Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 13)

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Chapter Five

Dear Grasshopper,

The rational mind is designed to make fetishes of closure, consistency, symmetry and economy. These prejudices have put us in good stead in understanding our shared world of experience, but are these virtues in one regard hobgoblins in another? Or is our desire for a “unified theory of everything” an allusion to something fundamental about our predicament?

Hume said all inductive arguments are finally unprovable. Popper told us theories could never be proven conclusively true, only false; Lakatos said theories could never be proven conclusively false, either. Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem states that mathematical systems of any complexity presuppose axioms not supported by the system. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle says you cannot simultaneously measure both a particle’s position and velocity with complete accuracy.

To use reason to check the scope of reason is to engage in a curious form of self-contradiction, yet whether one pursues a super-symmetrical or an inelegantly piecemeal explanation of total reality, what is found is only what can be understood in concepts, or contrived to fit in them. All concepts and theories require fashioned tools, and all tools, queerly and consistently, take on not only the shape of the thing they touch but also the mind that made them. For those who believe man is the measure of all things, this is a distinction without a difference; for the rest, it is not a question of knowledge, but the enigma of understanding itself.

The evolutionist confronts the uncomfortable truths of quantum mechanics and plays the only card he has: Because it was the accidental sons and daughters of doltish apes that acquired this knowledge of limits, it is by extension of this limitation that their apishness is reaffirmed.

All men will be Puritans, even where God and metaphysics are rejected. Daily the unbeliever rises as readily as the believer and builds his convictions around an axis of habit and pretty cathedrals pews. Humility, for him, is the pride of inverse conceit, for he comprehends more in his sympathetic movements than he concedes. ~Omar

         The Day The Earth Stood Still, Part Two

There was still no power in the house on his return; Aloysius set up the borrowed video equipment at his bedside, nonetheless. He was eager to take advantage of the remaining daylight, so moved to his studio without further delay or excuse, placed a CD of Schubert’s piano impromptus into his portable player, and began preparing his materials for work.

The painter did not fully embrace the idea he was an artist until he entered college. His undergraduate work was a hodgepodge of approaches, which reflected what he was exposed to in his art history survey courses. He cross-pollinated styles and epochs, first by reverse-engineering passages lifted from Dali, Caravaggio, and Ingres, and then combining this knowledge, in Dadaist assemblages, with Pollack’s dripped paint technique and Oldenburg-inspired cloth sculpture. It was not until his last year of graduate school that he settled into the role of “serious” oil painter, although he was never interested in current trends in contemporary painting.

Regarding his mature style, Aloysius liked painting unconventional monsters. These monsters were an inspired updating of the composite style portrait created by the Sixteenth Century Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo. Arcimboldo portrayed his sitters as being made out of everyday objects like vegetables, books, flowers, or fish. By comparison, the skins of Aloysius’ monsters were composed of small toys, flattened egg cartons, crushed plastic bottles, or anything with a descriptive surface.

This sensibility carried over from boyhood, where early drawings of monsters evolved in the manner of his elaborate maps. As the creations grew, additional sheets of paper were taped on. This desire for greater detail made his initial canvases as a young painter claustrophobic and impenetrable, which was not improved by his tendency to violate eyes, or omit them entirely. It was a challenge for the artist to balance the brain’s need for templates with his capacity for invention.

pareidolia gifHis destination as an artist proceeded from a knack for pareidolia, which is seeing recognizable images in circumstances where none are intended. Consequently this associative way of thinking informed his many creative pursuits, and in its appropriations and transformations presented a range of both adroit and absurd outcomes. Except for connoisseurs on both ends of this spectrum, this was esoteric work that attracted few admirers. Moreover the audience in one medium did not translate to another, and with each laudable reinvention of himself, the number of people who could potentially appreciate his accomplishments rapidly dwindled to one: him.

He had experienced this firsthand in the cool reception of his résumé, where his disparate achievements made him both overqualified and under-qualified for any career he should entertain. Apart from writing his own job description, there was no job to attach to what he did.

Scene: By late afternoon daylight began to fade, but the painter’s new creation had enough foothold in the world to merit a sense of accomplishment. He returned downstairs after cleaning his brushes and spotted his calendar still lying on the kitchen table and in want of a nail. While he contemplated where to hang it, he realized, with consternation, it was his nephew’s eighth birthday. His balancing act between unequal spheres of memory, namely between remembering items of his leisure and those of his responsibility, meant the latter was often left off. Were he to excuse himself, the forgetful uncle might blame his move from Chicago for taking him out of his routine.

Scene: Aloysius needed to leave the house for dinner, so decided to call Aaron from the pay phone up the street. Gathering momentum, he entered the dimming living room to find Brae standing in the middle of it. A dark cerise dress, like a Duvetyne curtain, had concealed her presence.

The child held up a paper sack, and with a calculated look informed him, “I got no holes for eyes.”

The startled neighbor looked over the contents of the bag, which contained a plastic-wrapped bed sheet. Assuming Brae alluded to the makings of a Halloween costume, he concluded, “So you’re wearing a ghost suit, huh?”

Her moon face and large blue eyes hit their mark.

Prodded by a seldom-tapped paternal pang, Aloysius was cajoled. “I think we can manage a couple of eye holes.”

The would-be couturier was not sure in which unpacked box he would find his scissors, and with no patience to guess he went to the attic to retrieve a utility knife from his toolbox. On his return he smiled affably while negotiating the bounding folds of white cotton. The fabric’s immensity made him scrutinize, belatedly, the discarded wrapper.

“Brae,” he fretted. “This is for a king-size bed, and more sheet than a little girl needs.”

The sweet child stood at his knee and watched him make two rough holes with uncritical appreciation. He pulled the cover over her head to align the holes before dropping to the floor to trim away excess material. Returning to the sofa, he playfully yanked down the eyeholes and twirled her around; Brae fumbled about before falling on his lap in a burst of giggles. It was only with her leaning forward that a bleeding cut above her ankle was noticed.

The neighbor pulled the sheet off her in a gasp. “Did I do that?”

The girl said nothing.

Aloysius returned from the bathroom with a Band-aid and rubbing alcohol. He patched Brae up with effusive apologies, though it was clear she was not going to make a fuss over the injury.

Still seeking forgiveness, he left the room a second time and returned with a box of crayons kept back from childhood. They were placed on the coffee table, along with a piece of paper and a lit candle to chase away gathering shadows.

Twilight was soon on the windowsill, but Aloysius was so completely under his neighbor’s vespertine spell that he did not budge. He was hard-pressed to explain what he felt, although it resembled contentment. After a while, concern over seeing her safely home roused him from their shared company; Brae was reluctant to put down her crayon.

The host examined the drawing. “What is it?”

“An angel. I saw it in the window,” she explained.

Aloysius did not press her on specifics. “Let’s put your drawing on the refrigerator,” he announced.

Brae’s expression was one of approval when she pushed into his leg to eye her masterpiece. Without premeditation, he reached down and pulled her up into his lap in a fatherly way. She unfurled in his arms to cuddle, and he was both overwhelmed by the boldness of his move and the tenderness of the embrace. The child looked down over her knees to the bandage, feeling a natural fit in the curve of his body. Confused, he relinquished the unguarded moment and let gravity reclaim her.

He stood up with an adult’s tilting gaze, and grimaced. “It’s almost dark.”

His new friend was first escorted to the refrigerator for the gallery installation of her artwork, and then to the backdoor.

The reticent child paused in the doorway. “Can I come over in the morning and watch cartoons?”

Aloysius thought on it. “The electricity may still not be on.”

Brae seemed set on the idea.

“I’ll leave the door unlocked for you.”

She was satisfied.

The last of the Sun squinted through the trees running along the western façade of the property. The lowest branches, like lead solder around stained glass, trapped deepening shades of madder and lapis lazuli below the roofline. The effect was one of hastening an anxious nightfall.

With Brae’s hand in his, the pair walked the leafy path to another dark house in the Quadrangle; she stepped on the stoop and pushed against a heavy unfastened door. Engulfed by shadow in the entryway, her crimson pleats glowed and drew off the bloom from her cheeks.

Aloysius looked over the opaque, moribund windows of the house. “Are your parents home?”

No reply was given.

He could not account for his next question. “Is your Mommy or Daddy taking you trick-or-treating on Halloween?”

Brae’s shrug was noncommittal.

The confirmed bachelor cleared his throat. “If they can’t take you, I’ll take you. Okay?”

The girl nodded before disappearing inside the dwelling.

The neighbor backed away slowly, watching the door close and waiting for a light to come on. When one did not, he glanced at the mailbox. No name was on it, but a letter inside was addressed to The Caretaker of Willis Quadrangle. Brae was presumably Andrew Tommen’s daughter. Seeing he did not know the situation of this latchkey child, he could not interfere, so turned back onto the leafy path.

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