Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 26)

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Emma

Chapter Ten, Section Two

As more pieces fell into place, Emma hooked Aloysius’ arm with a widening stride and rebounding smile. Another tug put them heading in an unpromising direction. Twirling rides buzzed their scalps, flinging off their brightest enamel paints. A tangle of cables lay over the muddy path ahead of them; the guide negotiated the treacherous terrain ably in her heels while the less-sure man dragged like a plow behind her. The passageway narrowed and darkened with more snarling trestles; tanks of compressed air hissed like reptiles in open pits. A blue-grey nimbus suggested a patch of night sky, and when Aloysius emerged from his latest rite of passage, they had uncovered not only a refuge for space-starved shadows but also a chain-linked fence.

The photographer glanced back with a furtive glint. “There’s a gate!”

Both ducked under a padlocked chain and crept along a weedy boundary shared with the adult motel. Aloysius squinted up at the large neon-blue moon perched on the roof ledge; it sputtered down a warning: Peek-a-boo.

The brazen girl glanced up too, but not at the signage. A maid’s cart was parked outside one of the rooms on the second floor, prompting her to catapult up loosely riveted rod iron stairs toward it. The peeling handrail shimmied and flaked with each shift of her shapely skirt, although the heart-stopping view of her from below was mitigated by alarm over her action. Aloysius reached the upper walkway to see her rush down it, brushing each doorknob in passing with open fingers; all the rooms were named The Honeymoon Suite.

The squat building vented a chorus of pounding headboards, effectively trapping the timid man between a scrawny railing and the drum-skin of an exterior wall. He pushed past the squeaking doors to where Emma was planted. Without argument, the demure Hispanic maid stepped around the taller woman with her bottle of glass cleaner and cleared off.

The abandoned room was a dank, windowless dungeon. Sections of flimsy, wood-paneled walls bowed outward, as if pressed in a vice; a proverbial yellowed lampshade lent a tawdry glow to the few sticks of furniture. The seedy décor thoroughly entertained Emma, leaving her to stretch out blithely on the bed like a cat. Even amid such grubbiness, her turquoise eyes shined. “Isn’t this place hysterical?” she squealed.

A television (turned off) sat near the foot of the bed. A screw cap bottle of wine and plastic jack-o-lantern brimming with Day-Glo condoms sat on a bureau across from it. As Aloysius’ gaze swept lightly over these accoutrements, he noticed queer tube-like shadows on the wall . When they suddenly moved—and in a way that suggested the legs of an insect—he jerked around to spy a wooly spider on the lampshade.

The rumble in the wall drew the attention of both to a closed-circuit video camera mounted above them; its lens was trained on the bed with voyeuristic intent.

Emma’s hip rose majestically out of the lumpy bed on turning to face him; the cut line of her was confidently quick. “Well, Mr. Gauge,” she growled. “Aren’t you going to take your putt-putt bride? To have and to hold?”

Aloysius stayed in the doorway, rubbing together the two plastic rings in his pocket while striving to remain unconnected from the naughty intrusion. In his judgment, Emma was making into flirtation something that was, in many ways, still infantile to her. It was a piece of stagecraft rehearsed in her genes, if not entirely in her thoughts. The painter was prone to overanalyze any and all “moments of truth” that snuck up on him. Intellectual detachment, no matter how hastily or shoddily erected, was his signature excuse for never leaping into the unknown.

The girl was slow to register his disapproval but, on appreciating it, sat up more self-consciously than she had reclined. She made a segue of her watch, and cobbled-together a grin. “I guess we should go before they kick us out.”

Scene: Aloysius was the talkative one on the return trip to town, mainly because he needed to redeem himself for a poor showing on so many fronts. Emma pulled along his Saturn to let him out, and as he was about to close the door, resigned to failure, she suggested, “If you’d like to come by my studio at Arbor Hall in the late morning, I will show you more of my work.”

With another smile of reassurance, she drove away.

The suitor could not say where things were going, but was comforted by the ambiguity he perceived in the woman’s situation. As long as he supposed Emma had a lover, he believed himself to be safe.

Aloysius’ relationship with women was complicated, and in more ways than a difference of age. When a young man, he was terminally shy. It was not until his late twenties he overcame his shyness well enough to attempt dating. He always possessed a capable wit, and eventually discovered he could adapt this talent to the art of flirtation. Unfortunately this activity became an end in itself and bore little fruit. At best it produced friendships with sexual attraction as a component; at worst, it led to unrealized aspirations that ended in painful awkwardness.

He was not unattractive, but his feelings of inadequacy and fear of rejection crippled any chance he had at forming a significant attachment. In spite of these obstacles, a few efforts at romance were attempted before the age of thirty-three. All of them were with females who, in some sense, pursued him. Resultantly, they were backward affairs where, grateful to be spared the embarrassment of making a declaration of intent, the man found himself being pulled along by circumstance and a strong-willed woman until inevitable difficulties ended the union. These difficulties stemmed from a lack of communication: The painter misread cues and interpreted silences wrongly. Not all these relationships were consummated, but of the ones that were, few endured beyond six weeks.

There were still attractive women to return his stares, but what had been arduous labor stoically borne in youth was now viewed with a smidgen of resentment, if not outright indifference. Even when he was actively courting, he felt the onerous burden of making the relationship “engaging” fell disproportionately on him. He either needed to invent the woman from the barest of curriculum vitae, or invent excuses for her glaring flaws. It was work for him either way: to carry on a conversation for two, or hold his tongue. Still, it was not that the suitor was no longer capable of falling in love because of such difficulties, but the duty—the pleasure—of making an extraordinary effort was never asked of him by the prize of an extraordinary woman. In short, he spent his whole life being faithfully, even heroically, in love with a female he never met.

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