Instead of Season 3
THERE WILL I MAKE THEE BEDS OF ROSES
first published in 1990 in Tunnels 2
A First Time Story
(R at the end)
Author’s note: I wrote this in 1990 before I knew there was such a thing as fan fic. I wrote it to heal my heart, to fix what was, to me, a terrible tragedy I didn’t want to live with. I read it to my BatB-watchers group at our Winterfest supper, and without my knowing, one of them sent it to a zine editor she knew, Barbara LB Storey, who published it in the zine Tunnels 2. Somehow I didn’t understand the designation “2” meant there’d been a “1”; I didn’t even know what a zine was, thrilled as I was by the acceptance from the editor. I didn’t realize there was a fandom family out there, that there were hundreds of stories written by others like me who wanted Vincent and Catherine to continue on. Then life intervened. I packed away the zine when I moved in 1990; the details of Beds of Roses faded. Though I never lost the deep, true love for the story, I put BatB and writing on hold. When I came back to both, in 2008, many of the images of this first story manifested again, subconsciously, instinctively, in I Carry Your Heart. I guess I live in a one-track universe, but I’m so glad to be in it.
PS: The literary excerpt is way too long. What was I thinking?
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
There was only tightness … in his mind … it was unbearable, pressing, pressing upon the very beginning of thought until there was only tightness. The pain mixed in a whirl of flashing lights … crimson red, piercing white, red and white and red again until he saw through blood and then saw only blood. His breath grew fainter on the intake and raspy, emptying on the out. He grew wilder and could feel burning in the palms of his hands. When he looked, unfocused, he saw a rope playing out fast in his grasp. On one end, a human heart; on the other, only an unseen force, pulling with a rage and power unrelenting, unforgiving. Tightening his grip brought only agony. Releasing brought unbearable despair.
Someone, something was in that hole at the end of the earth with him. Inching up to him. Something small and frightened. There was nothing in his eyes save blood, and the taste in his mouth was cloying; he felt the sharpness of his teeth with a bruised and ragged tongue. No, it would not have him. He would live on the power of a killed thing. As he willed his body to lunge, as the muscles tightened for the spring, he heard a scream, a name – his name … Vincent …
The naming swept through the blood, through his raging, fragmented thoughts, stopping the retreat of courage. And as he fell, the piercing lights stilled and his mind became full of soft, golden warmth, and he believed there was the scent of roses in the air. The small thing had hands, and they were cool on his face.
Time passed. Were it minutes, were it days, or weeks. He was buoyant in water of such slight warmth he could barely feel it. The water was over his face; he could breath through it; it sustained him, fed him. He could see only through a heavy translucent curtain of confusion. Often there were voices, sometimes near, sometimes at a distance. One was deep and troubled; the other soft and promising. They filled his heart with such sweet memory that he ached to give them notice of his hearing. Yet, he could not move. He could not speak. He would struggle to raise his head above the water, but then overwhelming exhaustion brought it under again.
* * *
Father watched them from the chamber doorway, feeling the intruder, yet compelled to stay. He watched Catherine rise from the chair to circle the room, lighting new candles. She moved to Vincent’s bedside and took his hand in hers, pressing it to her face. Her eyes were wide, almost with wonder, as if she were seeing him for the first time. She turned his hand over in hers and kissed it and closed his fingers over the place. She took a clean cloth and gently bathed his eyes and mouth. And then she turned his head to the side, gathered his hair and, with her own hairbrush, tamed and burnished the masses of tangles left from the fitful tossing of his interminable sleep. Father watched as Vincent’s shallow breathing became more regular, mores restful. He himself became more at peace, as if each quiet moment accomplished a healing no tonic could offer. Catherine’s ministries were more than the necessary ablutions for the sick. They were the embodiment of love.
Without turning to him, Catherine spoke to Father.”We must get these clothes off him, Father. They’re torn and dirty.”
“I’ll get Mary to help you,” Father replied, almost hastily, and turned to leave.
“No,” said Catherine, quietly turning to face Father. “There will be a time for us to see each other, but not now, not one without the other.”
Catherine rose to walk toward Father, her legs trembling with fatigue. Father stepped quickly to her, caught her in his own arms and held her close.
“You’re living for the two of you. Dear Catherine – you must have something to eat, some sleep of your own.”
Catherine looked over her shoulder, turned back to Father and nodded. Arm in arm, they moved quietly, slowly down the corridor.
Father felt her slightness, her courage burdened with fear for the man she loved. He turned to face her and smelled the sweetness of her hair. Feelings came rushing toward him, the memory of Margaret, the vision of her youth and radiance. And then thoughts not so noble. The bitterness of the betrayal – though eclipsed by their seven days together – lingered. And in a rush, he knew what had motivated his distancing himself from Catherine. How many times had he contended she would bring Vincent only unhappiness? It was what he had known. In believing he was trying to protect his son, he was, in truth, protecting himself. Of course every parent wants a better life for his child, want him to have that which the parent had not. But ego does not care to be bested. Vanity despises being proven wrong.
Jealousy! Father admitted to himself. A hideous discovery, and yet, once exposed, more easily dispelled. He saw himself the old king passing the crown and scepter to the prince – the new king. Paracelsus had been right when he contended Jacob somewhat enjoyed being called Father. It had given him the power of counsel over his son – a power no longer granted. Or needed. The revelation left him almost breathless.
Stopping at Mary’s chamber, Father turned to Catherine, taking both her hands in his. He looked into her face, saw beyond her apprehension, saw what Vincent saw, saw further what Vincent resisted – her very physical beauty and power. Even in exhaustion and worry, she radiated a life-giving force. Father drew a deep breath of recognition. Catherine, too, was holding her breath. Something was happening between them, some coming-down of the last wall, a bridging of hearts.
“Forgive me,” asked Father simply.
After a moment, and for answer, Catherine drew Father to her, and kissed him. Not only the kiss of a daughter, but also a kiss tasting of salt and blood and a hot, stinging sweetness, and Father knew the depth of Catherine’s love for his son.
Mary moved from her chamber door to Catherine’s side. Her look was a knowing one, without shock or surprise for what she had witnessed. She put her arm around Catherine’s shoulders, placed her hand on Father’s cheek.
For a moment, they stood still, the full power of all they had come to live for passing again and again from one to the other. Rilke’s words came again to Father. “Life holds you in its hand. It will not let you fall.”
Catherine and Mary disappeared inside the chamber. Father stumbled back against the rock wall, releasing his pen-up breath. His head bowed, he began to cry.
* * *
Catherine was dreaming.
She walked along a deserted beach, the colors of sunrise seeping from the horizon. The air was still, the surf so gentle as to make no sound upon the sand. Looking over her shoulder, she surveyed the great expanse of beach behind her. She had come a long way, yet she left no footprints. She continued silently, slowly, step by step. She could hear only the sound of her own breathing, her own heart beating. Suddenly, the sea broke into chaos – all manner of fish came arcing from the water. Flying fish, dolphins, sailfish, broke the surface, flinging a wide spray, filling the silence with urgent sound.
She didn’t know what to make of this – her reaction was dual, both transfixed and frightened. None of this is normal, none of this is what I’ve known before, spoke her mind. Something deeper urged, get off the beach get off, get off.
She began to run, pushing against the sand – leaving prints now – rushing toward the base of cliffs, clambering over rocks, darting into a cave. But inside was more bedlam, yet a beautiful one. The cave was crystal; clear stalactites and stalagmites lengthening and piling rapidly, over and over, everywhere. The movement was everywhere inside. Over her shoulder, she saw the ocean teeming with wild, repetitive motion. Inside – growing complexity, mazes, change. She moved further inside.
Catherine was compelled to lie down. Above her hung one gigantic stalactite. She knew her destiny lay with her in this choice. She knew in her mind this stalactite was to fall. She knew it would either kill her or bring her indescribable happiness. Could it be they were one and the same? As she stirred, attempting to push herself up, something deep urged again, Lie back.
Suddenly all motion inside the cave stopped. The stalactite began to make small grinding noises; it then began to sway, slightly, as a pendulum. Her heart seemed to swell, as if to forge a greater target. And the crystal fell slowly but purposefully. And as it reached its ever-fixed mark, it burst into liquid emeralds, arching from her heart like sprays from a fountain. She knew she was alive. And she slept.
* * *
Vincent too was dreaming. He was walking through all the corridors of his life. From the beginnings of his memories, past himself as a young boy, to the cradle where he, a baby, lay. He saw a dark shape hovering over the crib, dissipating, reforming, retreating, returning. Time began to move him. Devin and Mitch, growing taller, lengthening in sinew, their imminent manhood straining their youthful play. There was almost the scent of maleness in the air. Vincent had no mirror, and so believed what he saw in them was also in himself. But then the chambers began to revolve. He in his dreams, pressed his hands to his face. Reading with his fingers, he knew his face to be different.
The revolving grew faster, intensity mounting. There was Lisa. Moving in circles counter to him. Feeling the old fear, he closed his eyes, heard a scream and opened his eyes to see only a bare shoulder, wounded by him. Superficial wounds to her, too deep for him to bear. They became as bars to his heart. That closing drove him into darkness. He dreamed of darkness, hovering, cloaking him, its protection robbing him of something unnamed.
His dream turned to fire. And to Paracelsus. And to the dark shape that followed him now, everywhere. From all sides of the whirling chamber came voices – first Father’s, then Paracelsus’ …
“A truth beyond knowledge …” “Did you really believe that all these years?” “Like copper and fire on your tongue!”
Their faces merged, separated, merged. He saw his hand reaching for a throat – whose? – wanting only to stop all the contradictions of his life, wanting silence, wanting rest. The black shape seemed to quiver. There was a growing rumble, and the walls began to cave in on them all.
Now he was on a raft, standing, poling an unnamed river, deep within the earth. From the fog emerged a golden boat, draped in white. On it Catherine lay, as if in sleep. He drew closer, then recoiled. Over what should have been the smooth, soft rise of her stomach, her dress was stained with blood. Beside her, he saw the darkness – the size and shape of a baby – raging and mewling with hunger. In his dream, Vincent collapsed with despair, and did not see Catherine open her eyes to the darkness, pull it toward her and offer it her breast.
* * *
When Catherine awoke, she found Mary had laid out a change of clothes for her. There was a bowl on the washstand, and a pitcher of warm water and sweet sandalwood soap. She felt as if she had slept for days instead of hours. As she approached the mirror and washstand, pulling off her sweater, she noticed her crystal pendant was gone. Where did I lose it? she wondered, pressing her hand to her heart. It was hard to think back, for the memories were confused with internal battle – her own sureness and her own fears. “Perhaps the chain broke in the apartment,” she said to herself, then put her sweater back on and started out.
Mary came in at that moment. “Where are you going? Vincent is still sleeping. Father is reading to him. Why don’t you have something to eat?” she entreated her.
“I’m going back to my apartment to get a few things. I need to call Joe so he won’t send out the National Guard after me.” It seemed more and more strange to think of her life Above. It seemed to have retreated into a memory of a past life. It seemed a long, long way away. “Tell Father where I’ve gone; tell Vincent if he wakes up. I’ll be back soon.”
The walk seemed farther than before. At the threshold, she paused, reliving the first time she had stood in this doorway to her new life. She was filled with restlessness, wanting to go back, practicality urging her up the ladder. As she entered her apartment, she was struck with all that had happened here. From the first book laid on her balcony to his last cognizant words to her, “Whatever happens, whatever comes, know that I love you.”
Her home had always been meticulously tidy: this here – that in its place. To look at it now – glass cabinets overturned, louvered doors shattered, her mirror smashed and in pieces on the floor – it seemed as though the earth had rattled these rooms. She moved to pick up blankets from the floor, looking for the pendant, and was struck with a flash of unease. She stood, looked around, listening. Nothing. She shook her head, puzzled.
Walking through her bedroom she crunched glass beneath her feet. As she looked down, in the mirror fragments she caught sight of a dark flash – Vincent’s cloak? She whirled – nothing. If she had but looked down again, she would have seen a diabolical, disembodied smiled reflected in the fragments, the Cheshire cat gone mad.
She pulled the covers back from the bed. She had lain there with Vincent three days as he spiraled downward within himself. There, in the very center of the bed, lay the crystal. But as she reached for it, it faded away. She closed her eyes hard, opened them again. And heard, not Vincent’s voice, but a shadow of Vincent’s voice.
“Looking for this?”
Across the bed from her, she saw Vincent’s face shrouded in a darkness, her necklace dangling from a clenched fist. The air around the shape stirred, and she felt heat spreading through the room. The shape faded. Then, behind her, there was the bang of a door yanked open. She turned again. The shape-that-was-and-was-not Vincent stood at her closet door, furiously pulling clothes off hangers, tossing them over its shoulder. Turning, it was fingering her sheerest nightgown. It was white, shot with shimmering threads of silver. She had bought it on impulse, holding it in the back of her closet, never worn, saving it.
“I like this one,” the shape growled and laughed, swung its head, the matted mane of hair flying over its face, obscuring its eyes.
The darkness advanced on her. Catherine knew this was what Vincent had seen. She wanted to see into its eyes, the mirror of its soul. Catherine took a step forward as well. The shape disappeared. The crystal fell to the floor and the nightgown fluttered slowly down over it.
Catherine sat down hard on the bed, losing her breath as if she had been struck. All the air seemed to have rushed out a hole in the universe, and there was not enough pressure to hold her up. She lay back, carefully beginning to breathe life back into herself, trying to disentangle herself from the experience. Was this real? she wondered. Was this some spilling over of Vincent’s horror through our bond?
Hesitantly, she peered over the side of the bed. No nightgown, no crystal on the floor. Disconcerted, not knowing what to deny, she rolled over. As her hand moved across the linens under the pillow, she touched a solid necklace. Covering it tightly, quickly, breathing deeply, she knew one certain thing. Her ambivalence had contributed to this, and it was over.
This blackness that had visited her belonged to her as well. She knew Vincent would resist this, would refuse to admit her part in this division. He would deny her shame, her perhaps unconscious thrill in the violence that tracked them. She had used him somehow. Envying his extraordinariness, she had wanted it for herself. The recognition made her wretched. And she had known of his desire for her. Sometimes a a tiny niggle of pleasure crept in from the dark places within her heart and relished the power it gave her over him.
Her body felt like stone, weighed down with the ugliness of it all. But she could not lie there, whimpering with this knowledge. She had to return to Vincent, and by accepting herself before him, give him the power to do the same. Together, they would own this darkness, pull something beautiful from this mire, celebrate it with dancing lights.
Quickly she did the things that would buy her unencumbered time below. Calling Joe, relieved to reach his answering machine – she told him she was recuperating from the flu at a friend’s, that she would call him in a few days.
On the balcony, she stopped to water the rosebush, the special bush speaking the language of flowers. White roses grafted to red, expressing eternal love. Two different entities, growing together. Colder weather was coming, and so she brought it inside, positioning it for morning sun. The remembrance of planting the rose came flooding back to her; how, when Vincent put his mouth to her bleeding hand, all their pent-up desire had moved through them. She could still feel the ache inside her, feel the tingling in her breasts as her nipples tightened and called for him.
Breathless, she moved to her closet, pulled the thin silk from the hanger, ran from the apartment – back to the threshold and to Vincent.
* * *
She ran the entire way. Panting, holding her side, she literally fell through Vincent’s chamber door. Father, sitting, still, at Vincent’s bedside, jumped out of his chair.
“Good God, Catherine! What happened?”
“I … I … was in a hurry.” She looked to Vincent, saw he rested peacefully. “Has he … ?”
“No, nothing yet,” said Father. “I thought once he opened his eyes for a moment, but a look of – I don’t know – sorry surprise came across his face. He…just…went back to sleep. I’ve been reading to him – Robert Frost. Perhaps, you would like to take over.”
Father left the book open on the chair and touched her face as he left them. But back in his own chamber, Father still read to himself, to pass the hours, in search of solace. Standing anxiously before his book stacks, he hesitated at one volume in particular, passed it by, then returned. The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James. Almost despairingly, he took it down, flipped to the last pages.
“You said you had had from your earliest time, as the deepest thing within you, the sense of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible, that was sooner or later to happen to you, that you had in your bones the foreboding and the conviction of, and that would perhaps overwhelm you…Whatever it is to be,” she clearly made out, “it hasn’t yet come.”
He shook his head in complete surrender now. “It hasn’t yet come …”
“It’s to be something you’re merely to suffer.”
“Well, say to wait for – to have to meet, to face, to see suddenly break out in my life; possibly destroying all further consciousness, possibly annihilating me; possibly, on the other hand only altering everything, striking at the root of all my world and leaving me to the consequences, however they shape themselves.”
“Isn’t what you describe perhaps but the expectation – or at any rate, the sense of danger, familiar to so many people – of falling in love.”
Father remembered the rest of the story. The main character, John Marcher, had turned that thought away, but spent ten years with May, the only woman to understand without mockery, without disdain, his wait and fear.
… the devil in this was that conviction, his apprehension, his obsession, in short, was not a condition he could invite a woman to share; and that consequence of it was precisely what was the matter with him. Something or other lay in wait for him amid the twists and turns of the months and the years, like a crouching beast in the jungle. It signified little whether the crouching beast was destined to slay him or to be slain. The definite point was the inevitable spring to the creature …”
And then, May died … and John Marcher knew
that the illumination had begun … it blazed to the zenith and what he presently stood there gazing at was the sounded void of his life … and what it said to him, was that she was what he had missed. This was the awful thought, the answer to all the past, the vision, at the dread clearness of which he turned as cold as the stone beneath him. Everything fell together confessed, explained, overwhelmed…The escape would have been to love her, then, then, he would have lived .. .the beast had lurked indeed, and the beast, at its hour, had sprung … He had justified his fear and achieved his fate; he had failed, with the last exactitude, of all he was to fail of … He saw the Jungle of his life, and saw the lurking Beast. Then while he looked, perceived it, as by a stir of the air, rise, huge and hideous, for the leap that was to settle him. His eyes darkened – it was close; and instinctively turning, in his hallucination, to avoid it, he flung himself, on his face, on the tomb.”
Father’s eyes grew wide and, dropping the book, he turned with a gasp in the direction of Vincent’s chamber. He sent out this prayer, “Be it not too late …” and he sank back against the table, lost in worry.
* * *
Catherine leaned over Vincent, wishing he would open his eyes to her. She pushed back his hair, letting her fingers trail through it. “So different, so very beautiful you are. Come back to me, Vincent.”
She settled back into the chair. Father had marked the place …“Devotion”
The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to the ocean –
Holding the curve of one position,
Counting an endless repetition. 1
Catherine gazed at him for what seemed an eternity – waiting for a sign of his rebalance. She moved beside him on the bed, took his hand and placed it over her heart. “I’m here, I’ll be right here.”
“Don’t forget me,” came the menacing voice behind.
She turned with a gasp to see the darkness with Vincent’s face crouched in a niche of the chamber. He sprang over her, pushed her from the bed, grabbed Vincent by the throat. Horrified, desperate, she leaped upon the form herself, screaming, “Vincent! Open your eyes – look at me!!”
The darkness threw her off, flipped itself over on its back, pinning Vincent against the headboard where he lay. It pushed back with its cruel feet, waved its hideous hands at her, taunted her, snarled, hissed.
“Save yourself. He’s mine.”
Catherine could not remember making the choice. She only moved to embrace the darkness, throwing her body into its arms, grinding her hips into its groin, wrapping her legs around it. She put her mouth to it, feeling the cold, tasting the rot of it. But she would not stop. She relished the prick of its claws, she looked into its hollow eyes, unblinking. Imperceptibly, gradually, there was a shimmer of blue in the empty sockets. The taste in her mouth, on her tongue, grew sweeter. Her heart felt its echo, pounding back. And there was finally, only the two of them, the darkness absorbed between them, setting them free for each other.
Vincent cried against her for a long time, his relief breaking across her like surf to sand. Catherine held him fast. And when the storm was spent, they were both washed clean.
* * *
She awoke to him whispering her name. How long had she slept … how had she slept? In her half-wakening, she first thought she heard birds … becoming the sound of tinkling glass chimes … coming full to know they were in the chamber at the falls.
Vincent was carrying her, must have carried her, asleep, all this way. Where had found the strength, after what they had passed through? Catherine struggled briefly, wanting to stand, to face him, to be certain he was safe …
“Catherine …Catherine. I have something to show you, something I have hidden, saved … a place where I nourished hope. A place known only to me …”
He finally gave her up to stand before him. Taking her hands in his, pressing them to his lips, Vincent stood, looking deep within her eyes, showing her all he had hoped for.
Catherine spoke first. “Here is happiness, I think it pervades the open air, waiting at all times. Now it flows unto us, we are rightly charged.” She smiled at him.
Vincent answered her. “I give you my hand. I give you my love, more precious than money, I give you myself, before preaching or law.”
Beckoning her, his hand outstretched, the way he charted was narrow and steep. Up the barest stairway, carved from the sheer cliff walls of the chamber, they climbed. Halfway up, behind the highest falls, appeared an opening, as if by magic. It seemed to emit a light that grew stronger and warmer as they approached. At the entrance, Vincent turned to Catherine. There was hesitation in his voice, almost a shyness.
“Catherine, I know nothing of love, of … how to love you. You … will have … to teach me.”
A moment passed between them. Catherine spoke, her voice low and from deep within her.”Vincent. All I know or will ever know of love comes form you. Everything comes from you. We will find ourselves; we will teach each other.”
* * *
The room was more beautiful than any Catherine had ever seen or dreamed. Even to Vincent, it was more beautiful – different somehow – changed by her physical presence. He had spent many hours here, filled with love and hope … and fear. This room had been a shrine, a refuge, a dream. And now, she made it real.
The walls were all of crystal, walls that drew light from their energies, radiated. The ceiling – a canopy comprising the shining stars and the light of the sun. The niches in the walls were filled with glass bowls, filled themselves with the petals of white roses. Water eddied gently in rivulets along the sides of the chamber. And in them floated a thousand more petals. There was a small table, centered with an empty bowl, into which Vincent lay the contents of a cloak pocket, fresh pears, ripe and full, heady and sweet. In the center of the chamber, a mound of white bedding, coverlets, pillows in every color of white – soft, promising, beckoning.
Who could say how it began, how Catherine’s slow dance of intimacy led her in circle of the chamber, how in bending to tough the rose waters, how in drawing her fingers lightly across the diamond walls the subtle electric fire played between them, grew white and large. How her turning and turning as the winding of a clockspring gave them the power of time. How the wonder moved through her, naming the truest love and delight, how in turning she came round right before him, where he stood, naked and still.
However small, the old fear remained with him, fear of her recoil or rejection.
His vulnerability overwhelmed her; she could scarcely breathe.
The hunger of skin was immense, yet he waited.
He stood before her as he had in her dreams. Feet apart, his body straight, breathing with such power, his skin gold and copper and rose. Her eyes began the caress, moving finally from his, moving to his shoulder, arms to fingertips, returning over the broad expanse of his chest. Could there be words to describe Apollo?
His ribs and waist defined by tight muscle, ropelike in his thigh and calf. His erection, barely begun, awaiting her acceptance. Catherine turned around him, her slow revolution musical, playing the taut strings of both hearts, bringing fire to the blood of both. Behind him, she owned the definition of his back and the hard, fast rise of his hips. His hair moved in gentle motion, and she knew it to be her breath coming strong and close to him, lifting the strands. Her step so light, so light the weight of her eyes, she moved before him again, this time with touch. Both hands now. Moving over his face, his hair, a gentle, almost unbelievable brush on his shoulders, fingers riding the curve of the muscles of his arms.
His only movement was to turn his palms upward to her. She took his hands, pressing her cheek to each in turn, gently lowering them to his side again. Her hands moved to his waist, to the taut flatness of his stomach. Lightly she brushed the length of his erection. She stooped to place both hands on his thighs, moving the distance from groin to ankle. And upward and around over his back, burying her face in the mass of his hair, stopping only to breath in the sweet odor of musk evident now.
Her last circle – again facing him, yielding, seeking – brought from him a soft moan. He had waited so long, wanted so desperately. He believed now, fully, he knew he would not, could not hurt her. She had loved his devils, drove them, not away, but into an appointed place within them both, removing – by her unguarded passion – all that had before stood between them. There was only this last beautiful distance now, each soulful breath drawing them closer.
Catherine stepped back from him. Her coat slid from her shoulders. She began wordless to open the buttons of her dress. Partway, Vincent reached out to stop her, his eyes closed tightly.
“Tell me,” she whispered.
He answered her in a voice so low she could barely hear. “Tell me this is no dream.”
Catherine opened the last buttons, shifting her body to let the dress drop free. Her slip of blue silk clung to her, her body sending the dark, rich scent of desire to him. His breath came ragged now, still not daring to look at her. Her slip, too, she let fall. She took his hand to her heart – barestripped – moved it slowly to hold her breast, let her blood beat in rhythm with his.
“No dream, Vincent. We survived, and finally, this is no dream.”
He saw her now, her skin porcelain, her cheeks flushed with wanting him. He could feel her need, pleading with him to continue, to touch her everywhere, to take her out of herself. His arms moved around her, hands to her waist; he lifted her above him, triumphantly, himself turning. Lowering her then, feeling the length of her precious body move over him, he saw she was smiling.
That first kiss they shared – transcendent, gentle at first – grew lusty, burning. They broke apart breathing as one, the arch of her body, undulant, liquid in his arms, the pressure of her breasts, the burning line down his stomach brought forward the welling surge of passion, rising over them in a wash of love so tender …
Vincent bent his head, his mouth on her neck, on her throat. He caught her as she rose to him, cradling her in his arms. Kneeling on the bed, he put her down amid the pillows. He covered her body with his and was inside her.
The shudder moved through them as one, defining ecstasy. but there was more, they both knew. This holding back they savored now.
Catherine could feel the length, the breadth of him, pulsing against her, could feel the welling of tension at his base. She opened herself wider to him, her arms over her head on the pillows, his hands in hers, supporting himself. He was huge over her, filling her.
The first movement was slight, imperceptible as a snowflake to the tongue, yet as delicious. Their eyes were locked to each other’s, they breathed the other’s hot breath. Vincent’s hair fell all around her, a curtain to a world already narrowed to these two. It moved over her shoulders, her breasts, her face as he pushed forward ever so slightly. He moved again, and a slight retreat. Catherine showed him, then, the pleasure of the deeper moves, and gave him the rhythm of women. He brought her to the edge of herself again and again, believing through his bond that these boundaries were his as well. When she knew this and moved against him faster, harder, she could feel his climax uncurling from his soul.
His release, the brilliance of the flash inside him into her, left him weak against her shoulder, sobbing laughing, repeating, “I love you, I love you.”
Again, moments passed between them, now unmeasured. Catherine saw, as she dared to open her eyes, a sparkling scene, almost of moonlight on snow. Now daring to breathe, she felt her body against his. Daring then to move, she brushed away his hair from his face, where he lay against her breast. Slowly, gently, as one wakes a child, they moved out of each other’s being. Catherine felt Vincent’s breath against her throat as he raised his head to her, as he spoke to her across time.
“Once, long ago, I learned that there is a truth beyond knowledge. And now, I know yet a further truth, beyond even love…the truth of union.”
And Catherine replied, “Of perfect union.”
When he moved from her, moved from her body, moved from their bed, Catherine felt herself pulled along with him, as if a magnetic field surrounded them, disallowing separation. Her hand went to his shoulder, trailed down his back as he stood at the side of the bed. He turned to her, taking her hand, backing away, looking at her, marveling at the scene before him. She lay, half on her side, half curved around the space where he had lain, her hair soft on his pillow…his pillow…. the absolute radiance of her skin – her blood all at the surface – against the whiteness of their bed, added a new color to the spectrum of light.
“You’re smiling,” she said to him.
“Yes,” Vincent answered.
He brought back a thick, soft, white towel, a cloth, and a small bowl of the warm, rose-scented water from the pool at the edge of the chamber. He lay the towel on the bed and turned her over gently on it, and bathed her belly and legs. And kissed her there, and there, and there, where he had so recently been inside. her. And dried her with something so soft – was it his breath? His lips?
Vincent took the towel from beneath her, dropped it over the side of their bed, exchanged the rosewater for the crystal bowl of pears. He moved onto the bed, on his knees and she then lay back against a mound of pillows. He broke open one of the pears, and a spray of nectar rose, carrying the perfume of late summer sun over them. He fed her, and she, him. Until the taste and the memory were too much for her and she burst into tears.
“Catherine! What? What have I done?” The tears did not match what he thought he felt from her – happiness, freedom, desire. He held her face in his hands, wiping away tears that dropped like diamonds from here eyes, trying to sort his feelings from hers within the bond. Had he been so self-absorbed? Why was she crying?
“Vincent – I’m not crying.”
He was fully confused now, looking around the room for help.
“Catherine … I am at a loss … help me.”
“It’s just … that … it’s our… first time … and it was so beautiful.” She looked almost shy and even a little wistful.
He felt relief spread through him, coupled with a wondrous thought. “This is a woman, ” he said to himself. “This is Catherine,” he whispered to his heart. And then to her, “Catherine, I promise you, from this moment forward, as have all our moments been miracles before, each will be as the first. And I will live my life in love with you.”
“Yes, and I with you.”
Vincent sat back, pulling Catherine into his lap. He held her so close, so tenderly, and his kiss was as the first. And as he entered her, their passion was again new and exquisite, raging, carrying them to new places, deepening their bond with each movement. Afterwards, they bathed each other in a deeper pool in the chamber. They dried each other with kisses and rose petals. They dressed each other in loving silence.
* * *
As they stood together at the entrance to their chamber, as they hesitated to step through the curtain of water that hid them from the rest of their world, neither spoke, though each knew the other’s thoughts. Finally, in answer to their shared silent question, Vincent quoted,
Sail forth – steer for the deep waters only,
Reckless, O soul, exploring, I with thee and thou with me,
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.2
And hand in hand, they began the walk back to the tunnels.
Lost as they were in their reverie, neither noticed at first how each dark torch in the corridor burst into light as they approached, and flickered out as they passed. but as the unusual quiet became apparent to them, Vincent whispered to Catherine, “It is as if our world is suspended.”
“And it does not frighten us,” answered Catherine.
“No, but it is curious.”
All was indeed quiet. Each chamber had a special darkness to it. Vincent and Catherine were simply drawn forward to his chamber as if the answer to this particular mystery could be solved no other way.
In his chamber, a single slim candle fluttered into life. The illumination was slight, and they stood together, waiting, questioning. In this barest light could be seen a shimmer of something soft on the floor next to the bed. Vincent bent to retrieve it. It was the silk nightgown Catherine had brought with her from Above.
Almost blushing, Catherine said, “I bought that months ago … I’d saved it for …”
“Our first time?” Vincent finished for her. Pausing, feeling the lightness of the fabric, the life in the threads, he said, “You will have a chance to wear it for me.”
As he held it out for her, the crystal necklace dropped from the folds. They both stooped at the same time for it, their hands meeting around it. Suddenly, the lone, flickering candle went out but a soft, silent energy came stealing from the crystal. As it gathered in intensity, its color changed to green, and a warm wave of healing light spread from the crystal throughout their chamber, into the corridors of the tunnels, into each chamber, into each sleeping heart.
Who is to say how far it spread, or what might be the impact of the light as it moved into the world Above. Lights, torches, and candles down the corridors flickered back to life and everything seemed as it had been…before. Perhaps as all the other lights returned, the light of the crystal seemed less intense, became perhaps, intangible. But for Vincent and Catherine, there was only the feeling of balance in each other and the definition of paradise.
Vincent closed his hand around the crystal and when he opened it again, the necklace was at, too, had been before. Very simply, he fastened it on Catherine again. And in the darkness of his chamber, they held each other.
* * *
As Father made his way down the corridor, he was startled from his thoughts by a crash, a scuttling, and then Vincent’s low laughter, an outright giggle from Catherine. And then Mouse, careening around the corner, skidded into Father’s knees.
“Father … Vincent … feeling better. Must be. Just told me, get lost!“
“Get lost? What were you doing Mouse?” Father tried to be stern, tried to contain his joy at the news.
“Nothing, you say? Well, what were they doing?”
“Don’t know. Candles burned out. Couldn’t see. Knocked over some doo-dad. Better go!”
By the time Father came to Vincent’s chamber, a crowd had begun to gather. Children were everywhere, squealing, “Vincent’s back!”
The crowd parted to let Father pass, and as he came through the doorway, he saw Vincent and Catherine illuminated by the shaft of light from the corridor, standing still close together, his head bowed to her hair. As one, as they looked up at him, each held out a hand to Father, to everyone.
- Robert Frost. Devotion.
- Walt Whitman. Passage to India.
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