Madeline ran her thumb over the smooth bowl of the silver spoon in her pocket. Then she slid her wrinkled hand back into her doe-skin glove. She interlocked her fingers and twiddled her thumbs. Bus 113 came and went. Bus 847. 361. When 431 pulled up, she knew it was the right one because the digits equaled 8. She poked a ten-dollar bill into the slot and walked to the eighth row. A seat was available, but the person sitting next to it was all wrong. No seats were available in the ninth row. The lone person in the tenth row was asleep. The eleventh row was the right one.
Madeline sat down next to a young woman holding a baby. The woman wore a threadbare coat, but the baby looked warm. “Excuse me,” said Madeline as she sat down. The baby smiled.
The woman nodded and smiled. “Lovely child,” Madeline said. She held one gloved finger out to the baby. He reached out and curled his fingers around hers.
“Thank you. He’s eight months old today.”
Madeline reached into her pocket and held out the teaspoon.
“Would you like a spoon?” she asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Would you like a spoon?” Madeline repeated. “This spoon,” she said, waving it gently. “You could feed the little one with it. It could be an eight-month birthday present.”
The woman raised one eyebrow and tilted her head. She reached out and took the spoon. Her hands are red and raw, thought Madeline. She works hard. Her life with a baby must be hard. “You may sell it if you wish. You might get $50 at a pawn shop. It’s worth over a hundred. Perhaps two.”
The bus clanked to a stop. Before the startled woman could answer, Madeline skittled out the door and was sitting on the bus-stop bench.
Madeline looked around. Colors seem brighter, she thought. This is what life must be like for adventurous persons. From somewhere far away, she heard an accordion playing. “I will find that accordion,” she whispered aloud. “I will sit and listen to the accordion player, and I will drop twenty dollars into his monkey’s cup.”
Before today, Madeline would not have given an accordion player the time of day, much less put money in his cup. Then she wondered whether the accordion player might be a woman. An old woman like herself.
She wondered whether the old woman would even have a monkey. Monkeys can bite, she thought. She decided to google where one could go to see monkeys in the wild. She did not approve of keeping a wild animal tied to a musical instrument. But she would like to see one in the wild.
Madeline smelled warm bread and wondered if she would have even noticed it under ordinary circumstances. She followed her nose to an Italian bakery with three tables. She ordered a latte and a slice of Italian wedding cake. She sat in the corner and watched people come and go. A busty woman with a small child bought the child a giant pretzel. The clerk ran a ribbon through the pretzel and tied it. The busty woman slipped it around the child’s neck.
When she finished her cake and coffee, Madeline bought a giant pretzel. “Tie a ribbon through it, please, like you did for the little girl.” The clerk handed her the pretzel and giggled when Madeline slipped it around her own neck.
“Sorry,” said the clerk. “I just thought you were buying it for a grandchild.”
“I did buy it for a grandchild,” she said. “Do you think that I never had grandparents? That I am not someone’s grandchild?”
The clerk blushed, mumbled, “Sorry” again and counted Madeline’s $5.75 change back to her.
“That’s alright, dear,” said Madeline as she shoved the change back across the counter. “Keep it.”
With her pretzel around her neck, Madeline set off to find the accordion player and her monkey. What sort of person would play an accordion and own a monkey? Madeline wondered. She had never known such a person. She decided that such a person would most certainly be the adventuresome sort.
She closed her eyes and listened. She held one hand over her left ear and cupped the other hand around her right. She turned slowly in a circle, and when she located the direction of the sound, set off. Two blocks later, she saw the accordion player, who even from a distance was indisputably male. He did not have a monkey. He did have the accordion case open on the ground. People had dropped change and a few dollar bills in the case.
“Stop,” commanded Madeline. “Stop playing. Please. I want to talk to you.”
The accordion player wore a grey beret on his greying hair that complemented the blue foul-weather fisherman’s sweater on his substantial frame. Very handsome, thought Madeline. Handsome and Italian.
“Where is your monkey?” she asked.
The man drew himself up to his full six-foot two. “I am not an organ grinder,” he said. “I am a musician. I play the accordion.”
“I will pay you handsomely to come home with me and play for an hour.” She dug two one-hundred dollar bills out of her purse and handed them to him. “Come along,” she commanded. She turned and hailed a taxi. The taxi driver loaded the accordion player’s instrument into the trunk. The driver blinked in surprise as Madeline gave him her address. So did the accordion player.
When the taxi pulled up at Madeline’s building, a doorman stepped forward to open her door while the driver fetched the accordion. Madeline tipped the driver a twenty.
A nervous young man in an Armani suit rushed out of the building. “Madam!” he cried. “Where have you been? I was terrified when you didn’t answer my knock this morning! We have correspondence to attend to!”
“Do it yourself,” she said as she waved him away. “For the next hour I will be unavailable. I am going to listen to the accordion.” She turned to the bewildered accordion player. “Come,” she commanded. Then she asked, “Are you married?”
After the accordion player finished his concert and drank a cup of tea, he left with a promise to return for lunch the following day.
Madeline’s secretary rushed into her library. “Madam, what is the meaning of all this? You disappear for hours, you come home with a pretzel tied around your neck, and you bring an accordion player for tea? Have you lost your mind?”
“Quite the contrary,” she said, “I have found it.” She held out the half-eaten pretzel. “Bite?” she asked.
“Madam, I am worried,” he said. “I should call your nephew!”
“That is the last person you are to call,” said Madeline. “I informed him yesterday that I have decided to leave my entire estate to charity instead of to him and his spoiled offspring. He threatened to have me declared incompetent. I am, I assure you, quite competent.”
She patted the couch next to her, and her secretary sat down. “You know that I have spent my life penny-pinching and running this company. I have always done what was expected of me. Yet I have wondered about the people who live other kinds of lives: people who ride on busses, people who eat pretzels, people who stand on street corners and play musical instruments."
She placed her hand gently on his arm. "I have wondered about people who go hungry at night while I sit alone and dine on soup from thousand-dollar tureens in hundred-dollar bowls with hundred-dollar spoons. I have decided that I am going to start giving these silly things away. I do not need them. And they can do some good feeding the poor who can either eat out of them or sell them for cans of soup they can eat with plastic spoons.”
“What I do need,” she said, “Are memories to keep me warm. I need adventures. I need to meet adventuresome sorts of persons who do not do what is expected of them, but rather do whatever it is that they themselves wish to do. So I am going to become an adventuresome sort of person. Tomorrow I will turn 80. I will turn the company over to one of the vice presidents. And I will have adventures for as long as I am able. When I am on my death bed, I do not wish to wonder what might have been.” She patted the secretary’s hand. His mouth hung open.
“Close your mouth,” she said. He didn’t move. She gave his leg a sharp slap. “You look like a fool.” Then she added, “Tell Cook to prepare a special Italian lunch for tomorrow. And call my travel agent. Tell her to arrange for the first possible cruise to some place where one might see a wild monkey. Two tickets. Captain’s suite.”
As the secretary turned to leave, shaking his head, Madeline added, “One more thing. Tell the chauffeur to be available tomorrow after lunch.”
“Where shall I tell him you wish to go, Madam?”
Madeline smiled. “Tell him I am going to buy an accordion.”