Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 58)

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coffee cup

Chapter Twenty-three, Section Three

Given the engrossing conversation between the friends, Emma felt left out. Once the crowd thinned, she approached a nearby table on the pretense of wiping it off; both men glanced over. “About the memorial service,” she interjected, “call me at four-thirty.”

Aloysius nodded.

Seeing the discussion stop on her account, the beaming barista pulled up a chair in hopes of restarting it. “Aloysius tells me you can explain this transcendental stuff to me.”

Omar did not look like he wanted to be disturbed, but his friend was ready for a change of subject. The philosopher turned to face the young woman. “Transcendental Idealism. Do you really want to know?”

Her smile was overstretched. “Of course.”

In perfunctory fashion, Omar set down his coffee and pulled his chair close to Emma’s; she was surprised by his intrusion into her personal space. “You see this coffee cup in front of you?” He pushed his mug near her. “The only way you can interact with this coffee is through your senses. Right? In no other way can you physically relate to it.” Omar unexpectedly caressed Emma’s lips with his thumb.

She jerked.

He continued, “You taste bitter with your mouth, but bitter in-and-of-itself is not a cup of coffee.” He then stroked her eyelid with his thumb. “You see brown, but brown in-and-of-itself is not a cup of coffee.” He lastly took her hand. (A little too firm for her liking.) “You feel warmth, but warmth in-and-of-itself is not a cup of coffee. So, I ask you, if all of these things—which are the only things you can ever possibly experience—are not a cup of coffee, then where is the cup of coffee as it exists as a thing-in-itself?”

Emma puzzled. “In all of them?”

Omar released her hand. “This is your understanding, but not your experience. Your experience is only particular sensations, like bitter, brown, and warm. Where do all these particular sensations come together to make a cup of coffee?”

She was on the spot. “In our minds?”

“Exactly. The cup of coffee, as it exists as an object, is an idea in your mind. Reality as we understand it is only a collection of ideas assembled in our head. However, the thing-in-itself, the metaphysical essence of the cup of coffee, to which the bitter, brown, and warm are attached, cannot be understood outside its idea.”

Emma looked skeptical, but went along. “Then we are cut off?”

Omar waved off this hasty conclusion. “Quite the contrary. You have only ended one conversation to start another. Perception does not end with conception—it ends with intuition. Concepts can only generalize, where intuition can be specific. Concepts can only be impersonal, where intuition can make your very personal hair stand on end. We are the Thing-in-Itself but for the conditions of sense understanding, and there is no reason to presume that we are cut off in quality where a quantity cannot describe.”

Emma remained confounded. “I’m not sure I understand.”

Omar was as charitable as he could be. “The Thing-in-Itself—the Noumenon—does not require understanding. Only humility.”

“And you believe this?”

The philosopher quieted. “When I first heard this idea some twenty-five years ago, I thought it was laughable. After thinking carefully about it, I thought it was a clever trick. Later still, I came to view it as plausible. Then, finally, I understood not only was it the one thing of certain truth in this world, but it was the only thing that mattered.”

Emma was moved. “It sounds like God.”

“That,” the teacher answered, “is humility.”

Aloysius, basking in the exchange, got up to go to the bathroom, convinced the two would get along in his absence. Yet the moment he disappeared, his friend launched into the barista. “You couldn’t wait to get over here and piss on your kill like a lioness.”

Emma was thrown by the show of aggression. “I don’t know what you are talking about. Aloysius and I are just friends.”

“In the convoluted lexicon of female logic that means pay no attention to the man standing behind the curtain.”

Emma did not care for Omar’s professorial tone. “I suppose you are an expert on women, too?”

“Iím a student of human nature,” explained the lawyer. “When your boy strays too far away, you shake your cute little dinner-bell-of-an-ass and he comes scurrying back. Itís in your genes. Youíre a woman. I know it isnít personal.”

The barista was unaccustomed to being dissected. “I have no designs on Aloysius.”

Omar laughed sharply. “[She said with a straight face.] Letís cut to the chase. I know what youíre doing, but Iím not going to get in your way.”

“What do you mean by ‘what I am doing’?”

“Look,” he said, “I saw your undiluted sense of possession the moment I walked through the door. I respect that. I also know you have an agenda. It’s the same agenda every woman has. You’re what…? A twenty-three year-old artist looking to have a career in the arts? Aloysius is a door. A convenient door. A useful door.”

Emma recast it. “Our friendship is mutually beneficial. I am his muse and he is my mentor.”

Omar was sour. “Whatever. I know you’re putting him through his paces—that too is in your genes. I don’t have any patience for that nonsense, even though I am sure Aloysius will blossom—incandesce—under your womanly abuse. You’ll drain the purple from his prose, even as you make his balls bluer than cornflowers. Once you’ve whittled his soul down to gristle, he’ll be the perfect fit to shove between your legs.”

“You’re a misogynist.”

“Misogyny is another word for watching your back.”

“I wonder if you even know your friend that well.”

“I know him well enough to know when to let go of him.”

The woman was flustered. “Aren’t you being a bit melodramatic? This isn’t an either/or situation.”

“Yes, but you see, it is. Aloysius cannot serve two masters. That’s why I concede him to you on my terms.”

Emma was now the one laughing. “Your terms…? And what are ‘your terms’?”

The manís eyes took on a Svengali quality as he leaned forward. “Canít you guess?”

His breath swirled in the hollow of her neck, making Emma go rigid. “What do you want?”

Omar slid his hand under the table to pry apart her knees. There was nothing hesitant about his touch. His reply popped on her chin. “Immortality.”

Confused, then defiant, the barista raised her hand to slap him, prompting Omar to grab her arm and push it to the table with unhurried force. Fuming, she clinched her teeth. “Let go of me.”

The man eased away.

The woman scooted her chair from the table loudly, drawing attention to herself. She bristled, but reigned in her emotions. “What kind of friend are you, anyway?”

Omar took in finely creased pleats of her costume dress. “Aloysius thinks you’re a Grecian urn on a high shelf.”

“He’s a gentleman, and treats me like a lady. Unlike you.”

“Yes.” The attorney was brittle. “Unlike him, I fuck whores. No phony sentiment. No valentine cards. Just pussy and a carbon receipt.”

Emma rose from the table in a huff, but would not honor the invective with a show of histrionics. Aloysius turned the corner; her half-smile betrayed anxiousness on his return. A new customer headed for the counter, giving her reason for a speedy exit. Her original intent in coming over (which she had forgotten) was to get Aloysius’ attention; his eyes obediently followed her back to her station. Omar realized he needed to remove his friend from the building if he hoped to win back his attention.

Chapter Twenty-three, Section Four/ Back/ Contents Page