It was one of those glorious early summer mornings when New York glitters in the rays of the sun. On morning like this Henry all felt uplifted by the sheer glamour of the city. Two more days to the weekend, relaxing, playing golf with a group of male friends. They were planning on an all weekend affair.
Henry left the sunlit streets to board the scruffy downtown subway at East 72nd street. The contrast between the cathedrals of power elegantly pointing skywards compared with the grime and dirt of the cities rapid transport system never ceased to surprise him. These early morning trains down the Eastside were always full. Often he found himself standing trying to concentrate on reading the morning paper while hanging, like some tree monkey, on the overhead bar. Today his morning paper had not been delivered so he stood there looking at his fellow passengers as they jockeyed for space. The morning commutes were like some dance ritual where nobody says anything, but feet and bodies move around each other with a precision certain animals would appreciate. To his left, three bodies away, he saw a great looking woman, long jet-black hair falling loosely on her shoulders, flashing dark eyes full of mystery. Her skin shone with a golden tan, and he noticed she had a great figure. Some inner voice told him this was not the first time he had seen her, but as he was often engrossed in the morning newspaper he could not be sure. With nothing better to do than to stare at his fellow passengers he had the time to take a closer look. Yes, she was definitely a beautiful woman. Why couldn’t he meet a woman like that instead of staring at her on the subway without any hope of getting into a conversation?
As the train drew into 42nd street, he noticed she started moving forward towards the doors. He could not take his eyes of her. He was able to admire a pair of shapely legs protruding from a short-skirted summer dress, his eyes shifted from the legs up to her waist onto her shoulders taking in every detail, at last the chance to have a close look at her face. He estimated she must be about 24 years old, maybe a model, decidedly a divine creation. Henry struggled to find a way of at least saying “hello.” The doors started to open, she moved forward positioning herself to step out of the subway car. At the moment her right foot touched the platform he noticed a letter fall from the bag she was carelessly slinging over her shoulder.
The letter dropped just inside the subway car. He immediately bent down to recover the letter. With the letter in hand he started forward to jump off the train. Too late, the doors closed and the train started moving. He rushed to the nearest window and made all kinds of mad silly signs, to no avail; she had disappeared.
Henry looked down at the envelope. It had not been opened and was addressed to Catherine Dupont, 120 East 77th Street, New York NY 10128. There was no indication of who sent the letter, but it was postmarked three days ago from Chicago. The white envelope was of good quality. Judging from the weight it probably contained one or two sheets of paper. Should he open it? Maybe it was a love letter? He came out of daydreaming with the sudden realization that he had arrived at his stop. Henry shoved the envelope into the inside pocket of his jacket and hurried towards his office.
Once there he became immediately plunged into the day’s work. His position was a stock trader for a large bank. Exhausting work, but well paid. Thirty minutes after the financial markets closed, he suddenly remembered the letter. He took it out of his pocket; the memory of the woman came flooding back. As it had been a particularly good day in the markets he saw a vision of her sitting opposite him at some fancy restaurant celebrating. No such luck! The only course of action was to return the letter, maybe with “Hello, I would like to meet you.”
He sat down. First he looked up at the ceiling for inspiration. Then took a pen, and composed the following letter.
184 East 74th Street
New York, NY. 10128
Cellular phone 212-345-7865
Date 15th May 2001.
Dear Catherine Dupont,
I enclose a letter addressed to you that dropped out of your bag this morning just as you were leaving the subway at 42nd street. I tried attracting your attention through the subway’s window, but I was too late, you had already disappeared.
You might ask how I knew that is was you who dropped the letter? To be honest I had been looking at you ever since I got on the subway at 72nd street. It was the beauty of your dark mysterious face that attracted my attention. I must confess I even tried to say hello. As I failed in this endeavor I am promptly returning the letter in the hope you might agree to meet me for a drink.
I patiently wait your reply.
My best wishes
He reread the letter, a bit cheeky, but why not? He had nothing to lose. On leaving the bank he put the letter in the office’s evening mail.
That weekend at his golfing outing he told his friends about the little adventure. They were highly amused, even laying bets on whether he would hear from her. The general consensus of opinion was that she would never reply. By Wednesday of the following week he had not heard from her; Friday’s post brought a few bills but no word from her. Too bad, a good try, it just went to prove that the subways would remain the commuters’ world of the silent crowds.
But monday evening brought a pleasant surprise: There lying in his mail box was a letter from Catherine Dupont.
Henry felt his pulse beat a bit faster.
120 East 77th Street
New York, NY 10128
No phone number and no date
Dear Henry Edelman
Thank you for sending me the letter I dropped. You will never realize how important it was to me. You must have been my guardian angel that day.
I was deeply touched by your letter’s next paragraph. At present I live in a world where people give very few compliments so what you wrote had a special meaning. I would very much like to meet you in person and thank you. Could we meet at Saint John’s the Divine on Sunday at two o’clock? If this is inconvenient please write to the above address. If I don’t hear from you I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
The letter, like her face, was full of mystery; he could not wait until Sunday.
Sunday morning was generally spent in bed reading the Sunday papers, but this Sunday he decided to have breakfast in the local diner.
He bathed and shaved carefully, listened to the weather forecast that predicted a beautiful summer’s day. He dressed accordingly, making sure he projected a debonair, casual look. As he sat in the diner he started to wonder why he felt a certain excitement. Blind dates were a thing of the past; they never seemed to work out. But a preliminary examination, followed by an exchange of letters had an intriguing aspect that sent his blood racing.
At about midday he called one of his golfing friends to tell him he was having a meeting this afternoon with “Miss Subway.” John, at the other end of the telephone, was flabbergasted and immediately suggested he should come along to witness the event.
“Oh no.” he said. “She is strictly my affair, I will keep you informed”.
As it was such a nice day he decided to walk uptown to Saint John’s the Divine. Rather than walking up Third Avenue he chose Madison Avenue, the general idea was to do a little window gazing. He found himself more interested in his reflection in the shop windows than in the merchandise displayed. He thought at 26 years old he was not a bad looking guy, fit from constant working out, an open, frank face, with a smile that could charm a bird off a tree.
As he entered Saint John’s the Divine,(he was ashamed to say this was his first visit), he was amazed by size of the cathedral. He never realized it was so big. At first he was disoriented and thought he would never find Catherine Dupont. But as his eyes became accustomed to the somber light he saw her long black hair over to his far right. He walked across. Approaching her from behind her he said, “Catherine Dupont.” She turned to greet him. He was surprised to see she was wearing dark glasses, in such dim surroundings it seemed odd; he was disappointed, as he could not see her mysterious dark eyes. She elegantly extended her hand.
“Henry Edelman, thank you for coming.”
Henry immediately noticed a slight foreign accent, definitely European, but he could not place the country.
“It’s my pleasure. May I be awfully rude and ask you why you are wearing sunglasses in this dim light,” asked Henry.
Her reply was to take off the glasses, her right eye had a dark black ring around it; no doubt from a vicious punch she had received. Henry stood back in a state of shock. She quickly replaced the glasses
“Who did this to you?” he asked.
“It’s a long story, let’s go for a walk,” Catherine replied.
hey went outside, walking towards the nearby park. Catherine Dupont told him her extraordinary story. She had been born the eldest child of a family of six sisters, in a country that Henry didn’t even know existed. For a fleeting moment he felt he was being swept in to the world of fantasy.
It appeared her father was an important man in their community and had considerable influence over peoples’ lives. She had had a wonderfully happy childhood in a country she loved. She told him about the olive groves, the vineyards, the hot summer days when people gave picnics in the hills, the cool evenings when she sat with her sisters listening to old men telling stories, and the village dances that were held every Saturday night. She sadly missed her country and family, she found American society cold and hard, it lacked the warmth of her people. She paused. Henry was about to say something in defense of his country, but before he could open his mouth she continued.
“As was the custom on my twentieth birthday, my father arranged my marriage to one of his business associates who lived in New York. I had seen my future husband on the few occasions when he had come to talk my father. He seemed a pleasant man but nothing special. I was unhappy at being pushed into this marriage, but there was nothing I could do, this was the will of my father and a custom handed down from generation to generation. We got married three years ago, my father made a big show; the entire village was invited. On my wedding night my husband never touched me, but the next morning he told my father that he was very satisfied. His daughter made a wonderful bride.
Two days later we left for New York. On arriving in New York I was taken to his elegant brownstone on the Eastside and introduced to his mistress. From that day on I lived as their domestic maid. My husband has a foul temper and often beat me. He took my passport and kept me very short of money. For the last three years I have lied to my family saying I was very happy in New York. I never dared tell my father of my troubles, but I invented the name Catherine Dupont so that I could secretly correspond with a cousin that lived in Chicago. To deceive my husband I rented a letterbox in a building down the street in which we lived.”
Henry listened to this incredible story not knowing what to say. The only thing that came to his mind was pity and sadness. He interjected by saying.
“You know this is America. Why don’t you go to the police?”
“No,” she said. “Women from where I come from have very few rights. Also it would be a stain on our family’s name. The letter you found in the subway was from my cousin in Chicago. He told me that over the last year he had been watching my husband and found out that he had been cheating on the family. Somebody was being sent to deal with the problem.” She paused.
“Henry, I decided to meet you today just to talk to somebody as in the next few days my life will become a nightmare. You see it is highly probable they will kill my husband. As a widow I will be condemned to return to my family and live out the rest of my life in mourning, that is our custom. I am trapped by my lies to my family. I have even sworn my cousin to secrecy.”
By this time Henry was feeling more like a priest than an anxious young man looking for the perfect partner. He suggested they sit down on a park bench, as he needed to think. “What’s your real name?”
She turned to him. “Paulina,” she said. “I have talked enough about myself and my problems tell me about yourself.”
For a second, Henry contemplated making up some incredible tale that verged on the unreal in competition with the story he had just heard, but he just couldn’t. His story was like thousands of other young men who had come to New York City after college to make a fortune and find a chic wife. He had been born in the Midwest on a farm. Ever since he could remember his dream was to leave the farm and seek the bright lights in the big city. He had worked hard at high school and college and was compensated by receiving a handsome offer from his present bank. In comparison to the story he had just heard his life seemed rather dull.
But Paulina saw in front of her, as she had suspected, a charming young man full of ambition and drive. He seemed so American, reliable and at ease with life. As he finished telling her about his life she placed her hand on his knee. Her touch sent emotional charges down his spine. As he was recovering he heard her say: “Henry will you do something for me?”
Henry was about to reply, “of course,” when some strange after thought made him a little more cautious. He felt caught between a world of fantasy and the tragic life of this beautiful woman. Cautiously he replied. “It depends on what? At present I have met somebody with two different names, I have heard of a possible murder that is going to take place next week. You must admit it a bit hard to shallow ”
“Henry what I am going to ask you is not difficult. Next week I have a premonition something is going to happen to me, I suspect my husband already knows his fate; consequently he will want his revenge on the family by trying to kill me first. If I don’t write to you within the next ten days you will know something happened. I want you to promise me to go and see my father and tell him about my troubles and that I died loving them all, happy in the knowledge I had been a good and dutiful daughter.” She gave him a note with an address written on it.
Henry was completely confused; he certainly hadn’t planned an afternoon like this, sitting there on a park bench listening to a story that sent cold shudders down his spine. Now he was faced with the decision of making a promise he felt he would not be capable of keeping. He turned to look at her; she had taken off the dark glasses. Apart from the black right eye it was the most beautiful face he had ever seen. He was just about to say something when she took his face in her hands and gave him a long, lingering kiss on the lips. It sealed his fate, he said. “I promise.”
She replaced her glasses; got up from the bench and started to walk out of the park. Henry did not move; he just looked at every step she took. Just before she turned the nearest corner she looked back and he heard her say.
“ Thank you, Henry. It was a perfect afternoon and you have brought me great happiness.”
With that she disappeared from sight. Henry must have sat there for an hour, the story lingered in his mind, the kiss lingered on his lips and sadness lingered in his heart.
History relates: A few months later, in conformity with his promise, he went and talked to Paulina’s, alias Catherine Dupont’s father. While there he fell in love with one of Paulina’s younger sisters. The father made a big affair of their wedding. At the reception, Henry could not believe his eyes when he saw a radiant Paulina on the arms of a good-looking young man. She immediately came over and introduced her husband. As she learned forward to kiss him on the cheek, she said.
“Welcome to the family, I had been watching you for days on the subway and I just knew you would make a good husband for one of my sisters.”
- The End -