Spring Mountain House by Thomas Gough
I found it unexpectedly, wandering the forested slopes of a 350 foot knob generously called Spring Mountain. I had lived the first half of my thirteen years on the mountain’s north side in my grandmother’s house—a period I recall as one of bucolic fantasia—and the second half on the south side in a country berg where Pizza Hut was cosmopolitan. When I discovered the one hundred rooms of the Spring Mountain House, I was seeking escape from my lackluster life, but not on the scale it had been granted. On first sight I was entranced by three stories of pocked stucco and green shutters sprawling above overgrown shuffleboard courts. For me the Spring Mountain House was a first taste of sophistication, never mind that innumerable panes of shattered glass had left a moat of shards in the gladiolas.
The front doors remained padlocked, and this was a discretion I understood. You entered by tumbling through a transom window into the second story kitchen. I remember a flood of dishware pouring from cabinets, rows of water glasses on papered shelves, a deep drawer of eggbeaters. One hallway was barricaded by a stack of stainless steel desks behind which I imagined the rooms in the same condition I later saw them depicted on a 1908 postcard for the Spring Mountain House Resort, last stop on the Philadelphia railway. Above men and ladies in evening dress, elegant script promised Country Living, Mountain Spring Water, Transport from the Depot.
I returned a year later. The front doors had been broken and the library’s books set aflame so that the floors were awash with pulpy ash. In the cavern of the dining hall, my feet knocked billiard balls, and the balls followed eccentric ruts. They plonked dark baseboards. Even the barricaded desks were gone, and in the secret corridor I found only beer cans and the ordinary graffiti.
Years after my grandmother died and the resort was bulldozed, I kept wandering Spring Mountain. I sought the spring itself, but never had any luck. What I remember is how the view from the summit shrunk my hometown into the dirty smudge I had always believed it was. From the top, I would continue to my grandmother’s vacant house. Without a key, I sat on her porch. There was nothing I wanted, except to be there.
Once city-dwellers rode the railway to the end, and in their summer apparel they waited for the carriage. By the end of their stay they may have been disenchanted, and a few would recognize that it had been something sentimental, and therefore impossible, they had sought. At least it seems this way now, decades later, with half of the world between my desk and the space of that dining hall where your steps sent a shiver along the floorboards, a creak that travelled before you like the fracture on a new bed of ice.
NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Thomas Gough is the pen name of Thom Conroy, a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Massey University in New Zealand. A recipient of the Katherine Ann Porter Prize in Fiction, his writing has appeared in various journals in America and New Zealand, including NER, Alaska Quarterly Review, Quarterly West, and Prairie Schooner. He is currently finishing a historical novel, Ark of Specimens.