A Tormenting Dissonant
I ran up the stairs and called out for Fiona.
There was no reply.
A small ceiling light was on in the hall. The air-conditioning was off,
and the air hung heavy and stale, so different from this morning when
our place was super-charged with energy, excitement, and anticipation.
In the bedroom, the sheets lay folded on the mattress. The shower stall
in the tiny bathroom was wet, and a damp towel lay in the sink. An array
of brown boxes and furniture stood center stage in the living room. No
shipping labels attached. Her cello was gone.
I’d expected Fiona to still be cleaning, her ebullient brown hair in
disarray, a wrinkled T-shirt hanging half out of her jeans, sweeping up
the last bit of trash strewn over the floor, looking at me, enthusiastic
about our move, our future together.
Her wall phone still worked. I called the Williamsburg Hospitality House
where her aunt and uncle, Lady and Henry Van Buren, were staying. I’d
met them yesterday, on Sunday, at the graduation of William &
Mary’s great Class of 1999 and was almost certain Fiona was with them.
But no one picked up.
I drove to the hotel and found them sitting in the lobby with my mother.
Their faces spelled doom.
"Where is she?" I asked.
They looked at each other. "She's left for Brussels," her uncle said,
lifting his arms in frustration.
"Brussels?" I dropped down into a chair.
"While we were helping her pack in her bedroom, we asked if she’d
called her godparents about her graduation,” Henry said. “She’d
told us her godmother had phoned several times leaving messages, but she
hadn’t returned the calls because she was afraid she and her godfather
would continue interfering with her life. She finally phoned her
godfather who was still in his office, and suddenly we heard her raising
her voice and then she called Irma.”
“I overheard her telling him she would start at the law firm Jones Day
in New York after staying in D.C with you for a few days," her aunt
said. “Her godfather got furious and didn't want her to go to D.C.
with you. She got very upset, was stomping around and yelled at him. I
took the phone and said I had full confidence in her choice and that he
shouldn't worry, but he insisted she come home immediately.”
"When did she leave?" I asked, feeling drained.
"Around 1:00 p.m.," Henry said.
My head started to spin. “Why did she have to get away so quickly?”
"Her godfather demanded she take the first flight out and had his
secretary make the booking,” Henry said. “She got mad at us for
having spurred her to call home and mad at herself for mentioning
she’d be staying with you. She hated she couldn’t talk to you. Your
phone was already disconnected.”
Her aunt’s voice reached me from afar. “She agreed on condition it
would be an open return ticket, as she wanted to get back here as soon
as possible to start her job and be with you again.”
Fiona had been so euphoric that Jones Day New York had hired her, while
I was practically assured of a career there with Morgan Stanley.
Everything seemed ready for us, find friends to form a quintet, and mix
work with music.
“She wanted to confront her godfather in person,” Lady Van Buren
continued. “She said talking with him over the phone was fruitless.
The only things she took were a suitcase and her cello.”
My insides turned to concrete. The celebratory melodies of The Swan we
performed yesterday at the graduation ceremony suddenly turned into
Grieg's Ase's Tot.
"Why didn't she wait? I could've gone with her."
Lady Van Buren and Henry stayed silent, looking embarrassed.
"Something happened yesterday?" my mother asked, turning to me, her eyes
showing suspicion. "Maybe she got cold feet?"
Had she? She’d never showed anything close, not in her demeanor or in
her sometimes cynical remarks. My mother must have forgotten what it was
like to be in love and share that deep emotion night after night. Still,
her supposition unsettled me thoroughly. Was Fiona copping out?
“Not at all,” I said, annoyed. “She’d phoned her mother to talk
about our plans.”
“Did her godfather ever say anything about that?” my mother went on
with her inquisition.
“He’d apparently been making objections,” I admitted.
Fiona had once said that her godfather had a compelling influence over
her because of her parents’ wishes about her future.What did her
godfather tell her in that phone call? Had he threatened her with her
parents’ testament that she be groomed to marry someone from their own
circle in Belgium, no foreign intruders? But Fiona had rejected all
“Well, if she loves you and has any character, she’ll tell her
godfather goodbye if he disagrees and come back,” my mother said in
her usual stoical manner.
“It may be more complicated than that,” Lady Van Buren told my
mother. “She may have felt obliged in her family situation. I don’t
know her godparents well, as we are distant family. I met them only once
at the funeral of her parents, when Fiona was two. But I understand her
godfather is rather domineering and narrow-minded.”
"We’ll send her belongings to Old Westbury as we had agreed," said
Henry Van Buren.
"But what if her godparents keep making objections?” I wondered aloud.
“I think I should talk to them, but as she said, you can’t do that
over the phone.”
Belgium had won the class war so far, or so it seemed. Fiona Baroness de
Maconville, my love and bride to be, was gone. How would I get her back
with her nobility clan pulling the strings? Would she burn the ships and
return to me? Having an open return ticket was no guarantee.
Compassion glimmered in Lady Van Buren’s blue eyes. "Paul," she said,
"the best thing for you is to go to Brussels in a few days and look her
up. She may need your support to convince them, and once they see you,
they’ll change their mind. Join some summer course while you are
there. Here's their address." She took a leaf from a small Hospitality
House notebook on a side table and wrote, “Avenue Bellevue, 15,
Waterloo,” and handed it to me. “It's a few miles south of Brussels.
I don’t know the telephone number, but you can get that from the
I slipped the paper into my wallet as if it were a leaf of gold.
“Why don’t you send Fiona’s things tomorrow?” my mother asked
me. “Now that she isn’t coming to D.C. with us, I prefer not to
drive home in the dark. We can stay here tonight.”
Practical Mom. Always keeping her cool in a terrible situation.
“That would be very kind of you,” Lady Van Buren said. “We’d
planned to return home today.”
“I’ll be glad to take care of it if you tell me where to send it,
Madame,” I said, the hollow hole in my stomach growing larger and
She penciled down their address.
"I'll send a message to her godfather to introduce you. I’ll recommend
that he receive you," Henry Van Buren said. "Here's my card."
It said Vice President, Goldman Sachs.
"Whenever you're in New York, give me a call.”
The next time I was in New York, I would. But I wouldn’t be going
there without Fiona.
Excerpted from "Enchanting the Swan" by John Schwartz. Copyright © 2015 by John Schwartz. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.