Icarus Transfigured by m. l. teague (page 15)

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Chapter Six

Dear Grasshopper,

The difficulty, as Kant saw it, was assuming infinities have “actual” reality in our received world. Though one might potentially count forever, or infinitely half distances, as with Zeno’s Paradox, these tasks can never be completed in actuality. Infinity can only prefigure space and time in sensibility—it cannot be shown to exist in space and time through sensibility. Nor can space and time be called finite or infinite where their purchase, their very reality, relies entirely on a construct of the mind.

Kant concluded that what we suppose to be given in sense perception (space, time, and causation) exist only as modes of sensibility. We cannot apply these concepts, or understand the world within these concepts, without first having a pre-experiential context in which to make them intelligible: namely, ideation. The foundation of experiential reality is therefore transcendental and not physical; and infinity is its proof.

The assumption of space and time’s physical existence rests entirely on empirical effects and geometry as a scientific concern, yet no true “fabric” to space/time exists. Space/time is an ingenious way of describing gravity, yet it no more reveals the true ontological nature of gravity than gravity reveals the true ontological nature of space and time.

Infinity, again, is something else. Its appearance in science denotes a mistake, incompleteness, or a measuring problem. Limits in science and mathematics paper-over the enigma, or ‘renormalize’ it to classical reality; but serviceable fixes should not be confused with demystification.

Space, time, and causation form the bedrock fundamentals upon which all science is predicated, but to group these intangibles under the banner of “brute facts” is only to join the exposition late. Brute facts are not scientific explanations of any kind. They are the same blank canvas science shares with theology, art, and metaphysics. It is science alone that believes every phenomenon must causally account for itself; and it is science alone that checks the scope of its inquiry by this definition; and ultimate reality does not stand or fall by this criteria. ~Omar

       The Day The Earth Stood Still, Part Three

Sleep, regardless the hour attempted, was work, and given the lingering impression of the frightful phone call, it might be delayed that evening. The resident went outside to search his car for the mailer pouch Omar gave him before leaving Chicago. Locating it under an empty Kleenex box, he tore open the flap to find sleeping pills. (Omar never told him where he got them and Aloysius never asked.) The dispenser was unmarked, but likely zolpidem.

A low thump in the wall startled him while he changed into his pajamas, so he walked to the guest room with his candle in a show of intimidation. The forgotten suitcase, discovered earlier that morning, greeted him. The piece of luggage was removed and carried to the attic studio where it was placed on his worktable, and with the late thought that he never bothered to look inside.

On unfastening the latches, a rap of knuckles gamboled up the steps. Aloysius headed back down the two flights with his light, but spied no one through the front door’s peephole. The Halloween prank was not appreciated. Another knock happened while he stood there and, throwing open the door to nab his culprit, he found only Jacques (too short to be seen in the spyglass) teetering over his welcome mat; white greasepaint intensified his red, whiskey-soaked eyes.

“Your doorbell doesn’t work,” he complained.

Aloysius had forgotten about the party. (He always jumped into promises blindly, only to regret them hours [if not minutes] later.) Looking down at his pajamas, he hawed. “I’m tucked in for the night.”

“It’s awful early for a coffeeholic to go to bed,” came the dire diagnosis. “Can I come in?”

The rattled resident was somewhat relieved for the company.

The performance artist sauntered in and pulled a half-consumed bottle of spirits from his goody sack. “We can have our own party here! Got any cups?”

The unprepared host dropped the candleholder on a ledge and set off in search of clean glasses.

Jacques stared up the dark staircase in the interval, but could not see the top. “Where’s your studio?”

Aloysius reemerged from the kitchen with a roll of Dixie cups. “In the attic, although the house is without power.”

The performance artist rallied. “If the old masters could paint by candlelight, we sure-as-hell can manage a quick look-see.”

The painter nodded, though doubted the inebriated dwarf was capable of negotiating so many steps. He led the way slowly, pausing halfway to let his visitor catch his breath and view the Daedalus Monet painting. The picture was too high on the wall to see well, so the shorter man shot a glance into the open bedroom doorway.

Spying the camcorder set up by the bed, he asked, “Are you making pornos?”

“More like a documentary on the nocturnal habits of a sleepwalker.”

Jacques held up his paper cup. “Enough of this stuff and I guarantee you won’t budge from bed to piss.”

With the utterance, the attic door above the two men creaked on its hinges; a chill flew down to extinguish the candle.

“I left the skylight open,” Aloysius explained, placing the candleholder on the floor while he groped in a pocket. “The matches are downstairs.”

Jacques’ voice was weaker in the darkness. “That’s all right. We can look at your work another time.”

The two poked their way back to the ground floor and Aloysius relit the candle. The guest, plopping in a chair, wore a spooked expression the feathery light could hardly mitigate. After a few awkward seconds the host tried to distract him in conversation about performance art.

Frowning, the graduate student was brittle. “I think Emerson said art was a jealous mistress, but for me we’re just in an estranged marriage.”

The painter could relate to Jacques’ inertia in not wanting to be engaged on the topic, although the alcohol went no ways towards loosening either man’s tongue on any other subject, or in lightening the gloomy mood of the house.

Aloysius’ capacity for casual conversation was easily exhausted, and on stumbling into silences, it was like being strapped in a dentist’s chair. He was in a position where he would either have to toss the drunk dwarf out after a while, or cave-in on the idea of the party. Given his overall reluctance to assert himself, the latter course seemed the lesser of two evils. If the party proved unbearable, he reasoned he could simply bug-out and make an inconspicuous exit, by which time Jacques would be too plastered to notice.

The host, gulping the last of the repugnant drink, placed his crumpled cup on the coffee table and eyed his guest with resolve. “Let’s go to this party. I need to dress.”

“Don’t bother,” chimed the provisional friend, who pulled a tuxedo from his bottomless sack; it was still in a dry cleaner’s bag. “Here’s your costume.”

“Costume?”

Jacques’ brow arched innocently. “Didn’t I mention that part?”

The painter stiffened when the suit was held against his long torso for size. His anxiety dulled with the kick of the drink. “Give me a second to change.”

Jacques tore the plastic off the suit. “Throw it on over the pajamas.”

The disinclined man dropped to the edge of the couch to negotiate the trousers. “I need shoes, at least.”

“No time for that, either,” grunted the valet. “The slippers will do. We’re just walking up the block. This is a slipper-kind-of-town.”

The legs and sleeves of the tuxedo were mockingly short, and the pajamas sticking out at both ends added insult to injury.

The performance artist was satisfied. “The jacket covers the worst of it.”

Scene: Jacques endeavored to keep stride with his taller companion, but spirits impaired his motor ability. As both neared their apparent destination, a two-story house, resembling a snaggletooth jack-o-lantern, belched out its boisterous revelers onto a porch in a greeting; Aloysius drew in breath before hacking his way through the mêlée past the door.

Costumed partiers were thick in the overheated entryway, and the momentary opening was sealed to bar retreat, leaving the mismatched pair to push forward without a heading. Jacques, in spite of being nearly trampled, was instantly in the flow, while his steerage lagged behind. Finding the pair of them shoved to the perimeter, the graduate student pointed out a canvas hanging over a sofa. “That’s the work of the professor!” he exclaimed. “The guy who lives here!”

The painter squinted through the cigarette haze at a portrait of a nude woman.

Jacques bristled. “This prof has screwed more coeds than the school’s football team! And he gets to hang his trophy hides up for his wife and the faculty to praise! What a racket!”

The artist’s model was denied a head, and her body was cropped in the frame so to elevate through abstraction even as it titillated. Given Jacques’ remarks about impropriety, this was perhaps done to guard against self-recrimination as much as for aesthetic reasons. Aloysius wanted to view the art critically, but the quality of the work denied him his customary feeling of superiority. He hated art as much as loved it, and precisely because it had a nasty way of making high-minded such men of low character.

His attention could not long be diverted from the unruly gathering. None of the revelers swung from the light fixtures necessarily, but vases and ashtrays too near table ledges were in danger of toppling. Imbibing alcohol gave Aloysius no leverage over his agoraphobia. Nor did it make the barrage of elbows and cackles any less intolerable.

In spite of the commotion, one fellow seemed more out of place than he. This partier wore earmuffs and a blindfold as part of an incommodious costume, and his movements were glacial compared to those around him. He appeared to be a little island of calm in a calamitous sea.

Aloysius grabbed Jacques’ ear. “Is that a costume?”

“No! He’s part of a sensory deprivation project!” explained the friend. “The test subjects were over at Peters Hall, but some students set fire to the building after the last home game, so the psychology department has put them up at a hotel!”

Aloysius was bemused. “But why is he at a party if…?”

Jacques threw up his hand to acknowledge several comrades huddled in a dim corner; one gestured the latecomers over. No one in this enclave wore a costume, and their standoffish appearance seemed more to make an impression than to mingle. Jacques made introductions before launching into departmental politics with the fellow grads, although his recruited companion gravitated steadily to the periphery.

Aloysius was never comfortable in groups of strangers, so evaded catastrophe by visually graphing himself to someone’s coat sleeve for cover—no matter how superficial or nonexistent the acquaintance. After a while, the performance artist was oblivious to his presence, so the painter melted further into the background.

Several underage gatecrashers were just then queuing up in a keg line close the bottom of the staircase. Above them, an inflatable woman had been violated with a red highlighter pen and swung from the balustrade like a pirate flag.

Aloysius’ sense, warranted or not, was that every set of piteous eyes was on him and preoccupied with his being off by himself. He looked passed the multitude and surmised the level of difficulty that lay between him and a desired exit. Unable to see anyway to it, he sought temporary refuge by taking a path of least resistance up to the darker, less-populated second floor. The air was cooler here, although the costumes were creepier than those downstairs.

As the unsure guest negotiated the terrain, he realized he was on the backend of something untoward. Several men were gathered around an open door watching a couple go at it on a bed; the rhythmic clinking of a loose belt buckle served as dinner bell. Aloysius pushed through the clogged artery, but glimpsed the rude hieroglyph of a splayed Cleopatra under her laboring lover. The woman’s gaze was fixed on him in the doorway, though it was her cry that chased him to the opposite end of the corridor.

A wiry pirate with a coat hanger parrot stepped out of the shadows. “Mermaid, matey!” he shouted. “Dat be ‘er siren song! Tie yore self ta de mast to escape ‘er lure—if ye takes me meanin’!”

The fleer pulled up short in the jaws of the trap, realizing it was only a partier parodying the delusional wino met earlier that day. He smiled nervously before turning back to the staircase with half-a-mind to dive down it. If it was possible, more people were in the house than when he came in. The absconder almost made it to the bottom of the stairs before becoming stuck. He fished around for Jacques, but the little man was no longer seen in the fray.

A scantily clad girl passed down where he stood on the steps. There was a whiff of cinnamon in the brush, and a sprinkling of fake bronze skin cream. Aloysius spotted a coiled snake bracelet around her arm and knew she was the exhibitionist from the upstairs bedroom. Without making eye contact, she smiled like a thief in her slink; tufts of black wig slapped her flushed, satisfied cheeks. Her ample and all-but-liberated bosom flopped about under a safety-pinned chemise, and was reason enough for the crowd of men at the foot of the stairs to let her merge into traffic; the painter was left in the bottleneck.

As the outsider continued to stand shoulders above the gatekeepers’ disinterest, both in body and moral compass, he detected the smell of pipe tobacco mingling with cigarette smoke. He glanced up at the top of the landing to see an older man also not wearing a costume. A trimmed beard had him looking like lord of the manor gazing smugly over his domain. This alone pegged him as the other party to the sexual shenanigans.

He did not notice the painter, but drifted down the steps in the manner of Moses parting waters. With elbow patches on his blazer, and a sense of entitlement only the tenure track could engender, he pushed effortlessly through the throng. He headed toward a handsome woman his own age posing as a water sprite. She leaned on a cane for support, yet otherwise appeared effervescent in conversation. Seeing him approach, her free hand lit on his cheek. He swooned over her like a lovesick schoolboy, although Aloysius suspected from her composure that she knew what transpired upstairs. The two turned to share a staged kiss before moving together toward the kitchen; a retinue closed ranks behind them in pursuit of more alcohol.

Chapter Six, Section Two/ Back/ Contents Page