Right after that session with Mrs. Miner I had begun the drive by my usual side road routes back to the city. She had said I must come to dinner with her and Gracie the next time I was up here. I told her I would, though I was not certain I would ever need to see the White Mountains again. And though aware that a boundary between the people I came from and the people rooted in the place, had been breached. But this leaving was hauntingly familiar, my saying I would return and almost believing it but at the same time knowing I probably wouldn’t. All my life. Telling Sheila Ng I would come back to Singapore, telling Anne Marie in our borrowed room on Irving Place that though I was leaving on a freighter I would be back. Leaving Susi because I could not stop there. Or more like being thrown out, as with Bonnie. Judy too. But going away and saying I would come back.
Left and never saw again the Sekovanic’s in Ljubljana, the Megallis in Cairo, the Izards in Atlanta, the artists of Haiti, the singers of the Philippines. And maybe I did not need to ever return to the White Mountains again. Maybe what I knew now from Mrs. Miner, with great gaps still in my life story, maybe it would be all I would ever learn there. Maybe I would never see, never need to see, the White Mountains again.
And in New York a week after Labor Day it was almost as if I had never been back to the literal places of the past. Back in the city, the probing meetings, the amazing experiences finding my life in what I saw in galleries and museums, all these new people from the past year.
On a September morning that felt like August now down in the city I rode my bicycle up from Chelsea to the Modern Art Museum, aware that this sunny day was almost exactly a year from when the past came over me in a way that made me feel my life was petering out, just before my travels into that past, first in my head and more recently in the Aqua Mustang, had begun. And life had opened up.
I stopped just west of the museum, and as expected I found Gillian still there, cheerfully blonde in the light and warmth still of summer, doing her sidewalk sales of African fetish figures. I was telling her of my adventures in Vermont and New Hampshire, and then we were talking about fall foliage, which both of us knew but had rarely seen for many years, and would soon be at its peak up there.
And then I mention that in a few days it will be my birthday, and she says – as if we are very close – that we must do something really special for my birthday, and I say let’s go to Vermont, where I have this amazing place to stay and where the foliage is nearing its peak. I don’t say let's go to New Hampshire, but she knows my unfolding New Hampshire stories. I say let’s go to Vermont and she turns her eyes right on me and says, like the girl I take her to be, without the darkness I know because of what I have hard in those meetings, “Fred, what a super idea!”
Adult children plunging together into the past. The two of us both survivors of dangerous WASP places. On this girl’s face I saw, or thought I might be able to see, or maybe one day would be able to see, here or somewhere else, something I had just seen on those old faces from the past at White Wings – when I had realized Mrs. Miner and Gracie were looking at me the way in books and movies family people look at loved ones.
In the museum I go to the sculpture garden and look down on a sensual reclining, slightly larger than life nude by Maillol called The River. And then I am looking at a more wildly sexual woman, a huge woman of such energy that her burgeoning body alters the garden, a statue of this woman from his actual life that Gaston Lachaise cast in bronze with slight variations over and over again. And then the big stylized backs of naked women that Matisse did over many years. And finally I am upstairs looking at small bronze Matisse nude girls, and then the painting called The Piano Lesson, the boy at a piano who could be me, and is under the control of a grim, gray, taskmistress above him, but down below in his line of sight is one of those small, hopeful bronze nudes, right there in his space in the painting.
As I look the bronze girl in the painting again seems to stretch and wiggle. I hope that when I get outside I will not find that Gillian has changed her mind.