It was a beautiful day for aunts to be falling into water. A clear Saturday afternoon, the weather was pleasant in Prospect Park. Yet, it was not so pleasant as to elicit throngs of people to occupy the grounds. It was mostly the local inhabitants of Brooklyn who were enjoying the setting. It was where hipsterdom came to unwind. As an observer, it was hard to distinguish between the proudly homeless and the tragically trendy.
I stood with hands on my hips, Ypres by my side. I should mention that the hands on my hips were mine. I scanned the distance through my sunglasses (Dior, since you’re dying to know).
“Do you see Madison, Ypres?”
“As I have yet to make her acquaintance, I am not familiar with her appearance.”
“Quite. Well, all you have to do is listen for a shriek. No need to listen too closely. The adjacent dogs will no doubt start to bark when it is emitted. Do you think Prospect Park Lake will fulfil Madison’s purposes, Ypres?”
“It seems an adequate riparian setting. Although, if I may permit an observation, the water colour appears abnormal.”
“I would have preferred the Central Park Reservoir, personally. If one is to fall into water, one prefers an Upper East Side location where one can be whisked to a Park Avenue doctor.”
A shriek arose in the distance. Instantly, four-legged creatures began to agitate themselves. Birds took to the air like a squadron responding to a bombardment. I reassured Ypres that its emitter had to be Madison. Ypres did not look like she needed reassurance. Madison strolled over, sans aunt, as it were.
“Where’s your aunt, Madison? She has not fallen into the water ahead of schedule, has she?”
“I’m so happy to see you Vanessa! My aunt is on her way. I’m so excited!” Madison paused to look at Ypres with uncontrollable glee. “Is she British?”
“How do you? I am Mildred Ypres. You must be…” The sound waves Madison directed at Ypres did not even ruffle her hair.
“You’re Mildred Ypres and you’re British! I’m Madison LaPeine and I’m American, although my father’s French.”
The Franco-American connection explained Madison’s American impetus for small talk paired with the French need for perpetual conversation.
“Hang on,” I said in a manner Ypres described as reminiscent of the Duke of Marlborough addressing a neurotic Duc de Tallard after the battle Blenheim. (Friends of hers, I presume.) “Is this aunt of yours French, by any change?”
“Yes, she is!” Madison replied like a cheerleader. “You’re so great with deductions! My aunt is Jeanne LaPeine de Mort. She’s in New York at the moment to study American democracy.”
“Well, worry not, Madison, like most Brits, I have an affinity with the French. I’m sure your aunt will adore me. Isn’t that right, Ypres?”
“I am sure the acquaintance will be fruitful,” Ypres intoned. “The Economist recently did a profile on Madame LaPeine de Mort and her political movement: les Coqs français. I found the article to be very balanced. ‘The French Rosters,’ I believe, would be an appropriate translation for the movement.”
“Well, my Aunt Jeanne actually prefers to call it the French Cocks,” exclaimed Madison as a group of happy children approached. “She finds it is truer to the French equivalent.”
I paused. “To clarify, your aunt has been going around New York stating that she is studying democracy as the leader of the French Cocks?”
Ypres coughed as Madison replied. “Yes, what’s wrong with that? You mustn’t be so devious, Vanessa. Aunt Jeanne has had numerous interviews. She’s even had to decline invitations from congresspeople and senators. Anyway, you can ask her yourself. Here she comes.”
As far as aunts go, one expects them to be of average build, wearing something warm and equipped with a ready smile. The committed aunt wears glasses and has a pet named Rufus who likes to go for nieces’ ankles.
This one was cast against type. I turned around to where Madison had pointed, and found myself beneath a large shadow. It is as if someone had turned off the lights. I was faced with a behemoth that was three metres high and one across. If the woman neared the torch of the Statue of Liberty, she would cause a total eclipse. I extracted myself from her gravitational pull, which, as a dense mass, she possessed boatloads of.
The aunt gave me a look from above. Ypres described it adroitly later on. The world had not seen such a look since the Arawak first set eyes on Christopher Columbus. I do not know who the Arawak are, but I gather old Chris C. was due for a shock.
Straightening myself, I unleashed a how-do-you-do. The aunt’s reply came like a strike.
“I don’t like the British…”
Here, I interrupted her. Having been a serial interruptee on numerous occasions, I carried the role of interrupter rather well.
No Vasa remains a bystander while any person is the victim of prejudice based on her nation. We simply cannot stand for it, not even when the recipient is Belgian or beyond the southern reaches of the Mason-Dixon line. I stiffened the sinews, strengthened the spine, and mustered the something (I think it starts with an “m”).
I struck the appropriate pose, and began with thespian prowess
“Yes, I am British, Madame, but that does not entitle you to degrade me. Your narrow-minded national view is outdated. Gone are the days of the Franco-British rivalry. Which, I might add, was a fortuitous exchange that built our two nations.”
I climbed on a nearby rock. This enabled me to use it as a pulpit.
“I will not cower when faced with accusations of Britishness. I will not apologise for Agincourt, Plassey, Trafalgar, and Waterloo. (The battle, not the station – which, truth be said, should be apologised for.) Britain is great because she is the land of fair play, proper queues, and decent sandwiches. We are British by action, not by ancestry. It is a blessed isle, for we few, we happy few, we band of siblings. And if being British disqualifies me for your acquaintanceship, then so be it. But know that it belittles you, not me.”
I was nearly out of breath at this point. I felt this to be my crowning American moment. Here, for all to see, I had defended decency. I waited for applause. None arrived. Then, all of a sudden, Ypres gave me a smile. I nearly fell off my rock. Ypres had never smiled after one of my impromptu speeches. Usually I am greeted with a blank slate of expressionless emptiness, or, at most, a raised eyebrow.
The aunt came up to me. As I had regained my balanced and was still standing on the rock, we were eye to eye. She opened her mouth, which was the size of an air conditioner unit.
“As I was saying, I don’t like the British habit of shaking hands. It’s very unhygienic.”
“Ah,” I exclaimed. “Right ho, then! Glad we cleared that up and what not.” I was cautiously embarrassed. “You mustn’t think my little speech was directed at you in any way, you see, well, I mean, as it were…”
“What Miss Vasa is trying to say,” Ypres intervened like a mournful seal that had wandered onto dry land, “is that she was rehearsing her interpretation of the St Crispin’s Day Speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V. It is a contemporary rendering that Miss Vasa is workshopping. Upon meeting new acquaintances, she performs the piece to survey unbiased reactions. Your contribution, Madame LaPeine de Mort, has been most valuable.”
“You mean you perform this speech all the time?” said the aunt in tones not seen since the Inquisition.
“Who? Me? Well, yes, as Ypres said. Practice and all that. So what do you think?”
The giant ignored me and turned her snarl towards Madison, asking her niece to take her on that walked they had scheduled. The aunt growled that she hoped it would just be the two of them. Madison told her to go ahead as she momentarily had to stop in the restroom. This surprised me as, like in most of the Big Apple, there was no loo in sight. Once the aunt had dragged her knuckles ahead about twenty yards, Madison came over.
“Ready when you are, Vanessa?’
“Ready for what?”
Madison shrieked. “To push Aunt Jeanne, of course!”
“Push her! She’s supposed to fall in on her own. Pointing things out and what not.”
“Well, Aunt Jeanne doesn’t point things out. All you have to do is push her. You’ll figure it out. After all you’re brilliant!”
Madison skipped merely ahead leaving me bemused. Before I could share my bemusement with Ypres, she emitted one of her coughs.
“Perhaps you could practise the push by that tree near the bend.”
I looked at the tree. Then at Ypres.
“I suppose you’re right, Ypres. Practice makes perfect. I do not have much practise in pushing aunts into water. Especially not aunts who are the size of the Chrysler Building. How deep do you think this lake is?”
“If I were to take a guess, I would say seven feet.”
“So about waist-deep for the aunt.”
The thing with tall aunts is that they have long legs. By the time Ypres and I reached the tree, Madison and the aunt were rounding the corner from the other side. The aunt was still as dry as a statement delivered at the United Nations. Madison was right in saying that her aunt did not spontaneously fall into water, as normal aunts do. I gather it would be difficult for her to fall over in the first place without crying timber.
Ypres and I were in position.
“How am I going to manage to push the aunt, Ypres?”
“I would suggest you moved thirty-eight centimetres to the right.”
“What’s that in inches?”
“What?” I reflexively looked down.
On the way up, having ascertained that my shoes were all right, and that I did not have any laces in the first place, I saw Ypres’s hands coming in my direction with calculated momentum. The gentle shove, paired with the incline on which I stood, had me tumble backwards toward the lake. The rapid succession of earth and sky made me believe I would hit the water at any moment. Luckily, despite hitting what felt like a brick wall and hearing a whale strike the water, which, in the process, unleashed a tsunami, I was dry.
Once stabilised, I looked around me to find Madison by my side, sans aunt. I turned towards the lake, and in the middle of concentric rings of waves, stood a constant supply of bubbles whose sources lie beneath the water. I heard a contented shriek.
“You did it!” Madison exclaimed.
“I guess I have,” I said searching for Ypres with murderous intent. Evidently, Ypres had prudently fled the scene of the crime. “All we have to do now is wait for your Romeo to show up.”
“Oh, but he can’t swim. He’s terribly afraid of water.”
“By Jove, Saint-George, and Washington! What do you mean he’s afraid of water?”
“He makes up for it by being dreamingly handsome. Anyway, I didn’t think the lake was that deep. Aunt Jeanne can’t swim either. She almost drowned as a child.”
The bubbles were getting fainter.
“Shouldn’t you go save her? She’s your aunt!”
“You pushed her in, Vanessa. Shouldn’t you go save her? Anyway, I can’t swim.”
I was looking for the proper way to tell Madison that if things went south she would be liable for aunticide, or whatever the legal term is, when the bubbles ran out.
All was lost.
Suddenly, out of the woodwork, stage right, came the aunt’s saviour. His face covered with a cap, he jumped off his bicycle and into the water with a powerful splash. He disappeared below the waves.
Then, with Herculean strength, he managed to drag the aunt to the surface. Using his backpack as a buoy, he leverage her weight, and brought her to shore. Depositing her on the grass, he collapsed.
I rushed over to the rescue scene. The man who had collapsed was none other than Cousin Andrew.
Please do not hesitate to report typos or spelling errors in the comment section below. They will be prosecuted duly under the law.
Vasa and Ypres’s first full-length adventure, Vasa and Ypres: A Mayfair Conundrum, is available on Amazon. If you enjoy Vasa and Ypres, please share on social media. Vasa and Ypres is on Twitter. You can also join over 1415 WordPress followers.
Should you be desperate to part with your money, and, in the process, fund Uncle Edward’s Vasa Assurances, a donation button is available on the homepage. Donations will help keep the Vasa and Ypres project going.