Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Marry Month of May by Elizabeth Kelly
ornelia Maria D'Agastino maneuvered her way through the lunchtime crowds of Lower Manhattan with the dexterity of a native New Yorker. It was unseasonably warm for May, but the streets were shaded. Sunlight rarely sparkled on these dreary paths blocked by skyscrapers. Cornelia was a part of this world and she was a woman with a mission. She had no time to notice the short skirts and tank tops on this spring's crop of file clerks as they waved their pubescent charms on the streets of commerce.
Today was Friday and anything that could go wrong always went wrong on Friday. She knew she would survive because she always did but today her feet hurt. Her soles were burning with a vengeance. It was the new shoes. They looked great, navy and white spectators, and they added a lift to her drab winter appearance. Her well brushed navy suit needed a lift. So with May on the calendar it was time for her mothers fake pearls to reappear and lie on the collar of a new white blouse. She felt good about the whole look but the shoes had been an impulse purchase and they were killers. As she moved through the cracks and openings in the human wall, she shifted the strap of her leather attachÈ case to her right shoulder and proceeded toward her destination.
Cornelia was the most diligent member of the Merrill Lynch, Travel Service Department. There was a certain irony in the fact that she spent her days and sometimes her weekends arranging hassle free travel for the firm's associates while she never left Manhattan. There was an exception. Once a year, on Thanksgiving, she took the subway to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Her cousins always invited her and she always went, taking two boxes of Italian confections from Ferrara's Pastry Shop in the old neighborhood. It was their old neighborhood too, but Cornelia still lived in the third floor walkup on Mulberry Street. It was rent controlled and this was her homes only virtue. Thinking about Ferrara's she decided to pick up a pastry for nice Mr. Smyth. He could have it with his four o'clock coffee. There was a Board meeting today and he would need a treat. She added this to her list. It would be her last errand.
There had been a few stops before she arrived at the American Express office but this was to be expected. People going on trips always needed last minute things and Cornelia always obliged. She would complete the little errands that busy important people had no time for. Cornelia was single, past her prime and invisible. Even with a large nose, larger feet and a size sixteen dress, she was invisible. She had never married because she had never been asked. As the youngest girl in the large family she had taken care of her ageing parents. That had been expected and she had always done the expected. She attended the christenings and weddings of her numerous nieces and nephews, with the required envelope. As these events had become more numerous, the amount in the envelope had decreased and so had the invitations. This Cornelia understood because the expense of a lavish wedding deserved a gift in kind but Cornelia had a paycheck that didn't understand this premise.
Cornelia wouldn't think about her family today. It was Friday and she had more important things to think about. There had been last minute changes in schedules necessitating more than one rerouting. This required 'by hand' pickups of vouchers and airline tickets. She found satisfaction in making things run smoothly for the associates and officers of the corporate world, which she served in her invisible capacity.
Ms. Margolis in Corporate Credit was going to Singapore and Cornelia had agreed to pick up a swimsuit at Centuries where it was being held. Ms. Margolis had gained weight over the winter and a larger size was necessary.
"It's on your way to the American Express Office so can you help me out here?"
Ms. Margolis had pleaded. Cornelia quickly agreed. Cornelia liked Ms. Margolis. Shealways appreciated a favor. And she knew how to ask politely. Last Christmas Ms. Margolis had given Cornelia tickets to Les Miserables. It was the first Broadway show that Cornelia had ever seen.
Mr. Chevez from Capital Markets was also going to Singapore. He had advanced his travel plans and his E-Mail had been clear and direct.
"To whom it may concern, Please be advised that I will be traveling to Singapore at the same time as Ms. Margolis. I expect you to secure first class accommodation with adjoining seats as I have matters to discuss with Ms. Margolis, pertaining to Corporate Credit. As I will be leaving in the early evening please have all documents at my office by three. P.J. Chevez."
Mr. Chevez was an M.I.T. or a Mogul in Training and not one of Cornelia's favorite people. He was rising in the system very quickly. He was a hard man and apparently he was smitten with Ms. Margolis. Well it was May and this happened in May. It was to be expected.
There was a quick stop at the post office for Mr. Martin in Mergers and Acquisitions. He was going to Paris for three weeks and he wanted his son to receive his allowance. Mr. Martin's son was forty-seven, but he counted on his allowance arriving punctually. The second envelope was to a female friend who also received a money order at the beginning of the month. Cornelia would stop at the post office, purchase the money orders, post the envelopes for next day delivery and the third Mrs. Martin who lived in a private residence, overlooking Gramercy Park, would never be the wiser.
Mr. Smyth in the Office of Corporate Council needed a flight to Rome and he hoped it wouldn't be a problem for her to pick up three shirts at Brooks as it was on her way to the American Express Office. In Cornelia's mind it was time Mr. Smyth bought some new shirts. Mr. Smyth raised frugality to a fine art. When he worked on the weekends, he wore a jacket he had purchased during his senior year at Yale. That was in 1956. Cornelia had studied Mr. Smyth and his jacket carefully on that fateful Saturday morning when they had met in person. He was tall, angular and way too thin. They had conversed for many years by way of e-mail but last January they had collided in the corridor of the fifteenth floor. Cornelia had come to the office because of a worrisome Friday departure. When their meeting occurred. Mr. Smyth was in his dress down attire. Cornelia. fascinated by his jacket had remarked on its interesting tailoring.
"It's brushing after each wearing and applying new elbow patches every year that gives long life to a Harris tweed," explained Mr. Smyth.
When Mr. Smyth explained about the principle of brushing with boar bristle Cornelia was amazed. She confided that she had an Amway brush that she found very satisfactory. Mr. Smyth was impressed at the sensible quality he noted in Cornelia and he admired Cornelia admiring his jacket. Cornelia for her part found Mr. Smyth's sense of thrift refreshing in the world of waste and greedy consumption that was their working habitat. She didn't mind picking up his shirts. He should treat himself and he would make the shirts last.
When the light on Maiden Lane flashed for walkers to proceed, Cornelia forged ahead with a will to conquer. The heat from the asphalt licked through her new shoes and burned her feet. They were taking a beating today. In the cacophony of street sounds, the bells from Our Lady of Victory tolled the noon hour and Friday was fast disappearing. Cornelia pressed on with a vengeance. She had picked up the new swimsuit for Ms. Margolis, and mailed the money orders for Mr. Martin. The car service people had been alerted and they would be at World Financial's North West Exit, at five fifteen to take Ms. Margolis to LaGuardia and Mr. Martin to Kennedy and Mr. Chevez, was a problem. In her earlier conversation with Ms. Margolis she had mentioned Mr. Chevez' plans to travel with her to Singapore. The young woman's reaction had been explicit and spirited.
"A direct flight of sixteen hours with Chevez sitting next to me! No thanks! YOU have got to get Mr. Bad Breath to Singapore some other way. PLEASE?"
Mr. Chevez would go First Class to Singapore on Cathay Pacific and he would leave this evening from Newark. Cornelia would send him an e-mail explaining his late reservation rendered accommodations on Lufthansa impossible. It was deception but it was necessary. The fact that Ms. Margolis felt no attraction for Mr. Chevez was gratifying. She was a nice person and he was not.
The lights on Broadway finally changed and Cornelia reached her destination, American Express. The office was an oasis of cooling comfort. Her papers were ready but she checked all the documents and everything was in order. Her feet were now in a torturous state. Pain streaked up into her ankles as she hobbled from the agency. A taxi was a practical extravagance and she would do it. In the air-conditioned cab, Cornelia and her documents sped toward Ferrara's and on to the World Financial Center.
She would buy a dozen pastries, two for Mr. Smyth and one for herself, and the rest would be for the office staff. She liked to treat the office staff on Fridays. Mr. Smyth was too thin. She was not but maybe the pastry would take her mind of her poor feet.
It was only three o'clock and Cornelia was back at her desk. The documents were all delivered and Mr. Smyth's pastries settled on his afternoon coffee tray. Cornelia kicked off her shoes, slipped her falling arches into the slippers she kept in her file drawer and sipped her afternoon dose of java. The extra large canolli lay waiting in the unopened pastry box. She would go through the E-mails first as was her way. The majority were of no importance and she deleted them quickly. The e-mail from Mr. Smyth caught her attention. Please God no trouble, my feet still hurt.
"Dear Ms. D'Agastino, I thank you most humbly for the pastries. I thoroughly enjoyed them and appreciate your kindness. I am a man of few words and therefore I will be brief. I have received my documents for my trip to Rome, leaving on the 31st of May and I hope that you will join me. I know that we have only known each other since January but at my age I cannot waste time on an extensive courtship. I know that you share my interest in economy and you are a thoughtful person. I feel we would do well together bound in matrimony. I await your reply, dear Ms. D'Agastino. Most respectfully, H.W. Smyth"
Cornelia stared at the screen and reread the message through blurred eyes. Mr. Smyth wanted to marry her. She reached for her cannoli and sucked the sweet marcipone from the wafer shell. He really likes pastries. They did have a lot in common.
She would respond at once.
"Dear Mr. Smyth, I have received your kind invitation for May 31st and I accept. In fact I believe it to be a marvelous idea. I must advise you that the purchase of first class tickets is unnecessary. You can get two for one in business class and the seats are just as comfortable. The food is fair so I will bring sandwiches and we can have dinner before we leave. I trust the Board meeting went well. Sincerely, Cornelia Maria D'Agastino"
No longer invisible.