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Eidolon and Daemon | 2017 | Low Tide


We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.  

-Tom Stoppard

Crossing the Bridge

Chris asked when we are free over the week so that we might stroll on the Walkway Over the Hudson. The protective insect in my head, safe in its asocial carapace, says we are never free during the week. I am permitted - nay, encouraged - to pester people into hanging out with me Friday and Saturday, preferably in the evenings. Sunday during the day is allowed, but it is fixed beside what is usually a school day.

Another being inside me points out that walking across this bridge will qualify to my fitness band as sufficient exercise, so I do not lose more than the drive by going and might accrue Friendship Credits.

(Yes, I have a congress of sometimes warring, invisible beings inside my body. I am large, as Whitman said, I contain multitudes.)

Days before, I had asked him to promise he wasn't a murderer-rapist. He made a long joke about how Worm must have snitched on him and we couldn't trust Worm's word. As such, we had invited him to our apartment, some forty minutes from where I assume he lives (doesn't everyone live a brisk walk from their place of permanent employ?). He brought us a pumpkin pie, only because he offered to get us something then mentioned he intended to stop at the grocery store that Amber claims has the best pumpkin pie. We fed him roasted chicken and potatoes I made in the microwave. We watched two-thirds of a Netflix documentary about a trailer park of sexual offenders until I found it too familiar from my day job to continue over dinner, when I instead played silly Youtube videos as a palate-cleanser. Chris could have stood to watch more of Pervert Park, but I couldn't do it. I am fine with gawping at men in full woman suits or a man crafting sex dolls in his garage, but this documentary was too earnest to be fun. Instead, I put on a documentary called Sirius, ostensibly about a tiny, curious corpse but really an excuse to dip into every conspiracy theory suggested by the documentary's many, many backers. In the overlap of the paranormal and the mockable, I can speak when I feel I have nothing else to say.

Yet I couldn't say too much. My head was in the wrong configuration to do more than feel skittish and awkward. The insect, who I believe will be an accepted part of this menagerie so long as I remember liking the metaphor of it, reminded me that I hardly even know Chris, though I have no trouble talking with him via text. This is not like me, to be unable to engage with someone I have invited into my home, but I cannot break myself out of the subroutine imposed by this chittering annoyance refusing me the ability to make eye contact.

Amber jokes - or I think she jokes - that we ought to post pictures of Chris to make Daniel jealous, which I think misunderstands almost everyone in this sentence. She breezily says that she sees no reason we can't silently assign to Chris the mantle of our departed brother.

I don't believe in rebounds. We'll do this authentically or not at all.

Maybe Chris invited us out as a sort of payback for our having given him chicken. I am only half-joking about the Friendship Points. A part of my brain is mathematical about human interaction until the equations get too complex and it concedes defeat. Then, the subject is just my friend and I cease to consider balancing equations.

The menagerie must contain an inept accountant. I wager he keeps the Awkwardness Beetle (he has a species now!) as an attack bug, unleashing him when the bottom line is in the red.

Still, before we are a few messages in, I have searched for the weather (the warmest day this week) and decided that we had better eat after the walk rather than Amber and me grabbing fast food on the way down. I have figured out, based on when he gets out of work, how long the walk will take, how long dinner will take, when I will steal Amber away to go home on time to get to sleep for work the following day.

I don't think I am anal. I just want to understand the variables and my place within them. I am disrupting the comfort of my usual Tuesday, one predictable beyond a few variations. I need to find how to balance all this. It is too early in this friendship to sacrifice one of my workouts or too much sleep, unless Chris fell into a crisis and needed rescue. Rescuing him would create an abundance of Friendship Points and would be an adventure.

We meet him at the bridge, though we parked away from him because I do not know the proper entrance.

I brought my digital SLR camera because I had been aching to get more practice, something the same grayness of this belabored winter was not making convenient.

The bridge is about a mile long, spanning the entirety of the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie. It was once a vital railroad bridge, first built in 1889, something I would have found intimidating from all angles since it is two hundred feet above the busy Route 9 and then the unforgiving Hudson River. It never functioned in my lifetime, having been put out of commission by a fire in 1974. So long as I had known it, it was a rusting skeleton threatening to topple into the river should the Hudson Valley ever experiencing seismic activity greater than a sneeze.

Then it was decreed that it would become a park, which is to say that it was rehabilitated enough to allow people to walk upon it, something we do in droves when the season accommodates. The press says it is the longest footbridge in the world, a claim I don't care to contest. It has played host to Guinness Book attempts at the most hokey-pokeys and several protest marches. I once went to a poorly attended swing dance right in the middle, until the park rangers squared the dancers off so regular people could get by without catching a Mary Jane to the forehead. It is considered one of the gems of Poughkeepsie, a city that claims many things, great and small, as gems. (Poughkeepsie might be a greedy and farsighted dragon.)

The camera plus the height plus the purpose behind the walking confuses the accountant enough that I can sneak out. (Yes, addition confused him. As I've said, he is inept.) I had no stories in reserve, but I have enough to sprinkle through our conversation as we walk. I realize that most of our initial letters was my telling him stories he caused or prompted me to remember. Getting me comfortable in your presence might merely be a matter of tricking me out of my shell with the opportunity to tell a tale, then blocking my way back when I realize how far outside my comfort I suddenly am.

The light is at the wrong angle on the walk to the Highland side, but it is perfect on the way back. None of my pictures, aside from one I sneak of a woman holding her mutt and a few of Chris and Amber, are original. They are exactly what everyone takes pictures of, I am certain: The Mid-Hudson Bridge some miles off, the industrial buildings on the Poughkeepsie side, the distant river below us. I try for a bird against the wispy background of cirrus clouds, but my lens is not meant for this magnification and it wouldn't have been much of a picture were it otherwise. Capturing fine pictures of the scenery is not exactly my purpose. I want something to do with my hands, some independent action I can undertake while still being social, something into which I could retreat for a half minute, a shell. I want, too, to take pictures of people who will not look askance, because the only thing I do well with my camera yet is create representations of people near me as I think they look and how they rarely do in photographs. (Aside from a lens that doesn't contort and flatten, one that can focus on what is important, half the trick to that is deleting ninety percent of the attempts that are not precisely right.)

Chris asks how my search for new friends has gone. I give a barely verbal shrug of slight embarrassment, which Amber helpfully translates to: "We found you. I don't think we've looked otherwise." It isn't that I haven't tried, since I have occasionally decided to send a few paragraphs to test the waters with strangers, but I have not tried very hard. I was still getting my mind around maybe continuing to speak to Chris. I hardly had the energy to pester others.

As we near again the Poughkeepsie side of the walkway, I prompt Chris to decide where we ought to eat. He had given us options, but we only got as far as Amber saying she did not want to try Thai because she never knew what she ought to order there.

We meet Chris in front of a Japanese restaurant, which is unceremoniously closed. He quickly substitutes a different Japanese restaurant a couple of blocks away and I appreciate a locale that supports two such restaurants within a stone's throw of one another.

We are alone in the restaurant, which pleases the accountant. This means that we will be served almost immediately and I will be able to get home sooner, not that I am not enjoying the evening. I look forward to many other such evenings, so long as the weather can hold out.

Chris and Amber get bento boxes and I get a sushi meal that is similar to the one I get in my local Japanese restaurant. Given that anything too out of the ordinary at a Japanese restaurant might harbor shellfish and require a trip to the drug store for Benadryl, it's best that I keep to what I know.

Over dinner, I somehow end up telling Chris the tawdry details of the boarding school where I lived and worked for nearly two years. He is amused and aghast, and I find a pleasure in having stories that are new to someone else. I imagine myself in his eyes, a strange fellow with a Mary Poppins carpetbag of ridiculous anecdotes, and I think I like what I see (or imagine I see). It feels like it has been a while since I was new to someone else, at least someone who seemed to care to have me be new.

By the time I am done with some of my boarding school stories - as I tell them, I find new ones; I didn't even get to rewriting A Midsummer Night's Dream and the campus-wide stomach flu that went along with it - I have eaten all my sushi, one of Amber gyoza, and all of her tempura vegetables since she made very clear that she found the very idea gross. I hardly noticed what I was eating, so unselfconscious did I feel in telling these stories.

When we get back to the car, I ask if he has thought any more about coming to Jacki's party on Saturday. My inviting him was presumptuous - more that it was premature than that Jacki would mind his addition. He confirmed that he could likely do this. Drunk on too much food and a good flow of conversation, I start giving him the rundown of the guest I know will be there, until I give one's first name and he realizes that he had gone on a date with her a couple of years ago.

"Well, that is awkward. Forget I said anything about her ever. I don't know you. We've never met."

Soon in Xenology: Parties!

last watched: Iron Fist
reading: Trigger Warnings
listening: Panic! at the Disco

Eidolon and Daemon | 2017 | Low Tide

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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