sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 15 ~ An Ever-Fixèd Mark
And the thought of what has been,
And the thought of what might be …
The air was fog. Everything whiteness. Everything … distanced.
And the sky is gone. My foot is set on what I do not see.1
But she wanted to see. Had to.
I need to breathe …
She sank to a viewing bench, the plank seat beneath her, the wooden backboard, solid, its wrought iron arm fixed and unwavering. She gripped its forged curve.
Ears of my ears, awake, Catherine. Eyes of my eyes, open.2
A susurrant breeze stirred the courtyard as if the stone-frozen wings had ever so slightly fluttered. The drapery thinned; blurred lines resolved. One by one her companions rematerialized, Eimear, Rosie … Vincent.
Not Vincent. Not exactly. A shadowing, an intimation … an undercurrent.
No … More than that. A dark and splendid river.
A filigree of sound filtered in.
The notion of touch.
“Catherine?” Bent close, Eimear frowned, her stilling fingers on the trembling of hers.
“I’m okay,” she murmured, and after a moment Eimear nodded, stepped away. Beyond her concern, beyond the sculpture, over all, a blackbird sailed, looping to land on the bricked ground. The red on its wing flashed. A beaded, black eye trained on her, it hopped closer … closer … closer …
Silence is a looking bird, the turning edge of life …3
He knew her, knew her wish, her deep longing.
Beside you, before anyone, at the moment of your choosing, he’d pledged. Without question, without counsel, without sanction.4
On the precipice of having, she might take flight, soar on the great uplift, on the coincidence of dreams … but a misstep, born of need disguised as providence, could send them both over-edge, could imperil … everything.
She loosed her clench on the bench’s arm, drew her white-knuckled hand to her lap. The heel of her palm was red and hot. She cooled it with her other, hid it. She must be sure. Surer than sure. “I’m just … stunned. Your work, Rosie … it’s powerful.” She fanned her face. “Whew! I guess I should have been sitting down.”
Nearby, Eimear stood at the crafter’s bench, arms crossed, brows gathered over chary eyes, but Rosie circled her sculpture, appraising it, going on as if a lifetime hadn’t passed between her last word and these. “As soon as we got home,” she was saying, “I went to bed. I didn’t want to talk about fairies ever again, and I didn’t want to share what I’d seen either. But Dad was right behind me, carrying Eimear. He tucked her in and pulled out the desk chair and sat down. He scooted up really close. I was sure I’d get a lecture, a … reality check.” Her thumb stroked an alabaster calf. “Light streamed in over the half-curtain on our window and for the longest time he just sat there, bathed in it. But then he said, Rosie, keep looking. You’ll see things no one else will. I about burst wanting to tell him I already had, but something held me back.”
Something … thrummed … like the anticipation of fireworks, their spark and blossom still contained, the approach of the freeing match. Her question, could she ask it; the answer necessary – Did you keep the secret?
“I never told Mom or Dad, ever,” Rosie said, as if she’d heard. “And sometimes that makes me sad. But I did tell Eimear. And I told Martin.
“You’ll meet him tonight. You see, I tried to convince myself it was all a dream, a trick of the moon I should forget. For my next birthday, Dad set up a darkroom and gave me copies of The Negative and The Print – the Ansel Adams books? I dove in, all the way in. I can be a little obsessive with a new project. I got … I get … lost. Eimear, do not laugh.”
And she didn’t, but Eimear’s arrowed gaze shifted and mellowed; her shoulders relaxed. Catherine saw the corners of her mouth lift as she opened her arms, leaned back against the table and the brace of her hands.
“One day,” Rosie continued, “months later, I developed the film from that night. I’d snapped and snapped regardless, but in the end, since I’d ruled out the flash, I’d captured only the vague outline of tree roots and what I thought might be a bunny from Eim’s pajamas. I hadn’t forgotten, and all along I’d … hoped. I was so disappointed, I blurted the whole story to Martin, about the no-show fairies and about the boy. That’s when Martin told me about the Grigori, about the angels sent to walk among us, who come to us at the moment we need them most. I had this burst of memory, this … insistence … so I ran upstairs and locked myself in my room and sketched the boy’s face. He’d changed me, and I wouldn’t forget him. I needed him that night to staunch my fairy despair, childish as it was. He was the first angel I ever saw, but he wasn’t the last.”
The concealing canvas wrapper cast up and over the arching wings, Rosie gathered the edges when it settled, wound the twine to snug it about the base. “Eimear told you, didn’t she? About Dad being killed and then Mom getting sick? Martin promised himself to us, said to come to him for anything, and I did, a hundred times over. He was my second angel. The third was our child advocate. Without her, I’d have lost Eimear after mom died. Of course, Flynn’s an angel for taking her off my hands.” Her voice softened behind a grin. “I still wonder, though, about the boy’s father or the father of his father’s father. And about her, the boy’s mother …Theirs was a love beyond boundaries. I wanted to show its possibility, its glory.” Rosie took a breath. “At first, I ran through all the questions in my mind, but I understand now – the whos and hows don’t really matter. I don’t want all the wonders and mysteries in life to be explained. There was a child, a child who … delighted … in the moonlight. Seeing him was a gift I’ve treasured ever since.”
Rosie shook her head, her expression a duality of marvel and anticipation, the reverie of daydreams, Catherine thought – the silvered memory, the burnished faith. “That little boy in the park would be my age now,” she said. “A man. I can only imagine how beautiful he is today.”
“Did you go back to the park the next full moon?” Vincent did.
“No. Eimear was sick with a cold for weeks, and after, I didn’t even try to wheedle Mom or Dad into it. I couldn’t take the chance.”
“I was half-worried I wouldn’t see him again and half I would. I probably shouldn’t have spotted him the first time.” Rosie sighed and knotted the rope one last time. “Still, I’ve been looking ever since.”
“When you ask … about accepting …”
Rosie looked up, rueful. “There was a man I loved once. I thought he knew me, or wanted to. He’d need to if we were to go forward. Though he seemed to cherish me, he dismissed my story, actually laughed and was surprised I didn’t find my child-self ‘a funny little imaginer’. I walked away that day, that minute, actually; lesson learned. Now, I ask. Without the right answer, I can’t be myself. I rarely get past the question and you’re the first I’ve told the whole story since– Well, it’s been a long time.”
Why? Why me? In another life, she’d have voiced that question. Now, she dared hope its answer was fated.
“But the statue!” she asserted. “So much work and skill, Rosie. Surely you’ve shown it to others. Or you will.”
“I’m happy enough to tell the fairy fiasco, yes, as that’s on me. I allow Eimear’s telling since she was there and, besides, she has her own fanciful stories. But without the rest, it’s just a statue of an angel. There’re cemeteries full of them. Woodlawn. Green-Wood. He’s just one more to most, an Old Testament legend and a debated one at that.” A wide smile spread across her face and she winked. “And this one does have a touch of the fantastic about him, don’t you think? Most people, looking, can’t believe. Won’t. I wouldn’t attempt to convince them.”
“I’ve not shown him, but asked him, I did, hardly an hour gone since I’d met him.”
“Then you thought …”
“I might trust him? That he wouldn’t think me a lunatic?” Rosie dropped to the bench beside Catherine. “Ironic, that, as lunatic means moonstruck and I surely was that night. But it’s best to know before I invest my time.”
Joe. How often she’d examined all that must be explained if she … if ever …
“And he responded in the most clever way,” Rosie went on. “Well trained in the straight face, because he didn’t flinch. He said, You mean, like, you’ve been abducted? Which made me laugh. So original and somehow an acceptable variant on the common response.” She scraped fingers through her hair, massed and dropped the strands, massed them again, winding an unruly knot at her nape. “Then he said, I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff. Things I didn’t want to accept and had to. If you’re talking about something good, I’m right there. Ready for it. And so I asked him if he could believe in angels and he said …” She met Catherine’s gaze, Eimear’s. “He said he thought he might be looking at one.”
* * *
The cast-iron pipe was only half-disconnected and already heavy. He rolled one shoulder for relief, shifting the bulk of the weight to the other. His elbow complained, his wrist. A thin cascade of water curtained the nearby junction, spattering his face. Damp hair clung to his cheek, beneath his jaw, snagged in his collar.
“Can’t believe you talked, Vincent.”
Mouse was on his knees atop a makeshift scaffold, half-hidden behind an outcrop of rock. “Little knob,” Vincent heard him mutter. “Open cutter chain, loop around. Little knob again.” His elbow pumping back and forth, Mouse ratcheted the tool, tightening the biting, steel wheels around the rotted pipe. Flecks of rust and lead and oakum rained down.
Vincent turned his face away. “Nor could I, Mouse. But at the moment …”
“Taking too long,” Mouse grumbled. “Didn’t need to save, could just break apart, put up new.”
The pipe’s weight increased. Vincent took a sliding step, walking his hands down the cast iron conduit toward the severing joint. Sprigs of old tarred fiber stuck to his damp skin, prickled and crawled at his hairline, on his face.
“Felt safe?” Mouse asked, grunting with effort.
The locked-away space within the churchyard wall had been dark and cool, but a warmth enveloped him now, despite the spray of a un-routed, earth-draining watercourse. The glow of memory, he supposed, of Martin’s geniality. “That too.”
An impossible reverberation hummed within the pipe he supported. “Um-hmm.”
Before he could answer, a brilliance bloomed behind his eyes. What? He shook his head to clear the vision. Sudden. Almost fear. A weakening, a breathlessness …
“Vincent!” Mouse leapt from the scaffolding, landing at his side. The weight lifted from his back and the length of pipe clattered away. Jittering fingers pressed against the pulse of his neck. “Breathing? Hurt?”
“I’m breathing.” Vincent pushed himself to his hands and knees, wavered as he drew proof of his assertion. “And not hurt,” he said, shifting to a seat. He dug into his scapula with one hand and levered his arm. The ball joint clicked and popped.
Not fear, he realized. Surprise.
“What happened?” Mouse questioned. “You were holding. Then you weren’t.”
“Is that so?”
“Not a joke, Vincent. Scared me.” Mouse handed him a canteen. “Here.”
Vincent took a long swallow. “Thank you.” He felt for the leather pouch that protected his rose. A white darkness.
Mouse squinted one eye as if to focus through a lens. “You yelled. Yelled Catherine.”
“Is she all right?”
She was; that much he knew, despite the silken curtain of fog. “Yes.”
Mouse sat back on his heels, his fingers splayed across his chest. “How?”
“I can’t tell you how, Mouse.”
“Father says, your gift.”
“Perhaps.” His palms burned, scraped in his fall. He wanted time and distance, solitude unquestioned, unfollowed. A separate peace. “I’ll be back soon,” he said, rising to his feet. “We’ll finish this plumbing and have our lunch.” He smiled down at Mouse still hunkered on the ground. “Don’t worry. You’ll find your own connection one day, maybe very soon. It will be yours, uniquely yours. You’ll know how it works.”
The impulse to sprint away argued down, he passed through the curtain of water and veered into a dim passage. At its end was a lookout to a caged and rusted staircase, one that spiraled unreachable in the center of an abyss, descending without visible exit, level after level, its base uncharted, its upper entry point unknown. There, while still a boy, he would sit for hours, listening for footsteps coming up or coming down the corrugated treads. Once he believed he heard a faint clanging, but no one appeared to explain the puzzle of it. Somewhere, surely, there was an entry door, somewhere an exit, an in, an out, a reason for being … but he’d never attempted discovery, never really wanted to know. Never shared his hiding place.
He sank to the natural stone bench he remembered. The cool-breathed earth was the same; the mystic play of light still rayed from an ocular high above. But now … he was no longer alone.
I and this mystery, here we stand.5 With you, Catherine.
Between them, the silver river’s deep current was steady and strong, but the surface ruffled as if an entity – an energy – would soon break through. He surrendered to the flow, its draw and drift.
A brightening, the oversound of birdsong, the fragrance of joy …
His sense of her was so forceful and clear he felt her hands grip his arms. Wind whistled up and down the chute and in it the metal trilled – her voice, her laughter, her delight. Her song rose and gyred; heats of gold and silver, topaz and emerald flared within him, embers of promise and promises. And he knew a change, a change for good … expectant and mirthful and sure, as though over a great chasm, an unimagined bridge arched, suddenly bathed in light.
* * *
“Will you sell this piece, Rosie?” Catherine asked and held her breath.
“Oh, no. I can’t sell it, though I am moving it. I’ll show you where when we get to Eimear’s.” Rosie popped up from the bench and headed for the studio door. “So can we start the party early, Eim? Is Flynn at home, working on our supper?”
“I hope he is,” Eimear said, falling in behind Rosie. “He makes a terrific mess with the pasta, though it’s worth it in the end. I want him to have time to clean up after himself.”
With a last look at the shrouded sculpture, Catherine closed the door behind her. “I have to ask. What’s a neep?”
“The thing we’re not having! Neeps are rutabagas,” Eimear said. “And I’ll not have them stinking up the place.”
“Would Joe eat a neep, do you think?” Rosie asked.
“He eats chocolate cheese nuggets, if that tells you anything.”
“Ewwww,” the sisters sang in unison.
“Though I suppose,” Rosie finished, “We’d best not call him weird.”
“You’ll come with us now, won’t you?” Eimear readied a shopping bag for Catherine’s package. “I’d love the time to talk before all the activity begins.”
“I will, but I’ll need directions. My car’s in a garage on 12th.”
“Oh, no. I’ll ride with you,” Eimear said. “And Rosie, how will you be getting there and home again.”
“Andrew’s got the base for the sculpture in the van now. I’ll ride up with him and, like Mom said I should, I’ll have cab fare in my pocket in case I can’t finagle a ride home. Want us to drop you off?”
“Could we walk, Catherine? It’s fine out and not too far for you, is it, both ways in one day?”
She smiled, thinking of the miles she most willingly walked beneath the city. “No, not too far.”
“I’d like to meet this man, Catherine. Your someone. Tonight, if you would ask him over.”
Tell me about your life. Eimear was asking no more than that – a simple inquiry, a reasonable one, and she’d invited the question with her earlier admission. Practiced, she could divert Eimear’s attention, but a cryptic reply would preclude an easy friendship. Her secrets wedged her from Jenny, her vague and veiled responses like a striking maul. The next blow might well be the bisecting one.
How much can you accept? She, too, craved an answer.
“He’s out of town. I’d love for him to meet you though, to meet Rosie.” Again. She bent to the passenger door’s lock, grateful now for the dim garage.
“Well, then. Another time, I hope.”
“I hope so too. I really do.”
“You’re a bit secretive about him, Catherine,” Eimear said, once settled in her seat. “Will you tell me his name at least?”
At least. At least this much. She turned the key. “Vincent.”
Their confinement below was short-lived and in minutes they’d circled up, exited on to 12th. At once, they opened the car’s windows for fresher air, laughing at their simultaneous and audible gulps. Traveling the one-way street, they passed the bright flags and bronze plaques for St. Vincent’s Hospital, an old entrance with its wrought-iron awning, its brass doors … and the name carved in stone. After reading the last sign Eimear grinned at her, but Catherine checked her mirrors and turned on to 6th Avenue, maneuvered to turn left at 14th. The moment passed.
Traffic slowed on the parkway. A phalanx of tourists clotted the crosswalk to the Circle Line tours; a brigade of buses pulled out of the lot. Behind them a siren wailed. Flashing lights blurred past them through the intersection and Eimear watched, tensed, until they disappeared from view.
ESS-1. Flynn’s truck.
Eimear’s fingers interlaced in her lap. Catherine reached out, a gentle touch to paled knuckles. “He’s home. He’s safe,” she reminded. She gripped the wheel again. “I passed an incident on Broome Street last night. An ESU truck turned in ahead of me. Do you know what happened there?”
“That one turned out well enough. No tactical deployment, more a rescue. A man held his girlfriend’s baby from her, wouldn’t give her back. Armed, the woman said, but it wasn’t verified. The man was threatening the little one, then suicide, but the negotiator felt he could be reached. Neal – you’ll meet him tonight, I’m expecting – was able to talk face to face with him and walked them both out. The man gave up the child on the street. His troubles are worse now, but at least …”
“So much sadness.”
“Yes. For too many.”
“Was Flynn …”
“No, though he would have been but for his captain calling him in for a meeting. After, he took a few hours off his shift, which is not … Flynn’s way. Something transpired, but what, I don’t know.”
“I saw the photograph in the newspaper yesterday. Could that be the reason?”
Eimear shrugged, but not with indifference.
“How’s he doing these days … about that?”
“I’d very much like to give you a different answer, Catherine, but the truth is – not good. Not good at all.”
“Want to talk about it?”
“‘Tis hard to, as he won’t speak of it to me, not past telling me the children he rescued came to him Thursday. I’m left to ferret and guess why, but their visit made things worse.” Eimear turned from the window. “I’ve known Flynn half my life. I’ve watched him take a stand for justice a hundred times and bear its brunt. This is different. For weeks now, he’s prowled the house at night, gone out into the garden to stand alone in the shadows. Before, when he’s retreated, it was never for so long and never this far. I know for a fact he’s taking chances at work. His partner came to me with that, so worried. He’s punishing himself, risking himself. I’m afraid …”
“Afraid? Of what?” But she knew – afraid that his disavowal of darkness was stronger than her acceptance of its necessity, that in his desire to separate from his Other, he would be lost.
“Flynn stands on a flat boat. He drifts from me. I’m afraid he won’t look back, believing himself alone. With his great will, he could make that a truth.”
“I understand, Eimear.”
“I know you do. Somehow, I’m sure of that.” As Rosie had, Eimear worked her hands through her hair, winding and knotting it and in the same manner, the curls rebelled. “Weeks ago,” Eimear said, “when you first found the shop, you were deeply worried, Catherine, worried at your core, and not about a single incident. Is your Vincent’s job a dangerous one?”
Your Vincent. His name, the speaking of it delighted her, overwhelmed her. Tears threatened. The traffic light changed; a horn urged her on.
“He bears a great deal of responsibility for others,” she said. Not his job … but his life.
“And these responsibilities, they haunt him?”
“They do sometimes.” Always. “But like Flynn, he doesn’t talk easily about–”
“His dark place? That’s how Flynn describes it when I can wrest a word from him. There are things he won’t share with me, things he believes should turn me away from him.”
“That make him turn away from himself.”
“He doesn’t think you can love all that he is, strong and weak–”
“Good and bad, dark and light. I know him. He will when others won’t … or can’t. I want him to trust me, to believe …” Eimear sighed, unable to finish.
“That he’s beautiful to you?” That his hands are your hands?
Her gaze intent on the passing scenery, Eimear nodded, but Catherine saw the intimation of a smile, a mirror of her own. In chaos, still … love.
“I wish I could help. Are you sure you want to have this party? Company, at a time like this?”
“He refused to cancel it. The diversion ’twill do him good, I’m hoping. And maybe Flynn will talk to you. As I said, your gift … You treat another’s words and feelings with such respect and kindness.”
“If I do, I learned it from Vincent.”
* * *
Late for the agreed-upon delivery, Damien hurried to the entrance where Aniela waited. He rounded the last corner with a cart, saw her pacing. Skirting the bundles of metal strapping and the buckets of masonry screws she’d unloaded from her father’s van, she flew into his arms,
“Aniela, what is it?” She shivered in his embrace.
“I made the delivery to the other crew earlier. Cullen wants me to tell you – he didn’t want to send it on the pipes, didn’t want it to get back to Olivia. Kanin dropped the rock fall with him on the other side of it, and the other tunnel was already sealed off earlier this morning.”
“You mean he trapped himself outside the seals?”
“Kanin was up on the rock pile, making cuts. Then out of the blue, he told Cullen he was going to see what you were up against. He said he’d find an exit up top somewhere and come back around in a couple hours. And he whacked the wedge from the other side and made the rest of the rocks come down all at once before Cullen could stop him. He’s gone over into the outer tunnels, Damien! He’ll have to cross the boundary to get out! He told Cullen not to worry, but he’s not back yet.”
“Those are serious seals to that junction. It’ll take forever to open them back up.”
“Cullen said it’s crazy dangerous to undo all the work.”
“And who knows what’s on the other side.” Damien sighed. “I guess I’d better tell Vincent. I don’t know what he can do about it though.”
“He can’t go after him.”
“No, and I hope we can keep him from trying.”
“Cullen’s really mad. And Jamie too. They said there were going to keep working. Kanin could get himself back or not; they didn’t care.”
“Yeah,” Damien said. “Kanin’s pushed everybody’s buttons. I guess he’s got something to prove.”
“I’ll go with you. I don’t feel like working this afternoon, not up here anyway. I want to help you below.”
“Your dad won’t like that.”
Aniela lifted a bucket on to the cart. “He’ll live.”
“I can do that,” Damien said, stepping between her and the stock of supplies.
“I carried everything all the way from the street almost. I can help get it on the cart, Damien.”
“Didn’t you bring the van into the garage?”
“I forgot the key to the padlock so I couldn’t raise the door. I had to bring the stuff in through the front. You were late, anyway. It gave me something to do.”
“Was it suspicious, do you think? Bolts and strapping? Not the stuff of repointing.”
She dodged him and bent to the pile. “Nobody knows what this is or what you can or can’t do with it. Or what I need to do repointing. There weren’t any customers up front anyway. Dix was about to close up for the day. He didn’t have a padlock key either. Brenda has it, he said.”
“You’re just gonna leave the van parked in the driveway?”
“Why not? What’s with all the worry?” Frowning, she straightened, a bail handle in her grip. “Don’t you want me to come with you?”
Don’t question, don’t interpret. He moved closer to her, skimming the muscles of her arms with his fingers. Be truthful. “I want you with me, Aniela. I do.”
* * *
“You can keep going here, on past Napier to Oneida, then– ooops, I should have had you change lanes earlier. You’ll need to go on to Katonah now, Kepler being one way the wrong way. Go past the Rambling House and Behan’s, then left at John Donoghue’s. We’ll do a big loop around.”
“The Rambling House?” Catherine asked, putting on her blinker. “Behan’s?”
“Ah, I’ve measured the streets by the pubs, Catherine. I meant you should go left on 237th.”
Katonah Avenue. Dominic’s truck … She stared down the side street. It was there again, on 235th, just a few shops from the corner. She had questions she’d need answers for soon.
“Ours is just past the church, the yellowish one,” Eimear was saying. “There’s room in the driveway to pull in. You’ll not be blocking.”
Catherine shifted into park, peered up through the windshield. Two full floors and a windowed attic, a white-railed front porch. A small but riotous fenced yard.
“What a lovely house, Eimear. So welcoming. Have you always lived here?”
“I have. ‘Tis my childhood home. Is this anything like yours? Your growing-up neighborhood?”
Flowers filled the tiny front lawn, tulips and daffodils beneath coral-blossomed shrubs. A rose vined the porch railing, still in tight bud. The neighbor’s yard was just as colorful and boxed by a trimmed hedge, the next one up a thick green apron beneath a glossy-leaved tree. She followed Eimear up the steep steps.
“No, but it is like Joe’s. I’ve had dinner at his mother’s a few times and her street feels like this. As if you could go to any door and find a friend.”
“You could, but be prepared. They’d talk your ear off. You’ll meet a few of them this evening, plus a couple of Flynn’s brothers and some boys from the shop. And Martin. You’ll find our little community more like extended family, related somehow and in each other’s business too. There’s a lot of Irish, even now, though it’s finally a bit more diverse. The food at parties is improving.”
“Better than neeps and knuckle, you mean?”
“Could there be such?” Eimear asked, her brows arched.
“Martin. He’s an old family friend?”
“More than that.” Eimear opened the door to the scent of tomato sauce and wine. A young calico cat pranced in the foyer, tail up. A laugh rang out from a back room. “You can meet him now. That’s his voice you hear with Flynn’s.” Eimear dropped her purse on the seat of an oak hall tree, asked for Catherine’s jacket. “Martin’s priest at the church next door, and he’s been our second father. He’s a fine musician, famous in a certain circle. But mostly, he’s the man who loves our mother still.”
Chapter title: William Shakespeare. Sonnet 116.
Opening quotation: Letitia Elizabeth Landon. The Fairy of the Fountains.
- Robert Penn Warren. Fog.
- e. e. cummings. i thank you God for this most amazing.
- e. e. cummings. Silence.
- Note to Readers: This pledge refers to happenings post-A Great and Thorough Good, which have not been written … yet. (Not the cleaving of I Carry, nor the joining in Interludes, but something else, something further – an interim story-to-come.)
- Walt Whitman. Song of Myself.
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