Maine, doing physical labor for his brother. Emily and I have called Cristin and affirmed that we still count her among our friends - I've been in her place and was more than slightly devastated when a former friend thrust in my face how little I now meant to her - though he is keeping in contact with her (if no one else). Dan seemed to think that Zack would not be coming back, that he would find something or someone more interesting than the life he led by the shores of the Hudson. I had not so much as considered this thought prior to his saying this and suddenly the wind chills my skin slightly. People don't simply go away, not if they are important enough. Any time behind the stage curtain is only for a quick costume change before spring back in a new scene. They can't actually leave the theater, right? Not if we give them billing above the title?

One of Dan's friends, a man taciturn to the point of seeming surly and occupant of the loft, asks who Zack is and I am a bit startled by the question. It is easy to keep a narrow perspective and believe that the people who are important to you are at least known to anyone within a few degrees of said person. Zack is Dan's friend, as am I, as is this roof-dweller. His stomping grounds had been New Paltz - both proper and improper - for years and so should register on this person's radar enough that he shouldn't have to ask. With a little prompting, he sighs as though stretching, "Oh, he broke up with Cristin. Right." Of the things I imagine Zack could be known for, this is hardly ideal, but I nod the identification anyway. Yes, he is an amazing man, someone who has been like a brother to me for the better part of a decade. He sings passionately and plays guitar well and often enough that he developed carpal tunnel that prevents his becoming a professional masseur. He has shared two dozen moonlit memories at the end of a swing. He would hunt ghosts or aliens with me, even though he doesn't believe in either. He was going to be in a band with Emily called Slowpoke and Pumpkinhead. He has appeared in numerous plays and was one of the only people I know who actually looks like himself in his headshot. But, yes, he is also the guy that was dating Cristin as recently as early August.

I suppose I cannot hold much against this man, whose name floats on the edge of my memory (I think it is Chris, but may actually start with an "A"). When we descend back into the loft, to a gathering of faintly familiar faces and near strangers, I just play along as though I know the script. Over a decade ago and for reasons I cannot quite make out, my parents had me attend the final day of a Vacation Bible School. I had been to no prior day, nor had I any particular keenness for church-going Christianity, but was permitted not only to come to this final day, but be a part of the play the other children had been rehearsing for two weeks. I was given the part of Satan (way to make the new kid feel welcomed) but not given a script. Apparently, I remembered enough diabolical ranting that they honestly didn't notice I wasn't on-book. I feel this sort of improvisation now, listening in a people gossip about mutual acquaintances and socialize. I mentally fill in their back stories and motivations ("Okay, every word from your soft lips sounds a bit too precise, so you must come from a family that fed your acting bug" or "You sounded disappointed when confirming that I had a fiancée, so my previous gloating after having won a game of 'Clue' against you must have been interpreted as flirtation.") I honor and cherish these friendships, as I imagine my character should, for as long as I am in the same building. I don't consider them disposable, but I do consider our interaction to be single serving and not a reliable indicator of future performance. They will not necessarily know anyone else I love - Dan Kessler hopefully being the exception - nor much else about me.
Mummy's Alive  
I really have no justification for this image. At all.

There is something liberating about the ephemeral. Though I have as good an idea to my character and his motivation as I did that Miss Scarlet killed Mister Body in the Billiard Room with the Revolver, they don't. I can be anyone and I still choose to be me, grinning madly as I scan through copies of The Never-Ending Story and Evolutionary Psychology and - as Dan calls me "quick" and I deny it - briefly hold forth on the biological reasoning that states that women should sleep around and men should be faithful. (If the men do not know who among them fathered the child, they will all contribute to its upbringing rather than splitting their paternal resources among a series of bastards.) I am giddy at their looks of disbelief, though the Becca of the Acting Bug is in agreement of the theory and Dan is simply amused.

Dan and I curl around the bare but scattered room of one the loft dwellers. The walls and ceiling are empty but for a four-foot anatomical model of the human heart that serves, despite its aortas and ventricles trailing off into bare wall, as the spiritual center of the loft. She cuts glossy pages from magazines and glues them to cardboard scales of varying thickness. She had no specific intention for the scales, though I idly suggest creating a vast Quetzalcoatl and the idea strikes her as proper. I watch her glue and chat with Dan about the origin of the crockery that intersperses the scales. These, she tells us, were acquired through Craigslist. The woman who gave them away did to with last moment hesitation, that swallowing back of tears. These teapots and cups belonged to her recently late mother and this woman finally decided that the time had come to let go and pass these on to a stranger, where they would create new memories and attachments. "I didn't tell her that I am going to smash them and use the pieces for a mosaic. I didn't think she wanted to know," Dan's friend finishes.

It is easy to leave them once I get tired. I am nothing but yet another slightly off person in they town. Unlike the man they call "The Palmist" infamous for "accidentally" showing young coeds his penis, I expose nothing but curiosity, both having it and being it. I may have canny knowledge of a modicum of science, but I do not insist this knowledge comes from government operatives, as would one of their persistent cohorts. I am even forgettable, which is far from the worst thing to be. Beyond the girl who may have thought I was flirting with intention, I did nothing to get under any of their skins. They would not mind never seeing me again, nor would they much mind seeing me around town every weekend. I walk from the loft and see someone coming in to fill the space I occupied.

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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