The battered and bruised man hobbled the short distance to his room, mostly wishing he had stayed in Stonesthrow. He sat on the corner of the bed, but was slow noticing the oscillating peep of the phone receiver swinging from the side of the table. He must have knocked it off the hook in his mad scramble to the door. Reconnecting it to the base, shoes under the same table were contemplated; gravity intervened and handily pulled him to the bed.
A soft voice took the form of a ledge in the darkness. “I’m sorry if I startled you.”
Aloysius probed for the lamp switch on the nightstand; fingers lit tenderly on his.
“Leave it,” she said, seizing the moment to kick off her high heels. “Can I crawl in for a second?”
He rolled over onto his sore back, where accommodations were made.
“Are you in pain?” she inquired.
The fragrant form of her wafted over the bed, as though heavy summer clouds overtook him in a nap. Beyond the white of her teeth, and curl of her thick eyelashes, she was both too dim and too close to see.
“Lie on your stomach,” she instructed.
With effort, the man complied.
A firm hand slid between his shoulder blades, halving his pain along his spine. Her sweet breath added an aromatic, and brushed the tendons in his neck while she massaged. “My name is Amber. Amber Monet.”
“Are you any relation to Daedalus Monet of Stonesthrow?”
“No. Amber Monet is my professional name.”
“You need a professional name in domestic service?”
She let his one unobstructed eye trace the contour of her shoulder in the white uniform, which was far enough away to delineate as a horizon. Words drew him back to the shape of her mouth. “This is a costume,” she explained.
“I thought you worked in the building?”
“Only in the sense that I’m a working girl.”
The topic had been breached. “What happened?” he mumbled. “Earlier?”
“What do you think happened?”
“But you’re seeing Omar, right?”
“I work for an escort service,” she said, quickly adding, “although I’m really cultivating future prospects as a therapist.”
Silky hose scratched his leg, and he bought into her euphemistic description. “Am I a prospect for your therapy?”
“Do you want to be a prospect?”
Her Socratic method of answering questions with questions interfered with his appraisal of their dynamic.
The prostitute jumped ahead of his confusion. “This is personal. My wanting to talk to you is less about business and more personal.”
He responded positively to this confession.
“Omar says you’re an artist. I majored in art history for a couple of years at the Institute.”
His reaction was not one of surprise, but he was candid. “I cannot picture you as a studio major.”
“Not every hooker is a high school dropout,” she riposted.
He clarified his remark. “I mean you would have to be in art history major, since you do not seem to be flaky enough to be a studio major.”
Her backrub eased up momentarily, suggesting a question mark hovering over the bed. “I guess I’m flattered…”
He was in no shape to choose his words better.
Amber leaned into his lower back. “Omar mentioned that you have a girlfriend?”
Though attracted to the frank conversation, Aloysius was not keen on this subject. His parry was more revealing than he intended. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a real girlfriend.”
“Why haven’t you ever had a girlfriend?”
One evasive answer required another. “It’s complicated.”
“Do smart, independent women intimidate you?”
“With smart, independent women,” he finessed, “the gamble depends on their relationships with their fathers.”
“Women who have good relationships with their fathers tend to be good-natured, possess practical intelligence, and are fun-loving. Those who don’t have good relationships, well… Let’s just say higher education in the arts often translates into self-therapy. The more intelligent and intimidating the father, the more bitter the rebellion.”
“Do you have examples?”
Aloysius dredged up his list. “Lesbian-wannabes, closet anorexics, hit-and-run nymphomaniacs…”
“And this has been your experience?”
“Pretty much my whole history. What little there is.”
Amber made a preliminary judgment. “I think the problem with the women you mention may have as much to do with their age as their relationship with their fathers. Also, women in art school may be more prone to psychological issues, as that goes with the territory.”
He conceded the point.
“Have you tried dating older women?”
“How old are you?”
“I just turned thirty-one.”
“I would have guessed mid-twenties.”
The masseuse had made little headway with the backrub, so toyed with a caress. “Would you date a thirty-one year-old?”
“It’s not by design I date women of any age.”
“But you live in a college town? Hang out at a coffeehouse?”
“Well,” he hemmed. “I cannot deny my attraction to the idea of youth.”
“So young girls are always around. Always approachable, yes?”
“I like the energy of coffeehouses.”
“I am less interested in your rationalizations than the choices you put in you way,” she declared.
He quieted, but his answer was undisguised. “I like pretty faces.”
Amber relented and removed herself to the pillow next to his for better study. “Young women are less judgmental of your life choices, too, being so young…”
“I imagine so.”
“Their youth allows you to be fully yourself.”
“Am I right?” Her voice ground down in the darkness. “Are you a little boy in a man’s body?”
Even in the dimness, his blushing was hard to hide.
“You’re not comfortable in your skin, are you?” she asked plainly. “Not aggressive?”
“Is it noticeable?”
“These women with issues—did they approach you?”
There was a reluctant (even murky) nod.
“Are you not sure?”
“It’s one of my difficulties.”
Her tone, less sultry, strove for objectivity. “Your passivity has limited your options, I dare say. Women with low self-image will often compensate for it by being aggressive, and in ways that bode no good for someone like you. They can’t lash out at the men they hate most so pick on the men they hate least.”
This verdict had a pleasing symmetrical logic.
“Have you ever acted on one of these ‘daddy’s girls’ you like?”
“Fear, I guess.”
He was truthful. “I’m a romantic person. Too much of a romantic for my own good. I tend to idealize women, and am easily hurt.”
“So you’re afraid of being rejected by your ideal?”
“Yes.” (Aloysius knew how pathetic he sounded.)
Amber detected an inconsistency. “It’s a lose-lose proposition, isn’t it? If the one woman that should make you risk rejection is also the one woman you cannot risk being rejected by?”
The man was despondent. “Reason can make no sense of it. And given how fickle women can be, it is all but impossible to get around.”
She leaned away from his pillow, sorting it out. “What else can you tell me about this ‘ideal woman’ of yours?”
Aloysius assumed a lofty tone. “It’s like Aristotle’s Golden Means: a sliding scale between contradictory qualities. My ideal is funny, yet serious; quirky, yet sensible; friendly, yet discriminating; vulnerable, yet strong; practical, yet spontaneous; naughty, yet nice. She has the best kind of intelligence: wit. And the best kind of virtue: honesty about herself. Her imperfections spring from a desire to be better.”
“What about sexually? Would she be half-Madonna and half-whore?”
The man was grudging on the point. “Omar says contradiction is only an impediment to weak intellects.”
The prostitute put her own spin on it. “Most women are double-minded as a rule. Maybe not with the degree of exactness you require. What you might regard as fickle is often a woman thinking out loud. A woman’s reason is more malleable than a man’s. More open to persuasion and change of feeling.”
Aloysius was tortured in his condor. “I’m easily dissuaded as a suitor. Ready to accept any hesitancy as a resolute no. Omar says my obliging literal-mindedness when it comes to female proclamations makes me every feminist’s dream-come-true, and every woman’s worst nightmare.”
Amber laughed. “You and Omar are a lot alike.”
“We’re day and night.”
“Only at one level.” She made her case. “Like the women you were criticizing earlier, the ones with bad relationships with their fathers, I suspect you both have wounded relationships with your mothers. There’s as much pain as smarts in your opinions. What is your relationship with your mother like?”
“Good,” he blurted. “Better,” he amended.
Amber accessed the statement.
“I am closest to my mother,” Aloysius confessed. “She is unreserved in her emotions. There is no craft or concealment in her behavior.”
“You have no doubt how she feels about you. It’s spelled out, warts and all?”
“She loves me, if that is what you mean.”
“The bond of mother and child is ineffable,” observed the woman. “For some, this love is understood from the womb. For others, the understanding comes with time; and perhaps it has to be clearly stated in words to be recognized.”
Aloysius was struck the sudden melancholy in her voice.
Amber’s fingers, which strayed into repose, quickly reconnected with his arm. “How many ideal women are we talking about in your past?”
Now that she faced him, her touch took on a different character. He could not feign detachment from it, or his disconcertion in navigating it. “What do you mean?”
She restated it differently. “How many women have you not risked being rejected by?”
“Can you give me a profile of one?”
“Well... I can’t say that any of them rose to the level of a profile.”
“What are you working from as a template?”
“Models. Actresses. Women in magazines…”
“And the Golden Means test. This is just a wish list?”
Amber went quiet, composing her next question, but her caressing hand had not ceased its conversation. Indeed, her strokes had lengthened over his arm, beginning just above the sleeve’s hem and ending at a prominent wrist bone. This conversation was further along than its counterpart, although he could not say how he knew this.
“Were you ever romantically attracted to any of the women you ended up dating?” she continued, “apart from them not meeting your ideal threshold?”
“Yes but, things went awry. Like I said.”
“They lost interest?”
“Or I did.”
“How often were they the wounded party?”
“Can one ever say for sure in such cases?”
“What were your feelings at the end?” she queried harder. “Did you have misgivings about it not working out?”
Aloysius was plainspoken. “When it ended—by the time it ended, I knew it was for the best.”
“You were relieved?”
It had never been put so starkly.
She made it palatable. “You were relieved because, ultimately, they were not what you most wanted.”
“What about the whore?”
The masseuse again drew away her hand, but for effect. “The whore,” she reiterated. “We’ve talked about Madonnas, and now the whores. Did any of your unions fare better in that department?”
“You mean where there was only physical attraction?”
She seized on the noncommittal answer. “None worked out?”
“Were there regrets?”
“Again, it’s not easy to categorize such things.”
Amber summed up. “But on the scorecard of women, the objet trouvés rate higher than the idée fixes—if on a technicality?”
He scrambled to put it in context. “Objects (to use that term) have a lower bar to clear.”
The prostitute smiled. “Yet when there’s nothing else around, what’s around can be like nothing else.”
Aloysius would not let her riddle goad him.
She speculated. “I suspect you have a standard here, too, although, I dare say, you are embarrassed to express it.”
The man felt exposed in the darkness. He retreated into generalities. “I’m a hopeless case.”
She was less dire. “I think what you really want—need—is to find a mother’s unconditional love in another woman.”
“Is this your professional opinion?”
“This is my opinion as a woman. Once you’ve found someone who truly loves you, the rest (both in and out of the bedroom) is just details to be worked out. Provided you don’t lose faith with the process.”
“It’s hard for me to do that. I have to see where I’m going.”
She countered, “But love means you can’t necessarily see where you’re going.”
“Love requires a kind of working plan, doesn’t it? A common starting place?”
“You’re over-intellectualizing it, Aloysius. Love is not a requirement to start anything, only a requirement to continue.”
He was not sure he understood what she meant in an applicable sense.
“Can I give you some advice?” she asked.
He shook his head with reservation.
“Women don’t make up their minds all at once. Don’t take it personally until it gets personal.”
Aloysius wanted to buy into the overall sentiment. “Can love save me?”
Amber turned philosophical. “For all its pain in practice, love is redemptive in theory. No one enters into it clean, but it makes all things clean by being present. It’s not always pretty—the getting there—but the awkward missteps are soon forgiven, or forgotten. In hindsight everything appears to have been perfectly designed from the beginning. Destined.” She sat up on the bed, going grayer in shadow. “Do you believe it was destiny we met?”
He replied with more feeling than he realized. “I do.”
Chapter Fourteen, Section Three/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.