Mary’s Isle of Golden Dreams
is a novel in progress.
Below is the “complete novel thus-far,” as of March 17, 2015 (approximately 34,900 words):
March 1, 1921
Mary Jorjorian is dancing to that record again. Daniel Eliseian heard it as he was coming up the stairs, so he composes himself before entering.
At age twenty-six, Daniel feels stalled in his life. He has had so many interruptions and forced re-directions in the past decade. And now this. Having moved down to Jacksonville specifically to form a partnership with Mr. Bianco, he has worked tirelessly for more than a year, but to what end? Mr. Bianco has lent little to Daniel’s advancement in the tailoring trade, other than his name (which Daniel now questions) and capital (which Daniel has also found lacking). No, in Daniel’s mind, Bianco has put in the less than the minimum for Bianco & Eliseian to succeed. So it’s time to move on, once again.
“Mr. E.!” exclaims Mary, who is leading the taller Mrs. Pappas through the steps.
His eyes may be red from exhaustion and his face gaunt from worry, but his smile — just now: Mary did that. Such is her power over him.
Poor Daniel. He has not been prepared for his sudden emotional attachment to Agnes’s younger sister. Everything she says and does is as though to trip him up to fall in love with her. He honestly took little notice of Mary in New York. But having now lived under the same roof as her, he is ashamed at his failure to have recognized her brilliance immediately on first meeting — whenever that was. It seems every other man in this world is actively vying for her attention. Yet, she seems focused on him.
“Egishe!” squeals four-year-old Bedros, running to Daniel, using the family nickname.
Daniel kneels to greet Bedros, enveloping the boy in a hug and a kiss and a lift.
Bedros hangs Daniel’s hat on the rack for him. Then he shows Daniel a small mechanical part he’d found outside, probably from the automobile shop around the corner.
For the past year, since Daniel arrived in Jacksonville at the urging of his best friend, Peter Kludjian, he has been like a live-in uncle to Bedros, Peter and Agnes’s first born. And it was that relationship between Daniel and Bedros which put Mary at ease when she arrived four months ago — for the imminent birth of Agnes’s second child, Shavarsh. No matter that her older sister and her brother-in-law have been close to Daniel since Mary’s high school days, it was her nephew’s keen adoration that finally gave her reason to take notice.
“Good evening, everyone,” he proclaims. “Good evening,” he says in Greek to Mrs. Pappas.
Mary and Mrs. Pappas had been marking the end of the day with Mary’s new favorite record, “My Isle of Golden Dreams.” It’s a lilting waltz, which they have been using to lull the babies asleep. But it is also so charming that it is impossible to not make a dance of it. If she plays it any more frequently, the needle is going to wear right through the groove.
Mrs. Pappas, a Greek Cypriot, is twenty-one — only a year and a generation older than Mary. Her two-year-old daughter Cecilia also adores Mr. Eliseian, so Mrs. Pappas has no trouble imagining Daniel as a father. And, observing Mary standing enchanted in Daniel’s gaze, as he holds what could easily be their own son, it is easy to see who the mother of Daniel’s children will be. They will be wed within the year, concludes Mrs. Pappas.
“There they are,” says Mary’s sister Agnes, entering through the kitchen from the back stairs, referring to Daniel and Bedros.
“Mother, look,” says Bedros, showing her what he was sharing with Daniel.
“Hmmmmm,” responds Agnes, holding off conclusion on Bedros’s grimy new toy. She lifts baby Shavarsh from the rug and asks Daniel, “Were you able to talk to Mr. Bianco today?”
“He’s never there! That’s the problem.”
“We’ve got to get Peter on this,” Agnes states.
“Peter on what?” asks Peter, arriving from his downstairs business, Jacksonville Oriental Rug Cleaners.
“Bianco,” Agnes and Mary say, while Daniel looks ashamed.
“Still nothing?” Peter asks.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Pappas has gathered up Cecilia and the rest of her belongings, and has said goodbye for the day to Mr. & Mrs. Kludjian, Mr. Eliseian, Miss Jorjorian, Bedros, and baby Shavarsh.
“It’s been a long, productive day, Mrs. Pappas,” Peter says at her departure. “On behalf of my clients, I thank you.” Then he turns to Daniel. “Shall I intervene?”
“No. … I don’t know. I’m just so frustrated. I know he’s your friend, and you’ve … you’ve done so much already. I … I just don’t know. He’s my business partner. I’ve got to work this out with him.”
“Okay,” says Peter. “But he’s not my friend like you’re my friend.” Then Peter says in Armenian, “He’s not one of us. He’s an outsider.” “Remember that,” he adds in English.
Daniel is at a loss as to what Peter and the others ever saw in Mr. Bianco. But Peter’s the rug man in a group of tailors — young Armenians who have made the move to Florida from New York. Daniel had been the last of their group in Florida, but it seems he’ll be the first to return. Compared to New York or Buenos Aires or Paris, or even (if not especially) Smyrna (which, set on the Aegean Sea, is the world’s first truly international port city, and from where Daniel began his long journey), Jacksonville is but a big town, and is unworthy and un-supportive of his talent and potential.
Peter is, of course, one of Daniel’s dearest friends from New York, along with Hrand Vakilian, and brothers George and Eddy Yeghoian, who have also made the move. Peter has been the most successful of the five, with his rug business. And while the others may be artisans of a finer sort, Peter’s got the better business instincts. He’s associated himself with John Baylarian of Orlando, another rug man, who holds a wide reputation in northern Florida. Daniel envies Peter for that professional relationship. Mr. Baylarian is generous with his advice, guidance, and business referrals to Peter. In New York, Daniel had a master tailor, his good friend Mehrand Merjanian, to work under. And, like Peter’s Mr. Baylarian, Mr. Merjanian was an Armenian, someone who holds a sense of loyalty and honor in business and community. Daniel could kick himself for ever leaving the tutelage of Mr. Merjanian.
But, just when Daniel’s business partnership, if not his career, is falling apart, and he finds himself a man of frightening uncertainty, Mary Jorjorian has further destabilized him from an entirely different direction. Her timing couldn’t be worse.
“Time for bed,” announces Agnes, referring to baby Shavarsh and young Bedros. And she and Mary help put them down for the night.
When finished, Mary brings out the playing cards and chips, and asks Daniel if he wouldn’t enjoy a game.
“Oh, Miss Jorjorian,” he pleads. “I am so tired, and I have so much to do tomorrow!”
“Half-an-hour,” she says. “I’ll go easy on you.”
Quickly doling out chips to the foursome, and shuffling the deck, she has Daniel cut the cards.
Picking up on her purposeful sense of play, Daniel replies, “Okay, boss,” and takes but a single card off the top of the deck to make his cut.
“Does that even count?” asks Peter.
Daniel shrugs, and dutifully removes one more card, winking at Mary.
Agnes laughs with delight, while Peter rolls his eyes, and Mary quickly deals out seven cards to each.
She’s in an especially gay mood now, talking up each trade: “Mr. E. is an enigma, with a two of diamonds and a King of clubs. Sis gets four, with a big pair of sevens, a Jack and a three. Brother-in-law wants a trio, what can he get? One, two, three strikes, is he out? And dealer’s going to hold’em, sticking with what she’s got …” (She winks at Agnes.)
Everyone’s having fun now, including Daniel and Peter.
Peter is begrudging in his unspoken admiration for Mary. In his mind, she is but a girl who runs through life as though it’s a school yard. She is beautiful, yes, with her dimpled cheeks and smiling eyes, but she’s young — a full seven years the junior of her sister, his wife, the mother of his sons, Agnes.
When Peter’s in-laws, the Jorjorians, arrived in America in 1901, Agnes was nearly eight-years old, and had already taken a responsible role with the family. Mary was a mere baby, like Shavarsh now. Agnes had to learn a new language, and adapt to a new country and to the strange ways of its people, while also helping raise young Mary. Mary was unaware of the troubles the family escaped and of the lost siblings between them. She was able to absorb English as early as she learned Armenian, and then attend schools — tuition-free public schools — that are the envy of the world, institutions that were not even a dream back home. And Peter had it even harder than Agnes. He arrived in America as a thirteen-year-old orphan, putatively in the care of his older sister, but practically a man, expected to behave like a man, work like a man, and make life-decisions like a man.
Maybe Peter doesn’t give Mary enough credit for all the ways she is smart. But he will readily concede that she is book smart.
Mary earned her diploma from Wadleigh High School, a modern public school for girls in Manhattan that treats young women as the equals of men. Had the Jorjorians the means, Mary could have gone straight to college and into a career, such as teaching. Instead, she teaches Daniel. In turn, Daniel has taken on Mary as a valued part-time assistant with his tailoring trade at Bianco & Eliseian. She drafts all his correspondence, puts together advertisements, and provides general clerical and book-keeping service. On and off the job, she is teaching him, constantly, the intricacies of her native English, correcting his verbal mistakes (without judgment) and explaining the whys and wherefors of this complex, truly international, language.
But in the simplest form of communication, two weeks ago (on February 14th), Mary presented Daniel with a Valentine card, left hidden under his pillow, signed simply, “Yours.”
Daniel is beaming. These past four months with Mary in the household have been utterly delightful for him. He loves his friends Peter and Agnes dearly; they’ve done so much to help him, to house him, to show patience with his troubles. But if they only knew: it was their bringing Mary into their home — to help with the birth of Shavarsh and her daily assistance with the kitchen, house, and children — that has kept Daniel from the brink of despair. Mary Jorjorian is the most incandescent young lady he knows. She’s a modern American female, the kind of individual the whole rest of the world is incapable of producing. And he has the privilege of being in her presence every day, between these four walls and out in the world. He dreams of her, asleep and awake.
And what of that Valentine Card? He is mystified by Mary’s intent. Certainly, it has given him sudden strong thoughts of matrimony, but Daniel has difficulty imagining Mary becoming any man’s wife, let alone someone as un-self-established as himself.
Mary gazes across the table as Peter deals the next hand. Daniel is looking better; it’s working. He was thoroughly exhausted today, worse than even recent days. And this morning, when she was in town on an advertisement, she stopped in on West Forsyth Street but she could not find her friend. She did run across Hrand Vakilian (“Mr. Randy”); he was looking for Daniel, as well. And the Yeghoian brothers, whose shop is on the same floor as Bianco & Eliseian, they hadn’t seen Daniel, either. Finally, as Mary was out with Mr. Randy, they almost collided into Daniel, rounding the corner at Ocean Street. He looked very annoyed about something, almost mad with distraction. Mr. Randy teased him, and that didn’t help. So Mary has made a point of attending to Daniel this evening with especially joyful and tender treatment.
He’s been so oddly attentive to Mary these past couple of weeks. (And nervous as well!) It’s almost as though he is now romantically interested in her. She is at a loss for the sudden change in Daniel’s disposition, especially the timing. He’s been so otherwise distraught over business matters. Could it be that romance is serving as a diversion from his woes? Meanwhile, he has been talking of late (as has Mr. Randy) of returning to New York — possibly within the next month or two! But, in fact, so has Mary. The question then is, Is Daniel preparing to propose a change in their status in New York — from friends to lovers? Is he on the verge, possibly, of proposing marriage? If so, Mary has decided how she would respond. She would say yes.
Upon receiving his hand, Daniel looks up across the table to Mary. He gives her a nod of appreciation.
After well-more than Mary’s promised-half-hour, they play out the final cards, and, of course, Peter — all business — comes up the winner. He prepares for bed, while Daniel — contrary to his earlier protests of a hard day ahead of him — lingers at the table.
Then Agnes announces it’s time for Mary’s Armenian lessons.
Mary can speak, read, and comprehend spoken Armenian passably well. However, in written Armenian she is almost like an unschooled child. And for this evening’s lessons … Mary has not prepared. So she asks Agnes for writing prompts.
Daniel joins the fun, and begins walking about pointing to various objects in the apartment, which Mary promptly states and writes without problem.
“Those are too easy,” Agnes objects. “She needs to write descriptively, not just the names of things.” Then Agnes looks to Daniel, and says to Mary, “Describe Egishe” (using the revered household nickname for Daniel — a reference to the great and saintly scholar of that name from the early years of Armenian Christianity).
Mary looks at him … and for a moment their eyes hold each other. Then she smiles, and quickly writes a brief phrase in Armenian, and pushes the slip of paper to her sister.
Daniel rushes to read over Agnes’s shoulder.
“‘Other-worldly and admirable‘!” Agnes says in Armenian.
Daniel stands back and looks to Mary with some astonishment, but also, mostly, gratitude. And he blushes.
“It’s true!” states Mary.
The room goes quiet, and Agnes sees the table clock. “Oh, my, look at the time!”
She announces she is heading to bed, and Daniel concedes that he must, as well.
But he lingers.
As does Mary.
Seeing Agnes close her bedroom door, he lets Mary know how nice that was. “That means a lot to me, you thinking that.” And he also tells her much he enjoyed seeing her dancing earlier, “to that lovely song.”
“It’s my new favorite,” she says.
“Oh, I know. I told your sister that it should be called ‘Mary’s Isle of Golden Dreams.'”
Mary laughs out loud, then catches herself, and checks Agnes and Peter’s door. Then she asks Daniel, in a whisper, “Would you care to dance, Mr. E.?”
“Oh … Miss Jorjorian … It’s, um, terribly late, and, um …”
“Oh, you,” she says. “Look how nervous you are!” Then she stands, holding out her hands, walking backward onto the rug. “It’s a waltz!”
“But, the noise,” he insists, referring to the Victrola.
“We’ll make our own,” she says, and begins humming the tune.
Daniel looks to Agnes and Peter’s door once again. Then he joins Mary, humming with her, and gently places a hand at her back while suspending her right hand — expertly taking the lead, waltzing to their tune, dancing for the first time with Mary. Both are trying to act nonchalantly, as if it is just fun and games (as Mary twitters and trills through the tune’s bright spots), but they have never been in such close and purposeful proximity — their breasts heaving with shallow breaths.
While Peter sleeps, already snoring deeply, Agnes is at their door in her night dress, peering through the key hole at her sister and Daniel, wondering if they might even kiss.
She is satisfied with her work. Leaving that Valentine card, “anonymously” for Mr. Eliseian, seems to have done the trick.
Wednesday, March 2, 1921
After breakfast, Mary accompanies Daniel down the stairs of the apartment and out onto Riverside Avenue to see him off.
“Don’t be afraid to demand what’s yours,” she tells him.
“Thank you, Miss Jorjorian,” he says. His voice cracking. “Thank you, as always.”
So funny to see him nervous. Mary had been giving him a pep talk all morning, and advice on how to state his case with Mr. Bianco. As the tailoring firm’s office assistant, she knows the business well, and can vouch for the imbalance in the partnership between work and profits.
“You’re in difficult situation right now, Mr. E,” she says, wishing she were holding his hands right now, as they had done last night while dancing.
“Well, I really appreciate having you,” he says. “Here to help me.”
“As do I. I appreciate having you here,” she says. She thinks about all they have together, and adds aloud, “And, now, as a dance partner!”
Daniel beams, blushing. He adores her forwardness. She says things other Armenian women probably don’t even entertain as thoughts. Yet, not only does Mary think it; she actually says it. And it was she who had invited him to dance! She emboldens him to say things like,
“Who knows where it will lead …”
Mary acts embarrassed, “Mr. Eliseian!”
He’s proud to have embarrassed her, if only mutually in jest.
And off he goes, up to his shop in town (the place that was to be the producer of so many dreams, now the source of so many of his current disappointments). She stands, watching him stride with purpose, not bothering to wait for a street car; and she’s takes pride in sending him off with his posture upright. He’s got a natural spring in his step, which matches his personality. And to think he’s been so anxious and gloomy of late; she can’t allow that! She won’t. And for today, she hasn’t.
She waltzes her way back upstairs, humming, “My Isle of Golden Dreams.”
As sister Agnes takes care of Bedros and baby Shavarsh, Mary continues her humming, and stokes the stove and puts a kettle on for the dishes. She stacks the plates and sorts the silverware into the wash tub in three-four time, with food scraps set aside for the neighbor’s chickens to the rise and dip of her melody. Then she lifts and tips the kettle, swirling the steaming water over the tub, sudsing the soap into a cleansing froth.
As innocent as it seemed at the time, dancing with Daniel last night was a momentous moment Mary’s life thus-far. Without an orchestra, nor even a gramophone, they glided giddily on weak knees, each unable to believe the other had gone along with the unspoken wish.
Mary loves to dance. But it is music which propels her. That Daniel shares a love — and even leads the way — in musical appreciation and performance, brings immense joy and satisfaction to Mary.
Until moving into Peter and Agnes’s home, with Daniel in residence, Mary had been a desirous-but-distracted student of the piano. Her folks could never afford to rent anything but the most basic model, prone to sticky keys and going out of tune, shared by the whole family: mother and father, and younger sisters, Sara and Shaké, and brother, Aram, and banged upon by little brother, Haig, and baby sister, Neure. It’s a wonder the neighbors in the tenement put up with the Jorjorians’ continuous racket. Music classes at Wadleigh had been only one of many daily sources of enrichment for Mary in high school. She truly believed, throughout all her years as a public school student, that she was taking nothing for granted. However, when her family moved from New York out to Fresno, and Mary stayed behind, taking up residence with her aunt and uncle, she suddenly realized the obvious with a bewildering shock: her aunt and uncle are not musical people! Yes, they had a piano, one that was, in fact, better quality than what she grew up with, but Mary wasn’t given an open invitation to simply practice, to put in the repetitions necessary to get through difficult passages. (“Can’t you play any melodies?” her uncle once asked.) Then, after nearly two years, when Mary herself finally moved out to Fresno to rejoin her family, and to try her own hand at manual labor, Mary was alarmed to find her family without a piano! (“We had to return it, dear. Your father’s truck broke down.”) The neighbors were no longer a problem; the noise was not a problem; but the need for a motorized vehicle came first … along with all the other costs of the Jorjorians suddenly being farmers.
Consequently, by the time Mary was called upon to live with Agnes and Peter in Jacksonville, she had almost considered herself a twenty-year-old former pianist (such as she ever was). But there was Mr. Daniel Eliseian, with his violin and his nightly practice … and her sister’s own piano — not a rental! So Mary resumed her playing and practicing, which Daniel would encourage, and would actually collaborate with her in duets.
One evening, not too long ago — before his current wave of agitation — they were working on their duet of “Meditation” from Massenet’s opera, Thaïs. Mary’s piano accompaniment felt mysteriously effortless to her, as her notes and chords folded perfectly to form steps for the tones pouring out of Daniel’s violin to climb, then sustaining … and releasing … as one. A stillness clung in the air at their completion, and she was suddenly embarrassed, as if they had just engaged in love-making.
“Bravo!” came the assessment from Agnes and Peter, who were in their bedroom with the door opened. That only increased Mary’s embarrassment, as her private ecstasy had, in fact, public witness. Daniel held his eyes to her, even as Agnes came out into the parlor, clapping, announcing, “Oh, you’ve gotten so good together!”
And, with that, Mary wanted to continue playing this duet with Daniel for the rest of her life.
“Baby sleeps like a doll!” says Agnes, as she enters the kitchen from tending the boys. “And sometimes I am so pleased with Bedros’s ability to simply take off, out to explore, without fuss.”
“Speaking of exploration, I was thinking,” Mary says. “Wouldn’t it be fun if a group of us took a car trip for a picnic in Ortega this Sunday?”
It wouldn’t be an arduous trip, that’s for sure. Ortega is a neighborhood of Jacksonville, a short drive down the St. Johns River, situated on a small peninsula. It has a beautiful park and lovely homes, and includes residents of some wealth, including many of the clients that the men of their group cater to.
“You and Peter and I could bring the children, and the Yeghoian brothers could join us, and maybe Mr. Randy, and, of course, Mr. Eliseian. If Peter doesn’t mind, he could drive us. I do think Mr. Eliseian could use a relaxing day with friends, don’t you?”
“Oh, that’s a wonderful idea!” says Agnes. So conspicuous was Mary’s listing Daniel last that Agnes is all the more pleased with how well her secret match-making between Mary and Daniel is progressing.
But she worries about the current state of Daniel’s partnership with Mr. Bianco and, in turn, the tenuous hold Jacksonville has on him.
Peter is very worried, also. He counts few men on this earth as close to him as Daniel, who is like a brother. Peter is also a business colleague, of sorts, with Mr. Bianco — as part of the Jacksonville community, with many overlapping clients via their respective textile trades; but he is not personally close to Mr. Bianco. And with all the mistreatment, disrespect, and neglect Daniel is receiving from Mr. Bianco — for whom Peter had acted as a liaison in the formation of their partnership (and had, actually, urged Daniel’s relocation from New York to Florida!) — Peter feels responsible for the well-being of his “younger brother,” and is growing in his bitterness for this Italian tailor.
“You know what I think would be good for all of us?” Peter says to Agnes after agreeing to the Ortega plan. “I think we should get our friend out on the town tonight. Ask Mary if she knows of anything — a movie, or whatever — that might be of interest to her fiancé.”
“Peter!” Agnes shushes him for using that word, looking to the stairs, as though Mary, up in the apartment, might hear them. Then she whispers, reminding him, “You didn’t even think it would work!” (referring to the Valentine card).
Peter laughs, tickled with what is taking place under his roof. “I’ve got to hand it to you, Mother. You know your sister, and you sometimes seem to know my friend, better than I do! … I’m going to enjoy having him as a brother-in-law.”
“Shhhhh,” Agnes says, emphatically. Then she laughs, too. “It will be nice.”
“Mis-ter E-li-sei-an,” Mary sings as she enters his tailoring shop, upstairs at 20 West Forsyth Street.
“Mary!” he exclaims, emerging from behind one of his cutting tables, disrupting several bolts of fabric that he had been piling and sorting. “Miss Jorjorian …”
“I’ve come to get you,” she says.
“Yes, I’m going to get you!”
“Please do. What are you getting me for?”
“We’re all going to the movie show, and you’re coming with us.”
“Oh, Miss Jorjorian, I’m so busy. I don’t know …”
“Sister and Peter and the boys are out with the car. We’re going to the Imperial to see Clara Kimball Young in Mid-Channel. Bedros specifically requested you, ‘Egishe.'”
“Oh, I’m so busy!”
“I can see! It’s like a hurricane swept through. It was only half this messy yesterday!”
“‘Organizing’ is the opposite of what you’re doing. Besides, right now I’m going to save the shop from more of your organizing, and get you outside before night falls, down the street and have you enjoy a picture with me and Bedros.” She lifts his jacket and hat from the coat rack, and commands, “Come on.” Then she yells toward the back office, “Mr. Bianco!”
“He’s not here,” Daniel says.
“Didn’t think so.”
“He’s never here.”
“That’s the problem,” says Mary, echoing Daniel’s current refrain.
“That’s what I’m doing,” he says emphatically. “This isn’t working.”
Daniel pours water into the basin, washes his hands and wets his face. Then he dries his palms across the mound of dark brown hair atop his head and slicks it all back with the comb from his vest.
He turns around from Mary so as to unbutton his trousers and tuck in his shirt. Then he allows Mary from behind to dress him into his jacket.
She rather likes that.
So does he.
Then Daniel reaches down for his leather satchel, takes a quick glance inside, and clasps it. He adjusts his hose and laces, and stands, straightening his tie. Finally, he smooths his mustache and presents himself.
“Now there’s the handsome fellow I came calling on!”
Daniel takes Mary’s hand and kisses it, theatrically. He feels better already.
He locks the studio and, as they’re walking toward the staircase, up the stairs come the Yeghoian brothers, George and Eddy.
“Eloping?” Eddy asks.
“Good afternoon, Miss Jorjorian,” says his brother George.
“Mrs. Eliseian,” says Eddy, as though correcting George.
“Oh, you two!” replies Mary.
“Not me!” protests George.
“So nice to see our friend smiling,” Eddy says of Daniel.
“Hello, boys,” Daniel finally says to them.
As with all the Armenians in Jacksonville, Daniel’s friendship with the Yeghoian brothers goes back to their years in New York. The Yeghoians are tailors, as well. George is a couple of years Daniel’s senior; Eddy is a year younger. Prior to Mary’s arrival last November, the three gents were like a single unit, working in adjoining studios, going out for meals and movies together, wandering all over town and along the river in their spare time to explore their adopted Jacksonville (for which Peter dubbed them “Three Muske-tailors”). They also discussed their ambitions and projected upon each other their futures. The consensus seemed to be that Eddy is overly interested in too many girls to ever find a suitable wife; George is too set in his ways to share his life with a woman and family; and, meanwhile, Daniel … Daniel was to be the first, and most successful, of all the Armenian men in Florida to leave their bachelor cohort, as soon as the right young lady came along. And they knew it was Marry the minute she arrived.
“He’s a man who is actually interested in what a woman says and thinks!” Mary once remarked to George, who was, at the time, dutifully lending her an interested ear.
“There goes the trio,” Eddy told his older brother upon hearing George’s report, adding: “My only question is what took him so long” (what with Mary living right there, under the same roof).
And here she is.
“You treat her well, Daneg,” Eddy now instructs Daniel, using the Armenian diminutive of his name.
“I think that’s for her father to say,” adds George with a laugh.
“Now you?” Mary says to George.
He ducks timidly into his shoulders.
“Your family’s outside,” notes Eddy, referring to Peter, Agnes, and the boys — and actually not meaning for the observation to add to the teasing banter, but proud of himself that it does.
“But no sign of Bianco?” asks George.
“Well,” says Daniel, with resignation.
“We’ve got a show to catch,” says Mary, in part to change the subject.
“Mid-Channel?” asks Eddy.
“Yes. Clara Kimball Young,” says Mary.
Eddy swoons at hearing the actress’s name.
“Let us know how it is,” says George.
“I’ll be with Miss Jorjorian,” says Daniel. “So I already know: It will be grand.”
“Oooooh,” says Eddy, wagging a finger at Daniel, who is beaming.
“It’s why he’s with her and I’m with you,” notes George.
“Gentlemen,” Daniel states, tipping his hat and lifting his arm which Mary is holding. They leave with self-satisfied pride in the good-natured humor they’ve allowed to transpire. And down the stairs the go.
But Mary suddenly slips as they’re approaching the second landing of the stairwell. Daniel quickly grabs her and, out of view of anyone, they share a laugh. They continue down to the first-floor landing, laughing and giggling, both almost falling again (“Oooooh!“), in a tumble of joy.
As they hit the breezy fresh air, Bedros breaks loose from his mother and jumps into Daniel’s arms, laughing along with them. Agnes and Peter are delighted.
“Look, he’s happy!” Agnes announces.
“The Yeghoians said you weren’t,” Peter says.
Daniel pats Mary’s arm, which is interlocked with his. “Now I am.”
Mary’s happy, too.
They walk up the block to the theatre, and Mary tells Daniel of the plan to go to Ortega this Sunday.
“We can rent boats!” she says, to sweeten the offer.
As Peter is buying the tickets (over Daniel’s polite objections), and Agnes takes Bedros over to the posters for the show, Daniel pulls a small box from his satchel. “I’ve got something for you, Miss Jorjorian,” he says in a private whisper.
Mary’s heart nearly stops …
No, she did not mistake it for a ring box … But it is obviously something special, something specifically for her from him.
“A manicure set!” she announces, upon opening it. And, after noting its beauty, she states, “Oh, I will treasure it! A gift from my good friend from our days in Jacksonville.”
“How sweet!” declares Agnes, return returning to see.
Daniel is now self-conscious, and wishes he’d waited until a more private moment — back at the apartment, perhaps — to make his presentation to Mary.
“Oh, clippers,” says Peter, as he’s handing out tickets. “I could use a trim myself.”
Mary recoils, and Agnes socks Peter on the chest.
“It’s a joke!” Then, assessing the set, he says to Mary, “That’s very nice, Sis,” and to Daniel, “You’re a good man, Egishe.”
Daniel is embarrassed by all the attention. Mary is elated.
Inside the Imperial Theatre, little Bedros is squealing with joy as the performer on stage adds more items from his basket, into the air. It is a continuous flow of balls and hoops and batons, some of which are at times missed on accident, sometimes missed on purpose, sometimes retired to the basket and replaced with another item. The man is quite talented, and the house organist adds inventive sound effects to make it even more comical. The audience is very appreciative.
“That’s what Mr. Eliseian looked like at the shop earlier!” says Mary to Bedros, who is sitting between her and Daniel.
“Oh, boss, it wasn’t that bad!” Daniel says.
Bedros is impressed, though, and now imagines Mr. Eliseian to be an actual juggler.
The live act is then followed by a couple of shorts — a western and a comedy — which keep everyone engaged and entertained and the organist playing lively.
When the newsreel comes on, Agnes hands baby Shavarsh to Mary and grabs young Bedros, taking the boy to the theatre’s nursery.
Mary falls silent. So does Daniel. Mary wishes Daniel would hold her hand. Daniel wishes the he could hold Mary’s hand. And Peter gets absorbed in the rest of the newsreel.
Agnes returns, having deposited little Bedros with all the other kids, as the feature begins.
Clara Kimball Young is a favorite film star for Mary, and Mid-Channel is a pretty good movie, but probably not one of Miss Young’s best. It was a hit play, a few years ago (with Ethel Barrymore, Mary could tell you), but the story is depressing. It’s about a middle-age couple who are in a dark passage in their marriage. Mary wants to identify, or at least sympathize, with Miss Young’s character, but she can hardly relate at all. Everything her character does clashes with Mary’s romantic notions of how her own matrimony might someday be. She can admire Miss Young’s character’s defiant will as an independent-minded woman … as well as her gorgeous wardrobe. But her behavior is reprehensible! And her poor abused husband!
Meanwhile, Agnes actually finds herself both shocked and, oddly, envious of some of the situation: how Clara Kimball Young’s character takes advantage of her husband’s neglect — and their lack of children — by going out with other men to night clubs. She’s a wanton adultress! Agnes is aghast … and fully absorbed.
Daniel takes the whole movie as a lesson: be a good husband to your wife; meanwhile, he also simply enjoys the view of Miss Young on screen, who, it should be said, bears a vague similarity to Mary (were she a blond with an angular nose).
Peter, on the other hand, is simply bored. Sure, Miss Young is good-looking, but he takes the opportunity to imagine his own future elsewhere, outside of Jacksonville: New York? Chicago? San Francisco?
“Well that was good,” they all agree, out on Forsyth Street, its electric lights now humming. At least it was a good way to spend a late afternoon, and it gave the adults all something to think about. The line of patrons for the evening showing is down the block.
It’s a short walk back to the automobile, but it’s enough time for Peter to put a damper on things.
“I’m telling you, friend,” Peter tells him. “You’ve got to abandon this business, like Bianco’s abandoned you. He doesn’t deserve you.”
“He’s taking care of it, Peter,” Mary says. “In his own honorable way.”
“It’s business, Miss Jorjorian,” Peter interrupts. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“She understands,” Daniel says of Mary.
Peter ignores both of them, and continues: “Mr. Eliseian is being taken advantage of in a business matter. He moved down to Florida, leaving a top operation in New York, and is treated like an apprentice shop boy here in Jacksonville. Daniel, you’re better than Bianco.”
“She understands,” Daniel says.
“Vakilian’s going back,” Peter says of Mr. Randy, who has plans for a return to New York later this month. “You should go with him.”
“I know, I know,” Daniel protests. Peter is always repeating common knowledge, as though it’s an original thought. “That’s what we’ve been talking about.”
“Okay, but you’ve got to get on it.”
“I know. I know.”
Mary clasps Daniel’s arm. He’s weary again.
Back at the apartment, after Agnes and Mary have cleared dinner and have put the children to bed, and Agnes has joined Peter in their room, Mary sits down at the table with Daniel.
“Your gift means a lot to me,” she tells him. “I think you know that. I hope you know that.”
“I do. I wasn’t sure if it was the right gift, but it was for the right person. I wanted to get you something nice, to show you ….”
She awaits him to say just what, exactly, he wanted to show her, but he can’t seem to state it. He glances nervously at his hands on the table top, with his long fingers, then then across to hers, Mary’s compact hands, like shells.
They are both nervous now. However, while Daniel sometimes goes quiet when he’s got something to say, Mary too often finds something to say when things go quiet.
“I’ve decided,” she suddenly announces.
He looks to her, both relieved and anxious.
“I’m going to move back to New York, too!” she says.
“When you do.”
“Oh, Miss Jorjorian! No, no, no …”
“Yes, yes, yes …” she argues. Then she forms her rationale: “With you leaving, I’m left without a real employer. I need a job outside of the house. I don’t want to just do this,” she says emphatically, waving her hand in reference to Agnes and Peter’s household.
“I would love you in New York,” Daniel tells her. (He’s about to correct himself, to say, “I would love having you in New York,” but he decides to settle for the ambiguities of English to communicate the range of possibilities.)
This time around in New York — now that they actually know each other, and share an actual fondness — they would go out on dates with friends, or maybe just the two of them: to real theatre and true movie palaces, to the opera, to Central Park and along the Great White Way, to concerts and restaurants.
“Oh, New York will be grand with you, Mr. E.!”
It was in New York, of course, where Daniel and Mary first met. But that was in 1916, just about five years ago, not long after Daniel had arrived from Buenos Aires. He was a young man, rough with English but talented with fabric, working for, and living with, Mr. Merjanian and his family. This was when everyone lived in New York, before the Jorjorians moved to Fresno and Peter and Agnes and baby Bedros moved to Florida. This was before the whole group of them moved to Florida — the Yeghoians, Randy Vakilian, Mr. Kurkjian, Mr. Baylarian, Mr. Simonian, everybody; they were all still in New York. Mary was not yet sixteen, in high school at Wadleigh. Agnes and Peter had just gotten married. And, even though people lived in different parts of the city (the Jorjorians were on East 125th Street, the Merjanians were ninety-three blocks south, on East 32nd Street), New York was like an Armenian village back then. Everybody knew everybody, and kept each other informed. (It was all about the war back then, focusing on what was happening in Asia Minor and the brutality of the Ottoman Turks.)
Mary didn’t much care for Daniel in the beginning. He seemed inwardly drawn and not very interesting. (Plus, he wasn’t blond and athletic, as was her ideal at the time.) Mary remembers the meeting, unfavorably, but Daniel can’t recall it at all. Through the years, she remained aware of but uninterested in Daniel. Meanwhile, Daniel had come to see Mary Jorjorian — Peter’s young sister-in-law — as a nice girl but certainly not as the dynamic young woman she was becoming. Instead, he remained focused on building his career as a tailor and to gain the status (already enjoyed by Mr. Merjanian, only two years Daniel’s senior) of that of master tailor.
So last autumn, when it was decided that Mary should move to Jacksonville to assist Agnes (and to get Mary out of God-forsaken Fresno, where she was miscast as a farm girl), the opportunity to live in “tropical” Florida was for Mary cooled by the detail that Peter and Agnes already had Mr. Eliseian rooming with them in their small second-floor apartment on Riverside Avenue. She was going to share a household with that man?
However, Mr. Eliseian greeted Mary’s arrival with curious enthusiasm. Agnes had been speaking highly of her little sister to Daniel, and emphasized Mary’s intelligence and wit, as well as her “movie star” beauty. Even Peter — not one to associate much outside his own sex — admitted to Mary’s many great qualities. Daniel, despite his need for a regular good night’s sleep, graciously gave up his room for her (and took up residence in the pantry).
And, quickly, Mary found Mr. Eliseian to be, in fact, actually charming and talented. (“He plays the violin!” she gushed to her big sister.) And, as Daniel had become much more fluent in English in the four years since her initial impression, she realized how truly intelligent and refined he is. The more they got to know each other — and after he hired her to be his clerical assistant for his tailoring business — the more she came to look up to him. At the same time, he came to cherish and respect her. They came to share laughter for the absurd and awe for the ingenious. With every interaction and observation these past four months, Daniel and Mary seem to have found themselves repeatedly sharing a spot of over-lapping agreement, comfort, and compatibility.
And now she’s suggesting something possibly profound with her proposed early-move to New York, right on the heels of Daniel.
“Of course, the Armenians would all talk if I ‘followed’ you,” she says, half-jokingly, trying to figure out what her plan might, in fact, be.
“Let them talk,” he says.
Mary greets that statement with glee. It represents an attitude that is so closely paired with her own. But, also … it seems that they’re coming to some sort of bigger decision.
“Oh, the thought of you leaving us!” she says. “Leaving Sister and Peter and Bedros …. And I’ll admit it: what about me? Well, it just makes me sick with worry.”
“But you just said, you’ll be coming, too!”
“Eventually. But I don’t know when. I don’t know what I know! Peter and Agnes still need me. I’ve got no place to live in New York.”
“Your aunt and uncle,” Daniel reminds her.
“What if they don’t want me? ‘Here she is again.’ I can’t continue just showing up at people’s doors, hoping they have a child I can care for.” Mary drops her face into her palms, embarrassed that she’s initiated this discussion of a “plan” which didn’t exist two minutes ago.
“Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know!” she exclaims.
Daniel cranes his head down to peer into the face of her hanging head.
“Hello,” he says, and pushes aside some of her curly locks of hair which have come un-sprung.
“You probably think I’m such a silly fool!” she says, her head still hanging, with Daniel continuing to look up through her curls.
“‘Silly‘?” he asks rhetorically, their heads practically under the table. “Absolutely.”
That makes Mary laugh, realizing the absurdity, and it delivers them both back to an upright position, facing each other.
He reaches out to clutch her hands, resting in her lap, and continues: “You’re wonderfully silly, Miss Jorjorian. And smart … and inventive … talented, and … highly spirited. You dance with me when the only music is in our heads.” She laughs. (And she can’t believe they’re holding hands yet again.) “But ‘foolish‘?” he continues. “Not in a million years. Maybe I’m the foolish one.”
He releases her hands, but she wishes he hadn’t.
“I just worry so much about what’s going to happen if you leave and I stay,” she says.
“But I’m not leaving just this minute. And you’re not staying forever,” he tells her.
“Still. I do worry … almost to the point of getting sick.”
“Well don’t go and get yourself sick, Miss Jorjorian, otherwise none of us can go!”
She’s making it hard for him to make the right move. She knows that.
He sees her eyes welling, almost ready to drop tears. So he produces his handkerchief and hands it to her. She wipes her eyes, then blows her nose.
“Go right ahead,” he says, finding humorous comfort in her taking such liberty.
“Thanks,” she says. Then she pretends like she’s going to clean out her ears, too. And they laugh.
“You’re right,” she says.
He needs to start over again, out of Jacksonville, back in New York. And she knows it will probably be a matter of a few short weeks — sometime this month — when he does. And she knows her own departure will be more like — God-forbid — as late as this summer. They have fallen in-step on many things, but their departure dates for New York won’t be one of them. That is too much for her to ask or even to hope for. She will have to remain calm and steady, plan for the long term, and trust that her future and his are on ever-converging paths.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” Mary says. “Bianco’s making your life hard enough right now without me adding to it!”
“‘Adding to it,'” he says, echoing her. “That’s what you do to my life. You add to it.”
There is a pause. Mary’s imagination scatters to all the possibilities.
“But you’re right,” he says, “– about Bianco.” He sits back in his seat. “And so is Peter.”
“But, when?” she asks.
“I don’t know. I’ve got to get everything arranged. I’ve got to talk with Mr. Bianco and come to some sort of settlement.”
“But he’s never there,” says Mary.
“That’s the problem,” notes Daniel.
“And, until then?”
“Maybe we can dance again, Miss Jorjorian … this time with actual music.”
“Oh, Mr. E. I am going to miss you.”
“But: in New York ...”
“Yes. In New York …”
“Well, then,” he concludes, getting up to prepare for bed. “I’ll see you in New York.”
Thursday, March 3, 1921
“Daniel had to get an early start, dear,” Agnes tells Mary as she enters the kitchen.
“Oh,” states Mary, suddenly worried. “Maybe he’s got an appointment with Mr. Bianco.”
“I don’t know. I got up when I heard the front door. He’d had a bite to eat, and, of course, left a tidy set of dishes and utensils, cleaned and drying.”
“That’s our Mr. E.,” says Mary, admiring his work. Not a crumb left on the counter. She glances to his space in the pantry, behind the partition, and can see it all put away and tidy. She hopes it isn’t Mr. Bianco that Daniel was heading off early for. She selfishly wants that meeting to be delayed as long as possible.
“He’s a good man, little sis,” notes Agnes. “I hope everything works out for the two of you.”
“You can tell, huh?”
“Well … there seems to be something in the air.”
“I hope so. Everybody seems to think so. Including me, I guess,” says Mary. “I’m not so sure about him, though. He’s my ‘mystery,’ that Mr. E. I picked the right nickname for him, that’s for sure! He seems awfully preoccupied with all the troubles Bianco is giving him. And he and everybody seems to be intent on him getting back to New York as soon as possible. We were talking about that last night, after you and Peter retired.”
Agnes was aware of some sort of important conversation going on last night, but she didn’t have the inclination to spy on them. She decided, perhaps, not everything between her sister and possible-future-brother-in-law is her business. Nevertheless, Agnes acts coy, and expresses an interest in what, exactly, they might have been talking about.
“Oh, you know me,” concedes Mary. “I got talking in both directions! I was practically throwing myself at him and fleeing at the same time!”
“No. I don’t mean that. He knows I … well, you know: he’s special. I’ve never felt like this before, for any boy … or gentleman.”
“I don’t know. I think so … I think so!”
“Oh, my sweet sister, dear. I think so, too! And everybody can see it. Or, at least, we are praying that it be true!”
“Do you think … do you think Mr. E. knows? Can he tell?”
“‘Can he tell?’! Mary, can’t YOU tell? Can’t you see how he’s fallen for you? Can’t you hear how tongue-tied and nervous he’s become around you?”
“That’s not just his partnership problems? He has a lot on his mind, Agnes. He’s very nervous about his future. He doesn’t need some girl like me distracting him with silly movie-picture notions of romance!”
Peter’s footfalls through the parlor toward the kitchen put a sudden end to the sisters’ intimate discussion. But throughout the morning, Agnes confers with Mary such tidbits of experience and wisdom as: how un-established Peter was in his career before they got married; how all their friends and colleagues have been openly talking about the obvious prospects of Mary and Daniel; and how humorous it is — to everybody, including Peter — that the only two who don’t seem to know are Mary and Daniel themselves!
And so, for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon, Mary finds herself floating in a dream state.
It might be a slow start they’ll get off to, as with Agnes and Peter, but eventually, with Daniel’s talent and determination and Mary’s encouragement and support, they’re going to find success.
Imagining their eventual home together, Mary envisions their book-lined study (filled with leather-bound volumes of classics, theology, science, and modern philosophy, as well as popular literature), with a desk for herself as well as for Daniel, and a reading stand between them for their many dictionaries and encyclopedias. There will be a large world globe and map drawers, and a table upon which to spread their maps. At one side of the room there will be a fireplace, with matching leather chairs and reading lamps, all sitting on a nice oriental carpet — purchased from Peter (of course). A gramophone will provide them with continuous, lovely music. But the piano in the corner and violin music stand will allow them to break from their studies (and their writing and their travel planning) to play their own music, at any time of their choosing.
Possibly, with a trip to Paris, Mary could lift her school French to true fluency, and she and Daniel would alternate their conversations in different languages. Would Daniel be interested in learning Latin (the only language other than English she has a head start on over Daniel)? Most likely. They could master that, as well, and he could teach her Greek and Spanish, and, of course, continue to help her hone her Armenian. She has no interest whatsoever in learning Turkish (or German, for that matter). But she would love to eventually acquaint herself with Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian, just to round everything out.
Maybe it won’t be a large house. Even with his coming success, Daniel will, after all, be a tailor not an industrialist. But Mary will be allowed to work out of the home, maybe back at the Western Union, so she will be able to contribute to their income. And with their two children — the first two (a boy and a girl) — they could get by with a modest home, but with nice features. The library would be a must. Three bedrooms, plus a library, a kitchen, a bathroom, a dining room, and a parlor. That’s eight rooms, plus an entryway. And a garage (to house their automobile, of course). Plus, a basement, a laundry porch, and an attic. And also a nice yard where Mary can grow flowers as well as vegetables. A big walnut tree, with a tire swing for the children, that would be nice.
All day, as Mary does her chores, preparing noontime dinner, cleaning up after dinner, preparing for supper, and then lying down for a nap, she is thinking of her life to come. “Mrs. Eliseian,” she imagines. “Mrs. Daniel G. Eliseian.” She wishes he would go ahead propose marriage now, regardless of their living or his career circumstances. And the ceremony could come when they are both mutually conveniently available to be seen by the municipal clerk in City Hall … Manhattan. They don’t need security. The old generations always made marriage about security. Love was not even a consideration. It was as if it were a business matter. The two families conferred. The two fathers met. Negotiations were made, agreements were arrived at. The daughter was presented, ownership was transferred. But here in the modern world — in America — it is about love. It is about free choice and self-determination. It is about the independent decision of two thinking adults, in love, seeking security between them. Security for Mary would come from the simple request and promise. “Will you marry me?” (“Yes! Yes! Yes!“) Love and commitment, that is security. Everything follows from that. Daniel worries about his partnership with Mr. Bianco, who won’t give Daniel the time of day, but Mary … Mary is all ears, awaiting to hear from her “mystery.”
At 3:00 pm, a telephone call comes into Peter’s shop downstairs. It’s from Daniel.
“He’s getting his ticket,” Peter tells Agnes and Mary, having run upstairs. “And will be leaving at 9:00 pm.”
“Tonight?!” Mary screams.
“Yes. He’s still on the line. He wants to talk to you.”
Mary hesitates, stunned, then shouts with anger and disbelief, “No! No! No! I will not speak to him! If he wants to leave … LET HIM LEAVE!”
With Daniel now back at the apartment, he is gathering together all his possessions and packing his steamer trunk. Agnes is in the kitchen with Mary. Mary is preparing dinner as she always does, while Agnes pulls together a sack of food that Daniel can eat on the trip. Peter is standing around, talking business and strategy with Daniel. He has a sheet of paper and a pencil, writing down ideas — whom to contact in New York, what to say, and to whom, et cetera.
“Nobody but we should know your plans,” states Peter to Daniel, as well as to Agnes and Mary. “Not even to what city you’re headed. Not the Yegohians, not Baylarian, and certainly not Vakilian.”
“Certainly not Hrand!” echoes Agnes, regarding their talkative friend.
“Not even Mrs. Pappas,” says Peter, continuing. “Nobody can know, or Bianco will come and get you, Dan. He will be furious, I guarantee it. Ooh, boy, he’s not going to like this one bit!”
“I’ve got to do it,” Daniel says.
“I know, I know. I’m not questioning your motives. And I’m pretty damned impressed with your tactics. But I’m just telling you: Bianco will be furious.”
“Do you need your undergarments washed?” Agnes asks, mixing English and Armenian.
“Oh, I’ll take care –”
“No, no, no. Don’t be silly — give it here,” interrupts Agnes. “I’ll take care of that. And I’ll dry everything with a hot iron.”
Meanwhile, Mary is in the kitchen. She hasn’t spoken a word — not a word — to Daniel since the announcement of his sudden departure.
“Will I be making you dinner?” she asks with a sneer.
“Mary!” Agnes says. “Please. Of course our friend is having dinner.”
“Just asking,” she responds, then enumerates her task: “You and Peter and your friend. … And something for Bedros and myself. You’ll be taking care of baby?”
“Mary,” repeats Agnes.
Daniel is a nervous heap. He does not know what to say to Mary. When he arrived in the apartment an hour ago, he rushed directly to her room where she was lying down with baby Shavarsh. She had spent the time since his phone call crying herself to exhaustion. “I am sorry. I am so sorry,” he said, over and over while she ignored him, her face turned toward the wall, stroking baby’s head.
Now, as he has cleaned out his sleeping space in the pantry, and with the partition and the sleeping cot both folded away, Daniel suddenly realizes he hasn’t packed his violin. And he can’t find it.
Mary knows where it is. She had placed it under her bed, right after his call. She isn’t sure what her plan was, or why exactly she was hiding his violin, but it was the only tangible thing she could grab and hold onto that meant so much to her. For Mary, Daniel’s violin is almost the embodiment of Daniel himself. He was breaking her heart, so she was taking his violin.
From the kitchen, Mary hears Daniel and Agnes and Peter consulting on the issue in Armenian.
“Mary …” Agnes says, at the door of the kitchen. She does not need to state the situation. She wordlessly pleads for her sister’s surrender.
Mary’s lower lip is quivering. She is the girl in the household right now, called on by the adults to not misbehave.
She leaves the kitchen and walks through the parlor, holding a level gaze of reddened eyes to Daniel, whose own eyes are red. At her bedroom door, she gestures for him to come with her.
Pulling out his violin, she stands and cradles it to herself, resuming her gaze.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
She meets his apology with silence, then asks, “If I give it to you, do you promise you will play with me when I move back?”
“Can I trust you?”
He sighs. He’s actually quite flattered with how angry she is with him. “I’m not leaving you, Mary. I am leaving Bianco. You have made my life very bright here. And it saddens me greatly to leave you now. But it is simply a matter of timing: not ‘if’ but ‘when.’ And that man has made it impossible for me to continue here. I must return. And when we reunite, back in New York, we will resume. I promise.”
She cannot recall him ever addressing her so squarely with the familiarity of her Christian name, “Mary.” He’s done it on occasion, sure — including the other day — but almost by accident, as a verbal overflow from their intimate proximity. And yet she’s always cherished hearing her name in his voice. She wishes he were in a position to use it always, with an American-like comfort, addressing her as he would … his wife.
If they were married, she would be going with him, packing their things together, moving to a home together, living the rest of their lives together, no promises necessary. Still, it is nice to hear him making actual commitments that involve her — in her name — and not simply his career plans.
To the great relief of everyone — for Peter and Agnes and Bedros, and especially Daniel and Mary — dinner takes on a jovial tone as a celebratory send-off of a good friend.
“And to the future!” says Peter, making a toast with the Armenian brandy he brought out from his Prohibition cabinet.
“No,” says Daniel. “First, to my friends. To the memories I will always have of this home which we have shared … as family.”
“Here’s to family!” Mary says.
“To family!” they all toast, laughing.
Mary and Daniel clink their glasses and drink to each other through their reddened gaze — now made more-so by their laughter and elation. The brandy (ararat), is hot on Mary’s throat and adds more color to her already glowing face. Peter and Agnes have a laugh at Mary’s inexperienced reaction, but Daniel nods in understanding. (And she will give it to Daniel to finish — to keep him warm for his “journey north.”)
It’s already after 7:00 pm as they quickly conclude dinner. Agnes relieves Mary of her domestic duties so that she can help to compose and pen Daniel’s final letter to Mr. Bianco.
By 8:30, Mary has completed the letter in its final form:
March 3, 1921
Bianco & Eliseian
20 West Forsyth Street
I am going because I am tired. It is impossible for me to continue any longer. When we signed the partnership contract you promised that you would give half your time to the work and do your best to promote the business. But beginning with the first day, you forgot your promise. And you left the whole responsibility on me, without thinking that it would be too much for me to bear. I reminded you a few times of your promise, but you did not hear me at all. Just putting in the capital is not all. You have to give time and energy in a business like this, which needs all the energy of at least two men. I gave all my energy to the business, and we have almost succeeded. But I cannot endure it any longer, and your conduct has made me leave. I have collected about $1,150. I have paid Rosenburg check of $130, and have drawn the rest. We have gained about $1200, as half of which is mine, $600, and the balance of $400 I have drawn as my rightful share for promoting the business. I am enclosing the rest of the bills for you to collect, and also the amount of work which we have done this week. The blanks are on the wall. You can collect the rent from Mr. Schwartz. I also owe Mr. A. Cramer $50 for trimming and he owes the price of making one coat. Hope you will pardon me, and wishing you success.
Yours truly, D. Eliseian
Peter uses his telephone downstairs to call for a taxi, and helps Daniel and the driver place the steamer into the car’s trunk.
“Friend,” Peter tells him. “I’ve got to hand it to you for taking action. When you’ve made up your mind, you act. We’re going to miss you, but we’re going to love getting our pantry back!”
“You can come stay on it whenever you want some fresh Florida air!” Agnes adds, referring to the cot.
“Have a good trip, Mr. Egishe,” Bedros says, up past his bedtime for the departure. “Have a good trip, Aunt Mary!”
“Oh, I’ll be back, sweetie,” Mary says to Bedros.
“So will I!” says Daniel.
The drive to Union Station is short, only a half-mile away. A train is already in when they arrive. It is his train. Hurriedly, they get the steamer trunk out and onto a cart, with the help of a porter and the driver. Mary runs alongside Daniel, with the porter pushing the cart to its proper carriage. It’s 9:20. The whistle blows, and the “All aboard!” is announced. Daniel climbs the first step to his carriage, with Mary right behind him. She releases the handrail as the train begins moving.
“I’m sorry I’ve done it this way, Mary,” he says from a billow of steam. “But I’ll write when I get to New York.”
“I’ll be there before summer!”
“And we’ll start again up there!”
“I’ll follow you as soon as I can … so the Armenians can gossip all they want!”
At this point, they are both merely voices to each other in the obscuring clouds of vapor and soot.
On the warm walk back, under a waning-crescent moon, with a breeze sweeping across the river, and the train whistle blowing into the northern distance, Mary is nearly blank in her thoughts, not sure what has transpired and what will now come, wondering if she needs to continue crying.
Friday, March 4, 1921
All morning the telephone in Peter Kludjian’s shop has been ringing.
“Mary, will you get that?”
“Hello, Jacksonville Oriental Carpet Cleaning,” she sings, trying to anticipate the possibility of an actual customer calling.
“No,” she says. “We don’t know where he went, but apparently he left sometime last night.”
She holds the earpiece out and places a hand over the receiver while the caller goes on about his business matters involving Bianco & Eliseian, Tailors. It’s a trick she learned from sister Agnes — allowing herself to remain uninvolved, so as to not get drawn in and say more than she should. When she hears a pause in the call, she responds. “You’ll have to check with Mr. Bianco, Mr. Warren. Have you tried that?” She repeats her telephone disengagement, then, at the next pause, states, “It’s Mr. Bianco’s business, sir, not that of Jacksonville Oriental Carpet Cleaning. And, with that, sir, I need to clear the phone line for Mr. Kludjian’s customers. Good day, sir.”
“Good work, Mary,” Peter tells her, as he’s mending a carpet. “But next time, don’t say anything about him leaving, when or how. You don’t owe anybody any information that they aren’t paying for. This is a business matter, and you’re a third party to the issues.”
Mary takes the constructive criticism eagerly. She’s actually enjoying this process, learning how to handle a sensitive business matter. It takes her mind off Daniel.
The telephone rings again. Peter nods, and Mary takes it.
“Hello, Jacksonville … — Oh, Mr. Yeghoian! Hello! Still taking lots of calls!” Her posture relaxes. She leans into the receiver with her hand cupping the earpiece, throwing her head back, smiling.
Peter comes over to take the call.
“Eddy,” Mary whispers to Peter, handing him the receiver and stepping away from the telephone.
All the Armenians, the tailors, and the carpet specialists of Florida, seem to be talking about Daniel’s sudden departure. The telephone’s ability to spread word quickly has really been showing itself this morning. (Mr. Bell has so revolutionized communications as to make all knowledge now truly universal and instantaneous!) Mr. Baylarian from Orlando called. Manoog Altoonjian (who is Mary and Agnes’s uncle) and Mr. Kurkjian both called from St. Augustine. Randy Vakilian called. Both George and, now, Eddy Yeghoian have called. The only one who hasn’t called has been Mr. Bianco himself!
He, and Daniel Eliseian.
Everybody agrees that they’re going to miss Daniel terribly, but there seems to be some disagreement over the terms and manner in which Daniel left. Mr. Baylarian, Mr. Kurkjian and Uncle Manoog are disappointed, feeling that Mr. Bianco deserved a negotiated dissolution of partnership, or at least that Daniel should’ve kept to the high ground. George Yeghoian has mixed feelings on the matter: Bianco and Daniel are both colleagues of his — with the Yeghoian Brothers’ shop next door to Bianco’s — and he feels that they’ve both let each other down, and now there is bad blood in a small community. But Randy Vakilian and, apparently now, Eddy Yeghoian join Peter Kludjian in their praise for Daniel, who acted boldly against Mr. Bianco — who was himself the actual violator of the agreement. In fact, it seems that Daniel was helped along in his decision by Peter’s disgust with his friend’s treatment. “Bianco is disrespectful and lazy,” Peter has said repeatedly in recent days. And now, on the phone to their mutual friend, Eddy, it’s, “He got what he deserved.”
“He was holding up a man’s career,” says Agnes from across the work table to Mary and Mrs. Pappas. “We saw how miserable he was making our friend.”
“Mr. Eliseian was — is — a gentleman, above all else,” Mrs. Pappas says, in agreement. “So I gotta figure, this Mr. Bianco, he was a rat.”
Mary and Agnes and Mrs. Pappas laugh.
“I’ve got to say,” says Peter, having concluded with Eddy Yeghoian. “Egishe is going to do well with his move back to New York. The pettiness of this town sometimes amazes me. Unfortunately, I’m getting use to it. But in New York ….”
“He will be appreciated there,” states Agnes.
“Few tailors have his natural skill,” says Peter.
“Few are as smart,” adds Agnes.
“He is sophisticated.”
“And stylish!” interjects Mrs. Pappas. Then Peter and Agnes continue their rally:
“And careful … and daring!”
“The greatest tailor Jacksonville could never claim!” Peter concludes, with playful grandiosity to the laughter of the whole shop.
Mary is enjoying hearing their gushing praise, even if it is a bit exaggerated. But only just so — for Daniel Eliseian is a very talented and sophisticated young tailor with great potential. The others of his group hold him in high esteem. (Eddy Yeghoian said it best, in Armenian, when he once pronounced with amazement Daniel’s ability to make “the needle and scissor both think they’re the fabric’s best friend.“)
He simply needs a settled life to allow himself to focus on his craft.
Mary would love to help him settle his life. But how can she do that from Jacksonville? She needs to get back to New York as soon as possible. There had been talk of Peter and Agnes keeping her here until May, when Shavarsh will be half-a-year-old. She can’t wait that long!
“If Daniel can spend the next year with Merjanian,” Peter declares. “– back, working closely with The Master Himself. Then, Daniel will be ready to launch his career … and maybe even start a family.”
Peter makes that last statement almost as though he is answering directly to the unstated question on everyone’s mind, which is: “What about Mary?”
Agnes pats Peter’s hand approvingly, and Mary smiles with embarrassment and joy at Peter’s implied tacit understanding. Peter feels big, glad to do his part.
But Mrs. Pappas, who, at twenty-one, has been married for nearly three years now, speaks from her own experience and puts it more bluntly: “They can get started sooner than that!”
Steeped in thoughts about Daniel all day and buoyed with encouragement from family and friends, Mary’s mind swirls with dreams. Preparing the evening meal, she wishes — fantastically — that, maybe, Daniel will change his mind and return, switch trains and return to sweep her off her feet, to leave everything behind: the pots that need scrubbing, the clothes that need mending, the calls that need answering … to leave all of it behind! … and that her prince will sail her away with him, back to a life together — their life together — back in New York … if only ….
Suddenly, a surprise visitor is at the kitchen door.
“Aunty Mary …” says Bedros, as the four-year-old arrives up the back steps.
“Oh, my goodness!”
Bedros is so filthy dirty he’s hardly recognizable.
“You … ” Mary exclaims, trying to not laugh. “You’re not Bedros! You’re some other dirty boy!”
“No you’re not! Where did our Bedros go?”
“I’m here! I AM Bedros!”
“My sister’s son is a handsome little boy. You look like a chimney sweep! Are you the coal man’s boy?”
“No, I’m Bedros!”
“I don’t believe it. You’re a miner’s boy. Have you been digging tunnels?”
“Well, there you go: you ARE a miner’s boy!”
“No-oh-oh! I am Bedros! I am! I am!”
Sister Agnes enters the kitchen and lets out a piercing whoop. Unlike his aunty, Bedros’s mother does not take the matter with humor. She grabs his ear and pulls him back out onto the steps. Suddenly, poor Bedros wishes that maybe he wasn’t Bedros, after all.
While Mary continues with the cooking, Agnes tends to Bedros. She pulls off his filthy clothes, uses a whisk broom on his head, and leaves him naked, wailing, on the back steps while she draws a bath. Then Agnes bathes him, and sends him to bed without supper.
Monday, March 7, 1921
“Hello, Jacksonville Oriental Carpet Cleaning,” Mary sings into the receiver.
“Ah, Miss Jorjorian!” says the familiar caller. “I was hoping you would answer.” It’s Randy Vakilian. “It’s so nice to not hear …” and then he imitates Peter Kludjian perfectly — how Peter delivers the very same telephone greeting as Mary, but with his deep, gruff, “all business” voice.
That gives Mary a laugh.
“So nice to hear that, too” he says of her laugh.
“And it’s good to hear from you, Mr. Randy.”
He is an old friend, whom she’s known since her big sister Agnes was in courtship with Peter, and Peter would bring his pal “Randy” along with him to the Jorjorians’ apartment. Mary always thought he was dashing, and also funny.
“How are you and your sister?”
“We were so lonely last night! With Mr. E gone, and Peter having left for Orlando yesterday, it was dinner with just us and the kids.”
“You miss our friend?”
“I didn’t know you had such strong feelings for Mr. Kludjian,” he says, laughing with Mary at his own joke. When Hrand Sarkis Vakilian arrived in America in 1909, he was a fearless seventeen-year-old, whose eagerness to learn the language and master his budding skills as a tailor impressed eighteen-year-old Peter. Randy partnered early with Peter’s friend, tailor Mehrand Merjanian. And Randy later played a role in Daniel taking up training under the superior-skilled Mehrand. It was Peter who dubbed him “Randy,” an American name he wears with pride.
“This is probably good timing, then,” he continues. “There’s the carnival today.”
“Right, yes! Sis and I were talking about that. Are you going?”
“Certainly. And I was hoping I could escort you and your sister and the children.”
They make plans for Randy to take the streetcar down, enjoy a quick afternoon supper in the apartment, and they will all take the streetcar back up into town to the Morocco Temple, where the annual carnival and parade take place.
But things don’t go as planned.
At the sound of the door, Bedros looks up from the miniature fort he’s building with household items, and lets squeal, “Egishe!”
But when he discovers it isn’t Daniel arriving, but instead Randy — a man Bedros otherwise likes quite well — he actually slugs Randy in the leg and then breaks down sobbing.
“He thought I was his father?”
“No,” says Agnes. “Mr. Eliseian.”
“Oh. You and him both,” he says, pointing to Mary and Bedros.
“And mother makes three,” adds Agnes, sharing her longing for Daniel.
And, of course, Bedros’ outburst sets off baby Shavarsh, and suddenly the Kludjian household is in a state of pandemonium. Trying to pull together a supper for lunch is difficult.
The children need nourishment, and it’s because they are hungry that they are so cranky, but now they’re too upset to eat. Mary manages to pull together a light meal, as Randy helps her by setting the table.
“Mrs. Wright has taught you well,” notes Mary, referring to the wife of the household where Randy rents a room on West Monroe.
“It was Uncle Sam that taught me this,” he says, referring to his service with the navy.
Like so many men of his generation of Armenian-Americans and Armenian immigrants in America, Randy gladly registered for the draft during the war (as did Peter, Daniel, and the Yeghoian brothers). For them, it was an opportunity to possibly fight the Turks, whose Ottoman Empire had aligned with the Central Powers, as well as to fully establish themselves as Americans. Eddy Yeghoian was drafted into the Infantry; Randy was called up to serve with the Navy. And to this day he proudly wears his U.S. Navy beret almost daily.
The three adults manage to eat an otherwise delicious lunch of Armenian pizza (lahmajun), slices of cured beef (basterma), stuffed grape leaves (sarma), and garlic yogurt dip (madzoon), between taking turns tending to the children. “You have a seat, Mr. Randy,” Agnes keeps telling him, as he get up to coax Bedros with honey pastry (baklava). To no avail.
“Go ahead, you two,” Agnes tells Mary and Randy. “You just go. I saw it last year. You’ll like it. It’s fun. I’ve got plenty to do around the house, which I can get to if these two get their naps in.”
“Oh, my!” exclaims Randy, as he and Mary hit Riverside Avenue. “I wouldn’t want that.”
“Ah, you handled it well. I was taken by how good you’d be as a father.” (She doesn’t actually believe it. He’s nothing like Daniel in that regard. But she believes in the power of positive reinforcement, and hopes that saying so will help move him in that direction. He’s getting too old to not have children.)
“Well, don’t get any ideas, Miss Jorjorian. Your friend is waiting in New York.”
She whacks his arm. “You!”
“Kidding. I kid. But did you see the way little Peter,” he says, referring to Bedros, “was so — what? — devastated when I wasn’t his uncle Daniel?”
“He does love Mr. E,” she says, and smiles inside at the sound of the phrase “Uncle Daniel,” and how naturally Randy used it.
“Mister E … mystery — that’s an apt name.”
Randy might have the strongest accent of the Armenian-born men in their group, having arrived as practically an adult, but his English vocabulary is unmatched by any. It is only book-smart, American-educated Mary who can fully follow his continuous patter. He doesn’t have the cultured background and temperament of Daniel, but he is probably the most sharply intellectual. That’s something that’s always kept Mary within his sphere. She likes a man who uses the word “apt.”
They board the Riverside Line, which whisks them up to the terminal across the causeway, where they will transfer to the Bay Line. The terminal is a hub not only for Jacksonville’s network of electric street cars, but the station is a regional hub for the steam trains of the nation’s railways. And it was here, last Thursday night, when Mary last saw her “Mystery.” She came to the name “Mr. E.” naturally, by merely abbreviating “Mr. Eliseian,” and it was only later that she considered its homonym, and laughed to herself at the irony — how in some ways he was a mystery to her, from his days in New York; but in other ways he was so transparent — as she got to know him down here in Jacksonville. (She doesn’t call him by Peter and Agnes’s nickname, “Egishe,” but Mary is proud of him that they do. The historical Egishe was a man of great scholarship, ethics, and trust-worthiness.)
“We couldn’t ask for a better day,” states Randy, breaking Mary’s thoughts as the Bay Line pulls in and they board.
“March in Jacksonville is like June in New York,” says Mary. “All winter I have marveled at not being cold or in snow, and now it is like a perfect summer day, and it isn’t even springtime yet!”
“Like Fresno,” offers Randy.
“No. California isn’t as … tropical. We have winter in Fresno. Not snow, but it was cold. Lots of frost. And you could see snow on the distant mountains. And rain in the winter. Cold rain. And the summers are like a furnace!”
“Better than our sauna,” he says, vaguely pointing as though to New York.
“But I wouldn’t trade anything for New York,” she says. “New York is like its own universe.”
“People from every land.”
“And seasons. Spring and autumn in New York are my favorite. Daffodils in the park.”
“It’s almost spring,” notes Randy. “Will you going to be enjoying your springtime in New York, Miss Jorjorian?”
“Oh, I can hardly wait! Peter says maybe in April. And you’re likely leaving sooner than that?”
“Maybe two weeks, possibly sooner.”
“Oh, lucky you! Poor us, but lucky you. Well, you tell my ‘Mystery’ friend that I’m fast on your heels — on his heels. You know.”
“You’re not following me, Miss Jorjorian, are you?”
She whacks his arm again. “You!”
At Newnman Street, they dis-board and walk the rest of the way up to Monroe, following the crowds and the sound the whole way up town.
Jacksonville is booming. As much as Mary — and all the Armenian New Yorkers — like to look down upon Jacksonville as a small town, a pretend city in the South, it is in a constant state of construction, which has been nearly continuous for the past twenty years since the fire. Old timers say you wouldn’t even recognize the place from what it was at the turn of the century, and certainly not what it was right after the fire, in 1901. They say the devastation was worst than San Francisco’s. But San Francisco was a city before — there was more to burn (and more to not burn) — and is a much bigger city now, in a shorter time since Jacksonville’s fire. And yet neither compare to the metropolis of New York. But Mary would like to see San Francisco. From her year in Fresno, last, she felt so close and yet so far — 200 long miles — from that jewel on the Pacific. Maybe Daniel would like to live in San Francisco. He could open his tailoring business — on Nob Hill — and they would be close enough, with an automobile, to her family in Fresno. Oh, how she misses her family!
The parade is sweet. It’s such a small affair — compared to a big city parade. There’s a brass band, and then a handful of civic groups, and the secret societies (the Shriners, the Masons, the Knights, etc.), with their banners and funny hats and ornate costumes and curved swords, southern men dressed as though from the East.
“Funny,” notes Randy. “They all want to be Mohammedan, except for us.”
The Morocco Temple is of the same idea — evocative of an Egyptian style and air of mystery, but without an actual Eastern heritage.
“Our President Washington was a Freemason,” says Randy.
“They all were,” adds Mary.
“But that was about mastering trades, wasn’t it? Independence through skills. Stone craft, not witchcraft.”
“It isn’t witchcraft!” exclaims Mary.
“Not ‘witchcraft,” amends Randy. “But, I don’t know — mysticism. They want to be mysterious — there’s your word again — without being mystical, without delving too deeply. Like play-acting.”
“They’re having fun!” says Mary. “Wasn’t it your idea to come?”
“Yeah. I’m having fun. I’m just making note.”
They make their way around the temple exterior. It is a beautiful structure, straight out of ancient Egypt, though only a decade old (part of the New Jacksonville, ironically). They’ve planted palms around the grounds, as though it is in a desert oasis (here in the tropics of Florida). And the building itself is massive. The Shriners own it, and it is their local headquarters. But it serves for most large public functions, as a hall to be rented, here in Jacksonville.
“I love this style,” says Mary, looking up at the facade.
“Nice lines. Modern Antiquity,” adds Randy.
“It would make a nice pattern for a tailor, don’t you think?”
“Part of the ‘Pharaoh Line’?” he asks. “I like it!”
“Patent pending,” teases Mary, making her claim to the idea, as they enter the building.
“As-salamu alaykum” says Randy facetiously, offering greetings in Arabic to the white man in the fez at the entrance, who pushes the wad of tobacco from one side of his lower lip to the other, nodding.
“Oh, my goodness, it’s so crowded!” exclaims Mary.
There are many tables and booths for the many civic organizations and secret societies, but also presentations by local businesses.
“It’s all advertising!” bemoans Randy. “There’s ‘Cohen Bros. — The Big Store’; ‘Hotel Seminole — Florida’s Most Popular Hotel’; ‘Riverside Garage’ — 436 Riverside! That’s the one near you. Look: ‘When Your Car Is Wrecked Call 3931. We Pick Your Car Up and Don’t Drag It.'” He laughs. “I’m going to use that line in my tailoring business! ‘We Pick Your Suit Up and Don’t Drag It’!”
Mary and Randy tease with the advertisements. He’s such an irreverent scamp, so clever with the quips. Then they play a game of true skill: ring toss.
Randy goes first, trying to toss his three rings over the necks of the array of Coca-Cola bottles. But he’s having too much fun of it, throwing one with his eyes shut, another with a grand elaborate lead-up, and the third, really trying, he simply misses.
Mary goes next and actually tries. “One!” “Two!” … “Oh,” she misses on the third. But they have a good laugh.
“There’s our friends.” Randy says, pointing. It’s a table for the Salaam Club, an actual ethnic organization, founded by the local Syrian population. Unlike the smattering of semi-connected Armenians (or Greeks, for that matter) in Jacksonville, the Syrians form a real presence, large enough to warrant a real club (beyond merely assembling at Peter’s shop for one of Agnes’s meals). “As-salamu alaykum!” he declares — this time without irony — waving, to which they return his greeting.
“Many of my family found their way through Syria,” Randy says to Mary.
“We all owe them a lot,” agrees Mary.
And it’s true. While the Greeks are natural allies to Armenians, with their shared Eastern Orthodox faiths in the land of Mohamed. The Syrians have been friends to Armenians in their time of great need. As with the Lebanese, Syrians provided safe passage and refuge for Armenians out of Turkey during the war, and through the recent decades of hostility, turmoil, famine, and slaughter brought by the Ottomans upon their Christian minorities in Asia Minor. It might seem that what unites all these groups of the region is their shared animus toward the Turks. But that would be too cynical an assessment. What they share is culture, deeper than their religious differences. What unites them is lamb, cracked wheat, and yogurt — especially yogurt.
(Actually, the Armenians have their greatest overlap — in food, music, dance, language, geography, and even blood lines — with the Turks themselves. That’s probably the most disheartening part of their relationship. They are like the Cain and Abel of Anatolia.)
“It is so crowded in here!” exclaims Mary.
“Shall we leave?” he asks.
“Let’s get some ice cream,” she recommends.
And out they go … as soon as they can find their way.
“I see light coming from over here!” says Mary, pointing to what she believes is an exit.
“Is it natural light or eternal light?” asks Randy, unable to ever not joke.
They finally make their way out.
Ice cream is found not far away, on East Forsyth Street, just a few blocks from Daniel’s shop on West Forsyth. Mary gets pistachio, Daniel’s favorite. And Randy orders butter brickle. Enjoying their cones, they decide to stroll Forsyth, which is Jacksonville’s “Great White Way.” The name refers to the street lighting and theatre fronts. But, again, the name begs comparison to New York, whose Theatre District along Broadway Boulevard is the original Great White Way.
Mary misses her city.
So does Randy.
Lacking the business acumen and inclination of his good friend Peter with his rugs, Randy hasn’t been successful as an independent tailor in Jacksonville. Of course, he didn’t suffer the agony of a mismatched partnership his friend Daniel had in the Bianco & Eliseian fiasco. But he has in some ways found himself in a more degrading circumstance as a mere hireling tailor with Duval Woolen Mills (“Maker of Fine Suits“), serving the company’s rude clients. Maybe back in New York, he and Daniel can partner. But probably not. Both Randy and Daniel — as well as everybody who knows the two of them — recognize their distinct and un-meshable personalities.
“Oh, look,” Randy says, pulling out his pocket watch as they pass the Republic Threatre, and noting the time. “Want to see this?”
“Betty Compson!” Mary exclaims.
“It’s about to start,” notes Randy.
The movie is “Prisoners of Love.”
“This is her new one!”
“Well, let’s watch it!” says Randy. “‘That okay with you and your sis?”
“Oh, she’ll be fine. She thinks we’re at the carnival!”
And in they go.
Mary is excited, because this is Betty Compson’s return to the scene since her big hit, Miracle Man, a couple of years ago. And she’s coming back as the movie’s producer, not just the star! She’s the first of their sex to do this — a true independent modern woman! She is one of Mary’s heroines.
It should be good. The ads promise “a tense drama of sex interest.” Miss Compson plays the role of Blanche Davis, “a girl of wealth and breeding and beauty, who is carried away by emotional intensity and brought up sharply against a man’s treachery and the world’s deep-rooted conventions.”
Mary wishes Daniel were here. He’d love this. He loves good movies and he admires Mary for her modernism. He would proudly share in her enthusiasm for this moment in history. Mary only hopes that Randy won’t hate it.
As the lights dim and the projector flickers to life, Mary submerges into her seat with great anticipation for herself … and anxiety for Randy.
But Randy is relaxed. He rolls a cigarette and lights his match off the heel of his boot, which he has up on the seat in front of him. He takes a big drag, then flicks the smoldering match onto the floor.
“Fun!” he says to Mary, settling in next to her, taking in a picture with his best friend’s sister-in-law.
And through the whole picture Mary does not know what to make of Randy. She wants to simply enjoy the movie, but he is an exceptionally extroverted man, and he pretty much takes over the whole experience. He cracks wise, moans and grunts at the sight of Miss Compson, laughs at serious moments, cheers on the violent parts, teases Mary during the love scenes and, with the movie’s grand conclusion, he claps wildly, louder-by-far than anyone else in the theatre, and then actually stands for an ovation, as though Miss Compson and the others in the film might appreciate it.
Is he teasing? Mary is befuddled. The organist turns and gives Randy a thankful nod.
Out onto Forsyth Street, now lit under the night’s darkness, Mary tries to make the best of it, but she is tangled with uncertainty in what she just experienced.
“That was so romantic and tragic!” he exclaims.
“Yes. I …” She is about to say something cutting, regarding his public behavior, but refrains. “I’m a big fan of Betty Compson. And I thought this one was exceptional.”
“She was good!” says Randy. “That was a very enthralling experience! And she produced it? I’m very impressed.”
“Oh, I’m glad you liked it,” she says, sincerely. “I was surprised that you wanted to see something like this. I figured you were more for westerns or comedies.”
“Westerns or comedies? I’m a cultured man, Miss Jorjorian. I only watch westerns and comedies in the morning!” He laughs at his own joke.
And she laughs, too.
“You’re complicated,” she says.
“I like things that are good. And that was good. You’ve got good taste, Miss Jorjorian.”
He takes her arm and they walk to the next streetcar stop. It has cooled down a bit. So he holds her closer — tenderly, without any inappropriate intent, as far as she can tell. Despite being nearly thirty years old, he’s like a very smart boy, she concludes … and gives a laugh.
“That was fun, ha?” he agrees.
He rides with her on the street car back to the terminal, where Mary transfers to a Riverside Line heading south.
“You’re going to be all right?” he asks her.
“Oh, you. It’s only a few blocks. I could, and usually do, walk it.”
“Okay, Mary. I really enjoyed myself. Thanks for the movie. I’m glad we got to spend this time together, just the two of us. I think it was a first.”
“Oh — but sister couldn’t come. Besides, it was fun, Mr. Randy. You’re always fun.”
And he walks back up through town to his room on West Monroe, thinking about Mary Jorjorian the whole way — Peter Kludjian’s young sister-in-law, such a smart girl with a modern sense of humor. He’s known her since she was a practically a kid, but now he’s wondering if there is, in fact, any hurry in his getting back to New York.
On the street car, finally alone, Mary tries to clear her mind of Randy. He is an amazing and wonderful force of nature. Utterly a handful! She is exhausted. Oh, how she misses Daniel — her tender, sensitive, cultured, and romantic friend, whose intelligence is not like a jackhammer. “He would’ve liked that,” she thinks, regarding the movie and Miss Compson’s accomplishments — both on the screen and behind the camera. “I wish I had seen it with him.”
And maybe she can … next month in New York.
Wednesday, March 9, 1921
Riverside Park is a few short blocks from Peter and Agnes’s apartment. It is one of Mary’s favorite places on earth. And right now it is perfect.
This morning Agnes is tending to things with Bedros. Peter is still in Orlando on business for several more days. Meanwhile, Mary is out with baby Shavarsh, who is in his buggy getting drowsy as they wander the dappled lanes. Everything is peaceful and quiet. So lovely. So delightful.
Arriving at the great pond, Shavarsh is now deep in slumber.
Mary quietly sets his buggy, unfurls a small blanket, and lies on the the grass, opening her book. The air is warm, but not hot nor humid. It is a good time to catch up on her reading. These have been difficult days of late, with all the drama coming from Daniel’s departure. But Mary is a serious reader, so the time away has left her feeling behind.
She adjusts her hat to keep the sun on the page, but off her face. She makes a quick review through the pages to recall what she’s covered thus far, and then plunges excitedly back into her book: Woman and the New Race, by Margaret Sanger. It is the latest from the world of progressive social theory.
Mary has been enthralled by the frankness, pragmatism, and encouragement of independent modernity which Mrs. Sanger offers. Her book is forthright and bold, but also deeply scientific — seeking truth not comity. On first blush, one might find embarrassment in the book’s primary topic: sexual reproduction. But Mrs. Sanger is not presenting wanton sex, depravity, nor salaciousness, other than to condemn it. Rather, she is demanding of woman-kind to take charge. The females of our race have been passive in their role as the bearers of humanity’s children. They have existed in servitude to sex, performing as mothers in quantity rather than quality. Mrs. Sanger is calling for an outright revolution of behavior and responsibility, for women and men both. The results of this revolution will be farther reaching than any other form of social engineering imaginable, and it all comes down to harnessing the power of family planning through birth control!
The topic may seem anything but restive in its effect. Yet for Mary, in continuing her education since graduation, the rigor of Mrs. Sanger’s research and philosophical presentation is a satisfying deep reach for her. It is like a strenuous swim against a flowing river. And, ultimately, it is an optimistic future which Mrs. Sanger is presenting, so the challenge of the reading has a welcomed effect on Mary.
She continues reading through Chapter IX which, though densely presented, expertly dismantles the notion that birth control can be maintained through self-control rather than contraception (such as use of the diaphragm). In it, Mrs. Sanger demonstrates with studies and tables the predictive likelihood, and the none-too-secret real-life result, of attempts at sexual continence. Married couples following such a program of attempted celibacy — imposed by Church or Society, no matter how well meaning — will and do produce a dozen or more offspring (through upwards of twenty-four pregnancies) during the wife’s quarter-century of fertility. Mrs. Sanger goes through many examples of the physical, moral, and societal harm such irrational behavior and expectations brings to women, children, men, society, and humanity as a whole. And, ultimately, it is for women to take charge of their own reproductive planning, because:
The need of women’s lives is not repression, but the greatest possible expression and fulfillment of their desires upon the highest possible plane. They cannot reach higher planes through ignorance and compulsion. They can attain them only through knowledge and the cultivation of a higher, happier attitude toward sex. Sex life must be stripped of its fear. This is one of the great functions of contraceptives. That which is enshrouded in fear becomes morbid. That which is morbid cannot be really beautiful.
… Force and fear have failed from the beginning of time. Their fruits are wrecks and wretchedness. Knowledge and freedom to choose or reject the sexual embrace, according as it is lovely or unlovely, and these alone, can solve the problem. These alone make possible between man and woman that indissoluble tie and mutual passion, and common understanding, in which lies the hope of a higher race.
Mary closes her book and rests her head, reaching out to the frame of Sharvarsh’s buggy. She gently rocks it on its wheels, closing her eyes beneath her hat. And she dreams of her own future marriage … of mutual passion and common understanding … with Daniel. She imagines him to be tender and strong, healthy from his morning calisthenics and sensible daily diet. He is such a courteous gentleman, his kisses must be like an extension of his engaging conversation, and warm and moist behind that mustache. His slim body is firm, she knows that much (as when he caught her on the stairs). And, dancing with him the other night (Oh, now nine days ago!), she could feel his palm and fingers at her back, guiding her across the floor. His whole body and being came through his hand, against her shirt waist, through the layers of fabric, against her skin, impressing upon her back’s curtain of padding. She can feel it now. It is a sensation memory she will never allow dispelled. She mentally guides his hand lower, his face closer, his chest to her breasts … firm against softness … to then choose his sexual embrace, stripped of fear, finding the highest possible plane … now, possibly only months away.
Awaking, Mary hears Shavarsh alertly gurgling. It is the the afternoon now, and it is time for both of them to return — for him to eat and for her to prepare the evening’s supper.
“Gooch-ig, gooch-ig, gooch-ig,” she says, peering into his carriage. He grabs at the air and clenches her nose, smiling, all gums, pleased to see his aunty. She smiles and kisses him and blows on his chubby cheeks, eliciting giggles from her darling new nephew. She does not want to leave this splendid setting, this perfect moment. Baby Shavarsh is an example of the future Mrs. Sanger is calling for. It is a future in which all of our children will have arrived in such workable intervals and in such modest quantity as to bring an objective quality to their lives and to the lives of the adults in their charge. And a better society for all.
Mary imagines her own children, a boy and a girl (or maybe a mix of three) — products of a loving and stable family. Their father will be not merely the husband of their mother, but their mother’s best friend. Her children’s self-confidence and life’s sense of purpose will come directly from each knowing they are here by way of choice — through the un-harried decision of two parents in love, mutual in their respect, romantic in their ways.
She considers her own parents — who seem more resigned to their union than joyous in matrimony. Her mother, Aghavnie, is a deeply good person, whom Mary loves with all her heart. But she is an exhausted woman, now with seven living children (and an unspoken number who came during the years separating Agnes and Mary). At age forty-six, Mary’s mother seems older than her chronology.
The mid-day sun of Florida is now hot and glaring on Mary, and she adjusts the awning on baby’s buggy. The radiant sensation suddenly throws her back to last summer, with her family in Fresno, working the orchards and vineyards of the land they lease in Clovis. In moving out west to California from New York City, it was imagined the family would somehow find an idyllic life of independence — actually harvesting the fruits of their labor! But Mary has never toiled so arduously in her life, and with so little to show for it but ache and misery. The whole family was up before dawn, dirty, sweaty, thirsty, and hungry, living on credit until the sale of the harvest in the Autumn, without certainty that the exhausting hours of gathering fruit (not damaged by the weather or eaten by birds) would bring more than pennies on the days, enough even to make the rent. And they are all still out there! Father, mother, sister Sara, brother Aram, sister Shaké, brother Haig, and little sister Neure (who is only a year older than Bedros, her nephew — who gets dirtied only through play).
Mary cannot bear to contemplate their predicament. It makes her sad to imagine their hardship. And suddenly her own hopes for a life put forth by Mrs. Sanger feel selfish and impossible. Could she not simply marry Daniel and take to a life in New York, the wife of a tailor, mother of two, volunteer in civic organizations, consumer of culture — and live apart from her beleaguered family? Sister Agnes has done her version of that personal transformation with Peter and her boys. Why does Mary suddenly feel so responsible for other lives and guilty for her own? It makes her angry to consider this trap.
A perfect day is now crushed under the reality of life’s impediments. Mrs. Sanger has presented an earthly way to a better humanity. But now Mary finds herself prayerfully wishing she can somehow bring actual change to the people in her life. Independent freedom and societal uplift seem so achievable on the page. Yet, a marriage imagined, a love fulfilled, seems so ephemeral under the weight of duty.
Thursday, March 10, 1921
“Bianco has hired detectives!” Randy Vakilian yells, running up two steps at a stride to tell Agnes and Mary at the apartment above Peter’s shop. “He’s getting private detectives to search for Daniel!”
Unfortunately, Peter is still out of town, in Orlando on business, which leaves Agnes and Mary without his sense of how things are done in the business world and, in this case, the world of manhunts.
“They’ll be looking in Chicago, Detroit, and New York!” Randy adds.
Agnes is more worried than she lets on, but Mary is beside herself.
“What will happen?”
Randy has frightened her.
“Nothing’s going to happen,” Agnes says, tempering Randy’s excited tone (and her own fear). “The Turks couldn’t get him. How’s our Italian friend going to manage?” she asks, referring to Mr. Bianco.
As had all the other Armenians arriving from overseas during the past decade (which would include Peter, the Yegohian brothers, and Randy, as well as many of their friends, relatives, and colleagues, including a jumble of Greeks, Cypriots, Syrians, and Jews — “Levantines” all), Daniel escaped the Ottoman Empire with Turks hot on his trail. He did it in late 1913 — before the War and before the killing of Armenians really took off — to avoid “recruitment” by the Turkish Army. Everyone was quickly learning that the Turkish recruitment drives were, in fact, a campaign for internment and unobserved slaughter of fighting-age Armenians, especially the intellectuals and outspoken. Disguised as an old man, and having shaved his head, Daniel left the city of Smyrna aboard a steamship to Marseilles. (That’s the story Peter tells, with great admiration — “Dressed like an old man, in a old-style suit he made himself — the best tailoring job he’s ever done! He did it right under their noses! Bought a ticket and everything!” Meanwhile Daniel himself has always remained quite muted on the subject of his escape.)
Randy is off to discuss Bianco’s investigation with the other Armenian tailors, but first tries to reassure Agnes, and Mary especially, that Daniel is actually quite safe. “Nobody knows where he is!” And that’s quite true. Or, nearly quite true: Peter, Agnes, and Mary know where he is (or where he was headed), but they’ve made a point of not discussing his destination or whereabouts with anybody, including his most trusted colleagues.
Reassured or not, the changing situation leaves Mary feeling worried all day. Worried and queer.
Mary has a mental image of Daniel, his head now shaved again (that gorgeous hair!), back in his custom-tailored “old man’s” suit, hiding-out in the back room of Mr. and Mrs. Merjanian’s apartment on East 32nd Street. She knows that only the Merjanian part is true, and it gives her a laugh that she would entertain such silly thoughts. She appreciates her sister’s perspective — how Bianco’s detectives could be nothing compared to the Young Turks, with their irrational blood lust and an empire’s apparatus backing them, which Daniel managed to outwit when he was only nineteen. But it still gives Mary plenty of worry. Mr. Bianco was a selfish, petty, and lazy senior partner to Daniel. And that can be a dangerous combination when in receipt of an unexpected comeuppance! As much as anything, Daniel has embarrassed a vain man within his community. He is like a lover scorned. Now, Mr. Bianco is probably willing to spend more on getting his “retribution” from Daniel than the fair amount Daniel “took” from Bianco at his departure.
After a noontime dinner, Agnes heads into town on errands, while Mary puts baby asleep. Then she lays herself down for a while … dreaming of Daniel … his head on her lap, gazing into her eyes, her hand running through his hair (all that hair!) … they are both relaxed in their shared security … together.
The postman’s whistle blows.
Mary alights and races down the stairs.
“Letter from New York for the Mister and Missus.”
It is Daniel! He has written a letter to Peter and Agnes!
Mary takes the letter inside and stands at the stairs up to the apartment, gazing at his inked script as though gazing into his eyes. The return address states “M. Merjanian,” but it is Daniel. This is his hand, his beautiful flowing line — “Mr. & Mrs. Peter Kludjian” — with his vine-like curls, his “M”s like rolling waves, his swooping “P,” and deep-dipping “j.” This is him. This is Daniel. Mary holds the letter to her bosom, then races up the stairs.
Sister is not home yet, so Mary tends to other matters, preparing supper. The letter is on the table. She walks past it many times. She picks it up. She holds it to herself again, her heart racing through her clothing, through his envelope, through his handwriting, through whatever he has written to Sis and Peter, and is transmitted into the palm of her hand. Her heart is beating through him. He is safe.
He is in New York.
And next month, pray God, so will Mary.
Sister Agnes arrives home at 5:00, and Mary has her read aloud the letter. Mary reads over Agnes’s shoulder, as best she can, as Agnes translates from Daniel’s Armenian. His message is perfunctory, announcing his arrival in New York, his arrangements with Mr. & Mrs. Merjanian, and that their son, Stephen, who is Bedros’s age, could not remember Daniel but was excited to have him “back.”
“Bedros will be jealous!” Mary says, then realizes that he might hear her.
Daniel wishes for Mary to compose a letter of reference on Bianco & Eliseian stationery for his use, forwarding it the the Merjanian address immediately. “And,” Agnes concludes, “‘Give my friend a kiss for me.‘” (Actually, it reads, “Send my best regards to my friend,” which Mary can clearly see.)
So Agnes gives her little sister a teasing kiss on the cheek, and Mary raps Agnes on the shoulder, as they both break into laughter.
Bedros comes out of his bedroom with a toy “car” (a shoe brush) in his hand. “What’s funny?”
“Kisses from Egishe!” Mary says, and runs over, swooping up the boy, and kissing him furiously on both his cheeks.
“Egishe is here?”
“No, sweetness. He is in New York. Visiting Stephen’s parents. Remember Little Stevie?”
“My friend?” (There is no way Bedros could remember Stephen Merjanian; they were both two when they last saw each other. But both sets of parents keep their sons’ friendship alive in their minds.)
“Yes, darling. Egishe is visiting the Merjanians in New York.”
“Will he be back tonight?”
“No, son,” says Agnes. “Your father will be returning first.”
“In a few days. He is still in Orlando.”
“Where is Egishe?”
“He is in New York. That is a long way away. Two days by train.”
“He’ll be back in two days?”
In the evening, after supper, first there is the brattle of an automobile out front, parking; then comes a ring on the doorbell downstairs. It is ringing in Peter’s shop. Mary peers out the curtain to the dark sidewalk below … just making out who it is —
“Uh-oh! It’s Mr. Bianco! … What shall we do?!”
Agnes is nearly as frightened as Mary. But as the eldest, she long ago learned the role of junior parent to her younger siblings, with Mary being in her charge the longest.
“We shall let him in. Please hide that letter. Make sure everything else is out of sight as I fetch him.”
Mary scrambles, as Agnes heads downstairs.
“Miss Jorjorian,” Mr. Bianco says, coming up from behind Agnes, removing his hat. Bedros runs to get the hat, but Mary grabs him, then gives a nod to her sister that all is cared for. Mary sends Bedros into his room, and flattens the front of her dress.
“Good evening, Mr. Bianco.”
“Good evening,” he says, with his Italian accent. It is a voice that Agnes knows well, despite her rare interactions with Mr. Bianco. Mary has become pitch-perfect in mimicking his speech, to the delight of everyone (except for Mr. Bianco, of course, who would be mortified to learn of such contemptuous behavior).
“Can I get you anything?” Mary offers with a nervous quaver. He shakes his head, to which Mary then asks, “Agnes?” as though she might desire something.
“Mr. Bianco is here on business,” Agnes says, taking over. She directs her guest to sit on the sofa, as Agnes takes Peter’s chair — a seat of power in this instance. Mary, meanwhile, retreats to the table, pulling up a dining chair, and stands behind it.
Mr. Bianco pulls out the letter that Mary had composed for Daniel, terminating the partnership, and summarizes the situation, mumbling bits from the letter. “He was tired.” Then gets to the point. “What hurt most,” he says, regarding Daniel’s actions, “is that he left without saying anything. That is the reason I come.”
“It is not about the twelve hundred dollars?” asks Agnes, with some contempt.
“Twelve hundred? It is one thousand. Did he tell you twelve hundred?”
Agnes shows a brief moment of bluster.
“Is there something I do not know?” He asks Mary, ostensibly the bookkeeper for Bianco & Eliseian.
“It was one thousand, sir … as I understand it. Mr. Eliseian did not –”
“Mr. Eliseian did not share your business with us, Mr. Bianco, if that is what worries you,” says Agnes, interrupting Mary and, again, taking control.
(Nevertheless, Mary had obviously composed the letter on Daniel’s behalf. Mr. Bianco is quite familiar with Mary’s work for the partnership, and her impeccable penmanship.)
“Certainly,” he says. “Of course not. But, shall I say: It would not surprise me — because this is business nowadays. There is no honor, there is no respect.”
“With all due respect, sir –” interrupts Agnes.
Mr. Bianco holds up his hands in apology. “It is not my accusation of your friend. It is merely my … observation of –” and he waves his hand horizontally, as to mean “how business works here and now.”
“We don’t know,” states Agnes.
“Certainly. But tell me. Could you tell me? Where is your friend?” Mr. Bianco looks across the apartment, as though Daniel might even be here now. “He said he is leaving. Do you know where that is? Chicago? New York? Detroit? Orlando?”
“When he gets back, I’m sure he will report to you, sir.”
“When he gets back.” And with that, Agnes stands, prompting Mr. Bianco to do likewise.
As he leaves, his eyes dart about the apartment, as though making one last search. His ears and cheeks are red.
Mary watches from the window as Mr. Bianco brings his car back to life and, making a U-turn on empty Riverside Avenue, heads back up to town.
As soon as Mary shuts the drape, the bell for their apartment rings. Mary nearly explodes with fright.
“It is me! It’s me!” he’s yelling out on the sidewalk up to the window.
It is Randy.
“What did he say? What did he say?” he’s asking as he practically explodes through the apartment door.
They try to settle him down. But he’ll have none of it.
“I saw him driving south toward the causeway and figured he was headed here. I waited outside, around the corner until he left.”
“You chased his automobile … on foot?” Mary asks.
“I was concerned.”
Mary likes that.
They talk about Bianco & Eliseian and Bianco and Daniel. “I never did like that man,” Randy says, referring to Mr. Bianco. Then he imitates his mincy walk, holding his lapels, and puckers and un-puckers his mouth. “Neither did Eddy,” he says of Eddy Yegohian. “But George — Oh …” he says of Eddy’s older brother, and holds his palms out and looks upward, as for advice from God.
“George just wanted Daniel’s company,” Agnes says, referring to the two tailor shops, sharing the second floor on West Forsyth.
“We all did. And it was good while it lasted,” sighs Randy, who is obviously now completely disenchanted with Jacksonville and ready to get back up to New York.
“New York? That’s where he’s headed, right?” Randy says.
Mary smiles tightly, and lets Agnes hold the line.
“Because some are saying he’s still in Florida,” Randy says. “With Peter, in Orlando.”
“That’s good,” Agnes says. “That’s a good thing for everybody to think.”
“I knew it! He IS in New York!”
“Or, in Orlando,” says Mary, playfully, giving everybody a laugh.
They settle in for the evening. Randy makes himself at home, as he is want to do as a bachelor among women. Agnes puts on some coffee while Mary breaks out the playing cards and runs a few hands of 21 with Randy. Agnes serves up some shredded filo cakes (khadaif), while they laugh at Mary’s recounting of Mr. Bianco’s visit. She imitates Mr. Bianco’s accent (“There is no honor“); she presents her big sister’s iron-willed resolve (“Mr. Bianco is here on business“) while playing the role of Peter (“You, sit there!“); and, with hilarious physical humor, she greatly exaggerates her own fear and trembling during the whole episode, including when Randy rang the doorbell.
Randy and Agnes are wiping tears from their cheeks as they laugh to Mary’s performance. And Bedros, who has joined them, is slapping his own cheeks and rolling backward onto the rug as his aunt Mary recounts him trying to help Mr. Bianco with his hat. Bedros is himself now wearing Randy’s black Navy beret.
“Okay,” says Randy, and turns his diminutive, now-empty, coffee cup over onto its saucer. Mary and Agnes do the same.
Agnes lifts the cups to reveal rivulets of fine coffee grounds left on the saucers. She observes the patterns, going from one saucer to the other before making her pronouncements.
“You,” she says of Randy’s grounds. “I see a passage, a great opening in your future.”
“New York,” he says.
“Sister …” she says of Mary’s. She squints. “Right now it is not clear. Allow the pattern to complete.”
Then she looks at her own saucer. “I see a return.”
“Peter!” says Mary. “Now me.”
Agnes shakes her head. “It is unclear. I’m sorry. Right now it shows an incomplete pathway.”
“New York?” asks Mary.
“Maybe. It is unclear.”
“I …” Mary makes an awkward flipping motion with her hand. “… My cup …”
“Your nerves are blocking your passage,” says Randy.
“It was the cup,” says Agnes, diplomatically.
Mary exhales, disappointed, and slumps back into her seat.
After Randy leaves (walking home at 11 pm, all the way up to West Monroe Avenue), Mary pulls out her Bianco & Eliseian stationery and carefully drafts a letter of reference for Daniel. (“… We have found him industrious and proficient ….”) She concludes, “Yours, very truly, Bianco & Eliseian.”
The coffee and excitement (and disappointment from the grounds) have left her up past midnight, disinterested in going to bed. So Mary pens a cover letter to Daniel. She knows that her sister, whose friendship is longer and closer to Daniel than hers, will tomorrow provide the details of Bianco’s actions in her forthcoming letter. So she keeps hers simple.
I’m enclosing your letter of reference from Bianco & Eliseian. It is good to hear you are safe and secure with friends. It sure is lonely here since you left. Wishing you greatest success in the future. I will close with best regards from all.
Sunday, March 13, 1921
It doesn’t matter that the men are gone — with Peter still in Orlando on business, and Daniel now in New York (hopefully safe and secure from Mr. Bianco’s detectives). It has been their usual busy Sunday around the house for Mary and Agnes. This morning the sisters prepared breakfast, cleared the table, washed the dishes, picked up around the house, and made beds, while changing the linens. As Agnes then tended to Bedros and baby Shavarsh, Mary prepared the dinner. Then she took a bath and washed her head.
They sit down for dinner at one-thirty, with Mary’s hair wrapped in a towel. It is something she would never do with a man at the table. And, suddenly, they find themselves eating ravenously without conversation. It is, again, something they would never do in male company.
“Oh, my!” the sisters exclaim in unison, as they stop for a breath. And then they laugh in response, and Bedros joins in, followed, in turn, by Shavarsh (who, at four months, is learning the rudiments of laughing with others). The table is again a scatter of dirty plates and empty platters, flatware, glasses, napkins, cups, and saucers, ceaselessly awaiting their domestic attention.
“If we leave, all this will go away!” Agnes jokes.
Mary, with her head still wrapped in a towel, pretends she’s a genie from the Orient. Placing her palms together, she looks to Bedros and intones, “A-bra ka da-bra, dishes go away …” She blinks, but finds the dishes still there. Looking to Bedros, bewildered, she blinks again.
“Again!” he commands.
She does. Nothing.
Bedros is now peeling with laughter, and so is his mother, and so is his baby brother (the good student, he).
Acknowledging reality, Agnes and Mary finally clear the table by hand, with the nearly delirious Bedros now lolling on the floor with Shavarsh.
Ready to finally get outside, as Mary finishes combing out her dense curls, they decide to all go up into town for the rest of the afternoon.
“Yay!” exclaims Bedros, exhausted from his mom and aunty’s day of labor.
They stop and call on Mrs. Pappas, who joins them with her two-year-old daughter, Cecilia, and the three ladies and three children stroll from there to Hemming Park.
Hemming Park is the big central square in Jacksonville. It is surrounded by the bustle of the city, with the grand Hotel Windsor, the St. James Building (which houses the Cohen Brothers Store), City Hall, and all the other shops and businesses facing it, and is filled with trees and palms, lawns and walkways, a bandstand and benches … as well as just about the whole town’s populace.
Mary has brought her Brownie box camera, loaded fresh with film.
“Okay, Sis,” Mary instructs. And Agnes holds up Shavarsh, her four-month-old boy, plump-faced, grabbing at the air. Click.
Mary and Mrs. Pappas squeeze in on Sharvarsh to coo and share with Agnes their delight in her growing baby. The brims of all three ladies’ hats are overlapping, giving Sharvarsh full protection from the sun in exchange for women’s joyous glow.
“Ahhh, he’s such a sweet boy!” exclaims Mrs. Pappas.
“Isn’t he?” agrees Agnes. “This one,” she says pointing to Bedros, who is chasing little Cecilia, “could never hold still.”
“Still can’t!” exclaims Mary.
At age four, Bedros loves how entertaining a two-year-old can be. And young Cecilia is excited to have the attention of a big boy. With the band playing in the center of the park to provide a tempo, the two children are laughing and giggling, giggling and laughing …
Suddenly Bedros lets squeal, “There’s Mr. Randy!”
“Wanny!” echos Cecilia.
And, sure enough, through the park’s main path up walks Hrand Vakilian.
“Mr. Randy!!!” all three ladies exclaim. Even baby Shavarsh seems excited.
“Good afternoon, ladies! … Gentlemen.”
He is a sporty figure. Like all their men, he is a walking advertisement for his tailoring skills. But with Randy, he proudly dons his US Navy beret rather than the stiff, wide-brimmed, flat-topped straw hat of the day.
And, with a flourish, he removes his beret and sets it over Bedros’ small noggin, giving the boy a salute. Well, Bedros absolutely loves it. (And it is quickly becoming custom for Bedros to wear Randy’s beret.)
“You’re not going to get that back, you know,” Mary says to Randy, now the only man in Hemming Park with a bare head.
Randy offers to take a picture with Mary’s camera of a group portrait of the ladies and children. Agnes and Mrs. Pappas wrangle Bedros and Cecilia, and they all gather around their bench, with Bedros proudly wearing “his” beret.
Mrs. Pappas has Randy photograph the the two sisters with Bedros and Shavarsh.
And then Agnes has him take a picture of aunty Mary holding baby, with Bedros on the bench.
And then he takes one of just Mary.
And of Mary again, this time from low.
“You stop that,” says Mary. “I just got the camera filled!”
Mary is embarrassed by his attention, and Randy is embarrassed at getting caught in his enthusiasm for her. Both their faces are red.
“You’re a funny man,” Mrs. Pappas says to him.
“All these bachelors,” Agnes says of the group of fellows in their circle of friends.
Randy looks to Mary and smiles hopefully, but she misses it. (Mrs. Pappas doesn’t, though, and she smiles at Agnes, who returns a skeptical face. Mrs. Pappas tilts her head, as though to say, “You never know.”)
Mary’s mind has gone to Daniel, as it has been doing like clockwork since his departure ten days ago. She loves taking snaps, so she feels regretful at how few she took of Daniel during their time together here in Jacksonville. (In fact, she took none. The only pictures she has of Daniel in Jacksonville are prints that Agnes has given her which she took with her own camera.) Mary wishes she was with Daniel right now, in Central Park, taking as many pictures as her camera could hold!
Mrs. Pappas announces her need to get back to her husband (also named Peter), who has been working in their garden, and to prepare evening supper. But first they decide to make their way across Hemming Park and buy some ice cream cones. Randy states his desire to pay for the group, but Agnes knows he is saving for his trip back to New York, and denies him that gesture. Meanwhile, Agnes offers to pay for Mrs. Pappas, and Randy tries to pay for Mary. The ice cream server is presented with so many nickles from so many outreached hands that he nearly sees his pathway to retirement!
“You’re with a group of independent women!” Mary states.
“It’s what I fought the war for,” says Randy, who is allowed only to pay for his pal Bedros, who is told to share with his friend Cecilia.
“I don’t wanna,” object Bedros.
Randy throws up his his hands. “The Huns gave me less grief.”
After seeing off Mrs. Pappas and Cecilia, but with the group not yet ready to end their enjoyable Sunday outing, Mary, Agnes, and Randy decide to see what’s playing in movie houses.
“Pauline Frederick!” exclaims Mary, who spots an ad in Randy’s newspaper for Miss Frederick’s latest picture, Roads of Destiny, playing at the Republic.
“Oh, I love her! Let’s go!”
Agnes and Randy share looks. Everybody loves attending pictures with Mary because she is such an ardent fan.
So they head down to Forsyth Street and catch the late-afternoon showing, with Agnes and Randy strolling with Shavarsh, and Mary and Bedros leading the way.
Bedros doesn’t want to go to the theatre’s nursery. He wants to sit between Mr. Randy and Aunt Mary.
There is a dog act on stage when they find their seats, for which Bedros opts to stand. He is transfixed. “We have dogs in California,” Mary tells her nephew, regarding the farm in Fresno, where Mary and Agnes’ parents and younger siblings live, along with two pet dogs. Bedros rarely gets to interact with dogs, because they might be vicious or have rabies. And he, of course, has never been to California, nor does he remember when he last saw his grandparents or his other aunts and uncles — when he was a toddler in New York. After not saying a word — while the man on stage directs his canine performers through hoops, to walk on their back feet, jump to amazing heights, and even turn back flips — Bedros turns to Mary and puts his hand to her shoulder. “I want to go to California.”
“California is a long way away,” Mary tells him.
“Is that where Egishe is?” he asks.
The music begins. It’s the Sunday ensemble playing, instead of simply the organist or the lone piano player. Randy rolls a cigarette and lights it, followed by a plume of harsh smoke and Bedros’ sudden aggravation. It forces Mary to switch places with the boy, putting herself beside Randy and his cigarette, which Mary dislikes nearly as much as Bedros. Also, Mary doesn’t like her attention taken at the beginning of a feature, especially one she’s so keenly interested in.
Pauline Frederick has been a star for as long as Mary has been attending movies. That’s more than a third of her life. And Roads of Destiny does not disappoint.
The picture is based, as the movie’s first card states, on the story by O. Henry (which Mary remembers having read from a library book back in school). However, O. Henry’s story focused on a man, set in the olden days. This version gives the story to a woman — “Rose Merritt,” played by Miss Frederick — set in the present day … initially.
It begins with her betrayal in love, as Miss Frederick’s love interest suddenly falls in love with another woman. She is heart-broken!
Then, that initial situation of betrayal is replayed in dreams with three different alternate situations. It’s a riveting and thought-provoking drama that’s a perfect vehicle for Miss Frederick’s large talent. She gets to play four different characters, in four very different settings. That opening scene takes place out in Hollywood or some place in Los Angeles. Then Miss Frederick takes her audience to frontier Alaska, in a gambling saloon; then to upper-crust society in Long Island; and, finally, to Mexico, with Miss Frederick playing a village girl. Thus, the movie covers the four major pathways of a compass — North, South, East, and West — as featured in the movie poster.
And, yet, in all the dreams, just as in her her original incident of betrayal, Miss Frederick’s characters find the same ending — all tragic. Thus, each “road” delivers her to the same destiny!
“Oh! Pauline Frederick is a finest actress of our time!” announces Mary as the musicians hit their final notes and the audience in the Republic Theatre applauds.
“That was pretty good,” agrees Randy.
“It was masterful!” states Mary. “Each character that she played was unique! The range of her emotion is un-matched in the acting world!”
“That was very good,” agrees Agnes.
“And so tragic!”
“But so close to reality,” notes Randy. “Fate.”
“They show what fate is! How can one escape it?”
“I know, I know,” agrees Agnes. “That was very moving. So interesting! It really made me think.”
It makes Mary think, as well. In each scene she identified with Miss Frederick’s character. Is Rose Merritt’s story Mary’s story? Is Mary, right now, in a state of betrayal — destined to tragedy, no matter which path she takes? Or is she in a state of True Love — destined for happiness, no matter what? She wishes she had seen it in the reassuring presence of Daniel … instead of Randy.
“It frightened me!” admits Mary, shaking off a sudden chill in the warm theatre.
Monday, March 14, 1921
“You have a package,” sister Agnes says.
Mary has just come in with baby and Bedros from their walk out to the river. It has been such a hot day, so it felt good to be near the water. But Mary has also been feeling sad and lonely of late, so the present heat does not help.
“Is it a present?” Bedros wants to know, of the package.
“I think it is,” says Agnes, taking Shavarsh from Mary.
And it is.
“It’s from Mr. E!” Mary exclaims, broken from her stupor after seeing the package waiting for her on her bed. It has the Merjanians’ New York address on the label, “202 E. 32nd Street.”
“Egishe?” asks Bedros excitedly.
“Oh, it’s heavy!” she says lifting the package. “Yes it is,” she answers Bedros. Untying the twine hurriedly, it is about the size of … a half-dozen or so … “Records!”
“‘Dear Miss Jorjorian — I saw these and thought of you — D.E.,'” Mary says, reading aloud Daniel’s note written in Armenian. “Oh, my goodness!”
It is a folio with record sleeves, each containing a two-sided disc, all in Armenian. “Oh, my, oh, my …” Mary says, turning the heavy sleeves.
The records all bear the “H.M. TASHJIAN” store label, “388 THIRD AVE. NEW YORK.”
“From our store!” Mary says, which is funny, because Tashjian’s — which specializes in music from Armenia, and the Orient generally — is a shop she’s rarely set foot in. Mary has always favored European and American music — classical and popular — for her personal purchases. In fact, it was Daniel who had only recently been encouraging her, down here in Jacksonville, to embrace the music of her homeland, and has been playing for her some of Peter’s small record collection.
The records have red “ODEON” labels, and blue “POLIDOR” labels, and green “HOMOKORD” labels. The titles of the work are mostly obscure, traditional and folk songs, a few of which Mary recognizes (AND LOVES!), and many more that Mary doesn’t recognize but is certain she will love.
“Oh, my! Oh, my! Oh, my!” Mary continues to utter, to the point of near incoherence. There are eight records in the collection, sixteen sides in all.
Agnes has already set down baby Shavarsh and is lifting the lid of the Victrola, while giving it a crank. She opens the console’s bottom doors for full volume, as Mary pulls from the album one of the titles she’s familiar with, one of her “favorites.” (Daniel has played it for her, as best he could, on his violin.)
“‘Partzer Sarer’!” she exclaims, laying the record onto the platter. She rotates the tonearm down and sets the needle to the beginning of the groove … and releases the platter’s clutch.
The music begins. It is violin (“Just like Mr. E played!”) and piano. Their haunting, plaintive notes roll through the room. So gorgeous! What beautiful sound! (She is now determined to learn the piano part!) And then the high tenor voice of Mr. H. Seraidarian begins ….
Oh, what a sad, heart-breaking voice he has! And so clear. It is as though he is in the room singing to Mary … and to Agnes.
“Partzer Sarer” is, of course, one of the great arias from the opera Anoush by Armen Tigranian, from Tumanyan’s epic poem. It is the song of the fleeing lover, the shepherd Saro, who has unintentionally insulted the family of his bride, Anoush. Shunned (and pursued by Anoush’s needlessly humiliated and vengeful brother, Mosi), Saro is left to wander his high mountains (the “partzer sarer”), which — beautiful though they are, and so intimately familiar to him as a shepherd — is a lonesome setting for someone who had been so close so recently to achieving the emotional riches of a marriage to Anoush.
And now Mary is weeping. She is thinking of Daniel, in the role of Saro, fleeing Mr. Bianco.
And Agnes is tearing-up, as well. She is simply feeling her little sister’s sweet sadness … while also worrying about Daniel. She is also thinking of her husband, Peter, who, un-dramatically, has merely been in Orlando on business for the past week. (But she misses him dearly, and could not imagine life without him.)
They turn from each other, and hold hands in silence while wiping their eyes.
“Such a joyous gift!” Mary exclaims, breaking into mucusy laughter, finding great irony in the moment.
That makes Agnes laugh, as well: the two sisters, crying in a room with only children and a Victrola. They both give loud wet sniffles, and laugh some more through their tears.
“What a beautiful gift,” Agnes says. “… from a beautiful friend.”
Mary and Agnes spend the whole rest of the day and into the evening, playing the records, over and over.
Most of the records feature traditional instruments, including the oud (which is like a lute), the dudek (which is like and obo), the kemanche (which is like a violin), and the kanum (which is like the zither). Mary loves these for exactly what they are: traditional. They are the sound of her people — deeply beautiful, energetic and up-beat, but, oddly, sad. However, a few of the recordings, as with “Partzer Sarer,” feature violin and piano to accompany the singing. Mary enjoys hearing the traditional instruments, but with the violin and piano pieces, she can imagine playing them with Daniel, adding them to their repertoire of duets.
Mary floats from room to room, tending to her chores, singing with the records.
Mary, it must be said, has a very good voice — especially when Daniel or Peter aren’t in the apartment to make her feel self-conscious. She can readily find the pitch of the melody, and she interprets it with high beauty. But, without the sheet music, and not having a true native’s command of Armenian, she sings many of the lines of these recordings as simply syllables of tone, or incomprehensible “Armenian.” Her sister Agnes, a true native speaker (having come to America as an eight-year-old), finds this quality in her little sister to be endearing. Mary has so much talent and spirit! But she is so American!
The buoyancy in Mary’s emotional state right now, and in her weightless dance through the household, gives Agnes deep satisfaction and a sense of ease. Mary will be joining her Daniel in New York, maybe as early next month. There, she and Daniel can resume and deepen the romance they had just recently begun, and which so quickly has been suspended. Agnes takes secret pride in a love affair she helped germinate. God willing, she and Peter will have their old friend, Daniel — “Egishe” — as their brother-in-law. And Mary will be settled (possibly before her twenty-first birthday in June), so that their younger sisters, Sara and Shaké, who are quickly coming of age, will have their own marriage paths cleared.
“Life is sweet,” Agnes says to Mary in Armenian.
Mary gives her big sister a big wet kiss on the cheek.
The heat of the day is now the warmth of love pursued.
Tuesday, March 15, 1921
“Your pathway is clear,” Agnes states in the room lit by but a single flickering candle.
Randy Vakilian has come over for supper (to provide the sisters company), and now Agnes is conducting a reading, with the opening cards.
Randy is happy. “Your sister has a gift,” he says of Agnes’s powers of clairvoyance.
He is preparing for his own move back to New York for next week, leaving Sunday evening (on the same 9:20 train Daniel took earlier in the month). And the news through Agnes is welcomed.
And now for Mary.
It is at times like these when Mary feels as though she is a young child again. Mary had never really enjoyed a “friendship” with Agnes until only recently. Agnes was always so much older than Mary and her other sisters and brothers, separated by their years and life’s experiences. But through these past four months of living in Agnes and Peter’s home, away from her mother and father and younger siblings, while sharing in Agnes and Peter’s group of adult friends, staying up late, drinking coffee and socializing, Mary has been embraced by a sense of sharing in their “adultness.” And, certainly, the attention of all their bachelor friends — and living “with” Daniel — has played a big role in that. But, now, with Agnes reading cards, it takes her back to her truly recent childhood, with her adult sister Agnes in full command.
But with that command — with that authority — comes a duty to Truth. Mary has hoped that yesterday’s receipt of the records from Daniel had cleared the path that was found to be muddled in Agnes’s recent reading of Mary’s coffee grounds.
So tonight Mary is hoping for another sign from Daniel, now in her cards, for her return to New York. Perhaps it will be The Lovers or maybe the Page of Cups (representing his undying love for her, and her desire to learn).
Mary turns over her first card from Agnes’s palm.
The Six of Swords.
With the cloaked woman being ferried across the body of water, it is a card fraught with tension.
“A journey,” states Agnes.
That could be good, despite the difficulties which it implies.
Mary looks with hope into her sister’s eyes, who signals her to open another card.
It is an ominous card, almost universally so. Elevated on a craggy mount, with lightning and flames, and two figures falling from the sky, it can readily foretell a crumbling of structure and a quick descent from great heights; a spiritual upheaval.
“Liberation,” states Agnes, defiantly.
Mary likes the sound of what Agnes says –“a journey” and “liberation” — but she doesn’t like how they look. The cards certainly don’t portray the liberating journey Mary has been anticipating … to come imminently.
And, with that, her final card is …
It is a card that implies stamina and tolerance against uncertainty.
“Patience,” concludes Agnes.
“No pathway?” pleads Mary.
“It is a complex set,” admits Agnes. “But, no, I see no immediate pathway.”
“No ‘clear‘ pathway,” Agnes, says, recalibrating her interpretation.
“New York?” asks Mary.
“It does not mean you won’t be going to New York.”
Randy looks at the cards and back to Mary, smiling supportively.
“But,” continues Agnes, “your journey to liberation will require patience.”
“I don’t see that!” jokes Randy, suddenly unable to maintain his own restraint as he comments on Mary’s.
Mary slaps his arm. She then leans forward, cradling her chin on her knuckles, wondering what they’re getting wrong.
Wednesday, March 16, 1921
“Bye, Sis,” Mary says, as Agnes heads out into the beautiful bright morning. She’s off to acquire the necessary yarn and some additional needles for the rugs she’s mending. Peter is due back from Orlando this evening (having been gone for a full ten days), and the sisters have gotten behind in the tasks they’d promised to complete in his absence.
Mary is doing ledger work for Peter these days. Her skills with needles are mostly limited to thread and fabric, not yarn and rugs. And, with her work for Bianco & Eliseian now ended, she has been applying her clerical skills as much as she can for Peter’s rug business. The Yegohian brothers have also expressed interest in Mary assisting them but, because their tailor shop shares a floor with Bianco & Eliseian, she has felt awkward about venturing up to 20 West Forsysth these past two weeks.
Funny, Mary thinks. Bianco never actually fired me. She laughs at the thought of simply showing up for work. Of course, for anybody to get embarrassed, it would require Mr. Bianco to also actually show up, too! That makes her laugh even more.
Oh, she hopes her friend is doing well! She hopes that Daniel is settling back in with Mr. Merjanian and re-establishing himself in New York tailoring circles. In some ways, Mr. Bianco’s neglectful treatment of Daniel in their partnership forced him to become more industrious, and to acquire an independent level of confidence in his craft and in doing business. Mary hopes those new traits don’t clash with the method of doing things in New York. Oh, she hopes her friend is doing well ….
Mary has brought her bookkeeping materials up into the apartment from downstairs. Peter’s shop is so cramped and dusty, with all the rugs awaiting cleaning and mending. And, also, Peter’s shop does not have a Victrola.
Mary has been listening nearly continuously to the wonderful records Daniel sent her. They are the best gift she has ever received. She will cherish them for the rest of her life. The small collection, ranging from traditional to modern, reflects on Daniel’s exquisite taste and thoughtfulness — each one, personally selected by Daniel for Mary. And, taken together, it is as though he has written a love letter to her through music! All the facets of his feelings are expressed in these melodies, these songs, and these performances.
But within them all, there is “Partzer Sarer.”
It is the song Mary played first upon receiving the records. But now it is too personal to continue to share with Agnes and Bedros (and certainly not with Hrand Vakilian). She has made quick habit these past two days that when she has a moment to herself, she puts this record on. Last night after Randy walked home and Agnes retired to bed, Mary was left feeling desperate and lonely from her card reading. Agnes, an expert in these matters, could find no pathways revealed to her in the cards. So Mary listened to this song over and over.
As she did, its message became clear. It is the aria of the lover Saro, lamenting his separation from his bride and true love, Anoush. It is too sad to be a casual memento. This is not merely a song that, oh, just happened to be included among Daniel’s other wonderful choices of records. No, this is the song he wrapped in all the others. This was the note in the bouquet of flowers. Its selection is a message from Daniel himself, as intimate as a kiss. She is certain of it. This is, in fact, the song of Daniel, lamenting his separation from his true love, and bride-to-be, Mary. It is a song so beautiful in its sadness, so revealing in its emotions, that Mary can take it as a message of hope. This song is her open pathway. That is the message that wasn’t being read last night, because it wasn’t a message that was in the cards. Daniel’s message to Mary was in the records — a message so personal only she could glean. It is a song so tender and clear, it rings … It rings. It is ringing.
The telephone is ringing!
“Oh, my!” exclaims Mary, and she abruptly races down to the shop where Peter’s telephone is ringing. She cannot be neglectful in minding the phone — though she has just now been neglectful in minding the phonograph … as Saro’s lament continues in the distance.
“Hello, Jacksonville Oriental Rug Cleaning, how may I help you!” Mary sings into the receiver.
“Long distance from New York,” announces the local operator, with her Florida accent. And in the distance she can hear the New York operator handing off the call.
And onto the line, sounding even more distant than Saro, is Daniel’s voice!
“Miss Jorjorian … I am so glad it is you. It is I, Mr. …”
He is saying something, but she cannot hear him over her own excitement.
“I received your records! They are magnificent! I am listening to them right now!”
“Miss Jorjorian,” he says again. His voice is so distant.
“Are you coming back?” she asks.
“No. Miss Jorjorian. I am so sorry. I have called …”
“I will be coming to New York!” exclaims Mary loudly, attempting to overcome the faintness of his distant voice. “Soon!”
“I am so glad you received the records …”
“They are magnificent!”
“I thought of you …”
“Every one is perfect! They are so beautiful! They mean so much to me!”
“Miss Jorjorian, please. I am sorry. I am so sorry.”
He is sorry? Something is wrong. Mary goes quiet … as the song upstairs ends. She can hear it clicking in its groove. The telephone is crackling across its line, with Daniel’s voice on the other end of a thousand miles of wire.
“I am leaving. I am so sorry. I am leaving for South America. To Buenos Aires. To re-join my brother, Levon. My ship leaves shortly.”
A noise is rushing through Mary’s ears, like a subway train rounding a turn, deep underground.
“Today. I am so sorry. I must go.”
“Our time together …” he says.
The sound in Mary’s head roars.
“… feelings …”
Daniel is telling her something.
“… have grown fond of you …”
The noise is rushing, screeching, roaring.
“… mean so much to me …”
The noise is thunderous. Then there is quiet.
“Leaving?” she asks.
“I must go.”
“My ship is sailing.”
“Now? No! You can’t!”
“I must …”
“I will write …”
“I … I …”
“Good-bye, Miss Jorjorian.”
The operators in New York and Jacksonville conclude the call. Upstairs, the Victrola has jumped the groove and the needle is skating across the paper label of the record … around … and around … and around ….
Friday, March 18, 1921
“Aren’t the boats lovely?” asks Agnes.
She and Mary are sitting at their little spot by the river, under their hats, enjoying what little breeze there is. It’s 5:00 pm, and the heat of the Florida day is full strength (though the official First Day of Spring is yet to come). Agnes has Sharvarsh propped and bouncing on her knee, helping him watch, too. Bedros is down at the water, doing what four-year-olds do: exploring a thicket of reeds along the shore.
And the boats are lovely. There are all manner of working vessels and pleasure craft, steaming and sailing up and down and across the wide St. Johns River. Seagulls follow the fishing boats and smoke follows the tug boats, while wakes on the water follow all, criss-crossing the surface, clanking and bellowing and chugging and skimming. The activity can be mesmerizing, which it often is for Mary.
But, instead, the boats suddenly remind Mary that Daniel is presently steaming his way to South America.
“Wouldn’t our friend be just about here … right about now?” Mary asks, pointing across the other shore, out toward the Atlantic.
“Oh, Mary. Sweet dear.”
“Wednesday … Thursday … Friday — That’s about right, isn’t it?” notes Mary. “He’s out there. He could stop. Sail right into the harbor.”
“Oh, I don’t think he will. But he could. And I wish he would.”
“We all do.”
These past three days have been anything but sailing for Mary. Daniel’s long-distance call Wednesday left her feeling mortally wounded. When Peter finally arrived home that evening — gone ten days in Orlando — it was very comforting to have him back in the house. He showed unusual tenderness to Mary, and gave her valuable reassurances about their friend. Hearing it from Peter — of Daniel’s sense of fidelity and of his forthright motivations — helped Mary snap out of her hopeless state, in a way that even her big sister Agnes could not. But Mary has since experienced unusually sleepless nights and more than her usual rolling emotions. Mary’s mind continues to swing between utter despair and irrational hope, only to arrive at stoic acceptance … of defeat.
He is gone.
Is he gone forever?
Does he love her?
Does he know she loves him?
Will either of them ever know?
Last night after supper, Hrand Vakilian was over and opened cards for Mary.
“Your fellow wants to write love letters to to you,” he said, reassuringly (and not hesitating on the use of the term “love letters”). Mary became very aroused. But then with the next card he had to admit: the road was closed. Randy then said — as a sort of consolation — that Mary would go on a journey, with an “open road.” That was nice, and it’s certainly true — as Peter has suggested that he could get Mary back to New York as early as sometime next month. But then she considered the combination of the two: Daniel wants to but can’t write her love letters; and she will now be heading to New York, in the opposite direction of Daniel’s travels.
And so it was another night to bed early, exhausted, yet unable to sleep.
But this evening, with Randy visiting once again, Mary is trying her best to put on a good face.
“How have you ladies been?” he asks Mary.
“Oh,” she says, about to summarize her state of gloom, including his card reading last night, but changes her mind. “We had a lovely afternoon by the river, after a hot day of chores around the house. Bedros got to explore, and Sister and I admired all the activity on the water.”
“It was lovely,” adds Agnes.
Randy smiles hopefully at Mary.
“It was lovely,” she agrees. Then she gets up from the table and pulls a record from her collection Daniel had sent. “Music?” she asks.
She rotates the needle down onto the spinning platter to play one of the lively traditional pieces, “Enzely Dance.” Agnes, cheered that Mary didn’t pick something sad, gets up to engage her heartbroken little sister in a dance.
They link pinkie fingers, hold their arms aloft, and begin sweeping the room with their feet, twisting low on their hips, then hopping with kicks, swinging their arms, and stepping sideways to repeat the pattern. Mary has been Agnes’ dance partner since before she could even walk. Agnes has held Mary, hand-in-hand in dance, through Mary’s entire childhood, for the whole time they’ve been in America. As a young teenager, Mary was among the first to dance with Agnes at her wedding to Peter. And so big sister Agnes dances again with little sister Mary, now a full-grown young woman … in need of dance.
“Hoopah!” sings Peter, and he and Randy join the ladies, holding between them Peter’s handkerchief.
Everybody is pleased to see Mary dancing.
It is such a sweet tune, “Enzely.” But with nearly all Armenian melodies, there is a sadness weaving through the notes. And, yet, Mary is able to maintain her positive disposition, grateful for the goodness of her family.
They continue through the evening, playing Daniel’s records, dancing and singing, with Bedros joining in, as well as Shavarsh, who is held aloft. Peter and Randy challenge each other to more complex dance steps. And Mary sings in her animated style — to the gleeful merriment of Bedros. But it isn’t to her usual level of hilarious absurdity and inventiveness. Mary is holding back. And at times her joy seems forced. Everyone can see that, but it is understood, and her effort is encouraged.
“Such a great record set!” notes Randy, flipping through Mary’s album. And then he innocently plays “Partzer Sarer.” He doesn’t know the power that song has in going directly to Mary’s soul. And Randy “accompanies” the song, holding an invisible violin aloft, grandiosely mimicking the bowing and fretting in time to the music.
“That’s Egishe!” Bedros notes, for which Randy bows.
“He will be missed!” states Peter, as though giving a toast of remembrance.
“Father,” Agnes says to her sometimes insensitive husband.
“And welcomed on his return!” says Peter, as though finishing his toast.
Mary smiles at all the earnest attempts to keep her spirits buoyed. And even the awkward moments have been well meant, she understands. But despite everybody’s attempts to the contrary, it is another sad evening for Mary, and another sleepless night against her exhaustion.
Saturday, March 19, 1921
With it being Saturday — Peter’s first back home from Orlando — he wants to see that Douglas Fairbanks picture, The Mark of Zorro.
“I’ve got so much to do!” Agnes tells her husband. The boys need bathing and their clothes need washing, and … “There’s always so much that just seems to pile up!” she exclaims.
“Well, I’ll go!” says Mary from her room. She’s got things to do, too, but right now she’s laying on her bed reading Margaret Sanger, about the need for women take control.
Agnes nods vigorously to Peter to accept Mary’s offer.
As much as Peter wants to step up to his in-law duties for his wife’s heart-broken young sister, he really doesn’t want to spend a perfectly good Saturday evening out alone in her company. She is such a girl at times!
(“Can I bring Randy?”) he whispers to Agnes.
“Peter’s bringing Mr. Randy!” Agnes shouts from the kitchen. “Is that okay?”
So Peter and Mary drive up into town in Peter’s automobile. They meet Randy at Ballock’s and have ice cream before the movie.
“What fun!” exclaims Mary.
Randy is proud to play a role in how well she’s bounced back from that recent romantic setback.
Peter is having fun, despite his inclinations. Mary’s a good egg. She really is. And this is Randy’s last night in Jacksonville.
“So, you’ve got the 9:20 train; are you still up for Ortega tomorrow?” Peter asks Randy.
Randy has been mesmerized by Mary licking her cone. He’s actually, unconsciously, licking in tempo with her. But Mary’s been listening.
“Of course, Ortega tomorrow, right Mr. Randy?”
“Woul’n’t miss it,” he says with a mouth full of ice cream.
This is Peter’s second best friend leaving within the month. Peter Kludjian’s Jacksonville is getting smaller every week. He can almost sympathize with Mary’s heart-break.
Mary sits between the two men in the theater. Randy rolls a cigarette for Peter along with one for himself, despite Mary’s objections. Peter isn’t a smoker, per se, other than the occasional cigar. “Don’t tell your sister,” he instructs Mary.
Randy lights them both on a match from his heel. Then he “offers” Mary his.
She calls his bluff and snatches the cigarette, pretending to be a man, and takes a puff.
Immediately she coughs, and gags, and makes a big ruckus, waving the smoke away from her face. Peter tries to shush her, while Randy laughs.
“Not bad, eh?” Randy jokes.
“Yuck!” screams Mary. Peter is beside himself with all the attention he feels young Mary is drawing to them. “Why would you SMOKE that?” she says.
“It’s an acquired taste,” says Randy.
“The movie, the movie!” Peter exclaims, as the theatre’s musicians launch into a Mexican melody with the film’s opening card.
Mary loves Douglas Fairbanks, and in this he plays the title role, “Zorro,” which is “fox” in Spanish. Zorro is a dashing man of action who fights for justice and equality on behalf of the natives and the defenseless citizens. The “mark” of Zorro is a “Z” that he scars villains with with a quick swat of his sword. But Zorro is only Zorro part of the time. The rest of the time he is Don Diego Vegas, the flouncy son of wealthy landowner. Marguerite De La Motte plays Lolita Pulido, the daughter of another land owner. She is expected to be in love with Don Diego, but is terribly disappointed with how weak-willed and awkward he is. Meanwhile, she is greatly admiring (and even in love with) Zorro.
Mary is deeply impressed by Mr. Fairbanks’ ability to portray the two characters as though they are completely different people, with distinct manners of standing, walking, and gesturing.
It is only when Zorro reveals himself through Don Diego, suddenly sword-fighting a whole roomful of threatening men, that Lolita and Don Diego fall in love. One of the comic traits of Mr. Fairbanks as Don Diego is a compulsion to perform corny magic tricks. “Ever seen this?” he asks repeatedly through the movie before initiating yet another trick.
“Ever seen this?” Mr. Randy asks, out on the sidewalk.
“Oh, that was so good!” says Mary. The movie had comedy and drama, romance and acrobatic fight scenes.
“Liked it?” Peter asks Mary, as he and Randy are pretending to tangle swords.
The whole time through the picture Mary was thinking how much Daniel would enjoy it, too. Peter, reluctant earlier, is now pleased with his own gallantry, helping his wife’s sister. And Randy is reflecting on how successful his last evening in Jacksonville has been, helping his old friend Daniel, but also maybe leaving his own mark, if more subtle than Zorro’s “Z,” on their young lady friend … who will be following him shortly to New York.
With a refreshing bath back at home, Mary doesn’t get to bed until nearly 1:00 am, an hour she loves … and falls right to sleep.
Sunday, March 20, 1921
“Ooh, there’s a cute girl! When was this?” Hrand Vakilian asks Mary, as they are sorting through Mary’s snaps.
“Well, almost two years ago. I had just turned nineteen.”
“‘Along the Hudson River, 242nd Street, July 1919,’” Randy says, reading from the back of the picture. “Very cute. Very cute.”
“It’s my favorite,” says Mary. In the picture, which was taken up in north-western Manhattan, where the city is almost like the country, Mary is hanging on to a fence while swinging out to face the camera, smiling brightly.
Randy is holding the picture in his palm and looking at it … and at her. Mary is searching for another photo, of her family in Fresno, to show him. Her whole point was to show him pictures of the farm in California. But he seems to only want to see snaps of Mary herself, and that’s making Mary uncomfortable, frankly. It’s not like she hasn’t noticed that he has assumed an ever-increasing degree of familiarity since Daniel left. At first, it was simply in the manner an old friend taking care of his pal’s girl — playing a protective role in Daniel’s absence. But he now seems almost relieved on news that Daniel is presently out on the high seas, steaming into the Southern Hemisphere, on his way to Buenos Aires (to be gone … possibly forever). And here Randy is in her room!
“Dinner!” Bedros says to Mary and Randy, coming from the kitchen where the boy was helping his mom.
Mary is relieved, and is now regretting that Agnes had volunteered kitchen duties in lieu of Mary playing host to Mr. Randy, whom — it should be noted — is Anges’ and Peter’s old friend, after all.
“My last dinner with my friends in Jacksonville,” Randy announces, looking to Peter and Agnes, and then holding a long gaze on Mary, who quickly averts her eyes.
“We’ll miss you, friend!” Peter says.
At 2:00 pm, with dinner finished (and Mary having taken full control of clearing the table and washing the dishes, so that “Sister can get her boys ready”), they all head out down to Ortega in Peter’s car. Agnes has baby Shavarsh on her lap in the front seat. Mary has Bedros standing next to her in the back seat, who is enjoying the view, while she seeks to make herself as small as she can next to Randy. He isn’t at all a large man; he’s only Peter’s size (which is a couple inches shorter than Daniel’s nice five-foot-seven height). Yet his knee seems to keep finding hers.
He leans into her further.
“Look at what I have,” he says.
He has pulled from his vest pocket Mary’s snapshot of herself on the fence at the Hudson River, which he has stolen. Reflexively, she grabs, but he presses it to his torso.
“Give it back!” she declares. “That’s my favorite!”
“Mine, too,” he says, laughing.
“It isn’t yours.”
“I’ll return it,” he says. “When you send me a replacement.”
“No. Give it.”
“Send me a new one, and I will,” he says, putting it back into his pocket.
For the rest of the car ride, down the scenic end of Riverside, Mary looks out the open window but sees nothing. Were she not suddenly burning over Randy’s thieving betrayal, she would enjoy the magic of simply driving a few miles south of town. Away from modern Jacksonville, the green is thick and the river is wild. Then, suddenly, comes the bridge crossing McGirt’s Creek over to the Ortega peninsula. Though made of wood, it carries both automobiles and the streetcar. It isn’t like the majestic bridges of New York, but it is a marvel of engineering, if not charm.
“It’s so beautiful down here!” exclaims Agnes. “This is our secret Jacksonville.”
“Nice to get out of town!” Randy agrees. Then he pokes Mary and points to a big white bird flying across the water, trailing long legs, swooping up, and into a thicket of trees. “Stork!”
Peter activates his car horn, as though it’s a tradition to honk at stork sightings.
“Or-TEE-ga!” he sings, echoing the horn.
Mary doesn’t like being poked.
Onto the other side, on Ortega, they are in a Floridian land of wonder, and yet still in Jacksonville’s city limits.
“The Bettes Mansion!” Peter states. “I’ve got rugs there!”
The peninsula is criss-crossed with wide boulevards, large circular parks (“There are four of these!” Peter exclaims as they swing around one), massive old trees, expansive lawns, large homes, mansions, estates, and dense tracts of sub-tropical forest.
Mary is unimpressed.
She is glowering in the back seat. Bedros, possibly sensing where the fun is to be had, has already stepped over her and is now at Randy’s side, held by his waistband as he hangs nearly entirely out the window, living in the moment.
Peter is pointing out homes and their owners, noting the textile contents of each. “A very nice Bukhara there, very large … insured for more than a hundred dollars!”
They drive, park, and wander … drive, park, and wander. They try to rent row boats but none are available. It seems they aren’t the only inhabitants of the area who have decided to enjoy the wonderment of Ortega on this beautiful Sunday, the first day of spring.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” Agnes inquires.
Mary shrugs, then announces a plausible source: “Bedros has never been on a boat.”
The boy is running around the trees in Randy’s Navy beret, oblivious to the boats.
Peter has his arm around Randy’s shoulder. “I’m going to miss you, friend!”
“You need to come back to New York,” says Randy. He looks back to Mary and Agnes. “You’re not going to let Little Sis move back my way without a visit!”
Everything that man says is now poison for Mary. Were she to step back and see into her mind from, say, the perspective of big sister Agnes, she would be astonished by the black curtain she has allowed to drop between herself and an old family friend. She had so much fun with him and Peter at the movies last night. But the thought of being alone in New York with that man, while her beloved Daniel is all the way down in Buenos Aires, is too bleak for her to contemplate. She should throw herself into the Hudson River rather than to allow him hold her Hudson River portrait ransom. The nerve of that man.
He smiles at her … and a wave of nausea laps at her spiritual bank, like a tug boat wake, wafting with acrid coal smoke from its boiler … which he somehow interprets as reciprocation, and gleefully lifts her nephew Bedros in a presumptuous show of familiarity.
During the day’s outing Mary dutifully passes around her camera for a dozen snaps with her Brownie. She takes several of them herself, and has Peter take a couple of herself and Agnes, and Agnes takes a couple of “the men.” She doesn’t allow Mr. Randy to handle the camera, however. (“You waste film!” she hisses when he offers.) Besides, he already has her favorite picture. He stole it, right there when she was trying to show him her family in Fresno!
“Get a pictures of Mr. Randy,” Agnes says.
Mary hands Agnes the camera, and wipes her eyes of … “the pollen.”
Back in town, Peter takes Randy to the train station at about 7:00 pm. He isn’t on the 9:20, after all.
“I opened cards,” Randy explains, “and decided the 8:00 o’clock was my best passage.”
“Very smart,” notes Agnes.
Mary hadn’t heard, but is so happy to know he won’t be on “Daniel’s train.” The 9:20 will now forever be Daniel’s departure time. It’s the time he said good-bye.
“Good-bye, Miss Jorjorian,” Randy says, as Peter helps pack him up and drives him to Union Station. When Daniel left, he had to take a taxi.
“Yes,” is all Mary can say. She has already informed everybody that she has work to do this evening.
Listening to Daniel’s records, Mary mends two shirt waists and the shoulder hem in one of her dresses. His gift of music to her was like giving her his soul. Every song is a different part of him, an individual gift. The more she’s been listening these past days, the more she hears and understands. They are the musical portraits of his many facets.
And Daniel never took anything of hers.
(“Oh!” Mary suddenly realizes. In Daniel’s hasty departure, she had neglected to give him a portrait of herself to remember her by. AND HE LOVED THE PICTURE THAT RANDY STOLE!!)
Of all the songs, she knows which one will make her cry. So she waits to play “Partzer Sarer” for when no one else is in the room, after Peter has gone to bed and Agnes is in the kitchen … and enjoys herself some silent tears. A drop falls onto the blouse she is working on. It lands where her heart would be and diffuses into the cotton weave. Touching it, Mary circles the wetness, and cries some more … as the song comes to an end and the needle circles the inner track.
Mary turns off the Victrola. But she leaves the record on the platter, for later.
“I need to take a walk,” Mary says to Agnes, wiping her cheeks.
“Yes. I’ll be okay. I’m just … feeling queer.”
“I understand, sweetie,” says Agnes.
Mary walks across empty Riverside Avenue under the moonlight, and out on their pathway to the river’s edge. The sound of frogs and nighttime insects fill the warm Florida air. It is its own music.
The moon is nearly full tonight. It’s the same moon over the sky where Daniel is right now, somewhere within or down below the Caribbean, Mary figures. He’s still a long way from Buenos Aires. Thinking of him sailing such a long distance, she comes to realize that Daniel must have had to leave. He knew the distance. He’d sailed from Buenos Aires to New York to get to America in the first place. He could not have wanted to do that again. He must have absolutely needed to do it. It was possibly because of Bianco, but it certainly was not because of Mary he left. It was despite her. That’s what he was trying to tell her in his long-distance telephone call on Wednesday. But she couldn’t hear him. She was so shocked and confused. But she can hear his music. His message is clear in his music. He loves her. And he will return.
A large frog nearby croaks, startling Mary, making her laugh.
“Hey, you,” she says to him.
Back upstairs in the apartment, Agnes greets Mary at the door.
“Oh, I’m so happy to see you smiling!” Agnes tells her. She’s in her night clothes and ready for bed.
“I got a message from Daniel,” Mary says. “My prince.”
“What did he tell you?”
Mary makes the sound of the frog.
They both stare at each other for a moment, then laugh.
Agnes kisses her little heartbroken sister and goes to bed.
Mary removes “Partzer Sarer,” waiting for her on the Victrola’s platter. Instead, she puts on her previous favorite, the song she and Daniel had danced to, “My Isle of Golden Dreams.” She listens to it with the cabinet closed and the top down, so as to not disturb Agnes or Peter or the kids.
The spritely style of the tune is a welcome change of tone for her. She stands before the machine, elevates her hands, and can feel Daniel’s hand at her back, dancing with her.
In their bedroom, Peter rolls over and groggily lifts his head.
Agnes gestures to him to not worry. “Go back to sleep, father,” she whispers. “Mary needed help with her dreams.”
Tuesday, March 22, 1921
“Is it because of Daniel?” Mary asks.
“No,” says Peter.
“I mean Bianco,” Mary says.
“No. Business is simply down. Business was down before all that.”
Mary is still concerned regarding Daniel’s role in Peter’s current troubles, so Peter clarifies: “Our friend’s break-up with Bianco didn’t help. The way he left: he ‘stole money,’ as far as Bianco is concerned. And Bianco — and his brother — have some prominence in this … village.”
“And you’re guilty by association,” concludes Mary.
“Well, it isn’t helping — let’s just say.”
“I was afraid of that.”
“But it isn’t just Jacksonville,” adds Peter. “My trip to Orlando got me nothing. And there’s nothing coming out of St. Augustine, either. Ortega’s my only real stronghold right now. But that’s just a neighborhood. So that’s why.”
In other words, that is why Peter seems to be suddenly talking about also leaving Jacksonville. Except, it is only “suddenly” for Mary. Peter has long been worried, as he has not been seeing expansion in his business; and, without expansion a business soon dies.
“We didn’t want to worry you, Mary,” Agnes says.
“And so now you’re sending me away. And I’ve got to move back to New York?” asks Mary, indignantly.
“We thought …”
“Isn’t that what you’ve been saying since … even before Mr. Eliseian left?” Peter asks, jumping in. “I don’t think anybody in all of Florida has uttered the words ‘New York’ more than you have in your time here.”
“Gentle …” Agnes says to Peter.
He throws up his hands and leaves the women in the kitchen to finish with the morning’s dishes.
“We only want what’s best for you,” Agnes says to Mary.
“What’s best for her?!” Peter yells, returning to the kitchen. “My business is dying! I’ve got to move to a smaller shop. I’ve got to sell inventory — probably at a loss. We might have to move the entire operation, the whole household, elsewhere — the whole thing — and you two are worried about whether Mary would be ‘happy,’ or ‘less happy,’ here or in New York! We all have to make unpleasant choices. It’s called ‘life.’”
The sisters are silent as Peter stomps downstairs.
Mary throws her face into her palms. She has been putting up such a fuss lately, not sure what she wants … other than to be with Daniel.
Outside the mailman blows his whistle.
Mary runs downstairs. She almost collides with Peter as he is emerging from his shop.
The mailman gives Peter his business letters first.
“Anything from New York?” Mary asks, prompting Peter to shake his head in dismay. (She’s hoping for a letter from Mr. Merjanian, detailing Daniel’s plans … and providing his Buenos Aires mailing address.)
“Nothing from New York, Miss. But I got something for you from California.”
It’s from Mr. and Mrs. H. Jorjorian, Clovis, California.
“Mother and father!”
But upon reading it with Agnes, deciphering their father’s difficult handwriting and his un-schooled Armenian, the primary theme of the letter seems to be of disappointment. Their parents are disappointed with how far behind they got in preparing their trees and vines over the winter. They received little help from the Armenians in town, and haven’t yet felt truly welcomed into their Fresno community. They worry about the coming summer, and next autumn’s harvest. They’re disappointed with young Haig’s behavior; it seems Agnes and Mary’s youngest brother is always in trouble with something. But, mostly, they’re disappointed in Daniel, for “discharging his obligations,” and with Mary, for wanting to “take the name” of a “wanderer,” is the phrase in Armenian.
Mary doesn’t quite understand the word that her father is using, or how, exactly, he’s using it. But she understands plenty.
“Oh, dear Mary,” whispers Agnes.
“‘Take the name‘!” exclaims Mary in Armenian. “Who gave him that idea?”
“I told him you were happy! I didn’t tell him you were getting married.”
“You know not to tell father anything! No matter what you say, he’s going to get it all twisted-up and wrong.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I was just happy for you. And happy for Daniel. But you’re right. And I am sorry,” she says.
“Oh, he is such a sour puss!” Mary says of their father.
“He’s got a hard life.”
Mary wants to say something mean, but she doesn’t. She’s been hearing about her father’s hard life all her life. So, he thought he’d have an easier life moving from New York City to become a farmer in Fresno? He brings so much on himself, Mary wants to say. But she doesn’t.
After their long days of taking care of tasks around the house and errands up in town, preparing meals, helping Peter in the shop, and sharing in the tending of the children, Mary and Agnes have come to enjoy their late-afternoon walks along the river before supper, just the two of them.
“I honestly don’t know how I could’ve done it without you,” Agnes says, referring to the past four months.
“So you’re not going to ship me off to New York?”
“Kidding! I’m kidding,” Mary says. “And, you know I’ve enjoyed my time down here, getting to know you and your family, and your friends. I mean, even though I grew up with you as my big sister, it was almost as though it was ‘you, mother and father’ and ‘me and all the other sisters and brothers.’ You were just so much older than the rest of us, and there were so many of us. You were almost like our second mother.”
“So now I get the blame?”
“Kidding! Don’t I get to kid from time to time?”
“Actually, you were wonderful. We all had two very good mothers,” Mary says.
“Aaah, now you’re going to make me cry.”
“And one crazy father,” adds Mary.
“Well, you can’t blame me for him!”
“And mother didn’t have a choice.”
“Theirs wasn’t arranged, though,” notes Agnes.
“But she was an orphan. Young — fourteen? ‘Strong young girl,’” Mary says, imitating their father.
“Yes, but father chose her. And she was fifteen. Mom didn’t have a dowry. No land, no property, no livestock. He only got her.”
“No livestock!” laughs Mary.
“No. None. He pitied her. That’s what mother told me. Father married her out of kindness, if you can imagine that. To protect her.”
“Oh, now you’re going to make me cry!” says Mary.
“It’s true. As mean and stubborn as father seems now, mother loves him deeply. She always will. She owes her life to him. He didn’t have much, but he married an orphan, with nothing, and made her a wife and mother … and now a grandmother.”
“And that’s why she’s such a good person, you think?”
“It was probably in the stars. But father made life better for her, as hard to imagine as that seems now. And he got us,” Agnes says — meaning their mom, herself, and Mary — “out when the Turks were only starting.” (That was 1901, when Mary was a baby.) “Father didn’t want there to be any more orphans in the family.”
A rock splashes in the water next to Mary and Agnes.
“Ha-ha!” screams four-year-old Bedros, running their way.
“Oh, that boy,” says Agnes.
“He followed us … again!” complains Mary. “Mommy and Aunty were having an adult conversation.”
“Daddy said I could!”
“I knew it,” Mary hisses to Agnes. “Every time: ‘Go disturb the ladies,’” she says, in a coarse version of Peter. “‘Men don’t care for children!‘”
“It’s true! Every time: we try to have a moment to ourselves and Peter simply can’t handle half-an-hour of child-care responsibilities!”
“Bedros wants to be with us.”
“Of course he does! That’s all he knows! The boy has a father.”
“Now you stop.”
Mary goes quiet for a moment. She was on the verge of boiling over. Finally, she states, “We were having such a good conversation. Two women talking. Can’t that happen in this world?”
“In New York you can be a Suffragette. As an unmarried woman, you can be a Suffragette. But I’m a married mother, currently living in Jacksonville, Florida. I love my children. I love my husband. And I love my life.”
“You don’t have to say ‘Suffragette.’ I’m a ‘modern woman.’ Simple as that. And I love my life, too. Or, I would, if I could ever get some control over it.”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic. Like Peter said this morning, life is full of compromises. We all have roles, and we all have demands put on us by others, and by situations outside of our control.”
Mary has gone quiet.
“Sweetie,” Agnes continues. “We all witnessed what a terrible heart-break you went through. We’ve all been very sympathetic. We thought you and Daniel would make a fine couple. We loved him dearly … and still do, of course. But now you need to pick yourself up and remember how well-liked you are — how many men would jump at the chance to take you as a wife.”
“Take me as a wife? Agnes, don’t you listen?”
“You know what I mean. Sweetie, Daniel has moved back to Buenos Aires.”
“He’s not even there yet!”
“I know: it’s a long way away! I’m sorry for being blunt, but it’s not like he’s going to just come back. He might return years from now. But he might not. And a lot happens when you’re measuring in years. You don’t want to go to New York now that Daniel is no longer there. But, where else are you going to go? Fresno? You love New York. That is your city! The men in New York aren’t like the ones in Jacksonville, or Fresno. They’re modern, sophisticated, and cultured. Your kind of men! They don’t use the word ‘Suffragette’ incorrectly. They don’t ‘take’ wives. That’s where your husband is, Mary. He’s in New York. Unless you want to learn Spanish and move to South America, you need to be in New York. Randy Vakilian is in New York!”
Mary drops her head at the mention and exhales her disgust.
“He likes you,” Agnes says. “Just thought I would mention it.”
Friday, March 25, 1921
“Here you go,” Peter says, nonchalantly, as he hands Mary a Clyde Steamship Company ticket folder for the S.S. Mohawk, sailing to New York Harbor, cabin class.
“April fourth!” Mary says, upon opening it. “That’s … that’s not even two weeks from now!”
“Monday after next,” notes Peter.
“Oh, thank you! Thank you so much!”
“So you DO want to go?”
“Yes. Of course.”
Peter nods … then shakes his head as he returns downstairs to his shop. He almost doesn’t know where Mary stands on the issue of “leaving Jacksonville” from one day to the next. Apparently, he got it right today.
Mary puts away her sewing for a moment to quickly pen a letter to her friend Eva Greenberg in New York. She wants to let her know of her return to the city and for Eva to get word to their boss, Mr. Zoggie at Western Union: that Mary will be seeking re-employment. The mailman blows his whistle just as she has licked her stamp. With a fast dash down the stairs, she gets the envelope in his hand and then accepts mail for the household and for Peter’s shop, which she promptly delivers.
“Thank you, again!” she says to Peter, handing him his mail.
Bouncing back up the stairs, Mary is gleeful. New York! Monday after next! It was only a brief note she wrote, but in ten short minutes Mary feels as though she’s put in one of her more productive mornings in recent memory.
Floating on her sense of accomplishment and the sudden turnaround in her life, preparing the noon-time dinner almost feels effortless. Daniel may be thousands of miles and months (if not as much as a year) away from their eventual reunion, but opportunity has not halted for Mary.
“Wonderful!” exclaims sister Agnes upon Mary’s telling, as they’re setting the table. It was Agnes who had recommended that departure date to Peter, but she treats the information from Mary as news.
Peter strolls back into the room from his shop for dinner, scratching his mustache.
“I may have purchased that in haste,” he says of the ticket. “I’ve been thinking. There is so much for us to do — with moving the shop and auctioning off the inventory, and what with Bedros and the baby. I think we’re actually going to need you here. I could exchange the ticket for a month out — say the first Monday in May.”
“Or maybe six weeks out, just to be safe.”
“Miss Jorjorian,” he says. “This is a serious situation I’m facing.”
“And so is mine!”
He doesn’t know how she could possibly compare the two. It is exactly this sort of petty selfishness that Peter sometimes finds infuriating about his young sister-in-law.
“You should have thought of that before!” she exclaims. “I’ve already written to my old boss, offering the firm my services! I should now break my obligations with them?”
“The two of you persuaded me I should go! I made up my mind, and I took action. I have made the necessary arrangements for my future! MY future. I’m NOT your sister!”
Peter dismisses that last statement as simply the sort of thing Mary says — part of her grand sense of injustice — even as he is securing, and paying for, her passage back to her beloved New York. But he is confused. “You’ve secured employment?”
“I’ve made arrangements.”
“This morning. After you presented me with my schedule. I accepted your offer … and I took action.”
Dinner is, of course, tense. Agnes seeks to find compromise.
“We’ll work something out.”
“Why does ‘we’ never seem to include me?” Mary asks. “The ticket I was given is for April fourth, and I’ve made arrangements accordingly.”
Even though the departure date is still ten days hence, Mary spends the afternoon packing her trunk, determined that she will make use of it on the proscribed day.
Peter heads back into town on business, which does not include another stop at the Clyde Steamship Company ticket office.
In the late afternoon, as Mary and Agnes are preparing supper, in walks Mr. John Baylarian from Orlando.
“Good afternoon, ladies.”
“Well, what brings this surprise?” Agnes exclaims.
“Mr. Kludjian was expecting me.”
Mr. Baylarian is, for Peter, the regional king of oriental rugs in northern Florida. It was Mr. Baylarian who hosted Peter’s business trip to Orlando earlier in the month. And, like all the Armenians, he’s an old friend from New York, but he’s been down in Florida since before the war. He’s now thirty-seven years old, and commanding in his presence.
Before the adults can exchange proper greetings, and explain that Peter seems to be running late, Bedros races in through the kitchen from the back stairs, arriving in a cloud of dust and carrying an encrusted old wrench. He stops cold upon realizing there is a strange gentleman in the house.
“Why, who have we here?” inquires Mr. Baylarian. “Could this be?”
“This is Bedros,” Agnes says.
“Why, you’ve gotten so big!”
Rarely shy, Bedros hides behind his mother’s skirt.
“And never fear, we bathe him every Sunday!” announces Mary, making fun of the boy’s state of filth.
“Yes, I did assume there was a boy under there,” Mr. Baylarian says. And, being good with children, he understands what brought Bedros running in so excitedly. “You found something.”
“It was buried.”
Bedros nods, then presents it.
But the dirt and rust sluffing from it onto the rug so embarrasses Agnes that she simply swoops up the boy and takes him back through the kitchen. (Story of buried treasure to be told after cleaning.)
Mary and Mr. Baylarian have a laugh, as Bedros can be heard screaming and crying out on the back porch.
“I’m Mary Jorjorian,” she announces, assuming that she and Bedros are in similar circumstances of recognition.
“Agnes’s ‘little sister’?” Mr. Baylarian exclaims. He is actually astonished. “Oh, your brother-in-law has been playing tricks on me. He …”
Mr. Baylarian catches himself before he confesses to Peter’s great disservice in describing Mary to him while in Orlando. Mr. Baylarian had pictured a girl — a young thing with fraying pigtails and bandages on her knees. He steps back to take her in. Then he catches himself again, as he realizes his rudeness and the embarrassment it must be causing this beautiful young woman before him.
“You knew our parents,” Mary says, unfazed.
“Yes. And Agnes, and her younger sisters and brothers.” He holds out his hand to refer to his memory of their height. “You’re the eldest of the young ones.”
She nods, pointing to herself and then to an imaginary line beside her, stating, “Mary, Sara, Aram, Shaké, Haig, and Neure. You probably left before Neure, though. Nineteen fifteen?” Mary says, reciting Neure’s year of birth.
“Yes. There was the little boy. Haig?”
“He’s eleven,” Mary says, giving Mr. Baylarian a laugh.
“My girl, Emma, is eight,” he says. “She was just a baby when we left.”
“I remember her! She’s eight?!”
Mr. Baylarian can now recall one of Hagop and Aghaivne’s daughters, just breaking out of girlhood (she was thirteen), holding their baby Emma. She was so enthusiastic and self-assured. That was Mary. And here she is.
“I’m sorry,” he says, having found himself staring.
“Did you know our friend, Mr. Eliseian?” Mary asks.
“Only here. He hadn’t arrived yet when we were up in New York. A fine tailor. Terrible what’s transpired.”
“Well, he had to leave.”
“I know. Very awkward. But you worked for him?” Mr. Baylarian asks. He had imagined that Peter’s “wife’s little sister” had done chore-girl work for Bianco & Eliseian. But now he’s ready to be surprised, again.
“Drafting correspondence, book-keeping, advertising.”
“School?” he asks.
“Wadleigh … High School,” she says, assuming that’s what he’s after.
Mr. Baylarian is nodding, as though he’s following. But actually he is only all-the-more surprised. He’s well aware of Wadleigh High School. It was “progressive” and “modern,” sure, and a school “for suffragettes,” and thus the butt of jokes among men of a certain age and background. But it also has a highly regarded and justly deserved reputation for academic excellence in teaching young ladies — not as a finishing school, but in preparing them for college.
“New York City’s first public high school for girls,” he says.
“You get an ‘A’ Mr. Baylarian,” she says, proud of her school’s renown, a thousand miles distant.
“College?” he asks, anxiously.
“Well!” she says, and puts her hands out, as if to ask, “Would I be here?” And then she shrugs, acknowledging the reality.
“Still,” he says. “I bet you would have done well.”
“I would’ve loved it!”
“And maybe teach … or nursing?”
“Or social work,” she says. “Or …” and she holds back there, while imagining a life as a scholar, doctor, or publisher.
Agnes, in from cleaning her boy, is annoyed at Peter’s tardiness.
With Peter finally home (and Agnes having had a private word with him about inviting guests without informing others, and about being present for their arrival), supper conversation then includes a great deal of banter and speculation of strategy and options regarding Peter’s business and his future in Jacksonville or elsewhere. Mary and Agnes can both see why Peter admires Mr. Baylarian so greatly. He facilitates inspiration. He’s a natural businessman.
“And Miss Jorjorian?” Mr. Baylarian finally inquires.
“She’s assisting me now,” answers Peter. “Helping with our move.”
“For now,” she says.
“I’d like to keep her,” adds Peter, as though it’s a shared joke.
“Well,” says Mr. Baylarian. “I’ve been very impressed. Slowly, bit by bit, my memory of that girl in New York is returning. But to see how far she’s come since then … I’m impressed with this young lady. And, despite my frustrations with our friend, Mr. Eliseian, I understand that she was doing skilled business work for Bianco & Eliseian.”
“Yes …” concedes Peter. “Some clerical work.”
“Drafting correspondence?” Mr. Baylarian asks.
“Yes,” says Mary. “Our Mr. Eliseian is extremely intelligent and cultured, as well as talented, as you all know. But he is still learning his fifth language, English. So I acted as his voice … on paper … so to speak. Or, so to write!”
While everybody is laughing at Mary’s joke, she interjects, “And honest and hard-working!”
Mr. Baylarian nods, admiring her loyalty.
“The same thing,” says Mary. “Mr. Bianco played almost no role in his own partnership, abandoning it to Mr. Eliseian. So I helped with that, where I could.”
“She performed brilliantly,” says Agnes, proudly.
“Almost as a third partner, it sounds,” says Mr. Baylarian, gazing at Mary.
“Well,” says Peter, attempting to bring a degree of restraint to the assessment.
“And book-keeping?” adds Mr. Baylarian.
“She’s a good book-keeper, I’ll hand her that,” says Peter.
“And you’ve snatched her up from the dissolution of Bianco & Eliseian?” asks Mr. Baylarian.
“Well,” Peter repeats, feeling uncomfortable with this whole line of inquiry.
Mary smiles at Mr. Baylarian, and for once holds her tongue. Agnes puts her hand on Mary’s, appreciating her strong-willed little sister’s restraint.
“Because what I would like to propose,” intones Mr. Baylarian. “Is — if or when Jacksonville Rug Cleaning Company no longer continues to hold a place for Miss Jorjorian’s employ — I would like to invite her to Orlando to work for me.”
“Oh!” utters Mary, shocked.
“Mary!” exclaims Agnes, overjoyed.
“Miss Jorjorian already has a job lined-up in New York,” states Peter, pointedly.
“You do?” asks Mr. Baylarian. “Well, of course. Why wouldn’t you?”
Mary is about to clarify her situation, but Mr. Baylarian simply assures, “Think about it. That’s all I ask. I don’t have any specific employment proposal. But you seem like a young lady who is ready for our modern era. And if you would like to remain in Florida and work for someone who could help you find what your business potential is — and if nobody else is sustaining that for you,” he says, looking cautiously at Peter, “then, please, consider my company’s door open.”
Mary is, of course, deeply flattered. And she’s even a wee bit tempted — in response to that flattery. But Daniel will not be coming to Orlando. And Mary does not belong in Florida. She needs to be in New York. She …
“Oh, I am so tired!” Mary confesses to Agnes, as Peter and Mr. Baylarian head out the front door. (Peter is driving Mr. Baylarian up into town, where he is staying at the Hotel Seminole.)
Agnes gives Mary permission to go to bed early. “I’ll take care of this,” she assures her, referring to the kitchen.
Mary retreats to her room, exhausted, fretting about the distance between the opportunities and dreams in her life.
Saturday, March 26, 1921
At 7:30 p.m., exhausted and hungry, Mary and Bedros finally arrive at 49 Cordova Street, in St. Augustine, home of the Altoonjians.
It’s usually a short jaunt from Jacksonville down the Florida East Coast Railway, but today they’re three hours late.
“Thank heavens!” exclaims Aunt Rachel at the sight of them trudging up onto their lit porch.
Aunt Rachel is the cousin of Mary and Agnes’s father so, in fact, they are first cousins once removed. But “Aunt Rachel” it has always been. (And everything follows from that.)
Along with her suitcase and bag, Mary sets down Bedros, whom she’s been carrying the past few blocks.
“Oh, my,” she says. “THAT was arduous!”
“Come in, come in,” implores Uncle Manoog, as he holds open the screen door.
He and Aunt Rachel have been in St. Augustine since 1905, selling rugs and raising a family. As some of the first Armenians in northern Florida, they were the ones who convinced Agnes and Peter to move down, providing the draw that eventually, directly or indirectly, attracted the whole colony of them.
“Where WERE you?” the kids all ask.
Finally back in a familiar space, Bedros awakens to run into the arms of Marjorie and Mabel and George.
“Petey!” sings ten-year-old George. Marjorie and Mabel are the twelve-year-old twins.
Meanwhile, Flora, who is fifteen, goes straight to her beloved cousin Mary.
“Are you all right?”
“Oh, my!” repeats Mary, taking off her hat. She kisses Aunt Rachel on the cheek, puts her own cheek to Uncle Manoog for him to kiss, and she grasps Flora’s hands. “Look at you!” she exclaims, and kisses her on the lips. “We’re not too late for the show, are we?”
They have a date tonight, the “four adults,” to see one of Mary’s favorite recording artists from up north, the Vassella Italian Band, which is playing at the Hotel Ponce de Leon.
“Not yet,” says Flora. “It starts at eight.”
“We’ll have a quick supper, first,” says Rachel.
“Oh, good! I have been so looking forward to tonight.”
Marjorie and Mabel arrive into the front room with a pitcher of lemonade and a glass. Flora observes attentively as her sisters pour Mary a cool drink. Taking it, Mary kisses each twin.
“Ooh, thank you, girls. Marjorie and Mabel. So GOOD to see you!” (Marjorie is on the right; Mabel on the left. Mary hasn’t spent enough time with the Altoonjians to yet be fully comfortable with which is which. She wishes aunt Rachel wouldn’t dress them identically. Marjorie has the softer eyes.) Then she says to the room, “We left Riverside at 3:15 — can you believe it?”
“This is very good,” she says of the lemonade. “Really hits the spot. Thank you. Oh, it’s good to be here!”
“Oh! Well, THIS ONE,” she says, pointing at giggling Bedros, who is now running to catch George, who has ducked behind the couch, “GOT LOST!”
“We were on the street car, going into town … still in Jacksonville! So, we changed on Bay Street for the Union Depot car, three or four blocks from the train station. But that little rascal was suddenly nowhere to be seen! I think he stayed on the Riverside car as it took off! I suspect he was admiring the work of the conductor making change. I tried to run after it, but it just sped off! I didn’t know what to do. I was beside my self with fear and confusion.”
“Oh, my!” exclaims Aunt Rachel.
“Yes! Well, no other street car was coming, so I simply followed it on foot, with my suitcase and bag, hoping he would get off at one of the stops ahead. But it soon got away from me, off into town.”
“Oh, that poor thing,” Aunt Rachel says of Bedros.
“I don’t think he knows enough to be frightened, mother,” says Uncle Manoog. “He was probably having a grand time, ‘riding the rails’ with his new pals.”
Aunt Rachel begins directing everybody into the dining room, “Come, come,” where a spread of food is wondrously arranged on the table.
“I’m famished!” declares Mary.
“Well we can’t let the starving Armenians go hungry!” jokes Uncle Manoog.
“Father!” exclaims Aunt Rachel, embarrassed, as Mary and Uncle Manoog, alone, burst into laughter.
Uncle Manoog has been in America nearly thirty years (arriving at about the age Mary is now), and he’s gained a blithe American quality to his disposition.
Young George has already eaten. And the twins, Marjorie and Mabel, have had a start. But Flora has held off, awaiting Mary and wanting to be with the “adult seating.”
As Aunt Rachel begins passing the pilaf, and Uncle Manoog slips kebabs from their skewers, and a general hubub ensues around the table with small plates of sarma, koufta, yoghurt, string beans, and other side dishes, crossing back and forth, a command goes out to hear the rest of Mary’s story.
“So,” starts Mary. “Where’s Bedros? Where’s Bedros? On the Riverside street car, I presume,” she says, drawing her hand out into the distance.
“You couldn’t get a police officer to chase it down?” asks Aunt Rachel.
“Well, I saw none. So I kept walking … all the way to town … straight to the police station.” Now talking through a full mouth, Mary exclaims, “Oh, Aunt Rachel, the pilaf is perfect. Bedros, eat! Oh, it’s so good to be here! So good to see you all! So good to eat!”
“THEN WHAT HAPPENED?”
“Well, there I was at the downtown police station in Jacksonville, doing what Armenians always do: spelling our names for the officer behind the desk. ‘B-E-D-R-O-S-K-L-U-D-J-I-A-N … M-A-R-Y-J-O-R-J-O-R-I-A-N.’ He was hopeless. He got the ‘Mary’ part, and that’s about it.”
“Try spelling ‘Manoog Altoonjian’ to an American!” says Uncle Manoog.
“‘What’s an Altoonjian?'” one of the twins asks, quickly joined by the others, reciting the family joke, and getting a knowing laugh from their father.
“Yes! So, when I had given up all hopes at the police station, I caught a street car back to the the Bay Street transfer … and found him there. He had shown up a few minutes after I had left to look for him! … OH, AUNT RACHEL, THIS LAMB IS PERFECT!”
“It’s cooled from when we expected you, but still juicy, isn’t it?”
“Oh, delicious! … Well, he had given me the fright of my life. But all was not lost. We were reunited in time to actually catch the 5:00 o’clock train …”
“THE FIVE O’CLOCK TRAIN?” (That was more than two hours ago, for a forty-minute trip.)
“Yes. But speeding on our way to Aunt and Uncle’s house, almost there, we hit the outskirts of St. Augustine … and the train just STOPPED … a mile from our destination … and SAT on the tracks … for an HOUR-AND-A-HALF!”
Uncle Manoog points northward. “You’ve been THERE since 5:30?”
“Yes! We could SEE the town! I could practically smell Aunt Rachel’s roast lamb! Mmmmm, delicious! We passengers almost mutinied. ‘LET US WALK!’ some of us were yelling, even though I’d had enough walking for the day.”
“Were YOU yelling?” Flora wants to know.
“Mary probably led the chant,” says Uncle Manoog.
“I was painting picket signs, too!”
Flora laughs, and looks to her dad to judge if it’s a joke or for real.
“You need to watch Bedros more carefully,” says Aunt Rachel. “He can get away from you, you know, without you even seeing it.”
On cue, Bedros, who has gotten up again to play with George, and is hanging upside down (maybe to test his stomach valve) … drops from his grasp, and lands — bonk — onto the wood floor, squealing with laughter.
“Oh, really?” says Mary, trying to make light of Aunt Rachel’s advice.
“Impossible!” Uncle Manoog says, coming to Mary’s defense.
“George was like that when he was a kid,” remembers Flora. “He was IMPOSSIBLE to keep track of.”
“But you must try,” concludes Aunt Rachel.
The adults, with Flora, manage to get through their supper and out the door, and down Cordova Street to the grand Hotel Ponce de Leon, only a few short blocks away.
Aunt Rachel and Uncle Manoog walk arm-and-arm behind Mary and Flora, who are also walking arm-and-arm.
“Oh, how Flora adores her,” says Aunt Rachel. “I do wish Mary would give up on returning to cold New York.”
“She’s a modern woman, mother. That’s why Flora is so taken,” responds Uncle Manoog. He pats Aunt Rachel’s arm and teases, “Better hold on to your daughter.”
As with so many Armenians in America, Manoog Altoonjian is in the “oriental goods” trade, which mostly means rugs, but also household furnishings from old world generally, which he sells from his King Street shop. Peter Kludjian especially enjoys the father-like guidance and collegial respect he receives from Manoog, which goes back to their days in Michigan. And Peter and Agnes lived with the Altoonjians upon their arrival in Florida. Bedros was born in their home. And it was Manoog who facilitated Peter’s relationship with Mr. Baylarian of Orlando. All in all, aside from continued difficulties with spelling their name, the Altoonjians are well accepted and respected, settled in the community. The siblings all speak with Florida accents, and their parents have been here long enough to find their own vowels gaining syllables.
For Mary, finally attending a concert of the Vassella Italian Band is a much-welcomed treat. Their Victor recordings have been a life-long education for Mary, feeding her interest in music. Bandmaster Oerste Vassella is based in Atlantic City, and he has built a sprawling ensemble of loyal musicians around his disciplined vision, which is opera instrumentals and classical music generally in the concert band form (using woodwind and horn, instead of string instruments). New York has long provided nearly continuous venues for them. But Mary has never found the means or a companion to accompany her to a performance. The irony! She has to come to St. Augustine to finally receive this experience.
While Marjorie and Mabel stay home to care for Bedros and George (who insists he needs no care), for fifteen-year-old Flora the concert is almost secondary to showing off her older cousin to her world.
Flora hasn’t grown up with Mary. Until Mary’s arrival last November, she existed for Flora only in photographs, letters, and stories told by Agnes and others. Five-and-a-half years her senior, Flora is enchanted with Mary’s Northern sophistication, educated erudition, and seeming independence as a single woman on the move. No one was more anxious today than Flora.
“Flora, I am so honored to be your guest,” says Mary, as they enter the brilliantly lit courtyard of the Hotel Ponce de Leon.
The Ponce de Leon is, of course, one of the grand dame hotels of the southern coast. It and its clientele, along with the many other resort properties of St. Augustine, is a major source of Uncle Manoog’s business. And, of course, Uncle Manoog personally knows the manager of the Ponde de Leon, Mr. Murray, who has provided tickets for the evening. He is greeted upon entry by the head usher for the event.
“Right this way, Mr. Altoonjian.”
“I’ll bet they can spell his name here,” says Mary.
The instrumental performance concludes with Vassella’s Italian Band’s big crowd favorite, “Funiculi, Funicula,” which commences a boisterous sing-along, initiated by the musicians and joined by the audience (most of whom know none of the words, other than the title, in this charming tribute to the building of the funicular on Mt. Vesuvius). There is clapping and stomping throughout, with the chorus repeated several times, ending in an eruption of cheers.
“OH, WHAT FUN!” comes the consensus of the Altoonjian party.
Out in the lobby, the band has set up tables for sale of their records. Mary uses the opportunity to review the evening with Flora.
“This is the Verdi, ‘Grand March,’ which they opened with.” She sings the familiar melody from the middle portion. “You liked it.”
“Oh, yes! I recognized that one.”
“Here is the other Verdi, ‘Solenne in Quest’ora,'” Mary says in a theatrical Italian accent, “from the opera La forza del destino. The Force of Destiny. It’s one of the arias. Very pretty.” She sings part of the melody, but Flora doesn’t remember it. “I like it,” Mary remarks. “I’ve tried to learn it on piano.”
“Oh, I wish I could hear it again. Will you play it on our piano?”
“Maybe. But I need the sheet music. … Oh, here’s the Schumann, ‘Träumerei.’ That’s German for ‘Dreaming.’ This one I know by heart. It’s one of my favorites!” She sings the familiar melody, which is in the repertoire of nearly every school band.
“Oh, yes, I liked that one, too! Is it an opera?”
“Oh. I’m not sure. I just know this one song. And here’s a Beethoven they played. The adagio from the Second Movement of the Fourth Symphony.” Mary tries to hum a few bars, but can’t conjure it. “It’s somewhat boring, I suppose. But I like it. I find it soothing.”
“Yes. I think I remember it. Maybe. So, which one was your favorite?”
Mary flips through several of their records, all the nice twelve-inch Victor disks from her school days. “Oh, this one! ‘Moonlight Sonata,’ another Beethoven.”
“Yes! Yes! I know that one! We have a piano version of it on record. I LOVED when they performed that!”
“I could teach it to you on piano.”
“It’s easy. Parts of it.”
“Oh!” Mary continues. “Here’s another by Verdi, from Aida, the opera, the ‘Prelude.’ So beautiful … the whole opera.” She sings what she can. “I can’t do it justice. But I loved this when I was in junior high. Aida’s an Ethiopian princess who has been enslaved by an Egyptian pharaoh. And it’s a love triangle. Very dramatic.”
“Should I get it?” (Flora has seventy-five cents in her handbag, from working for her father — the ‘& Co.’ portion of ‘Altoonjian & Co.’ — just waiting to be spent.)
“Oh, here’s a good one for interpretive dance: Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite.” (“Part 1 – The Morning.”) Mary sings the melody.
“Yes, and I knew it before. It is BEAUTIFUL!”
“Oh, I used to love to dance to this. I still do. Can you imagine being wood-nymph entering a meadow in the morning light?” She sings it, pretending to dance, and says to Flora, “You have such a tall, slim frame, not like me. You should be a dancer with your figure. I would get this one. … Oh, it’s a dollar and a quarter! Forget it. I could teach you on the piano, if you want to learn it.”
“I DO! … DADDY!” she says, and ferries the record over to her father, apparently negotiating for him to pay half the proposed $1.25 investment in his eldest daughter’s cultural education.
On the walk home, back up Cordova Street, the four walk arm-in-arm in a line, with Mary and Aunt Rachel in the middle. Flora is carrying her cultural investment, proudly, which makes Mary beam.
But the glow is dissipated when Aunt Rachel asks Mary the question she has been dreading:
“Have you heard from your friend, Mr. Eliseian?”
“Peter says he’s back in Buenos Aires,” says Uncle Manoog.
“Yes. I suppose he’s back by now. He sailed out of New York on the sixteenth.”
“So there would be no way you could have heard from him just yet,” notes Flora.
“No. Not yet.”
“We hope you do,” says Aunt Rachel.
“Yes,” agrees Mary. “So do I.”
“You will,” states Flora.
To be continued next week …
© Terry Carroll