The Two-Legged Easel, Excerpts from Daedalus Monet’s autobiography:
(8.1) There is a window in my house where an angel abides. Encounters with this entity take the form of remembrances. One might liken this arrangement to living with an absentee boarder who only occasionally comes to mind when you find hair in the sink, or chairs moved impractically close to doors.
Sometimes this angel seeks to gain my attention by throwing items out its window. Vague remembrances, mostly: a hat lost to me in a wind storm, a half-eaten sandwich I did not care for and threw away, pencils (short, useless ones), discarded socks with fatigued elastic supports.
These are trite memories, to be sure, but no detail is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. Every recollection is THE RECOLLECTION of THAT which time cannot demolish or dim.
He had walked away from too many women that he placed on pedestals, only to grieve all the more for his loss in having put them out of reach. In this instance, at least, his body dragged him over a line and onto a shared pillow.
Exhausted, neither of them spoke in the darkness. They lay side by side, yet did not kiss. Something would need to happen next. She would either send him away or they would fall asleep. They fell asleep.
“Aloysius…?” she whispered. “Those television people are snooping around outside the house.”
He caught the tail end of it. “It’s the pumpkin stealers.”
“What?” she asked.
He was not inclined to explain.
“We can’t stay here tonight,” she told him.
Disoriented, he sat up to puzzle over her melodrama. Emma was already on her feet. She snatched a repacked suitcase from the floor. “I know where we can go and not be disturbed. Grab the pumpkin and follow me.”
The suitor climbed off the bed and maneuvered around what gowns remained behind. Incommoded by the unlit jack-o-lantern, he descended the outside steps, and lastly wedged himself between a stuck seat and broken glove compartment latch in Emma’s car. She pulled away from the curb without headlamps, although nothing was seen of the television news van. Once they were a safe distance, the driver sped toward the old highway.
The accomplice would not ask where they were going, either in a specific or general sense. He was never one to ask a question where he did not already know the answer.
They drove further than they had ever driven together, and the road ahead grew bleaker and narrower with each change of direction. Without the benefit of signs, Emma charted a winding course deep into the woods. The passenger imagined every bush to be home to a snake, and every farmhouse to be the lair of a serial killer. He could only justify his irrational fear of rural landscapes by quoting Sherlock Holmes on the subject: “The lowest and vilest alleys of London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”
After the better part of an hour, Emma stopped at a small house off a gravel road. No lights were on hand, apart from those supplied by the car, which she left on in a dash to the porch; her shadow loomed large on the front door while she rooted in her purse for a key. With the way cleared, she rushed back to shut off the car engine. “Bring the jack-o-lantern,” she instructed.
Aloysius got out to the trebly cries of crickets, one for each star in the blackest sky imaginable. He passed into the dwelling to hear Emma going through cupboards. Placing the pumpkin on a table, he asked, “Is there a light switch?”
She stayed in her clandestine vein. “That would draw attention.”
The guest glanced around to appreciate that none of the windows had curtains or blinds. A scratching sound was slower making an impression. His sights strayed to an exterior room off the kitche, where a mongrel with cocked ears peered in through a screen door.
“That’s the neighbor’s dog,” she explained, adding pointedly, “He’s not allowed in the house.”
Emma moved to the kitchen table with a scrounged-up candle and matchbook and, after lighting her wax stick, anchored it inside the jack-o-lantern. Light trickled up faded wallpaper to lay bare a room as stark as the windows. “Come,” she gestured. “I have something to show you.”
Leading the way with the torch, the guide flung her shadow over her shoulder like a cloak, darkening personal effects lining a hall. The pumpkin was set on a dresser in an unassuming corner bedroom before she leaned into a chest of drawers with a mind to shove it; Aloysius pitched in to help uncover a crumbly gash in the wall. It was puttied in and painted over with a child’s tempera paints.
“It looks like a comet,” he remarked.
Emma ran her fingers over the indentation under the mural. It corresponded to the celestial body’s fiery white tail. “This gouge was made by a meteorite years ago. It punched a hole in the roof and passed straight down inside the wall.”
“Is it still in there?”
Turning to the door, her shoe tapped a black rock used as a stop.
“Then the art is a commemoration of the event?”
“It’s in need of repairs,” she explained. “I was hoping we could touch it up together.”
Aloysius said nothing when his intended collaborator disappeared down the hall with an imploring smile. He surmised they were in a family home.
She reappeared shortly in the doorway in bare-hosed feet, carrying a cardboard box filled with paints and brushes. “We only have blue and white,” she lamented. The materials were set beside the baseboard. “I should like to add some stars, too.”
The pumpkin was also removed to the floor, where its light pushed shadows higher on the walls. The guest joined the festivities and was handed a brush. It seemed strange that Emma should drag him out into the middle of nowhere for the sole purpose of retouching a child’s painting, but it was not in his nature to question any scheme of hers, or to have a plan of his own.
His unease about there being nothing between them and the dark countryside, except thin plates of window glass, subsided after a few minutes. The young woman was still in his old sweater, which grazed his sleeve like another ghost in the room. Rhapsodic flicks of dripping casein paint stood in for conversation until she at last confessed what he was pained to suspect.
“This is Evan’s house. He’s a commercial photographer. He taught me everything I know about a camera. We’ve dated since high school.”
Aloysius was compelled to ask one relevant question. “Where is he?”
“He’s away in Idaho for a photo shoot.” She added, incidentally, “Though he’s driving back tonight and should be here late tomorrow morning.”
Silence returned, edgier than before; the painter’s brush, by contrast, was less keen.
Emma was getting good at reading his moods. “I know so little about you, Aloysius.”
It was par for his acquaintance that little background was solicited or given. Knowing him required sharing a kind of orphanhood with him: one of Dickensian self-invention. “There isn’t much to know,” he grunted.
Emma persisted. “But you write so much. You must have a lot to say.”
“I live mostly out of a sack: a toothbrush, a change of socks…”
“You’re between destinations?”
“No destination,” he replied. “Only the in-between part.”
“What are your aspirations? Where do you want to be in ten years?”
He shrugged. “I’ll know when I get there.”
His answer dismayed her. “You’re looking at it the wrong way round, aren’t you? The future is not a point of arrival. It’s a point of departure. You create your future from here—not there.”
He could no more refute her shrewd observation than he could explain why he gave the future so little thought. Dropping his brush into a cup of water, he leaned away to escape the overheated air of the pumpkin—a pair of eyes passed high over one of the windows. “Shit!” he yelped.
Emma peeked back, unworriedly. “It’s probably a deer. They like staring in when there’s a light.”
A knock arose on the front door and dispelled that possibility; Aloysius would not panic if Emma was not going to panic.
The unexcited resident put down her paintbrush before venturing into the dark end of the house. Snippets of a friendly conversation escaped a gap in the front door, but it was more tone than distinct words. On re-latching the chain, she reappeared in the doorway. “It was a neighbor. He thought we were burglars.”
“The dog’s owner?”
“No,” Emma informed him, moving to re-cover the mural with the chest of drawers. “The stars can wait.”
Seizing on her weary state, the painter pitched in another shoulder to help, and did not argue.
Crunching leaves were heard outside where the neighbor returned the way he or she came. Aloysius listened for a gradual drop in volume, but the sound simply stopped. The skidding chest presumably masked the last of the tread.
“Why don’t you get ready for bed?” she told him.
The guest looked to a connecting bathroom.
With no further instructions, his hostess stepped in the hall to pick up her suitcase. She disappeared behind another door to leave the home wrecker alone, searching the window for anyone lurking nearby.
Chapter Twenty-one, Section Two/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.