Eighteenth Century thinker Moses Mendelssohn stated that an object of beauty could neither be possessed through knowledge nor desire, only distantly admired. Keats told us, in different language, beauty and truth were synonymous.
In short, feeling and reason endeavor to possess a thing whole by making perception a means to an ends, yet the closest we come to this whole state is when we make perception an end-in-itself. Schopenhauer saw this type of detached experience as will-less: for in suspending one’s particular ends, if briefly, one surrenders to what is universal in all things.
Only the Noumenon (Thing-in-Itself ) has intrinsic value, because it alone claims intrinsic-ness by definition. Being good-and-true-in-itself denotes a state of grace, not a place name. As burning bushes cannot be brought down from mountaintops to be fashioned into the bludgeons, so too the grace imparted in a will-less moment can never be divorced from its immediate perceptual occurrence. We are forced to leave beauty where we find it.
Oscar Wilde said we always kill the thing we love. This is what happens when we attempt to possess the thing that possesses us. Beauty/Truth is its own reward, and to love it, in the best sense, is to set it free. ~Omar
The friends returned to the house, and Omar, never one to dally, left Aloysius waving at the curb. The resident contemplated painting in the time before his intended rendezvous with Emma, though was struck by the perverse irony in it: The barista inspired him to be creative, even as the very idea of her undermined his powers of concentration. Still, somewhere between Schubert’s wistful D664 piano sonata and his majestic D960, he picked up a brush.
The process of artistic creation was unfathomable to the painter, emerging from a part of the brain not visible to light. Mechanically it was a perceptual undertaking, and the more he bore down into the bare bolts of seeing, the more miraculous the mundane was sure to be. This notwithstanding, much of Aloysius’ mind was left un-tasked in his labor, and free to wander into remote regions of thought and memory. These excursions frequently resembled a tongue drawn repeatedly to a mouth ulcer. Regrets surfaced while at the easel: some fresh, some thought long forgotten. Perhaps such contrition was essential to empty the vessel for work. On this occasion the artist thought about Brae, and his neglect of her in recent self-absorbed days. It was, after all, Halloween Eve, and there was his promise to take the child trick-or-treating.
Prodded more by penitence than a need for holiday preparedness, he walked up the street to Quickmart to buy a bag of Halloween candy after putting away his brushes. There he bumped into Jacques’ undergraduate assistant, who asked if the painter planned to attend the memorial service; Aloysius answered, “Yes.”
“I have something to give you, afterwards,” the young man explained. “I got to Arbor Hall before the police carted everything away, to gather up footage for the tribute, and Jacques left a package for you on his work table.”
Aloysius used the occasion to pry. “About the videotapes… the ones Jacques stole…”
“You mean those belonging to Seth Bowles?”
“Then they were Seth’s?”
The assistant was free with the sordidness. “Professor Bowles has apparently been videotaping his sexual escapades with undergrads for years. Now the shit’s hit the fan. I’ve heard he’s been suspended pending a full inquiry by the college’s ethics committee.”
Aloysius was hardly sympathetic.
The fellow left with a shrug, and the painter queued up at the register with his bag of candy corn.
His excursion served doubly, as a clock over the refrigerated drinks in the convenience store gave him the proper time. The errand runner estimated that it was a five-minute walk home and so, on his arrival, he fussed to reset his bedside clock. Smashing its button repeatedly finally budged the red diode off its flashing twelve.
With little time left before calling Emma, his days-long tiredness caught up with him. He put his head down on the pillow, but would not nap for fear of oversleeping. The late afternoon light was on the other side of the house, and the sluggish, angular shadows mirrored his mental state. His eyes were notorious for playing tricks on him in half-light, but he was certain, after several torturous minutes, that he spied a mouse along the baseboard sniffing the Monet painting still sitting in the floor.
With a mind to shoo it, he gestured forward on the bed, though only an unconscious hypnic jerk seized his arm. The roused rodent reacted by latching onto the artwork’s frame in an unnatural way—it began tugging. The improbability of its action did not fully sink in until the painting fell face down on the floor with a smack. Aloysius watched in disbelief as the mouse dragged the heavy object down the dark hallway. He then realized that what he saw was not a rodent at all but a hand: a child’s hand…
Aloysius broke his paralysis and bounded to the doorway, yet could not say that the picture frame budged even an inch. Thinking he had likely dosed off for second time, he warily returned to the bed, and less warily dropped his head on the pillow.
He was more likely to hallucinate on his back, so opted to lie on his left side since he seldom if ever fell asleep in this position. The ear opposite the pillow amplified noises in the ceiling. The listener was certain he heard soft footsteps overhead. He braved the passageway with the chair, and peeked into the dark opening between floors. This space, he now realized, was too small for a grown adult to manage. “Brae?” he called out.
The phone rang in the bedroom. He felt an entire summer of bright clouds evaporate in an instant, leaving their warmth on the right side of his body, upon which he now lay. While both sides of him realigned as temperate zones, he lifted the telephone receiver and answered, with a lingering tremor of undisguised feeling, “Hello?”
When she began to speak, he did not immediately know who it was. “You were supposed to call me at four-thirty.”
With the all clear, Aloysius drove to Emma’s apartment. The front door was ajar, but no lights were on. He poked his way to the bedroom where he found her lying on her dark bed, wrapped sleepily in his sweater. He stepped closer, following her long bare legs to the hem of the cardigan, and wondered what might have transpired between Evan and Emma in the prior hour.
The young woman slithered to the mattress’ edge with an expandable backbone, like a feline, and enfolded his waist in her arms. She buried a yawn in his hip. “What did you and your friend talk about?”
Aloysius, needing something to say, drew her into details. “Omar thinks my inheritance is part of a reality TV show.”
“A reality TV show?” she repeated. “That sounds farfetched.”
“It makes sense.” (Aloysius was not sure it did, but felt compelled to defend the idea.)
“You believe this?”
“Yes.” He jumped in further. “Is there something wrong with that?”
“You shouldn’t believe everything a friend tells you.”
Aloysius went prickly in her embrace. “Omar is more than a friend.”
“So am I.”
He reeled at her gall, groaning, “You’re a friend with privileges.”
She peered lengthwise up his torso. “Why do you say that with such sarcasm?”
His rare candor left him exposed, but he did not expand on the complaint.
Emma planted her head against his stomach with a plaintive sigh. “I told Evan I would drive out after seven.”
“We should go then.”
She giggled. “I don’t want to go to the memorial service, silly.”
He was confused.
She took his hand, letting her wet words pour through his fingers. “We’ve got two hours.”
Aloysius felt bony protrusions inside his skull while his brain commenced cartwheels. This is surely what he wanted, to be the kept man, yet he resisted her attempt to melt his body like an ice cube over the bed.
She crawled up to mirror his attitude, allowing the ends of the sweater to open and reveal bra and panties underneath. His fingers were again squeezed in a controlling way, and she began to pant inside his shirt collar.
There was something stilted in her manner, and instead of being emboldened by this opportunity, the painter felt strangely resentful, even cuckolded. It was like he was being used in a comparative test. The room smelled of Glade’s baby powder air freshener, undoubtedly slathered over the bed to clean her palate of one lover while she prepared to sample the other. He pulled away from her arms. “I have to go to the service,” he announced flatly. “I told Jacques’ assistant I would.”
She squatted in the middle of the bed, pouting as she had done that morning. “You can blow him off.”
“I told him I would go.”
Emma, seeing he was not in the mood, pulled the ends of the sweater around her. “Then we’ll go.”
Pall of a late overcast sky made for reflective company on the car ride to the chapel. The couple pulled onto the church lot, and a small turnout meant they did not have to park far from the doors. Aloysius and Emma slid into a pew near the front, although there was more frostiness in the air than what they brought with them. The painter looked around to appreciate how they appeared to be an item of peculiar interest. Most eyes fell on Emma, but it was fair to say they were eyes that judged him as well, and the two of them together. These departmental people had doubtless met her fiancé, and Aloysius was remiss in realizing he exposed the woman to rumor by insisting they come; the photographer, however, did not seem to feel the stares.
The video tribute started playing on a large, flat-panel TV screen, redirecting everyone’s attention. It was a montage of some of Jacques’ statuesque performances in people’s yards. No sound accompanied the images, and given there was no action outside the occasional disgruntled homeowner waving a fist, or some kid throwing a rock, the dwarf mostly resembled a premature headstone to his own grave.
The performance artist’s painful repose forced the painter to face what was his own hopeless predicament. If the key to life was not to know it too well, then both Jacques and he failed that test. Perhaps Aloysius possessed more talent than the graduate student, more internal resources to distract himself from his loneliness, but it was no less real and heart wrenching. It was only on these rare occasions when the painter’s happiness was unwittingly tied to something other than his diversion that he felt any frailty at all.
A few people of his acquaintance admired his life choices: admired how he endured poverty and neglect for his art. Yet Aloysius would be the last to confuse his obstinate nature with virtue. His one saving grace, he thought, was he always gave all because he believed in all he did, even if what he believed invariably isolated him. Despite his insatiable need to be surrounded by complete strangers in coffeehouses, the outsider needed others too little; and was poorer for it. He never learned duty from family, or patience from a child, or grace from a friend. His creative endeavors were more than a testament to an indomitable Don Quixote spirit. They were the resourceful means by which one man saved himself from his own impoverished company.
Aloysius gradually drifted back into the film, although he was slow acknowledging the tether. It was an accumulative impression, but unmistakably intended by Jacques. In the background of each of his frozen poses, concealed distantly among trees or dissolved in glare, a little girl played by herself. Little more than a mote, she was the only thing ever in motion. The painter was certain it was Brae, and wondered if all the performance artist’s tapes were secretly about the child. Jacques did not strike him as a pedophile or a murderer. His regard for the latchkey denizen was, perhaps, fatherly and protective.
The film distraught Emma, leaving her openly weeping as she watched the man who either intentionally or unintentionally embroiled her in his unseemly death; Aloysius could not fathom her empathy. He looked around in the chapel to find only dry eyes.
One set belonged to Erica, who sat alone on a backbench.
Chapter Twenty-four, Section Two/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.