Thomm Quackenbush, author

" Black Wings and Sylvia Plath

Double O Lama "

11.09.07 1:01 p.m.

Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.  

-Anais Nin

 


The Unveiled Woman

I make the bold assumption that anyone with whom Dan Kessler has shared any intimacy - which should be read as "more than ten minutes of solid conversation" - counts as my single serving friend. The more he likes them and the more they appear to like him back, the more I feel entitled to their brief companionship. This does not mean that I do anything overtly creepy, such as hugging them prior to their knowing my first and - if absolutely necessary - last name, but I will behave in a familiar ways, as I would with the companion of any of my good friends. For the most part, people behave to the level expected of them and I am rarely disappointed that they act just as familiarly toward me. People just need to feel permitted to be as social as they silently wish to be.
Stephanie  
Does not beep.

Dan and I take the rail trail to the hidden door of his new friend's home. The only physical descriptors I had for her were that she is small, with cropped brown hair. This, as you can imagine, describes more than a few hundred young ladies in a college town such as New Paltz. He told me intrinsic things about her, that she is an artist deft at taking portraits that are both beautiful and vulnerable, that she was a dancer at Sarah Lawrence, but nothing I could use to track her. He also mentioned that her name is Stephanie, which I therefore shouted at the first girl meeting the described qualities who entered 60 Main and who then looked at me and beeped. She was not Stephanie or particularly interested in being called so and I quickly decide to wait for Dan to retrieve me and lead me away from those who beep in my direction.

When the authentic Stephanie opens her door, she is as described and I instantly feel a rapport. I find her energetic as she buzzes about her tiny room, no more than a foyer for her aunt and uncle's home in which she has placed a mattress and a few of her pictures. I scan the media present - books, movies, prints - to get a handle on this girl and further justify my immediate liking of her. Unfortunately, this space is also used to store the family's detritus, including a majority of the Disney videos currently available for sale, a visual reminder of the two nieces Stephanie cares for as part of her rent (the rest of which is $300 and assorted chores). I can get no textual evidence to support my interest in her and not her extended family until she shows me a dirty paper plate and tells me that she found it on the street and was going to turn it into art but, now that she got it home, realized it is likely just garbage.

After introductions and this brief conversation, Dan leads us back to 60 Main. The coffeehouse employs Stephanie, though I had erstwhile believed it was patronized and maintained entirely by collegiate volunteers. It is precisely the sort of place fueled by the kindness of strangers. Dan begins playing a jam session already in progress with a few other musicians that I do not recognize, but who fit in well with the New Paltz aesthetic that straddles the line between people wearing expensive clothes that look to be stolen from a hobo and actual homeless people. There are no words to the tune and I am not contributing to the beat - I opt to finish the final revisions on We Shadows while sitting on a comfortable chair and eating a vegan cookie I bought to soothe myself after the unfortunate incident of the mistaken beeping identity - so I allow the music wash over me and become a background noise to fixing my first novel.
Stephanie  
Still not beeping.

After ten minutes of this editing, I look up to notice that Stephanie is sitting on a stool across the room, looking solitary and distractible. I approach her and we begin talking. Within a few dozen minutes and my demurring from trying the concoction of spice, syrup, and coffee she created, we claim the couch and are playing a game I dub Anais Nin Roulette. The rules are as follows: opening the coffehouse's copy of Delta of Venus at random and reading aloud the first paragraph we see. She gets nothing salacious, I get nothing innocent but do as our improvised rules describe. We'd both had childhood experiences with Nin's book of erotica, both more or less being told not to read the book and thus both stealing it away and reading it. To my chagrin and her amusement, I give synopses of each of the chapters ("oh, that one is about a Hungarian raping his daughters and then moving onto the son, that one involves necrophilia with a drowning victim, that one involves a man who can't have sex with the prostitute clone of his lost love because she lacks a mole in her intimate regions"). Given that I had not seen the book in years, I am more than a little surprised that I have retained even that much of the plot. It is far more artful than anything one would find in Penthouse Forum or Literotica but also, just as certainly, not the sort of information to which one need dedicate undue numbers of neural connections.

Dan, irritated, joins us after our third or fourth round. At first, I worry that his irritation has something to do with me. Objectively, I could see how one might be upset if one's friend were reading sexually explicit material to one's new girlfriend. Subjectively, I can't really imagine that Dan would be upset about this. Both Stephanie and I were utterly upfront and public about what we were doing, inviting him into the next round. Later, after relating these concerns, Emily will ask me if I flirted with Stephanie and I answer without a single doubt that I did not. I am a flirtatious person but certainly know the difference between the keen interest and approval I give to Stephanie and the idle flirting I slather upon someone like Jacki. Though I've only known Stephanie a couple of hours, her fondness and devotion to Dan is palpable and welcome. He deserves it utterly.

We move outside, away from the pulsing of music, as though we are going to travel elsewhere but then we stall. Stephanie and I keep chatting, about her time at Stony Brook and her history. Dan stands and, while he contributes, he still seems irritated and distant. I keep hoping our chatter will lighten his mood, though it doesn't and the night only grows colder.

We return to Stephanie's room and Dan finally reveals the source of his frustration. Apparently one of the musicians at the jam session made some catty and groundless remark about Dan's music. While he is otherwise placid and sedate, any attempt to cast musical aspersions upon Dan cause him to bristle. We assured him that the persecutor is a jerkface and Dan should ignore him and his jerky jerkfacery. Stephanie's company does far more than my assurances to calm him again and forget the insults at 60 Main.

I'm sorry to leave them when my portion of the night is exhausted. While I have enjoyed the presence of the girls with whom Dan has felt some attachment, I have never so immediately liked one on the level I did Stephanie. The energy between them is lovely and she seems to make Dan happier than he has been in a while. Before meeting her, he had said that he'd decided to give up on finding love in New Paltz. The very next day, there was Stephanie. I hope that she will persist in being around for a thousand more next days.

Soon in Xenology: Officiators

last watched: A Scanner Darkly
reading: The Night Listener
listening: Mirrormask

" Black Wings and Sylvia Plath

Double O Lama "

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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Works by Thomm Quackenbush

Anthologies

Find What You Love and Let It Kill You by Thomm Quackenbush
Pagan Standard Times: Essays on the Craft by Thomm Quackenbush
A Creature Was Stirring: A Twisted Christmas Anthology by Thomm Quackenbush
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