by David Hartley Mark
She was very pale. That was the first thing that I recognized about her. I ascribed it to her staying mainly indoors. Florida is warm, very warm, especially in August. The Dog Days are so hot, that one feels as if one is walking underwater, just to get from the air-conditioned office to the air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned house.
"Where should I meet you, Madelyn?" I asked. She was a colleague from the office-- the financial business, Dis & Co, Ltd. She was new in town, from abroad. Somewhere in Eastern Europe. Rumania, perhaps. I did not know how to find it on the map. Hungary? Budapest?
We Americans have a poor sense of geography. We, and our country and culture, are the Center of the Universe. Why should we care?
As I said, other than the pale skin, there was little about her that was strange. She may have been vegetarian, or perhaps I wasn't listening.
She was far too beautiful to listen to: bloodred lips, hellblack hair.
"Fine," I said, "there is a Middle Eastern restaurant in Boca we can go to. They have falafel."
"Fa-la-fel," she said slowly, feeling the foreign word with her tongue while trying to say it, until I burst out laughing, hearing her labor to try to wrap her mouth around it.
She tried laughing herself, but, when I did not stop, she became angry, thinking I was laughing at her.
"Do not laugh at me-- never laugh at me!" she said, and I, surprised at the vehemence in her tone, quieted down immediately.
"Sorry-- I'm so sorry, Madelyn," I said, "I didn't realize you were so offended."
She settled down, and smiled. Her eyes, which had gone, I swear, reddish-yellow in her anger, went back to their customary steel-was it steel?-- yes, gray. She did have-- unusual?-- eyes. They were certainly different. I remarked about them.
"They are my father's eyes," she said.
"Whose eyes does he use?" I asked, playfully.
She looked at me strangely, wondering, but then, deciding I must be joking, did not pursue it.
We took my car, a black Mercedes, to Tito's Lebanese Restaurant. The owner, a friend of my father's whom I had known since I was a teenager, greeted me with a hug.
"Roland, it's been so long, you son of a thief!" he cried out, and embraced me, kissing me on both cheeks.
"How are you, Tito?" I asked, "How are Rosa and the kids? Ivon must be pretty old, by now-- has he found a nice girl, yet?"
"I want him to marry a nice Roma girl, like his sisters," he grimaced, "but he will not."
"Why is that?" I asked.
"There are no nice Roma girls," he laughed, "and he wants to date only American harlots, like he sees in the movies! But, wait-- were you not friends, years ago? Ivon! Come and seat my friend's son, your old playfellow!"
The restaurant was full of music that sounded like "Zorba the Greek." Everyone was laughing and singing. Madelyn held back a little.
"What's the matter, Madelyn?" I asked.
"I'm not used to-- so much noise," she said.
"I'll have Ivon seat us in the back of the garden," I said, "it will be quieter."
"The darker, the better," she smiled.
"Bring us wine and liquor menus, Ivon," I asked him. I had known him since we were boys, and we had played tag among the tables, while our fathers talked business. To this day, I am uncertain about what sort of business our fathers discussed, but my father was always smiling and rubbing his hands together when we left.
"What sort of wine or liqueur do you prefer, Madelyn?" I asked her. The noise of the restaurant and the bar were somewhat removed from the garden annex, and we could hear one another better. Madelyn smiled; for the first time, I could see how lovely her teeth were, and how her skin had taken on an evanescent sheen in the halflight.
"To speak truth, Roland-
"Please call me whatever you wish," I said, and kissed her cheek, gently. Her skin felt cool beneath my lips, and soft beyond measure.
"Are you not somewhat--forward, Signor Orlando?" Madelyn smiled, but our tete-a-tete was interrupted by Ivon's arrival.
"Scusi," he said, his longish brown hair tossed over his forehead, "but I have brought two glasses of Moscato wine, as well as some Arak liqueur, and some salted cheese and olives, as an appetizer--all compliments of the house, and my father, Tito, and mother, Rosa."
"Ivon! My old friend," I cried, and got up to embrace him. We hugged, and he kissed Madelyn's hand.
He retreated, and Madelyn and I resumed our conversation.
"For how long did you study in Rome?" I asked.
"From the time I was ten until age eighteen," she answered, smiling in the darkness at the memory. "The Sisters ran the Ecole Normale Parisienne, though it was located in Roma. We were taught etiquette, how to dance both ballet and ballroom, and even to walk upright, with books balanced on our heads. If we misbehaved, the punishment-- ah, well-- we won't speak of that. There was--a switch."
"Let's toast, instead!" I said, and we clinked the large balloon goblets of Moscato. The wine was whisper-sweet, and went down smoothly.
"It tastes Greek," I noted.
"Yes, I have enjoyed Greek tastes," murmured Madelyn, "and then, when I returned home to my father's estates in Rumania, he was careful to enroll me in the University of Transinistra, where I majored in International Studies, under a variety of professors, each of whom had their particular approach to the subject matter."
"And what subject matter was that?" I ventured.
"International Relations," said Madelyn, in a serious mien, "my father has many business interests worldwide, and he is grooming me to take over his various holdings in different governments and industries. I would be in charge, when the time came, of the Night Divisions."
"Is that why you applied specifically for the post-five-o'clock phone- and computerbank divisions of Dis & Co.?" I asked.
"How did you know that?" asked Madelyn, narrowing her eyes at me.
"Well, it's in your HR records, and I work HR, almost exclusively," I said.
"Here we are," said Ivon, who had rushed over, bearing an oversized roaster, "this is prime rib, along with duck a l'orange. My assistant, Igor, is bringing wine for the next course-- a jeroboam of Amontillado, which should see you nicely through. M. Roland, Mlle. Madelyn, is there anything else you will require of me?"
"We are sufficient, Ivon, Igor," I said, and waved them away.
"If I require you," said Madelyn, "I will clap my hands, thus--" and she clapped twice, loudly. The two nodded.
"And I will respond, straightforwardly," smiled Ivon, and disappeared, but not before uncovering both dishes. The roast beef oozed bloody juices; the duck lay in its orangey splendour. The odors were fantastical.
"Let us set to!" I said, and we picked up our cutlery.
"I do have a confession to make," said Madelyn, "before we eat."
"And what is that?" I asked, with a dripping chunk of beef poised halfway to my mouth.
"I do not eat meat," said Madelyn, smiling as widely as she could, "but there is refreshment for me on this table, nonetheless."
"Then, please, if you must! Indulge whatsoever tastes you wish!" I cried, anxious to begin our feast. "Shall we have one more toast of the Amontillado, before we enjoy our supper?"
"O yes-- let's!" said Madelyn, "and perhaps we will invite that fine young man, Ivon, to join us, as well? This table is at a distance from the other customers, and, if I cast some of my Vanishing Powder about (here, she took a small sachet out of her evening bag, and opened it), no one will see what we are doing....."
"Do what you wish, Dear Madelyn!" I said, stuffing both beef and duck into my hungry maw, "for I cannot be held back from this scrumptious feast for one more second!"
"Nor can I!" quoth Madelyn, and clapped her hands, one-two times.