Man’s practical occupations are cataloger and mapmaker. Mathematics is itself a kind of mapmaking that bolsters us in our belief we penetrate to the heart of things. However, when we arrive at the jobsite, we must deal with a subcontractor whose answers come by way of nods.
Bertrand Russell once said, “Mathematics may be defined as the subject in which we never know what we are talking about, nor whether what we are saying is true.” Einstein, putting it another way, remarked, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
In short, what is not possessed in any rational scheme the ‘being there’.
Kant said that there was more in a rational world than an empirical world could contain. Schopenhauer, answering him, concluded: “To think is to conceive less than one perceives.” Niels Bohr, unrelated to these observations, mused, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”
One Rome—many roads.
The mile markers that whiz by outside our car window allude to shared destinations. Faith will suffice to hold them in our hearts, if not always our hands; and the landscape between them, ancient and forever new, is where the imagination invents what it cannot discover. ~Omar
A bottle of beer seemed reasonable at this juncture, though its calming effect did not afford enough courage to brave another night in a house with only bad dreams for company. There was one place where Aloysius believed he might safely bed down for the evening, and this thought placed him behind the wheel of his car heading for the highway. The lights of Stonesthrow slipped away in his rearview mirror, and the dark, widening shoulder swallowed everything, including any momentary regret in leaving.
The solitary painter always felt like he was living out of an overnight case, and no place in the world could seduce him into unpacking it for good. He was never able to escape the suspicion that everything he did in his life was, after a fashion, arbitrary: whether he settled here or there, whether he fell in love with this woman or that one. There was never a good enough reason why he was anywhere. He desired so little materialistically that would tie him irreversibly, even bitterly, to a place. Stonesthrow was no more home than Chicago, but Chicago was his present destination.
Too many stretches of byway in his small world were too familiar to him; and a point came where he convinced himself that it was not he passing through a landscape but a landscape passing through him. Aloysius was admittedly the church janitor at every wedding, and the gravedigger at every funeral. Still, he never felt his isolation more keenly than when he traveled alone. It was sentiment, imposed by reflection, that saw not so much what was personal about a place as impersonal: not so much what was changing as unchanging: not so much what was particular as universal.
The driver stayed focused on the highway, even as his sights kept being drawn to the view out the rear window. If the police were tailing him, they stayed well back on the deserted road.
No sooner had he formulated this objectionable premise than flashing red lights were spotted gaining on him. He shriveled with dread and shaved speed off the speedometer in anticipation of being pulled over, but the lights vanished. The approaching vehicle probably turned off a side road, and though this merited a sigh with relief, the rearview mirror continued to be a preoccupation.
Hypnotically, the red-tinged white line flowed from beneath his back tires like blood spilling into dark, dangerous waters. Leaves of greenish-yellow and vermillion followed it down the funnel—yet with no breeze to strip them from their branches. Something, it seemed, was muscling its way through the low limbs. Something, it seemed, was keeping pace.
Cornstalks on either side of the car resembled curtains swaying against the black sky, placing the horizon uncomfortably close. Just as the jittery driver twiddled the knob on the radio, an ambulance—a classic Cadillac red-and-white ambulance—erupted out of the black cauldron behind him. Its headlights were off up to the moment it roared by with blaring siren and shrieking screams. Ghoulishly clad Halloween revelers hung out of every window to savor their prank.
Before disappearing completely from view, terrified Aloysius thought he saw a drunken woman fall out of the vehicle’s passenger window. He swerved to keep from hitting her and stuttered to a stop on the gravel shoulder.The rural darkness was visceral on climbing out of his car, but his taillights burned away enough miasma to reveal only a tattered dress lying in the middle of the road. The motorist knelt over the garment with equal parts confusion and consternation. It was wet and covered with uprooted clover, and probably tossed up by an ambulance tire. He folded its frayed corners and pushed it off the highway in a make-do burial, and returned to the idling Saturn.
Several miles of road placed a filling station in his path, one of those catering to truck drivers getting on and off the interstate. A scratchy AM radio greeted him at the door, but an attendant was nowhere seen. Cognizant of his beer, Aloysius negotiated a bright aisle of souvenir mugs and automotive air fresheners marking the way to the restroom. A roaring hand blower accosted him on entering the accommodations; a row of out-of-order urinals, taped up with trash bags, was equally unwelcoming.
He stepped into a dilapidated stall and sought to blot out the abysmal surroundings; the smell of pink hand soap could not mask the stench of decades-old urine wafting off the floor. Heaps of tissue paper, like stinging jellyfish, colonized the puddle around his commode’s leaky gasket seal. He diverted himself with a Bible verse scrawled over the partition wall: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Philippians, 2:12
A squeak, like a shearing screw, bounced around inside the echoing cinderblocks. Aloysius peeked out the door gap to spy the basin mirror running parallel to the toilet stalls. Wind punched through a narrow window high on the wall and spit leaves down among peeling paint in the floor. The adjacent stall door yielded to this gust, although the intermittent trebly noise likely originated with the blower.
Overwrought, the patron barely washed his hands at the dribbling tap, and while lingering over the noisy hand dryer, he was obliged to study a fresh coat of Krylon applied to its cover. The touchup was intended to mask graffiti, but a phone number remained readable: 251-6333
The patron wondered who was minding the store. A security monitor above the cigarette rack revealed only unoccupied aisles converging on a back wall freezer, but it was the drama playing out in the upper corner of its screen that deserved attention: Two lovers, seen through the plate glass door, squabbled in a car on the parking lot. The young woman jumped out of the passenger side. Stripped to bra and briefs, she screamed through the rolled-down window as she tussled to remove a pair of jeans from the front seat. The apparent boyfriend threw his stick shift in reverse and squealed away with the garment, leaving her to hop about barefooted on the prickly pavement. Turning to the door with a scowl, she locked eyes on her voyeur, hurling his unsolicited stare back in his face through the TV screen.
“Did you want gas?” asked the impatient attendant.
The surprised motorist mumbled, “No.”
Drifting lastly to the door, no woman was standing at it. The traveler cautiously stepped outside and scanned shrubbery along the perimeter, but no one, clothed or unclothed, was about. He was peeking in the backseat of his car when a motion detector light switched on across the lot. Glare uncovered only rain-stressed boxes and an overflowing dumpster on the far side of the building; the mischief of more leaves likely activated the sensor.
A low concrete structure lay beyond this scene in a cornfield. Guy-wires were embedded in it and, from what little was visible of them, they stretched up into the night sky without end. Given the angle of the supports, and their substantial gauge, the aerial tower they supported must have been dizzyingly tall, although no capping beacon was spotted against the stars.
Aloysius did not queue up immediately for the interstate, but backtracked down the country road at a crawl. His high beams poked along the short-cropped grassy shoulders, yet with no success in locating the stranded woman. After a half mile it was obvious she made an escape by other means, so the Good Samaritan turned around at a mailbox and aimed for the I-80 onramp.
Merging into traffic, he glanced in the rearview mirror and finally spotted a blinking light atop the dark tower. It advertised adult movies, yet the fierce wind had succeeded in turning its signage, like a weathervane, toward uninhabited miles of darkness.
Chapter Thirteen, Section Two/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.