For me, engaging in imitative play with other children was traumatizing in grade school. Where there was no structure to group activity, I felt exposed by games, so preferred my own entertainments. I spent my first week of recesses in the first grade staring into the reflective pane of a window until a teacher put a stop to it.
My only friend at this time was imaginary, and given my overall lack of peer interaction, one teacher deemed it best I should be held back a year because I was “too socially immature” to progress. In the third grade (the second go-round), I decided to make at least one real friend—if only to keep bullies at bay. This arrangement served me well until my hormones sprang to life, whereupon another level of social accommodation was required.
Being skinny, and possessing an overbite, the ugliness I saw in myself gave me good cause to be apprehensive of girls. I thought they mocked when they professed love for me in front of laughing children. When one girl wrote my name over her notebook, I rejected the gratuitous act as another attempt to ridicule me. Later I came to realize these perceived slights were probably childish expressions of true regard, but no amount of retro-reasonableness as an adult has remedied my ongoing difficulty with the opposite sex.
I believe my wounded psyche from youth gave me more excuse than reason to grow up and idealize women as distant and dreamy abstractions. Like a memory distilled in remembrance, like an acquaintance improved in recollection, like a magical photograph safe from moths and all diminution of body and allegiance—the women I have loved most freely, most profoundly, have been those I found in magazines, catalogs, and movies.
As a young man, I fell madly in love with the actress Vivien Leigh. It did not matter that she had been dead for fifteen years. I covered every inch of my bedroom walls with hand-painted cardboard posters I made of her. Each night I bedded down under her beautiful constellation, and contented myself too happily to unrequited feeling.
Idealization, then, was simply a boy’s imaginary fort retooled for adulthood; but instead of the fort giving me refuge from females, it allowed me to hide within the very edifice of them.
The fiery darkness pushed down into his innermost depths, filling him to burst. His nostrils stung with the hot scent of it before he started gagging. He choked on blood. A façade ripped away with a shriek, causing the black smoke to go white where it scratched at the car hood—the heat was unbearable. A flashlight poked in from an unfixed place, and a close voice rang out over thumping axes and crowbars. “Hello...?!”
Aloysius batted his eyes.
“Stay calm, mister! We’ll have you out of there soon!”
The door peeled away, allowing him to be hoisted into cooler night air.
Aloysius, liberated more in body than mind, looked up to see a shadow of worldly death clinging to treetops. In a distillation, a prismatic rain followed him to the ground. There he watched emergency workers swarm over the car. One fellow fought the flames with desperate words. “Is anyone else in there?”
The injured man tried to form her name in his parched mouth.
A cry shot out over the chorus of confusion. “Where’s the damn ambulance?”
A snort was at his ear, and a puff of breath.
Aloysius arched his head to see first a halo of broken glass, and then the form of a prostrate animal lying beside him on the asphalt in a pool of thickening blood. He raised his fingers to stroke the expiring horse’s cheek; red and blue emergency lights traced the lipid dome of its dark panoramic eye.
Sweeping him off the wet pavement, two men strapped his broken body to a gurney and shoved him head first into the back of an ambulance. Twirling lights sprayed the high grass along the road, and directly the siren summoned a hospital out of the shrouded countryside.
A construction crane, set off in a floodlight, dominated its unfinished roof, and a slender joist dangled from its harness and tolled dully against a starless clearing. Aloysius shriveled under its oppressive view, though his dead weight was no obstacle in getting him through a rear door and handed off to medical personnel. His explanation tumbled over his chest. “I didn’t see the horse until it was too late.”
“Horse…?” The male nurse looked down. “Just relax!”
Aloysius struggled to be coherent. “My lawyer. Call my lawyer. Tell him: Gort, Klaatu barada nikto…”
The nurse’s expression was severe. “What you need is a doctor, pal!”
“Gort, Klaatu barada nikto,” the patient repeated.
Another stretcher, paralleling his, was covered with a white sheet. The same attendant snapped at someone. “Get her out of here.”
A chasm opened up between the stretchers in the haze.
A chasm opened between the stretchers. Swinging doors bumped Aloysius’ gurney, and he plunged into a darker passageway. Those attenuating figures carrying him fell away, leaving their shadows, like dark lumps, suspended in the pallid membrane of a wall. Though he could not move the limbs of his distant body, his sense of himself was one of water sloshing around a point of consciousness. The crane’s knell defined a perimeter further out, like a wasp using its proboscis to thump tree bark and locate soft-bodied grubs beneath. He could not say if he was counted in this tally, or excluded.
“Ommie…?” The patient’s fingers dropped to graze an IV tube. “Am I dead?”
The philosopher was his usual phlegmatic self. “Do you remember your birth?”
“Then why the hell should you remember your death? He leaned over the hospital bed, catching his friend up. “It was a nasty wreck.”
The painter recalled it in a flood. “We were to marry.”
“Marry…?” the trenchant lawyer chuckled. “She must have let you peek at her tits.” Something was flopped on the mattress; the hard edge of a book was at Aloysius’ fingertips. “They found your journal about a quarter of a mile from the crackup,” Omar reported.
The writer patted the abraded cover.
The friend, less severe, fleshed out the dilemma in palatable language. “Our hearts compels us to speak, Grasshopper, and our heads compels us to explain what we say. There is no perfect way to end with words what begins with words. Specificity is the enemy of every lofty aspiration, which is why the only perfect marriage between heart and head is where both share an ideal, if not the same understanding of the ideal. This agreement is not based on mutual self-deception, but on acknowledging that the ideal is bigger than either party; and the less said on the subject, the better.”
“As my legal counsel, what is the ideal in this agreement?”
“The head is given closure, and the heart is given happiness.”
“A happy ending?”
Omar rose to his feet. “Is she in the morgue?”
“I told you I would take care of this. Haven’t I always been your protector against bullies? Your collector of ugly bugs?”
The take-charge man was about to turn to the door when Aloysius delayed him with words familiar between them. “‘Of all the evil I deem you capable, therefore I want only the good from you… Let your kindness be your final conquest.’”
Omar smiled at the Nietzsche quote, but not wanting to indulge his sentimental friend further, stepped into the hallway.
The nurse’s station was in sight. As the lawyer approached the lobby adjoining it, he crossed paths with a revolving door yielding to a strong breeze. Hospital staffers were set off on the starry landscape beyond it, and resembled Druid stones gazing ponderously into a Stygian sky. The wind barely noticed them as it crept in a rear maneuver into the building.
One nurse remained behind, and heard footsteps. She glanced at her monitors but saw no one in the lobby. When she turned to face the desk, Omar loomed over it. “This wing is closed to visitors,” she said with a start.
The last word hung on her tongue, for in casting her gaze to the wall behind the imposing man, shadows of feathery wings stretched from the dropped ceiling to the polished floor. “Who are you?” she faded.
“Icarus. Son of Daedalus,” answered the world-destroying angel. Laying a finger on her forehead, he added tenderly, “But you can call me The Sandman…”
The woman’s head fell softly to the granite counter. Leaning over to peck her cheek, Omar studied the bank of security monitors on the back wall. He proceeded into the stairwell without interference and descended steps to a basement level. Rounding a drafty corner at the bottom, a narrow cinderblock passageway pressed in with urgency.
An orderly punched out of the swinging doors at the corridor’s end. “Hey!” he shouted, rushing up to bar the intruder. “You’re not supposed to be down here!”
Omar touched the man’s shoulder with a simple command. “Sleep.”
The orderly collapsed without a struggle to the floor.
The angel knelt over him, whispering, “And when you awake, you will be with me in Paradise.”
A master box of fuses sat parallel to the entrance of the morgue. Snapping off its padlock, Omar flipped the appropriate breaker inside; the basement level was swallowed by darkness that felt more like a continuation than an interruption of something. He stepped through the doors and toward the icy embalming tables. He pinched the creased fabric at her waist and let gravity tug the remaining cotton folds to the floor. With his path cleared, he crawled onto the table to negotiate a blackened contour. The metal substrate rumbled under his kneecaps, though distantly…
The orderly pushed on the yielding door, stirring refrigerated air like combustible gas. His flashlight danced over the aluminum tables, although it was something lying in the floor that reinforced his suspicion about hearing a noise. Setting the lantern down to retrieve the fallen sheet, he was taken aback to feel warmth emanating from the bare tabletop. Had a body lain here? He looked to neighboring sheet-draped tables, and by their distributions of peaks saw that nothing else was disturbed. Backing out of the morgue produced the material half of the mystery, and consequently the tripped circuit breaker in the fuse box was reset.
Chapter Thirty-two/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.