For someone who is a shriek recidivist, Madison can, at times, be inscrutable. One would think that such an audio inclined individual would broadcast all in the open. After all, in America, a person with such shrieks as Madison is often confined to morning shows.
Madison had left a message to the effect that she had an important announcement to give me in person. Nothing bares urgency more than a message about the delivery of a message. She gave me an address south of Washington Square Park.
Here, I pause to give an explanation to the non-New Yorker or Big Apple aficionado.
The set that swings south of Washington Square Park is quite different from that that resides on the Upper East Side. Although bemoaned by long-time residents as not as it used to be and passé, it still elicits the bohemian feel. Much to the chagrin of the more bourgeois neighbours, parties still go on until all hours of the night, the young still parade around on borrowed idleness, and the default time to awake remains noon.
It is a sort of bohemia mixed with corporatism, much like the environs of London’s Soho. Whereas in the capital gentrification leads to cleanliness, no such concern grips its American equivalent. For New York in the summer would be nothing without its aestival scent of warm garbage left to ferment like a half-devoured rodent on the interstate.
I was displeased that such a location was chosen, for it meant that after a dreadful day at the office, I had to face an added dreadful subway ride downtown. I took the express down to Union Square. It was meant to be an express, but due to interminable delays where the train was repeatedly stuck in the tunnel, it arrived much later than the local train. The delays entrapped me longer than necessary next to a self-proclaimed preacher who told me to confide my sins to Jesus. “We Londoners don’t sin, we live,” was my reply. Trying to unfurl a perpetually frowned face, he informed me I had an accent and asked for a donation. I was never happier to see Union Square. The walk down to Washington Square Park, and Madison’s chosen rendezvous point, did me good.
I reached the address.
It turned out to be a jazz club. I had no need to search for Madison, for, judging by the sound the startled saxophone player made as he momentarily retreated stage left, I guessed that she had uttered one of her usual greetings. I approached as the musician regained his composure.
“Madison,” said I.
“Vanessa,” said she.
“Right ho!” answered I.
“Isn’t this place wonderful!” answered she.
“It has a certain charm to it.”
The saxophonist left the stage and made way to a classic jazz trio and feline singer.
“The West Berlin is one of my favourite jazz clubs! Have you ever wanted to sing jazz?”
“I almost took up singing as a child, but after trying out ‘Jingle Bells’ one Christmas, my Uncle George told me to stop before I shattered the glassware.”
“I adore singing!”
“You certainly have the voice for it.”
“Thank you, Vanessa!”
“Which begs the follow-up question – Ypres would know its proper grammatical name, but it is too late in the evening to worry about tax.”
“Yes, a sin tax, as I believe it is referred to among language enthusiasts. Here’s my follow-up.”
“Wait,” Madison raised her finger to my lips. “This is one of my favourites: ‘Mack the Knife’. The singer likes to improvise. Isn’t it wonderful?” She started to tap her foot. I felt she was improvising herself.
I would not stand for such distractions – as a matter of fact I was sitting. But that was beside the point. I put on the part of a senator cross-examining the self-assured magnate on a Senate committee. “My follow-up being, what is so important that you had me come down below 14th Street?”
“Oh Vanessa, didn’t Ypres tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“You and I are to be married!”
“Ypres suggested we get engaged. Of course, you cannot get engaged to someone you hardly know. So she also thought we ought to learn more about one another. She had me read a dossier she put together on your character traits, interests, and hobbies, and suggested I take you out to share my passion for singing. You see, I dream of one day starring on Broadway! Wouldn’t that be great?”
The casual jazz enthusiast, tapping along at the beat and superb improvisation skills of the singer, had he glanced towards a stylish figure by the bar adjacent to a vocal American, would have noticed something was off. On closer inspection, he would have seen that while all were enjoying the music, the graceful young lady had the blood drawn from her face. A short squint to focus the eyes would reveal that, while all was movement around her, timed to the scat on stage, she was, despite effortless elegance, glacially still.
That frigid figure was I. (I had no time to worry about I versus me).
As the warmth of music and joy filled the room, I stood impeccably frozen. My cold allure presented a steadfast phlegm to the outer world. With great courage, I ventured a phrase.
“Ypres suggested it, did she?”
“Yes, it was right after you fled Prospect Park.”
“I do not flee. I gracefully saunter, sometimes at high speed.”
“Well, you had left, and by the time I had put Aunt Jeanne into a taxi so she could go home and regain some of her consciousness, Ypres was by my side. I had not seen her at first, she can be very quiet.”
“In more ways than one,” I said, nearly frosting the air.
“We had a nice chat over drinks in one of those small restaurants by the park. She said you had told her all about my situation, and that I was right to confide in you, that it was a smart and sensible move. No, ‘manoeuvre’, ‘manoeuvre’ was the word she used. A smart and sensible ‘manoeuvre’. She said that although the day’s plan might not have gone as predicted, you would come up with another one very soon. One that was equally unique.”
“Yes, unique was the word she used! When I asked her what you had in mind, what your second plan would be, she said she could not say. I was very excited, and she must have responded to the excitement, because she told me that she suspected what your plan would be: for you and me to get engaged! Aunt Jeanne had taken such a dislike towards you, hate even…”
“Surely hate is a strong word.”
“No, Ypres was clear on that point, and seeing Aunt Jeanne afterwards, I agree. Anyway, the mere thought of me being engaged to you would leave Aunt Jeanne in such utter despair, that she would give me her blessing to marry any other individual on the face of the earth, including my dear lover! On top of which my allowance will be maintained. Ypres suspects Aunt Jeanne, the dear woman, might even increase it as a show of gratitude.”
A camera flash went off in the vicinity. The set had finished with a rendition of Let’s Face the Music and Dance, and was leaving the stage. I was momentarily blinded. Madison continued her monologue in the manner of a Broadway understudy hoping for her big break.
“Ypres said you would be too humble to suggest the plan yourself, as you would play such a key part in it. She said that as a committed feminist, you would insist on keeping it among us women. I told her I agreed, and she told me about some friend of yours. Simone de Beauvoir? Apparently, she’s written her second something. A play or a book, I think?”
“Ypres has many friends who keep on writing books,” I retorted with a sigh. “Which reminds me, it is getting late. I should get back to the flat.”
“Please say hello to Ypres!”
“Worry not, I’ll give her a memorable hello on your behalf.”
That had been my plan. Luckily for Ypres, I directed all my anger at the subway, which, as was its habit, was infuriatingly unreliable. I ended up on the uptown Q train from Union Square. The train, in a volition of its own, decided to break down at 57th Street. I got off and stormed out the 6th Avenue exit. It was raining. No sooner had I reached the top of the sticky stairs that I turned to a storefront to my left and saw a familiar marine face through the window.
There sat Ypres, cosy in a leather armchair, comfortably puffing away at a cigar.
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The next chapter of Park Avenue or Bust! will be published in January 2018. Happy New Year to all!