Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 48)

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mysterious suitcase

Chapter Nineteen, Section Two

The prostitute gestured toward the door. “I brought a suitcase with me.”

Aloysius glanced at the rectangular object set off by neon under the doorsill.

She probed his curiosity. “What do you want me to pull out of it? What aphrodisiac will do the trick?”

“Are you a magician, too?”

“With a man like you, I have to seduce your mind before you will let me anywhere near your body.”

“With something you would pull out of a suitcase?”

“Or not.”

He was confused.

She explained, “Sometimes only imagination is needed.”

“What’s in the suitcase?” he asked pointblank.

“Money.”

“Money?”

“Yours.”

“Mine…?” the man tittered. “What? So I can pay your fee?”

“Wouldn’t money change the dynamic between us? If you don’t feel you deserve me as a poor man, then maybe being a rich man would change everything.”

He quibbled with her caricature of male motives. “It isn’t that I don’t deserve you, but I don’t deserve her.”

“Her…?” The woman’s shadowy look was suddenly one of derision. “You’re afraid you’re going to lose your ideal?”

“Emma,” he said. “Her name is Emma.”

“Do you intend to confess your feelings to Emma?”

He mumbled in the direction of a reply.

She broadened the scope of the inquiry. “Can you picture yourself sleeping with her?”

“When I’m around her, that isn’t in my mind.”

Amber skirted it. “But you do think of her when you’re by yourself? When the lights are out?”

“No more pop psychology,” he demanded.

The prostitute was determined. “Why don’t you think about her? Is it because you feel you don’t even deserve her in your private thoughts?” Her voice narrowed in. “Who do you think about when the lights are out?”

The man’s responses were pared down to inaudible nods.

“Havenít you been thinking about me lately?” she volunteered. “Isnít that the reason you called?”

Nods gave way to immobility, and an expression as blank as the motel headboard.

She assessed the push-pull. “I think you are exactly where you want to be in all this.”

He took the bait. “What do you mean?”

“The ‘Golden Means’ you mentioned before,” she conjectured. “In this regard, none exists. There are two irreconcilable women in your head: one you see in the clouds, and another you call out from under your bed at night. I dare say you’re not eager to give up either one. You’ve grown too comfortable with your mental constructs.”

He frowned. “Mental constructs?”

She sighed. “You had me going with all your talk of shyness. I suspect your timidity not only spares you from the possibility of being rejected, but also from the inconvenience of not being rejected. There is virtue if not passion in knowing precisely what you want, and safety if not salvation in knowing it is too precise to be had.”

“Now you’re a philosopher.”

“No.” She was brusque. “I want to get you off.”

“I don’t want to be a test case for your new profession.”

“Like I said, you’re not a client.”

“If this is not business, then it’s personal?”

“I’m offering you more than handholding and candy hearts, Aloysius. I’m offering to be whoever you want in this dark room.”

“Itís more than that, tooóif itís personal?”

Amber was now the one being evasive. She backed away to the footboard and huffed, “Why did you come here if you didn’t want to get busy?”

Aloysius fled to the bathroom to splash cold water in his face. Noisy bedsprings in the next room resembled augers boring their way into a pair of throaty lovers. He attempted to drown out their ecstasy with the tap, but the throes jumped past his shoulder to pour out of a busted speaker behind him. The TV screen spilled its sickly colors over the vacated mattress, where expletives chased shadows up the wall. He yelled over the burr. “What are you doing now?”

Amber had walked across the room. Her back hugged the dark face of the exterior door where her features nearly emerged.

A piece of the vivisection was glimpsed from the bathroom doorway, where a man’s flaccid bottom dominated the screen. It was too much like the jowls of a toothless grandfather gumming his porridge. The prostitute allowed her silhouette to gradate along the boundary of light. She strolled up to the television and turned it off. “What scares you,” she began in the instructional silence, “is relinquishing control.”

He circled around her, chiming dissonantly in a creaking chair while he laced his shoes.

“As I said in Chicago,” she continued, “what is needed in love is faith.”

“Trust, you mean?”

“Yes, isnít that what weíve been talking about?”

“If this is about trust, then tell me about your escort service?”

“I wonít be working for them much longer.”

“But who are they?” he snapped, pointing at the cloaked camera. “Who are the people you donít want looking in?”

“This isn’t about them.”

“This is personal,” he mocked.

“Since I fell in love with you—yes.”

The easy profession was another broadside. “I donít know you.”

“But you do.”

“You keep saying that.”

“I'm your ideal.”

“You keep saying that, too.”

“How well do you know her?” she argued. “Youíve known me for as long as youíve known her. Isnít that why youíre here? Because, like her, Iím an unknown quantity. Isnít that what your ideal is about? Something more in your mind than in your experience. Something that benefits from a lack of specifics. Isnít that what you need to proceed?”

He could only answer with, “You would be the first to say the heart is illogical, Amber.”

She looked momentarily deflated, sinking to the edge of the bed. “You say that because you’re thinking from here, not there. When you are there—when we are there, together—it will be entirely different.”

Turning to the door, Aloysius’ hand lit on the doorknob, but did not turn it.

She smiled cautiously. “Youíre the kind of man who can call a woman in the middle of the night and talk for hours without ever saying what he wants to say. Yet you and I have shared more truth in this dark room than you are ever likely to share with any woman in daylight.”

“We have shared no truth,” he countered.

“Perhaps not the truth of words.”

With the doorknob still in his hand, he muttered under his breath, “I have never confessed my heart to a woman.”

“You have.”

Aloysius met her eyes.

“The drawing of a monster you gave me in Chicago. I love you was written on it.”

Momentarily he thought he had unintentionally given her Brae’s drawing, but then remembered his drawing as a boy, which he kept in his journal as a tattered bookmark. “I gave you that drawing?” he gasped.

“It was no accident,” she insisted.

“Are you saying my ‘inner child’ is sending you crush notes behind my back?”

“More like your id sending me an SOS.”

He sighed. “I might be a lost cause at this stage, Amber.”

“In your art, you mix a little hate with your love, Aloysius. You need to learn how to do what you do at the easel in real life.”

“You sound like Omar.”

“But itís true.” She expanded on her suggestion. “Think of it like your ĎGolden Meansí: You need to balance your affection for the opposite sex with a healthy measure of disaffection. Toss in a smidgen of antipathy in with your admiration. Sometimes the only way to save your soul is by giving the Devil his pound of flesh.”

“And you want to be the devil girl who pushes my buttons?”

“I do have a closet full of costumes.”

He entertained the notion of a smile.

She coolly announced, “I have another client to meet.”

He was now more blocking than leading the way out of the room. “If you cure me, Amber, I may stop painting monsters. Maybe stop painting altogether.”

“Then it will be the art world’s loss and your gain.”

“I love my monsters. Shouldn’t I suffer for them?”

“Isn’t it the other way round? They suffer for you and spare you the full brunt of your frailty and feeling. If you suffered more, I’m certain we would already be lovers.”

Her insight was as unsettling as her straightforwardness.

Amber, seizing on his hesitation, strolled up to let her fingers light tenderly on his forearm. “You didn’t come here for sex.”

He was never sure what was in his mind, but believed what she said was more true than not. “I don’t…” he stammered hesitantly. “I don’t like you being with other men.”

Her close breath cleared the collar of his shirt, caressing his neck. “Jealousy is a good first step.”

Aloysius’ nose almost touched her forehead. There was enough light to sketch in general details, but it was a face more template than one personally known to him. “Why don’t you want me to see you in light?” he asked searchingly.

“Because you would be afraid.”

He stuck his free hand down in his jacket pocket in a fiddle, forgetting about the strand of the prostitute’s hair. Rubbing it between his fingers, it was both close and far away in that moment, but Aloysius could not figure where this descriptive aspect placed him. “I’m allergic to some fragrances,” he admitted.

“Do you want me not to wear perfume when we’re together?”

He called himself answering the first part of the question. “No, I want you to wear it.”

She tugged on his hand, attempting to coax it around her waist, but the unseen strand of hair, like a talisman, kept her at armís length. He straightened up, but blustered weakly. “How can I trust you when you know so much more about me than I do about you?” His asking was meeker this time. “What’s in the suitcase?”

His companion knelt to unclasp the fastener and push open the lid. “I have nothing to hide.”

“What frightens me,” he muttered, “is your face is just as empty to me as the interior of that case. I cannot make out what it means.”

“Turn on the light, then,” she said. “If it will help.”

Needing to escape darkness that exposed him, Aloysius exited through the door.

Chapter Nineteen. Section Three/ Back/ Contents Page