…When I was sixteen we moved into the city, and I began to learn some of Suzanne’s secrets.
The house we moved into was on 19th Street, one block south of Gramercy Park. It was easily the best house I’ve ever lived in, four stories, tall windows, high ceilings, big barn of a living room, cozy library, even an elevator. I could go through a trap door and sunbathe on the roof.
My mother built a sky-lit studio on the top floor. That was where she kept her African Grey parrot, Coco, whom she assumed was male until the bird laid its one and only egg late in life. That was also where there was a phone one could talk on privately after 5:00 PM when my mother had vacated the space. Like most of us in the house, Coco knew phrases in several languages. A few months had passed when Coco began to start cooing, in a soft, sexy voice that was Suzanne’s, “Allo Chou Chou. Comment-vas tu?” followed by a lot of endearments, sighs and twittering. The first time I heard this, I thought Suzanne was behind me. But there was just my mother’s easel and the bird in her cage. It soon became apparent that there was a pattern. The bird would mimic a phone ringing, and then start impersonating Suzanne. But only at or after 5:00 PM. If the phone actually rang, she’d immediately start in with the Chou Chou stuff.
I heard my parents whispering about this Chou Chou and quietly gossiping about Suzanne’s love life. Here’s the story as I pieced it together back then as a teenager: When Suzanne arrived from France she got the name of a French society doctor with a Park Avenue office whom the consulate had recommended. She went to see him. He was considerably older than she was — like thirty years — but very distinguished. He was also married. Nonetheless, though she had no ailments anyone knew of, she began to visit him frequently. It became a regular thing, every Wednesday and Sunday. He phoned every evening. My mother, always jealous and suspicious, decided she couldn’t stand him. Too big an age difference. Who was this guy really? Definitely he had no scruples. She made it her business to learn more.
To be continued…