I stood bemused. Although, can one consider it standing if one is travelling sixty kilometres per hour in a northbound direction? I made a mental note to ask Ypres.
Getting back to my predicament, the reason of my bemusement was the unappealing menu poster I was facing in the Amtrak train bound for Montreal. It was pealing at the corners, and each item was immortalised in its own photograph. The photographs suggested that the items had been in their prime during the Carter presidency.
Ypres and I had left Manhattan in rather a hurry, dragging a wounded, yet groaning, Michael Beaconsfield-Outremont with us. Ypres had decided that, as we had to leave New York to receive payment of Madame LaPeine de Mort’s generous gift, and Beaconsfield-Outremont could not afford medical care in the United States after having been run over on Park Avenue, we should drop off the mangled Montrealer in his home town before heading back to London.
The train was the best option, as it was discreet, and Beaconsfield-Outremont could lie down to rest on my luggage, which got its own row of seats, quietly groaning his way up the Hudson Valley.
In our haste, we had forgotten to take adequate provisions. So here I was in the restaurant car, Lake Champlain rolling by, a distant rail attendant staring at me with the utmost emptiness, as I decided which of the items I could ingest without triggering an immediate heart attack. I was nearing a selection which would not precipitate a triple bypass surgery. With a confidence born out of desperation, I was about to risk ordering something covered in cheese by way of the deep fryer, when I was the recipient of a friendly tap on my left shoulder.
“Good afternoon, Cousin.”
Nowhere had Cousin Andrew looked so out of place and been so welcome. Pushing aside Britannic reserve, I hugged him tightly.
“I am pleased to see you, Vanessa, but I must insist that you detach yourself from my person. You’re crushing my jacket.”
“What ho, Cousin! What are you doing on this train? I thought you were safely ensconced in your salon in Williamsburg.”
“Ah.” It was an ah that could have come out of the mouth of Uncle George. “You see Cousin, it turns out the American authorities are very keen on ensuring we foreigners have the proper visa, and work permit, and all. And it seems they are just as keen that nobody, at least nobody without an embezzled or tainted fortune, gets them. So living the life of an aesthete with humanist tendencies, and not an authoritarian with a dozen million to launder, I received notice that I had to leave.”
“Rather suddenly, I see.”
“Well, not really, but if I precipitated my timing a tad, I could skip on a couple months’ rent. And since it was my patriotic absentee landlord who initiate my apprenticeship in American visa regulations, I thought I should offer him a compliment in kind. It is rather the same sentiment that triggered my forgetfulness, for I may have forgotten to close the windows as I left.” Cousin Andrew paused to look out the window. “I chose the train, for it is the mode of transportation best suited for my temperament. It does not have the modern stress of air travel.”
“So are you headed to Montreal or coming back to London?”
“Well, the thing is,” here Cousin Andrew leaned in as would a bartender offering a suggestion, “there is this area in Montreal by a canal called Saint-Henri, which is not as mainstream and ruined by consumerism as Shoreditch or Williamsburg. My initial thought was the Plateau, but I’ve been told it’s full of Parisians and Belgians – and I’m looking for the true Montreal.” Cousin Andrew had finished his phrase with the glint in his eye of the weeping hipster soldier, who has discovered that there are, indeed, more worlds to conquer.
Recovering his poise, Cousin Andrew pointed vaguely in my direction.
“And why are you here? Have you abandoned Ypres in Manhattan?”
I gave Cousin Andrew the rundown of events as they had happened since we parted, being sure to include every outfit change, and providing the appropriate rendering of stage directions. With each expertly delivered paragraph, we got closer and closer to the embrace of the Canadian border. For once, Cousin Andrew did not yawn or interrupt me. This confirmed my standing as an unparalleled raconteuse. I had reached the final Park Avenue scene of selfless heroism and international diplomacy, when I unconsciously slid into a dramatic monologue.
“Resplendent in triumph, and acutely aware of the distress of Beaconsfield-Outremont, Ypres faithfully by my side, we left Park Avenue, our American… It starts with an ‘e’ and has a Greek or Latin something at the end.”
“Elysium,” came the stoic reply from behind me. It was Ypres. She had silently glided in. And no better moment encapsulated this adventure.
Ypres and I had crossed the Atlantic to reach our American Elysium, and although our victory was unconventional, I was assured that no matter the circumstances, Ypres was steadfastly by my side. Life would throw suited bankers, telephoning uncles, hipster cousins, unimaginative self-centred diplomats, singing nieces, nationalistic aunt, and groaning muscular Canadians, but through it all a calm aquatic presence remained.
As the train slowed down for border inspection, the reassuring presence of the Commonwealth nearby, there was but one word to end our American adventure.
The one with which it all began: “Huzzah!”
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