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" Swansong | 2008 | Into Every Life "

04.01.08 4:54 p.m.

Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.  

-Albert Schweitzer



We chat for all of five minutes before I insist upon taking Xuan manhunting. I don't know what she's done to immediately win my trust and interest. Perhaps it is the profile picture with the huge sunglasses that make her look like Jacki O. I'm a sucker for retro.

I don't know her voice until I get to Beacon, which she has redubbed "Bleakon" for its lack of cultural redemption, and call her to let me up. She's lived in Beacon for months in an apartment that is too tiny even for her. The few walls are adorned with empty frames and mirrors. It looks as though she has just moved in - which is mostly true - only having had time to unpack some basic furniture and her dual screen computer. The bedroom is more thoroughly decorated; it is here where were does the majority of her living, it seems. When I look at the computer screens, one has an English to French translator and the other features a chat with a man named Johann (pronounced, she is quick to explain, Joe-Han and not Yohaan). I scan it without meaning to.

"We were having cybersex. Do you want to take over?" she offers.

I blush. "You and I are going to get along just fine," I assure her. I continue to read. "But I would prefer not to chat with Johann. Too much cyberspeak for my liking."

She leads me to a low coffee table and we talk for a few hours, as she repeatedly asks if I wouldn't like tea or water. Eventually, she stops insisting that she is a bad hostess because of my refusal and just pours me a glass of water.

This feels almost like a date as we get to know one another, as she tells me that she was flown out to Dayton, Ohio for an interview at the employer's expense, filled full of cocktails, and given a check for $1600 for some freelancing she'd done. I've just found her and she is already on her way out. Given that I contacted her because I was feeling a lack of socialization among my established friends, this is unfortunate irony, but at least I have tonight.

She tells me a little of her history, as I know none. She was put on a boat when she was all of eight and sent from her family in Vietnam to her aunt in America. She didn't go back until she was much older and her words make it feel that she had only vestiges of a bond with them anymore. She managed to gain ten pounds while on her visit. "I'm the only person who can gain weight in a Third World Country." I'm a cultural chauvinist, too unfamiliar with the world outside my borders, but I am smart enough to keep my mouth shut and listen rather than presume. She reminds me that she increases her vocabulary around me because I am an English teacher, though she has had nineteen years in American. I tell her that she doesn't have to, but her vocabulary seems perfectly natural to me.

Since I found her on OkCupid, I knew how compatible I was already supposed to be with Xuan. Frankly, we weren't to be particularly good as friends. I met her because she lives in my hometown, was cute, and her profile was enough to provoke me into sending a message. I had gone on dates with women that were better matches with whom I got on less well, yet Xuan is delightful, intelligent, talkative, and sweet. I finally address the elephant in the room only I see, asking her why we are such a low match.

"I answered those questions really conservatively. I was looking for something serious," she explains simply. "Something serious" seems to mean a husband, since she sets her dating age requirements at twenty-seven - our age - as the very youngest and because she pointed out to me that Melanie likely does not have the "emotional culpability" necessary for a serious relationship given her age. (Still, Xuan trusts my judgment in dating Melanie, so we're square in that respect.) Her romantic tastes tend toward, in her own words, white boys. Aside from Johann, her cyber-French man, she last dated a Dutch man eight years her senior who was constitutionally in favor of drugs. There was one Chinese man recently, but he broke her heart by telling her he wasn't interested (though she wasn't either). In return, she informed him that he had the smallest penis she'd ever seen.

As we get ready to go out - I told her that we could hunt in New Paltz or go to an open mic night - Xuan comments how clear my skin it. "It's probably because you stay out of the sun and don't smoke," she decides. She then slathers on sun screen that smells of summer, even though the sun is fading on the horizon. Without good skin, how is she going to get a proper husband?

She's lost her taste for manhunting by the time we get to New Paltz, if she ever had it. It is later suggested to me that Xuan assumed I was the man she would be hunting. By her own admission, she only scanned through my journal entries because they were too long, only suitable for "litchicks" so she could have been unaware that I am dating Melanie. I don't believe this, I think she just rightly figured out in the course of conversation that New Paltz would not exactly be chockfull of marriageable prospects.

We see Stephanie in the door way of 60 Main. I tell Xuan to stop for a moment, hug Stephanie and as how things are. I had been hesitant about contacting Dan and Stephanie since I last saw them, feeling as though I had been involved in something too naked. She assures me that things are much better and I trust her. Xuan invites her along to dinner and Stephanie politely declines. I give Xuan the Cliff's Notes of what occurred between Dan and Stephanie and she stately with authority that it would be a shame if they ever broke up.

She insists upon buying me dinner because I have been ferrying her around and had given her the first excuse to leave her apartment since she'd returned from Dayton a week before. In the course of our conversation, Xuan says something to the effect that she won't be sleeping with me but apologizes that she does find me attractive. I echo the sentiment and it is nice to have this established, knowing that it will go no further. It is far nicer to know we are genuinely friends. I can't pinpoint what makes us so, but there is this mutual trust in a world of lies.

As she discovers more about me, she decides that I have no vices when she has several. "You don't drink, you don't smoke, you don't do drugs."

"I snog an eighteen-year-old," I retort.

"Pshh! That's fine."

I think, strangely uneasy with the thought of being so squeaky clean in her eyes. "I flirt?" I say, but this is likewise too innocent a sin, something too venal and easily forgiven as I don't ever make good on the flirtation.

When I've brought her home, she says that she needs to take off her bra and I need to leave. "Are you sure I need to leave?" I smirk, showing her how weak my flirting actually is.

She shines her dark eyes at me and I close the door behind me, secure in my new friendship.

Soon in Xenology: Napping. Rainwater. Anonymous.

last watched: Lars and the Real Girl
reading: Dune
listening: The Vines

" Swansong | 2008 | Into Every Life "

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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