sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 31 ~ Secrets Everywhere, and Everywhere Revelations
Of what is the body made?
It is made of emptiness and rhythm.
At the ultimate heart of the body,
at the heart of the world,
there is no solidity.
Once again, there is only the dance.
There was a moment – before he winced and turned toward her blinking, before the furrow deepened between his dark brows – when she saw his face alight with the peculiar weave of amusement and reverence and stubbornness that never failed to crowd the breath beneath her ribs, to set her pulse rabbiting. She wanted to run to him, wanted to capture his expression between her two hands, entice him to stay with a fervent kiss, but Mab circled her feet, slowing her course down the steps … and by the time she reached the grass, his mouth was set in an wary, colorless line.
“I left a message,” Flynn said, crossing his arms over his chest. One knee jittered and he stared past her with such hunger …
As if he might bolt, she imagined. Just take off running who knows where. If she thought it would help, she’d tell him to go. Just go. Run it off. Run until you weep with relief. Just … come back. Come back.
Eimear made her way along the garden path, glad for the light behind her that would cast her face in shadow. She groped for something plausible to say, something besides the truth: that the machine had proclaimed seven messages with its rude red flash, that she’d switched it off, having listened to none, that she’d considered yanking the cord from the wall and pitching the contraption in the bin for the morning’s pickup. How could she explain that she’d awakened at one and at two and again at three in the morning to find Flynn’s pillow empty, that she’d run downstairs to push Play after all, that after the first three messages – none from Flynn – she’d swiped the recorder off its ledge in the hallway, that it would likely never work again.
From some strange distance, she heard … no, felt … a reverberation like the clang of metal, a closing off. A bead of panic formed on her skin; a clammy dizziness washed over her. Might they go on and on like this – dodging, inarticulate, desperately careful? They’d never withheld the truth from each other, never shunned the bridge between them no matter their differences, always willing to step out together, even from opposite sides. But now he struggled on a steep and stony penance doggedly alone, an ominous privacy about him.
And she kept her own privacies. I won’t tell him yet. I … can’t.
“The machine isn’t blinking,” he pointed out. “So you got it, right? My message?”
“Oh …” she managed. “No … I … ummmm … something must be wrong with it.” Close enough to touch him, she reached out, dropping her hand when he shifted away.
Over Flynn’s shoulder, Eimear met Martin’s gaze. Having inched backward toward the archway, he’d seemed relieved at her approach and eager himself for retreat, but now his brows were raised in question, his eyes wide, his lips pursed. He made a garbled, choking noise and stepped forward.
Flynn turned from Eimer to Martin and back. “Sorry, Eim. I tried.”
“Tell me now … where you were.”
“I took Albie’s shift at his security job. Maricel went into labor. Too late to call in and he can’t lose the extra work. They’re gonna need the money with the baby’s problems and all.” He fell silent and peered toward the house. “The guys on the truck … we’re covering his hours until he can get back to it. The other guard there’s from the 6th and he’s fine with it … with us helping out … you know … on the quiet.”
“How does Albie do it, work two jobs day after day?”
Flynn shrugged and stared at his feet.
“She wasn’t due for weeks. Is Maricel all right? The baby?”
“Haven’t heard.” His weary sigh became a yawn he tried to rub away. Behind his hand, his expression confounded. “Eimear … where’s the car?”
Surprise, she might have hoped. A dawning upon him, half-asleep. Not suspicion. She smiled in its offsetting.
“McGinnis’s, out front with a flat. Don’t worry about it,” she whispered. She stroked his forearm. At her touch, his muscles jumped. “You’re exhausted. Go on to bed now.”
“Yes, I’ll have Harold on it first thing.” Martin interposed. “Maricel’s in what hospital? Queens, is it? I’ll visit tomorrow … today … I mean. And you should be going on to bed, Flynn. You look–”
“No worse than you.” Flynn said, jutting out his chin. “Up all night?”
“Only Behan’s till hardly midnight,” Martin asserted. “The both of us.”
He was rumpled, Eimear thought, and seemed oddly agitated, beating a bodhrán’s rhythm on his leg with … what? A spatula?
“So what’s with the washer this time?”
“Just the belt. I went to Wash and Fold. No problem.”
A memory teased her to follow to a magical place. The shirt in Catherine’s hands, their moment of understanding, the sweet feeling of clan.The secret in the middle.1 A secret beautiful, not dark.
The memory flickered, requiring more presence than she could offer. Tenderly she turned away.
No problem, she’d assured him. If only …
She edged closer even as he likewise retreated … turning from her.
“I’ll call Harold. And I’ll fix the machine … again, ” he said, not even over his shoulder.
“Not now, surely,” she said to his back, but he took the porch steps two at a time, past a watchful Mab who offered silent commentary from her perch on the newel post. The door closed; the light snapped off. Across the street, Mrs. Coen’s dogs burst yowling from their night’s confinement. A city bus prowled by.
Eimear met Martin’s probing gaze. The best defense … she’d always heard. Here goes.
“Later, I suppose you’ll tell me why you’re in the garden at daybreak wearing the very clothes I last saw you in as if you never went to bed at all.” She fished for his hand. “And you’ll explain carrying a turner around in the dark, now won’t you, Martin Geraghty. Father …”
“And you’ll be regretting that hissing tone, íníon mo chroí,2 when you’re compelled to tell me why you fibbed to your husband, as I saw that machine blinking like the Gun Rock beacon of Inishbofin when we walked through your hallway. And furthermore, I saw that look on your face at Behan’s and at the tea yesterday … ummm … Saturday.”
“That look. The look that takes your eyes to the ground and says you’re hiding something. I could always … discern you. I remember the time you were desperate to wear Rosie’s–”
“Such a seanchaí 3 you are, but please, Martin, not–”
“No, you’d be right. No old stories. Not this morning.” He opened his arms, inviting her close. “Here now. Here. Whatever is … is best-laid here.”
The ridged pattern of his sweater was familiar to her … reassuring. She scrubbed her cheek across the knitted plaits and diamonds, breathing in the long-ago scent of sheep’s wool and sun … and of oak and spice, a syrup of peach, honey, and almond. “I can smell the Green Spot on you,” she mumbled. “The Green Spot you went to your knees before me promising to share. Have you spoiled your next confession with selfishness?”
“Oh, but I did share it.” Martin stepped back and, taking her face in his hands, bestowed a kiss to her forehead. “And speaking of confessions, about you and yours specifically. What was it you said? The answerer’s on the fritz?”
“Well, it is … now.”
“A leanbh na páirte. A Thaisce.4 What’s the matter? ‘Tis Flynn, I know, and more than that. And whatever the more is, you’re the worse for it.”
“I’m all right.” At his side, Eimear linked her arm with Martin’s and heard his resigned but skeptical hmmm.
Light bloomed in the narrow, rectangular windows of her cellar and through the single square pane of its door. A looming shadow darkened the glass; she heard the clank of the slide-bolt, the creaky twist of the doorknob, and Flynn appeared, wearing a tee shirt now and shoes. He climbed the stone risers to the yard where he snagged the coil of garden hose off its hook and slung it over his shoulder. Without a glance their way, he retraced his steps, and moments later, he was upstairs at the kitchen table bent over a battered red toolbox.
“Would you bet he’s the man taking Albie’s shift again tonight?”
“Of course he is.” Eimear sighed as Flynn vanished once more from view. How long had it been since they’d lain awake together, forehead to forehead, his hands in her hair, pillowed murmurings easing their parting for the day. How long since he had truly smiled, the wide stretch that brought the lone dimple to his cheek and the laugh lines to his bright, blue eyes.
I miss him.
“If you can’t tell Flynn and you won’t let on to me or Rosie or Will, you must find someone who understands … whatever it is. The weight of this on you … ‘tis breaking my heart.”
“I should help him get a siphon going,” she deflected. “Tell me,” she said with a grin and a teasing tone. An attempt to dislodge his focus, but more than that … “The turner in your hand. ‘Tis the one you save for grilling fish. Is there an odd party you’re having this morning?”
“Oh, this.” Martin chuffed. Back-stepping away, he waved the spatula in goodbye. “My desk drawer was stuck. I only wanted in.”
“But you’re outside with it, why? And who was it having the Green Spot with you? Martin? Martin!”
Martin hurried through the archway and ducked into the ambulatory, pressing himself against the wall until he heard the whoosh of the rubber sweep across Eimear’s porch, the thunk of her closing door. He counted a slow ten, then another, and was satisfied he was alone.
The evidence was there, the remains he needed to bus from Eimear’s spying eye and sure interrogation. Two open chairs barely ten feet apart but angled from each other, Vincent’s, even now, positioned in darkness. The tulip-shaped pint glasses, two dessert plates scraped clean, cross-laid with mismatched sterling forks. A decorated metal box holding half a tart. Two crystal tumblers. The bottle of rare whiskey, well gone. He tucked the spatula into his back pocket and set to work, upending the china over the tart, the silverware deposited after, the tumblers nestled in the corners of the carrying tin. A beer glass in each sweater pocket. The Green Spot clamped to his ribs. One trip, he crowed to himself, though he rattled a bit, walking. In the kitchen, he washed and dried and stacked and tidied away every proof of his company … save the memory.
In his office, he threw off his sweater and, kneeling on the rag rug, worked the flat steel blade between the frame and the drawer’s face, wiggled and shimmied it. Urged it. Cursed it.
“Blast, what is in there?” He shushed himself, then bent again, levering the metal probe side to side against the resistance. A tentative tug on the handle produced another inch of gap; an enthusiastic shake settled the contents. “I win! Ha-ha!!”
He began to clear the overstuffed drawer, stopping once to pull his inhaler from his shirt pocket, to lean on his hands flat on the desk while his breathing evened. The obstinate culprit was a parish directory nearly ten years old, thicker by far than the current one underneath his tea cup and saucer. Next came a sheaf of loose papers – rejected homilies, crumpled essays, notations of half-remembered melodies – a bashed carton of After Eight mints, a creased Mets pennant, a single fleece-lined slipper, then an even older, even thicker, leather-bound directory, and, finally, from the deepest recesses of the bin, the prize, the purpose … the old priest’s bequest.
It was only a cedarwood cigar box covered with the knife-work and knick carving of an unnamed tramp artist, wrapped with four bands of knotted rawhide string. Gingerly, he rose to his feet and placed the chest on his desktop, pulled the lamp closer, adjusted the shade, groped for the arm of his chair to bring the seat beneath him.
The box had been packed decades ago, left for him in the back corner of the lowest drawer in the stubborn old dresser in the room Seamus Barry had called his own until that last day …
A beautiful day, he recalled.
~ ~ ~
Clear and crisp, the lawn patchworked with a scattering of orange and yellow leaves …
A wizened, wrinkled gnome of a man, Seamus watched with him from the sidewalk as two young nuns wrestled his trunk down the church steps into their waiting van. “Left you something,” he said, jabbing at Martin’s nearby foot with his cane, its ferrule leaving a circle of grit on his polished black leather shoes. “Something special. Won’t be needing it at the Residence …” he declared, having for months sworn to all who would listen he’d live out his retirement in contemplation of the game of poker. “But one day you … just … might.”
Martin helped him into the seat and tucked a thin cushion behind his rounded shoulders. Before he could straightened to smile or wave goodbye, the old priest clutched at his coat sleeve, keeping him close. “Guard the doorways I showed you,” he’d whispered, “Guard them well … and wait.”
Later that afternoon, Martin emptied his last suitcase into the dresser that was now his and found … at the back of the last drawer … the box. He untied the strings, opened it to a tightly packed collection. An odd assortment of trinkets, he judged. He sorted through and kept out for himself only one knickknack – a small bronze dog. An uncomely thing … tailless, pug-nosed, and big-headed with a lined face and a puckered expression but heavy, grand as a paperweight. He repacked the curiosities, rewound the fasteners with little thought for Seamus’s last cryptic words or for the secreted gift, eager instead to claim the place as his own, eager to wander the garden, to listen for Lily’s voice. And over the coming months, he shifted the chest from dresser top to bookcase to cabinet to closet.
He soon lost an argument with the parish council – his first loss, but not his last. The sanctuary doors would close, they decreed at their monthly meeting, at nine o’clock at night, though he lobbied for never, extolling the symbolism of always and open to a nay-saying assemblage. The next morning, he stood at the kitchen window with his mug of tea, still grousing to himself. At least, he decided, he could unbar the old dormitories – someone might need a bed for the night. If they turned up necessitous before nine o’clock! He’d remove the padlocks from the archway doors too, if only for appearances, assuming merely storage areas behind them. After all, one lock attracted tiny, vicious wasps nesting within the circle of its shackle and rusty body. Twice he’d been stung while playing his flute in the archway.
The fasteners proved obstinate.
One entire Saturday morning was spent in sweating futility, bent over the first lock, hacksaw in hand, going at the shank with all he had. He was at the sink, drinking a second glass of water and inspecting a blister on his thumb when he remembered …
He found the case where he’d stashed it – in the closet on a shelf behind a stack of shoeboxes. Opened it. Rummaged through …
~ ~ ~
Once again, Martin removed the four cords, this time with new reverance. One for each Mystery … the joyful … the sorrowful … the glorious … the luminous. The lid was heavy with the layered carvings; the paper hinge was fragile, but held. The object he sought was there, wedged in at the front where he’d replaced it, folded in its scrap of black wool. He pried it out with a culling finger and lay the bundle aside.
Ah, Seamus. Not so daft, were ye? I apologize. I’ll see your treasures now … and in a wholly different light.
Save one, the meanings of the curios escaped him still. He cradled each in his hand, arranged them in a line as he had years before – a cobalt blue eye-bath glass, two small silver Kiddush cups, their bases engraved in letters he recognized as Russian, a rosewood side-angle scope which he held once again to his eye. A traveling chess set folded to a palm-sized square, its miniature pieces pewter and gold. Next, a pair of thick-lensed glasses, rose-colored. A delicate, stemmed pedometer. A kaleidoscope the size of a child’s top. Salt and pepper shakers in the form of praying hands at which he grimaced and set aside. Perhaps through another man’s eyes … this all might be explained.
He placed the final, wrapped parcel under the light and peeled away the layers of cloth.
A snip of the Father’s vestments, Martin realized, pushing back his chair. For something requiring a special protection.
From his private rooms, he entered the church office, crossing it to the new sacristy. New. Funny I still call it so, he thought, hurrying through the paneled room he’d never warmed to in the twenty years since its remodel.
He’d fought then to save the oldest rooms from renovation and, this time, had prevailed. Unused, but still there – the sacrarium with its stone sink and the old vesting sacristy, high-ceilinged, unheated, windowless, its tiled floor uneven, the heavy plaster walls cracked. The humble room was empty now except for a tall oak chifferobe on casters that he leaned in to and pushed aside. Hidden behind was a narrow, open closet, within its murk, a wooden door – a door hasped and fitted with a heavy padlock identical to those that once secured the doors in his garden.
That long-ago day he’d enjoyed a taste of defiance. Using the keys removed from Seamus’s box, he’d removed the locks from the two dormitories, had aired them and refurnished them, repaired the plumbing himself … and from both archway doors. One swung free, revealing a small alcove and bench, rubble, dust, and abandoned spider webs, but the second – the door Seamus had dragged him to see, begged him to guard – remained immovable. Some impediment, some blockage behind it. Chin in hand, he studied it, then hurried inside, determined to finish what had turned into a mission. But as he stood in the sacristy, before the last entrance with the last key in his fist, Seamus’s final word seemed to echo within the walls of the room. Wait. Wait. Wait. And he conceded to it and dropped his hand.
Night after night, year after year, he sat in the archway with his flute or the box, with company and without. Never before had he felt the presence of anyone behind the church-wall door. Never before had he felt compelled to remove this last barrier to what he knew now was passage through. Until today.
And now it was time. He fitted the lock with Seamus’s one remaining, as yet unused key and the shackle separated from the body with a relieved click.
When he tested the handle’s thumb latch, though it levered easily, the door remained fast, barred mysteriously from within. He wasn’t surprised. It was enough, the unbolting. Someone might need to get through from the other side – from Below – one way or another, today or tomorrow. Someday.
He expected a second wrangling, but the chifferobe’s top drawer slid smoothly open. In it, alongside four identical locks and four rusted keys, he lay the fifth of the set.
Ready. Ready when you are, my friend.
* * *
“It’s not Mitch. Damien told me you thought– I never meant– ” Kanin looked away. “It’s not good, but it’s not Mitch.”
As if he’d broken the surface of water after a deep dive, Vincent pulled the words into his lungs like air, sweet, necessary air. Not Mitch Not Mitch Not Mitch. He tipped his head back. Relief. A cool hand to fevered skin. So welcome.
Kanin was speaking. Though not the words, he could hear him – the regret in his voice, the explanation and apology. It was a sad music with a stammering rhythm. He should acknowledge him, ask his opinion. Listen. Breathe. But a heat like the opening of an oven door swept him.
Months ago, he’d chosen. He’d left Mitch … a possibility. And now he’d not have this chance to finish it.
It began in his belly. Anger smoldered there, then blazed with licking tongues. He could feel its … becoming … as if an apparition unfurled inside him, writhing to the reaches of his limbs, clawing his skin from within.
no no no I will not … I am not …
Denial is the only fact …5
But I am. I am that angry. I could …
I want to finish it.
Anger’s not the worst thing. ‘Tis only human to feel it, Vincent. Only human …
Heed its instruction …
Kanin’s touch brought him home.
* * *
A few hours of sleep were necessary and deliciously possible. Free from morning duties, he toed off his shoes and lay down on top of the covers, pulling the hem of the chenille spread up and over him, grateful he no longer had the services of a rectory housekeeper who might well barge in with her hands on her hips, aghast he was wasting away the day and in such a sorry, sorry state. He settled into memory, the evening playing past … leaving Behan’s, leaving Eimear’s for the archway, finding the door ajar, finding mystery …
Ah, Lily. Remember the fall afternoon when we begged a ride to Limerick with your uncle? ‘Twas true, the once-every-seven-years story. Lough Gur had gone dry and the entrance to the Sidhe palace might be seen if only we’d stay on into twilight …
A gentle voice beckoned … Martin … and he followed its lure down a winding, chiseled pathway. Music-filled air – symphonies of water sounds, a whistled chorale of wind, the distant percussion of feet and drums. Rosie was there! With her wild hair whipping about her shoulders and her long black coat swirling at her knees. Already across a strange bridge, waving him on. And Eimear, too, at his side on a rocky bluff, her hand in his, pointing overhead to no blue sky above, instead to one of brown and gray and ochre … and to stars! Constellations of flickering silvery stars …
And there was darkness and there were shadows … and in a burst of light there appeared a circle of friends, their glasses raised with shouted toast. Failte! Ciad mile failte!6 And there were shadows … and there was darkness …
* * *
“So with all that, what do you think we should do?”
Vincent shook his head; he’d heard not a word. “What we should do …” he repeated and Kanin looked up at him. “What you should do,” Vincent said, “is get word to Cullen and Jamie. Have them come to camp. You have the information we need. The expertise. You, more than anyone, Kanin, know what we should do.”
“Go now. Reorganize the crews to finish this section today. I’ll join you in an hour.”
“What? You … you’re …” Kanin stumbled on his words, his breath coming fast. “What d’ya mean, an hour?”
“I’m tired. I’m going to lay down.”
“Where?” Kanin’s eyes narrowed.
“Here.” Vincent bent to retrieve the bedroll he’d borrowed from Martin. “You take charge. And take the pizza. Mouse might want it for breakfast.”
“Aren’t you hungry?”
Vincent shrugged, rubbing his neck. “I ate … with a friend.”
“A friend.” Kanin’s eyebrows arched, disappearing under the fall of his unkempt hair. “Is that all you’re going to say?”
“For now, yes.”
Kanin picked up the box, held it flat on his palms. He stared at it with bewilderment, then tucked it under his arm and started down the corridor.
“Kanin?” Vincent called out, listening for the halt of footsteps. “Have us work together later today. Just the two us.”
The iron barricade clanged as Kanin hurried through, slammed too hard for safety’s sake, but the city was waking up. Already the vibration and rumble Above grew stronger, masking their mistakes.
He released the straps that bound the bedding and snapped it out. The pad flattened against the stone and was thin, but, like the one he used in camp, it kept the cold from seeping through. Before he closed the worlds away, he imagined Catherine nestled against him, imagined her warmth, the scent of her skin sweet from the shower.
Haply, I think on thee.7
* * *
Underwater, buoyed and weightless. Warm, so warm. Softness like eiderdown against her back. Turning on her pillow, Catherine opened her eyes to the glowing green dashes and a stuttering insistence. Damn it!
Before the hot water had time to rise in the pipes, she ducked beneath the spray.
Chapter Title and Opening Quotation: George Leonard. The Silent Pulse. EP Dutton. 1978.
- Robert Frost. The Secret Sits. 1942.
- íníon, mo chroí. Gaelic. Translation: my darling daughter
- seanchaí. Gaelic. Translation: storyteller
- A leanbh na páirte. A thaisce. Gaelic. Translation: My dear child. My treasure.
- Emily Dickinson. Denial is the Only Fact.
- Failte! Ciad mile failte! Gaelic translation: Welcome! A hundred-thousand welcomes!
- William Shakespeare. Sonnet 29.
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