Excerpt from “Refiner’s Fire” by Mark Helprin ~~Lydia~~

picture-refinersfire-helprinHe put on tie and jacket, and stood before a mirror. He was blond, lean, tanned, and (he thought) sort of handsome, especially in the light grey jacket and dark blue tie. He made his way downstairs past a group of women congregated on the second floor landing, and walked into a wild and elegant scene. The band was white-hot. He looked at the drum and saw their title – Potato Za and his Band. They were excellent, fast, disciplined, superbly electronic, artfully co-ordinated, and horribly ugly.
Rollo went speeding past, racing up the stairs as if he had wings, saying, “My aunt’s here; she came from Virginia.” The last thing Marshall wanted was Rollo’s aunt, for aunts were, after all, dumpy and strange, with glasses which hung on black string. He wandered through the oscillating room. It was exciting. He had been to very few parties, shunning them in favour of sulking work, and sullen walks when it was always autumn and cold, even in June. But that night he mastered his fear and stood in a sea of music (Potato Za was singing “Call Me Up in Greenland”), naval uniforms, and French doors open to the palmettos and the moonlit harbor run. Scintillations of percussion mixed with the light and dancing. The women with the young officers were, for the most part, extremely good-looking. They wore loose white dresses and danced with an elegant abandon which seemed to Marshall to be extraordinarily erotic, especially in an admiral’s house. The floor was dark old wood. Paintings of frigates and major combatants, of white-maned sea storms, and of old clean coasts lined the walls. A grandfather clock with pale blue moons ticked brassily and independent in the bosom of the stairs.
Marshall stood by a table laden with cake and champagne. Glass in hand, he fixed his glance on the clock. He was thinking that the room was hot, and was nearly on his way out to eye the black bay, when he saw a woman descending the curved stairs, towed by Rollo, who let go and dashed into the kitchen. It was Rollo’s aunt. She came to the bottom and stood still, staring at Marshall. It seemed to them that they were at the end of a long corridor. The music was like gold and silver pouring in an arch over the way between them – percussive stars and whitened sparks. They did not know how long they stood like that, oblivious of the comings and goings of others. Behind her was the brassy clock, behind him the bay. She had dark, chestnut-colored hair which was thick and soft. Her eyes were green. Her lips moved ever so slightly in astonishment. When finally she came close he was overtaken by the heady scents of good perfume, thin red Florentine leather, and the juniper and herbs of gin. And he was stunned by her high, perfectly formed shoulders. But he could see in her that which he had always loved. They looked in one another’s eyes, transfixed. Marshall shuddered and would have seized had she not brought him back as only she could, with characteristic love and tenderness, saying, “Are you seeing colors?” For it was Lydia.
Parting from her in Union Station fifteen years before he had seen the dark colors and the shafts of sunlight, the porters’ red hats, and the black iron, and it had nearly broken him. But there on the Battery he found himself with her in a chamber of light and gold; she had become the most beautiful woman he had ever seen; and it was a clear spring night in South Carolina.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Excerpt from “Refiner’s Fire” by Mark Helprin ~~Lydia~~

  1. Mark Helprin was born in Manhattan, New York on 28 June 1947.
    “Refiner’s Fire” was published in 1977.

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