Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 40 - CONVERGENCE

The points of convergence. We had both come out of twisted parts of that smallest of worlds, not a full world, just a tiny subculture – the Social Register, boarding schools, Anglo envy, boys playing girls’ parts in Gilbert & Sullivan, debutante parties, hardly any Catholics, and almost no Jews at all – our respective twisted parts of a subculture in which everything was supposed to be forever properly in it place, and all people in theirs. Neither of us had considered staying in it past childhood. I remembered the family uproar when when I was ten and questioned why hotels in our part of New Hampshire would not allow Jews.

And in our separate lives we had both moved around the world in ways others had not. Asia. Africa. It was a reason we had first connected, something that separated us from people around us. The foreign reason added to the Waspdom reason. And all tied up with the most intense reason, which was that we were both working full time, almost, to find out what had happened in our different but now converging deep pasts.

The man who climbed into the little girls’ beds, a man with one of those names with a Roman numeral after it, had a certain celebrity based on what a forebear had done. One way I knew of that man was that he had been a joke – the founder’s aging and pretentious boozed up son – at a publications place where I had once briefly worked as a hack writer. But more than that, I knew he was the son of one of my late grandmother’s closest friends.

One day, on the spur of the moment, we drove from Lake Champlain right over to the frontier, and crossed the New Hampshire line. We cut down to White River Junction, then over to Hanover, and then up route 5 on the Vermont side and route 10 on the new Hampshire side, crossing from one to the other several times on bridges over the placid, haunting Connecticut River with its green banks and water that reflected the sky. Then at Woodsville away from the river and into the mountains. This was the old, pre-interstate route, going north alternating between the two sides of the river, which I had seen in childhood from the back seat of our family Plymouth in the years we went by road rather than by old, single track steam railway up to the White Mountains.

I had started staying well away from New Hampshire by the time I was in my twenties, and anyway by then there had been summers in Europe. Staying well away, most of the time anyway, started 30 years before this time with Gillian, 30 years until this past summer when – hot on the trail of what had happened – I had made those two trips over from Vermont, and I had already come so very close to the story – knowing what had to have happened beneath the proper veneers in those formal houses, knowing it for certain even though the pictures in my mind were still hazy. Though increasingly less hazy.

Now I drove with Gillian over these same roads in the landscape of my past that I had retraced in the just-passed summer. We did not stop in to see anyone, though my childhood friend and early crush, still a friend so many years later, the gorgeous Terri, would have been in White Wings. I had seen her on one of those summer trips across the border. Now we did not stop. And we also drove past the looming house called the Farm House, which looked down on us from a rise between White Pines and the dark, octagon-shaped House on the Hill. “The Farm House” was not so much a description as a reference point for people who lived in houses with names. It was possible my twin brother, the responsible twin who got the property, would be in residence, but we did not check to see. And although we drove another ten miles to the stark market and mill town of Littleton, where in the old days the family had gone to shop, we drove straight past the house of my aunt, who had been my favorite aunt and who was looked upon as the wanton rebel in her generation. Aunt Alice had retreated to Littleton some years back, taking her daughter Lauryn out of the Lysée and the ballet school, a relocation made necessary because one of her sons would have wound up in prison if they had not fled, the charges in New York were so great – kidnapping, doing things with a sawed off shotgun. (And every one in the family said, then, as they were saying about events taking place right now, how strange it was, something like this in a family such as ours.)

Lauryn, my favorite. I might have gone to see her but she had long since moved to Minnesota in one of her several marriages. I knew Aunt Alice, was exasperated, near fury base on jealousy, that Lauryn still looked so appealing, was still so sought after by men. That has been the mother’s role, a reason I had liked Aunt Alice, for that was part of her being a fellow black sheep. I was thinking suddenly about Aunt Alice’s smooth skin. I was thinking too that in recent years it had been hard to be in the same room with her.

As this time, this tryst, the meeting of minds with Gillian, was going on, the time of the Aqua Mustang, I would call my answering machine down in Chelsea every few days.

Now, on the very day we had passed her house in Littleton without stopping, there was Lauryn’s mother, Aunt Alice, leaving message after message. Message after message from the past, from someone I hardly ever saw anymore. It was urgent that I call her, she kept saying. But that was the past, and I did not call and did not plan to call.

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