Wednesday, July 11, 2007

GRANITE STATE VII - Empty Landscape

I had had ideas that there was something solid here with Gillian. We kept on laughing, all through this time. We hugged on Vermont village greens. And when we finally moved into the same room she asked what took you so long, and for some reason that seemed to confirm that there was something really solid here. And it was as intensely erotic I had hoped – thinking at the time how all this would appear in memory – Gillian in the bath, Gillian with a book to identify trees, Gillian blowing on me gently. And strangely she talked in these British tones that were as prissy as they were sexy, as British as my apparently non-sexy family that had once been up here, sometimes still could be found up here, that family where everything was so cold, as opposed to this present when everything seemed so warm. The same tones the family would use, but not the same subject matter – as in Gillian’s “I always tell young people to learn anal sex. It’s the only safe way.”

I was here in one life, and all the places and people around me were from another nearly dead life. The Village of Sugar Hill, where when I was a child I used to go every day with my brother and grandfather, walking past the turn-off to the summer hotel, the Sunset Hill House, with its sweeping veranda, and then along a wooden sidewalk, past village houses with flowers and picket fences, to the tiny post office general sore – it all looked exactly the same. No K-marts. No fast food. No strip malls. Nothing to indicate it was l986, not l946 or ‘36 or ‘26. It was almost as if my grandfather was still here, misdirecting – to my horror when I was 9 – a driver who asked about the Sunset Hill House, misdirecting him because, he said, the couple looked Jewish and would not be given a room if they found the place. And when he saw I was upset he scheduled another walk alone with me to tell me how barring Jews was right because it was not fair that one fellow would work harder than another and get that other fellow’s job. Already I was finding I needed to tune certain things out.

And now over in Vermont we were in a borrowed house that had belonged to an old Foreign Service officer. It was rustic, though on the walls there was England – reproductions from very old issues of Punch. And each of the little mildewed bedrooms upstairs had been designed to remind the owner of a place he had been assigned – one filled with cheap figurines of happy Bavarian men in Lederhosen playing accordions, and on the wall a cheap cuckoo clock. And another that was supposed to be French and thus filled with cheap gilded frames of tourist pictures, the Eiffel Tower, Chartres, and another was supposed to be England again, on the walls prints of hunting scenes. All this cheap fakery in the present which forewarned me the present could be as flimsy as this past I now detested.

We lingered. It turned out to be a wonderful house. We got in the car again and explored. We crossed into Canada. The gas tank started to leak. We got back to Vermont and found we’d have to linger until a garage received a new tank. This seemed just fine. We turned it into a celebration. Filled the little house with balloons. Found a single tape cassette, which was of forgettable New Age Wyndom Hill music that was new to both of us, for we had both spent so much time abroad. I thought when we danced among the balloons that it would be music I would remember.

But when the car was working we had been going over to Franconia and Sugar Hill, which I now saw through her eyes as well as my own. The Pines, the main former family house, now had a tin roof and was split up into apartments, but from the outside it still seemed much the same. “Your magic kingdom” was what Gillian called it. We circled the house, and she saw that down in the back there was a big, thick walled ice house. This indicated to her, she said,that when my grandparents built the The Pines 60 years ago it might have been looked upon as a survivalists’ place. And I recalled the great bins in the sprawling kitchen containing what looked like enough flower and rice and sugar to last for years. And I saw with her eyes now the sweeping landscape that seemed sometimes an extension of this house – this landscape that covered maybe 50 miles – and I realized there no a sign of human life in it except for, in the distance, a cable car on Cannon Mountain that you could see for an instant as it emerged from the pines, no much more than a dot, was backed for an instant by the pale sky, then to disappear again.

And I saw the harshness of the mountains. Lafayette bare above the timber line and scarred with avalanche marks.

And I thought of the trivia my family would have talked – who belonged up here and who didn’t being a constant refrain, balanced by talk of happier times long ago, the best times being before World War I. I thought of how I would tune out bigoted things they would say. Just like, I knew, in the car now I had been tuning out her tales of convoluted sex.

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