Good morning.” The beautiful woman bloomed over him in a pale coral pink chiffon dress, trimmed with delicate crepe lace. Her dark, finely brushed hair was tucked behind an ear to setoff a costume pearl earring.
He was raspy. “Good morning.”
“Did you sleep well?”
His head bobbed more than nodded on the pillow.
She stood up. “My makeup took so long. We will be late out of here.” The disclaimer sent her into the bathroom to clear away her things.
Aloysius sat up; his pants and shirt were wrinkled beyond repair. Warming rays of sun nevertheless pushed him to his feet. He confidently (if slyly) approached Emma at the sink wanting to cuddle.
“I just put on my makeup,” she reiterated frostily.
He backed away, keeling.
Emma caught his reaction in the medicine cabinet mirror, and he gauged her expression as one of weariness over his easy wounds. Closing the toilet seat cover, she sat down on it melodramatically; a solitary tear gummed her mascara. “I was wrong,” she declared. “Wrong about there being no tomorrow.”
The lover stumbled out from under the pile of bricks, finding himself at her knees.
She looked past cinched calico curtains in the bathroom window, to a pane of textured glass she could no more see through than the wall. Her sigh smelled of toothpaste. “I thought I knew what I wanted,” she said. “I thought I had convinced myself.” Turning a tuft of his hair, a proviso was tacked on. “Itís nothing to do with you, though.”
Aloysius was notorious for parsing words, which made women as frustrating as standardized tests. He faded down her long legs.
Emma smiled at last, wiping away the one tear. “It was wrong of me to bring you here.”
(In his estimation, the only thing worst than not owning bad behavior was owning it a little too quickly and casually.)
Having finished her little thought-through speech, the suddenly collected child-of-a-girl exited the bathroom, leaving her lover scrunching on hard, grouted tile. Her faceted hips swiveled in the bright window while she fetched about in her suitcase for more shoes. He watched her, and like a moonfaced boy eyeing a piece of candy in a case he had supposed to be his. She strapped on a pair of oyster grey sandals and chirped, “We’ll be the best of friends.”
The timbre of her voice was irritatingly blithe. He turned her words back on her. “You don’t want me as a friend.”
“You mean you don’t want me as a friend?” Emma, rooting in her purse, pondered their evolving dynamic. “I don’t know what to think about this.”
Ambiguous words were met with ambiguous silence.
She amended her offer. “We’ll simply say: there are privileges.”
Privileges? he thought.
“Let’s do lunch, today!” she exclaimed. “I can take thirty minutes at work for lunch.”
He found a little backbone. “My friend is coming to visit me today.”
“Friend?” she chided. “You donít have friends.”
“More a brother,” he grudgingly explained. “Since childhood.”
Finding another lipstick shade to her liking, she stepped to the dresser mirror. Her pretty eyes, framed too perfectly in the glass, stung, though it was her peevish warble that betrayed injury. “Is he going to stay the whole day?”
She freshened the plum color, dabbing her lips and still looking a little inconvenienced in the two-way reflection. “Maybe we can get together later.”
Aloysius did not respond to her Plan B.
Crawling onto the bed, Emma stripped away the linen—stripped away their scents with nary a care to it. Fresh sheets were pulled from the bottom chest drawer and the bed was remade. The incriminating load of laundry was gathered from the floor. “I need to put these things in the washing machine before we leave.”
The blindsided man returned to the edge of the bed to lace up his shoes, listening to her clap down the hall on feet altogether too bouncy.
Even allowing for her deftness in the feminine arts, Emma was a woman in all but fact. Regardless, he was hopelessly mired in it; and she was gloating like a conquering child. It was impossible he should walk away at this juncture, though the projected path of what lay ahead was painfully familiar:
There would be the stolen nights from her fiancé, though such trysts would be like sexually frustrating slumber parties where late-hour handholding and pillow talk occasionally erupted into temper tantrums and pleading at the bathroom door. Owing to the genius of her sex, everything she likely did or said from here on would smack of stagecraft and ulterior motive. She would turn his worshipfulness off and on to suit herself, and he, lost to all sense, would anticipate every flip of the switch like Pavlov’s dog. An occasional backrub might suffice (in her imagination at least) as maintenance. Normally he would tire of his starvation rations after a while, and usually more quickly than the woman expected. It was all a game, of course. She would either allow the relationship to be consummated or not—either dump her fiancé or not; although by the time it was resolved one way or another, he would be, by his own emotional barometer, on the way out.
The restless man stood up with a mind to either rock or pace, but he was not at liberty to indulge either compulsion.
He was older now, and hanging on by his teeth to the very last of his youth. There was no time left for pride. Emma was, in all other aspects, his ideal personified. He would never love a more beautiful woman, and could only hope under his influence she would ripen into the better person he knew she was capable of being. His timing, however, was regrettably early in this regard. Those creatures he chose to love invariably moved away to grow into splendor somewhere else, thus leaving him behind in their hard, green inexperience. Some other luckier man would time the acquaintance better than he, and thereby escape the foibles of youth the romantic painter was destined to repeat without end. He must break this cruel cycle by finding a way to make Emma work. Aloysius needed to put whatever true regard the woman bore him, and they bore each other, into terms not subject to change.
“It’s late!” She hurried in from the hall to retrieve her suitcase. A tentative pet name was plucked out of a grab bag. “Come, sweetie! And bring the pumpkin!"
They did not drive back the way they came. Emma called it a short cut, but it was no such thing. There was, for the first time, anxiousness in her face, or so he dared to imagine. Before rejoining the paved road, they crossed onto a ridge that overlooked another wooded road; a cloud of dust kicked up from a pickup truck passing down it. The inamorata had stopped a quarter mile from where the two roads intersected, and so watched the vehicle go by. When the dust settled, and the path was clear, she turned down her visor on the pretense of checking her makeup in another mirror; Aloysius rifled through his cinematic templates to name this look: It best resembled restored equanimity.
They continued over what seemed a less sinister landscape, and by the time they reached the outskirts of town Emma had fleshed out more of her Plan B. “Theyíre having a memorial for Jacques over at the chapel on campus today. Would you like to go with me?”
Aloysius did not know Omar’s plans, but knew he would not stay the entire day.
“Evan is supposed to come to town later this afternoon,” she went on. “He wants me to return to the country with him, but I’m telling him I have to go to this thing and will drive down later. That way we can spend a few hours together.”
The other man wanted to tell her he was painting that afternoon, but, again, he could only have one obsession at a time: She was now it.
“Call me around four,” she advised.
“What if a man answers?”
His question vexed her. “Ask for me. It’s no big deal, Aloysius. We’re going to a memorial service.”
The pet name had been jettisoned, and they had backtracked, momentarily, into proper names. He disliked her new tone with him, so turned his attention to careworn bushes along the roadside.
It was like him to fall in love with the lead actress and watch a film repeatedly without cessation. His gushing heart would be uncritical in its initial praise, and only with over-familiarity would his eye wander off-script into peripheral details the filmmaker never intended for scrutiny. The fantasy, from there, unraveled from the inside out, beginning innocently when an untouched water pitcher was noticed changing sides on a table during a conversation, and then onto the late discovery of a subtle tic in the actress’ facial mannerisms. Eventually it came down to reading the lips of background characters, and finally spying the one guy in a crowd scene looking directly into the camera and mumbling, “I am the devil.” By then, he was watching an entirely different movie: a movie so painfully familiar it was completely alien.
Perhaps the script of any story is never truly finished: one simply delves deeper into its layers of appearance. The genius of a magician is not to hide the miraculous, but the obvious; and for Aloysius, the obvious, to his undoing, was always the most miraculous thing of all.
Emma left him standing at the curb by his house, and sang, “Bring your friend by the coffeehouse! I would love to meet him!” The Mercury sped away, having in the span of twenty minutes undone all of its driver’s finely combed hair. Aloysius tarried in the tailpipe fumes half hoping the whim-prone girl would come back with a kiss and an undying proclamation of love. (His negligible history with women told him it would be characteristically un-female for her to do that.)
Chapter Twenty-three/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.