Morgan took an unusually long time to get ready. She looked at her very pale, tired, and jet-lagged face in the mirror and performed the atypical act of adding some blush to her cheekbones. The bathroom suite had all the beauty items anyone could ever need. She observed her features— defined cheekbones, strong dark eyebrows that framed her large brown eyes, and freckles.
She was surprised by her sudden preoccupation with appearance; it was not something she normally cared about. Morgan had long ago decided to stop chasing physical perfection. Then she realised the cause of her current anxiety and smiled, making fun of herself. He’s so out of your league, honey, she thought.
Many years had passed since Morgan had felt attracted to someone. She’d given up romantic pursuits a lifetime ago. Morgan could not figure out why he tested her peace of mind. He was gorgeous, so what? She rebelled against her feelings, washing her face and tying her long curly hair behind her back. She pledged right then and there that she would stop feeding those thoughts. She wore a simple brown dress, a chartreuse scarf, and plain white sneakers. She prepared a bag with a royal blue evening dress and a pair of high-heeled shoes. Soon there was a knock at her door.
The power games restarted as soon as they walked down to the reception. She wanted to walk, but Gabriel insisted they take the limo. He did not leave room for negotiation, and his tone was firm and authoritative. “It’s best we take the limo,” he said. As soon as they walked outside the building, she saw James, Carl, and the sedan. The door was already open.
The car went as close as it could to Bethesda Terrace in Central Park. To Morgan’s surprise, all three men got out of the car and walked with her. Carl and James stayed behind, keeping a respectable distance. Gabriel walked by her side. Soon, they reached the fountain. At the top stood a statue of a winged angel, water cascading down into a circular pool. Gabriel fidgeted his fingers, his eyes scanning the small groups of tourists that wandered around that popular location.
Morgan attempted to ignore Gabriel’s nervousness. She absorbed, with all her senses, one of her favourite places in the world. She believed in magic—the magic of places, the magic of people, the magic of coincidences, serendipity, and fortune. She enjoyed wandering through the world with the open mind and curiosity of a four-year-old child. In her world the mystical, mythical, and magical inhabited the same space and time as the ordinary and the practical. At Bethesda Terrace, she always felt close to a source of magic and creativity. It was as if she was tapping into the place where dragons, angels, gods, sorceresses, and demons came to life.
“Apparently, Bethesda is blessing the water, giving it healing powers. The lily in her hand represents purity. She assures a pure and dependable supply of water to New York City,” she said, trying to capture his attention.
He smiled and replied, “You will be pleased to know that Emma Stebbins, the sculptor, was the first woman to receive a public commission for a major work of art in New York City.”
She nodded with enthusiasm and replied, “One of my favourite moments in television was seeing Bethesda come to life in the series Angels in America.”
“Do you believe in angels, Morgan?”
“I believe in working towards their virtues—temperance, health, peace and purity.” She pointed to the four cherubim that represented those virtues at the base of the fountain. “Well,” she smiled mischievously, “maybe not purity.”
Gabriel lowered his eyes and frowned. “Yes, the pursuit and preservation of purity can drive prejudice and hate. Many crimes against humanity have been committed in its name. Purity is best applied to water.”
She nodded as he spoke. “True. Virtues like modesty or chastity are also related to purity, and are used as an excuse to promote violence against women and girls and limit their rights and freedoms.” She paused for a moment, admiring the Angel. “Aesthetically and functionally, I love the idea of winged humanlike creatures masterly carved out of stone and brought to life by magic. Look at her, so perfect; she’ll stay there, frozen in time, beautiful, majestic and flawless. If only people could be this perfect…” As she looked into his eyes, she realised that the statue could not compete with the splendour of the man in front of her, “Inside and out,” she said abruptly, fighting against her shallow feelings, “I wish people could be this perfect inside and out.”
“Like the bronze statue of the Angel of the Waters, those who pursue perfection find themselves paralysed by the possibility of flaw, fault or failure.” She saw herself scarily reflected in his words, but she suspected he was introspecting. “Shall we walk back? I’m anxious to show you my surprise at the Met.”
She nodded, hiding her frustration with his need to control every minute of her day.
Bethesda Fountain photo: CC-BY Robert Salnave