The Golden Room (Lucy’s Lips) by Elizabeth Crawford

Andy Cross Bathing Rem

Andy Cross. Bathing Rem, 2013, mixed media on paper. Courtesy of the artist.

We were lying on our backs looking at the tourists moving. After my intoxicating speech, we three trembled on the stone. Phragmites would not dip his feathery mind in water again. I remember saying to him: You know, that was a beautiful song, Phragmites. Fakesome weather.

It occurred to me that the back has no mouth, the back takes in what it is and only what it sometimes is is an elaborate stairwell to the mind. I slept against the rock-crusted throne. How low I was to have a throne compared to my cot on the high summit. The ovenbird was here on this lower level. I was dreaming, and in my dream Lucy was translated. Her lips were fleshy, partly opened and partly closed. The white lips were wet as vertical rectangular white blazes on the path. So Lucy was not the place itself but the melting signal and crack in the cairn. Self-housed, she moved in time as the blood moves and was not outside the running line of chronometricals.

Some people say men are chronometricals and women live as “the place,” but it is a whitewash as one corner of the hour cannot be accounted for on the grandfather clock that is no totem to anyone’s clan.

Beneath the stone was the face.

Lucy and I were both entering the same place at the same time. She took one path up Mount Washington from the West, starting at what is now called Marshfield Station via the Ammonsoosuc Ravine Trail and the Crawford Path, and I came from the East at Pinkham Notch via the Tuckerman Trail Ravine and Lion Head. If these two paths are really the same, if in the end they are whitewashes of each other split by a mirror, I will crawl up inside the Lion’s Head and live and die forever inside of it. I don’t think they are. When the sun rises, I begin. Where the sun sets Lucy turns new in night. When I saw her crouching on the first page it was her bending back on the ravine. She was imitating the ravine. The ridge looks bone white when mechanized societies look on it. It is an after color (not the absence of color) or an extra color. The sun-bleached white was once colored red and probably repainted sometimes to be blue and green but red. Lucy is as closed as the white is red. Red blood is closed too. Fortunately. And if I ever saw her wounded—bird or fruit—in my active imagination, I’d close my eyes but my mouth’d be open.

Her shadow is not the absence of color but bordered by lips—half closed, half empty. I think I am the one who found the lips and her elaborate but quiet psychogeography of the flume path, but I have not, and it is not her who is the idol as Cain was not but distance: “You eat the distance with your eyes. As if it were an idol raised to heaven.”

You can’t go back. You’re in the cat.

My path is not the Crawford Path on the west side of Mount Washington. The path is unseen. Blood is “self-housed” in the veins of the stones. Limpidity is the rhythm of pastness and stone is the dream of it. Lucy lives somewhere between water and ice that is the blood in the stone. The distances are as wild, as when Darby Field measured them, her “unknown brother.”

We lay by the pool till we got cold. My cousin said we should go to the bar at the Mount Washington Hotel.

Phragmites drove up the long, serpentining entrance and into the parking lot. We pretended to be guests, sat down, and asked the waiter for drinks. When he returned I said: You don’t give any tours do you? And he said, No. And I asked where the Bretton Woods Conference was held. He pointed to a room down the hall to our left and said, We preserved it as the Golden Room.

In the Golden Room some cleaning person had left a rag behind on the floor. It was the dirtiest linen piece with which they were wiping Abel’s eye.

Here, in the Golden Room at the Mount Washington Hotel, the West began to discipline the world. Men lying drunk on the street (after a roaring night at Fabyan’s) died in the snow. White was selling American vodka to the Russian representative. Kissing Keynes and other such gossip.

I read Bloch made an appearance at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. He came in for a drink (it was the only hotel that admitted Jews in the area, and he would sometimes go, curiously, to the nostalgic cave preserved from the twenties, now Mount Washington Hotel’s best selling point—the hidden basement bar they once kept under prohibition) and bumped into Mr. White with such force that White fell immediately to the ground, and Bloch blushed and disguised himself with a British accent saying: Oh pardon me. What a terrible accident. White had him followed, and in the submerged cave they beat him. The next day he was forced to appear once more (how many times?) at the Immigration Office in Boston, and they finally did believe he was a premature anti-fascist. Impressed with his fantastic version of the American fight for independence, the bureaucrat got up and brought in all the other bureaucrats. Listen to this!

Karola was garrulous in the restaurant and felt calmer working with the architect on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Bloch sat while Karola worked, hovering in the apartment over fairy books. He nursed them like the curly head. What an exception to the their life the White Mountains were. On the radio he heard faint transmissions from the summit tower. And occasionally he climbed small heights. He wrote: Phenomena relating to the nation-state should be observed not from below but from above, if they are going to make a satisfactory impression. Light falls on the picture favorably from this direction. And sometimes he walked with a friend to look at the picture below, but I do not know who it was.

*

In the Golden Room the table was small with round-topped golden chairs and light blue seats. The plaque read: In this room we established our close relationship with gold. We lost all of our relationships except the relationship with gold. Now remember, the gold of yesterday was not the gold today, and one man’s chair is another man’s man.

Sun poured into the room. On the table read forty-four names and countries. Each name was carved on a plaque, and at the top of the list was White. Keynes was second, then Melville. I smiled into the crooked crystal. Pretend ivy overflowed the pot. Everything exuded brightness. Phragmites exuded brightness. A little red and yellow figure appeared on the glass window toward the lobby dancing. Look, said Phragmites, the thin man.

The mountains were barely mountains compared to where and how you stood in the Golden Room.

The room felt to us like a principle’s office in a big school. The chairs are really gold, Phragmites said, and he flicked a piece of one. Each sweet item stuck on my tooth. The trouble with the wallpaper was the trouble with its rising surfaces and what looked like lips trying to form one word. I could not see the lawn from the window. I could not see the mountains. I could only see inside.

All the “rest” attained earlier in the day seemed to slip down around our ankles. I yawned, my cousin yawned, and Phragmites did, and we yawned in circles, sending our messages across each other’s mouths.

On the plaque, the hidden words were all very simple. Words no one could mistake.

In the Golden Room, the surfaces of our skin were lit. The light shone through our skin to an extreme point where my true color was revealed (if in some moments true color is not shadow). If nothing else, this mauve color shining through the cracks in my finger and then as far as I could see in the mirror, shining out of my forehead and racing down my nose, brought me back to Lucy and a utopian present tense. This room was spilling outside. The golden chairs cast shadows and the blue of their seats were fords in the sky. We were meant to move them and let out light.

Is there a video camera in the corner? I asked. For the room was a technological masterpiece. All the words Lucy never thought to form were about to open and form out of the swells in the wallpaper. But they were written with wires so thin they were hair. They were written with forty-four mechanically undead hands. Every man, I remember thinking, who has signed his name on a sheet of paper is ultimate. But I, Anne, have all the hands and no names.

The dream house cast a bewitching slumber worse than whiskey to all its visitors. The veil of vapors before your mouth draws closed. The room aspires to transform matter into gold. And any Mr. White who signs his name and calls himself Promethean ought to know where the transformer performs his task. And it is not on the pinnacle.

*

Down in the bar (called the cave) we were alarmed to find old men and women dressed up as Arcadian shepherds, Puritans, Revolutionary War heroes, witches, Shakers, Merrymounters, and Indian Chiefs. Were we meant to embrace Bloch’s love for Kitsch? But of course I, an American woman, would gladly reenact some historical act. And if they handed me a horn and marched me up to the mound, I’d blow into it. Was it not the naked human actress the French Revolutionaries could not make human again?

We sat in a booth for a long time, watching the tourists. My cousin talked endlessly. It was as though he’d been waiting to talk to me his whole life. But I could not hear him. The cave was so loud. He said:

I remember one summer when I was a kid. I worked in Dad’s furniture store. Where you hit your head on the table, Anne? Are you listening? Then the next summer I helped him build the wall. And one time when we were living by the Merrimack River there was a flood, and I said to him: Look! Dad! The wall is covered with water! And I wondered if we would drown, and he said: Son, go sit down. Now, put you’re head between your legs and kiss your sorry ass good bye. And before you know it I was flying up the attic stairs. 

And I bent down over myself saying goodbye … Oh my god. It reminds me of the time I brought three porcelain pigs from Grandma’s pig collection into the bathtub. I thought: Look, the pigs are in a flood. I wasn’t a mean kid. They were sentimental collectibles she had. Do you remember? I bent down over them. I tried to float on top of them. You know, it reminds me of Ethan Allen and his zoo. Collect the animals. Make them shiny. Even talk to them. But who are you trying to convince? You know? Who is anyone trying to convince? 

I am convinced, I said. 

Hey now, Cousin. What convinces you? 

If I were ever in a flood, I’d swim to the top of a mountain. I’d ride a floating pig, coz.

We sat for a long time in the cave, and as I was sitting I remembered the part in History of the White Mountains where Lucy climbs Mount Washington for the first time.

When the guests left the cave we trailed behind them, crept up the stairs, and went outside to lie on the wet lawn. At one, we climbed onto the porch and slid through the glass doors. People were still lingering in lounge chairs. Someone was just getting in. We snuck around the servant stairs and went through the back entrance to the Golden Room. When there was no more noise Phragmites walked elegantly out in search of a ladder to the roof. We sat in the golden chairs waiting for him.

Raising my eyes from the pale-carpeted ground, I dreamt of a world not here but where Phragmites was entering. Phragmites was turning human. Oh, my envy got the better of me in those early morning hours. I wanted to make love to Phragmites. And poor cousin with his childhood memories! I had all of Lucy’s past and none of his to talk about. But Phragmites forged a path.

When he returned his shirt smelled of pure mountain air, and his eyes were bright with clarity. Each of us grabbed a chair, Phragmites led, cousin followed, and I was last. I grabbed another chair. The guards in the lobby were huddled around a computer screen watching a global event. We went into the dark.

The crows did not want us on the Mount Washington Hotel roof. Who would sit, we wondered, in the fourth chair? In the morning, rising among the cliffs was a butterfly, Lucy wrote, busily occupied like ourselves. In the morning I remembered everything, and up on the roof I watched it. Across the sky they had painted cultural images of pastness like George Washington, Eisenhower, King George III, and James Madison, but I closed my eyes to them and bent the sitting stone as a better throne to rest atop, atop the roof, and when I opened my eyes again by accident I saw him, Washington, staring back at me. Washington was not old but fleshy. Where he ended wings emerged. I did not like him but I did not know his face.

Elizabeth Crawford’s work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Stonecutter Journal, Entropy Mag, Elderly, NY Arts Magazine, Cluster Mag, and Big Big Wednesday.  

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