3A – Aloysius The Infinite

None of them knew where they were running. Escape wholly occupied their minds, for within minutes armed security guards might drag them back to Grabmaler, or worse.  The starless, smoggy sky obscured their feet — and the lights from the complex at their backs made them visible to any guard diligent enough to look.  As they skirted the pit, the broken pavement was littered with cinder mounds which served as quickie graves for criminals offenses not severe enough for anonymity.  Grabmaler’s groundskeeper amused himself with obscene epitaphs.  Undine began tiring though Diogenes suffered horribly — wheezing, hobbling, cursing his lameness and age.  Rupert ran far ahead.

Undine, stumbling, fell face first into a mound uncovering a body dressed in a girl scout’s uniform.  Spitting out cinder, she cried for Rupert.  Diogenes hobbled far behind by now.  Undine looked up at the plywood marker with a placard nailed to it, with “Rosie Luxembourg (Contaminated Cookies)”, scrawled by Grabmaler’s groundskeeper.

Meanwhile Rupert espied smoke curling from a dark rectangle and, rather than backtrack, circled a cardboard hut with light emanating from its joints and stopped.  It consisted of several Maytag boxes turned upside-down for shelter, plastered with odd inscriptions.  The “doorway” was screened with a dirty but elegant Tibetan rug with a picture of a pontificating man in a motorcycle jacket on it.  All this excited Rupert’s imagination and he slipped back the curtain to take a peek.

A man sat there in a monk’s robe, propped up by what appeared to be American football shoulder pads.  He wore a witch’s hat, smoking a hashish pipe and gave Rupert a surprised and quizzical look.  Rupert didn’t know what to make of the figure he had discovered — whether it be the nightmare of a mad recluse stewing in his private psychosis — a new guru — or what.  What could he be suggesting?  Rupert thought, sequestered, festooned, dressed up by himself?  The man changed his expression from apprehension to an ironic and yet honest smile and invited him in.

Diogenes and Undine had a long way to catch up and knew the general direction, so Rupert sat down, rested, and allowed himself to consider the curious fellow before him.  The man in the witch’s hat offered Rupert a brandy glass with cut-up rubber whales inside to play with, which Rupert declined.  Rupert asked:

“What’s your name?”

“Aloysius!” He retorted with a mouthful of smoke.

“And you live in this box?”

“I used to prefer Frigidaire — and made my ceremonies in those homesteads but now Maytag seems less nuanced.”

“Oh.”

“Yes, the old hut, it lightninged one thundery night and the water-gods tipped over my temple while I backsided Buddha!”

Rupert only nodded.

“That morning, I reached into the ‘Soft Bag’ — he pointed to a grocery bag in the corner with crayon markings labeling it just that, quotations included, “And consulted the idyll of my persecution — which I rarely ever do because I‘m basically happy.  And you know what it said?”

“No … I don’t.”

“It said that if you came across this deserted parkinglot from Jersey City purgatory years ago that it would rain wine instead of tears.”

“Yes, I understand.”  Rupert remarked, feeling he could second this skewed reference to past grief.

Aloysius paused for a moment to consider the past.

“And that’s when you chose Maytag?”  Rupert asked, squinting.

“Yes, Maytag … ” he muttered, looking at the Tibetan rug doorway.

Rupert began to visually inspect the little home made from the inside of a box and felt its warmth.  This Aloysius is not mad, he thought, but pressed on with his surreal humor as if to wistfully downplay the futile situation he had inherited.  There was humor in débâcle, he seemed to demonstrate, and he kept up even in solitude his lighthearted joke.  Rupert then looked into the man’s eyes and felt some childish tears welling up.

Aloysius said: “Aye!” as if to acknowledge it and also to add: “That’s enough.  We can’t give up!”

Rupert, then, jumped up, hearing Undine and perhaps Diogenes approaching.  Even as he cried out to them he kept staring at Aloysius — this man in his box battling hopelessness with illusion — and coming, it seemed, out on top.  When Undine arrived, however, one could see instant skepticism in her reddened eyes and sweaty, cindered face.  Aloysius rose and cracked the rug-doorway for her and bowed gracefully.  Both Rupert and Aloysius seemed to have forgotten by now that he was in costume.

“And who are you?” She breathed.

“Aloysius … Aloysius the Infinite.”  Aloysius said.

Rupert wished to follow the thread of their interrupted conversation.  But Undine pressed on “Why did you say … infinite?”

“I recognize no limit to tragedy.”  Aloysius said.

This only further irritated Undine.

“Do you recognize that we need help to get away from someone who could very possibly kill us?  Rupert, why are you indulging this creep?”

“Ah, that word, ‘indulge’“.  Aloysius whispered, to himself.

“Well?”  Undine asked insistently.

“Where’s Diogenes?”  Rupert asked, interrupting Undine’s caustic inquiry.

“Right behind us.  Rupert — what are you doing?”  Undine nearly screamed.

Aloysius went to the rug and parted it, greeting Diogenes.  He urged them all to sit down and offered Diogenes, a little self-consciously, a smoke.

Diogenes immediately seemed to take in the situation and sat himself down to hear Aloysius out.  He didn’t seem to notice or care about his costume or the box’s décor.  He took the pipe, puffed on it, and said simply:

“Tell us how we can get out of here.  We’re running toward the river.”

“There’s a barge, a Black Market ship harbored off the old commuter train station to New Jersey, readying to leave in fifteen or twenty minutes for Europe.”  Aloysius began matter-of-factly.  “They do a good business, that is, if you think theft and smuggling won’t offend your moral fiber,” he said, eyeing Undine.  “As I say, they leave within twenty minutes and it’s best to board just as they pull out, otherwise you get ousted during a quick inventory they make before leaving port.”

He seemed to pause intentionally to see if Undine would grant him permission to continue.

“Go on! Go on!”  Diogenes said, still catching his breath.

“These smugglers have nothing to do with the complex you’re leaving.  Or at least I don’t think so.  They seemed to speak as if they are ripping it off.”

“You know them?”  Rupert asked.

“I’ve stowed away to Newport News and back several times without being discovered.  I’ve never been to Europe, though.  Their engines are powerful but the ship is not designed for the open sea.  They wouldn’t be crawling up and down the coast able to turn in if they took on water or sprang a leak.  They have done it before, though.  It’s a serious undertaking for them … “

“It’d be a serious undertaking for us too.”  Rupert reflected.

“Better to be the undertaker than the undertakee.”  Diogenes mused.

“If you go on now, though, they’ll come upon you while inspecting their take and boot you off.”  Aloysius reminded them.

“We have no choice.”  Diogenes concluded. “If we run for it now to the docks we’ll destroy our only avenue of escape.  If we become intimidated by the passing time or the journey transAtlantic in a fresh water barge — we’ll end up turning back from water’s edge and running right back into Grabmaler’s guards.  Further, we don’t know if they’ve missed us yet.  I say we take our only chance.  Maybe Europe has something to offer.  New York is certainly a bloody mess!”

Rupert followed this with incredulity.  Undine seemed to have momentarily lost her hold and slumped back wearily.

“Meanwhile … we have just short of five minutes … let’s allow this gentleman to entertain us.”  Diogenes added.

Aloysius poured whisky into a paper cup for Diogenes and they all avoided further debate on their dilemma.  Rupert continued fiddling with Aloysius’ pipe and poking through his “Soft Bag”.  There was an eighteenth century wig and fop’s coat inside which he pulled up, amused.  Aloysius then cautioned them to make a run for the docks on the Uptown or Northern side of the barge and recommended that they should make the hundred and fifty yards with Diogenes trotting ahead for a minute before the other two caught up.