I must admit, dear reader, that I had reached a point where unanticipated revelations no longer had a surprising effect. A couple of weeks prior, I would have easily jumped back three yards in a north-east direction at the news that Madison’s love interest was Pietro Ducale. The idea that Madison was attracted to a man whose sentences had paragraph-length life expectancies might even have triggered a “What ho!” Alas, Manhattan life had rendered me immune to much of life’s inconsistencies.
Of course, when it comes to my insouciance, it did not begin to match Ypres’s. In the end, history will record that with Ducale planted as immobile and impenetrable as a Secretary-General’s report, I issued a flat “is that so”.
Beaconsfield-Outremont, as any good Canadian sensing an uncomfortable scene, mumbled a sorry and exited stage right. I was left with a wildly blinking Madison, and a Ducale whose look suggested he was searching for a preamble with appropriate footnotes. I readied myself, expecting a corollary to the Geneva Conventions. Finally, appropriating the look of Talleyrand about to bamboozle a sceptical Metternich, he began.
“It has been mentioned, as I have overheard the last portion of your conversation, and I have no reason to doubt it, that Madison, here present, has informed that she and I are conducting a relationship outside of the professional obligations of the United Nations. These obligations being the coordination of work between Madison’s parent organisation, DPRK, and our own, UNDO. While our relationship began within the framework of the coordination function of our respective portfolios, it soon evolved towards a more informal setting.”
Madison beamed at Ducale. I was afraid she might burst into spontaneous song. Meanwhile, I was still waiting for the Vasa mind to translate Ducale’s chapeau, as I believe Ypres’s friend Lord Mansfield would put it, into everyday English. The good old bean’s processors throbbed at full capacity. Sensing my perplexity, Ducale continued.
“I am available to set up an opportunity to pursue the matter further, in an informal discussion, but at present I must attend an urgent meeting at the Secretariat.”
And with those words he seamlessly departed, giving a brief smile to Madison.
“Isn’t he dreamy?” Madison attempted in C minor.
At the moment, all I could think was that Madison was in love with a man who could not swim. And his not being able to swim had left me in the position of pushing Madame LaPeine de Mort into a lake, and drafted Cousin Andrew into the affair. Not only could Ducale not swim, but his principal qualification was his ability to leave his interlocutors drowning in a sea of endless phrases. And I, in my capacity of conundrum consultant, and out of an innate duty for kindness (for I am the incarnation of kindness), had devoted my spare time helping this romance along.
I did not know what to feel. Luckily, providence had made me British so I could choose to feel nothing. This I did.
My talents had been used to enable women, first Lanky Ella Lanesbury, now Madison, to love the men of their choice with impunity, and on their own terms. (If you do not know about my role in Ella’s love affair, do not walk, run, to order a copy of my Mayfair Conundrum.)
As I thought it over on the subway ride home, an unidentified moist object jabbing me in the back of my right knee, I concluded that by helping Ella and Madison be who and with whom they wanted to be, I was actually a feminist activist. Surely I was more of a feminist than those Greenwich Village dwellers who wear pink t-shirts with “feminist” scrawled across their chest.
Having negotiated my way into the building while the doorman was distracted, I shared my sentiment with Ypres.
“Ypres, am I a feminist? And before you answer, I would like to make clear that I have been overhearing your NPR and Radio 4 programmes, so there is no need to quote Virginia Woolf or that turbaned woman.”
“Simone de Beauvoir?”
“That’s the bird. Did you not mention, in the past, that she is a friend of yours?”
“May I ask what prompted your reflection on feminism?”
I briefed Ypres on the process of my reasoning, nay, my deduction, so far. I told Ypres that what had prompted it all was the revelation that Pietro Ducale, not Beaconsfield-Outremont, was Madison’s lover. And that my observation, the one backed by Cousin Andrew and her that led to my deduction, was wrong. Ypres greeted the news with no sign of life, at least not life as seen on land. Her aquatic eyes could only just be glimpsed through her heavy eyelids. Finally, in true postgraduate fashion, she answered my question with a question.
“Would it be considered feminism if the endpoint of female cooperation is a man?”
“But Ypres, you must take into account that in both cases I did not know who the man in question was. Had I known, at the outset of each situation, that Uncle Edward or Pietro Ducale was involved, I would have walked away. And Ypres, I believe that you must take into consideration, in your weighing of my feminist credentials, that I was momentarily publicly engaged to Madison.”
“You did not initiate that fictitious engagement.”
“That is neither here nor there.” I paused. “What does a feminist wear anyway? I am not against pants, indeed I often wear them, but a dress or skirt is so much more convenient in the warmer months.”
Ypres gave her trademark two millimetre smile.
I drummed my fingers on the armrest.
“I suppose that is that, Ypres. Madison is free to love, and my internship is almost at an end. Soon we will be where we began, back in London and underfunded. It seems our adventure may be entering its final chapter.”
Barely had I finished my sentence on finishing, that the doorbell rang with the violence of an American police arrest. My reflexes had returned as I unexpectedly jumped. My jump turned into a leap when from behind the flat door came a “Vanessa, it’s me!” screeched at Brünnhilde volume.
Ypres opened the door to reveal a Madison contorted in Wagnerian distress.
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