Thomm Quackenbush, author

" Something Borrowed | 2009 | Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself "

01.01.09 11:31 p.m.

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.  

-Carl Bard

 


New Years Odd

It's past nightfall on New Years Eve, the day I had set aside to get my life in something more closely resembling order. I'd written a long list of chores for myself that I had ignored in favor of curing my PDA and then napping in preparation for Jacki's New Years Eve party. It is easy to shrug it off when I am only disappointing myself. Then I recall with a start that I was to pick up Hannah and Arthur with enough time to get to Jacki's house fashionable late. I feel a lurch as I look at my watch and see I should have been to the party forty-five minutes ago. This, I feel, sets a rather bad precedent.

Everyone concerned has already left messages for me an hour ago, checking on my status. I call, still half asleep, to make my apologies. No one seems terribly fazed, but it could be that I telegraph panic well and they don't care to listen to me explode over the phone because I screwed up. I call Melanie, who is recuperating from knee surgery the day before, and she calms me down enough that I feel capable of proceeding with the evening. I'm only going to be... two hours late to the party if I leave right now. That's not terrible, right? It isn't as though I am going to miss the ball dropping at Dick Clark's infernal command. I'm fine.

After picking up a palette of water, as per Jacki's message, I arrive at my first destination to abscond with Hannah and her friend-with-whom-she-orgasms Arthur. The only aspect of New Years Eve that has remained constant over the month I have been trying to make plans was that I would be spending it with Hannah. Even were I to spend the evening doing nothing more than eating a bag of chips, I knew I would be splitting them with her. And if our New Years Eve has to include Arthur, who (until I pick them up) I am convinced may not like me, so be it.

Arthur and Daniel are meticulously killing a Swamp Thing plaguing their video game characters when I arrived. I ask what he ever did to them, since he seemed very pleasant in the movie, but I am simply told that he needs killing and that this is what introverts do on New Years Eve. Arthur and Hannah tell Daniel to put on socks, as he is coming with us. Daniel, in turn, makes some mention of going to the diner for pie and declines their insistence.

"No," Hannah drawls resolutely, "you are not going to the diner. You are coming to a party and you will have fun."

"Yeah!" I agree, then turn to Hannah, "Is he really coming? Because cleaning my car was on the list of chores I did not manage to do today and right now, and only because you are very thin, I can fit two people in my car."

"Will anyone mind if I bring my laptop and ignore everyone?" Daniel asks, which is as close to enthusiasm as I think we are likely to get from him.

In the bitter cold, I am sent to make room while Hannah and Arthur shove Daniel out of the door. Hannah sits in the passenger's seat, against my assumption that she would wish to sit with her boyfriend, and I hand her a stack of CDs so she can pick music for the drive. She then puts these on the floor and forgets I suggested it. Instead, we listen to Arthur and Daniel talk. Hannah has told me that the two of them get along in a way that borders on the frightening, especially for her, as this means her current romantic interest shares enough similarities with her live-in ex that they are capable of speaking the same language of pessimistic brooding (there is a reason the collective noun is an unlikelihood of loners). And, while Arthur still does the "affectionately dissecting Daniel's more extreme ideas of misanthropy" act that I take to be a necessary tool in maintaining a friendship with him, he also has an uncanny skill to keep Daniel talking for the duration of a drive. In the forty minutes each way, I believe I heard Daniel speak more than I had in the entirety of our friendship to this point. Hannah and I are nearly silent, though I imagine I can hear her stifled laughs, or perhaps I am just hearing my own.

There are no lights when we arrive at Jacki's and Daniel guesses this is because the power is out and not because I have atmospheric friends.

"No, no! It's just that they like candles... and the neighbors are saving electricity... oh."

My entrance with guests doubles the occupancy of the party, but no one behaves as though our addition three hours after the party began is unusual. As I skipped dinner to shave precious minutes off my tardiness, I scan what remains of the food. Jacki, seeing my sudden lust for cheese and crackers, gives us the run down. Without power - which has been out for five hours already - they do not have heat, running water, flushing toilets, or the ability to make delicious food. They remedy the first by using their woodstove, the second with the bottled water I picked up, the third by sending party guest Dawn out to fill cooking pot with snow to melt over the woodstove, and the last with vittles that are nearly exhausted by now. It is distinctly rustic. Additionally, Jacki's fiancÚ Kevin is blasting music on a battery-powered stereo, though he repeatedly announces the wish that the power would return so he could play us some records. Perhaps the lack of modern conveniences has inspired further atavism.

There is little commingling of the guests or, more exactly, those guests I brought do not endeavor beyond the kitchen and keep the majority of their remarks to one another. Daniel, in fact, places a chair in the corner least reached by candlelight and proceeds to sketch geometric doodles in a way that implies he is taking notes on our interactions though, of course, the behavior of humans is not his concern. As I know the greatest number of people at the party (all but one, Dawn's husband), I try to make nice and act as a catalyst to interaction, but I needlessly feel responsible for those I've brought. They are more than amused by one another.

The power returns by eleven and, while Kevin gets out the record player, Jacki and I are sent out to acquire pizza and more alcohol for the guests. It is the only chance we have to be alone all evening, on a near frozen night on the far outskirts of a college town. I feel that we are beyond the need for artifice with one another, that slight alteration of our normal faces that allows us to function at social gatherings. It is something I have yet to full lose around Hannah, though I've come to the point where I am acutely aware of its intrusions, which generally is a signal that I will be killing it soon. We talk of our lives honestly, bitching about those people who we cannot bitch to and letting out angst so it cannot follow us into the new year. Everything is still glassy from the ice storm a week ago and the moon glows brightly over the farms and dells we speed past.

At midnight, I don't kiss anyone, saving that portentous first kiss for a lover recovering hundreds of miles away, one being bored by her parents' scholastic friends. Jacki and I are back in her car and, minding not to topple the pizzas, I lean over to her to glance at her dashboard clock as it clicks over to 12:07.

"Happy New Year," I say.

"You got it right. It's exactly seven minutes off. Happy New Year," she says and means it.

Soon in Xenology: Independence. Drive. Abandonment.

last watched: Slumdog Millionaire
reading: Confirmation
listening: Regina Spektor

" Something Borrowed | 2009 | Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself "

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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