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Non-Player Characters | 2015 | Life inside the Music Box


Like all of my friends, she's a lousy judge of character.  

-David Sedaris

Danielle the Amazonian

I wrestle the doll from the dog's mouth, feeling I should know the dog's name before I attempt so physical an intervention. I scruff behind his ears to see if he may bite me if I get any closer. But, even when his teeth close on my arm, it is only enough that I know it is in play. This dog is raised for affection, a perpetual puppy (though I know so little about dogs that perhaps he is a puppy). I wonder if playing with the dog in this fashion is not a breach of etiquette, if I should not ask for permission from Danielle before manhandling her pet. She says nothing against my roughhousing with her pup, only making sure our cups are full of plum wine.

I put the alcohol into Amber's cup because I do not like its cloying sweetness and have no need for the alcohol. I tell Daniel and Amber, "I wouldn't want to become aggressively nonthreatening," as one of Daniel's friends accused me of this the last time I misjudged how many mimosas I could handle. I do not yet have these sort of inside jokes with Danielle, but I hope to.

The last time I so instantly found myself enamored of a person, it was Jess and, soon after, Rosemary. I saw in them people I imagined my life required. I tainted my friendship with Jess when I formed a crush on her (however important that crisis ended up being in the long run).

I do tend to keep a distance from most people and, on paper, Danielle is the sort of person who might give me pause. Yet I cannot do anything but approach without any fear (curiosity, yes, since I do not see what good I will do in her life and I prefer to have a good idea of how I am useful).

I don't want too many people in my life beyond a certain social echelon. Each person exponentially complicates plan-making, which I feel typically falls on my shoulders among my cadre of introverts. I have only a certain amount of energy I can invest in a relationship. If potential friends want to be nothing more than social media acquaintances or make me chase them down to prove their worth, I will mourn the possibility and move onto someone who might reciprocate. I've lingered and pursued. It has never been worth the effort. However, I want the potential of this friendship with her, even if it is occasional and casual, because I like the world better knowing Danielle is in it.

Tonight, she has nearly run out of clothes-she tries to have very little clothing to deal with-so she wears a red party dress pushed off her left shoulder to show a broken heart tattoo reading "I love no man." If I were running out of clothes, I would be wearing a promotional t-shirt two sizes too large and faded blue jeans, but I am not Danielle.

So that she can do her laundry, we walk the streets of Kingston on our way to her other house and pass a church that advertises "the full Gospel." "None of this half-hearted picking and choosing. You'll hear about every begetting," I say.

"Even the parts you really wouldn't want to hear about," chimes in Amber.

"I think we even get into The Silmarillion here."

Danielle laughs, and I realize that she isn't yet inured to our banter, our verbal games.

Daniel told me, early in our friendship, that he assumed I was in his life for a specific reason. In his experience, most people were. This is an oddly fatalistic perspective from my dear anti-theist. I told him then that, if I found this to actually be the truth, I would put off giving him the crucial message as long as I could manage it but, to the best of my knowledge, I had no such message for him. Eight years in and I have still yet to fulfill my purpose, unless it was to force him to be my best man.

I do not understand what my existence offers Danielle, though she is welcome to my friendship. In a utilitarian way, I do see how she could be beneficial to me. As the editor of a magazine, even and especially an erotic one with reach above a quarter million, she could put my name in front of a lot of eager eyes. Many authors I admire cut their teeth at Playboy, though I am about forty years and the advent of Photoshop away from being relevant to that market.

I have mentioned in my talks at conventions that friendships can only exist among equals. In a strictest sense, I do not think I am on her level. I am not sure people of her level exist outside of fiction. Yet, in person, even having only spent time with her twice (once while podcasting), I don't for a moment question that we are friends, even close ones. Yet things like middle names and upbringings seem trivial weighed against real friendship. We are friends because of course we are friends. Friends don't need to be useful, since this is not a Randian dystopia. Friends need only be present and authentic.

All of this may sound as though I am in awe of her, but this doesn't come through in person. We are friends, which precludes much outward awe. I acknowledge a friendly infatuation and appreciation, but it is more wanting to know someone who managed to get immediately through my defenses. Amber was the last to manage this and we see how well that turned out.

A quick googling reveals that Danielle is, if anything, more open with her personal life online than I have been. This makes sense, given that she is my first friend with publicly accessible nudes. It does occur to me that, if she were so inclined, she could have a time-lapsed portrait of me since 2001. I don't think she would care to do this, even if I am influenced by who I have been in darker days. I wouldn't want her to expect earthquakes from my early twenties still tremor me today. Her traumas are broader and they don't seem to outwardly touch her. In her shoes, I would be constantly licking my wounds and operating with as much emotional security as whomever Woody Allen casts to play him in his movies these days. She is serene and jocular.

Amber darts into the very pink bathroom of Danielle's other house. Danielle disappears downstairs to deal with laundry. I turn immediately to Daniel.

"Why does she like us?" I demand.

He expresses amused uncertainty. When I take my turn in the bathroom, I hear Daniel asking my question to Danielle. In lieu of answering, she turns the question back on Daniel and Amber.

Amber later reports that she said, "You are very tall," which sufficed.

Danielle is an inch over six feet, tall in a way that betrays her origins as a fashion model (she notes that she is the only girl at the agency who had a few inches subtracted from her profile). She possesses confidence beyond the idea of confidence, as though she might not realize she is a personality powerhouse. I would be surprised if she were ever anything less than willful. Her personal life sounds not unlike a movie pitch. In short, however, she is an adopted former stripper from a conservative background turned burlesque dancer turned high fashion model turned editor-in-chief of an erotic magazine, Jacques. She dates and lives with a man who professionally mics Snookie and her ilk, though we've yet to meet him in person and so I will spare describing him more until he is more than a faceless anecdote. He bought a beautiful house for a steal, although I am judging its beauty by its overwhelming potential, since Danielle had to warn us away from a saguaro-worth of nails from yanked up carpeting. There is a room in this home for her children, though there are also torn walls revealing an obscured bar.

Danielle is a creature of mystery, though I do not think she means to be. However, having a life that leads me to question is about the surest way to keep me on the hook which, again, I am certain is not her intention. She just likes us and, as near as I can tell, has since before she met us. I assume that liking me on sight is a sign of a personality disorder, but we can forgive her this apparently solitary defect.

She talks about going on double dates with us and inviting Daniel along as our fifth wheel.

"That's where you're wrong," Daniel says. "I will just assume you will take care of each other and stay home with my cat."

I had not been expecting to make a new friend of any seriousness and, like a beau scared of moving too fast, I don't want to spook her with the honest fact that I like her company. Then again, she is the one who talks about double dates, how she looks forward to us meeting her boyfriend. I can picture dinner parties and star gazing. Daniel will be there, even if we have to trick him, because he is still the intestinal friend. Though we like her very well, Daniel is still necessary to justify spending time together. Like a period piece, invitation will have to flow through him. Beyond that, I would have no interest in cutting him out of this friendship.

On our walk back, Danielle dons her owlish glasses to inspect the notice on a house on the street, with the implication that this might be another realty conquest if the mood strikes her. The glasses change her face from the mental conception I have been building. She could almost vanish beneath these glasses far better than Superman into Clark Kent. However, unlike him, she is still Amazonian in stature and confidence. She cannot ever be anything less than demi-human, as should be the case in everyone I like.

Soon in Xenology: Music box.

last watched: Hannibal
reading: Hyperspace
listening: Jill Sobule

Non-Player Characters | 2015 | Life inside the Music Box

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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