Aloysius drove back to Spyglass Darkly House in a black mood. He went to his studio and placed Emma’s photograph on his worktable. It was in his mind to pin it to the wall, but Emma deserved no such honor. It both angered and disheartened him to think she had so little inkling of his character as to imagine him agreeable to a liaison with a chain-smoking thrift store poseur.
The painter paced instead of rocked, though his thoughts barely kept up with his steps. What the reporter said about a hundred lovers was nonsense, yet it was the sort of poisonous accusation that found rich soil in the suitor’s heart. Rapid speculation was too much a pattern for him: the over-thinking of an under-acting man. Imagination was Aloysius’ friend in art, but his enemy in everything else. He was reluctant to expose himself to injuries he could otherwise avoid, and this timidity (or cowardice) invariably brought out the worst in women. Lovers readily confused his silence with acceptance of their terms, and what began with little discussion unfailingly ended with no discussion at all.
The distressed man was torn into a thousand pieces: a thousand familiar pieces. It was a vicious cycle for him, one that made keeping his distance from women a prudent course where extenuating factors such as boyfriends and lovers were involved. They were not simply irritating obstacles, but also demeaning by demonstration of their unremarkable character. The idealistic artist had chosen a lonely life largely because he was finicky (perhaps too exacting) in his dating criteria. He suspected the females who were attracted to him over the years would have been just as happy with less, if not happier. Any judgment he would likely render on the woman’s taste in suitors would give him only the slimmest satisfaction, while being completely immaterial to the woman.
He tied his happiness, his salvation, irrevocably to young women; and it was increasingly a losing proposition as he aged. The drift of time further separated him from his objects of regard. He grew older while they remained obstinately the same age. Even though he no longer had stated interest in pursuing relationships with younger women, his inexhaustible idealization of them showed no signs of abating. What was dropping out of the picture was the middle part: the particular individual. Experience had something to do with it, but Aloysius believed, given his faint-hearted attempts at dating, the middle part was never intended to work out. The accumulative annoyances of his few romantic unions, though sufferable at first, slowly calloused into the conviction that he lacked the necessary virtue of subsumption so vital in making relationships work. The pedestrian aspects of domesticity loomed like gathering clouds in his imagination, and picturing them on the horizon was enough to deaden any short-lived pang such indignities could be anything but tedious; and what matter of woman, he wondered, could make them otherwise?
At bottom, the irreconcilable duality of women (with the romantic ideal at one end and the sexual object at the other) was the bane of his existence; and it was a chasm that did not diminish with age but grew. The more intense the feelings were at either end, the less likely any middle ground could be carved out. Ideals could be so idealized that the woman they were attached to could be politely ignored; conversely, the same could be done, less politely, with objects. Love made the painter a mindless slave; and lust, potentially, a mindless tyrant.
Yet it was more than the foibles and vagaries of Emma’s youth that riled him. It was his hurt feelings. He loved her unreservedly from the beginning: had seen her as someone deserving of his love. By comparison, she saw him as someone to be handed off to another woman. This is what was so obvious to Emma and not to him: This is what she intended to tell him earlier at the bedroom closet: She cared nothing for him.
Aloysius was a fly in a bottle, and wound up in his bedroom rocking in front of the telephone. He stopped periodically to pick up the receiver and cradle it to his ear like the barrel of a revolver. Eventually he augmented this routine by dialing six of seven phone digits before hanging up. This variation went on for a while until the last digit was added. However, the number was only allowed to make it halfway around the rotary before the call was terminated. After forty minutes of this excruciating roulette, he let the last digit drop.
“This is ‘The Personal Touch’ Maid Service Agency…”
He hung up without leaving Amber a message. The strand of her hair, which he placed on the pillow as a confidence-building measure, was returned to his jacket pocket.
For reasons that could not be named, the brooder parked near Jacques’ eyesore-of-a-trailer. There he watched police load the last of the dwarf’s belongings into a forensics van. He stayed low in his car seat, and ambled over inconspicuously for a closer look once the police cleared off. The trailer was empty but for a few porno magazines and Jacques’ creative milk crate furniture. A crooked nail protruded from a wall, and was presumably where a rope was slung for the asphyxiation.
As the trespasser stepped lightly over the left-behinds, his shoe stabbed at the glossy page of an opened centerfold in the floor. A word, carved in sharp ballpoint pen, leapt off the nude woman’s body: BLIND. Aloysius keeled forward, running fingers through more pages of the pornographic magazine. The same word covered another nude—and another. He rifled through other magazines and found more of the same.
Staggering outside, he tripped over a plastic flowerpot and pivoted. A trashcan was toppled along side the dinky trailer; high weeds around it were baited with videotapes. Gathering these, the haul was dumped in the backseat of his car and he sped away.
The tapes were dropped among the sofa cushions. One, at random, was carried to the VCR and shoved in. The screen was dark, but crinkled white lines indicated that the cassette indeed played. Nothing of substance was gleaned, either from adjusting the contrast or fast-forwarding in play mode. Aloysius worked his way through the pile of videos to find them all frustratingly the same.
It had been taking shape in his mind all morning, and harkened back to the farfetched theory Omar floated in Chicago about a reality TV show. If Aloysius’ new life was subject to the machinations of television producers, then their program was unlike any he ever encountered. They were not only invading his thoughts, but also his nightmares. Had these villains gotten to his sleeping pills, food, and drink to spike them with hallucinogenic drugs?
His desire to avoid confrontation made him a natural patsy. Everyone from his evil tenant neighbor to deceitful women saw him coming a mile off. He was easily cheated and manipulated because he could not be bothered to attend to his affairs. It was simpler to trust or hope to trust in others than it was to ask sensible and timely questions.
Aloysius screamed as he circled unorganized paperwork pertaining to the house. After stumbling over the phone number of the foreign lawyer several times, he dialed the number and found it disconnected. A thorough examination of the house commenced: Closets were rooted through; furniture, overturned; lampshades, unscrewed; rugs, pulled up. Nothing resembling a microphone or hidden camera was found. His excavation only succeeded in stirring up his dust allergy.
The hapless resident cursed himself, and was amazed by how, in the haze of a schoolboy crush, he allowed the rude reality to pile up at his doorstep without complaint. His reason could never circumscribe his runaway emotions in these states, and any healed-over furuncle was a subject to revisit. One minute he was yelling at a drawer for banging his elbow, and the next, berating people of no or former acquaintance for past unaddressed grievances. By the end of his tirade he simply threw things as he stormed blindly and ranted.
Several forceful points would be made in these vocalizations, and being struck by his impeccable logic, he repeated them, and repeated them again, as though rehearsing lines for a debate. Anyone listening in would be confused by how these extemporaneous monologues dropped out in places, like he was getting distracted by other forming points, but instead of picking up where he left off, he recommenced from the start. This broken record oratory was far from cathartic, since his expositions might go on for hours and even carry on in his head to deprive him of sleep. Physical exhaustion generally succeeded in ending these performances, although on this occasion a flare-up of his acid reflux proved instrumental.
The stressed man retreated to the bathroom to swig down a quarter bottle of antacid; a Loratadine tablet was also taken for his allergy.
Chapter Eighteen, Section Three/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.