Welcome to Wonderland excerpt: April Showers

Avril in NYC_fl

Meet Avril a colleague at the NYC based publisher Olivia is transferred to. This extract begins with Olivia’s morning start then Avril’s…

Mornings in Queens: purchase pastry en route to subway. Gloves always on, germs everywhere. Blended faces, swivelling bodies a whirlwind of humanity dashing in all directions with the same ambitious palpable energy.

Same white mocha, an almond croissant. Why not get donuts for the department?

donuts coffee

Timex watch looked at in 15 minute intervals awaiting the subway ride. A clamouring of bodies. Finally, on board. Trainers still on, black French Soles inside the black leather backpack. Once on Manhattan streets slip into chic footwear.

Wipe off crumbs on scarf. Mad dash to the offices, another stop over at a coffee house to grab another morning drink this time a hazelnut latte and one for Avril too.

Already on the island is Avril. Her morning is less rushed as at age 26 she still lives with her parents in their Manhattan townhouse. You’d never think that someone wearing a yellow Alessi watch takes a town car takes but Avril is our resident contradiction in terms. Typically, Avril doesn’t wake up until 8:30am as work starts at 11am. Obviously she’s only part time she doesn’t actually need to work. It’s just a ginger peach tea and a gluten-free lemon and ginger slice for breakfast.

Mom still lectures at NYU, Daddy is still at Liberty street. Edmund her eldest brother is at Goldmans Sachs and baby brother Tim is studying a useless subject at NYU.

This morning Avril decided to paint her nails after she got dressed and continued to daintily nibble breakfast and gather her belongings for work without leaving a dent on her newly polished nails. She checks Tinder and OKCupid as she’s due a couple dates tonight hence varnish application. It’s just her usual base coat applied twice then three coatings of Essie “Mademoiselle” polish. Once read in a magazine that Melania Trump uses the same shade. Avril’s dream in life is to marry a Hedge Fund Manager and have his babies. Though tonight she’ll be hooking up with Sid a Grafitti artist in Brooklyn at night; by day a freelance video editor at Vayner Media.

The other date is Mason an entrepreneur.

She’s met Sid before but this’ll be a first with Mason.

Both girls arrived at their desk, Avril skimming though her personal messages to check that neither date cancelled, Olivia opening up her file to work.

First on Avril’s after works activities is seeing Sid over in Brooklyn at Toby’s Estate (a Coffee Roaster in Williamsburg.) She succumbed to her third coffee of the day and Sid went on about work.

cafe lights

Enter Sid.
“Are you on snapchat,” he asked.
“I’m not actually.”
“I manged to get quick vid with the CEO today – check it out.” Enter a 10 second video of Sid and Gary doing V’s with bold text across it saying WORRRRK!!!!
“That’s so funny, whoa you got to meet the CEO?”
“Yeah most of the staff get to he’s not typical at all. I literally show up to work like this.” Sid wears a Basic white tee-shirt, navy hoodie, cargo pants and Vans.
“Where I work the women are pretty much expected to always be in skirts or work dresses, trousers are frowned upon.”
“Sounds like Mad men.”
“Yup.”

Next up burger and fries with Mr Unemployed…

burger lights

Mason had incredible energy and the kind of guy us Brits would call a Cheeky Chappie. His dimples blinded Avril to the fact that he was only 19, he’d recently dropped out of NYU and already knew her little brother. The two had met skateboarding. Mason wore A.P.C jeans with a navy crewneck sweater. You’re standard Wunderkind. A Collarless Hustler.

Unbeknownst to Avril he had already been featured in Inc’s 20 under 20 Brainchild’s Transforming Tech as he and a friend developed an on-demand app to locate nearby professional organizers in Manhattan. The app is called “@YourService” the co-founders are looking to branch out into a wider pool of consultants and advisers in business efficacy to housekeeping.

Mason’s knee started to jerk up and down, he keeps breaking eye contact and looks around the room. “I don’t actually have a job as such.”
“I figured.”
“I’m a free agent, I’m back and forth to San Fran quite a bit as that’s where my investors are based.”
“What do you like to do there, outside of work I mean.”
“Umm… Skate, surf, just cruise really.”
“So where are you from originally?”
“NJ.”
“Are you still there or?”
“Yup, with my parents.”
“Me too, no wait not in Jersey. Manhattan.”
“Did you go to Dalton?”
“Yeah me and my brothers did, Timothy and Edmund.”
“Fancy names,” he turned his head once more then eyes diverted up to the ceiling.
“So, are you all in with your business?”
“Pretty much.”
“Don’t you wanna go back to school?”
“Nope.”


CatherineVaughan.com
Welcome to Wonderland will be my first novel. Publication date will be announced on my Mailing List. Join here.

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Character profile: Avril Walters

Avril Walter Hipster shirt

Name: Avril Walters
Age: 27
Born: NYC
Beloved Books: The Catcher in the Rye, The Bell Jar, anything by David Foster Wallace
Music: The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse any live music will do but she is stuck in an era.
Film: Anything with Greta Gerwig
Food: Generally Vegan. She flits between nibbling on avocado toast, matcha tea, kale chips, kimchi Tacos. Essentially anything artisanal. This one time she did try to live off air. Inedia was a way of life for like 31 hours. Please do not try this.
Drink: Loose leaf Earl Grey, Wild Orange Blossom herbal tea. Drinks herbal tea as it is regarded as healthcare.
Motto: Try it at least once!
Favourite Artists: Every single resident of Brooklyn
Dreams: Live on a California ranch, start an accessories line using materials and designs by those living in developing nations and of course giving proceeds back to these poorer regions.
Perfume: Vetiver by Ralph Lauren Fragrances

Songs to remind you of Florence

Christmas Wonderland (from novel Welcome to Wonderland)

Christmas tree bauble

They walked back to the Bistro. The Christmas rush of swarming bodies covered in a patchwork of holly green, cranberry red and navy wool apparel. There were less fur-topped bobbing beanies, less huddles of parka jackets dashing past. Everyone had completed their last-minute gift-buying and hurrying home to wrap them up. It was perfect. The city to themselves, it was the first Christmas snow in 7 years and it was worth the wait especially to walk through it holding hands. Jack got his phone out to take photos. Olivia posed childlike her mouth open to taste snow. Alas the snow wasn’t deep enough to lie back on and make snow angels. But who knows maybe by tomorrow it would be just right. They had settled and found a cosy seat by a window and fireplace and spent the afternoon indulging in another gratifying endeavour to stand-in for their true Christmas wish to give each other.

Before dessert Jack gave her Christmas present. Evidently more than the simple card she gave him. She quickly handed him his card and he opened it first. As he read the imprinted words of his bookmark, Olivia felt self-conscious and started to open her card and prettily wrapped present.

First came a card marked with “Love Jack”. She quickly closed the card and unwrapped her gift. It was clearly a book, she felt a little disappointed. As she tore away the red wrapping she saw the word “dream”- then “poetry.” Could it be? This was the poetry book she mentioned when they first met. It was the book of her first ever published poem. A bookmark was attached to where her poem sat. She placed the bookmark down and stared at it. It was beautiful. Her eyes filled with tears. How could he have known? No, he couldn’t have- she never told him the title. Maybe he understood her more than she dared to hope. The bookmark had a print of her favorite painting. She had never been so enthralled by such a simple gift in her life.

After supper they said their goodbyes, Jack invited her to his place for Christmas day. It would just be him, his brother Joe and girlfriend with a couple friends. She wanted to, but it felt too rushed. “I’ll call you anyway,” he said as they parted.

The Mariams went to Midnight Mass. For years everyone in the city hoped for snow at Christmas and this year their wish came true. Started off slowly and timidly but now as they walked into the steps of the church the snow fell magically in time for children across the city to get out and make snowmen for Christmas morning.

Christmas day was spent in the Mariam family home. Olivia was back home in her childhood bedroom. Her room dusty pink with wood and white furniture, stacks of books and her batik painting hung on the wall. She walked around the room as if a stranger, she picked up photo frames, read the titles on the bookshelves and sat on the edge of her bed tense. This was not a home of tradition, no turkey and trimmings. She walked down the elaborate stair case and helped herself to the nibbles. Even in the drawing room she felt unease, like a stranger, a foreigner unable to recognise this place called home.

The only tradition to be found this Christmas morning was not from within the home but from looking out through the windows. Snow had fallen deeply, neighbours had fairy light rimmed windows and the air filled with festive frost.

Under the deeply lit evergreen tree lay few gifts: a mix CD for her father which included a rendition of Ave Maria sung by Perry Como, Bvlgari fragrance set for her mother (which she’d never use.)

It would just be her and The Parents or The Rentals as she’d like to say. Looking out the window she reminisced childhood dreams of a White Christmas that rarely came. This time of year, usually left her cold, she never felt festive. Was she a fool to not take up Jack’s offer?

After the Mariam Christmas dinner which was essentially a Sunday Roast with copious party food from Marks & Sparks she checked her phone surprised to see a text from him earlier in the day saying she could stop by anytime.

She knocked on the door. A beautiful brunette opened it. Her heart sank. Too late to turn back now. “Hi.”

“Oh, hi… Is Jack there?”

“Of course, come in.”

The lady tried to take her coat but Olivia pulled away from her. “I’m Adelisa, Joseph’s girlfriend.” Olivia’s warm demeanour returned. Adelisa was Jack’s brother’s girlfriend!

“I’m Olivia, are there many people here?”

“Olivia it’s lovely to meet you at last. I’ve heard so much about you.” She leaned in and hugged her.

“Yes, well Jack is in the kitchen- we haven’t eaten only a few nibbles and champagne. I think Joe and Jack will be another hour in the kitchen- no matter what they say.” She made her way into the kitchen, fiddling with her hair patting down her dress. Jack had his glasses on and looked so suave in the kitchen.

“Hi gorgeous.” He went to the sink, washed his hands and got a hold of his girlfriend. “Merry Christmas Beautiful I’m so glad you could make it.”

“Thank you. It’s good to see you, how’s things?”

“We’re almost done, he pointed toward the dining room table, would you like something to drink.”

“Uh I’ll have,” she walked over past the dining table toward the feast laden one. “I’ll help myself thanks.” She opted for apple juice the only non-alcoholic drink.

“I’ve been at my parents’ house so I’ve eaten and everything. Can I help with anything?”

“No, don’t worry.”

“Joe, could you cover this. Take them off the boil in two minutes, I’m going to introduce Olivia to everyone.” She shook his brother’s hands as a greeting and goodbye and followed her boyfriend into the next room. “There’s been more than expected turning up. So that was my brother Joe, that’s Adelisa his girlfriend, an interior designer.”

“When are the chefs going to serve dinner?” enquired a pixie blonde.

“Delilah, be patient, it will be worth the wait. Now I want you to meet my girlfriend Olivia.” They shook hands again. “Olivia is an Editor at Nova Writ.”

“Oh well not exactly, I’m a sort of odd-n-ends doer, I’m just an associate editor,” she said.

“That sounds fabulous, how long have you known Jack?”

“Uh a couple months or so.” Jack put his arm around her, kissed her forehead and went back into the kitchen.

Olivia sat with the Edie Sedgwick lookalike for a while. She was a travel writer, though her focus was on luxury resorts. Her snobbish manner betrayed her dainty gamine features. “If you and Jacques ever go on a honeymoon I’ll advise you on where to stay,” she uttered churlishly. Olivia felt lulled by her pixie looks.

christmas table platter_fl

Dinner was served and Olivia opted to remain away, she sat alone on the sofa, flicking through Phaidon art books. Solitude remaining a compulsion she could not fight off. Jack eventually came over tempting her to eat. She’d never had a proper Christmas dinner before there was only one recollection of a turkey and trimming Christmas feast that happened at age four. She succumbed to temptation, walking in, everyone looking at her; she tugged at the sleeves of her beige and brown stripy top layered under a black dress. She was a rare kind of a beauty, so dazzlingly so that she didn’t even know.

Plate sparsely filled, she tucked in and tasted the frittered years of tradition. Jack and Joe had cooked a roast goose with sage and onion stuffing with a sweeter surprise too an apple and Armagnac stuffing.

Previously Jack had moved to Brooklyn for the summer as his brother studied at I.C.E: Institute of Culinary Education, New York. Joe had even worked at Osteria Francescana, but tired of the strain of a Chef’s life so resorted to be a Food Critic for The Observer back in the UK. On one of his assignments for work he visited Milan and one curious afternoon decided to pop to Florence. Temptation abounded in Italy. He left the Hermes store with a mini collection of ties and pocket squares. Notably this was where Adelisa worked and he left Italy a new man. Initially they wrote to each other, and inevitably Joe returned to Italy, they fell in love and Adelisa returned to the UK shores with her beloved.

Joseph waited on the guests and had such understated elegance. He was beautiful like his brother but with darker almost Italian features, a narrower jaw line, high cheekbones, dark rimmed glasses, a simple Dartmouth green cardigan buttoned up shirt and an Hermes printed tie. Always wearing a tie due to his unceasing guilt from that overindulgent trip to Hermes where he met his Diletto. His trousers cotton & cashmere cream corduroys (Lora Piana’s of course.) And his shoes? Chucks, actually. (White.)

Dean Martin played in the background.

A gathering of Nouveau Bohemians.
Everybody made art and bought it.
A choir of C of E singers.
The auburn haired fellow peered out the window as snow gently fell. He clutched at his Remy Martin, the deceitful pixie came over and wrapped her arms around him. She whispered into his ear. He smiled, nodding back. The Pixie squealed. Delilah fetched her ear muffs. “Who wants to go out and play in the snow?” Adelisa smiled.

Delilah was the first to roll up snow with her fingerless gloves. She threw it at Miles a tall black fellow who was less than amused. He slipped his hand in his pocket and brought out his phone. Joe told Ayumi about the sledge inside. Olivia’s ears perked up. Upon Joe’s return the Asiatic beauties leapt on the sledge and poor Joe had to push them along, almost slipping in his sneakers.

christmas street lamp

“Let’s take a photo,” said Jack.
Miles popped his phone away, Delilah put a hand behind her back then Adelisa and George halted the snowman making.
“1, 2, 3, smile”
Miles’ face lit up with surprise. Delilah had shoved a snowball down the back of his neck!

Olivia and Ayumi remained on the sledge grinning like school girls. George held up his two fingers behind Delilah head; she looked like a little snow bunny.

“And another one, show us that beautiful smile Miles.”
The sledge twins joined in with Adelisa and George’s snowman. Jack gave them a purple parsnip and charcoal from the fireplace. They placed a fedora on its head too.

Upon returning home she felt tired and oddly ill at ease. It all seemed too good to be true, spending Christmas with a boyfriend rather than pining for lost love. It was happening so fast. How long would it last?

Florence’s Dining Table (from novel Welcome to Wonderland)

jamie-street-94244

Her parents own a Georgian townhouse that is never inhabited. So much of Flo’s belongings still live there. It’s her home away from home. Tread carefully on those Minton tiles as you enter…

You’re greeted by a Marie Antoinette blue that has lost it’s lustre and has resorted to a muted existence. Curiously you see shortbread crumbs lie on the staircase, they are left so that the house mice can be fed. Specks of crumbs are still in sight after all these months. Sometimes tiny paw prints are seen from the grey house guests. Long ago, Sophia saw one of them and decided to call it Roquefort.

If only you’d seen this house during childhood Christmases the staircase wore ivy like a winter shawl, Bing Crosby in the background, the scent of cranberries, mandarins, evergreen leaves and cinnamon too. Grandma would hand-make the door’s wreath with little Flo every November. Oh, and the Christmas tree was glorious, the baubles from Florence’s Great-Grandmother. The glitter remained on three precious baubles ordained with scenes from the nativity the others in deep red, evergreen and navy with lashings of silver and gold and delicate beads decorated onto them. Such a shame that her parents moved out to the country this home is seldom brought to life anymore.

Most evident in the drawing room are the late Georgian interiors. The walls eggshell blue, profiled with the white panels you’d expect. Some old VHS cases hidden behind the sofas. There’s a vinyl player in there too Florence’s only contribution to the house as everything is pretty much inherited.

Her father’s old study has draws filled with old moleskine journals, a magnifying glass and old stationery. There sits letters from his university days as he wrote to his mother, they even have his grandfather’s letters from the war. Also sat demurely a feather quill, an empty ink pot. Nobody has ever dared opened the Moleskines, after all Mr Clover is so endearingly rotund nobody could possibly betray his trust.

A large antique globe stand alone.

The next door down is the library with much to Olivia’s delight a ladder, the girls spent many after-school hours reenacting Belle’s swish with a rockler along the cases though the girls would have to push each other as it’s not as elegant as Disney made it out to be.

Silver and napkins perch on the dining table awaiting their night of resurrection. The plates are hidden in the cupboards as they are most fragile. No flowers or fruit sit at the centre, not since Christmas. The chandelier pleads for one dalliance, one more night of romance even if it is just to be used.

On the fourth floor we see that one room upstairs is like a pretty thrift store, embellished hangers holding moments of 60’s and 70’s glory, Woodstock inspired dresses from the era. Indian slippers, Gucci loafers, buffalo sandals sit neatly in unison with the lines of the wooden floorboards. Serena’s Floppy hat sits on the standing lamp, a milkmaid’s jug sits with dead flowers. An old candle once held memories of idyllic spring mornings has now lost both light and scent.  The dressing table and looking glass is strewn with neglect. The room is an homage to her maternal grandparents bohemian glory days.

The wardrobe lined with sheets from The FT and Telegraph. Alas this is not a Guardian home. Cashmere sweaters shoddily folded, an overflow of natural fibres. Some of Florence’s jumpers from childhood are shoved in too. Do you remember when Laura Ashley used to do childrenswear?

clothes wardrobe

As we make our way down one flight of stairs and another we find cabinets of curiosities, religious icons on the walls, no carpets. Flo’s mother collected crucifixes, elaborate ones from the Clover’s honeymoon in Mexico. Bloomsbury waywardness juxtaposed with piercing la boheme sparseness. Empty are the floors, the fridge and the cupboard. Bare floors only a Persian rug to warm bare feet, walls lined with eclectic Frida Kahlo imitation art, Mexicana tones, Ceylon tea stained walls. The warmest and most welcoming room of the home though the paternal grandparents never wandered in- they never approved.

In the basement we find the kitchen. The walls above the kitchen counter tops lined with mismatched tiles some artisanal others mere fillers, slapped on as the Clover’s tried to make it their own. Tiles collected from trips to Spain and Mexico. Naturally there’s an Aga with copper pans hanging. There’s a kitchen island that has open shelves on one side for all those cookbooks as well as for all those ceramic dishes as Mrs Clover loves to cook English classics.

The pantry is surprisingly full given that the Clover’s are never there. You can see the preserved lemons, (half eaten) pickles, a row of almond milk, rows upon rows of jars: tahini, pepper corns even rose petals. Next you see bags of quinoa, lentils and basmati rice. There’s even a gourmet selection of salt. It’s like a little hideaway Deli.

Inside also sits clutter and art supplies expectantly waiting to be used back to life. A deck of tea candles await their next turn to shine. They haven’t been used since a Summer garden party back when Flo & Simon were together. You see all types of jams some handmade from idle summer afternoons, others leftover from Fortnum & Mason hampers. Old Crabtree & Evelyn biscuit tins (sadly empty). A glass full of paintbrushes, masking tape, pencils. Sitting there folded up a tattered, paint stained apron for kitchen and art room.

The Laundry room remains untouched as if the servants were still here, it’s like peering into a museum.

In what used to be a House keeper’s room a tiny desk sits there and stored in the walled shelves her fathers old accounts.

Nowadays the girls are likely to get together for Sunday lunch and the occasional meet up. They get together to decorate the house over Christmas but rarely are festivities celebrated there for some reason. Diane has been pestering Flo to use her parents house more often. It will be made into a home soon, if only Flo had someone to settle down with.

 


 

Flo falls into a more Bloomsbury set of Bohemia, a High Bohemia shall we say. Though as you read the novel there will be heterogeneous depictions of Bohemia so you will find a Bohemian that resonates with your soul. Stay with me and stay aboard the train to Wonderland…

Character Profile: Florence Clover

Florence hair flower_fl

Name: Florence Clover
Age: 23
Born: Cheltenham
Beloved Books: How to be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson; all of Felicity’s Cloake’s books (pretty much just cookbooks); Nancy Mitford; Kate Mosse; Noel Streatfeild and Cookery bibles from Larousse Gastronomique to Phaidon cookbooks
Music: The Corrs, Taylor Swift, Savage Garden, Westlife, Erik Satie and Chopin (predominately classical music though – that list is endless)
Film: Gone with the Wind
Food: Beef Wellington; Ploughman’s sandwich; Ladurée Macarons and Sticky Toffee pudding
Drink: Loose leaf Earl Grey, Wild Orange Blossom herbal tea
Motto: “Never is a promise and you can’t afford to lie”; “Love is eternal”; “Elegance is refusal”
Favourite Artists: Mary Cassat, Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun and Andrei Belichenko
Dreams: As a little girl she wished to be a Ballerina but now she seems ripe to be a  Stepford Wife
Perfume: Changes each season usually a fragrance combining when at Jo Malone

Songs to remind you of Florence

Carla Bruni – Quelqu’un m’a dit
Aaliyah – Journey to the past
Elvis – The Wonder of You
Taylor Swift – Love Story

 

Poem: Frames

French flea market

He had shipped the art he picked up in
Parisian antique markets
and sent them to my home.
He wanted to know if I liked them.
He liked me to pick frames for the
unloved
paintings.

17.4.17


Other poems by Catherine can be found in her poetry book “The Quarter Life Crisis Poet”
Buy USA   Paperback   Kindle
Buy
UK     Paperback   Kindle

www.CatherineVaughan.com
Twitter: @CattVaughan
Facebook: /CatherineVaughanWriter

Poem: This way to Love

guy alone lines wall

I just took it the wrong way
I assumed that / misunderstood the distinction
between unfulfilled love and unrequited love
I internalized it as rejection
that ultimately yet again
I was unloved,
Unlovable.
But it was
Fate,
Destiny
and Life that was to blame. There were too many forces
keeping us apart.

 

15.4.17


www.CatherineVaughan.com
Twitter: @CattVaughan
Facebook: /CatherineVaughanWriter

Other poems by Catherine can be found in her poetry book “The Quarter Life Crisis Poet”
Buy USA   Paperback   Kindle
Buy
UK     Paperback   Kindle