walking through the corridors of the hospital towards the exit briskly paying no
attention to what was going on around her. She was not happy with the news at
all. In fact she was very upset to have heard them. “From all places,” she
murmured, “from all other places of this country… why did it have to be New
“Candy…wait!” Upon hearing her name she turn around to see Erin, the Irish vivacious red head girl, who was her room mate. She waited for her to catch up with her.
“Some news, huh?” Erin said excitedly.
“Yeah,” Candy said in a low voice. “Wonderful…”
“I am so excited, I have never been to New York, have you?”
“Oh, it is going to be so much fun…!” Erin continued chattering happily oblivious to Candy’s preoccupation. They walked out of the hospital and made their way to the front gates where the two girls bid goodbye to each other. Erin’s parents were picking her up to spend the weekend together and Candy’s friends, Archie and Annie, were waiting for her by their car to take her to the Ardlay mansion.
Candy greeted her friends with enthusiasm then they all boarded the vehicle. Archie was driving and Annie was talking animatedly about a masquerade ball that she and Archie were invited to attend on Halloween, three weeks later.
“…all of Chicago’s society will be there, Candy, it will be a night to remember, you must absolutely come with us…”
“Annie, even if I wanted to come I couldn’t, first of all I am not invited…”
“Yes you are,” said Archie, “the invitation was for the Ardlay family any member can attend. If Eliza and Neal can be there then you certainly can!”
Candy gave a short, amused laugh. “If Eliza and Neal can be there, it is a definite no-no for me! I don’t want to go. And besides, I will not be here then…”
“Where will you be?” Archie asked curiously.
Candy did not answer immediately. She knew the impact her news would have on her friends and how they would react to hear it.
“I am going to New York…”
“You what?” Archie momentarily took his eyes of the road to look at her.
“I am going to New York,” she said again more so that this fact could sink in to her rather than inform her friends. “We were told this morning,” she started explaining. “Five nurses from ten hospitals all over the country will be dispatched to St Vincent’s hospital in New York, each one a three months contract. The hospital is receiving a huge number of wounded soldiers from Europe everyday and they cannot cope with the amount of nurses they have, so they asked for help from other hospitals. I am leaving Monday…” she stopped as if to give herself even more time to get used to the idea. She sighed heavily. “From all places!” she murmured again.
Annie moved in the back sit from behind Archie to behind Candy so that she can reach over and hug her friend. Archie was gripping the wheel as if it had suddenly detached itself from the dashboard and he was trying to hold it in place. They remained in silence for a while then Archie said:
“It will be OK Candy, New York is a very big city. It is unlikely you will bump into anyone you don’t want to…”
“What if I want to?” The thought crept in her mind suddenly, and sent shivers down her spine. She turned and looked at Archie and smiled. “You are right of course, darling. There is nothing to worry about.”
“Candy…” Annie said sadly. Candy turned and looked at her smiling. There was no reason to upset her friends.
“I will be fine, Annie please do not worry about me.”
“Who said she is worried?” Archie said lightly. “Anyway, it is a pity you are leaving so soon. Monday? That means we have to get back from Lakewood Sunday, as early as possible so you can get packed.”
“I still want to go to Pony’s Home on Saturday if that is OK with you,” said Candy who realized suddenly that it was now imperative that she visit her home since she will not be back for 3 months.
Archie had read her thoughts. “Of course we are going, Candy, especially since you are leaving for 3 months. Oh, and there is a surprise for you at home!”
“Really?” Candy said excitedly. Anything that will take her mind of this trip will be good. “What is it?”
“Now, now Candy if we tell you it will not be a surprise anymore, will it?”
“You are such a tease, Archie,” laughed Candy. “Did Albert send something exciting from Brazil? Another albino snake or something equally scary, creepy and disgusting?”
“Yeah, it will be his new pet,” Archie laughed. Annie and Candy giggled. Joking about Albert’s obsession about bringing them out of the ordinary animals as their pets was a secret amusing talk for them.
They were silent for most of the ride after that. Certainly no one mentioned Candy’s trip to New York again. Candy had the opportunity to dwell a bit on the thought that caused her shivers earlier on. Was that why she did not want to go to New York really? Not because he did not want to see him, but because… she did? She shook her head to clear it from this thought. “Don’t be stupid Candy,” she told herself reassuringly. “It has been two years since he last saw you. He probably does not even remember your name any more…” The pain this last thought caused to her heart though, made her realize that it was far from reassuring…
The front door of the vast mansion opened as Archie was pulling up on the driveway. Candy turn towards it expecting to see Aunt Elroy only to see, her father.
“Ta-taaaa!” Archie said happily.
“Surprise!” Said Albert cheerfully. Candy got out of the car and run to hug her adoptive father. Despite being practically father and daughter, Albert and Candy had gone into a little debate soon after Albert revealed his identity a year ago as to what was the best way for her to address him.
“I am thinking it should be Father or Daddy,” Candy had said playfully.
“And I am thinking, don’t you dare!” he had said and he sounded as if he was actually scared she was going to start calling him so.
“You will be calling me Albert like you always have.”
“But I did not know you were my father!” she had said still pulling his leg. “I would not have dared call you anything other than Father or Daddy had I known. Have you ever heard of anyone calling their father by their name?”
“No, but a lot of people would have a much better relationship with their father if they were on a first name basis,” Albert had reasoned. “Besides we have known each other since forever and it has worked fine till now. I don’t want our relationship to change just because I singed a paper once that says you are my daughter.”
She had not argued with that. She would always be grateful Albert for everything he had done for her and she reveled in their friendship. She was not about to spoil things by starting calling him something he did not like. Now, as she was hugging him, she momentarily forgot about her dreaded upcoming trip to New York. “Oh, it’s so good to see you!” she said. “Surprise indeed! How are you? How was your trip? What did you bring me?” She added mischievously.
Albert laughed heartily. “It’s in the library,” he said still laughing.
“Is it alive?” Annie asked unable to disguise the uneasiness in her low voice.
“What dear?” Albert asked, turning to her smiling.
Archie stepped between them. “Nothing…” he said with a forced laugh. “Pay no attention to her, she is…uhm… tired!” He turned away from his uncle and shot a swift murderous glare at Annie, who recoiled.
“Well, come on then, Candy said let’s go see what it is!”
They all moved into the library. With large windows overlooking the back garden, a welcoming fire always alight in the fireplace, hundreds of bookshelves heaving with thousands of books and comfortable couches and armchairs, the library was easily everyone’s favorite room in the otherwise cold and bleak mansion. A small stack of boxes was in front of the fireplace and, apprehensively, Archie and Annie picked up the box with their name on. Candy felt a little bit worried when she realized there was no box with her name on it. Had it perhaps crawled, hopped or slithered away?
Albert’s presents were always a topic for conversation, especially, if they were alive! Candy always marveled at his insistence to set time aside during his long and busy trips to find the right present for everyone in his family including Neal and Eliza Rangan and Great Aunt Elroy. But his obsession with bringing them the most exotic animals he could find so they could keep them as pets, she could never understand. Especially since no one was getting remotely excited about them any more. As Archie put it after the albino snake had appeared a year and a half ago, what was wrong with cats and dogs? And who needs pet animals anyway? He himself, he had said, was more likely to start having nothing more exotic than clown fish for pets from then on!
Albert had not been discouraged, however, and only a few months later he returned for Mexico with a 6-feet-long iguana. The poor creature, feeling threated from Eliza’s shrieks of terror, it had puffed up its body and displayed the dewlap under its head, something that made it look even scarier so that everyone started shrieking along with Eliza. Of course the iguana had become even more frightened then and had delivered a bite at Neal’s leg who just happened to be the person nearest to it; Neal had been taken to the nearest hospital for stitches and Albert, with George’s help, had taken the iguana to the nearest pet store.
But the iguana was not the worst “little pet” Albert had brought them in Candy’s opinion. She was certain it would be a very long time before anyone could forget the enormous tarantula from Colombia he had presented them with last Christmas! Candy closed her eyes and shook her head to dispel the image of the gigantic orange arachnid crawling up Aunt Elroy’s skirt. She never wanted to see anything that even resembled the creepy creature, ever again! Although she was reminded of it every time Eliza appeared in front of her, for some reason…
“This is just like Christmas!” Archie was now saying, picking up his huge box after he had made sure it was not breathing fire.
“Yes, we should be doing it more often,” Candy laughed nervously, while unconsciously looking all over the floor for her box. Annie was timidly shaking hers trying to listed for a noise coming from inside. “Go on Annie, open yours first!” Candy prompted.
Annie’s present, to her relief, was nothing more spectacular than a colorful dress and lots of different accessories for her hair; Archie got yards and yards of different kinds of material, enough to have 7 new suits and shirts tailored; there were boxes with Neal and Eliza’s names on them; but to Candy’s constantly increasing nervousness, there still was no apparent present for her!
“And now for Candy’s present,” Albert said smiling. He then stuck his head out the library’s door and called George.
“George, you can bring him in now!”
“Him?” Archie’s whisper came with a heavy nervous hint on it. “Oh geez, here comes the live one…”
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God…” Annie was murmuring, shaking visibly. Candy felt her nerves stretch to breaking point.
Albert turned back to them and George followed him carrying a large square something that was completely covered with a brown cloth. “Hello everyone,” said George, “how are you all doing?”
At the sight of what he was holding and what it might be hiding underneath the cloth, the girls did not trust themselves to speak.
“Yes…” murmured Archie.
Albert was trying not to laugh watching their nervous faces. “I can assure you, you will love this one…”
Candy felt even more nervous at that; he had said the same thing about that creepy tarantula! Annie took a step to her left and hide behind Archie. Candy instinctively moved closer to him also but thought that it was rather the door they were all ought to be moving closer to in case they would have to make a quite exit.
“Oh, come now,” said Albert who looked mightily amused by their nervousness. “He is nothing terrible…”
“That is a matter of opinion,” said Archie unmoving. Obviously he was also remembering that his uncle had said the same thing about the tarantula. “OK… what is it?”
Albert and George burst out laughing with them again and finally Albert pulled the cloth off Candy’s present. All three of them took a sharp breath. It was a cage and inside it, perched imperially on a sole tree branch was a magnificent parrot! A huge bird with plumage so rich and colorful it took their breath away. Candy thought it looked like a rainbow: its head and shoulders were a vivid scarlet color, changing to yellow about mid body, and finally turning to blue and green on the lower part of the body and wings. Its long, pointed tail was a deep shade of blue mixed in with rich red. The bird turned his regal head around and looked straight at Candy and she fell in love with it at once. This time, Candy had to admit; her father had nailed her with his present.
“Oh my God, he is gorgeous!” she exclaimed in amazement. She moved closer to the cage to look at the grand bird. Even Annie was kneeling by the cage admiring him. Archie was breathing again.
“So you like it?” Albert asked Candy and there was a bit of anxiety in his voice.
“I love him!” She exclaimed and turning to him she gave him a hug and a kiss. “Thank you so much, this is the best present ever!”
“Beats the tarantula?” He asked with a mocking smile.
Everyone laughed, mostly to stop him from continuing on the subject. Albert started explaining to them about the parrot. “He is a Scarlet Macaw,” he said. “He is only about 4 months old, he is still a baby! If we look after him properly he will be with us for a very long time, as parrots can live up to 80 years (Archie whistled at that). Parrots are supposed to be very playful and highly intelligent birds, but they are also very loud when screeching and very talkative when talking.”
“He talks?” They asked all together even more excitedly.
“Only Brazilian I’m afraid,” Albert said. “We’ll just have to learn Portuguese to be able to talk to him…”
Candy snorted and Archie laughed but Annie looked at Albert concerned. “I am not good at learning foreign languages and I hear Portuguese are rather difficult.”
Albert looked at her, disbelief written all over his face while Archie rolled his eyes. Candy turned to Annie. “We won’t have to Annie, we can teach him to talk in English,” she said glaring at Albert and Archie. Annie sighed with relief at not having to learn Portuguese.
A maid came in with tea at that moment and they all moved to sit around the fireplace, although none of them was able to keep their eyes away from the parrot for too long. Albert talked to them about his trip and the exotic, far-away places he visited this time in South America, places the rest of them could still only dream about. As always it made them very jealous that the most exotic place they had ever traveled to was London!
“Not true,” said Annie “we went to Scotland too…”
“Oh yeah,” Archie mocked, “very exotic Scotland is! So all that rain we got drenched in were tropical showers, was it? If you are unlucky and blink once during the summer you will miss the sun coming out from behind the clouds! Goodness, the hottest thing they have is their ice-cubes… which is obviously why ice-cubes are so rare to find in Scotland!”
Everyone laughed, except Candy. She turned and looked at her parrot again. The mention of London and Scotland was enough to trigger torrents of memories succeeding with lightning speed through her mind, from the moment she first met him on the ship to the moment she last saw him at the stairs of a hospital in New York, which lead her to remember that on Monday she will have to go back to that city, where she had left her heart two years ago… New York… the only place in the world she would rather not go. She sighed heavily.
“Candy?” Albert was looking at her inquisitively.
“Are you still with us?”
“Of course I am,” she said but she was too serious to fool him.
“What’s the matter?”
She decided that this was as good a time as any to tell him about her temporary transfer. “I have to go to New York”.
A cloud passed over Albert’s eyes. “Why?” He asked.
She explained to him about her assignment briefly. None of them was joking anymore. Albert looked at her seriously.
“Do you want me to speak to …”
“NO!” she said categorically. “I don’t want you to speak to anybody. It was enough when you talk to them to take me back after Neal’s meddling that had me fired, and besides this is a different matter. I want to go and help with the wounded. I just wish it was… somewhere else,” she finished in a low voice.
There were a few moments quiet. “Well, New York is a very big city, Candy. It is unlikely you will see anyone you don’t want to…”
“Funnily enough, that is exactly what Archie said earlier”, she said with a small smile. And like earlier it did not make her feel any better.
“What are you going to do with the parrot?” asked Annie
Candy had not thought of that. “Oh!”
“She can take him with her,” Albert said. “The New York apartment is big enough…”
“What apartment?” Candy asked. “The hospital will provide accommodation, I assumed I will stay there, sharing with Erin again.”
“I doubt they will allow you to keep the parrot at the hospital dormitories Candy,” said Albert. “We could keep it here, but when you come back in 6 months, it will be a bit difficult for him to bond with you. The Macaws are very loyal and get very attached to one person and if in the meantime he gets attached to someone
“Oh no, I don’t want to leave him,” Candy said a bit upset at the prospect of leaving her new pet. She walked over to the cage and started cooing over the parrot. “Hi gorgeous, you want to come with me in New York? Can you say Candy?” Right on cue, the parrot let out a loud screech no one would ever mistake for ‘Candy’, but Candy!
“Oh, my God, he said my name!” she shrieked in delight. The others laughed.
“Well since he is saying your name already, I think you need to consider the option of staying at the apartment rather than the dormitory,” said Albert still laughing.
They talked about this for a while and in the end they decided that Candy would travel with the other nurses to New York on Monday then inform the hospital that she was not going to take the accommodation offered for more than a week, since she had a place to stay while in New York. She would also ask Erin if she wanted to go and live with her in the flat too as, as Albert said, there was enough space for 6 people to live there permanently without being on top of each other. Candy could only imagine how spacious the apartment was! In the meantime Albert would arrange for the place to be cleaned and made ready for her and Erin and adapted to accommodate the parrot, who would travel to New York the next weekend with Dorothy, Candy’s maid.
Candy was OK with this plan and she hoped that Erin would not have any objections in coming and staying with her. She did not want to have to live alone in a massive apartment in the middle of New York only with the parrot for company. Candy had been sharing a room with Erin for the past 7 months and the two of them were getting on very good together. Far better than Candy ever got on with Flammy although she sometimes missed her former roommate and mentor and whished Flammy had kept in touch with her after she left for France. As it was nobody at the hospital had heard from her ever since.
“So, Candy, what are you going to name the parrot?” Archie asked and Candy stared at him blankly.
“Hasn’t he got a name already?” she asked Albert.
“No, he does not. He was bread at the pet farm and since he was meant for selling, they did not want to give him a name so that his new owner can do that.”
Candy looked at the parrot again who was now chewing at the tree branch in his cage. “Gosh, do I have to come up with a name right now?” she said but Archie was ahead of her.
“Let’s call him Baz”, he said excitedly.
“Baz? What kind of name is that for a parrot?” asked Albert laughing. “It sounds like a stripper’s name! How about Tinga?”
The girls laughed. Candy refrained from asking Albert how did he know that Baz was a good name for a stripper. The two guys came up with other names for the parrot each more outrageous from the other, but each time Candy would shake her head negatively. For some reason none of those names hit her as the right one for her parrot, although what the right one would be she had no idea.
The maid came in again to announce that dinner was to be served in 30 minutes.
“All right, let’s go and get ready,” said Albert. Then seeing that Eliza and Neal’s present were still there he wondered aloud where they might be.
“They are out,” Archie informed him, while stretching and yawning. “She wanted to have a costume made for that Halloween ball and he drove her. They would have dinner at friends’ house afterwards.”
“What about Aunt Elroy, how come she is not around?” Albert asked next.
“I believe she is her room,” Archie said.
Candy was not surprised the Great Aunt was not around. It had taken her 3 days to recover her voice from the shock of watching the orange tarantula climb her skirt last Christmas; frankly Candy would be very surprised if she’d see her Aunt around when Albert gets home ever again! But, Candy thought watching the still unnamed parrot trying to unlock his cage, even the Great Aunt would have liked him!
After dinner Candy retreated back in the library with her parrot who had now fallen asleep and to keep her mind sheltered from the unpleasant memories her imminent trip to New York was stirring, she picked up the first book off a shelf and sitting comfortably on the couch in front of the fireplace started reading. This is what she had done most nights for over a year now. She would read until her mind was so tired, that when she would get to bed it would fall asleep instantly rather than delving into things she did not want to remember or analyze.
No such luck for her that night however. She had picked up a book with an anthology of poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley and the first poem her eyes fell on as she opened a random page was Remembrance:
Swifter far than summer's flight--
Swifter far than youth's delight--
Swifter far than happy night,
Art thou come and gone--
As the earth when leaves are dead
As the night when sleep is sped,
As the heart when joy is fled,
I am left lone, alone.
The swallow summer comes again--
The owlet night resumes her reign—
But the wild-swan youth is fain
To fly with thee, false as thou.--
My heart each day desires the morrow;
Sleep itself is turned to sorrow;
Vainly would my winter borrow
Sunny leaves from any bough.
Lilies for a bridal bed--
Roses for a matron's head--
Violets for a maiden dead--
Pansies let MY flowers be:
On the living grave I bear
Scatter them without a tear--
Let no friend, however dear,
Waste one hope, one fear for me.
Her vision was getting steadily blurrier and blurrier as she was reading the poem and new that there was no escaping memories and reflections tonight. And that sleep would only come to her if she cried herself to it.