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Kiss and Tell | 2017 | A Good and Accurate Accounting of the Darkness


Between memory and reality there are awkward discrepancies...  

-Eileen Chang

Thanks for the Memories

Alyssah and Ayannah

For Thanksgiving, my first grade teacher tells us to color in cornucopias traced onto plastic wrap, which she tapes over aluminum foil.

She tries to explain the sanitized, Eurocentric version of Thanksgiving while we tend to our coloring, the one where the Pilgrims and Native Americans were really good friends, but none of us even attempt to follow along. She does not understand that the fumes from the permanent markers have rendered her class loopy.

This is my first exposure to what it is to be high. I do not care for it.

My mother keeps this decoration for decades.

To occupy us, my mother suggests that the children she babysits and her own children work toward preparing Thanksgiving dinner the next day.

While cutting the carrots, I slash open my finger.

My blood spatters the wall a red rainbow, arcing over the windows and down toward the bathroom door as I run to staunch the bleeding.

I do not know if my carrots make it to the dinner the following day, more because I am not a fan of carrots than revulsion toward my own blood.

Dad and Ayannah
It's like she's there

My grandmother comes over for dinner, though something in the food or company has made her sick enough that she spits for an hour in a jar. My mother wrapped the jar in aluminum foil that we might not witness expectoration in its fullness.

I do not look directly at my grandmother and cringe every time tries to cough up her kidneys.

She looks at me and tells me I am getting fat.

In retort, I retreat into my bedroom and blast Nine Inch Nails so loudly that it is only cacophony.

We go to my grandmother's for Thanksgiving. Everything seems stuck in a time long before, where there were no children. I fear so much as dragging my shoes on the carpet and I cannot stop picturing my grandfather dying in a hospital bed where there is now an easy chair and cages of chirping finches.

The dinner is more formal than the ones my mother makes for us in our home where the carpets have been the color of spilled Pepsi and stepped-on crackers as far as I can recall, but all the foods are the same.

My grandmother has mistaken curry powder for sage in the stuffing. I try it anyway. I avoid trying Indian food for five years afterward.

Amber and Addie
How they always look.

My girlfriend and I are in the basement den in her parents' house, where we digest the dinner portion of their Thanksgiving. As we are left alone more than ten minutes unsupervised but for our hormones, we begin fooling around, something we have managed fairly undetected in the years of our relationship.

Tonight is not like other near misses. Her father spots us through a window. She realizes instantly and I, only when I notice her body has gone rigid.

I suggest that our best course of action is for me to drive home immediately. She assures me she will kill me dead if I think for a second I am leaving her alone to deal with the fallout.

We sit on the sofa, three feet away as if to retroactively become the innocent teens we have not been for years.

They come down after an uncountable forever of minutes, the time they have used to plan out what they are going to say to us. I cannot remember the content of the lecture, as this was my first experience with genuine mortification, though I assume the thesis was "It is disrespectful to be doing in this house what you were doing and you should want to stay virgins until marriage even though we know that ship has long since sailed."

When they go back upstairs, I gather my things to leave while I have any life left in my body.

She stops me. I can't leave before dessert.

What follows is an experience more akin to a Sartrean torture, as I eat scalding pumpkin pie - a dish best served room temperature and obscured beneath whipped cream - so that I do not have to answer any question they can put to me, though embarrassment has filled me to my ears, so I doubt I could have heard any.

We eat in perfunctory silence.

I thereafter refuse any pumpkin pie that is still warm and it is a decade before I believe that apple pie is more palatable hot.

How she always looks.

My girlfriend, in her twentieth year of having an eating disorder, freezes in panic at the notion of having Thanksgiving with my family and hers in the same day. I cannot stand how this is bringing her to tears, so I suggest that she tell my family she is saving up her calories for her parents' meal, then tell her family that she is still stuffed from dining with my family.

She calls me brilliant.

I feel complicit.

We go to a dinner buffet in a chalet overlooking the Hudson River, across from a mountain like a hungry leviathan.

The setting sunlight dapples on my nieces' and nephews' faces, turning them into patchwork angels in their best and newest clothes.

I invite my friend to Thanksgiving with my family because she is too far, geographically and socially, to consider going home.

I suggest she spend the night prior, though there is no justification for this other than that I want to have a sleepover with her, that I want every second with her I can manage.

We share my bed, though I offer to sleep on my air mattress to protect her modesty. After half an hour of lying next to her, not sleeping and thinking about how she is across my full-sized mattress, I lay an arm over her stomach. She is thin in my arms, curling into me. I have never loved a woman so much with whom I had no intention of ever having sex. I am too fond next to her to even smirk at the irony of this realization now.

In the morning, I try and fail to find a way to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. We do not mention how we slept because that would draw cosmic attention.

Amber and Addie
Hiding is excellent for digestion.

This Thanksgiving, this year, I wear a gray suit I found in my closet which I surely bought for $10 at Goodwill and promptly forgot. My family calls me "dapper," which means conspicuously overdressed for the occasion. Though it is a buffet, it is at least a fancy one so I do not stick out utterly.

My mother has made and brought cardboard replicas of my absent niece Ayannah, who has gone off to California to find her fortune and get out of a household with five other siblings, most babysitting age. The cardboard substitutions have hand-painted hair. One has a nose ring.

It is whispered that Ayannah may never come back, even after her program finishes, that cardboard may be as good as we get now, but we do not dwell on this. Ayannah's gain is our loss, though I will continue cheering her spreading wings.

At a table diagonal sits the parents who lectured me about fondling their daughter. It seems worse pretending we don't have a history of a hundred meals at their table as I loved their daughter. I greet them and it is awkward. I regret immediately doing it, because they had no idea who I was at first. I blame my apparent dapperness contradicting their memory of the gangly teen I was.

When I return to the table, I ask my father, "Do you think they still hold a grudge about the time they accused me of kidnapping her because she had run away and I wouldn't tell them where she was?"

"It is possible."

Last year, Bryan announced his engagement at Thanksgiving. This year, he tells us he is single, that she finally took the hint that the relationship was dead after he canceled the wedding months ago. It vexes me that he let this go on as long as he did, having witnessed the fallout of my engagement a decade ago. He admits to having lost $900 on the wedding. Her parents lost considerably more.

I knew when he said he had proposed that they chances were poor he would make it to this wedding day. The first time I proposed, I didn't think it was the right choice as much as a good moment, that, having been together so long, I ought to give her a ring. I have witnessed others who told their engagement story with a nervous glassiness, because they felt the impulse to make a grand gesture and subsequently felt imprisoned by the idea of marrying. Bryan never wanted to be married to her, possibly at all. He just didn't know what else to do because he didn't have the backbone to tell her this wasn't going to work out. In his mind, it was less confrontational to just marry her and create a mutual misery.

This is the season for partings, getting it done with before the burden of December holidays. I would say Bryan's family is shrinking, but I do not think Bryan acknowledges much of a family, at least the sort that exists beyond screens. His ex wasn't his family to him and he couldn't find the words or backbone to admit this before it would injure.

My parents immediately ask when they can expect grandchildren out of him. I take the liberty of voicing, "You would have to have sex, and with a woman. Don't let them pressure you."

He mentions something about doing it with science, not sex. He came out as asexual some months ago, which created additional strain on the relationship, since she certainly isn't asexual. We always suspected sex wasn't Bryan's thing and I was encouraging when I noticed he had started wearing an ace necklace. Even in his mid-thirties, he is figuring himself out and getting his life onto the track he has chosen, hopefully without running over anyone else.

Amber, though present for the meal, wearing rare splashes of makeup, spends much of the dinner under the table with our youngest niece and her best friend Adalynn, intermittently attacking our ankles. Later, I will recount the conversations she missed taming her impish niece.

I give my treasured camera to my nephews, explaining how to take pictures on the automatic mode so they don't have to focus, and they set to work taking candid shots of the family that, unlike the ones I take with my intent to be artistic and clever, actually look like them.

After filling our bellies to groaning, two hours after we were seated, we leave to have pie at my parents' house -- my mother cannot avoid baking totally. Ayannah is gone. Bryan's longtime girlfriend is now his first consequential ex. In the coming years, my niece Alieyah will go to college, feasibly close but maybe she will follow her sister's lead. We will be left with the memories of what we shared, but lives diverge. Sometimes you are only left with cardboard and a need to find a new apartment.

Soon in Xenology: Apocalypse. Imbalance. Meaning.

last watched: Big Mouth
reading: A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares
listening: They Might be Giants

Kiss and Tell | 2017 | A Good and Accurate Accounting of the Darkness

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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