Tell Me, Baby, You Ever Been Four-Cornered?: pp. 260-279
Welcome back, Chumps of Chance, to another weekly installment of of everyone's favorite turn-of-the-20th-century, transnational, steampunk opus, Against the Day, brought to you this week, as every week, by Vibe Corp, manufacturer of high quality vibrations since 1885! This week's rollicking adventures brings us back to Colorado, where we rejoin the continuing saga of the Traverse family. As I'm sure you all recall, my dear Chumps and Chumpettes, the Traverse family is in a shambles since its patriarch, Webb, was murdered by Deuce Kindred and Sloat Fresno, a couple good-for-nothings hired by the mining companies to put an end to Webb's pro-Union, pro-Anarchist bombing campaign.
This week's readings cover two chapters (the 12th and 13th in Iceland Spar), both of which remain focused on the action in Colorado spanning the years 1903-04. The first chapter opens with Deuce and Sloat "sharing quarters" at a flophouse outside Telluride (260). Bored, the two ride to town to cruise the electric-lit streets and to, as grandma used to say, troll for poon. After an exciting night of whore hopping and opium smoking, the boys find themselves at the Nonpareil Eating House where (who else?) Mayva and Lake Traverse are running the show.
There, the unthinkable occurs: Lake and Deuce start making eyes at one another, start making conversation with one another, and then, wham bam, start making plans for marriage. Deuce, it should be noted, understands the strange situation he's getting into -- "she had the man's face, for Christ's sake" (262). Lake, by contrast is not explicitly privy to this information, though "[s]ome would've said she knew even then what she'd done. Could not have helped knowing, God sakes" (263).
Needless to say, this decision is viewed as questionable. Lake and a coworker, have an argument that climaxes when Lake "slam[s] a plate down so hard that the stack of hotcakes on it, each glistening with bacon grease, went toppling, rudely surprising a single-jacker who snatched his hand away screaming" (264). This is followed by Mayva's and Lake's falling out: the two argue; Lake reveals that she is engaged; and Mayva packs up and leaves town. It is the last time Lake sees here mother. Even Sloat is disturbed when he hears Deuce's marital plans, and he wonders if it's possible "Deuce was being haunted by what he did, and that marrying Lake looked like some chance at putting that one ghost to rest, some way, God help him, of making it up to her?" (266).
They marry in a ceremony officiated by a Swedish minister, Lake in "a simple dress of pale blue albatross cloth" (266). Sloat, best man, drops the ring. The Swede sends them off with an aphrodisiac of peach tinctured everclear.
My favorite passage so far:
She was a virgin bride. At the moment of surrendering, she found herself wishing only to become the wind. to feel herself refined to an edge, an invisible edge of unknown length, to enter the realm of air forever in motion over the broken land. Child of the storm.Which is pretty much the high point of the relationship. Soon Sloat moves in, and, no time flat, we've got sodomy, double penetration, the taste of shit mixed with other fluids, bestiality-tinged bondage, and an indecent act performed directly above Four Corners.
Meanwhile, the mine company is concerned that Deuce didn't actually kill Web. They tell him the bombings have continued unabated, same M.O. as the Kieselguhr Kid. And then there's that other thing, that "'matter,'" the mine officer tells Deuce, "'of your personal relations with the subject's daughter'" (270).
Things get tricky when Lake starts suspecting something's up and wants to know why the mine owners are after Deuce, the reality of which Deuce cannot, of course, relate. Sloat also starts getting nervous and Deuce begins to suspect that his partner has sold him out to the mine companies. The chapter ends with Sloat's departure and Deuce having a vision of "a luminous face suspended above where her [Lake's] own [face] would have to be, would have to, for this spectre floated high, too high, off the ground, or where the ground was supposed to be" (272).
The second chapter also follows the aftermath of Webb's death, but focuses on Frank who, Reef having "gone his way, . . . glide[s] back down to Golden on winds of inertia" and onto Denver where he spends the next year going through "a number of disguises" (273). The disguises mustn't be very effective, as Frank is continuously propositioned with job offers from Vibe Corp., which, being that he suspects Vibe of being involved with Webb's murder, he finds kind of icky, so that he is "soured . . . on silver and gold" altogether (274). And heck, "[t]he table of elements was full of other possibilities, 'the weeds of mineralogy,' as one of his professors used to say, 'just sitting there, part of the Creation, waiting for someone to figure out how they can be made useful" (274).
So instead, Frank heads to Leadville where there's a "Zinc Rush" on, and Tom alludes in rapid succession to the the repeal (in 1893) of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, to Haw Tabor, and to chemistry puns ("Molly-be-damned"), before we meet Frank's new romantic entanglement, Wren Provenance, "a girl anthropologist a year out of Radcliffe" (275) who came "west to search for Aztlan, the mythic ancestral home of the Mexican people, which she believed to be located somewhere around the Four Corners" (277).
She and Frank then discuss the slag heaps around town that bear a more than passing resemblance to mysterious, ancient forms like the great pyramids, adding that "'[t]hat shape is common to a lot of the old cultures. Secret wisdom -- different details, but the structure underneath is always the same'" (275).
Then, a flashback to Frank and Wren's first meeting, at first in a bar with a number of Harvard chums, then later that evening, when Wren, presumably trying to keep pace with Lake, turns out to be quite the kinkstress herself. She and Frank head over to Jennie Roger's House of Mirrors, where Wren finds it "'a relief to be back in stays again'" (276) and "'simply ruined . . . for everyday bourgeois sexuality'" (277).
Corset (without stays), c. 1900, source
Returning to the main action, Wren explains her research to Frank, telling him of the catastrophic end of the Aztlan people, who, following an "'incursion from the north,'" climbed "'up the steepest cliffsides they could find and built as securely as they knew how defenses against . . . well, something'" (277). She shows him pictures of the invaders from wall drawings, "people with wings . . . human-looking bodies with snake and lizard heads, above them unreadable apparitions, trailing what might have been fire in what might have been the sky," as well as signs of cannibalism (277).
Later, out at the bars, Frank and Wren run into Booth Virbling, city crime reporter, who tells that he's seen Reef recently, and that Frank's brother is "flush, but downhearted," from which information Frank begins to feel that it may be his time to take up the family cause (279). Frank, through unnamed sources, has discovered the identity of his father's killers but is, as yet, unaware of his sister's actions. The chapter ends with Frank deciding to return to Telluride to check on Mayva and Lake as Wren heads off to study the South Pacific islands. She advises that he return to Telluride undercover, which, as he ought to be sober to act with such stealth, requires them to drink up now.
Here ends the reading.