Cousin Andrew’s telegram was of the utmost urgency. “Come to my flat at once,” it read. “Matter is of utmost urgency. STOP. Bring Ypres. STOP. Will give details once you arrive. STOP.”
The repeated stops proved confusing. I overlooked them as part of Andrew’s creative streak, like his aversion to rectangular skyscrapers. Given the current cooling off of my relations with Ypres, I decided not to take her with me. The hero does not always need a sidekick. And I am, as it were, the hero. (There is no need to applause.)
As this was a matter that needed immediate rapidity, I was in Brooklyn in less than three hours. With great skill, I put on an appropriate outfit (for the record: an elegant vintage Dior dress, with round tinted sunglasses, and deep green flats) in only twenty minutes. The rest of the time was taken up by my explaining to the doorman that I did not need to sign out of the guest book as I lived in the building, and the usual navigation of New York public transportation. Being Sunday, a number of subway lines were not running. With a creative detour by Times Square, and Canal Street, I ended up in Williamsburg near enough Cousin Andrew’s American HQ to walk.
As I was walking, I could not help but thinking of the progress I had made in such a short span of time. Here I was, a proud pauper, taking public transport and walking to economise. Here I was, wearing vintage clothing (with carefree elegance), skipping an entire fashion season and its boundless possibilities for consumption. Here I was, working as an intern to achieve a profitable career. Granted, the fact that the internship was unpaid did much to dent the profitability bit. Nevertheless, I was a working woman. A proud working women exemplifying female empowerment.
I was a beacon, once more, of feminine female leadership. I was like that saint from one of those deserts. Had Ypres and I been on speaking terms I would have asked her for the saint’s name. She always pays attention to sermons, as long as they are not from the mouth of a Vasa. The image of sainthood was all the more convincing as I had to drive away a couple of rats from the sidewalk as I crossed on to Bedford Avenue. Saints are always driving things away, especially rodents or reptiles.
I reached Cousin Andrew’s flat, being careful to ensure I did not ring the buzzer as would an Amazon delivery man. Andrew greeted me with theatrical serenity in what I can only describe as his thinking linens. It was a pale blue summer linen suit with a white Nehru shirt. I was unsure whether he looked like a figure in a Renoir painting or a holidaying communist. What confused my impression the most was what he wore on his head.
“Is that a Fez?”
The relative’s eyes went upwards to his forehead as he let me in to his apartment.
“Yes, I pinched it during my brief time at Cambridge. I won’t bore you with the specs. What took you so long? I sent you an urgent telegram. There is a bit of an emergency at the mo.”
“I came as rapidly as I could, but between the subway and the rats it took longer than anticipated. Anyway, by New York standards, three hours is the definition of immediacy. Especially when one is summoned using nineteenth-century technology.”
“I assure you that telegrams are making a comeback! They are a very efficient and secure method of communication. If we’re using typewriters once more, why not telegrams?” Here Andrew put his hands on his hips and gave me a field marshal’s stare.
“Putting that debate aside, let us tend to your emergency. I can immediately see that it is your choice of outfit which is causing such anguish and distress.”
“What!” He rushed towards the mirror.
“It is clearly a cry for help. I heard it screaming to be released of its suffering as soon as you opened the door.”
“I did not summon you here to discuss my outfit, which, by the way, is appropriate to its surroundings! It neatly expresses who I am, and what I am feeling at the moment, and I shall not have a woman pick it apart! I’m having enough trouble with women as it is!”
“Yes, really! It is with that blasted friend of yours’ horrid aunt! The one that emits those tympanic tremors. Having seen your engagement announcement in The New York Times, the aunt, whom I suspect spends her weekends scaling the Empire State Building, came straight over here. How she got my address I shall never know. I was getting over the shock of seeing that picture of Madison and you in The Guardian…”
“Yes, The Guardian, do you not remember in which publications you take out engagement announcements? And what happened to you in that picture? You look as if you have been denied oxygen?”
“Ypres,” I groaned.
“In any case, dear cousin, I was getting over the shock of your announcement (congrats by the way, I’m sure you will be very happy), when it barged into my flat unannounced.”
“The aunt? Madame LaPeine de Mort?” I patiently enquired.
“Yes! Do pay attention, Vanessa! I thought you were listening to Radio 4 and NPR? It came in and reiterated its demand that I see Madison in the hope that some romance would bloom. I told her that was impossible. She demanded to know why. I first thought to declare my commitment to a form of spiritual celibacy, but a Frenchwoman would not believe that. Searching for a solution, I panicked.”
“What did you do?”
“I said I was engaged!”
“To the first person I could think of. To Ypres!”
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