The one thing I remember least from my childhood is the one thing that influenced me most: the television. In it I acquired an ally, and from it I learned the talents of an imposter by absorbing more appearance of a shared world than substance.
Even in the most casual of social interactions, I followed scripted rules, though I never found rhythm or authenticity in it. I came to suspect I was missing something: A secret knowledge in which I did not share was being communicated, and when I approached, this communication went underground to become something exuded from skin, or exchanged in glances. Whatever this secret knowledge was, it enabled others to form intimacies and attachments. It bestowed on its recipients a sense of entitlement that eluded me. I could only think it was another kind of television soundtrack.
Often as a boy I watched the television repairman fix our television set. He opened the back of it to uncover a cathedral of glass tubes and ethers. Little did I realize, I was looking into the workings of an eavesdropping machine: an unintended tutor sent to teach a deaf mute how to read lips.
Under the best circumstances, it was difficult for Aloysius to transition out of obsessive states. What distinguished many of his behaviors from those of others were not the behaviors themselves, as anyone may claim an acquaintance with feeling self-conscious or unsociable. An occasional behavior is not the same as a pervasive behavior: Where one is an anecdote of shared experience, the other continuously disrupts or prevents a normal life, and requires lifelong coping mechanisms.
More unique to Aloysius was his proclivity to runaway paranoia. Dark ideas overtook his reason for short periods. A prevailing sense of catastrophe, of being watched, of having his body or property violated by natural or nefarious means—these concerns were never far from his mind. Whether washing his hands to elude germs, or crossing the street to avoid staring strangers, the world—his world—imparted little sense of security. What prevented him from being schizophrenic was that he perfectly comprehended his irrationality of thought when it occurred, yet was powerless to set it aside.
Here too he was forced to second-guess his doubts about his new situation, although it had been Omar who raised the specter of surveillance and plots.
Amber told him she was in The Honeymoon Suite, but in gazing up at a row of motel doors, the visitor remembered all the rooms bore this designation. Entering the front office, a bank of muted TV monitors accosted him at the desk; all (save one) chronicled the exploits of lovers in the various rooms. A wiry, dandruff-speckled man emerged out of a back room finishing a dripping taco. “No vacancies,” he announced.
“I’m to meet someone here. Someone who has a room.”
The clerk scowled. “Can’t give out that information.”
Aloysius glanced at the one monitor with a dark screen. “No vacancies?” he repeated.
Large trucks formed a wall along the outer boundary of the parking lot; their mud flaps suggested an additional layer of prophylactic. The rod-iron stairs with peeling paint placed Aloysius on the second level, where he walked down to the door at the far end. It was ajar; darkness in the crack confirmed his hunch.
Her name dropped over the threshold to a mottled carpet, yet garnered no reply. He traced a shining seam of neon to an unlit table lamp.
“Leave it,” came her hushed command. A finger lifted, breaking from a larger shadow. “Thatís another precaution...”
Aloysius looked to where she pointed: a pillowcase covered a wall-mounted video camera in the corner.
Her slink put her at the edge of the bed. “Like I said, I work for an agency. They wouldnít approve of me being here on their clock.”
The visitor puzzled at the cloak-and-dagger.
“Sit,” she said, patting the disconcertingly small mattress. Her calm tone halved the remaining distance between them. “If we’re going to talk, we both need to be comfortable.”
He waded out of a muddle. “I can’t be comfortable.”
“You mean you canít be comfortable with me.”
“I mean I canít be comfortable with people in general.”
Aloysius turned to the nightstand, and then to the window. By the time he turned back, he was pacing. “Most people say too little for me to abide,” he confessed.
“What do you need others to tell you?”
He was not sure specifically what he meant.
“Sit,” she repeated.
Amber took his hand. “Why did you call without leaving a message?”
Mumbling, he replied, “I never think through why I do anything. I only second-guess myself afterwards.”
“Is all this to do with the girl who is not your girlfriend?”
He spoke frankly. “I’ve chosen unwisely.”
“All my life I’ve been in love with an ideal. As I’ve grown older, my ideal hasn’t changed while I have. It is with this girl that appreciate how wide the gap has grown.”
“Then your ideal must evolve, too.”
“I suppose. If it’s even possible.”
The masseuse rose to ease him down on the bed. “You need to relax,” she insisted.
His shoes were removed to facilitate her attention to his socked feet. He was quickly swimming against the dark current—against her. “Why did you drop out of art school, Amber?”
“To be honest, I preferred recreational science to my art survey courses.”
“Recreational science? Are we speaking euphemistically?”
Shadow only went so far in erecting a curtain between their thoughts.
“You have that look,” she observed.
“A look that would like to reform me.”
“Your life is your own.”
“You disapprove,” she said.
“Do you need my approval?”
He withdrew first one leg, and then the other, and abruptly resembled a shellfish. The masseuse responded by pushing down both his knees and crawling over him in her stilettos. When he did not squirm, she straddled his waist and allowed her full weight to sink into his pelvis. Her thought was only completed when she was certain she had his undivided attention. “You disapprove because you’re attracted to me.”
The fishnet hosiery gave him a surfeit of contour lines to choose from, and the artist could not think of a more excellent drawing assignment in perspective. “Youíre an attractive woman,” he began, “and smart...”
“And,” he continued less confidently, “I would wish more for you.”
“Which would be what?”
“I can hardly say.”
Her vice tightened at his waist, re-calibrating. “You can blame my stepfather for the way I turned out. He was my first lover.”
Aloysiusí body became barbed wire. “And youíve dedicated your life to chasing after him in bed?”
She grinned at his show of emotion. “I do have a thing for older men.”
“That canít be good,” said he.
“No.” He amended the remark. “The part about you chasing after your stepfather in bed.”
The massage had stopped in this candid exchange, and for what little the would-be client could see of his masseuse, she was a blank screen. He judged the silence harshly, and finessed his meaning. “I don’t judge you. I judge him.”
“So you should. He was a beastly man, apart from being good in the sack.”
“You have nothing to do with him now?”
“He impregnated me when I was a teen. After that, I moved in with an aunt and never saw him again.”
“Is this the child you mentioned in Chicago? Is this the source of your regret?”
Amber dissembled. “This is not the child I wish to talk about.”
Aloysiusí face flattened on the pillow. The stage scenery shifted with her weight, but his submissive posture left him little leverage.
“What was your relationship like with your mother when you were younger?” her words dissected.
“We already discussed my mother.”
“But then, not now.”
“Am I back on the shrink’s couch?” he complained. “What kind of ‘therapist’ are you, anyway? I am not clear on that.”
She pressed. “When you think of yourself as a boy, what impression do you remember most strongly of your mother?”
“Do you think of being in her arms?”
“I have no recollections of that sort. I didn’t like being touched as a child.”
“Do you have recollections of her punishing you?”
“Most children are spanked by their mothers.”
“So you recall those occasions?”
“I don’t understand the point of this.”
“That’s why you’re an ass man,” she declared.
“The way you we’re looking at me in the hotel hallway in Chicago.”
“But what does a woman’s anatomy have to do with my mother whipping me as a child?”
Amber laid out her theory. “When you were a tyke, all you saw of your mother from the floor were her hips and ass, to which some part of you naturally wanted to cling. Perhaps your mother did not force affection on you, but she did physically interact with you when she punished you. Therefore, your contact with female anatomy has largely been an unpleasant one.”
“You get all this from a glance at your backside and one night of pillow talk?”
“Just as a child acquires immunities through his motherís milk, a motherís arms impart other forms of armor,” she informed him. “Boys who spend a lot of time in their motherís arms tend to be boob men, and generally have fewer phobias. Such as a fear of heights.”
“Did Omar tell you about that?”
The prostitute expounded, “You’re a bottom-dweller, you see. Always looking up at a heaven you can’t have.”
Aloysius was stuck to refute what she was saying.
She stroked his still-youthful face. “Would you like to be my backdoor man?”
He blushed. “I could never afford you, Amber.”
“Youíre not a client.” She was miles ahead. “We can meet at this motel on a regular basis, if you want? Halfway between Chicago and Stonesthrow.”
The manifold that enveloped him was peculiar. He pictured his graphite pencil redrawing any number of these nylon threads running down Amber’s foreshortened legs, yet the artist judged these contours as being no better than tangents where they grazed, and did not penetrate, their subject. It was a pleasing grid, admittedly, though the Non-Euclidean geometry fell into dim confusion where it met with no gusset or liner under the short skirt. He fidgeted and agitated aromatics on Amber’s skin. “Sex has never been the beginning of anything for me,” came his un-modulated proclamation.
She pressed a finger to his lips and, in complete candor, said, “If we start sleeping togetherókeep sleeping togetheróit will be a beginning to something.”
He contemplated other challenges, but her weight against him had elicited an involuntary and unambiguous reaction. One side of her mouth entertained the idea of a smile, and she slid forward. The feel of her synthetic hosiery against the teeth of his pants zipper was more mental than molecular. He could not get past the nylon’s artifice, its texture, and how it was ill suited to dissipate perspiration in a prolong embrace. Pushing on her knees, she released him. He withdrew to the buttressing headboard.
Amber could not hide her frustration. She leaned away, even as her gaze penetrated deeper. “I’m hiding nothing from you, Aloysius. I’m speaking my heart. Isn’t this what you want? Isn’t this what your comfort requires?”
What he was uncomfortable with was the abruptness of her proposition. He could not fathom her eagerness to sleep with him, or her forthrightness in confessing it. Never in his life had a woman’s words and actions matched so perfectly. Regardless, the dark trappings of the lure kept him wary and distrustful.
Chapter Nineteen. Section Two/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.