I am locked in my head much like a solipsist, and must “affect” the feelings of others as an ongoing mental exercise. I have cultivated the ability to empathize with others over time, and the authenticity in it is like Pascal’s promise to the learned atheist who, by acting as though he believes in God, comes to believe.
I cannot help but see my autism as a liberal-minded prison warden who gives me liberty to reinvent myself and my prison cell as I choose, and because of this I am “sheltered from” as much as “locked out” of a world that plays by a less flexible set of rules. I can only describe my life this way: What in one sense burns, in another illuminates. What in one guise facilitates an accidental life, in another becomes an accidental gift. One does not resolve such paradoxes. One chases them to the chasm’s edge and peers, respectfully, into their domain.
Aloysius sat in the grubby window; the drub of the faucet in the bathroom joined him from a distance. A drink machine was visible under the awning at a bus depot across the street, and with no change in his pockets, he returned to the nightstand to probe the bottom of her purse. Among the Dentyne gum wrappers, he found a hundred dollar bill.
The soda dispenser, predictably, took nothing bigger than a single. A pretty little Hispanic girl sat on a nearby bench, swaddled a bright orange winter coat. Several paper grocery sacks, filled with drabber clothing, surrounded her. Aloysius looked toward the door of the station and spotted her likely mother buying tickets at the counter. He stepped up to the child on seeing her hover protectively over a dented cardboard box. The Sun was directly above them, having trimmed the shadows down to nothing-to-hide; its light gleamed brightly off four quarters lying beside the girl on the bench: the precise number needed to buy a Sprite.
The glare also allowed a view into the guarded box. The odd object inside might have been a piñata, though on closer inspection it resembled a giant scoop of melting vanilla ice cream, covered with chocolate sauce and topped with a flattened cherry. Removing his sunglasses, he asked, “What is it?”
The little girl did not speak, and perhaps did not know English. Poking at a hole in the object, her finger struck something unseen. Aloysius knelt beside her, and seeing his interest, she withdrew her hand so he could take a turn. He crooked a finger into the opening, but did not anticipate feeling the top of a melted doll’s head. The rest of the picture fell into place on smelling the fused plastic: The chocolate sauce was a roof; the cherry, a molten chimney; and the hole, a shrunken window. He was looking at the remains of a dollhouse rescued from a house fire.
Tears began to stream down his cheeks. “You can’t get your dolly out.”
Removing his finger from their shared conduit, he stood up to wipe his face on a shirtsleeve, and with a broad gesture pointed at the four quarters on the bench. (The child stared at his hand, not where it pointed.) He then gently set the hundred dollar bill down beside her before making his trade. As he raked away the quarters, he watched her watch his hands, and wished only to see her beautiful eyes. She did not protest the exchange, and in keeping with their mute agreement, he returned quietly to the drink machine.
No running water greeted him upon reentering the motel room. He knocked on the bathroom door and let his voice slip in through the crack. “I bought you a soda.”
Pale Emma sat in the cold floor beside the commode bowl, having managed to get into her slip. A masking scent of Glade’s baby powder air refresher clung to the towels around her. He flushed the toilet and gently coaxed her to her feet and back to bed. By the time he finished brushing her hair on the pillow, his body melded into the line of hers. Her every molecule had become an extension of his body; her every sigh, an extension of his will. Both made some pretense at taking a nap, yet between languorous looks, the two only managed to whet the edge of sleep. When twilight fell on the windowsill, its presence pushed their listless shadows off the bed.
The painter aided in dressing his lover, and with the attentiveness he brought to preparing his artistís materials for work. The dress was a simple white one with pleats, and apart from the bands on their fingers, and her glow, there was nothing ostentatious or formal in their secret vows.
Hooking the remaining strap on her heel, he turned to sit on the bed; Emma, without delay, slid down her husband’s legs to the floor and dropped her lips into the palm of his hand. With him drawn fully under her wings, she announced, “I will be ostracized for what I have done.”
Aloysius cradled her knotting cheek, letting the faintly sad smile wallow around in his loose fingers. He was only half-wanting to extract her thoughts, half-wanting to know what she sacrificed for him.
Recomposed, the bride tore at a plastic bag covering a rental tuxedo flung over the back of a chair and liberated a scent of tetrachloroethylene. The groom’s arm threaded the freshly pressed jacket, leading him to glance down the sleeve to where the suitcase was re-latched on the bureau.
“Leave it,” she said. “We don’t need it. We’ve never really needed it.”
With this, the newlyweds left their hideaway to walk down to Emma’s car.
Epilogue: The Balance of Memory/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.