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" Defensiveness Deriving | 2008 | Xuan "

03.25.08 10:00 a.m.

The days are too short even for love; how can there be enough time for quarreling?  

-Margaret Gatty



I don't notice anything amiss as I enter Dan's room. I settle next to Stephanie and begin making faces at her cat (previously known as Mushka but now rechristened Kitten in lieu of a full name no one seems to like much). I am so distracted mimicking the cat's twisted head that it barely registers when Dan leaves. Don't crush her

I persist in making faces at the cat until Stephanie says, "Did Dan take his coat and leave the house?"

I play back my mental recording and scrutinize any sounds I heard and ignored for the last two minutes. "Yes, he did," I finally and tentatively declare, knowing what this may mean. I subconsciously assumed this exit was mutually agreed upon since Dan moved with such purpose, not even stopping to politely excuse himself for leaving once we dinner guests began to arrive.

Stephanie looks down, then at me, then she says with that desperate ebb that they've been having small fights lately but it is nothing dire. I recognize the tone too well and feel a welling of pity. She says that everyone has problems in relationships. I've already begun to construct the preamble for the story in which I find myself, inflating and exaggerating every breath they took and their body positions as I entered the room. Dan seems so pacific that I have a hard time coming up with anything vaguely likely. Yet, he has kept the company of only a few women for more than a week, so my mute narrative takes on the tone of mystery rather than romantic comedy.

Dan returns after five minutes of rising tension, saying that he needed to get scouring pads and flashing the gray objects in his hand. He doesn't look at either of us, but particularly not at Stephanie. She asks if everything is okay, though only because she knows it can't be.

When finally their gazes meet, or rather when he relents to look at her, there is ocular communication into which I cannot eavesdrop. They both go downstairs to "cook" the dinner to which I had been invited, though I hear murmured conversation below that would not fit in most kitchens. I concertedly do not to listen to this argument, it isn't any of my business. I pace around the room a bit, study Dan's books, delete email from my Palm Pilot, then call Melanie and relate the awkward situation in which I find myself. There is no way out of this house but through the sighing couple - though I briefly consider the window - and I am not about to interrupt the drama beneath my feet.

After half an hour, two boys arrive and Dan shows them up to the room. They are ebullient and have walked through the fog of angst in the kitchen obliviously, as I would have.

"How did Dan look?" I ask as soon as I am certain he is out of earshot.

Their smiles drop into concern and they both likewise replay the last minute. "He didn't look happy," the blond one, Jon, states. The boys irrevocably realize that they are trapped in this room, but for the company of the other, they don't much care.

They chat blithely about college majors and play with Stephanie's cat. I ignore them and await the inevitable, which arrives in fifteen more minutes. Dan comes up, his eyes looking everywhere but at us, and he tells us that he thinks Stephanie and he are breaking up and could we please leave now? I hug him and tell him to call me should he need to, that I am not leaving New Paltz yet. I am too committed to this story and need to see it through. I descend the stairs and, kissing her bare left shoulder, say the same to Stephanie. Dan is my best friend, but Stephanie has a need for friendly solace I cannot ignore.

Back on the street, I take notes into my voice recorder and walk to the Muddy Cup to wait in style. In a half an hour, Dan calls and immediately Stephanie tries to beep through. He sounds distant and desolate. I talk to him and walk toward their house, hoping I can be there before our conversation progresses much further. He tells me Stephanie has left for a walk and that I might run into her outside 60 Main.

"Do you want me to run into her?" I ask, because I am already trying. Dan seems to want to sit and think on his own. Stephanie has the unenviable prerogative of needing to talk to someone who isn't directly involved. He tells me I should find her and thanks me for volunteering for something I was trying to do anyway.

I run down an alley and find her at the end of it on the phone with her mother. I walk next to her for the duration of the call, gleaning what I can about the situation, then she turns to me.

We walk and she cries out her frustrations, how she has given up everything to be with Dan and how it doesn't feel like he appreciates that. How she is now scared to consider moving to the city with him. How she just wants to love him. After a few minutes, Dan starts calling her cell phone, Leonard Cohen crooning "Susanne" as her ring tone. She ignores the song so she can cry more. When we wander well onto campus, she answers and opts to weep to Dan, saying, "I'm in the middle of the college, what do you expect me to do?!" She reports that he then hangs up after saying he is coming for her and she tells me I should go, that it isn't my drama and she doesn't want me further involved. By this point, while I don't disagree, I don't feel that I can leave her until she is safely somewhere. I consider for a few moments bringing her back to my apartment in Anemia so she can have some space from this pain, but this seems likely to do far more harm than good.

He calls again and she informs him that she is now by their home, but he is still somewhere in the night, trying to find her and bring her back to where she returns of her own volition, having exhausted her emotions on our walk. I ask if she wants me to come in with her, but she tells me I don't need to and that she needs to deal with this on her own.

I want to and have to believe they can resolve this, because I love them both and want their happiness. I've rarely seen him as happy as he usually is with her and this happiness brought her into my life. Most of all, I don't want to lose my conception of Dan's nobility, which this evening has startled. I need him to be sacred and, for that, I need this to end well if it must end at all. But I don't see this as an end, simply a moment on the long path of their love, uneven ground.

Months ago, Dan told me that he felt especially surprised at my breakup with Emily because he had assumed we would be the couple that lasted, the one who gave him hope long term love would work. Now, I can't help but hope the same for them.

Soon in Xenology: Xuan. Rainwater.

last watched: The Orphanage
reading: Dune
listening: The Vines

" Defensiveness Deriving | 2008 | Xuan "

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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