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What a Story, Thomm | 2018 | The Disappearing Act


If you don't like the hand that fate's dealt you, fight for a new one.  

-Masashi Kishimoto

A Cup o Kindness Yet

The stocky boy, probably named Moose, yells at his thin, cultured parents in the Curry House. I say "yells," but I am not certain a voice like his knows another setting, sonorous and searching for ears to overhear how wise his nineteen years have made him.

He is a student at Bard College or, I extrapolate, was until recently and this, sitting in an Indian buffet, is the first his parents are hearing of it. He either owed the college some money or failed the semester catastrophically and was asked to leave. Either way, it is categorically not Moose's fault and, through repetition, he hopes to make it his parents' fault.

His mother, a woman whose a sixties bob frames her pallid, lined face, tries to deescalate him by engaging his arguments as though they have validity. This is a mistake she has made all of Moose's life and is a factor in his becoming the boor holding audience with the unwilling spectators. His father, gray-haired, bespectacled, says less in retort, knowing it is impossible to have a conversation with a self-righteous boy who believes this is a debate he can win through intensity alone. Moose, close cropped hair and impudent curl to his lips, one that mistakes a D in Logic 101 with being logical, weighs as much as they do combined. I suggest to Amber that he is a changeling cuckoo or, in the realm of possibility, adopted. There is no way their genes provoked him into being.

Moose is pushing himself into another rant audible -- embarrassingly and intentionally -- to the entire restaurant, when his father, with reserved conviction, tells him to just be quiet a moment. Moose's volume plummets by the time his mother returns from sparsely refilling her plate. I think for a moment Moose will be silenced, until his father asks him a question impossible to overhear. Moose repeats a mantra of "I don't want to talk about it," each iteration fractionally louder than the last, until he is "not talking about it" loud enough to hear down the block. Then, of course, he inexorably dives back into talking about it.

When I return with some naan and pakoras to justify lingering to watch this debacle, I ask Amber what I've missed.

"Privilege," she answers concisely.

Moose digs into his parents anew. "If you want to drive me to a" -- Here, he all but restrains himself from vomiting up the word -- "SUNY school two days a week, that's your problem. I'm gonna get my PhD. I'm so tired of making movies. I was most productive in my art when I took a year off, anyway. I don't know why I should go back to college."

This mother points out that he needs a Bachelor's well before a PhD. He is furious that she would presume to right to say this to him.

The beleaguered owner of the restaurant -- a man who has overtly told my friends and me to leave because other people could use the table -- asks if they are done with their meals, international restaurant subtext for "Pay and leave," but they don't take the hint.

"You just think anyone who doesn't agree with you is stupid. Both of you," Moose says, switching rhetorical tack in an instant. "I can't stand it! I can name a thousand examples."

His parents exchange doleful glances, knowing one of them has to respond and it shouldn't be with the slap in his face that he so richly deserves.

"Name one," says his mother.

The gambit is so obvious that I bite my lip to refrain from a laugh that will catch their attention when Moose is stumped.

"I can name a thousand," he reiterates in a smaller voice, looking anxious that he isn't sharp enough to back up his hyperbole.

His father runs his fingers through his hair. "Then it shouldn't be a problem to tell your mother one."

He releases an um like the belch of a mighty bull. Finally, he stumbles upon a weak foothold. "Republicans! You think that they are stupid." He sits back as though, in saying this, he has won not only this argument but the upper hand in whatever he did to run afoul of Bard.

"We don't," says his mother. "We disagree with them politically, but it is nave to translate that into our thinking they are all stupid. Are you a Republican now?"

"No, of course I'm not! I hate Republicans. But you think they are stupid."

His parents may think Moose is at least a poor investment of however much they must have poured into his private college education.

This is his New Year's Eve, trying to spread this mistake of his past around, pretending to want a future he can only imagine but not take the initiative to work toward. Haven't we all had our own moments in Moose's seat? Maybe (hopefully) we didn't go to such grating extremes to evade responsibility, but this is one of the absolutions this holiday is supposed to give us: No matter what happened in the preceding year, tomorrow will be the beginning of something fresh.

It won't. Tomorrow may be your first tiptoe into a new calendar, but it is just a few hours further into the same life. You can decide on March 4th or April 3rd or whenever to start or stop a habit. If you want to ride the momentum of people making resolutions to pack gyms and buy vegetables that will attract fruit flies and be thrown out, you are welcome to. America's core blessing is that we can reinvent ourselves. It doesn't follow that anyone is required to acknowledge any change to which we haven't fully invested ourselves, and maybe not even then, but we can change.

The next act opens in Susan's cozy apartment. My original plan for the evening involved a revisiting of New Year's Eves past: lingering among the entertainment option in Uptown Kingston, watching the ball drop, hearing but not being swift enough in pushing through the crowds to see fireworks, filling our bellies on midnight brunch at Duo, but the temperatures were generously forecasted not to reach above the single digits; there was no fun to be had in such bitter cold.

I put out feelers for other options, but none were forthcoming until late in the game, when Sarah T. divulged via Chris that she was having a hibachi and board game gathering with a few close friends. However, though Amber and I were invited, we had thrown our lot in with Susan, who likewise included both David's company and that of a Bostonian friend. My addition would overburden Sarah's soiree well past capacity.

When we arrive at Susan's, card games and limoncello in hand, we are told her Bostonian was not feeling well enough for the trip and David may join us later, as he was on his way home from a series of shows around the eastern half of the country.

Susan offers us black-eyed pea soup for luck, though I am much too stuffed to enjoy that fortunate hospitality. Amber avails herself of tea, as Amber always will.

The night passes quietly between the three of us, which I credit more to the night's frigidity and noy that I just had my thirty-seventh birthday and Susan her fortieth; if if given better circumstances, I have no doubt we could have made the night astounded it had briefly held our glory. But it was cold, so this night gets a reprieve.

It could have been any night of tea and chocolate and conversation as our jokes and stories build on one another enough to form rhymes and echoes.

David arrives home around eleven, loaded with birthday and Christmas presents for Susan, along with a bag of three flavors of cricket chips (which I bow out of sampling owing to a shellfish allergy excusing my disinclination) and the jerky of unusual animals.

When David was just outside the door, Susan perks up like a child on Christmas. As the member of a contented pair, I make a study of people in happy relationships. How are they like us? How different? Their joy and connection feeds my curiosity.

I have of course been around many couples, at least one of whom I liked, but it is rare I am around others whom proximity to one another induces cuteness. I welcome the familiarity of this, having spent time around people whom relationships seemed power consolidation, formality, sex, and mutual manipulation. Only cuteness seems to me a method to endure. It is making a demonstration of honest fondness and vulnerability. (Cuteness is not cutesiness, which is sugar in the gas tank.) They are not scared to love one another openly and, with a respective daughter and divorce accrued between them, they have presumably loved before.

The livestream has a minute delay, so we kiss in the New Year twice for good measure. Fireworks erupt outside their window from further afield.

We watch Susan and David open their presents, then Susan states she needs to be up and refreshed early to grade papers, so we return home to be in bed before 2018 can find much of us.

The night was quieter than I would have preferred but a lesson of New Year's Eve is that pushing too hard on "supposed to" leads nearly always to disappointment, hardly an auspicious way to make new (if technically arbitrary) beginning.

This year has passed so quickly to me, even though it was filled with unforgettable moment, both bad and good. It is unfathomable that last January was so long ago, because it is all so fresh. Everything happened this year took perhaps a month.

I'm starting this new year tittering at the faces of new friends after they take shots of limoncello, which would have been reassuring to know last year.

I can't honestly predict what will happen this coming year. True, in retrospect, everything that happened in 2017 has a clear enough foreshadowing, as things told backward have a tendency. I could throw the bones, or just reread my entries, and make predictions of what will happen, but it all seems so obvious and likely. I am not forecasting aliens touching down on the White House lawn (and woe betide any who try it), just the deepening of some friendships and a continuation of a political farce. I know that I will likely attend the funeral of an acquaintance (my attendance is the "likely," her death most unfortunately is not). I would like to find an agent or a new publisher, but that is more a matter of persistent work rather than some surprise outcome.

Soon in Xenology: Apocalypse. Imbalance. Meaning.

last watched: Dead Set
reading: Fire and Fury
listening: She and Him

What a Story, Thomm | 2018 | The Disappearing Act

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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