[ 6:57am - September, 2001 | Upper West Side, Manhattan, NYC ]
"But I don't want to go to school today! Why should I be forced to do things that I just don't want to do? It's absurd! It's... counterintuitive!" she would declare, throwing the crisp woolen blanket over her head in protest. "They hate me. They all hate me, and I hate them all back!" she pouted, feeling her eyes begin to burn and swell. Her arms defiantly crossing her chest now, shielding her soul. Thoughts of Emily Dickinson fueling unseen crimson pools of vengeful imagination.
Stanza’s of dramatic Shakespearean discord run throughout her young thoughts; Advanced Placement classes, and explanations to Macbeth since early grade-school. The lonely princess locked away in a dingy tower of enchanted beings, with blood-red eyes, and thick New York accents.
Oh, how she loved the drama so, it would swaddle and envelop her. Trapped in a tower, on the 47th floor of a Mid-Town Manhattan high-rise.
Muted, dappled sunlight framed and bounced from shiny trinkets along the shelves; Gold-plated Faberge egg replica’s (worth hundred’s still) catch baubles of antique-precious light. Ghostly purple, pink and yellow pastel is captured by the dawn, and hovers above the angular crystalline perfume bottles. Like lovely disheveled and colorful unicorn teeth, she thought.
"Oh, come now', surely you're exaggerating a tiny-bit? 'un poquito?' - It’s only the second day of school, you can’t possibly hate everyone already. And besides," the woman continued, thrusting open the last of the bright yellow and pink curtains, and turning to face the bed, now awash in pale September dawn.
“Your Father spends a lot of money, ‘mucho-dinero’, to send you to that school (she was pinching her fingers together and waving her hands up and down, like a scolding Italian grandmother). It’s one of the best in the entire city yet you still complain. Where would you like to go, huh? A public school in the Bronx! You wanna’ go to school in my neighborhood?! Oye! You wouldn’t last 10 minutes…” the woman continued, non-stop.
Standing there, trying to wait the girl out and catch her breath at the same time, both hands on her hips , she began tapping her foot impatiently. With the huge bay-window and lower Manhattan skyline at her back, her caramel-tanned and freckled bosom heaved as she attempted to catch-up with her escaping breath.
"Okay, Miss-Lady. Let’s go!” she continued, deliberately using her thick Portuguese accent to instill resolve, boldly forcing heavy waxen locks away from her sticky forehead, and squinting alpine-green eyes at the intruding light.
“I said,” reaching for the slender silhouette of the girl through the blanket now, while straddling the small bed, “Let’s go!” and with this she begins to tickle the girl frantically.
“Ah! Hahahahahaha!” she squealed in delight, kicking her feet up and bringing her knees to her chest, she would flail back and forth like a wet carp on a moistened wood peer.
“I don’t wanna, hahaha, I don’t wanna! Hahaha, they’re all, haha the same kids from, hahaha, last year…”
“Ok, suit yourself. I guess you’ll just miss out on your favorite dinner tonight,” the woman continued teasingly, as she stood to straighten-out her apron, and peak at the girl who had stopped flopping-around now, and returned to just being a stubborn wooden plank.
“I mean, if I gotta stay home and watch you all day, I can’t very well catch the train across town and to the market to get any of the ingredients, like no fresh seafood, or tomatoes, y arroz...”
“What?!” she exclaimed, immediately bolting upright and lowering the blanket in one deft motion, to face the woman’s smirking gaze. “You weren’t gonna’ make Paella, were you?!” as the woman stands to defiantly march toward the door. “María? Are you?! With shrimp and clams? Or mussels? Please say it’s shrimp and mussels?!”
“Doesn’t matter now, since I’m no longer…”
“Okay – I’ll go to school! Look, I’m getting-up. María! MARIA!”
“María! Have you seen my new lapel pin? It’s the gold one with the pearl-inlay. Damnit… MARIA?!”
She didn't enter the suite, but stood just inside the heavily engraved wooden door to watch him fumble about, his long angular hands clumsily knocking aside items on the cluttered vanity. His necktie was lazily draped-over one shoulder, while in contrast, the starched upturned white collar of his shirt threatened to poke-out his eyes, as he shifted his head back and forth in frantic search.
Miss Anna always kept it so neat in here, she remembered. It was the one room in the house that she rarely, if ever, had to tidy. The bed was always made and the duvet placed, ‘just so’.
“I’ll do that, Ma’am.” She would plead, when she’d catch her dusting or putting away his things.
“It’s fine, María.” She would nod assuredly and continue. “I can keep my own affairs in order. Thank you kindly, though.”
She was never pretentious, or referred to her as 'my girl' when she thought she couldn't hear, like some of the other housekeepers on the Island of Manhattan. Smug and entitled, smelling of freshly dry-cleaned Italian linen and Chanel no.5.
“I’m from Atlanta, you understand? We can take care of our own, 'personal' affairs.” Never with malice or spite in her voice, just and immense sense of determined and directed pride.
She missed her awfully these days, what with Bianca-Ann getting so big now.
That reminded her that the girl would be twelve years old next month. Time to start thinking banners and cakes and all the stuff the brooding pre-teen hated, but secretly couldn't get enough of; Attention.
She had only known her mother for the first three years of her tender life, but Mr. Alan had suffered the loss of a lifetime in his dear Anna. It was his suffering, that was hardest to bare; the mutual melancholy that dug deepest, and hurt the most.
“María! Can you please help me find my lapel pin!”
“Yes, Señor Alan.“ reaching out to hand him the small gold pin. Never raising his gaze to meet hers, his hand slowly closed around the object. Lowering his head deeply in weary relief, leaning on the nightstand with both hands now.
“I’m sorry. María. You know, I’ve just been a little stressed, I mean with the market doing so well the whole year. It's just been crazy. So much trade-volume, I've never seen it so busy…”
“It’s Okay, Mr. Alan. No prro-blem. Don’t worry so. You said it's going good, sí?” She was saying over her shoulder as she had already left the room and was headed downstairs to finish preparing breakfast. “Then, just let it be.”
As the smell and sizzle of fresh chorizo wafted up the large open staircase, she begins to lovingly trot, holding down the front of her dress and apron with one hand, while grazing the ivory in-layed cherry wood banister with the other, as she descended the spiraled staircase.
It was only ten years ago that he had been awarded chairman and CEO of McDaniel Phillips, the largest and most successful investment banking and brokerage firm in the nation. They would usher-in the new age of electronic-based commodities-exchange, becoming the world's first computerized marketplace for US Government securities in 1983. They found themselves even better positioned in the dawn of 21st century economics, and Alan was at the helm. And thriving. And he was only 42 years young.
That's how he would explain it to 'others'; their glassy-eyed expressions would be proof of no further inquiries into the matter. "Oh, marvelous! How's business?" all easily and quickly answered.
The elegant gold shafts displaced the mother-of-pearl dial at exactly, 7:15 and 30 seconds. He shook the paper (the Wall Street Journal, of course, as he rarely reached for any of the others) into a neatly-creased and accessible 'V'.
María would insist on keeping the tradition his wife would start years earlier; Ever the journalist (and award-winning social-essayist), she would insist on having at least four different news publications every morning (to include afternoon or evening editions, when applicable). She wrote for the Times, but as it were her professional responsibility, she would read them all.
Peering inquisitively now over his wire-framed glasses, he taunts the girl. “Are you going to eat that, Bianca? Or just continue to push it around the plate? Nutrients enter cells much more efficiently through internal osmosis, than mental telepathy, you know? He grinned slyly, lazily returning to the Journal.
Dropping her fork dramatically on the plate now with a harsh clank! of shrieking-porcelain and fine silver, she pushes a closed-fist against her cheek, while forcefully lowering her elbow onto the Italian linen table cloth. It’s luxuriousness muffling the downward boney-thrust, but not the resultant ripple of shock-wave that threatened to upset the fine china.
“Now that’s ENOUGH, young Lady! You will not disrupt this breakfast table simply because you choose to enlighten your world by imparting shadows on the rest of us!”
As soon as she heard the thud of the girl’s elbow make contact with the man's growing impatience, María was on her way through the heavy swinging doors of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a fresh cotton dishtowel, ready to clean-up another mess.
“Hola?! What’s going on in here?! This is not the way a young lady behaves Miss Bianca.” Disappointment now creeping into the corners of her eyes with lilting tone, as she reaches out between the two to remove a heavy silver tray. It was sprinkled with a dusting of dry rye toast crumbs, and baubles of glistening cream that caught the light and danced with it, like her employer's watch dials.
Alan Cantor would return solemnly to his paper, although he couldn’t concentrate. She reminded him of her; younger and frail, but with that same inquisitive, empathy for life. Pictures he’d seen in the parlor of her family’s home in Atlanta dance before him. He remembers, and embraces them...
They were both Juniors in college, him at Columbia’s School of Economics, and her at NYU. They’d be out with friends and meet at a bar, nothing special at first. And then they were exclusive. From nothing, to everything; funny how that works, he thought.
It would only be a few hours drive on I-95 and they’d be there before he knew it, she’d say. Some 16 hours later, they would arrive through a shrouded-wood to a beautiful Southern estate. Her with a full and glowing memoir of the adventure, and him with a narrowing patience but weakened resolve. Her plan all along, he assumed. Writer's need something to write about, like brokers needed something to barter.
The estate would prove to be grand and noble, overlooking the greenest of sleepy rolling hills, and deep pastures. She’d convince him to go bare-foot, reliving fond memories of flickering youth. They would run and laugh and weave through the sun-dappled foliage, squealing with delight as they fell in love. Her hair smells of the glen; a heady perfume of lavender, and jasmine, and fresh honey-suckle. It intoxicated the urbane youth; and was as palpable as the thick warm Georgia air. He was smitten. No, he was in Love.
There she sits, slumped on the polished mahogany in front of him. Lazily running her finger along the raised edges of the scarlet-red embroidered ‘C’ on the linen napkin in her lap. Looking like her mother.
“None of us can sing.” She frowns into her lap.
María removes the cold eggs and chewy chorizo and replaces them with a small gold-rimmed bowl of brightly colored fruit; Giant red and white grapes, sweating chunks of pineapple and mango, green-apples and sweet black raisins.
“Excuse me?” her father asks through the financial section.
“Cantor; our name. It literally means the leader of choir or chants. A singer. But none of us can sing. So why the name?” she said, blandly.
Alan thought about this for a second, trying to remember if his genealogy did (in-fact), contain any chanters. Then, with clearing throat and blinking midnight-gray eyes over Calvin Klein-framed vision,
“It’s just a name, Dear.”
[ 7:57am ]
Bzzz – Bzzzzz!
“Sim, estou indo!” María was sternly headed toward the small intercom, wringing her hands on her apron, speaking her mother’s Portuguese. Her stockinged thighs demanding silence as she passed; shush-shush-shush.
“María, please? How often have I asked you to answer the door and phone in English?”
“Si’, Señor Cantor.” She said, arriving at the towering ornate oak double-doors. Speaking slow and deliberate into the insignificantly demure white plastic grate. As the second of three green-bulbs were lit, she realized the call was coming from the building’s internal garage, which meant it was Julio. She continued in English anyway.
“Hello. Cantor residence.”
“Hola?” he sounded confused. “Esta es, María?!”
“Sí, buenos días, Julio. Cómo estás?!”
“It’s Julio, Señor Cantor.” She would report, with a whisper of sarcasm.
Squinting in acknowledgement (of both), he would return to the newspaper, while the girl sat on her hands and fidgeted.
“That’s not how a young-lady sits, Miss Bianca.” shush-shush-shush, María swooped-in to gather the remaining dishes. “Your hands belong on your lap, not under it.” The girl dodged the accusatory glance, as she reluctantly placed her hands onto her lap.
Julio was the new driver. John had been with him for years, but had succumbed to a stroke (his second, they would learn at the funeral). Julio, other than being young and unfocused, was never early enough. John would have called up 10 minutes ago, just to let him know he was there. Of course he never had to. He was always there.
[ 8:05am ]
“María, you know I have to go all the way to Lower-Manhattan. It’s at least a 20 minute drive, and that’s on a Sunday afternoon, and with schools opening all over the city this week, it’s pure chaos out there now…”
“Please, Señor Alan. It would mean so much to the girl. She’s really having a hard time already. And I found her crying in bed this morning…”
“We’ve talked about this before. I’m the Boss, María. I expect all 650 of my employees to be at the office by 9:00 every morning. How would it look if I’m not there when they arrive? One leads by consistent example, not whimsy.
“But Señor , you are the Boss. If the Boss can’t take his young daughter to school to show that he loves her, than what good is it to be the boss? A boss makes decisions based-on what is good for those in his care. And he’s not afraid of the outcome. Take your daughter to school today, Mr. Alan. She would like that.” Shush-shush-shush – and with arms full she pushes open the swinging doors to the kitchen with her elbow.
“Okay, María – You win.” He would concede, as the door swings close behind her.
[ 8:28am – Pinkerton Preparatory Academy, West 66th St., Manhattan ]
“I could’ve come by myself, you know? You didn’t have to give me a ride.” she was staring blankly from the window as they arrive. Mustard-yellow taxis and long black cars, with obliging brown drivers carrying small pale but precious cargo, line the entrance to the exclusive Upper West Side Academy.
“And miss a whole 8 ½ minutes conversing with my beautiful daughter? I wouldn’t hear of it.” He smiled at the brooding teen, who’s ice would start to melt a little, as a smile warmed the edges of her lips.
“And technically,” he continued as the car door opened to a smiling Julio and pale September light, “I didn’t give you a ride,” Nodding toward the open door and driver. “Julio did.”
“I love you, Dad!” She would hug him so tightly around the neck, that he thought he may choke, before letting go and bolting from the car with a wave and a “Thank you, Julio! See you later!”
[ 8:48am –11th Ave. | Chelsea - Midtown South West ]
What is going-on? He thought. “Julio, what’s happening today? The traffic seems to be worse than usual. Turn on the radio, there could be a traffic accident or something.
“Sure thing, Mr. Alan.” The man said, as he reached for the dashboard of the black Lincoln Town-Car.
“…and the Dow Jones Index rose another 6 points this morning, as stocks continue, their upward trend… what’s that, just now?” the announcer’s voice would fade as the car would receive an incoming call.
“Yes, It’s Alan – “
“Señor Alan, are you Okay?! Is Miss Bianca, and Julio…”
“Woah, calm down! Who is this? María? What’s wrong? Is everything Okay?”
“Are you at work, Señor Alan?! Is Miss Bianca with you?!”
“Why of course not, María. We dropped her off 20 minutes ago at the Academy. I was headed to the office now. Why do you ask?”
“Looks like there’s a fire up ahead, huh? Lots of smoke…” Julio had opened his window and was inquisitively peeking his head out now.
With the open window, the white-noise of the city grew to a wailing crescendo, as sirens began to close-in all around them, only to continue south along the Hudson, to converge on Lower Manhattan.
As the sirens screeched and raced all around, he could hear the radio announcer clear his throat and weakly continue.
“…We’ll have to interrupt here to bring you some, fascinating and disturbing news; It seems as if a private plane has hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower. I repeat… It looks as if one of the World Trade Center Towers, a 100+ story building, has been hit by what appears to be a, just a second… a commercial airliner? Are we sure? Okay… “Yes, It appears to have been a 'commercial airliner' and not a private vessel as first reported. Yes – I’m looking at footage now… Wow. This is… wow.
Yeah... This is pretty, bad.”