It seems to me, swaying to these shocks, that someone
Is nailing down a coffin in a hurry somewhere.
For whom? - It was summer yesterday; now it's autumn.
Echoes of departure keep resounding in the air.
Autumn - Charles Baudelaire
Chapter one – Prologue
It was a mistake. Ever since she had told him about her doubts concerning her marriage, something had changed into their relation. Some sort of friendship, a very timid one. They had grown closer in a complete anonymity and the truth was that she didn't know what to think about it. It was troubling her more than what she would have admitted because it was all new and she lacked references. It was the first time that someone seemed to be able to understand her and it left her perplexed. Confused.
Accepting that Will moved to the Madison Avenue penthouse for a week, her very own place, wouldn't make things easier. On the contrary. That was why it happened to be a mistake. She knew it. Yet in all honesty, Karen had rarely been that thrilled by such a perspective.
She hadn't been able to refuse. As soon as Will had announced that his building would be evacuated for a week due to chemical works and the others had suggested that she could welcome him, Karen hadn't known what to say. In a mumble of incomplete sentences, she had finally nodded. Disarmed.
She didn't like the idea that a third person would witness the failure of her marriage to Stanley and the awkward relation she had with his children. Nothing really worked out. Everyone knew about it. Yet it seemed to be right to not say a single thing about it. It was all about pretending, about defending some precarious appearances.
Thankfully enough, Grace had decided to spend the week at her current boyfriend's in Chelsea. After a disastrous and aborted wedding to Danny, she was holding dead-end hopes over a relationship that did not make the slightest sense but since it seemed to be her own way to go back on tracks, nobody really insisted and there she was.
"The guestroom is ready, Mrs. Walker. I added the books about The Upper West Side on the nightstand as you asked me."
A bird had landed on the balcony, only a few feet away from her. Under the rain. Blankly absorbed by such a scene, Karen nodded at the maid but remained focused on the pigeon.
"Good... Will loves reading..."
Lately they had talked about the history of New York, the evolution of the different districts through the centuries. Just like that, around a coffee while waiting for Grace and Jack to arrive. Then as usual their conversation had ceased but the words had kept on dancing in her head bewitchingly.
It wasn't a crime to get along with someone, to realize one day that you might not be the lonely person you had thought to be once. Yet it intimidated her terribly. She had barely been working for Grace for a year but what was supposed to be a mere change in her agenda had turned into a cataclysm in her dull existence and there she was now, a bit taken aback by the way events were turning out.
The maid disappeared in silence through the corridors of the penthouse, leaving Karen alone in the old library. It was a small room compared to most of the other ones but she felt fine among the books and the crackling of the flames in the fireplace. Even in the summer she insisted for it to be on. Stanley did not understand but had ceased to wonder about her odd habits for a long time now. After all, he had his. Starting with his cigars and his mistresses.
She hadn't gone out of the day. The heavy clouds over Manhattan and the latent sensation that it would be a long and boring Sunday had kept her inside. Trapped in the nets of a novel she had been reading, Karen hadn't really seen the hours pass by until Olivia and Mason had come back from a weekend out of the city with their mother. They had stopped by the library to say hello. Politely enough but lacking enthusiasm. Everything was forced with them and it hurt somehow.
Glass of Brandy in hand, a cigarette in the other, she kept on observing Central Park through the large window. The trees were folding under the wind as the brownish leaves were twirling around some sort of autumnal waltz in the air before disappearing from sight.
"I was told that I would find you here."
She hadn't heard him arrive. His steps had been stifled by the expensive carpets in the corridors while a maid had probably taken him in charge as soon as he had passed the door. But there he was now, only a few feet from her. Standing still, smiling. A bit uncomfortable.
The Brandy burnt her throat as she took a sip but the sensation got drowned by nicotine. Crossing her legs, Karen nodded at her friend.
"Welcome here, Wilma. Your room is on the second floor with a view over Central Park. At this time of the year, it is probably the best one."
Her laconic voice seemed to float over the library for a long time and if it hadn't been for the cruel lack of daylight, Will would have noticed that she was now slightly blushing. Instinctively, Karen turned her face around and avoided the direct shades of the flames on her to plunge instead in a semi-obscurity.
"Dinner will be served at eight."
Standing up to show him his room and briefly giving him a tour of the mansion, Karen swallowed back any effusion of bright sentiments. She had always had a paradoxical temper with a strong incapacity to show the slightest ounce of exhilaration. Only a few people had managed to read through this. She did not do this on purpose. It just came along, naturally.
Just like Autumn bringing along its deep, bittersweet melancholy.