Thursday, 5 February 2009

mount kemble memoir

The atmosphere folded itself against your face, came in between your fingers: Michael’s mountain was baking in the August sun. We were in the kitchen -- an enormous room, with a huge iron Ashley stove, a sofa, armchairs, statues. The cutting board shared counter space with an old RCA television and Michael’s “Wooden Nickel Odeon” which would rasp and buzz if handled with the proper care. Dust lay everywhere except for the piano, the table and the counter-top. The dust completed the room -- a fine room in winter, but now the heat carried the dust along with it and covered our arms, foreheads, our palms and fingers were sticky.

The morning sun got higher and Michael and Mark came in, red dust mixed in with the sweat of their faces, their socks, Mark's T-shirt wet through and streaked with clay. Michael’s bare chest gleamed fiery red hair and dripping sweat down his shoulders -- freckles merged closer and closer so that from a little bit away one only saw dark skin against white shorts, the fierce blazing red hair, a crack of blue in the eyes. Mark stood by the sink, his tanned face becoming first white from the heat and the exertion and then splashed with red, mixing with the red from the court.

We left the kitchen for air, climbing through overgrown gardens with stone fountains and forgotten benches, then down the track to the greenhouse. It had no panes since Mr. Jimmy had shot much of the glass out forty years earlier as a boy. Next to it was the stone planting house. Michael had taken out the floor, to replace it, and one by one, we climbed down the long ladder to its cellar. Sitting on the cool dirt, with the warmer stone against my neck, I looked up past the floor beams out through the windows to the tops of the trees and then the bleached sky. Outside the garden and the planting beds hummed with bugs and stirrings -- not sharp or clear like one bee or cicada but the dull spinnings of heat, indistinguishable sounds, the ringing of my own ears.

The mountain had been given to the state park service, but there were bits of the old estate left to explore. Up and out of the cellar, we walked the bridle path past Grandma Jo’s studio, past the white house, then Michael turned off the path and went downhill alongside a stream. A series of shallow concrete warming pools descended the slope nearby -- there had been talk, he said, of clearing the brush and once again diverting the stream through them, but they lay hot and dry in the sun.

The stream flowed onto a terrace and into the dark pool which was partly shaded by pine trees. There were green plants growing on the bottom and on the steps. The other end of the big pool had an overflow which cut into the terrace and the water cascaded from there down to the greenhouse as we looked over the entire valley.

I stood daring myself, the heat pressing me from behind yet I could feel the cool air rising from the water, just standing on the edge. Diving, the shock forced me immediately up to the surface...the cold hit my ankles and wrists instantly, my crotch and armpits were ice, ice and I gasped then clambered out, breath gone on freezing blue lips. A minute or two and the sun began to burn at the first layer of skin, the now-lovely cold was under it pushing at the heat, I felt the two temperatures slowly melt into one and the heat took over after about ten minutes and I cut into the deep green again. And then the air pressed down, the sky cracked; everything turned grey and hard rain beat pellets up from the surface of the pool and drove us all away.

No comments: