sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 18 ~ Moulded Like in Nature’s Mint
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart
and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow
that is giving you joy
The coincidence of their convergence – the two of us – not in the sunshine perhaps, but in this place …
What stranger miracles are there?
Why, who makes much of a miracle? his Other badgered. 1
When I am rich, he used to say
a thousand joys I’ll give away. 2
Will I sacrifice this joy? Will I?
His Darkness darkly chuckled.
He could neither settle nor depart and though the music masked his movements, his pacing was practiced silence. In that inaccessible land where others strode unrestricted, arms swinging, full-voiced, eyes forward, skyward, wide … he padded shadow-to-shadow, head down. The skill mocked him; the requirement burned.
His was a cramped patrol within the wall, his circuit constricting until he was wound about himself, yoked under equal weights of envy and demand, his fists balled, his wrists crossed at his chest.
Loud! Loud! Loud! I call to you my love! 3
He reached out, lifted the chain, palmed the heavy lock. An impotent attempt to stay him.
She is mine … my lover … my life.
The truth of the words – their solace – warred with his need to shout them, to shoulder open the door and this … man … aside, to take his place beside her. Through long-nursed channels of doubt, his blood warmed and rushed and he was seized with misgiving. The spiteful whisper resumed, its recitation a cruel poem of a life lived in a dark and empty hall. He saw himself seated at an ancient desk. No blank page awaited the recording of his thoughts – the surface was bare but for stains and grit and a single guttering candle, its last flame fanned by his pointless breath.
His aloneness cackled from the murk.
Such pangs my nature sinks beneath and feels a temporary death. 4
He closed his eyes and covered his ears.
It wasn’t enough.
A gathering not unlike those Below …
It was entirely different, stingingly different. This was Catherine’s world where she lived forever apart from him; where, from her friends, she must forever isolate herself. From worthy suitors, she would forever sidestep, forever hide her secret – the secret of him.
How does she bear this?
How do I?
* * *
Neal raked his fingers through his hair. “I’ve made an error, haven’t I? Though really, who could blame me for trying.” He grinned at her and backed away. “Cathy … regardless … you’re a lot of fun. I hope to see you again.”
She watched him quick-step to the house, returned his wave, laughed at his fake stumble over a round-clipped bush. A nice man, she thought, but when she turned to share the teasing moment, she felt a stab of surprise to find herself alone. Her hand rose to the wooden door. Beneath her palm beat a steady heart – the drum’s rhythm.
In the night air, music sang along an age-old glen of gorse and bell heather, a susurrus of primeval wind. Her breath quickened and she knew a stirring, leaned closer, reached for the latch. Her hand closed on the cast iron bolt …
“Well, well!” Martin’s words sailed over her shoulder, but she managed not to jump. “It appears you’ve dumbstruck a dozen lads this evening, my dear. ‘Twas not only I who was unprepared for your beauty.”
“Go on with you,” she said, smiling when he winked at her. “I left an impression, all right. On their toes.”
“Indeed, I found you quite light on my feet.” Martin snickered at his own joke. “Truthfully, now, you waltz beautifully. You’ve had practice at that, have you?”
“I love the waltz.”
“Did you know the dance was once considered quite risqué?”
“Imagine that!” Hoping to hide a mirth and a memory she couldn’t fully explain, she settled against the deep jamb, gazed past him to the churchyard. Along the low stacked-stone border of the flower bed, a march of paper bag lanterns flickered, their pierced designs the evening’s craft of the children in attendance.
“Ah, such a lovely smile,” he said. “What brings it on?”
“You remind me of someone, Martin.”
“Well, ’tis obviously a grand comparison, yes?” He shuffle-tapped one foot. “Shall we sit then? I’ve enough of playing and dancing for this night and it’s a fine late evening.” He dragged two folding chairs from the churchyard into the sheltered space, levering them open, setting their backs against the wall with its narrow door. “A craic, was it? A good time?” he asked, handing her to a seat. “And you’ll come back?”
His grip was courtly, hardly more than touch, and yet assuring. Eimear’s rock.
“It was fun … is … and I’d love to. Eimear said – next Saturday? For Rosie’s installation.”
“Yes, yes. The statue. You’ve seen it, which means she asked you the, umm, question. And that she approved your answer.” He turned to her, shifting to a hip in his chair, his forearm resting along the top rail. “So tell me. What did you think of it, the sculpture?”
“It’s … extraordinary.”
She crossed her arms, hugged her elbows.
“Oh, dear, are you cold? Shall we go inside?”
Martin’s face wrinkled to a focused concern. She’d not be able to hide either her smile or the shiver she felt, and she wondered if her expression was startled even now, if he would question her, press her, but he nodded, accepting her first demurral. He shifted again, settling square, his hands on his knees.
Father’s storytelling mode.
“It comes with credentials straight from Genesis, sure,” he went on, “yet I’ll not hear the end of it from certain parishioners, a few being a bit, ummm, uptight – do you youngsters still use that word? – about what those of the divine world should and should not be doing in ours. Irish they all are to some degree, but now and then I get a sideways glance over a garden ornament – a garden ornament – as if a triskele inspires suspicion, and once a fellow yelped at finding the Green Man’s face hidden within the jasmine on the west-facing wall when he leaned in for a sniff. Ahh, well …” Martin dusted his hands. “The tut-tuts will rise, but so will attendance … for a few weeks at least. ‘Twill be the price of admission for viewing Rosie’s latest, morning Mass will. Of course, hardly anyone, anyone at all, will understand …” Martin stared into his garden, his demeanor suddenly grave. In the soft light of candle and leaf-filtered street lamps, the swath of white tulips he’d planted outside the ambulatory flared with a sepia luster. “It is beautiful. Powerful. So much of Rosie’s certainty evidenced there. ‘Tis almost life-changing to look upon it.”
His words trailed away, and the music flooded the stillness between them.
Life-changing … yes. It will heal a deep hurt. There must be a way, Vincent. A way for you to see …
“Eimear has spoken of you, Catherine.” Martin’s tone was low-pitched, for her alone. “She knew kinship with you, she told me, from your first meeting. As Rosie must have.”
“I felt it too. And today, at Rosie’s studio …” She spread her hands. “It’s strange. I can’t explain it.”
“You don’t have to, A Mhuirnín.” Martin held her gaze for a long moment. “Do you know the anam cara? The soul friend? Hmmm,” he murmured when she shook her head. “‘Tis a bit of a story, but I’m thinking you’d take well to the old ways, to the belief in ancient knowing.”
Though his eyes wrinkled at the corners, though he smiled, he wasn’t being playful. What illumination filtered into the alcove made plain his expression of approving estimation.
“You would? Why? Why would you think that of me?” A sharp rise of want spilled over into her voice – she could hear it. An accumulation of daybreaks gathered just beyond her reach.
“Because Eimear’s knowing was recognition,” Martin answered. “And strong it was. An awakening, she said, like a breeze across embers. ‘Tis impossible … impossible it was but one-sided.”
She drew in a breath perfumed with the surprise of joy.
A race of children – two girls, three boys – careened around the corner and through the archway, making a laughing lap about the churchyard. Skidded to a stop, they volleyed for place, each with a story for Martin of their school week – a rained-out field trip to the botanical gardens, a troublesome exam, a lost step-dancing shoe, brand-new and its wearer in trouble. Grounded, she admitted, starting the next afternoon. Martin listened, his manner serious, then expounded on adaptability and patience, the value of study, of responsibility and thrift. Catherine pressed a knuckle to her lips. The complaints might be Kipper’s, Samantha’s, Geoffrey’s; Martin’s edifying counsel Father’s.
“You’ve known Eimear and Rosie since they were that age,” Catherine said, once she and Martin were again alone. The music had quieted, more than a few band members having packed up their instruments, corralling their unwearied offspring as they passed through to the house for goodbyes. Still a sweet melody of mood and moonlight sang from the garden.
“A bit younger even, yes.” Martin said as he leaned back in his chair. “They’re wonderful, magical girls.”
“You’re very important to them. Eimear told me …”
“Like my own daughters, they are, as they might have been, had I shown more – what’s a polite word for it – pluck – yes, years ago. I love them with all my heart … as I loved their mother.”
“I’d love to hear your story, Martin.”
“‘Tis too long and too sad for this fine night. I’ll say just this for now. She was the darling of my life, my heart’s best treasure, but I was too unfinished. I couldn’t match her. Destiny can be so terribly delicate.” He shook his head, sighing. “Ahh, ‘twas a lifetime ago. You’ll think me a silly romantic.”
“No, I won’t. I don’t.”
She wanted to hear more about Eimear’s mother and a young Martin … more about Rosie and the night in the park, about the anam cara. But a cloud of quiet party-goers drifted through the archway, stopping to speak, to clasp hands, to say goodnight.
“May health and safety be with you,” Martin translated. “Be safely home.”
Slán go foill.
“Safety for a while,” he interpreted, “meaning goodbye … for now.”
After the last well-wisher took leave, Martin sat down again, but on the very edge of his chair. He clapped his hands twice.
As much as she wished it weren’t, the evening was drawing to its close.
“So …” he said, “if our Neal’s not to your liking, might I point out another lad to you, one who’s grand altogether?”
“That’s sweet of you, Martin and I’m sure you’re a fine matchmaker.” He beamed his agreement. “But, I’m …”
“More than that.”
His gaze shifted to her bare left hand. “Married, then?”
“Even more than that.” Stumbling on the phrasing, grateful to name what was, she couldn’t suppress the welling in her eyes. For the second time that day she’d claimed him out loud, above.
“Even more than that, Martin repeated. “A marvelous story’s borne on those words, yes? As Eimear and Flynn’s, perhaps. Another twin flame. ‘Twould be no wonder you’ve felt a bond with each other, few enough on this earth so you would gravitate together.”
“I’m not sure what you mean … is that … what you said before, the anam cara?”
“Ah, yes, ‘tis that, sure, but as you put it … even more.”
He reached for her hands, clasping them between his. Under his touch, her fingers threaded; her palms came together around a new-kindled heat. She blinked away a luminescence, a flaring surely imagined.
“Twin flames,” he intoned. “The reunited single soul. The other half of yourself who mirrors your deepest truth. Two spirits rushed together, their knowing overwhelming, undeniable. Tested in fire, you endure, and apart, even at great distances, the connection is constant, a blue-silver chord that cannot be broken.” He tipped his head. “Is it like that for you?”
She had no words … no other words. Only … “Yes. Yes.“
* * *
Her words were symphonic, a thousand resonate strings, the lowest, strongest notes steadying the staccato of his heart. More than that. Her avowal echoed, resounded … and into the spaces she was required to leave nameless, light surged.
He held out his hands, palms up – their fill of sighs and tears stirring, taking glittery form … rising … spangling.
All nearness pauses, while a star can grow. 5
My love. My life …
She was his deliverance, but – obstinate, incredulous, hesitant – he had denied her sweet assurances, squandered precious hours. How many times would he require her repetition?
Don’t question, don’t interpret. Believe. Have I no faith in my own advice?
He knew enough, had heard … enough. He left his hiding place, descending the stairs in solemn step, filled with single purpose, with anticipation, with promise.
I’ll find you … Tonight.
* * *
Martin pressed on.
“It’s said you most often meet your twin flame after experiencing a dark night of the soul; the pain … the emptying out … prepare you for one another, prepare a space.” After a long moment, his voice all but a whisper, he said, “I remember you, Catherine, from the newspapers. You suffered a terrible ordeal. You went missing, but, were you, truly? Tell me … is that when you first met?”
Time stretched between them. Martin’s scrutiny was kind, his question deniable, but at last she nodded.
He released her hands, released her.
Another time, his gentle smile said.
“Eimear met Flynn the bleak year of Lily’s illness,” he told her, easing her along. “A funny thing. Flynn came to me with three of his four brothers, all needing work, two of them even more strapping than he, and one begging to not be cloistered inside somewhere. Flynn asked for nothing … standing tall enough, but accepting. Whatever happens, whatever comes, his expression said. As if ordained, I sent him to her, not either other brother, but Flynn, only Flynn, the command that loud in my mind. Lily could see it herself, right away, and she both thanked me and glared at me. But she left us, knowing one day her girl would be well loved.” Martin sighed … then brightened. “You know, you should bring him ‘round, your young man. Let us have a look at him. Say, next Saturday?”
A look at him. The possibility charmed her.
“I’d love to,” she said, “but he’s often out of town.” Truthful enough, but it pained her to don a veil of insincerity now. Before Martin might gather breath to pursue the subject, she turned in her chair and placed her hand flat against the wooden slats behind her.
“What’s this odd little door? Where does it go? And over there …” she said, gesturing toward the opposite wall of the archway and its mirroring portal, “there’s another.”
Without hesitation, he allowed her the pivot.
“Ahhh. Church secrets, my dear. But I’ll gladly tell you. If you look past the shadows, you can see that one across the way has a grill in its window, hung with a tattered curtain and behind it, there’s a small alcove with a splintery wooden bench, a shelf barely clinging to the wall on two rusty nails. Once a storage room? The caretaker’s closet? I’m but guessing. ’Tis empty now and has been, a bit mouldering inside. But this one …” He patted the stones behind his chair and hers. “‘Tis said to be a secret passage from the old sacristy, built before the open-air ambulatory was added.” He chuckled through a shudder. “To tell the truth,” he said, leaning in, “I’m a bit claustrophobic, not to mention queasy in the face of spiders. The doors have been jammed fast as long as I’ve been priest here and I’ve never done more than try the latch. What’s … beyond … is a mystery.”
“Perhaps a beautiful one,” she offered.
“Perhaps, indeed,” Martin replied. After a moment’s pondering, he went on. “I do sit out most every night, mind you, but I come through the back door and along the garden path. ‘Tis a charmed place for me, here, between two worlds in a way. I’ll play the flute or the box. Revel in memory. Sometimes I gnash my teeth at the unfairness of life. But I do my best listening here.”
“What do you hear, Martin?”
“Oh, if I’m quiet, the night birds, the wind in the leaves, the waves crashing against the limestone cliffs of Inis Mór. And I’ll talk with whomever turns up. I do love a good chat.” He nodded his head in rhythm, his foot tapping through a few measures. “‘Tis the last tune they’re playing now. We always end the evening with The Mist on the Mountain.” He bent to her. “But to truly answer your question, I often talk with Eimear. With Rosie, if she’s over home. Sometimes Flynn. But every night, every night, I spend a moment with Lily.”
“Does she speak to you?”
“I hear her,” he said, touching his heart. “Here. I tell her of her girls. She charged me with the keeping-up, and I’ll never fail her again.” He pressed his hands to his cheeks and fell silent, his words, when they unfolded, hushed and from behind his fingertips.
“And some nights … some nights, I’m sure I speak with angels.”
He tapped his temple – another segue.
“But enough of that. You’ll know I’m considered by some to be a bit spare, with barmy ideas never espoused in seminary.” His puckish grin evident in the soft lights of the moon and the gardens, he shrugged and stood and offered his hand.
* * *
“I should stay and help you clean up.” Catherine lingered at her car, the door open. “Are you sure it’s not too much?”
“You helped us get ready,” Eimaer said. “And we can’t impose on our guests at both ends of a party. You might not come back if there’s nothing but work. Martin will shepherd the folding chairs back to the church, and after that I’ve just some washing and tidying. All that will keep for tomorrow when Flynn’s at work.”
“I had a wonderful time.” She took a deep breath. “I can’t tell you what this day has meant to me. All of it, Eimear, not just the party, but you and Flynn, Rosie’s story, Martin. I feel …”
“Connected,” Eimear finished and she pulled Catherine into a warm hug. “I know. I feel it too.”
She backed her car into the street and shifted from reverse, a last glance at the yellow house before she pulled away. Lamps still lit the mullioned windows upstairs and down, their amber glow as inviting as massed candles below. Eimear had disappeared inside, but Flynn separated from the shadows of the porch to lean against a post. He lifted his hand in goodbye, folded his arms across his chest.
Watchful. Protective. Familiar.
Connected, she repeated. Maybe even more than that.
Katonah Avenue sported an animated energy, the pubs and restaurants spilling laughter and spirited patrons to the sidewalks. She checked her dashboard’s clock. Not so very late, she noted. Only just after eleven, early by tunnel standards … by Vincent’s. She inched along, a flock of revelers dancing in the street short of the crosswalk, cars pulling from their paralleled parking into traffic, the stoplight remarkably slow to change from red to yellow to green.
Deliberately cornering 235th, she saw Dominic’s van still parked in a storefront’s service lane. Closing in, she recognized the helper’s business – Dixon’s Print Shop.
Brenda and Dix. I remember them from Winterfest.
Relieved … she was, she realized, not surprised.
It’s what I wished for, more than anything.
That … and the call she would swear she heard.
It was a tight but acceptable – and necessary – fit for her car, wedged in beside the van. She grabbed a heavy cabled sweater from the back seat, eased the door open, closed it with her hip, pocketing her keys as she sprinted up the walk. She saw no one in the darkened front room; no shifting shadow-shape materialized in welcome. She scuttled along the side of the building to the wide door of the service bay, but it was chained and locked.
Not here …
Behind the shop, the security lamp offered only a feeble shaft of light, one that puddled on the ground before the rear exit. The door was solid, of grey and rusted steel, and although she rattled the latch twice with both hands and focused impatience, it gave not an inch. The noise disturbed the nested birds asleep in the eaves. In a study of the wall, she found only a single, dusty window in the blackened bricks, a promise of nothing. Above her the fire escape loomed, with its zigzag of steps and a tantalizing door on every level, but its last ladder fastened too high for her to pull down. She whirled on the alley.
His call shimmered down from the roof of the building. His cloak billowed in the soft night air; four floors above her, a warm sanctuary waited within his outstretched arms. Eschewing the fire stairs for the outer railings, he swung over the wall and dropped and lowered himself, hand to hand, until swinging in on the last landing, he could release the catch of the sliding ladder. With a rattled groan, it descended on its tracks.
His gaze riveted to hers.
Too slow …
As if she had voiced it, as if he had heard, he leapt the barrier. His plummet required hardly two heartbeats, yet the moment slowed, the sharp distinctions of brick and asphalt, of streetlight and sound blurred. She felt the tense, rippling energy of the muscles in his shoulders as he vaulted the rail, shivered as the anticipation of impact gathered in his legs. He landed on his feet, graceful, virile, elemental … pared to a sultry maleness. He rolled his spine straight, rising to his fullest height, his chest expanded. One stride brought him within her reach. Dissolved with tenderness, they clung together, sank to each other, in the solitude, a single flame of sensation.
A strange vibration radiated from him – a quaver, a throb – strumming her with the bronzing heat of a tropic sun. Her lips at the lobe of his ear, she murmured his name, but his fingers threaded her hair, stilling her. Their course a rope of lights flared live with his touch, his nails grazed her scalp. He tasted her throat, nuzzled the scoop of her shoulder, ardent with the scrape of his teeth. She was at the white edge of the world.
“Not here.” He stepped back from her, led her to the ladder, molded her hand to the rung. “Go on. I’ll follow.”
Unsure of her legs, unsure of her voice, she nodded and made the first step.
“Hold tight, Catherine.”
On the rooftop, she turned to overlook the building, keen to have him back, the seconds required to secure the ladder behind them, until he rose from the darkness, interminable. When at last he surmounted the rooftop wall, his presence filled the secret space within her heart where all her dreams lived.
She nestled to the powered drub of his heart.
“I’m yours, Vincent. Yours for everything.”
Chapter title: Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In Memoriam, A. H. H. LXXIX. 1849.
Opening Quotation: Khalil Gibran. Joy and Sorrow Chapter viii.
- Walt Whitman. Miracles.
- Edgar Guest. Lost Opportunities.
- Walt Whitman. Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking.
- George Gordon, Lord Byron. Translation from Catullus: Sappho’s Poem of Jealousy. 1820.
- e e cummings. All nearness pauses
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