I come in late. I think I should be exhausted with all the ground we have just covered at the Clam Shell. But there is an almost full moon that bounces off the early snow that lightly covers the ground, the snow that came as I was driving through the Notch. The cold night air is so clear and fresh, and the past so present, that what I must see I can best see in moonlight.
I walk out the driveway though the field in front of White Wings to to Davis Road, this birch-lined road of summers, this road where I walked as a child with Gaga, who always had a cane and a floppy sun hat, and sometimes actual dogs though sometimes just remembered dogs, this road where Peter and I laid plans to be welcoming North Country inn keepers, this road I drove when I was 16 with my important girlfriend Ellyse – this road that eventually passes the little summer church where my parents were married and where at 14 in a rare good boy phase I would, with my twin brother, take up the collection, this church that some said was so like something you would expect in England.
By now I could not stand the sounds of British English for it reminded me of the fake British sounds of these summer people. But that distaste for those sounds was recent. And I still felt the pull of family that centered around the life and work of the grandfather, the writer, that had its radical side that I had tried to concentrate on – though he spent so much of his life here among people as far from old socialist colleagues as my grandfather could get.
This place that must carry an explanation for the molestation and early death that now seemed the hallmark of a family whose worst failings used to be snobbery – these people whom I had been attacking for a year now, the first year of my life that I have been free of depression.
I walk, through the snow now, past bare apple trees that in the night look like hanging trees, through the grounds of big houses that look now like gothic novel houses – in this place obscured by family fiction that I am trying to burrow into to find out what part is real.
There is beauty here in the moonlight. I am looking for more than horror.
My toes are numb but I walk all the way through pine woods down the twisting drive and look at White Pines against the mountains. From the outside you cannot tell it has been gutted and turned into cheap apartments. It is that house that is always there with the only difference being the cheap tin roof that has been added to what should have still been wooden shingles. The roof now is a giant reflector of moonlight.
I return to the long drive. I cross Davis road and walk below the Farmhouse, shuttered for the winter, and then I walk up to at a rectangle in the ground that is still clear even with light snow, like something marked out on an area where archeologists plan to dig. This place where the Playhouse had stood. I am below the ominous House on the Hill, owned for some years now by old virginal school teachers who never bothered reviving the family tennis court.
I pass a drive that may be to where the man my grandmother may have been having an affair with had lived. And I go on up Davis Road. No cars are out and here are no lighted houses, no houses at all before I get to the paved driveway going up beneath large branches to the Mallory’s old place. The chain barrier and the "Beware of the Dog" sign which in September Gillian had pointed out meant hostility to strangers, are no longer there.
I walked up the drive. It was not plowed but the snow was powdery and could not have been more than three inches. Up the drive, with on the right the long garage where the Mallory's kept their cars, with rooms above for the many servants they brought with them from Philadelphia. Black servants. Enough of them to amuse themselves, people said, since there was no place for Negroes to go in the mountains. Past the garage the tennis court where old family people had gathered, Mrs. Mallory sometimes playing a folky zither, and then the chateau-like main house where people used to go for movie evenings since Otto Mallory did not drink. His death was so ironic, everyone said, hit by a drunken driver while going for his mail in Pennsylvania.
Beyond the chateau at the start of woods there was something that looked like a little house out of a fairy tale that I knew was the house where children had stayed, the counterpart to the children’s house for the Gibbs grandchildren, which had its own kitchen and room for a nurse or governess, and the Boys Wing for us at White Pines, where there was a room for our nurse too. Ours was not a separate house but you got to it through the kitchen and pantries.
On up Davis Road. Cold but not minding it. Up all the way to that little summer church and just beyond the turnoff up past the Pioneer on one side and the Gibbs house on the other to where the old Sunset Hill House had stood. Had it burned down, or was that just something people said. Had it merely been demolished by wreckers, like the Playhouse? And now I come to the much smaller clapboard place that calls itself the Sunset Hill House but is actually the old building where the summer staff had lived, college boys who were summer bellboys, college girls who were summer waitresses. These older boys and pretty girls who came in from worlds beyond ours and with no family looking on – boys and girls who would not understand our people any more than our elders would understand them. The world beyond.
But here I am in the world within. It is painfully cold here. My toes ache and my feet are mostly numb. Probably not frostbite yet, but I do think I might be heading back to White Wings just in time.