I would have staggered, backwards, forwards, anywhere, but there was no room to stagger. When I had last seen Michael Beaconsfield-Outremont, he was fully clothed and a steadfast, if annoying, piece of bureaucratic furniture at the UNDO office. His thighs were fully enclosed in trousers. Now, he appeared before me, still annoying, but thighs and much else unencumbered.
Sensing my distress, Beaconsfield-Outremont did the only thing he knew how to do in such situations. He flashed a grin and made it worse.
“Do you know this man?!” Madame LaPeine de Mort directed the question at me as if addressing an assembly of committed internationalists.
Caught off guard, I was momentarily speechless, but forever fashionable.
“Vanessa and I work in the same office,” Beaconsfield-Outremont said with a showman’s enthusiasm, failing to interrupt his gyrations. “We are both interns at the United Nations Development Organisation,” the Montrealer calmly made a series of thrusts, “but the internship is unpaid.”
He shimmied down the pole, performing the body twisting stunts of an Olympic gymnast before a selection of stern judges. He had somehow managed to reverse his position, and was currently hanging from his thighs, which gripped the pole as would a bear a honey pot. It is from this novel angle that he revealed his last tidbit of information.
“The internship is unpaid, so I do this on the side.” Thrusting the St Lawrence forward, he gave Madame LaPeine de Mort a wink. “And I work for tips.”
While Madame LaPeine de Mort liquefied into magma, Cousin Andrew stepped in. Or, as near as he could given how he was pinned down by the aunt’s girth. He stepped in in true Williamsburg fashion.
“How do you do? Any friend of Vanessa is a friend of mine. I say, you have very developed thighs. Do you work out? How much do you bench, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Following Beaconsfield-Outremont’s invitation, Madison and Cousin Andrew proceeded to feel his thighs as if he were a curiosity at a fair. They each nodded impressively as would a pair of Viennese doctors brought in to confer on a unique specimen. The poking and prodding continued unabated.
Surely, I thought, this was the moment when Ypres’s plan would come to fruition. Madame LaPeine de Mort now believed her niece engaged to a woman acquainted with a male stripper. This had to be the stick that would break the camel’s back, and induce her to ask Madison to call off the engagement, and acquiesce to Madison’s true love.
However, even as Madame LaPeine de Mort was defying the laws of thermodynamics, exponentially getting angrier and warmer, she had yet to explode.
I decided that a quick tête-à-tête with Ypres was needed. I was just about to inform her, through some sort of discrete gesture that I required to speak with her, when Beaconsfield-Outremont began wiggling Mount Royal in my face, obstructing my view of Ypres.
Luckily, Ypres is forever quick to catch on to my distress. After thirty seconds of unrequested mountaineering, Ypres asked me to escort her to the bar to get a round of refreshments.
We left despite Cousin Andrew’s request to change his twenty-dollar bill into singles, and Madison’s rousing cheers.
Once we were outside of reasonable ear shot, I shared my concern with Ypres.
“Ypres! The aunt is not for turning! When is she going to demand the breaking off of the engagement?”
“You have always been fond of the stage, have you not?” Ypres’s change of course was unexpected.
“Well, as a matter a fact, I have always thoughts of myself as having an affinity for the theatre. Perhaps not a lesbian as such…”
“Thank you, Ypres, perhaps not a thespian or lesbian as such, but definitely a dedicated enthusiast and patron of the arts. What did you have in mind?”
I cocked an eyebrow, as would a renowned ingénue. “Would it be the role of a lifetime?”
Ypres quickly told me, in simple terms, all she would require during the next five minutes. If the aunt did not demand the breaking off of the engagement after that, I was free to do as I wished. I agreed.
Finally, in this whole affair, I was to get centre stage. As Ypres and I made our way back to join the others, I imagined myself readying for opening night. I held my head high, chest out, abdominals engaged. I had stricken the most magnificent of poses. Not seen, I am sure, since Sarah Bernhardt left the Parisian stage.
Ypres issued one of her signature coughs. All looked at her. Even Beaconsfield-Outremont has stopped showcasing Montreal’s sights.
“I apologies for taking the floor.”
“What is it, Ypres, what is the secret?” I said as Cordelia might address King Lear.
I got a few confused looks before Ypres resumed as if nothing had happened.
“I am unable to hold my tongue any longer.”
“What is it, Ypres, what is the secret?” Take two was more warmly received.
“I am devoted to the truth, so the truth must be revealed. While I am attached to the confidence Miss Vasa has in me, I cannot keep the secret any longer. I found the love letters.”
“It is true,” I mentioned with convincing drama. The New York Times would have called it brilliantly breathtaking. “I am having an affair with Michael, but I am prepared to go on with the wedding.”
“You’re having an affair with Michael?” Madison had lost her buoyancy. Usually, she was so buoyant one could cross the Atlantic on her without fail. Now, had one tried, one would not have made it to Long Island.
“Yes, it is so.”
Beaconsfield-Outremont was about to speak. I could see that all would be revealed as a ruse.
Playing the part of the true actress, doing all to ensure that the play goes on, I did the one thing necessary, no matter how unpleasant.
I lunged forth and kissed the Montrealer on the mouth. To be on the safe side, I deployed tongue.
Ypres’s five minutes were nearing an end. I looked anxiously at Madame LaPeine de Mort.
“Non! Non! Non! Madison, ce n’est pas possible! I cannot accept that you marry that Vasa!”
The eruption had occurred. The enclosed explosive force of fire, fury, and flame bust forth. The room reached an untenable heat. The walls trembled to the timbre of her voice. The darkness of angry despair arose.
“She is a scandalous British disaster! She pushed me into a lake! I have been informed by the Quai d’Orsay and the French diplomatic corps in New York that she is a danger to herself and to others! Even her uncle has nothing but horror stories – including an unspeakable incident in Düsseldorf! Her reputation is abysmal! All my friends, alerted by the hideous announcement in the newspapers, have warned me against this engagement! She is nothing but a vane, vapid, self-centred, traîtresse!”
Taking in some air to continue her explosive combustion, the smell of sulfur clinging, Madame LaPeine de Mort uttered the crucial line.
“As your aunt, I seek what is the best for you. You must end this relationship at once, or I shall stop your allowance! You must end the engagement!”
Madison stepped in on cue.
“So I can love anyone I choose?” She posed the question with muted tenderness.
“Yes! As long as it is not that Vasa!”
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