Book Series: IRISH BLUE Author: Sheila Willar Copyright: 2022 Sheila Willar ISBN #: 978-0-9867101-4-8 Book Title: THE CHAPEL Chapter #: 02 - NEW YORK
BOOK 1 - CHAPTER 2 - NEW YORK
After the funeral, Erin returned to Dublin where a gloomy Fall season slipped into a silent Winter, and blankets of snow bedded down the trees at night.
The sounds of Dublin were reduced to faint echoes, but the pain of the funeral had only ebbed ever so slightly. Erin had barely talked to anyone in her family, especially not Michael, who was for her, salt in a far too precious wound.
The warm Spring sun was just around the corner and with it an opportunity to accept a student internship at Mancinni’s, a well known architectural firm in New York City.
The prospect of getting away and travelling to America with its iconic skylines and bustling streets, was a perfect way to distance herself from the past and sweep it underfoot.
However, when she phoned home to share the good news, her mother was instantly not keen on it.
“Don’t they have architecture here in Ireland?” she asked, as if Erin was a bit daft on that point.
Despite the cajoling, Erin could not be dissuaded from leaving, so her mother arranged a place for her to stay with her cousins Maggy and Kelly, who lived in the heart of New York City.
Erin had goosebumps just thinking about how modern and exciting it would be.
She daydreamed about loft apartments in renovated warehouses, with large windows and open concept sparsely decorated rooms.
She imagined brightly coloured furniture, and recessed floor lighting, that cast shadows across pebbled concrete floors.
However, on the other side of the ocean the opposite was unfolding. Her cousins were sorting through their mother’s Victorian furniture. It was all that was left behind after their parent’s divorce.
While Erin hoped that her cousins would introduce her to a more avant-garde world, they hoped that Erin would add some authentic old-world charm to theirs.
Erin arrived on the first of May and the three girls got along like the best of friends, each absorbing the life of the other.
Erin traded in her home-spun wool hand-me-down sweaters and tweed coat, for ruffled cotton blouses and jean jackets.
Maggy said that she could smell the salt air and clover on the clothes, but Erin said it was more likely lanolin and moth balls.
Erin was nervous about her first day of work and wanted to be taken seriously, so she borrowed a severe black suit that belonged to her aunt. It was matronly, and she had to use safety pins to secure the hem of the pants above the borrowed shoes that were even more uncomfortable.
In an effort to do all things new, she had inadvertently taken a step backwards into unnecessary pain.
She walked to work along busy streets where the people were twelve across, and she wiggled to get through them like a salmon swimming up an asphalt stream.
Straight up, her view was a narrow strip of blue sky, and adjacent at ground level, there were endless rows of food vendors who flipped and packaged food so fast, that it made her wonder if she would be able to keep up with the pace of the city.
Finally, she arrived at the Mancinni building and entered the double wide glass doors and stepped into a world that would change her life forever.
Giant alabaster columns and slender sycamore trees in terra-cotta pots lined the satin rose travertine.
It made Erin desperate to kick off her shoes and walk barefoot over the cool stonework that was dusted with the powdery sands of the Mediterranean.
She went straight to the 21st floor where a receptionist nonchalantly escorted her to a cubicle and gave the instructions, “Do not bother people!”
She sat alone and wrote notes to herself and fidgeted with the chair for several hours, until two young people appear out of nowhere.
“Is this her?”
Neither seemed impressed.
“Well?” one of them asked Erin.
“Come with us. They want you upstairs.”
Erin stood up to introduce herself, but they were gone.
She hurriedly shuffled down the aisle and caught up to them just as they entered the elevator. She smiled and wanted to say something but knew not to speak.
The silence was awkward for Erin but not for them.
They went to the 41st floor and Erin’s jaw dropped at the sight of the beautiful marble lined walls with inset carvings of running ivy and oak leaves, punctuated by crystal sconces and rainfall chandeliers on the ceiling.
The effect was one of walking through a garden made of stone and glass. Never had she seen such beautiful work in person.
She nearly felt weak as she rounded the corner and entered a large glass walled conference room, where a meeting with about 30 people was well under way.
Some of the eyes in the room gave a brief glance towards her as she tip-toed to an empty seat.
She listened to the presentation and debates about foundations, colours and lighting schemes. Several times she wanted to say something but then she remembered what the attendant had said, “Do not speak!”
Erin had learned the hard way that in a room filled with contention, sometimes good ideas only made things worse.
In the Mancinni company, they were focused on "who" would do the work, preferring to keep design secrets passed down from generation to generation within their family.
The most interesting person in the boardroom was Mrs. Astor Mancinni Sr., who was referred to simply as “Mrs. A”.
Astor and her husband John had founded the company over 50 years ago. They were in their eighties and lived apart and everyone speculated that it was because she was difficult to get along with.
Astor sat next to her son Justin, and while he was reserved and polite, she was fluorescent and curt, both in clothing and personality.
She wore large, thick-rimmed, lime coloured glasses, and a matching silk scarf, that draped over her shoulder, as if it was sitting there listening and churning with ideas of its own.
Astor was eccentric and hard to predict. Sometimes she spoke sharply with the abruptness of a snapping turtle, cutting people off and cutting them down a peg.
At other times, she fell asleep and snored, which drove Justin crazy. He would kick her chair which made her jump to life with a snort.
It wasn’t easy to get noticed by Mrs. A, but one day Erin did just that.
It happened during a presentation about a new bell tower that the Mancinni’s were building.
Erin noticed that it was exactly like the one at the cathedral in Kinkerry. She had hid there with her siblings who occasionally swung from the scratchy ropes, much to the horror of her mother who heard the loud clang of bells from the sanctuary below.
Erin used to hold the ladder for the carpenter, Clerry, who repaired the bell tower when it threatened to fall apart. She would pass him nails and boards, and occasionally the hammer when he dropped it.
Clerry did not do fancy work, but he always finished a project with a smile, maybe because he helped himself to a bottle or two of communion wine.
Clerry used to say, “Whoever built this tower should be put out to pasture! The whole lot of them. They should be taken out and left for good!”
Erin remembered his frustration.
“Sure everyone knows you can’t build it like that!” shouted Clerry as he fished for a lever to pry off the rotting slats of timber.
Father Michael had told the children not to play in the bell tower because the roof was crumbling. The buttresses nested in such a way that rain water ran along the beams and sat in the seams. The rotten wood smelled and bits of ceiling had fallen to the floor. It was all still fresh in Erin’s mind.
She wanted to say something but did not want to confront the renowned Professor Brown’s presentation.
“Maybe,” Erin thought, “I’m mistaken about the whole thing. Maybe Clerry was an old drunk who didn’t know what he was talking about."
Maybe when the bell and its ropes and crossbeams fell to the floor on the day of the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary almost killing Father Penney, maybe it was due to something other than poor design.
Maybe when Father Michael said that he had half a mind to blow the whole tower right off the church for the fuss it caused, maybe Father Michael was just blowing off steam.
Try as she might, Erin couldn’t reason away the need to say something to Professor Brown who wielded a laser beam over his slides. She cleared her throat and raised her hand to say something but was ignored.
All would have remained quiet ,except Mrs. A had woken up and noticed Erin’s hand waving against the grey sky in the background.
“Yes dear?” asked Mrs. A, who was delighted at the thought of a face-off and a possible skirmish. Anything to break up the monotony of a dull afternoon.
“Well,” began Erin. “I have some experience with this bell tower design, and several people have questioned its, its, its …”
Erin stuttered as she looked from Professor Brown’s eyes to Justin Mancinni’s eyes, to the almost laughing Mrs. Mancinni.
“People have a problem with its integrity”, blurted Erin.
Professor Brown hadn’t gotten as far as he had in the world by allowing the likes Erin to question his integrity. He had far more riding on the believability of what he said than the actual truth of it.
Astor was almost clapping with the prospect of a fight. This is what she lived for. Perhaps she would take them all out for dinner later so that she could watch it continue into the evening.
Everyone except Erin knew that the professor’s designs were not going to be used anyway. He was only hired because he was somehow related to the Pope.
Justin Mancinni had a different set of plans that his team was working on, and Erin had no idea that while her crusade would gain points for bravery, it was a completely empty pursuit.
“Young miss,” began Professor Brown, “Where did you say you graduated from? And what research are you referring to?”
Erin had no university degree and no research, save the sound of Clerry’s voice saying “Damned stupid bell tower!”
“Dear God Almighty” thought Erin. “What have I done?” She looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming automobile, frozen and unable to save herself.
There were snickers around the room as the professor traded knowing glances with other academics at the table. He felt that he was just minutes away from sending this waif of a girl, running from the room in a fit of tears.
Justin was about to stand up and intervene when Erin began to speak.
She started slowly and little by little gained her confidence and the attention of the room. She only stuck to what she knew and referred to Clerry as the “skilled trades” and Father Michael as “the client”.
She pointed to the slide that showed the damage and mould on the crossbeams. She said it was due to poor drainage and to the fractures in the stone where the water had seeped in and frozen. She carefully told her story, a bit too dramatic at times, but she made it clear that the design required a second look.
However, Professor Brown was not to be undone, and said that while Erin made a good case, she lacked the science that was the only grounds upon which such statements could be verified. Erin nodded and sat down.
No one was interested or impressed, except for Astor who loved a good confrontation.
“Fools!” she muttered loud enough for everyone to hear.
Justin rolled his eyes at his mother, and announced that the meeting was over.
At least Erin and Mr. Brown were off the hook until another day.
Erin was thankful to be dismissed, and wondered if the Mancinni Company was the right place for her work term.
Mrs. Mancinni, however, wasn’t concerned at all. She knew that she had chosen the right person for the path ahead.