Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 11)

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Chapter Four

Dear Grasshopper,

Samuel Johnson once quipped that Shakespeare could not put six lines of words together without a grammatical fault, yet it is this “one brick shy” effect in every noble construction that belies the Mystery of Creation Itself.

We want to believe the constellations move to the sublimely ordered music of mathematics, and art too aspires to the same design, but the symmetry we suppose to exist in Nature is as much a frustrating roundabout as it is a feat of intricate, awe-inspiring complexity. Truthfully, there is as much impersonality in perfection as harmony, which is why our unified ideal, as an ongoing earthly pursuit, is best loved at a distance, and with a smidgen of inattentiveness to details.

Herein lies Shakespeare’s rub: The fact that a circle, the most symmetrical of things, should have the ratio of its circumference, divided by its diameter, come out to equal a real and irrational number (π= 3.14) means that no circle can be rounded off in perfect symmetry. The .14, with its infinity of non-recursive decimals places, is more than a clumsy fraction—it is the fabled eight hundred pound gorilla hiding in the untidy margin of our ruled books.

Symmetry’s allure matches that of the reticent sage who keeps to shade and out-of-the-way doorways. His story is bound to wind back onto its beginning, and in a most unsatisfactory way. Yet the geometry that dragooned Archimedes is too compelling not to mean something. One does not simply walk away and leave it like a sleeping dog: where one finds it. No—The Golden Ratio tempts us into blind corners with its talk of sublime proportions, even if a real and irrational number waits to mug us. Happily we offer our crowns to the cudgel, as symmetry is our birthright, if not our precise experience.

As God chose Moses to be his imperfect vessel, we too look for hairline cracks in every work of beauty that moves us. We may admire gleaming towers that pierce clouds, but we are always more at home among haunted ruins. The roughly hewed first rungs of our heavenly ladder, then, become our way of bridging what is mortal in our bodies to what is immortal in our aspiration. ~Omar

         The Day The Earth Stood Still, Part One

The remainder of Aloysius’ sleep was restful, and might have extended longer except for glimpsing someone sitting at the foot of his bed. An attractive little girl, with straight-combed brunette hair, stared at him intently. A gentle ray of sunlight illuminated her pink Sunday-best dress.

“Can I watch cartoons on your TV?” she inquired.

He shot a glance at the bedroom door; the chair was still propped against it. Shoving the covers to his feet, he blurted, “How did you get in here? What’s your name?”


“Are you from around here, Brae?”

Her head bobbled, circling a nod.

Fetching his slippers, he queried further. “Can you show me how you came in?”

The child dropped from her perch and stepped into the walk-in closet. She pulled on a hinged dressing mirror to expose a tenebrous opening in a wall. Aloysius fended off claustrophobia and followed her through a narrow passageway to a crack of daylight at the other end. When she pushed on a second panel, more light revealed a dingy black suitcase blocking the path. The slight child readily maneuvered around it, yet on straddling the piece of luggage, the resident fetched it out of the closet and left it in an adjoining bedroom. Flabbergasted, he accompanied his trespasser into the hallway, and questioned her again at the stairs. “How did you get into my house?”

“I followed you in,” she said.

Bouncing down the steps ahead of him, Aloysius shuffled behind the tap of her patent leather shoes, though on landing in the living room, he found her mood instantly changed; a crestfallen Brae stood in front of his television flipping a nonresponsive channel knob.

“I don’t have electricity,” he informed her. “Not until later, anyway.”

Her pout was impervious to adult reasonableness.

Seeing her disappointment, he persuaded his apparent neighbor to join him in the kitchen. She clambered up a chair and poked her head over the Formica table ledge in the manner of a Raphael cherub; half a sticky bun was handed her on a plate.

Aloysius leveraged his bribe. “Are there anymore secret doors in the house?”

The girl nibbled quietly around the edges of the pastry, though she may as well have been garden statuary given the bachelor’s ineptitude at reading children.

The gooey treat sufficed to distract Brae all of ten minutes, and after sending her merrily on her way, Aloysius returned to his bedroom to dress and nail shut the hidden panel in the closet. There was little evidence beyond the testimony of a child (of no acquaintance) that he had sleepwalked through not only a narrow corridor (also unknown to him) but down a dark staircase to exit the house. It seemed probable that Brae, accustomed to using the premises, fabricated the story on finding his backdoor unlocked. In haste and fatigue the previous night, he left it unlocked. This seemed the most likely scenario, especially given the bright, untroubled sunshine beckoning through the window curtains.

With the dilemma rectified in his mind, the artist was desirous to explore his new city, so stepped out the backdoor; a fellow met him on the stoop.

The apologetic man introduced himself as Andrew Tommen, the caretaker for Willis Quadrangle. He expressed regret about the power situation, and about not being able to call the prior day, yet he was eager to see the new resident comfortably settled.

The tenant seized the opportunity to voice concern about the possibility of mice in the house. Mr. Tommen looked surprised, but said he would set traps to allay any fears. Neither man was inclined to small talk, so the painter picked up his adventure where it left off.

Scene: It was important for Aloysius to make a safe map of the town. This was done not only to have a familiar and tested route to travel each day, but also to guard against appearing lost, out of place, or presumptuous wherever he should go alone. Such considerations, like his rehearsed replies and inconspicuous manner of dress, were pressing and paramount for the socially uneasy man. For the time being at least, the beauty of his neighborhood was the one thing upon which he could agreeably resolve his mind.

These houses did not look like the flimsy rental properties seen driving into town the day before. Whereas those overpriced dwellings were slapped together to take advantage of college students needing housing, these established abodes were sturdy affairs, with tiered gardens, slate walkways, and sycamore trees. The only people in Stonesthrow with money owned them: namely, professors and administrators of Purcell College.

The yards were so tastefully maintained that when the walker spotted a tacky yard gnome in one, he was drawn to it. He quickly realized it was a diminutive man covered in white greasepaint, sporting winkle-toed shoes and fake whiskers. Another person with a camcorder stood across the street, and presumably filmed reactions of passersby. Aloysius did not want to get caught up in it, so continued up the lane to enter the main campus.

Spidery ivy crawled over the college’s gothic architecture, and stone gargoyles peered down from roofs between the branches of formidable oak trees. There was little austerity to the buildings otherwise, due to the use of a warm native limestone. The brick footpaths that wove together the landscape were thick with autumnal foliage, which was falling faster than grounds people could rake it up.

Unexpectedly, a gaunt figure with a metal detector and garbage bag emerged ahead. He neither looked nor smelled like a groundskeeper.

His raspy question came out of nowhere. “Wudda ye supposed ta tell Gort?”

The pedestrian felt crowded whenever anyone cut him off on the sidewalk, but it was unthinkable the guilty party should impose upon his thoughts, too. He endeavored to be civil. “Pardon?”

“Wudda ye supposed ta tell Gort?” the old timer repeated.

The man wore an eye patch, pantaloons, and a grubby tailcoat. A stuffed parrot, with feathers fused under a heavy coat of fluorescent green spray-paint, was perched on his shoulder and held in place with a wire coat hanger.

Aloysius knew the term ‘Gort’ well. It was from the film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. He gave the rest of the phrase. “Gort, Klaatu barada nikto.”

The fellow’s furrowed face softened, as he was about to laugh, but the gauge on his metal detector required attention. “Dos be metal grommets in yore shoe, matey?” he inquired in pirate-speak.

Aloysius stared at his feet in the unlikely possibility they were.

The treasure hunter was brusque. “Den stand aside! Ye be parked on me booty!” He reached down to fetch a flattened soda can, and gave the taller man a good looking-over into the bargain. “Ye must be da Remote Man I heer’d tell ‘bout. Dey didn’t think I were listenin’.”

The vagrant reeked of liquor, and the pirate getup could only be in anticipation of Halloween.

“I seen ‘em ‘round town wearin’ black overall,” he continued, “shoppin’ at da low-end stores on da west side and keepin’ a low profile.”

Aloysius looked down the sidewalk for an escape.

The man was unfazed by the cool reception. “Dey been livin’ out of a suitcase mostly, I ‘spect.” He set his bulging bag down to drop the can into it, and glanced, with curdled expression, at the baffled newcomer. “Ya know da suitcase? Da one dey carry da Face of God round in.”

“Like the Shroud of Turin?”

The man turned disagreeable. “I know’d what da Shroud of Turin be, matey. I were dare when dey wrapped Jesus up in like a cheap suit. No. What I be talkin’ ‘bout were da Face of God. Da Big Enchilada.”

Aloysius pretended to understand.

“Dey needs a body, ‘course,” the pirate stated matter-of-factly. “Ta make da Big Hand-off from da Man Upstairs to us mere mortals, dey needs a Remote Man. Dey ‘ad me in dare sights fur a while, like seagulls circling a baby left too long in a stroller, but I be sleepin’ under a different viaduct ‘er night—sleepin’ under ten feet of concrete. Dey moved on to greener waters.”

“And is being a ‘Remote Man’ a good thing or a bad thing?”

A young woman just then walked by, prompting the landlocked seafarer to lift his detector and wave it briskly over her purse in an exploratory way. She threw him a cutting stare, but it barely registered.

Without missing a beat he explained, “I weren’t want ta be in yore shoe—let’s leave it at dat! Dey didn’t pick ye out of a phonebook, ye know. Best batten down the hatch. Check yore storm winders. Dey be enterprisin’—ambidextrous. Dey’ll find a way ta get in yore ‘ouse, like dos roaches dat eat yore stereo ‘quipment. Dey may’ve already found ye as be, so don’t write yore social security number down on anythin’. Walk ‘ome a different way each night. Keep yore eye open. Dey may assume any form.”

“What about mice?”

“What ‘bout ’em?”

“I have mice in my house. I’ve heard them.”

There was a squint. “Do dey talk ta ye?”

“Not yet.”

The man bristled. “Den dey just be damn mice. Don’t waste my time wid it.” (He quickly reconsidered.) “Dat be the way The Exorcist started, ye know?”

“The Exorcist?”

“Da mother heer’d mice in da attic.”

“I thought it was rats?”

“Look, matey. I be tryin’ ta put ye in da know. Put ye ‘in da paint’ with five seconds left on da shot clock.” He tarried to fling the bag over his shoulder. “Anudder thing: da name be an anagram.”

“That’s from Rosemary’s Baby, right?”

“Never heer’d of it.”

Once the prognosticator charged off, Aloysius was free to resume his walk, though, perhaps, with less enthusiasm.

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