Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Gold of the Mountains

Outside it was raining.

“I dreamed last night,” she said. “I dreamed of money.”

“You had a nightmare.” They were speaking English.

“Oh, no, it was – marvelous. It was a beautiful dream. I was bathing in money.”

“That doesn't sound beautiful. Money is filth.  Open the newspaper, you'll see what I mean.  I wouldn't bathe in money if the stuff cured cancer. You keep telling yourself that getting money is such a great thing and ”

“I didn't tell myself anything. I dreamed it, that's all. I dreamed that I was bathing in a shower of money.” She looked away from the mirror she was polishing. “Are you mad, Paul?”

“No. I'm peeling potatoes.”

“You sound mad. Are you mad at me?”

“I'm peeling potatoes. How could I be mad while I'm peeling potatoes?” He turned around in the shaky wooden chair. “Alright, alright. Tell me about your dream.”

“So I was standing.”

“That's good, I guess.”  He was intent on his peeling.

“I was standing, and the moon was out, and the sun was out, and on the right it was nighttime and fresh and cold and all the stars were out. And on the left side it was daytime and the sun was shining and it was warm and blue.”

“Where were you standing?”

“Right in the middle. And there was a river.”

“Was I there?” He had finished peeling and had turned the chair around to face her. One of the legs was giving out, and he shifted a little to lighten its load.

“Where? In the river? No, silly, you weren't there.”

“Hang on a second, the water's boiling.” He stood up and carried the bowl of potatoes to the range. With a knife he skewered them one by one, almost to the handle, because it was not a very big knife, and pushed them off the blade into the water. Then he scraped the peelings into the bin, along with the damp newspaper he had spread out over the table to absorb the juice. The girl in the meantime had finished polishing the mirror and began straightening out the bed. When it was finished she sat down on the foot, and the bed being across from the kitchen door she watched him bending over the bin, swearing in Georgian, with his short legs and his dark hair.

When he finished he gave the potatoes a quick look and sat down at the table. His glass from yesterday was sitting there, a lowball, and a jug of no-name California red next to it. He picked it up by the neck, very carefully, and let a little stream out of the mouth, so slowly that it didn't bubble or make a purple foam in the glass.

“So,” he said, “there was a river. Do you want some wine?”

“The river was underneath me. So on the right it was nighttime, and on the left it was daytime, and below me there was this river. Exactly below me, and it was flowing backward.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean away from me. The water was coming toward me and then under me and then passed me behind.”

“Oh. What was above you?”

“Well, so I looked up, and there was this cloud, a storm cloud, but not black. It was silver, and gold. And it started raining coins on me. You know, quarters and pennies.”

“It must have hurt.”

“Oh, no, not at all. It was marvelous. It was like a warm shower. And all these coins – they were piling up around me, and on me, and in my hair. I sat down and they kept pouring down. I was catching them in my hands and scooping them off the ground and they went down my shirt and into my shoes, and when I looked up it was so beautiful, Paul, because all I could see was the cloud and the coins like rain. Have you ever done that?”

“No,” he said, “I can say pretty certainly that I've never been rained on by money.”

“I mean have you ever looked upward while it was raining.”

He considered the question and took a sip of wine. Then he stood up with his glass in one hand and the chair in the other and stepped through the door. He set the glass down in front of the mirror and the chair next to the bed, backward, and sat down so that his belly was against the chair back. Then he thought better of it and sat down on the bed, glass in hand, next to the girl.

“I think I have,” he said finally. “I think – yes. Actually, I have looked up when it was raining. It's not what you expect. I mean it's not what you expect to see.”

She had waited patiently to continue. “So you know what I saw when I looked up. But then guess what happened.”

“More money came down.”

“Yes, but paper money. Hundreds and fifties. The coins stopped and hundreds and fifties started falling. But they were falling slowly, because they're paper. It was like snow.”

“You've never seen the snow.”

“On TV I have.”

“That's not the same. It's different in real life. It's nasty, actually, it gets all black and dirty, and you slip and you can't drive on it. Do you remember when we lived in Moscow, or were you too young?”

“No, I don't remember. But it doesn't matter, because this was like perfect snow, like the snow you see in the movies, but it wasn't snow because it was money.”

“Actually,” said Paul, “when it snowed at home it was nice. It didn't get black. Or maybe it did, I don't know, I was a little kid. You were just born.”

“And it fell and fell,” she continued, “like the coins, except more, and longer, and it was all clean and crisp like when you get it from the bank and it hasn't gotten all wrinkled yet. It started piling up, and it covered all the coins even, but you could feel the coins underneath, and they were warmer than the paper money. It was like warm soil under warm snow.”

“Thousands and thousands of dollars. Tens of thousands,” he said, “maybe millions.”

“And I started rolling around because it felt so good, and I tried to make a snow angel but there was too much and it kept on falling, and my clothes were full of money, and when I stood up I fell over because I was so heavy, but it even felt good to fall. And then I looked down and I couldn't see the river anymore.”

“The river? You mean”

“Right, the river from in the beginning. There was just money on the ground all around me, big piles, and I was laying down on my back all heavy with money and my hair and my feet were covered.”

“Was it still night and day at the same time?”

“Oh, yes, dark on the right and bright on the left. That didn't change.”

She stopped and drew her feet up onto the bed, and sat on them. Paul lay the glass on the floor and sat cross legged against a pillow, facing her.

“And then what happened?”

“Nothing,” she said, “I was just laying in the money and it was beautiful. The end.”

“The end?”

“Yes. The end.”

He looked away. “Well, it sounds lovely.” Then after a moment he spoke again. “You know I had a dream last night too.”

She turned to look at him. “Really?”

“Do you remember Grandfather Michael, who lived in Mestia?”

“No. Was he the one who has a cigar in all the pictures?”

“That's him. When I was little they would send me to go stay with him on school breaks. He had this little house in the middle of nowhere near Mestia and he would take me up to the mountains. Well, I dreamed about those mountains. First I saw this mountain that was like a tower with two peaks, very sharp peaks, and there were fir trees around it. All gray, very very tall, and the forest underneath it. Other mountains around it. And then the mountain, the big one, was Grandfather Michael.”

She smiled. “It was a mountain and it was Grandfather Michael?”

“I wish I could explain it to you. It was a mountain. I mean, it looked like a mountain. But it was also him. You could almost see him, his face, in, I don't know, the cracks and all. It's hard to explain.” He swore softly and whistled. “I don't know. I couldn't tell you if it was a real mountain that I remembered from being a kid or if I just made it up. If it's real it doesn't look like that anymore. They're all ski resorts and stuff like that. Big money from Russia and Tblisi, vacation villas and resorts and all that.”

“But not in the dream.”

“No, no. Good God, no, just mountain. Just rock and trees. And Grandfather Michael, kind of.” He stared back toward the kitchen. “But what a mountain. So tall.”

They sat still for a while, and then she got up to check on the potatoes and make dinner, and Paul picked up the day's paper from where he left it, on the floor by the front door beneath their jackets, and carried it into the kitchen to read at the table.

“Do we have any fish in the cupboard?” he asked.

“No, I was planning on making eggs. Do you not want eggs? I can run to the store”

“No, no, eggs are fine. Eggs are fine.” He turned to the international section and started reading aloud to himself. At dinner they sat elbow to elbow. The smell of frying had penetrated the walls and the linoleum.

“That Russian from the City,” said Paul, “are you still seeing him?”


“Him,” he said. “Mr. Cufflinks. Does he still call you?”

“No. Not for two weeks.”

“Good. I know his type, I knew when I saw him. Actually I knew when you first told me about him.” He said something in Georgian that made her look down sharply toward her plate. They kept eating, slowly, because there wasn't much left in the pan, and when they finished they refilled their glasses, hers fuller than his.

“Were the eggs good?”

“They're always good.” The paper was open on his lap again, wrinkled and a little damp from sitting under the dripping rain jackets, so that the ink smeared a little on the front page. He squinted in annoyance. “Speaking of bathing in money,” he said, more to himself than her. “Good God.”

After dinner she washed the plates by hand and he dried them. He opened the cupboard, but then closed it. “I'm tired,” he said, “I think I'll do this tomorrow.”

“So am I,” she said, “don't worry about it.”

They both undressed without much ceremony, taking turns in the bathroom, and they went to bed, one on the left side, the other on the right side, and Paul kept the lamp on while she wiggled down into the warmth of the sheets. After a while he turned his head toward her.

“Does the light bother you?”

“Mm. No.”

“Hey, Martha. Are you awake?”


“That mountain I dreamed about. Grandfather Michael used to call it Gold Mountain. How do you like that?”


“Gold. The Gold Mountain. I don't know what its real name is, but it was a real place. Gold Mountain. Huh.”

She rolled a little and sighed in her sleep. Paul stared at the ceiling.

“The Gold Mountain. How do you like that.”

He reached for the drawstring of the lamp. It was an old lamp, second hand, and had once been purple but now was a dull reddish brown. “Like old blood,” he thought, “the color of old dry blood. And the gold, golden mountain. Gold, gold, golden gold.” And he, too, drifted into sleep.

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