sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 37 ~ The Rest Between Two Notes
Somewhere, out at the edges, the night
Is turning and the waves of darkness
Begin to brighten the shore of dawn.
The heavy dark falls back to earth
And the freed air goes wild with light.
The heart fills with fresh, bright breath
and thoughts stir to give birth to color.
Every step led her deeper into the labyrinth.
She left the sun room with the tramp-art box snugged close, turning from one corridor to another and then another. More than the way to the lobby, the path seemed a mirror to their lives … a circuitous route to an astonishing center, one growing more luminous with every step. Milestones passed … junctures met, the turns intuitive … Their energies bundling, quickening … like a winter tulip, the blood-red flower determined if yet furled within its brown bulb … their confluence undeniable.
First Flynn – whose case Joe could have as easily shared with another in her office – and Eimear, the bloom of recognition between them immediate and precious. Then Rosie. Drawn into the spiral, Vincent found music and Martin, found more than that … found healing, found affirmation. Now Sam and Seamus – friends – and long between Seamus and Martin this box of tunnel secrets. She imagined handing the chest to Vincent, imagined the delight of memory across his features when he opened it, the wonder on his face when he heard the story …
What will ensue …1
The chiseled wood warmed in her hands and the box gained seeming-substance, brimming not with toys and keepsakes but with what could only be magic – a magic she could no longer gainsay. If she knelt before the chest and opened it, coincidence would well up and spill over in runnels of liquid gold around her.
Not coincidence, she amended, but destiny … emancipated one dark April night.
No, she corrected herself again. This … We … began long before that.
“Ah, here she is, here she is.” Sister Felice looked up from her game board with a satisfied smile and capped her marker, giving it a final whap with her palm. “You’re off to Vic and Bill’s I hear. The first time for you, Catherine? You’re in for a treat.”
“May I bring you something?”
“Will you join us?”
Martin and Catherine spoke at once … and laughed as one as well.
“Tis the Monday special – your favorite,” Martin pointed out, tucking his likely lighter wallet into his jacket’s inside pocket.
Sister Felice closed her eyes for a moment and raised her chin. “Sadly,” she said after a contented sigh, “I’ve had my lunch. And besides, I need to make a new grid since someone took the last squares.” With a fluttery wave of her fingers, she bustled through the open door beyond the reception desk, a hummed melody drifting in her wake.
“Well, then,” Martin said, as he relieved Catherine of the box. “I’m just out front.” He reached past her to push open the plate glass door. “I’ll get this in the boot,” he said, following her through.
She settled in the passenger’s seat, Martin making sure she was well-tucked before he scuttled away. The trunk’s hood rose up and clanged shut and the car shivered. Water-rills streamed the windshield. His movements reflected in the driver’s-side mirror, Martin rounded the fender, stopped short with a two-fingered tap to his chin, spinning then and disappearing from her view. He opened and closed the trunk again.
“And we’re off!” Martin said, sliding in at last, starting the car, shifting into gear.
A parking spot! “All things really are possible,” Catherine murmured.
Martin pulled into the empty space at Vic and Bill’s, letting the car idle a moment with his hand on the keys in the ignition before stilling the engine, posing no question, offering only his easy, amiable grin in response.
Once inside, he led her to an empty booth, the last in the diner’s long window row, standing until she’d middled the banquette, taken her seat against the stark white -V- set into the red vinyl upholstery. Her gaze roamed the room, savoring, saving every detail. If it were darker and candle-lit, if the table-to-ceiling windows were replaced by solid stone, William might walk the counter line, cloth in hand, comfortable in the collected clutter arrayed on the walls, the keepsakes’ meanings long forgotten but cherished nonetheless. Perhaps in the life he’d known above, this … had been his dream.
Oh, Vincent, you should see–
She swallowed words nearly – freely – spoken aloud.
I’ll remember, she promised.
The countertop was scalloped; the fixed stools chrome, cushioned with the same scarlet vinyl. The floor was patterned in emerald diamonds and the wall in a mosaic of bright yellow squares. Along the ceiling, looping chain swags linked decades-old hobnailed glass lamps that burned a determined orange-bronze. A dented steel door swung open and the lone waitress burst through, plates arrayed down her arm, elbow to fingertips, growling ‘Yeah, yeah,’ over her shoulder.
“It’s right out of a movie!” Catherine exclaimed.
“You’d be right in saying that,” Martin agreed. “And there was one filmed so I hear. Years ago and an ordeal to hear them talk – which they will at the drop of your hat. There was some controversy, you see. Their sister Sophie – the youngest, of course – left town with one of the crewmen when he packed up his camera and they’re not yet reconciled to it. That’s Gus at the register and his brother Nick you can hear from the back. And the other sister – Nessa, we call her – she’s coming our way.”
“Who’s Vic? Who’s Bill?”
“I’ve not a clue,” Martin said, handing her a tri-fold menu, its cover boldly titled with the two mystery names. “Made up, I’m thinking, to avoid a fight when they couldn’t agree on the order of their four on the sign, even if they’d have fit. Nessa’s really Clytemnestra, and Sophie … Sophronia.”
“Gus is …?”
“Gennadios. And then Nicephoros. So you see …”
Taped around the pass-through, white paper plates were scrawled with the specials of the day, breakfast to supper, and wooden signs hung above the window declaring the perennial offerings – Roumanian steak, filet of sole, franks and beans. Catherine studied her menu, then the wall again. “What are you having?”
“Oh, ‘tis Monday,” Martin said, brushing at his lapel. “And I fast on Mondays. But,” he said as he tightened the salt shaker’s lid, “if you order a thing and offer a bite or two, then it doesn’t count.”
“Isn’t that cheating?”
He shrugged and his cheeks bunched beneath a quilt of wrinkles. “’Twould be rude to refuse ye and then all the day have my conscience burdened the worse for it, yes? After all, ‘tisn’t an order handed down, but a notion of my own devising, weekends coming as they do with late nights and the opportunity to, umm, indulge.”
“O-kaaaay.” Catherine stared at him for a few seconds, then mimicked his shrug, lowering her voice to a conspiratorial level. “What should … I … order?”
“Ah! Well, I’m happy to make suggestions! The hot eggplant parmigiana hero is tasty, and my last visit I found the open-faced roast beef with fried onions memorable, memorable indeed. And you can’t go wrong with a cheeseburger, particularly if it’s accompanied by a milk shake.”
“Made in one of those frosty silver cups?”
“Oh, yes. All whirled together pearly smooth and you get the whole thing – a full glass at hand and the extra at your plate.”
“The Monday special Sister Felice likes … what’s that?”
“Another excellent choice. ‘Twould be the Monte Cristo.”
“Isn’t that a sandwich stuffed with ham and fried in butter?”
“And with turkey and with Swiss cheese, dipped in egg batter, you know. Like the French toast.”
She felt her brows rise. “Anything else? And I won’t ask how you know so much about the Monday special.”
He went on without a blush. “Triple grilled cheese and bacon club? Or the Mediterranean sandwich – roasted peppers, tomatoes, and onions with melted mozzarella on a garlic roll? Linguini Carbonara with prosciutto and scallions in a …” His voice halved, then quartered with resignation. “Hmmmm.” He fiddled with his knife and fork, tapping out a crestfallen rhythm. “Cottage cheese and fruit salad?”
“Let’s not go that far!” she cried.
Martin chuckled and closed his menu, pointed to a section on the back. “The feta and spinach omelet is nice. And the chicken salad plate divine, truly, studded with the sweet raisins and toasted walnuts.”
“So,” Catherine mused, reaching for a small slate propped behind the ketchup bottle, chalked with the day’s desserts. “If we … I mean, if I … order the omelet …” Looking up, she found him watching her. “The apple pie here … how is it? As good as the one you didn’t bring Sister Norberta?”
“There’s none so good as Mrs. Finley’s tart. You might ask–” A slight flush rose from his clerical collar but he held her gaze.
“Who?” Catherine asked. “Ask who, what?” Something important was left unsaid she knew, but Nessa arrived at her elbow, bearing a tray laden with the house compliments – shallow bowls of sliced, pickled beets, of chickpeas topped with onions, and a bronze thermal carafe of coffee for the table, steam escaping from the threaded stopper. Cream in a miniature milk bottle. City Dairy, the red, flowing script read, painted on the glass.
“What’cha having, hon? I know the Father’s not ordering, Monday and all.” Nevertheless Nessa set both places with silverware and napkins and slid a single china plate before Martin. The empty tray under her arm, no pencil or pad in hand, she nodded as Catherine made her order. On her way to the pass where the counters divided, she collected an empty pitcher from one table, a finished carafe from another … affirming requests with that same sure nod.
In the entry, two men stamped rain and the clutch of leaves from their work boots into the waffled, rubber mat on the floor. Their damp orange slickers soon drooped from the coat rack’s pegs; counter stools were claimed. “Had us a big mess over on Hollis Ave … took all morning,” the man said, righting a coffee cup to a saucer. “We’re not too late for our pie, are we, Ness?”
“Saved ya some,” she said, her words cut short by the already-swinging door.
* * *
Alone at the table, anticipation their first course, their shoulders rose and fell in a choreographed sequence. “Well,” they said, each an echo of the other. Martin felt his face warming again.
What shall I say? he worried silently. I know a thing she doesn’t know I know and ‘tisn’t a fair advantage.
Ahh, but you know more than just the one thing.
Not so still, not so small, the voice he heard was his own … yet rounder, weightier and rich with assurance both childlike and ancient. Not the judicious, sober Reason or his winged and favored Fancy, no … in his mind, this voice was Music, resonant, calling to him from behind a massive door of worked silver set into the stony ridges of Na Beanna Beola. He could almost feel the cool, ridged metal beneath his turned cheek and flattened palms, could sense the shining presence behind.
Not a myth, not a fable.
With eager dream-fingertips he traced the patterned design of the imagined portal’s latch, lifted it, and entered the treasured chamber. Ahhh, he sighed in greeting, in gratitude. The Other.
‘Twasn’t a confession he made to you after all, but a sharing. Do you believe his words were reluctant? the Other asked. Coerced?
No, he answered. Chosen, I’d say. Well chosen. Hardly a word, I’ll wager, passes his lips unweighed.
And you’re hesitant to tell her. Why?
I … I don’t know, Martin stuttered. Certainly all the coincidences suggest–
The Other growled. What have I told you about that word?
But there is a secret …
And a purpose! Must I draw you a map and connect the dots myself? Open the door, man! Can you not feel the energy, the necessity? The offer? The possibilities?
I do! I do feel all those things. And yet …
“ … tell me?”
What? What was that? Shaken from his ruminations, he wondered if he’d closed his eyes overlong or perhaps muttered aloud, but she didn’t wear the A-ha! look as Eimear might, or lean forward with nosiness as would Rosie. Her forearms rested on the table, crossed behind her plate, and a beguiling smile beamed his way. “Pardon, pardon me, my dear. I was …” He summoned his beatific look. “Come again, would you?”
“Tell me,” Catherine repeated. “What Seamus said. What you said. I’m dying of curiosity.”
Ach, he thought, searching the still-grey skies through the translucent half-mirroring glass. From a distant, dreamlike peak, the sharp snap of fingers resounded and the Other boomed – Get on with it! Do your part!
“Aye,” he said, mentally dodging a thump to his forehead. “I will, yes. Of course I will.” His hand strayed to his jacket pocket. “But first I need to make a call. A baby born last night to Flynn’s teammate and his wife. A visit I must make this afternoon.”
“Is everyone all right?”
“The wee one is born too soon and with difficulties before her. But her mother is strong; her father brave. She will survive, I believe, and thrive, cherished she is for all her differences.”
Catherine pulled her arms back, dropping her hands to her lap, a sudden intake of breath held for a moment as if against a deep pain. Martin watched her face, alert to the sheen of anguish in her eyes, but just as quickly, she smiled again and nodded. “I should probably call work too. Joe said a long lunch but …”
“If he’s still the man I met and spoke with Saturday, then once food is ordered … ‘tis a sacred pledge to stay and have it.” Martin slid to the edge of the banquette, stood and smoothed a lapel. “He’ll understand the call coming after our, umm, your pie.”
His path to the telephone was one of fits and starts. Patrons on their stools downed silverware and settled cups to the counter as he approached, swiveling to offer their hands. He stopped for each – a word, a touch to the shoulder – all the while knowing the bore of her gaze at his back. He saw himself as if from a distance, poised on a stony point, a jetty in a stream. She floated toward him in a boat, a wide, flat-bottomed boat. Eager for the current, the vessel rocked on lapping waves. With no look either downstream or up, he stepped aboard.
* * *
“Need anything else? Hot sauce? Tzatziki?” Nessa asked. She stepped back to allow Martin in at the bench, a large, round tray tucked flat to her side.
“I think we’re set,” Catherine said, squaring her steaming platter, the black olives on it, the diced ruby peppers, the fresh green herbs like strewn jewels.
“I’ll check back. And bring your boss in some day. We’ll show him lasagna. Greek lasagna.” She kissed the tips of her fingers. “Moussaka!”
Ignoring his protest for less, Catherine slipped half the omelet onto Martin’s plate. “Ummm,” she said after her first bite, “this is good.”
“Light and oh, so tender, isn’t it? Nick, for all his bluster and ham-handedness, has the touch with the egg cookery.”
As if on cue, the kitchen door blew open on a bellow and an aproned man appeared, a towel over his shoulder. He strafed the room with a glare, whirled and disappeared, the door swinging in his wake … fwoomp, fwoomp, fwoomp.
“I know someone like him. He stomps around the kitchen too and when he’s really aggravated you can hear the pots clanging all the way down the–” She hurried a sip of coffee. “His specialty is pastry though. You’d love his scones.”
“Sweet or savory?”
“Oh, both. My favorites are his raisin and his cheese.”
“Does he use the white raisins? The sultanas?”
When he can, she thought, adding a line to her shopping list. “He likes those best,” she said.
“You’ll have to give me the address then, in case the restaurant’s in the pathway of business.” With a scrape of his fork, Martin cleared his last bite. “Is he open Mondays?”
She’d skated close to the edge and she imagined Father’s remonstrance, but Nessa arrived to test their coffee carafe and the question sailed past. Nessa snapped her fingers for Martin’s empty plate and added it to the stack on her tray, winked as she moved to the next table.
“You look tired, Martin,” Catherine said. “Were you at the hospital all night?”
He took a long time to answer and her instinct sharpened in wait. She reached for the coffee urn and refilled their cups, watching his face through a veil of bangs. He smiled at her; his hands were folded innocently on the table, but his eyes seemed focused just over her shoulder …
“I was up till the dawn and after, yes. But no, not at the hospital,” he said at last. He fished in his jacket pocket and brought out a a closed fist. After a moment she understood, opening her hand under his. The angle-scope dropped into her palm.
The rosewood finish was smooth like glass and warm to the touch. In just the last weeks, she’d seen Vincent’s borrowed – by Kipper and Geoffrey, by Eric, Ezra, Jodie and Corinne – and his admonishment had been curious. This does not substitute for common sense or good judgment, he’d said in perfect semblance of Father. It is a toy, not a tool. Keen to dispense with their young visitors, to be alone with him, each time she’d forgotten to ask the reason for his caution. Sam’s story must be its foundation.
Carefully, deliberately, she set the scope on the table, cupped both hands around it.
“… he’s been good for Seamus,” Martin was saying. “Your friend Sam, spending the time, talking with him, drawing him out. We’re losing him, but in the last months, there’ve been moments when himself he is again. He was once … a force.”
A force. There was no other explanation. The circling, the tightening spiral, the great gathering energy moving nearby …2
“When I put this first to my eye,” Martin continued, “I was taken aback, seeing to the side of me rather than in front. I’d expected a magnifier perhaps, or another kaleidoscope. But you and your Sam … you’ve seen one before.”
A statement, an observation. Not a question. She didn’t sidestep – she didn’t want to; she couldn’t.
“How did Seamus come by these things,” she asked. “The scope? The chess set? The kiddush cups?”
“I’ve no idea and now I’m doubting he can tell me. There’s a story for each treasure, I’m sure of it. How I wish I’d thought to ask him sooner.”
“The man he spoke of – Lev. Did you know him?”
Martin shook his head. “Today’s the first I’ve heard his name. Twenty-five years ago Seamus moved to Maryfields, always a bit fey, already fading, leaving me all this unexplained but for a fanciful story. A world of wonders he described, deep beneath this city – bridges and waterfalls, secret passages – and gave me only one instruction. To guard the doorways. Guard them well, he said to me. And wait.”
“Wait for what, Martin?”
“For what or for whom, yes?” He ran a hand through still-thick, white hair, nodding his thanks to a retreating Nessa who’d slipped their dessert to their table without a word and hardly a pause. “At the time he said it, I was still too miffed to ask questions. Just that morning, Seamus had given me the once-over, crown to toe, with those woolly eyebrows of his touching over his beak of a nose and his mouth all screwed up. ‘You’re not ready for this,’ he said. ‘Not ready at all.’ When I found the box I unpacked it but could make neither heads nor tails of its contents and put it away. But there was something more in the box, things I went back for in time. Five keys. Curious old things. Two unlocked the dormitory rooms in back of the garden, two the doors of the archway, where we sat the two of us after the ceilidh.”
“And the fifth?”
“The last freed a door in the old sacristy – a forgotten room and passage through the churchyard wall. ‘Twas just this morning I removed the lock.”
“Why, Martin? Why this morning?” Her heartbeat suddenly loud in her ear, she felt a rush of wind … as if she’d topped a hill running and downside surrendered all to gravity. She uttered a small laugh as a loose page of memory drifted by – a roller coaster, the Matterhorn at Disneyland, her hands in the air, her mouth wide in terror and triumph.
“Because, as Seamus said … someone might be coming up.”
“For a game of chess?” she asked, her last pale clutch at cover.
“I’d be a disappointment in that, I expect. Regularly and soundly trounced. I taught both Rosie and Flynn – Eimear wanting nothing to do with it – and both refuse to play me now, sorry for me, they are. No, he’ll not be coming up for chess, I’m thinking.” He quieted, his voice softer when he resumed. “You asked if I’d been awake the night and I was. I had a late supper after music at the pub and a bite of tart at midnight. A wee dram between the two of us. When he returns, as I wish him to, ‘twill be for another turn in the garden perhaps, or for the second jar of beer and the long and idle chat. Or for a moment of unburdening. He carries a world on his two shoulders, does he not? And he misses you.”
She positioned the slice of pie between them and handed him a spoon. The apples were golden, soft with syrup beneath a tender crust. the aroma a buttery cinnamon. Her mouth watered even as her eyes stung with tears. He brushed the fingers of her left hand with his, no question, no reproof in his words, only a gentle curiosity.
“You wear no ring.”
Vigilance braided with a strange relief, the practiced mindful step with the need to lay her head on his shoulder, to begin at the beginning. A father’s comfort. A father’s protection. His acceptance. “There’d be more questions with, Martin, than without. But how did you know … how did you know that I … that we are …”
“More than that? ‘Twas his echo of your words. Like you, I’m trained to listen for the thing a person wants to say as well as the thing he does not. Another keeps me close, he said. A woman of both worlds he loves. The way he voiced your name without saying it. There could be no other. Catriona. Glanchroích.”
A tear slipped from her eye … then another … the taste at the corner of her mouth not salty with fear or sadness, but sweet. She’d kept so much inside for so very long, avoiding Joe’s questions, dodging Jenny’s teasing inquisitions, half-afraid to see Nancy again. She’d wanted it, this recognition, this affirmation. This freedom to speak. This doorway. And he’d opened it for her. Vincent. Worried that he had so little to give, again, again, he’d given her everything.
“There, there.” From an inside pocket, Martin pulled a pristine square of fine cream linen, handing it across the table. “I only called you by your Irish name. Catriona. Catherine.”
“It’s not that.” She dabbed at her eyes. “I’m ruining it,” she wailed softy.
“Can’t be ruined, not by you. Pure of heart, you are – glanchroích – ‘tis the meaning of your name. Tá tú go h-álainn. You are beautiful, Seamus said, and you are, streaky tears and all. And generous too. Duine flaithiulach. We might only ask Sam for proof, yes? I’d add you’re a cozy thing … and fíochmhar – fierce. So like my Eimear. No, keep it, my dear,” he said when she tried to give the handkerchief back. “I’ve a top dresser drawer full. Years and years of dullish but appropriate gifts, you know. Besides, there was more and you’ll be wanting to hear.”
She folded the mascara-stained fabric. At Rosie’s shop, she’d spied an etched, matte silver tray layered in monogrammed handkerchiefs. Perhaps she could find an -M- or a -G-. One, she remembered, was embroidered with a tiny Celtic harp. A fresh spill of tears threatened.
Martin went on. “Grá, neart, cengaltas, seasmhact, Seamus said. Love, strength, commitment, endurance. Naming that which runs between you, the blue-silver chord. And it was advice he had next. Mothaím le neart na naomh inniu. Bí trean, seas an fód. I arise today through a mighty strength. Be strong. Stay the course.”
Not advice, she determined. A vow. I will. We have. “There was more, Martin. Something else he said …”
“Yes. I remember. Laoch neamheaglach. Fearless warrior. As if he knew your young man. Dhá anam, aon croí amháin. Two souls, one heart, as if he knew you both. ‘Twas breathtaking coming from him.”
“How could he know? The power of the twin soul is great, Catriona, affecting even the unperceptive man. When separated the two still emit a kind of light. I can see it in your face; I heard it in his voice. You’ve conquered more than the geography of two worlds. ‘Tis a rare, rare thing, and yet I now know two twin flames – Eimear and Flynn, you and yours … your Vincent.”
His name. He’d shared his name. Proof. Trust. Invitation.
If only …
Long ago, in a dream, she’d looked up from her lowest, looked for him. Found him. Saw him nod.
He nodded now. Smiled at her. At last.
“He told me you’d spoken, that he’d found the door, but … earlier you said ‘another turn’ in your garden. Did he …”
“Enjoy my tulips? I think he did. And then we had a drink or two or three and the wee chat.”
The tension had sagged from her shoulders but a worry pinched them back. “Was he all right?”
“You mustn’t fret. He kept to the shadows, but he was well. Quite. Though I might have encouraged a touch too much Green Spot.”
“So you didn’t …”
“See him? No. He hung back and he may as long as he wishes. Forever if he must. There’s design in this, precious design, and one I’ve no need to understand, only honor. I’ll not betray your trust or his. Whatever your secret, Catriona, it will be kept.”
Will it? I have to know.
“Yesterday, in the afternoon … at the laundromat. I ran into Eimear.”
“Did you? Here in Woodlawn?” Surprise arched his brows. “She never said a word about seeing you. Here now,” he said, patting her hand. “No more tears. No more. You’re safe with us, the two of you. Safe, love. Now quick, take the first bite of pie, or Nessa will be here frantic there’s something wrong. ‘Tis the wish bite, that first off the point and yours to make. Off you go, now. A big bite, yes? And a big wish.”
Chapter Title: Rainer Maria Rilke. My life if not this steeply sloping hour.
Opening Quotation: John O’Donohue. Matins. From To Bless the Space Between Us. 2008.
1. William Shakespeare. Richard II. Act 2, scene 1. 1595.
2. Rainer Maria Rilke. You, Darkness.
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