The past coming back, with Gillian as a witness, and with her past too – darkness and betrayal coming into focus at the very time that summer air, and billowing trees, and the sight of fields and flowers, mountains and clear streams, and the occasional deer or raccoon or porcupine or turtle – and the scent of grass and leaf and earth lake water – are all part of something like rejoicing – things I might have lost or never known this way again. In this my most unusual year, 1986.
This autumn in the north country, this light I, and I think Gillian too, felt was leading us into something new, these scenes in this light, though, always in opposition to, or set off in sharp relief by, what was there from the past. Gillian talking about a demon lover, a Brooklynite with mother troubles who made her into something very small in New Delhi, where she tried to please him by bursting the pimples on his back and by spreading flowers on the bed he shared with another lover. Gillian talking about how one of the famous people her mother fucked used to regularly molest her and her sister – crawl right into their childhood beds.
And sometimes I was sent into myself by the British intonations in her speech – taken on during a time she was at Cambridge – and getting stronger as she talked about that time, and about a book she wrote, and about how she was a central figure at the glorious late sixties love fest around Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain, and about other past lovers, and about the famous literary men who bedded her mother, and how when her mother wasn’t fucking she was masturbating, so much so that Gillian did not realize for a long time, she said, that not all apartments smelled like theirs. All this, molesters and the rest in a British accent, which of course put me in mind of the fake British accents of summer people in White Mountains. But this was different. This talk in those tones that was also about an orchard cabin in India, and about these groups we went to in the city that seemed so full of hope. And at the center of the stories this lovely, still, girl with the long blonde hair. A desirable girl/woman in the sun. Here a British accent was okay.
Each day we racked up what seemed like more memories that I thought would be around forever. We had a herd of cows that always approached us, coming right up to our car, on a dirt road before the spot on Lake Champlain where we had this peculiar old lake house. In Middlebury in the heart of WASP land we took a tour of a claustrophobic house full of hooked rugs and bric-a-brac and horse-hair-stuffed furniture on slanting floors – as uncomfortable as the furniture in our smaller living room when I was a child in Connecticut. A main feature was a lifelike family cat that had been skinned and stuffed in the 19th century. We kept crossing the border into Canada – from woods to the north, or from a lake town that felt strangely like an ocean town – and one day at a small, seedy roadside eatery that had wonderful café au lait, a bossy woman told us in French that we were leaking gas. We got back to the house, replenishing gas each time we saw the level was down, and the next morning at a garage in Vergennes we found we needed a new gas tank, which would take several days, and she said that was just fine with her. And I was thinking seriously about being in love.