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The Perimeter of the Fire | 2010 | When the Masks Are Off

08.01.10 5:21 p.m.

For some of my wisecracks, I'm never sure if I'm gonna get lynched or loved.  

-Jinx LeRai



Melanie and Jenna  
See? Not clones.

We pick her up outside a club I frequented in my teen years, one next to a brick factory that boasts of making office furniture. At this hour, the area seems more intimidating than it ought given that I know the names and GPAs of the local thugs. I keep the engine running and Melanie dashes out to retrieve our quarry, Jenna. I feel uncomfortably like someone's dad as I watch a woman in mom jeans hop out of her mini-van and call to a gaggle of kids to pile in, fresh from the mosh pit. Which side of this dynamic am I on again?

Jenna, with hair dyed the orange and pink of a sunset beneath a midnight top hat, wanders to someone's car to retrieve what she will need to spend the night in my apartment. I had earlier joked to Melanie that I wanted to make sure her parents knew where she would be sleeping but - seeing the glint of her braces in the rear view, the orange of their rubber-bands matching her hair - I wonder with more sincerity. I brush this off. I am about as harmless as it gets and Jenna refers to me as having a "kind face", which I take to be a gentle dig.

I'd spoken with Jenna online, enough to gather that we would get along. I couldn't rationalize having overnight company - no matter how well Melanie spoke of her - without some vague screening, though the majority of my questions had to do with breakfast foods, as Jenna had picked up a parasite in South America that made her allergic to gluten. Melanie and Jenna had joked that the latter was a clone, but I know my lover well enough to immediate pick up on dozens of obvious differences that owed nothing to the physical. Jenna is a discrete individual, but similarly companionable.

It is nearing midnight when I bring Jenna into my apartment. I had intended to give all the surfaces a good scouring prior to her entrance - I may still be dented by Melanie's first impression of my living space after a month of true bachelorhood - but Jenna's eyes don't even flicker at the mess that is requisite every night Melanie spends with me.
Melanie and Jenna  
Mind the ladle, girls.

Melanie darts around my apartment, snatching away self-portraits and cute tokens she left me (and which I affixed to my refrigerator) before her gruff exterior can be witnessed by one of her closer friends. I have tried to assure Melanie that her friends likely know that she gains a liquid center in my presence, but she is deaf my hypothesis. For whatever reason, she obscures her Relationship Identity from those who know any of her other ones. In the presence of those who knew her first or independently, she has to create a combined identity, a mix of who she is with them and who she is with me. I am so accustomed to this that I inquired if Jenna ranked among those with whom she is willing to admit tenderness of a male. Melanie shrugged and said she probably wouldn't punch me in front of Jenna to reinforce what a bad-ass she is. This only manifests in her being snotty about my writing when I later show Jenna a few books that feature my contributions.

We three talk and cuddle until three in the morning, first on the pull out sofa, then on our bed. When we began to get dozy, I inquire whether Jenna would be sleeping in our bed. Despite her arguments to the contrary, she is small enough to take up negligible space. Melanie thinks this over for a moment and then pronounces that she might kick Jenna in her sleep owing to night terrors, so Jenna must retire in the living room, as is proper.
Melanie and Jenna  
The Ladle Conspiracy

When morning comes, Melanie suggests we go out for breakfast. Before I can assent to the likely use of my debit card, she revises that I ought to make them pancakes and eggs. She confides in Jenna that I am her "good little wife", though I argue I am simply a good host until such a time as I boot them out for ingratitude.

We cuddle on the pull-out bed, watching the remainder of Henry & June, the girls enduring my kvetching that the movie earned an NC-17 rating because of a second long flash of a 1814 drawing of woman and an octopus becoming intimate. (For that rating, I demand actual sex, no matter how often - and accurately - the actress playing Anais Nin pretends to find her heels pointed at the sky.) As neither of the females present is averse to the sight of naked girl-flesh, they are firmly entranced while they finish up their breakfasts.

It is infrequent that I meet a new one of Melanie's friends, so I am glad to get on well with this one (even if - as they are not shy to remind me - she is eleven years my junior, younger than some of those whom I am paid to teach). There will always be a small nucleus of people in Melanie's life who are obscured from my sight - whether warranted or no - but I delight in the one who has been revealed over the last twenty-four hours, a girl on the shimmering end of the visible spectrum, one just beginning a journey that will rarely be less than eventful.

Soon in Xenology: Hannah, maybe a job.

last watched: Veronica Mars
reading: The Selfish Gene
listening: Kate Nash

The Perimeter of the Fire | 2010 | When the Masks Are Off

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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