sequel to The Only Gift

IRON BEHIND THE VELVET

 

 

chapter 16 ~ The Stars Stand Still to Hear

Something stranger, something sweeter,
something waiting you afar …

 

Is this anything like your childhood home? 

 

Growing up she’d entered a grand double door into a grander marbled foyer. Her after-school snack routinely laid out, she’d weave a path to the dining room. She remembered the echo of her flats on the stone and the swinging door, how it thwump-clacked behind the housekeeper’s retreat into the butler’s pantry. Sometimes she’d pull the silver candelabras closer to screen the table stretched long and empty before her, imagine them flaring into light in announcement of a fairytale companion. Later a mahogany staircase would sweep her to her third-floor rooms, and there she might settle in the window seat to read or finish her homework, but when the light dimmed she’d move to the first landing, a book on her knees, in wait of her father’s arrival. He’d blow in from Sutton Square with his arms out for her, calling home again, home again, jiggity jog as she dashed for him. Over the years, she’d made innumerable trips upstairs and down – dancing steps, trudging steps – yet the lustrous treads took no notice, bore no record of her existence there.

But here a narrow rectangle of light through iron grill-work lit a wainscoted vestibule, a faded, flowered wallpaper above its rail and cap … a humble flight of stairs. These old oak treads were worn, their edges rounded off; kicks and scrapes marred every riser. The handrail and its knobbed newel post gleamed though – from the daily caress, Catherine believed, of its family’s palms, the brush of their comings and goings. Evidence of life, of legacy. 

The entry’s tiled floor was a medallion of blues and browns framed by a chain of Celtic knots. “Rosie’s work?” she asked, tapping with one toe.

Eimear shook her head. “A friend’s. ‘Twas practice, she said. An early attempt she now finds full of flaws. We were lucky. She has a gallery in SoHo now and is much in demand.”

“What can she mean … flaws? It’s beautiful.”

Tsk, and what I tell her. We seem to carry around the rudest mirrors and turn them on ourselves, don’t we.”

Catherine followed past the archway to the living room where the furniture was pushed back, the rug, if there’d been one, taken away. At the back of the house, the kitchen – its gray formica and pale yellow walls, the soft green trim – bore the patina of age with a frayed charm. The wooden cabinets, black-hinged and glossed in butter-cream paint, were at least as old as Eimear, likely older, and the rounded-edged doors of the refrigerator reminded her of the big Foodarama in the kitchen of her parents’ lake house. Flynn stood busy at the counter, his back to them. Sheet pans of lasagna ready for the ovens crowded the patterned dinette, the rich white and red sauces offering up a delicious promise. A book lay open beside them. Their entry stirred the fragrant air, riffling a page, fanning it over.

“Ach!” Eimear yelped at the doorway. “I’m home too early. I was sure you’d have the tempest cleared away by now. But look at you, Martin, on the floor still.”

A man on his hands and knees on the linoleum whisk-broomed errant flour into a dustpan. His gray cabled sweater was chalked with handprints, and when he looked up, half-glasses slipped low on his nose. He pushed them to place, leaving a smudgy streak. If not for the shock of white hair and the puckish grin, he might remind her of Father.

“Three batches, Eim,” Flynn said, turning from his work. In the moment before he smiled, his brow charted with lines. “Hi, Catherine. It’s nice to see you again.”

She doubted his again, given their first meeting’s circumstances. She’d make no mention of it. “Flynn! Thank you for having me.” His eyes were a more startling blue than she remembered. In his hands, he held the disassembled parts of a pasta maker. “You made fresh noodles? Joe will keel over.” 

The segue seemed to work – the map of memories smoothed from his face and one corner of his mouth lifted in a smile. Returned to task, he started packing away the roller attachment, the handle …

“His mother does the same? Every time?” Eimear asked. 

“So Joe proclaims.”

“But does she powder the room floor to ceiling in the making? Martin, hop up now. I want you to meet Catherine.”

“Sadly, those days are over.” Groaning, Martin rose to his feet, his hand pressed to the small of his back. “Though I do thank you for pretending I might still have what it takes to hop.”

“Catherine, this is Martin Geraghty. I never imagined he’d be on scullery duty when you first laid eyes on him. Martin … Catherine Chandler.”

He took her hand, bending over it. “And why is it no one’s prepared me for your beauty?”

“Martin! That is so … Catherine, I don’t know what to say about him. In the old country, he’d be labeled an eejit.” Eimear’s glare was playful, ireless.

“Thank you, Father. It’s nice to meet you too.” 

Father. Only recently – relatively speaking – did Jacob greet her so warmly. A mélange of mirth and familiarity and juxtaposing coincidence bubbled up, but she held the expression back – a laugh would be hard to explain.

“You must call me Martin, yes? We’re family here.” He turned from her with a wink. “Is it too early for a wee drop? In celebration of our guest, you see.”

“Tea first, for pity’s sake, and in a bit,” Eimear directed. “I want to show Catherine the place.”

“You’re a mean girl, Eimear, the meanest, but I bow to you. I’ve a tray of After Eight biscuits in the rectory. I’ll change out of these floury clothes and fetch it back. I’ll be gone a tick.” Martin collected a cane from a coat-rack hook and made for the back door, but then, his hand on the latch, he froze. “Is, umm, Rosie on her way?”

“She’s likely here already. You might should check your garden.”

The screened door snapped shut behind him.

“Rosie wants her sculpture smack in the center of the church courtyard where the sun shines brightest on it and Martin wants it in a corner. To the side and in the shade, he puts it,” Eimear explained. “I’d say we’ll see who wins this one, but neither of us will take the bet.”

At her elbow, Flynn chuckled. From the window above the sink, they watched Martin cross the yard at a clip, scuttle through an archway in a stone wall.

“He’s getting on fine.” Eimear settled her hand over Flynn’s where his gripped the sink’s white porcelain rim and Catherine saw the muscled tension in his arm relax under her touch. “Barely a limp now. Twisted his ankle at the last ceili, he did. The Siege of Ennis did him in.”

Her secret required an insulating carefulness out in her world, but once, new people, new places and experiences were commonplace, her interactions free and easy. She would swear now to a gentle pressure between her shoulder blades, an encouraging wind, a zephyr’s whisper: Go on; it’s right. It’s all right. 

“Is, umm, the Siege of Ennis something I can pick up, or am I going to look completely foolish a few hours from now?”

“You’ll have a dozen partners, Catherine.” Flynn left the window to rummage a drawer, drawing out a fist-full of silver serving spoons. “All quite willing to teach you the steps to that dance and more.”

“You should go first, Flynn, a good teacher you are.” Eimear followed him to the trays of pasta. “You made the spinach and mushroom kind. Yum.” She pressed into his shoulder and Flynn’s arm encircled her waist, pulled her close.

He dropped a kiss to Eimear’s crown and Catherine looked away. A chasm of envy opened, greedy for her. If only … “So Martin’s a musician?” she asked, willing herself back from that abyss.

“One of the best,” Eimear said. “An All-Ireland winner several years running in his younger years. The flute and the concertina. He sings as well.”

“What about you two?”

“Somebody has to do the listening,” Flynn said. His fingers drummed the tabletop in a rhythmless beat.

Eimear reached past him for a noisy package of napkins, tearing into it. Their edges made neat, she stacked them on the table and twisted a fist in their center. They circled to a rosette. “He’s being modest. Flynn can manage the guitar if there’s a shortage – okay, okay, a dearth! A poverty!” she acquiesced at Flynn’s grimace of protest. “But I don’t play a note. And unlike our mother, I’ve no voice at all, against all the Irish stereotypes. Rosie’s just as dreadful. We took after Dad, I guess, who claimed the toaster as his only instrument. What about you, Catherine?”

“I’m all appreciation myself.” She held out her hands. “What can I do to help?”

“First, let me show you around,” Eimear said. “We’ll do a tour of the garden, maybe check in on Rosie and Martin. Then tea outside. It’s a pet day, sure. After all that, we’ll put you to work inside.”

 

They stood at the back fence. Masses of yellow and white and pink blossoms flanked a wandering grassed path. The afternoon sun slanted through the blooms of redbud and cherry trees, through an imbrication of yellow-green and red-orange leaves – Japanese maples, Eimear told her – the perimeter fencing almost obscured.

You bring the colors to us, Catherine. Colors that needed the light of day. Father feared forgetting them and Vincent … She vowed she would try, but there were no words for the garden’s refracted glory – an oasis, a refuge. If only he could see it.

“It’s beautiful. The tulips and daffodils and so many roses! And those espaliered trees on the stone wall – are they apples?”

“Crabapples, actually. We make the most delicious jelly from them. “Tis the only apple native to Ireland, one of the Nobles of the Wood.”

Eimear thumbed a pruned rose cane. The angled cut was healed over, a neat white scar, and tender leaves burst from the buds below. There was poetry in it – the clearing away of damage and clutter to guide light to the center, to direct a rose’s focus … its energies … to new growth. A necessary wound.

“Funny, the things you choose when you can’t take everything with,” Eimear said. “Did you see the umbrella stand in the front hall? The thing with the grotesque handle and the hideous fish coiled around its base.” Eimear laughed at her polite protest. “Oh, it’s altogether ugly. We’ve always thought so, but Mom smuggled her crabapple and rose cuttings over in it. Most of these you see here traveled first from Barrybeg to Rosturra, then on to the boat for America. She nursed the first ones in pots until she and Dad bought this house more for the miracle of the double lot and the stone wall reminding her of home than its insides. You’ll come back, I hope, to see the roses in bloom.”

“I’d love to.” With no apartment buildings or high-storied houses nearby, the fences and trees blocked the view of the neighboring properties; the churchyard wall was higher still. And over all, more expansive than that seen from the deep of Manhattan’s canyon streets, a blue sky arched. Except for the carry of voices, the scratch of sparse traffic, the city all but disappeared. Do you take care of all this yourself?”

“I’ll help out, sure, but Flynn cares for what our mother started. Incongruous, some might think. A man his size and nature. But he finds … an away-ness in it, if that makes any sense.” Eimear’s gaze fastened on her kitchen window. A shadow passed inside. “Do you have a garden, Catherine?”

“Just a balcony. But I do have a rose. Red and white blooms on a single plant.”

Ah. The Unity. Red for love’s courage, white for secrecy and silence. Mom had one of those. She loved the flower languages.” Amid a bed of narcissus and grape hyacinth, a birdbath sat just askew on its stand. Eimear leveled it and in the water’s reflection, her smile wavered. “I met Flynn in this garden.”

“You said you’ve known him half your life.”

“Nearly that, yes,” Eimear said. “It was a Saturday afternoon much like this one. I’d spent the night at a friend’s across the street. Mom was so sick by then, and I denied it, but when I opened the door, the house was too quiet. I called for her, but there was no answer, and I started upstairs feeling as I might should I swallow a live coal. Then I heard voices. She was outside talking with Flynn, though I only just knew his name. He was new at my school that week, three grades ahead. His family’d moved from Queens to the next block, his four brothers and his parents and grandmother too. His mother went to Martin for work for her boys, and Martin sent Flynn on to mom. She taught him that spring and summer, her last, to care for her flowers.”

They’d meandered the path to the apple’d wall. In such close province, the air was scented deep-pink, so heavy she thought she might gather the perfume in her hands. “Then you’ve been together since high school,” Catherine said.

“Oh, no.” Eimear reached for a twig of blooms, breaking it off. “I’d moon about upstairs at my window to watch him work, and after what I believed a reasonable time, I’d venture out with lemonade or cookies. He’d stand and I’d stammer. A month of this passed between us until one day, Mom came out, weak as a kitten but strong enough to send me running to the house. I watched as she dragged Flynn to a bench, talking a mile a minute and right in his face. From that day forward, he was kind to me but aloof, even after Mom …” She bit her lip. “He tended the garden afterwards with Martin his mentor – and my watchdog – and Rosie paying him and Flynn turning over the last dime of his wages to his own mother for food, remaining just as distant to me. One day, I cornered him, asking him to a church turn-about – a Sadie Hawkins-type dance, yes?  But he was very firm. I was too young for him, he said, and he’d be moving on after graduation anyway. Years later, he told me my mother threatened to haunt him for all eternity should he allow me even one fantasy before I turned twenty-one.”

“Did he call you on your birthday?”

“On my twenty-second. He gave it an extra year for good measure, and even then he was slow about it.” Eimear dimpled and blushed. “Mom could be rather emphatic,” she finished.

Catherine tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “That’s a sweet story, Eimear, but painful too … about your mother.”

“Ah, ‘tis that and a loss we’re never over, are we.”

“No.”

“We’re you close with your father, Catherine?” Eimear passed over the branch in her hand.

Catherine brought the honeyed flowers to her nose. “When I was younger, yes. But I started wanting different things, and after a while I didn’t know what I wanted. And then my life became … complicated. When he died, there were things I thought he couldn’t possibly understand, but …”

“He does, after all?”

Only Vincent knew of the midnight visitation, of the foretelling portrait that was her father’s parting gift.1 A blessing given, regret assuaged, three worlds bridged by love and magic …

She’d imagined Vincent the only one who could believe, but Eimear’s choice of words proved otherwise – he does, rather than he did 

Wrong, it seemed now, to keep that message from others who might, who would accept.

“I want to think so,” she said, but she’d taken too long to answer, and when she met Eimear’s gaze, she saw curiosity and sympathy at once, a saddened expectancy.

“There’s much you keep to yourself, isn’t there,” Eimear murmured. “But you are happy, aren’t you, despite your privacies?”

“Not despite.”

“But because.” Eimear swiped at her cheeks. “Look at us. We need to find our party faces or Rosie will be all over us with the questions. And Martin! He can get a rock to sing. He’ll have us blathering and missing the dance.” She broke a second spray from the crabapple and stripped it, leaving a cluster of pink blossoms at the tip. “A fairy wand,” Eimear explained, holding the twig aloft. Her smile flared. “Mom would make these for us every spring. She would … anoint us … to renew our spirits and open our hearts. Legend has it that the apple-wood is passport to the palaces of Tír-na-nog, to our otherworld, where you will have feasts and drink and sweet music on the strings and, beyond them, gifts which I have no leave to tell of.”2 She brushed the silken petals along Catherine’s jaw, tapped twice upon her shoulder. “Shall we go together?”

Eimear was being fanciful – this was a beautiful, private place, but still … only a flowery  backyard in the Bronx. Yet … she’d once dreamed of Camelot herself – her own otherworld – with no one to share it. If she’d had a childhood friend like Eimear … 

And now, she knew a true Otherworld. Did she dare dream a new dream?

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere) …

changing everything carefully 3

The words came from nowhere.

Vincent?

Already she’d need days with him, just him, to chronicle the earlier surprising hours, and now this, this too, this familiarity, a new language of yes she was so close to learning. 

* * *

Returned from his time at the caged stairwell, he shouldered the iron pipe again, this time bearing steady while Mouse clamped and tightened and caulked the joints. His moment of union with Catherine necessarily enisled … cloistered … an unassuaging countdown began, heartbeat by heartbeat … to see her, be with her, to hold herto hear  … the hour of their next intimacy unfixed. He lost interest in their planned luncheon long before Mouse opened his pack. After half an apple and a square of cheese, he leaned back, closed his eyes. Impossible, he knew, but he’d swear he heard birdsong, and  in his mind’s eye, the colors cast and cast and cast again as if in a slow-turning kaleidoscope. A portal opened and he stepped through to an unacquainted twilight – overhead a full, silvered moon shared sky with a bright-beaming sun … a strange but marvelous marriage.

A nudge, boot to boot … more than a tap, if less than a kick …

“Next part … not so easy,” Mouse was saying. “Needs you. Needs me. Needs us both.”

He nodded in acknowledgement. At least he thought he did.

“You back, Vincent?” Mouse probed. “All the way?”

“I am.” I will be. “Five minutes.”

“Ten’s better. Better eat, too.”

 

Strapped in a harness, suspended alongside an old ladder, Vincent re-drilled the stone, cleaned each deep hollow with a wire brush in preparation for the new braces. The contraption, as Mouse called the invention they’d install next, was complicated; its attachment required perfect alignment. Measure twice, cut once was an inadequate adage – he measured three times before he made a mark, once more before he set the bit.

He drove the last anchor deep into the wall; the base structure should hold steady now. Unless his eyesight fooled him, the uprights were plumb. Nevertheless, he held the old brass and rosewood spirit level to every plane – the railings, the crossbars. Its bubble hovered dead-center between the notches. Next they’d position the telescoping section, one they could raise and lower at will … if Mouse’s control mechanism worked. 

He gripped the rail, hooked a boot to swing himself into place, climbing a step or two to relieve the tension on the safety rope in order to test the rungs. Leaning out to confirm the moorings, he pulled at the bars, wrenched and yanked and shifted his weight.

“Okay good, okay fine!” Mouse called down.

He started up, hand over hand, the buckles and carabiners, the tools in his belt clacking. He’d need to inspect the ropes carefully once on level ground; the slightest cut or weakness could bring on disaster the next time out. Who knew when they’d next need a rope. Later he’d clean and oil the cams of the climbing kit, check the belay loop, each and every gate, the quickdraws, the lockjack … Pass every component along to a crewmate for confirmation.

A blissful hush returned when the gas-powered generator Dominic had provided was switched off. The chain-suspended lanterns began to rise, leaving him in the diffused illumination of his world. 

In a blink, the native light took shape, raying down, obscuring the ladder he ascended. A brilliance engulfed him.

Catherine is near. 

Not just close, for she was always that. 

But near … as if she might appear in the opening above him, invite him into the sunlight she wore.

Believing, wanting to believe, he looked up, but it was Damien’s face he saw, then Aniela’s. Then Mouse leaned in and shook his head. A grim eclipse. 

Hand over hand over hand again … with each reach and pull, the perceived radiance dimmed. Out of the shaft, quiet, he shrugged the rigging into Mouse’s care. Quiet, he dragged the bag of tools from the shaft, disengaged its tethering rope and coiled it, carried all to a protected niche. The last thing they’d need would be to lose the kit over the edge. 

He turned and folded his arms.

“Tell me.”

“It’s Kanin …” Aniela began, shifting foot to foot.

His back against the wall, he slid to a restless crouch to listen.

 

 

His … Other … followed always – sleepless, patient, fierce, formidable – coupled to him in some alter-world below his feet. And when there was no choice … The Exchange … was painless.

No moment of resistance or welcome – he simply was … then was again.

Trans-shaped. 

Tragedy and exaltation.

No whispery request, but a blare of brass horn.

No cry of grief … for that came later.

Himself … then not. Or himself … and then more? 

The question lingered, unanswerable. 

Anger came easily to his Other, frustration a familiar taste. He ran his tongue over sharp-set teeth. 

To relinquish the song of himself and attend another’s needs …

Let others – others! – probe the mystery if they can.4

Too close – all of them. Always wanting. 

The aloneness he claimed fate, he longed for.

 

The furrowing of his brow pained him. He glared down the passageway where shadows billowed like storm clouds. An ill-wind, sour and sweet, snaked along the tunnel floor. 

Yet out of its purling reach, Choice remained.

I’m here, he heard … in Catherine’s voice.

His Other diminished.

 

 

“Cullen was right,” he said, and when he took a breath, his frozen companions did too. “We should keep this off the pipes. Olivia does not need this, nor does Father. Still, I suppose I’ll have to–”

“You aren’t going after him!” Aniela interrupted. “You can’t. It’s too dangerous.” She blocked the way with little more than attitude, her hands in her back pockets. “And maybe Kanin’s back already. Couldn’t we send some kind of message, something that wouldn’t give too much away, to ask?”

What dire offence from am’rous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things5

Trivial. He could only hope.

“I must … at least … assess the situation.” He drew another breath, releasing it slowly through tightened lips. The concession was one he hoped would mollify his audience, end any further debate … free him to his obligations. “Changes must be made in the work teams. If I’m not here to do my part …

“We’ll go with you,” Damien offered.

“No!” A guttural exasperation rushed his single word. He began a solitary pacing in the cramped passage. “You will not. You’ll stay here, Damien, and supervise the work. You’ll keep on task and on schedule as much as possible without me. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.”

He turned to Mouse. “You’ll need to take care of the tools. Clean and oil all the handles and sharpen the blades and edges. Check them against inventory and lay them out for the next crew. Rinse and dry the ropes and then inspect them, inch by inch. Make sure they don’t get tangled. Coil them and hang them up.”

“Sure, Vincent. Know all that.”

“Don’t tell the rest of the crew yet. Just say …”

“Say you’ve gone west to check on something. Easy. Not even a fib.”

A hand clamped to Mouse’s shoulder, he dug his fingers into the muscle. “You and Damien … don’t let up. No parties.”

“Joke, right Vincent?” Mouse laughed. “No cake! No party.”

He heard the echo of his triuned noise, a sigh-rumble-laugh. “You two are in charge. Work together. Work safely. I’ll send word.”

“Maybe Kanin’s back already. Yell at him, turn around, walk off. No problem.”

He released his grip. If only …

“You could just let him do this thing, Vincent,” Aniela argued. “He wants to go across the perimeter to look around? It’s his choice.”

“Depending on who he meets, he might endanger the community with his return.”

Damien blinked in recognition. “You mean he might lead outsiders right to our door?”

Vincent bent to gather his pack, his canteen, his cloak. As he swept by, Aniela reached for him, but Damien caught her hand.

* * *

A teasing argument floated over the stone wall, luring Catherine and Eimear to the arched gateway of the churchyard. Within its walls, more tulips, more daffodils grew beneath purple lilacs and yellow-blooming shrubs. In intricate and patterned beds, low hedges twined, their leaves a glossy black-green. Gnarled guardians – trees with twisted trunks and spiraled branches – commanded the four corners.

“Oh!” she whispered, edging through at Eimear’s elbow. “Is this more of Flynn’s work?”

“He’s the shovel-man these days, but Martin does the tending. He appreciates the exercise. And the privacy. He fears an influx of clucking parish ladies after Ro installs her Immortals here.” Eimear urged her toward the shadowy covered walkway appended to the long wall. “Let’s watch.”

Rosie stood at the center of the walled garden, Martin across the way. Andrew sprawled on a bench, his eyes closed, his feet propped on the sculpture’s base still strapped to a dolly.

“Martin, that old fountain hasn’t worked in years. You took the broken basin away last spring. Now it’s just this stub of concrete. It’s unsightly. No, appalling. That’s a perfect spot and you know it.” Rosie pointed at her chosen location.

“Rosie, Rosie … please. Over here by the old dormitories. ‘Tis so lonely here and barren. People will stroll the ambulatory and gaze across … on the magnificence, even in the rain.” Standing before two weathered-gray wooden doors, Martin spread his arms wide.

“That corner is lonely and barren because those rooms are empty! Nobody uses them. They hardly even have windows. And no one strolls the ambulatory. Even if they start, they’ll quit soon enough, particularly if you hand them the pruners or a rake or lead them to a wheelbarrow full of compost.” Rosie took step forward. “And what are you calling magnificent? Your garden or my angel?”

Martin mumbled a few words under his breath. 

“What?” Rosie squealed, her eyes wide. “What did you say?”

“I said, ‘tis your space, Rosie. Have at it. I’m no match for you.”

Eimear applauded. “Tell Catherine the truth, Martin, You were always going to say yes, weren’t you.”

“Without a doubt.” He grinned as Andrew and Rosie wrestled away the old concrete base. “Now to those biscuits and our tea. ‘Tis getting late.”

“Look at this,” Rosie said with satisfaction, sitting back on her heels. “He’s already cut out the copper pipes under the fountain.”

 

Behind them, Flynn called Eimear’s name, and they both jumped in surprise. Martin’s hitching gait clattered the rectory steps and his screen door screeched and banged, but Flynn’s approach had been silent. His training, Catherine surmised. Perhaps his nature. 

“The school’s on the phone,” he said.

Eimear tugged at the collar of her shirt. “What is it?”

Flynn shrugged.

“I’ll be back in a tick, Catherine. Flynn’ll watch you.” She started away, turned back. “Give me your branch there. I’ll strip and smash the stem and put it in water for our centerpiece.”

 

Left alone together, they stood in the shaded gateway, cool between two jeweled gardens. Peace seemed a presence there, gentling the long pause. 

“Eimear sounds so much like Martin sometimes,” she ventured, “but Rosie …”

“… not so much,” Flynn agreed. “Their mom put it this way once – I’ve never forgotten it.  She said, they’re both beautiful fliers, my girls, like swallows high above the flaggy shore; Rosie’s a blue-dark knot of glittering voltage, and Eimear’s a scamper of colors.”He chuckled softly. “Lily – Eimear’s mother – made it sound better, of course. I don’t do a lot of poetry out loud. And I had to look up what she meant by the flaggy shore.” 

“I’d have to, too, but I can see what she meant.”

He leaned against a slatted wooden door in the wall, his arms behind his back. A storage room? Curious, she nearly asked, but a pattern inlaid in the walkway commanded his attention – two intertwined hearts. She let his silence dwell.

“The Flaggy Shore’s what they call the coastline of County Clare.”

She nodded and his reverie returned. In his quiet, she sensed a dim rhythm, a slow pulse, a strengthening vibration.

 “Thank you again,” he said. 

She took a step closer to better hear. 

“For your help through that last legal part of the investigation.You were very kind.” 

“It wasn’t kindness. We understood what happened.”

Flynn offered … not a frown exactly, more a downturned-smile …

So familiar. Catherine took a breath, plunged ahead. “Joe and I were at the precinct last week. Tuesday. I saw you in the hall with the brass and you didn’t look happy. Do you need … I mean … can I help somehow?”

“Oh, Tuesday … that meeting.” Flynn chuffed and shook his head. “It wasn’t even about me … well, not entirely. A difference of … approach. Nothing I can’t handle.”

When he looked up at her, his eyes seemed a different blue of deeper waters. Closing the door.

“I didn’t want to bother Eimear with all that,” he said. “Just another day on the job. There’s a lot that needs fixing, out there on the street and inside too. Inside the ranks, I mean. I’m not particularly popular with the higher-ups.”

“I understand. Joe and I’ve gone toe-to-toe with Moreno a few times. We aren’t invited to all the parties any more.” 

“The proverbial blessing in disguise, huh?” Flynn pushed off the door, tucked his hands in his pockets. “A while back Eimear told me you wanted an off-range shooting instructor. That can’t be good.”

She hadn’t expected that from him.

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure now.” How she wished she’d never given voice to Jamie’s request. At the time, it seemed … considerable. Today … unthinkable. Denial of its ever-necessity seemed her only weapon.

“I know what happened to you, Catherine,” Flynn said. “At least what information was released. If your attackers have resurfaced …”

He didn’t sidestep her reality, hedge, or soften the words he used. Only Vincent did the same.

“They haven’t.” They couldn’t. “It wasn’t for me,” she told him. “And I don’t think it’s an issue any more.” Please let that be true, now and forever.

“Okay.” Flynn gave her a long, steady look. “If your friend needs protection,” he went on, “you’d do better with self defense classes. I know a great guy for that. Mean and dirty, New York City street fighting, nothing fancy. Teaches you to use …”

“… what you’ve got. I think we know the same guy.” Isaac. Imagine that.

They stood in the shaded gateway, cool between two jeweled gardens, their silence companionable. But then Andrew waved goodbye and Eimear called them to the tea table. Martin tucked up Rosie’s arm and the pair ambled their way. 

 

The centerpiece vase was no more than a kitchen tumbler, but the tea service Eimear carried to the table was fine china, a basket-weave pattern with twig-shaped handles, a pale yellow-bisque interior that caught every ray of afternoon sun.

“Everything all right at work, Eim?” Flynn asked, quarter-filling his empty cup with milk, passing the pitcher on to Rosie. Martin followed suit, then, with a questioning tip of his head, did the same for her. 

“’Tis the Irish way,” Martin whispered, close to her ear. “Milk first to keep from staining the porcelain.”

Eimear’s hand shook as she poured the steaming tea. “Fine. It was, you know, just Helen, relaying some messages.”

There was a paleness in Eimear’s voice, a faltering. “You sure?” Catherine asked.

Rosie studied her face. “What is it, Eim? You look funny.”

Eimear poured another cup, and another, the stream coming surer. “Thanks so much, Ro. It’s nothing. Just a little work that can wait ‘til Monday to sort out. It’s nothing,” she repeated. “Flynn, I put the pasta in the ovens and set the timer. After tea, we’ll all pitch in with the salad making. You remembered the bread, didn’t you, Rosie?”

“Joe’s bringing it. He has an in with a baker, he said. Do you know anything about that, Catherine?”

“Joe has ins with a lot of bakers. He has a weakness for pastry too. He particularly likes Rocco’s.”

Ah, a weakness.” Rosie smiled, tipping the box of Martin’s mints to a tray just sized for them. “And one I might enjoy exploiting.”

“If you even need to,” Catherine teased. “When should he be here?”

“Is he the sort who’s always right on the button?”

“He is.”

“Then soon. I’ll have to take his watch from him, maybe help him lose the constraints of time tonight.”

Slip the surly bonds of earth is more like it,” Martin mumbled.8 “He’s a goner, he is.”

“Next weekend’s the installation ceremony. Catherine, you’ll have to come back,” Rosie said.

“I’d like that. What happens then?” She’d take photographs if Rosie would allow it … for Vincent, for him to see, to know … the little girl, never afraid.

“We’ll christen it with Guinness,” Rosie went on, “and Martin will bless it and us and then play a lovely tune.”

“He’s always done that,” Eimear added, “at every milestone in our lives.”

Martin beamed around the table. “Love conquers all things. Let us surrender to love.”9

“Virgil,” Catherine said.

“You know The Ecologues?” Martin brows shot up and stayed up. “That marks the second obscure quotation I’ve tossed off that someone knew. Why, just last night I–” He tapped his lips with two fingers. “I’m losing my touch,” he said. “I must study up.”

* * *

The pull

To Catherine …

To the mysterious wall, to the music at the stairs …

So strong … as if in convergence …

But this route … was forced. 

Two rope bridges lay between camp and the first junction and one more after that on the way to the western work site. The corridors long unused, this particular section under Van Cortland Park – a silent passage, pipeless – seemed unusually close and dank, like a cellar, like a vault. His thoughts were loud in his mind, and in the stillness of the tunnel, his annoyance, his frustration seemed to echo and ricochet around him. He headed into the stirred cloud, breathed it … became it.

He willed calm, but, like a turbulent surf, his thoughts, his feelings, crashed and dragged, crashed again. Resentment, concern, sympathy, disdain. Misgiving and pique nagged his footsteps, and the farther he traveled from Catherine’s presence, the more indignant he became. Words muttered into the darkness, sour and bitter off his tongue, fell like stones to his path. He kicked his way though, but still they stung his feet.

 

Eimear's entryway

Eimear’s Entryway

________________

Title and opening quotation: G. K. Chesterton. The Strange Music. 1915.

1. from the story The Only Gift 
2. C. S. Littleton. Mythology: the Illustrated Anthology of World Myth and Storytelling

https://em.flinthillspagans.org/irelands-own-myth-and-magics/the-otherworld-tir-na-nog/

Tir-na-nog: “It is the most delightful land of all that are under the sun; the trees are stooping down with fruit and with leaves and with blossom. Honey and wine are plentiful there; no wasting will come upon you with the wasting away of time; you will never see death or lessening. You will get feasts, playing and drinking; you will get sweet music on the strings; you will get silver and gold and many jewels. You will get everything I have said…and you will get gifts beyond them which I have no leave to tell of.” Thus it was that the Otherworld, the mystical enchanted land of many Celtic myths, was described to the warrior Oisin by the faerie-woman Niamh of the Golden Hair.

3. e. e. cummings. Spring is Like a Perhaps Hand.
4. Theodore Roethke. The Right Thing.
5. Alexander Pope. The Rape of the Lock. 1712.
6. Ted Hughes. Work and Play.
7. from the story I Carry Your Heart. Chapter 3. Counterparts.
8. John Gillespie Magee, Jr. High Flight. 1941.
9. Virgil. Ecologues. 44-38 BC.

2 Comments

  1. Ah, the hideous umbrella stand! Don’t you just love coming across old items that are just so completely hideous and marvelous at the same time? My great-aunt had a similar umbrella stand, except it was lacquered with this truly ugly bird pattern. At least I think they were birds, but they were so graceless and lumpy looking it was impossible to imagine they would ever take flight. It was just ghastly looking and completely irresistible. My aunts argued over who would get to have the umbrella stand when their mom went into assisted living. Instead, she took it WITH her, and it became a conversation starter. My grandmother had a huge pretzel tin that was a similarly well-loved monstrosity, not just for the tasty pretzels she always kept inside, but also for the ridiculously ugly cowboys and horses stamped all over the outside. My other grandmother had an iron doorstop shaped somewhat like the world’s ugliest Scottish terrier. Those ugly things everyone remembers and talks and laughs about become touchstones.

    I love this chapter because it creates two astonishing word-portraits. The first, of course, is of adorable Martin covered in flour. Another Father, but this one dressed up in Irish whimsy and a very different kind of regret and loss.

    The other is — the Other. Or perhaps more accurately, a stirring and electric description of how Vincent’s second nature exists just beneath the skin. I’m especially thrilled by this passage:

    His … Other … followed always – sleepless, patient, fierce, formidable – coupled to him in some alter-world below his feet. And when there was no choice … The Exchange … was painless.

    No moment of resistance or welcome – he simply was … then was again.

    Trans-shaped.

    Tragedy and exaltation.

    No whispery request, but a blare of brass horn.

    No cry of grief … for that came later.

    Himself … then not. Or himself … and then more?

    The question lingered, unanswerable

    Reply
    • I’m so glad the umbrella stand resonated within your family’s story! Ghastly and irresistible – that is a perfect picture. I’m loving the idea of touchstones too, particularly for characters other than Vincent. When they couldn’t bring everything from their lives above, what did they bring. That would make a great CABB or WFOL writing challenge!

      Thank you so much for your kind words – your encouragement makes me want to keep going, even when the way is slow and hard. It really helps to know you’re reading and finding enjoyment; it means everything.

      Hugs!
      Carole

      Reply

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