Thomm Quackenbush, author

Beltaint | 2008 | Pomegranate

05.16.08 11:03 p.m.

The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.  

-Virginia Woolf

 


Expiration Dating

I never understood the stigma of proms. Emily had tried to talk up our wedding as a prom for just the two of us, which tripped exactly the right psychological circuit in my brain. Proms are an excuse to get dressed up and dance closely with one's lover, to kiss on the dance floor and shape memories from gold chiffon and bad music. Further, they mark a transition between stages in life, from spring to summer, from high school senior to college freshman, from virgin to unwed mother. I didn't know how to appreciate a prom fully when I attended them as a teenager, it was just something expected but delightful. As such, I may have put undue emphasis on this "prom" at the Rug Room as one of my final acts with Melanie before she left me for France.

She was a vision in a black and gray fairy skirt and black tank top, even when she covered the latter with her ubiquitous oversized, gray hoodie. I didn't cry to see her, as I had when I went to the prom with Katie nine years ago, but it was likely only because I had promised myself I would hold back my tear at her expense as long as I could. I wore a black suit jacket and pants along with a red shirt, taking the exhortation for formal dress seriously enough to commit to the ensemble I usually wear to interviews.

We arrive at what amounts to a shack in the woods peopled by two or three formally dressed hipsters. It could easily be the scene of a horror massacre, but the pulse of music and conversation is far from sinister. Melanie insists we follow the voices to their source. A boy in a Salvation Army suit leads us out to a storm cellar. I grin and say that this is now a party. Something about going beneath the earth to dance feels right. We descend to the basement, a sparsely decorated room with sofas and chairs snaking along every wall, as well as thirty throw rugs covering the floor. There is a table covered in vegan goodies and spiked punch, all of which is being grazed upon by a series of ironically dressed college students. The walls, where not shrouded by bed sheets, are dotted with posters for concerts months past.

Melanie panics almost instantly and says she cannot do this. I'm instantly disappointed, but I exit the party with her and, in the cold, steady rain, ask her what we can do to make this safe for her so we can return. Frankly, I am used to my dates claiming they can't do something I've been planning for weeks the moment we get there and insisting we leave. Melanie takes a few deep breathes, either realizing the situation or having caught the edge of my pouting bottom lip. "No, it's okay. I'm fine. I'll be fine. We can go back." I wait a moment to see if she is going to renege, but she smiles that lovely grin of hers to assure me and we come down the stairs again.

When we return, we are immediately approached by a man with long, curly, dark hair and a literally silver smile. He notes that we are late. I recognize him from an internet, where I'd solicited his friendship because I realized my number of proximal male friends would be dwindling to none this summer. "I don't think you've had enough spiked punch to recognize me yet," I say and introduce him to Melanie, though he somewhat knows her from looking at my site. The strange part was that I'd never caught his name. He'd only ever been his screenname or something beginning with an S, as this is how he'd signed his letters. This latter fact is especially funny given that his name is Daniel. (And Daniel he shall remain for the purposes of storytelling. There are too many Dans in this narrative already - Dan Kessler, my brother Dan, Kei's husband Dan. Later, Melanie begins to call him Danny as a joke and not to his face, since this is specifically not what one would call him if given the choice.)

We three chat a little, but it is hard over the loud music of Slingshot Dakota so I opt to try dancing as my means of communication. Only, I don't know how to dance. I love to do it - especially when ordered to do so by a video game - I just don't know how to. I can only improve by embarrassing myself, which I do the bare minimum I can manage while still enjoying myself. I wiggle next to Melanie until she gives in to the groove and shimmies back.

We relax a bit owing to the spiked punch, though Melanie won't give me more than a sip of because I am driving hours hence. (She's conscientious.) Daniel - who we have taken to seeing as our responsibility to keep amused - sits in an easy chair, fingers tented in front of him, and lurks. I believe this is even the term he uses for observing the party before him; I'm not being pejorative. Melanie and I dance around self-consciously, but we are honestly just as bad as all but a few of the revelers, which makes the endeavor much more fun. Confronted by more than one Fred Astaire, we would crumble for want of spiked punch.

I don't recall much dancing at my proms, though I imagine that I tried. I at least got a slow dance with Jen, but so did Nick, who would soon take her from me. I recall mostly sitting at the table at Katie's prom, chatting with her friends and finding her beautiful, a situation that repeated when she came to mine. I mostly remember the after prom parties more than the events themselves. Jen and I went on a cruise down the Hudson River. It was so cold and I was enthralled with how beautiful she was then, having loved her but considered her cute. I was severely sleep deprived and just wanted to hang on her. The next year with Kate, we get busted by the cops coming out of a cemetery (where I wanted to molest her, but where we only talked) and being frisked for nonexistent contraband outside All-Sport, the scene of the party. We drove back to her house to sleep and mist rose from every surface along with the sun. Then, weeks later, showing up at my school's post prom party at a bowling alley and being one of only three couples that opted for a dry, school sanctioned event. We got the door prizes by default and abandoned it for surreptitious after prom sex elsewhere.

A band comes on that is too loud for this enclosed space, but I think that is rather the point. Who needs lyrics when you can have volume, drowning the space in guitar riffs and drum beats? The band stretches their set by telling their own prom stories, of dancing and dates and punk rock and fights and furtive oral sex, which gives the affair an added air of authenticity. Behind them is displayed a banner reading "Prom 1983," though there are other years to choose from should we wish to be anywhere from seventeen to fifty. Many of the fellow prom goers around us have had their proms too recently. I recall with a start that my date was at her prom last year and decide I won't focus on anyone else's youth tonight.

Dancing proving futile to this loud music, Melanie, Daniel, and I bounce balloons at people. The chaperone, a boy years my junior wearing mirrored "cop" glasses and purposely awkward clothes, blows his whistle and sends me away for hitting his head with one. But he is a representation of an authority figure and I assumed that was what I was to do. At my actual proms a decade ago, the chaperones kept to the corners and let the trashy students grind into one another, so I wasn't given to understanding respect for anyone who can't back it up with an orange plastic whistle. I walk to the picked over vegan snack table, watch him pass, and return to my friends and their balloon ammunition.

The next musician, Dave End, comes on. He is an obviously homosexual boy wearing a tentacle hula skirt, shades of Ursula the Sea Witch. He entertainingly sings about being an obviously homosexual boy, though leaves out being a malevolent Disney character. At one point, after he has switched into a Bea Arthur dress and sang an ode to his lesbian dog, he tells everyone to hug the person to our left. Melanie and I hug, decide against hugging the strangers nearest us, look at one another's smirks, and run to hug Daniel, still in his lurking chair. We pounce on him. He yells, "I'll get you for this!" But dark-clad friends need hugs too, whether they say they want them or not.

As Dave End finishes his set, Melanie says it is late and she is tired, though the implied end of that sentence is "of this prom and it is now time for our after party, if you catch my meaning." We tell Daniel that we are leaving. When we get to the car, I close the door and prompt Melanie for a dissection of the evening.

"Your window," she prompts.

I look out and see only darkness. "What do you mean?" I ask, then my eyes adjust to the rainy night and make out the shape of a different darkness. I jolt, wondering if Daniel heard me when I asked for the dissection of the evening and wondering further if he understood that he was to be the first on the examining table.

I open the door. "Hi, Daniel!"

He pauses for a moment. "Do you want to get coffee or something?"

Melanie is already clearing my backseat for him. Were Emily my date, I think she would have just insisted that we go straight home to sleep and I appreciate that this is not Melanie's prerogative tonight. All night, aside from her initial freakout, she has been gregarious and fun. She's been everything I could ask for in a prom date, though she could do with a tiara and sash pronouncing her the Prom Queen.

We three go to a diner in New Paltz. Our interactions are nervous and tentative, though I've exchanged several long, random, friendly letters with Daniel. It feels like a first date, without interest in a good night kiss. Daniel was quite clear that he doesn't cotton to "the cock," a sentiment that I can get behind, as it were.

"So," Melanie asks, "What's with that grill in your mouth? It is it mithril?" I am so grateful to have such a darling, tactful girlfriend, because I was just as curious and had yet to think of quite the right way to bring it up. Grills had only ever been the domain of gangsta in my understanding, and they preferred gold ones with gems or engravings.

"No, it's made of sterling silver," he explains simply.

"For biting werewolves?" I inquire, in what I imagine is a reasonable tone. I need to know the assets of my friends, just in case it comes to a battle with supernatural creatures.

We sit and talk for hours longer, of his money defaced with youfoundthecash.com (an anti-Scientology site, points in his favor), of my reason for contacting him (simply that I wanted a friend and the site recommended him), and of whatever else it is that people discuss in diners. By the end of it, I am fairly sure the internet was right in selecting him from the rest of the masses. I got both a prom with my love and a new friend in the bargain.

When I get home and have satisfied the conditions of Melanie's after prom party, she cuddles against me and says,

"Thanks for making me go to a prom. I had a lot of fun. I love you." Then she falls asleep on my chest. Somehow, that honestly rockets this to one of the best proms I've ever been to. I know what to appreciate of the experience now.

Soon in Xenology: Melanie leaves. Dreams and nightmares.

last watched: Cloverfield
reading: The Illuminatus! Trilogy
listening: Live At Fingerprints Warts & All

Beltaint | 2008 | Pomegranate

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

The Night's Dream Series

We Shadows by Thomm Quackenbush

Danse Macabre by Thomm Quackenbush

Artificial Gods by Thomm Quackenbush