Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Curious Confluence: The Next Book – Currently Un-Named and Mostly Un-edited


This is what the Ouija and I have started concocting as the follow on book to A Curious Confluence: The Story of Adrianna.  I have edited it barely so it must have copious problems of grammar and agreement.  But it interests me.  I had no idea what this thing was going to be.  Luckily the Ouija does (did).

I had not expected to be back here again. Maybe I should say that I had not expected to be back here so soon. I think I knew I was going to be back. There were a couple of loose ends. I knew I would not be able to ignore them forever. But I had forced myself to put them aside. I didn’t want to think about them. I didn’t want to admit they existed. But they did. And now I am back. And I am in that same apartment.

I have said that my mother was a mystery to me. There must have been such a person because I exist. But I never knew her and my father never talked about her. My father wouldn’t talk about her. I tried to get him to tell me about her. But he would not do so. I had the feeling that he couldn’t tell me about her. I always felt that for reasons that he couldn’t explain – maybe he didn’t even know them ­himself – he really didn’t know anything about her, or couldn’t remember anything about her. Although that sounds odd to the point of the bizarre that was a reality that I have lived with my entire life. One adapts even to the bizarre. Bizarre after all, is better than abusive. And I know that children who grow up in abusive environments adapt and cope and affect normality. So having a caring, loving father who had just one off-center characteristic was not so difficult. The fact that the characteristic, seen from the viewpoint any normal person was not off-center, but was off the chart never entered into my thoughts about my father or into my relationship with him.

I had a father and my mother was an unknown darkness. And that was my simple reality.

That was my simple reality until I stumbled into the story of the last few days of my father’s life, or until I stumbled into the first few days of his ultimate transition. That was my simple reality until I discovered the various pieces of my father’s life that were left strewn around this apartment after he disappeared.

From the narrative that I assembled from those various pieces I learned a great deal. I learned a great deal that I didn’t know about my father. Much of what I learned about him I don’t think he knew himself; he had, for some reason, forgotten all of it.

But it was the darkness of my mother that, once penetrated, became the amazing thing. That it was penetrated – the darkness – was not the amazing thing, however. The amazing thing was the number of new questions that her story - once revealed - left open and unanswered.

As with those loose ends, I tried not to think about those questions. I packed up and went back to the United States. I went home to Portland. I grew up there and, with what I had inherited, could leave my other life in Boston and return home. I could figure out what it was that I was going to do to be gainfully employed afterwards. I went home to Portland and unlisted my father’s house and moved into it. I had decided that I would live there. After what I had discovered it felt like home more than anywhere I had ever been. More like home, that is, than anywhere but this apartment in Paris.

But that came later. What came first was the return to Portland, the un-listing and the move into the house. “Moving in” oversimplifies what was a difficult and emotion charged parade of days and nights finding, classifying and preparing for various categories of removal (to the dumpster, to the Good Will, sell on eBay being examples of some of those categories). That process was a seemingly never ending series of discoveries, decisions and disposals.

Recounting the events of a typical day may give a feeling for what I am describing.

The house is in an area that is known in Portland as the West Hills. Specifically it is in the Northwest sector of those West Hills. It is a rather large house. Most of the houses in the area it occupies are large houses so its largeness doesn’t set it apart. Its largeness makes it a typical member of its community. It is quite old for Portland. It was built before the turn of the Twentieth Century. It has three stories and a basement.

The first floor is accessed by a massive oak front door made of panels from the sill up two thirds of its extent and massive beveled glass panes – three of them – extending the rest of the way to its roman arched top. The window sections are rounded to fit symmetrically into that roman arch shaped door. It is approximately nine feet at its highest point, at the apogee of the arch. It opens into a huge entry hall with an eleven foot ceiling. The eleven foot measurement references the apogee of that ceiling. The roman arch motif has been carried on from the arched front door to the ceiling itself. On the right side of the entry hall there are windows that look out onto a hillside strewn with various native bushes and shrubs: red huckleberry, pink blossomed wild currant, native hazelnut and elderberry. The ground from which these shrubs thrust skyward is covered with s mix of trilliums, tiny native lilies and sword ferns. On the left side of the entry hall there is a massive double door cloak closet. The floor of the hallway, like every other floor in the house, except the kitchens and the bathrooms, is made of narrow tongue in groove milled oak planks stained on their most recent refinishing a walnut sort of color. The hallway terminates at an expansion of space. Its left side indulges in a leftward jog that hosts the entry into the parlor, the entry straight ahead, after passing by the clothes hook festooned wall (one visualizes a clutter of parkas, jackets, sweaters and rain slickers occupying those hooks on darkening winter afternoons) into the kitchen, and, straight in line with the axis of the hallway, the staircase already mentioned. Finally there is the entry into the library on the right. This expanded terminus of the hallway is the crossroads of the house. Fittingly, there is a carved oak plaque, dating from the time the house was originally built, that is mounted on the inside terminus of the Roman arched hallway ceiling. “Carrefour” it says.

There is a special feeling that hangs lightly in the air of the Carrefour. It is unmistakable but indefinable. It sets a tone the moment one enters the place. I noticed it immediately. I have been glad that I did.

Once out of the entry hall the ceilings assume normal geometry. They meet the walls at ninety degrees and maintain their height from the floor in a consistent manner. They are all eleven feet on the first floor and nine feet on the second and third.

The parlor is large. It is the next room over from the cloak closet and as such it starts in front in at the edge of the house that hosts the front door. The cloak closet is not only a room for guest wraps, it is also a sound buffer between the hallway and the parlor. That wall of the parlor – the one in the front at right angles to the common wall with the cloak closet - is set with five casement style windows with French style glass and hardware. They have an eerie resemblance to the casements in the apartment in Paris. They look out directly on the shrub lined walkway from the road (the street that services the property is more like a country lane than a street) to the right and directly down into the ancient back garden of the huge house below. The wall directly across the room from the wall shared with the cloakroom has the fireplace, one of several in the house. It is made of some kind of nondescript hewn rock. It is faced on either side with roughly hewn oak timbers and with a similarly roughly hewn timber lying across the vertical timbers and serving as the mantelpiece. The roughness of the hewing is more than compensated for by the quality of the multiply coated finish applied to the timbers. In the center of the stone face of the thing protrudes a ancient looking piece of cast iron. When turned in the proper manner that piece opens or closes the flue.

The fireplace is approximately as wide as the expanse of the five French casements at the front of the room. With the addition of the equally sized flanges of wall extending to the right and to the left of those two sides of the fireplace – flanges approximately of a size similar to one set of the casements – that wall becomes substantially longer than the wall in front. If it had those casements there would be seven of them. As it is there are none. At least there are none that can be seen.

The wall that closes the parlor into its rectangular existence is not a wall at all. It is an expanse, from flange of the fireplace to the side where the entry to itself resides, of glass paned French doors. They extend from floor to ceiling and in each of their dual hinged selves are made up of six panes of glass set into oak frames. There are five bi-fold pairs to match the casement number on their opposite wall, the front looking to the road wall of the parlor. This glassed moveable wall is the portal to the dining room.

The dining room is huge. It extends from where it begins with the wall of French doors to the backmost extent of the house. In the apparently exact center of the room, in the ceiling – the ancient plastered ceiling – hangs an ingenious lighting device. It is a very large circle of oak straddled in six places with what appear to be wrought iron chains – chains they be in any event – that connect to a single strand of the same sort of chain which is anchored in some manner in the timbers behind the plaster of the ceiling.

All of that just described is not the ingenuity of the thing. All of that can be seen in any pseudo old time restaurant in the world. The ingenuity of the thing is that it has two sources of light – it being a chandelier light should in some manner emanate from it – one is electrical; it drives a flickering flame imitating incandescent bulb; the other source is the original source: a gas jet. And the gas jets still work.

I use the jets exclusively. I eat in the huge dining room exclusively. I am the only tenant of the place and I cook all my meals, cooking being one of my most favorite forms of self expression, and the combination of what I have invented to eat each meal and the – one might say - lurid illumination of the jets makes each meal that I take under it a transport to another time.

And whatever that time might be, I feel at home there.

The dining room has windows on two sides.

On the side that is the continuation of the parlor wall those windows - like those of the parlor - look out on the street that looks like a road. Unlike the parlor windows, they also look directly at the garage, which looks more like a carriage house than a modern garage. It is accessed through very large outward swinging dual doors. It is built as if it were a part of the steeply rising hillside that forms the boundary of the property occupied by the house and the garage. There is scarcely any space between its rear wall and the jumble and tumble of fractured basalt that comprises the hillside. That tumble is barely discernible beneath the densely growing thicket of elderberry, hazelnut and alder that scrambles up its slope. This hillside lends an element of isolation to the house since the nearest neighbors are at its crest several hundred feet above and totally out of sight due to distance and undergrowth. The carriage house (I can’t compel myself to call it a garage) is set into the niche that is formed by the hillside as it stretches to the right and as it stretches to the left. The house is set parallel to and, like the carriage house, very close to the foot of that slope. The right and the left arms are both of the same scale as the rise behind the carriage house: they ascend for several hundred feet and completely block visual and auditory contact with the residences that must be at its crest.

The wall that is the hindmost boundary of the house, parallel to the glass wall of French doors separating the dining room from the parlor looks out on the tiny expanse between the house’s foundation and the beginning of the rise of the tumble scramble of hillside cloaked in native shrubs. At night when I am dining with the gas jets the absolute blackness of that outside place contributes immensely to the sense of loss of time and space.

The wall that is the extension of the cloakroom and parlor wall has an entry with a double swinging door. It leads into the butler’s pantry. The butler’s pantry is fairly small and consists on one side of a small sink, a warming oven, a leaded glass door fronted glassware cupboard, a built-in breadbox and a staging area for the various plates for the various courses as they came from the kitchen in times past. Opposite that area which flanks either side of the door from the dining room is a dumb waiter on one side of the entry into the kitchen and a large dishwashing sink on the other.

After that is the kitchen. The kitchen is a large room with one wall – which looks out to the hillside through a wall to wall array of small casement windows – dedicated to a drain board and a very large porcelain sink. The sink consists of one tub. It came with the house when it was new before the idea of two or even three tubbed sinks had been conceived. It is big enough to clean a salmon. It is big enough to clean a very large salmon. My father once told me that that is why he bought the house. I have no memories of him ever cleaning a salmon in that sink. The drain board is topped with old fashioned pentagonal white porcelain tile set in an extremely durable form of grout. That form must have died out long ago because no one uses that sort of tile for a drain board any more. But the extremely hard tile coupled with the flinty-durable grout – a grout the was set in such a manner that it not only seals the spaces between the tiles, it also comes up flush with the surface of those tiles, making a surface composed of two parts exist as a single peneplain-flat drain board surface. That is probably why this apparently original feature of the house is still in place and still new looking.

The wall directly across from the entrance from the butler’s pantry is all leaded glass doored china and glassware storage. Three quarters of the way down that array toward the front of the house is an entry to a food pantry. On the other side of that entry is a floor to ceiling liquor cabinet. There is a copper flanged lip of metal at the top of the thing that allows a ladder such as one would expect to find in a library to engage itself. The ladder is an ancient oak structure with wheels mounted at right angles to the plane of the legs of the ladder. Those wheels allow the ladder to slide back and forth across the front of the cabinet when engaged with the flange. There must have been an amazing array of liquor and liqueur stored there once. It only has 1500 milliliter bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label, Tanqueray, 100 proof Smirnoff and a 750 milliliter container of Dry Fly gin from Spokane. The glory days are long past.