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Carnegie and Morgan
strode to my table in the Tea
Room last night, not quite arm
in arm but laughing, top-hatted
with great black coats and
umbrellas. JP pushed my Earl
Grey aside and rolled a blueprint
of some incomprehensible structure
out across the table. We hope
you don’t mind.

Before I could protest, his
Scottish companion jabbed
a solid finger to the center.
D’ya see this steel door,
garage-like, utilitarian, cuttin’
straight down the middle of
your whole self? One of these
gets installed into every one of us,
molten at first and pliable, free
movement left to right,
until we start to listen—

Don’t give it all away, AC,
said the banker to his friend
through blue-green smoky
plumes of a Cuban cigar.
Carnegie rolled blue eyes that
twinkled and scarfed in a single
bite my clotted cream scone.

Andy’s right about the door, the
way it hardens—we watch and
hear one word at a time, one
disapproving gesture after another,
including the ones we can’t make
out; and before you know it, the steel
is set and bolted on three sides.

And you’re telling me this because?

Pay attention, little lady. Questions
later. Each of these bolted edges
has a purpose. Over on the left, this
vertical, we call it Faith, whatever
you believe that will take you
somewhere or meet you at the
end—money, women, God, the
whole bundle tied together, doesn’t
matter. Denying Faith is stupid.
Figure out what you believe, then
give her your full attention. Make sure
it comes from here; he buffed the far side
of the blueprint with a beefy hand. Not
some mealy pap handed down to you
from the upstairs nursery.

The second line of rivets, Carnegie took
over, seal the right edge, we call it Fact—
necessary principles of physics and the
chemical, of pressures, heat and cold. No
use fightin’ the realities of Fact either, but
you mustn’t believe in them. Make them
serve you. I’ve known riveters so beaten
by reality, they’d wall you in for tuppence
if you let them. Never let them.

The barons flanked me at the small
round table like wool-cloaked ravens,
titans of industry and excess, I’d been
less than generous in my assessments
of them and they knew it. JP laughed.
You’d have made a fine Pierpont.
Any questions?

At the moment, no. Tell me,
please, about the third bolted edge.

The producer of steel, founder of
libraries traced a line across the top
of the pock-marked door. Bridge Faith
and Fact and you have Commerce, the
movement of the business of reality.

Investing is not solely about money. He
glanced at JP. Where you park your
slippers and affections at night, these
matter too. Melancholy wives and
mistresses worked well for us, the
billy clubs and briberies to break
the backs of anarchy, but you’ve
a different system now—

and the bolts of 1896 are jammed
and rusting, added Morgan.

The two men fell then to debating
anti-trust, and I ceased to listen,
yet for all their pomposities, they
had somehow turned me
so that I could see the door
in front of me from both sides,
riddled with—who knows?
asteroids or bullets from dissident
realities. On their side worked the
riveters, limiters of labour and of all
I had agreed to know and to believe.

From this side, freedom exuded
virtue and liberty before they
girded bridges, birthed statues
and democracies.

While I gaped at my surroundings
a thin black booklet slipped through
the door’s unbolted base. Title:
Carnegie and Morgan, A Pocket
Companion through the Ages.
I flipped through pages.

Lend no breath to what offends.

The future is yours, never sell it;
lease in increments toward better.

Learn to distinguish between
shiny and the unalloyed.

Freedom of movement, Carnegie
had said…lives on both sides, implied
Morgan. I gazed at the obstruction
I had thought to be impervious,
that was shown to be a door and
saw it was a veil, softly billowing.

Giggling, I glided through the veil,
resumed my place at the table and
summoned the waiter. A round of
drinks, please, for my friends—
whatever they would like. We
have business to discuss.

© Elaine Stirling, 2012