In my earliest years I lived among giants. Like the finger of God, they occasionally dropped into my sphere to interact with me in a profound way, most notably in the form of my mother and grandmother.
I have few specific recollections of my grandmother beyond a saintly impression formed in my youth and left unfinished on her death when I was still a boy. My recollections of my mother from the same time are almost as vague, though more material by definition.
One of my most vivid memories from this formative time was a day when I committed an infraction in my potty training that I, as a child, could scarcely comprehend. My mother made me go out in the yard and find a switch—one neither too big nor too small. (An ineffective switch would have only further provoked her ire.) My grandmother left the room in disapproval of her rough treatment, but was otherwise powerless to intervene on behalf of my pitiful pleas.
My mother’s hand was firm, making it impossible to escape the object of my torment. I recall crying for a time afterwards.
The late afternoon light crept from one window to the next as it slowly ebbed away, taking my ache with it. I moved around the darkening house after a while to forget the hurt and my mother’s rage, as only a child can. Another light, one that travelled contrarily to the Sun, was situated over my grandmother where she cooked at the stove. She looked down through its rays to smile at me while I played underfoot.
Somehow I suspected, even then, that the world of giants was shrinking. Everyday the Sun stole away a little of their domain, but not so much that anyone but I would notice. Whatever it was they hid from me in those patches of blocked-out sky, it would soon be down on my eye-level. Yet each day the world was becoming less real to me, not more, and the little patch of sky I pondered never shrank to meet me.
It was only much later I understood it. The heaven I glimpsed between the shadows of giants was not a window looking out onto my future, but the disappearing window that bore me into the world.
Omar regarded Aloysius’ views on the female sex as willful distortions arising from not living in close quarters with his specimens. Given his disdainful view of women on the whole, the lawyer was less exacting on intangibles in partners. What he wanted was specific, which required directness and little finesse in obtaining it. Aloysius, for his part, so over-thought every aspect of the female psyche that he rarely acted on any impulse.
Omar was a “big picture” thinker, and resultantly both blinded to and blindsided by details. Regardless, it was water off the back of a duck for him, either way. The painter, to his regret, lacked this constitution. Aloysius could see, where his friend could not, the inevitable outcomes of personal entanglements: how prolonged intimacy ran afoul of diverging interests. Omar would argue (rightly) that all relationships might be destined to dull under a prospect of over-familiarity, but life must be filled with something, even happiness derived from short-term self-deception. Aloysius could not dispute the point, but there was something in his character that ruined him for even his fair share of self-deception.
The lawyer’s penthouse apartment in the crumbling hotel was his home-away-from-home when he was in Chicago, although Aloysius, with his fear of heights, was reluctant to visit him there. This time, at least, they would not only be on the same floor but also in neighboring rooms.
Omar had his guest’s charges removed from the register before the two braved the elevator. The resident was a late riser, so would not be up when Aloysius departed. On splitting up in the hallway, he reiterated to his under-siege friend that he would come to Stonesthrow in a few days to clear up his troubles.
By the time the woozy guest put his key in the room door, he could barely string together the evening’s events that led him to it. He latched onto the doorknob with a thought to turn it, but glanced up to see a shapely woman enter his friend’s apartment. He presumed she was a room maid by the pushcart left in the hall.
With fading steps, Aloysius toddled over the dark threshold and knocked a videocassette box off the top of a television; bar light from across the street illuminated the film’s unpromising title in the floor: Invasion of the Bodily Snatch. The guest stepped over it and into the bathroom to flush out the libation he cavalierly consumed. After a few turnarounds between the towel bar and sink, his jacket and he parted company, whereupon his attention turned agreeably to the bed. It appeared solid enough, so, straightaway, he fell on it to arrest things still spinning in the dark. The delayed effect of the alcohol laid bare the true object of his unsettled state. Perhaps the suitor only drove away to miss her—to feel her like nails in his chest.
A pair of beady eyes emerged out of the murkiness to intrude on his self-pity. Grasping they were attached to the unlikely form of a horse head mounted on the wall, Aloysius pried himself from bed, stripped off the spread, and draped the cover over the offending eyesore. Having rectified the problem, he wasted little time burrowing down into the lowest spot in the mattress. After a minute or two, he would neither budge nor descend further…
It was not like sleep, however. It was eerily something else: something raw and closer to the surface of his anxiousness. He cracked an eye on hearing a muffled squeak in the hallway. It was probably the maid’s cart on the move, although it seemed to echo out of the bowels of a catacomb. It grew gradually louder in his ear until it stopped short of the bed.
Aloysius propped open a leaden lid. The spread had succeeded in pulling the horse head off the wall. Both now lay in a heap on the floor. His wish was to leave it, but the creature’s snout stuck out in a threat. With grudging effort, the guest rose to not only re-cover the odious monster but also to seize the occasion to scoot as much of it under the bed frame as would fit. The effulgent glow from the window surged with the last nudge, although an impression was already half in his mind before the outline on the discolored wallpaper was full seen. The ghost image left by the taxidermist’s plaque uncannily mirrored those found in the corridors of Nadir Hall.
Before venturing another pass at the bed, its blanket was stripped to blot out the inconstant neon glare in the window: Darkness, the tired man reasoned, was surely conducive to sleep. He closed his eyes with greater resolve and resumed his effort, but the noisy cart was again on the move. Its last inch to the bedside was excruciating to endure. Aloysius clinched his lids tighter, refusing to relinquish, if only in theory, he was asleep. The squeaking abruptly stopped, although the silence that followed was pricklier than the noise. The hotel guest was regardless dead to the world, or as dead as he could make himself…
He was back in the restroom at the filling station, fussing with the busted faucet. Momentarily he stepped to the hand dryer and stared at its half-painted-over graffiti: 333-6152.
The blower began clanging loudly, sending its clamor ricocheting off the ramparts of cinderblock. Aloysius banged the loose cover and a key dropped from the whirling blades. The object was seized from the floor as a tool and used to scrape at the encasement. Characters underwent a process of suppuration, and pushed their way up through the shaved enamel: 333-6152 ?KCU- OT T--W.
The metal cover was unhooked from the assembly and held to the mirror: W--T TO –UCK? 251-6333.
“I’m asleep,” he told himself.
The dreamer returned to the front of the station and eyed the TV monitor behind the counter; it was a black curtain drawn over something.
At the double doors, an imprint measuring the rough dimensions of a forehead marked the spot where someone had leaned into the glass for a view; lipstick—a smudged kiss—tagged the onlooker as female.
Beyond this calling card, the bright interstate beckoned to the east, though it was the darker way that summoned the motorist.
An article of clothing, or two, lay along the dividing line of the road, but Aloysius drove a quarter mile before his headlights picked up pale buttocks in the dark shoulder opposite him. The nude woman’s pace was slow and steady, and she showed no reaction to being caught in the glare. He eased off the gas and rolled down his window. “Do you need a ride?” he asked.
Little of her face was seen; a beaded line marking her profile matched the shade of lipstick on the door.
“It’s not safe out here,” he informed her, “to be seen like this.”
Still no reaction.
Unsure what to do, Aloysius pulled ahead, maintaining visual contact with the luckless pedestrian in the side view mirror; she was quickly shrinking on her steps. Her mouth moved, as if speaking aloud to him, but her blank, unreadable expression drew away like blood in a syringe. On reaching a mailbox reflector, he swung the car around to face her. She was gone.
The uneasy man crossed over his tracks on the woman’s side of the road, and kept glimpsing in the mirror, thinking she might be hunkered in the weeds. An unearthly hush pushed under the car where the world seemingly fell away beneath it. He reached for his radio. A crackling voice, like static popping against his fingertips, crawled up the back of his hand. “If you would like to make a call…”
Abruptly, a Cadillac ambulance overtook him in the opposite lane with blazing lights. The driver watched in horror as the mute vehicle tore away in a long, dripping line; the carcass of a headless horse dragged behind it. The shadowy form scuffed and tumbled indignantly over hard pavement. Chunks of cartilage and bone flew off to roll under Aloysius’ tires; they rapped like knuckles on the floorboard wanting to be let in.
Thump… Thump… Thump...
With sudden elucidation, the dreamer realized the disturbance was underneath his bed. He bolted off it and toward the door. Victorian wallpaper wrapped around him in the hallway, leaving him to plunge through a dim exit door and down a half-flight of stairs. His shoulder smacked into a window at the turn; flesh tint leapt to its frosted glass. He was directly on a darker half-flight; the pinkish form—he was certain—slipped past another window. Aloysius banged his way down the next flight of cement steps. His limbs, yanked from their sockets by centrifugal force, proved to be wings of no recourse. The vertigo and stinging blows persisted long after he came to rest on his back. His gaze carried over the dark stairs above him, assuming it was his falling body, like a pair of scissors, which made the tears of light separating one flight from another.
A voice echoed down the well. “If you would like to make a call, please hang up and try again.”
There was a pause, as if a response was expected.
Aloysius’ eyes again navigated the twist of handrails to spy a woman’s bleary face peering down from the very top. Her expression seemed unnaturally wide.
“If you would like to make a call, please hang up and try again,” she repeated.
The address was clearly directed at him, but the words crept down the steps with mischief: It was the voice of a man mockingly imitating a woman.
The injured man focused his sights on several strange lines running parallel with the woman’s mouth. They were fingers—fingers of another person making her lower jaw open and shut. Her head appeared to have no body.
Aloysius sat up, but it must have been minutes later. A fierce headache followed him to his feet. He trudged up the steps to retrace his out-of-time fall and found the maid’s cart still in the hallway; Omar’s door was ajar.
His friend, lost in his dark library-of-a-room, sat in a chair reading Parmenides by a small, insufficient lamp. He looked up to see his friend swaying in the doorway. “What happened?” he asked.
A woman emerged halfway out of a dark adjoining room; a skimpy maid’s uniform betrayed her eavesdropping. Omar gestured her over, but she preferred to remain where she was.
“My friend said you scared her half to death,” he explained. “I told you I would send something by your room to help you sleep.”
The blushing guest averted his gaze to the unraveling edge of a Persian carpet underfoot. “You shouldn’t have, Ommie.”
The friend sighed. “You need help with your little problem.”
Aloysius shrank from view, returning to the hallway. “Not that kind of help,” he said.
Omar yelled before he disappeared. “Lock the door—so you don’t go wandering off to tumble down stairs!”
Chapter Fourteen, Section Two/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.