A crisp breeze drifted through the open living room windows of the East Village apartment, billowing the sheer, green curtains inward. It was the Friday before Labor Day weekend and also the first Friday which the residents of Manhattan were treated to a break from the oppressive summer humidity. Dusk was quickly settling over the island and the once sunlit streets would soon be illuminated by fluorescent street lamps and the neon signage from the small shops and dive bars of the neighborhood.
Sitting in an overstuffed armchair that was angled to face the opened window, Echo curled her legs underneath herself and stared down onto 13th Street below, savoring a few minutes of solitude. Despite being home from work for about an hour, she still had a pile of her boss’ mail to sort through that evening. As the personal assistant to the wife of one of the most prominent and powerful men in New York City, it meant rarely indulging in any downtime.
Brushing past the stack of magazines and envelopes which all bore her boss’ name, Hera Olympus, Echo scooped up the wine glass that sat on the small, round end table between the chair and window. She swallowed down the last mouthful of the pinot noir in one gulp and promptly refilled the glass from the bottle that sat on the hardwood floor next to the table. The combined smells of the city outside and the buttercream-scented jar candle on the window sill permeated throughout the apartment. Across the room, on top of a wall-mounted shelf near the entrance to the bedroom, sat a suitcase-style vintage turntable; the needle currently scratching across the surface of the most recent Bat For Lashes LP. As the volume on the record player was at barely a medium level, Echo could still hear the sounds of the city outside. The brakes of a city bus. The car horn of an irate taxi driver. The voices of some locals partaking in Friday happy hour at the margarita bar across the street. This was the soundtrack of the neighborhood that she had come to find solace in.
Echo plucked a sliced piece of maple-smoked cheddar cheese off of the ceramic plate that was resting on the arm of the chair just as a neon sign in the shape of an upturned hand clicked on in the front window above the margarita bar. The blue light of the sign advertised palm or tarot readings by a “seer” named Cassandra. The tenant was relatively new to the area and had taken over the lease from a now defunct antique shop. Echo’s first and only visit to Cassandra followed a night out at Ampelos, the wine bar on the outskirts of Alphabet City, on the last weekend of that past July. The entire experience came off as complete nonsense to Echo. In fact, she probably wouldn’t have even set foot past the threshold if she had had one less glass of red at the bar. Cassandra’s predictions, if you could call them that, were as outlandish as her wardrobe. Echo assumed she would walk in and be greeted by a woman wearing a lame’ turban while seated at a table and hovering over a crystal ball. Instead, Cassandra wore skinny jeans, vintage tortoise shell glasses, and had a Monroe piercing. The wardrobe shouldn’t have come as that much of a surprise, really. This was the East Village, after all.
Another sip of red wine and Echo was finally starting to feel the stress of the day begin to dissolve. She scooped up a few pieces of mail from the pile on the table and began to scan through it. The first was a glossy, black postcard with light grey typeface on the front advertising the opening of a show at Underworld, a gallery in the Meatpacking District. Underworld was known for its often controversial and off-putting shows that, nonetheless, attracted all of Manhattan’s elite to its doors on opening night. The gallery was owned by her boss’ brother-in-law, Hades. Hera had told Echo numerous times that Hades was equal parts both charming and frightening. After engaging him in conversation, one would not know whether they should immediately reach for a Xanax or allow themselves to be taken to his bed. His fascination with death and the afterlife knew no bounds and more-often-than-not reared its head in the shows that he presented at the gallery. He was the modern-day Andy Warhol. More people came to his shows for the social aspect and for the opportunity to be seen, themselves, rather than to actually appreciate the art on display. You could always count on seeing Hades’ face on Page Six on the day following one of his openings.
Typical of an Underworld gallery opening, there was no description of the show or the artwork that would be presented. The only information that was provided on the invitation was the date, time, and a footnote at the bottom warning that anyone attempting to enter the event without the invitation in hand would be turned away at the door. This footnote was not to be taken lightly either. From what Echo had seen during previous visits, the security at Underworld was a bit more intimidating than that found at the MoMA.
She tossed the invitation back onto the table and pulled back her strawberry-blonde hair with the tie that was wrapped around her wrist. An entire day of running errands from one end of Manhattan to the other, all while donned in designer clothes and offensively uncomfortable stilettos, was enough to make anyone appreciate coming home and slipping into a pair of yoga pants and a vintage Motley Crue t-shirt that was salvaged from a Brooklyn flea market. Hera would never entertain the abhorrent idea of her personal assistant wearing something “off the rack” while picking up lunch in SoHo or an impulse purchase from Tiffany & Co.
As she opened up the white envelope containing the second piece of mail, a black Mercedes-Benz pulled up and came to a stop in front of the bar across the street. The rear passenger-side door opened and out stepped a strikingly handsome gentleman in a perfectly tailored suit. Clearly the downtown/Wall Street type, Echo thought to herself while pulling a white card from the matching envelope. Instead of entering the bar, the suit made his way up the front stairs to the second floor entrance of Cassandra’s storefront. Rolling down the front driver-side window of the still-running Mercedes-Benz, the chauffeur lit up a cigarette and sat back in his seat.
The white card with an aquamarine-colored font was a simple but elegant wedding invitation. Echo recognized the names of the bride and groom, Thetis and Peleus, as acquaintances of the family. Peleus was a widower and the owner of a small advertising firm whose office was located in Hell’s Kitchen. By most standards, he was considered quite a catch. He was intelligent, handsome, and had a few dollars in the bank. While not exactly repulsed by Peleus, Thetis viewed him as beneath her, nonetheless. She came from very old money and stood to inherit a small fortune from her parents. That, coupled with her striking beauty, allowed her to move in and out of the socialite scene with ease. She also spent quite a bit of her time working with various charities related to the conservation of oceanic habitats.
To Echo, the upcoming nuptials screamed “marriage of convenience.” But, convenience for whom? Thetis? Hardly. Peleus? Perhaps. Hera and her family? Most likely. The Olympus family had a tendency to maneuver the citizens of New York around like pawns on a chess board. They had the money, the connections, and the know-how. This sham of a wedding was probably just another strategic move to benefit themselves. She decided not to dwell on it and returned the invitation to its envelope and placed it back on the table.
The sounds of the city outside became more prevalent as the record player went quiet, signaling the end of side A. Echo took another sip of her red and got up from the chair to turn the LP over. As she padded across the room barefoot, the suit emerged from Cassandra’s storefront with a mid-twenties woman on his arm. Pausing a moment to be nosy, Echo immediately recognized the young woman as Cassandra. The thick-framed glasses and fire engine-red hair made her easy to identify. Dressed in tight, indigo jeans and a black cardigan sweater, Cassandra looked a bit dressed down to be on the arm of the suit. Soon after reaching the bottom of the front steps, they disappeared into the back seat of the Mercedes-Benz. The driver took a final drag off his cigarette and flicked the butt out the window onto 13th Street. As the front window rolled up, shrouding the driver behind a wall of tinted glass, the car made its way up towards 3rd Avenue and out of sight.
Natasha Khan’s voice gently filled the room once more as Echo placed the needle of the turntable down on side B of the record. Making her way past the bedroom door, she entered the bathroom where a white claw-foot tub took up a majority of the small space. Vanilla-scented candles sat on just about every surface of the bathroom, leaving the space smelling like cupcakes even when they weren’t burning. Reaching into the cabinet underneath the sink, she pulled out a fresh towel and laid it down on the countertop. It still had that warm “laundry” smell despite being washed almost a week ago. The old, chrome faucet squeaked as she turned the handles to start the flow of water into the bathtub and almost immediately, the room began to steam up. Echo preferred her post-work bath to be on the verge of scalding hot. She scooped up the Lush bath bomb that sat on the counter near the towel and tossed it into the running water. A milky froth began to mix into the bath.
A sound startled her as she began to untie the drawstring on her yoga pants. The door buzzer. Somebody was downstairs in the entryway and ringing her apartment’s bell.
She reached down into the tub and turned the faucet off, stalling the water from filling up the tub. She made her way out of the bathroom towards the apartment entrance where the intercom speaker was mounted to the wall. It was a simple, almost primitive, device. A white speaker, now yellowed with age, with a “talk” button and an “enter” button.
Echo pressed her thumb to the “talk” button. “Yes?” she said into the speaker.
A man’s voice responded, gentle but assertive, “It’s me.”
Echo’s face flushed as it often did when he visited. She was really hoping to avoid another one of his housecalls. Suddenly, her life waiting tables at a diner on 9th Street before taking a job for Hera seemed like one of those feel-good memories that you wrap yourself in when things in your life get too complicated.
She hadn’t responded to the man’s declaration and before she found the words, he said, “Did you want to buzz me in or should I just use the key?”
After exhaling a deep breath, Echo moved her thumb from “talk” to “enter” and pressed the button. A buzz emitted from the speaker, signaling that the lock on the inner door downstairs had opened to allow her visitor entrance to the building. She looked at herself in the small wall mirror that hung above the intercom. Frumpy pajama clothes and hair pulled up. It was a typical Friday evening outfit.
He was on his way up the stairs at that very moment and, unlike Hera, her husband didn’t care how Echo dressed when she worked for him.