sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 43 ~ A Deep-Sworn Vow
To be holy is to be home,
to be able to rest in the house of belonging
that we call the soul.
If a train car is empty, there’s a good reason. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t fall asleep and miss your stop. Hold your skirt down when you’re on the steps.
Eimear knew the rules of the subway. Her mother intoned them often enough, so keyed-up when they’d all ride into the City, she’d numb their fingers in her grip. Rosie once complained to their father that the life had been squeezed from her, and the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday she’d cradled her left arm against her chest, unable, she said, to dust or do dishes or her homework. He’d examined her hand, pressing his thumb to her joints, declaring her indeed injured, and wasn’t it too bad, since he was off work the next day, and a lay-out from school and a trip to the zoo would have been a craic. Rosie’s healing, miraculous though it was, mattered not a whit. And later that night, her parents had one of their rare, hushed arguments, their voices nevertheless carrying from the back of the garden to the open window.
They’re but babies, Francis, she heard her mother say. Your babies. This isn’t Woodford, nor’s it Galway or even Limerick. And you, of all people, know the dangers.
And you know the beauties, her father answered. I don’t want them afraid, Lily. I want them strong. I want them curious.
They’re already that! her mother growled. I want them safe.
Their next trip in, under their mother’s watchful eye, they were allowed to ride standing, clinging to the pole. Every jolt and shimmy, every screech transferred metal-to-hand, chattering their teeth, and her height put her at a low disadvantage in the crowded car, but Rosie whispered in her ear. It’s like time travel, she’d said. It has to hurt a little. And when the blared announcement came – Watch the closing doors – Rosie whispered again, No, watch them open. Who knows where we’ll come out?
She thought of her first unaccompanied ride – Well, with Rosie – and a group of older girls from church. It was early December and after enduring an hour’s grave lecture from a parade of parents, they took the train south for a tour of the holiday windows – first Macy’s on 34th Street, to 5th Avenue, past Lord and Taylor, to Saks and the tree in Rockefeller Center – finally to Bloomingdale’s. Not yet nine o’clock, the doors were open for business. A glance from Rosie and they’d raced inside, leaving their companions on the sidewalk, in a bee-line to the elevators. Destination … fifth floor. They’d heard about it at school, read about it in the newspapers – that year’s model room – The Cave, multi-leveled, bright white, and not a foam and polyurethane over chicken wire stage setting, as someone nearby asserted, but the Tuatha’s earthen barrow, chiseled by magic, a fairy home in an enchanted land.
Our first Christmas without Dad …
… and she recalled her mother’s whispered parting words. Be careful. Stay together. Bring back your wild and precious tales. They’d spoken, surely, her parents, in the only way left to them, her mom carrying his message, his heart in her own.
Once home from their outing, they’d leap-frogged each other, jousting for lead storyteller, needing their mother to see, to hear, to smile. But one story they didn’t tell …
They’d boarded the train for home, against all instruction choosing the last, nearly empty car. They’d entered a giddy bunch, the crew of them loose in the world, but settled in the corner seat, she’d quieted almost at once, suddenly tired of laughing. Rosie too, beside her.
Thanks, Ro, she said. For letting me tag along, she’d meant, for sticking with me, so much younger, cramping your style. Rosie grinned and elbowed her ribs. The train vaulted forward, and she’d had but moments to imagine the stories of the few left behind on the platform before the light dimmed away.
Look! she’d yelped, both hands flat against the window, her nose almost as close.
Where? Rosie leaned past her and peered into the darkness, never, ever questioning what.
I thought I saw– she began, and then they heard it, overhead, a solid thump, a landing. They eyed the ceiling, but the metal didn’t bulge. The others, their heads bent together, giggling, seemed unconcerned, oblivious. Rosie met her gaze, shrugged her shoulders, and they both turned back to the window. Something – a scrap of dark cloth – fluttered at the edge of the glass. She gasped; Rosie echoed … and it was gone, snatched away.
But not forgotten, not dismissed, never doubted. Later, home in their shared room, bundled snug in their beds, they’d talked into the night, long after the lights were ordered out. Who, how, why …
She’d traveled the route into Manhattan now innumerable times and the train still sparked an exciting uncertainty – the coarse, clacking clatter, the bing-bong of the doors. Others might nod over an open book. Some slept hard on another’s shoulder – as across from her now, an entire family, a tipped row of dominoes, swayed in the arms of Hypnos. But she never dozed. And when she rode at night, if she were in the last car once again, she kept watch and listened.
No one she knew shared her enthusiasm for the ride, immune, they said, to subway entertainment. No, that isn’t true. Rosie was – always – eager to hear what she’d experienced, who she’d seen, though eternally frustrated that she had only words to share, wailing more than once, Why won’t you carry a camera? But, at best, she could deliver an ill-focused snapshot, and besides, she’d say, she liked being free-handed, open to conversation, in violation of yet another of her mother’s rules.
On the phone, over tea, they’d match story for story: Rosie’s bucket drummers at the 42nd and 7th station; her saw-lady’s eerie, curling music at Times Square. Her foil-festooned alien with clip-on antennae and tenor saxophone; Rosie’s acrobats who she swore turned backflips down the narrow aisle, then locked arms and feet to roll to the front.
They touched the subway floor? she’d squealed. Did they wear gloves? And Rosie had laughed. Eim, you’re Mom. Did you know?
And at night, Flynn would lay close, a look on his face she could never quite decipher – admiration, amusement, apprehension. He’d listen for a long while, tugging at last on a coil of her hair, his signal for no more talk … quiet her lips with first his thumb …
She sighed, missing him.
The 4-train rattled on.
At work, she’d jumped each time the telephone rang and, resentful of the invoked fear, had barked hello, apologizing then to every stunned caller. She’d snapped at Zivah – for not wearing loud enough shoes, of all things – and at the afternoon’s staff meeting, she’d pulled the perfect Irish Goodbye just as Wren began her legal reports.1 I’ll have to get with her tomorrow, ask about Edward’s case. Apologize … again.
Though she’d looked over her shoulder as she boarded and, from the corner of her eye, monitored the faces of each new passenger, no one glared her way, no one sidled up with anything close to menace, and now, like a tipper on the goatskin drum, the subway’s ornamented rhythms – the roll and triplet, the stroking double-down – numbed her raw nerves. The puppeteer’s rendition of Woolly Bully made her laugh, but after his exit at Yankee Stadium, she was grateful for the resulting, relative quiet. Then, at 86th Street the doors opened and her favorite stepped through, a magician, a white-haired gent with a sweet manner, his tricks never sudden, never loud, playing to the children, engaging them, offering baubles that materialized from thin air, blowing bubbles that turned to catchable crystal. As always, he passed no hat; his magician’s box stood closed at his feet. He seemed content with the rapt faces and trills of glee, the thankful smiles of parents. The Great Sébastien. I should hire him, she realized. Why haven’t I thought of that before? The kids would love him and surely he needs the money. She dug in her purse for paper and pencil, for one of her cards, retrieving instead the two small cassette tapes stowed in the outside pocket. As if to remind her, call her back from normal. Her stomach lurched with the halt of the car. The doors opened at Canal Street … and closed. Sébastien was gone and she’d missed her stop.
Wake up, she admonished herself, though it wasn’t sleep she shook from her mind.
Next was the Chambers Street station … Flynn’s stop, days he didn’t ride with Albie and J.T. and Neal. And just as well, she decided, now there’s a bit of sun. ‘Tis only an extra block to walk through Foley Square. At the base of the stairs, she stood with the fullness of her skirt bunched at her thigh, the wind spiraling her ankles. Beside her, a woman started for the surface. Better hold on, she said, demonstrating one of her mother’s lessons, at least.
She walked against the exodus past City Hall, out of habit turning into the plaza at Reade Street. Though nearly closing time, a line snaked from the green kiosks of the food court. Working late? she heard from more than one frazzled worker. Court tomorrow. Big presentation. A deadline. She could order sandwiches – gyros, BLTs, eggplant parms – and carry them past the courthouse, past St. Andrew’s, through the courtyard to the backdoor of police headquarters, pass them out in Flynn’s house: to the rookies penned in records and management, anxious for their turn on the truck; or, if she were lucky, to Flynn and his mates, if they were safe at the station, if he were not somewhere deep in the city’s shadows and despair, not going first through a barricaded door into nightmare, not positioned, not required to narrow, to shutter, to separate …
A chancer she was, downtown on only Joe’s assurance that Catherine would be in and glad to see her. She could – perhaps should – toss the offending cassettes and their crude, likely impotent threats in the bin on her way and arrive instead with an idea for dinner. Rude, it was, to pile her worry at Catherine’s feet, and early in their friendship for the burden. But in every conversation, she’d felt invitation, the vibration of memory, a sameness of energy, of purpose. And every conversation had been almost shorthand, driven by some unnamed necessity to cover the miles, the years, in seven-league boots, to hurry through, to get to now …
Because we– because we’re to– Well … because.
The tulips in the plaza’s planters were in full crimson bloom. At her touch, clinging droplets showered from the petals. The sun lit the high stories, but the first veil of darkness edged onto the concourse. Find someone who understands, Martin had said. It seemed she had no choice, wanted no other … a fortuned fate.
She crossed the street into Foley Square, threading her way through benches and pedestrians toward the small greenspace. A muffled beat welled behind her and before she could turn, a man – no, a dancer – on a skateboard blurred past, music half-loud from headphones draped around his neck. He floated back, swirled her, arms out like wings resting on crutches … strange, rocker-bottomed crutches. She stopped to watch, inviting him close with the first real smile of her day. Rosie will love him, she thought. Freezes, glides, poetry, play. Already she suffered a dearth of words to describe … to paint. A fedora tumbled shoulder to shoulder, down one arm to his hand and with a swooping bow, he pushed away, a larking, backward slalom.
“Wait!” she cried, searching her purse again for one of her elusive cards, forced to peer into its depths. You need a skate park designer, she said to herself. Don’t let this one escape. “Wait,” she cried again, looking up, willing to run after him if she must. And he was waiting, at the first bench past the hedge, where – top hat twirling on his cane, his face turned toward the sun – the Great Sébastien sat.
With a lightened step, she crossed Centre Street to Catherine’s building. At the entrance, a man, dark-haired – familiar – held the heavy door for her, a drawled you’re welcome to her thank you. She wove the crowded lobby, waiting … waiting at the bank of elevators, at last inside and leaning on the button for Catherine’s floor.
“Well, that was luck,” she said aloud, to no one’s notice. Better than luck! she heard Martin tease. And it was he who’d taught her that a great energy swirls nearby, that events are rarely unrelated, but bound – connected – by meaning, by resonance … that what seems the merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny.2
At last alone in the elevator, deep in its corner, her fingers unfurled to display a trinket in her palm, Billy’s exchange for her card and her requests – his consultation, Sébastien’s magic show – His Grandfather! Dates to be arranged but promised. It was a tiny, metal thing, a charm for a necklace, for a bracelet – a dull, bronze twirl.
“Centripetal,” Billy called it, when, with a flourish, Sébastien pulled the trifle from behind her ear.
“And that’s Latin,” the magician said, dropping it in her open palm, “for center seeking.”
She studied it now, holding the gift between her thumb and forefinger, turning it in the light, and discerned the double helix of railing, the risers, the narrow, etched treads. Steps, she realized. A spiral stair. She imagined Rosie’s question. To where?
A ping signaled her floor and the car groaned to a stop; its gears reversed for descent and held in a quivering limbo. Beneath her feet, the steel shuddered, then stilled. A vertical shaft of brighter light appeared. She blinked in the fluorescence and crossed the threshold into electric air.
What? What’s happened?
An unseeing Jenny swept past and into the hovering car. The color high on her face, lips pressed white and wordless, Jenny lifted a shaking finger to the controls and the doors shuttered her away. In silent supplication, Catherine stood alone.
The hour of departure, the hard cold hour, Eimear thought, the words rushing from some deep well. Oh, farther than everything, farther than everything.3
She reached for Catherine’s hand and together they watched the lighted arrow on the wall until Down winked out.
* * *
Kanin bent to the array of tools, touching each, one after another, in a last mental ordering for the next day’s work. Exhaustion pulled at his features but his study was careful. From maul to wedge to wrench, his lips moved in voiceless calculation.
Though it took no special training, no gift to know Kanin’s feelings, Vincent loosed the hold he maintained and the curtains held tight in his mental fist parted. The longing, the regret, the uncertainty sounded a blood-drum of desire and fear, a fearsome thudding. The beat battered Kanin … battered him … and merged with the clatter and vibration incessant overhead. Almost too much, it was … life.
Vincent folded the winch’s crank into its hold and rose to his feet. “Above us is the Woodlawn terminal.”
Kanin inspected the jaws of a bolt cutter, working the arms back and forth. He reached for the lubricant. “Yeah. What about it?”
“The train,” Vincent said. “Take it to 77th.”
Vincent pulled in a long breath. “The Glade Arch, Kanin? The entry there?”
“What’re you saying,” Kanin asked, turning to face him. “Go home? Again?”
“From there, you’d be at Olivia’s … at your door in minutes.”
“The first time didn’t go so well.”
“The first time didn’t go at all. But are you the same man today? I don’t think so.”
“It’s only been a few days,” Kanin said, scratching his shadowed jaw. “How much can change?”
Everything. Everything can change. In ten days. In an hour … a moment. He swung his cloak to his shoulders, settled the hood and collar, smoothed over the pocket and its hard-folded contents. “You’ve returned from a journey with more than information.”
“Must I spell it out for you?” He hesitated, then stepped closer. “You returned with humility, Kanin. With determination. With hope.”
“I came back with a black eye,” Kanin muttered.
“As Cullen would say, you took one for the team.” Vincent tipped his head. “Bruises fade.”
Though his chin sank almost to his chest, Kanin’s face softened, touched by a smile. Vincent began again. “You returned with commitment. I felt it renewed in you – commitment not just to Olivia, to your children, but to the community. You’ll stay on here, carry on the work, relieve others to return to their homes. You’ll do that, even if Olivia … refuses you. Before, you questioned staying and now …”
Kanin looked up. “I won’t leave, whatever happens.”
“Perhaps this is your true homecoming.” He gripped Kanin’s shoulder. “Go to her. Bare your heart. Whisper your dreams. Swear a new vow. Describe the rooms here, the life you will promise. Ask for what you want. Your asking names Olivia’s worth, proves her necessariness to you. You may find, as I did today, that asking allows others the opportunity to give, that asking is not so terrible a thing after all.”
“You should already know that, Vincent.”
He dropped his hand and leaned against the ledge, pondering Kanin’s words, lifting his shoulders in question.
“You must have, uh, popped the question. You know, to Catherine. The big question.”
Afraid to ask you, afraid to hear your answer.4 The brink of that moment rushed him, the bliss of change – by asking, believing, yes, that he deserved her; by asking, promising … everything; the rudder dropping into turbulent water, the fog lifting, the journey since. Cleave to me, Catherine. Heat flushed his chest and climbed to his face. He folded his arms over a fiercely beating heart and raised his eyes, meeting Kanin’s gaze and grin. “Yes,” he said, nodding. He could feel the cool air drying the tips of his bared teeth, the wind in the sails. “I did.”
“Way to go!” Kanin cuffed his arm, then sobered. “I wish I’d been here for the celebration. I haven’t congratulated you. Or Catherine.” He jammed his hands in his pockets and, low in his throat, he groaned. “I’m sorry for– I’ve been a real– I am happy for you, Vincent. I guess I never thought–”
“Nor did I. Thank you, Kanin.”
“All this …” Kanin scanned the space, his gaze sweeping the row of tools, the beams overhead. “Kinda wrecked your honeymoon.”
Vincent inclined his head and let the silence lengthen between them. His sense of her was so strong. The wind that swept the tunnel carried her voice, her scent. Coming to me …
“There was this guy,” Kanin was saying. “Up at Lyon. He’d been in a long time. We talked a lot. Well, you know. Kind of. He said the hardest thing, being inside, wasn’t believing you’d ever be happy again, but that you deserved to be. And that I had to have a dream in my hand the day I got out or, one way or another, I’d be as good as locked up forever. He said if I’d move toward a dream, the dream would start to move toward me.5 Do you believe that? That if you want something bad enough …” Kanin’s voice dissolved into the persistent throb from above, into the looping metallic drone, the after-ring of bells.
“It’s not wanting, I think, but commitment that clears the path,” Vincent answered. “If you follow your heart, if you commit, truly commit to those you love, to the dream, to your life … whatever you can imagine, if you will begin it, the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”6
Kanin’s scrutiny traveled undisguised from brow to shoulder to his hands loose at his sides. The impulse to draw his fingers in, to tuck his thumbs was immediate, as compelling as the command to breathe, yet he fought the inclination. Instead, he argued. Be. Simply … be. And a sough of thanksgiving suffused his spirit – welcome comfort, like the sink into pillows, into down at the end of the day. All that I am …
“I have to tell you,” Kanin said. “You’ve changed. I can’t put my finger on it, but you’re different somehow. Not so … buttoned up.”
“The torment of precautions often exceeds the dangers to be avoided. It’s sometimes better to abandon one’s self to destiny.”7
“Who said that? Not Father.”
“No, not Father.” Vincent chuckled and bent for his pack. “Napoleon Bonaparte.”
“When do you find time to read all that stuff?” Kanin asked, shaking his head and Vincent remembered the nights, returned to his chambers from Catherine’s balcony, when, alone, he’d read long into morning, so often the same chapter, the same paragraph, the same word over, over, over again. Kanin reached for his flannel shirt pegged on a jut of stone and grabbed the wooden bar of the small tool crate.
“We’re finished for the day. You should leave now, Kanin.”
“But what about those rolling gates? I thought we’d–”
“The gates will be there tomorrow for viewing and they’re no quick remedy for our concerns. You believe those outside our perimeter to be disorganized, haphazard. Without specific intent, is that right?”
“Pretty much, yeah. Still a danger, just … I think we have more time than we thought.”
“Another thing you’ve returned with,” Vincent said. “Knowledge. Whether good or bad news, information gives us power, limns the darkness. Our decisions will be better for what you’ve learned.” He gestured for Kanin’s burden. “And Father needs a report. Send word via sentry that all is well, that you’ll visit with him in the morning. He’ll … understand.”
“Father? A report? Me? You ought to come. Wouldn’t he rather hear it from you?”
“Yours are the answers he needs. I’ll stay close.” Catherine. Coming to me. “Do you have the fare?”
Kanin fished in his pocket, withdrawing a thin fold of bills. “Looks like it.” He fanned the edges, then stuffed the money away. After a long look down the corridor toward camp, he squared his shoulders and offered his hand. “Well, I guess I’m off then. I’ll be back early.”
“Kanin,” Vincent said, stopping him in the junction. “Last night, in my friend’s garden, the lilacs were just opened. Their scent on the midnight air … If you should pass a flower seller on your way to the park …”
Evident even in the dimness, a blush darkened his cheeks. “Now that,” he mumbled, “is a good idea.” He gave a small salute, a tap to his heart, and started down the passageway, a grin over his shoulder before he turned. “And Vincent, about that guardianship?” He walked backwards a few steps. “You and Catherine would be my pick too, but really, you better have your own kids. You’re not getting mine.”
* * *
“Tell me, Catherine,” Eimear whispered. “What do you want? What do you need?”
Her grip was firm, anchoring. Steadfast. Catherine imagined the word manifest on a tunnel wall as if Elizabeth might paint its definition with Eimear’s essence, with the colors of her old soul.
This convergence in our lives is an exquisite mystery. Flynn and Eimear, Vincent and she … they would gravitate together, few enough of you on this earth, Martin had said. Even Father could not deny the truth to Vincent, there in the dark and the last, thinning air of the rock fall – that destinies inextricably linked could circumvent the laws of physics and probability, of time and space.8 And if she closed her eyes and cast herself back, it was true – wasn’t it? – her pretend sister, sitting knees drawn up on the same garden step as she, the imagined sister on the next swing, flying high in the park, the sister sharing secrets late at night … had amber-red curling hair, a voice that sang its stories.
What do I want? A dozen things, a hundred.
Catherine released a pent-up breath. “I want to go home,” she said. “Go with me?”
Chapter title: William Butler Yeats. A Deep-Sworn Vow. 1919.
Opening quotation: John O’Donohue, Anam Cara; A Book of Celtic Wisdom.
2. Friedrich Schiller. (1759-1805)
3. Pablo Neruda. The Song of Despair, from Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.
4. From the story I Carry Your Heart, Chapter 14: See Me.
5. Julia Cameron. The Artist’s Way. 1992.
6. Paraphrased, combined quotes: Follow your bliss and the universe … Joseph C. Campbell. And Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it … attributed to Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, but actually penned by John Anster (one couplet) and William Hutchison Murray (one phrase)
7. Napoleon Bonaparte.
8. Father’s dialogue – Shades of Gray
the real Billy (youtube)
bucket drummers in NYC subway (youtube)
The Saw Lady in NYC subway (youtube)
Bloomingdale’s Model Room, 1971: The Cave
GOOD TO READ
Fan Fiction Sites
ON THESE WALLS
Fan Art Sites
I’m happy with the next chapter. It was worth waiting for and I’m sure it’s worth waiting for the next one. I’m intrigued.
Thank you, Paula! It really helps my writer’s spirits to know you’re reading. Recovering from WFOL preparations took a while! My house needed serious maintenance, having been neglected for several weeks before Winterfest. I hope to be posting chapters more regularly now. So glad to hear you’re enjoying the story so far!
“They’re but babies, Francis, she heard her mother say. Your babies. This isn’t Woodford, nor’s it Galway or even Limerick. And you, of all people, know the dangers.
And you know the beauties, her father answered. I don’t want them afraid, Lily. I want them strong. I want them curious.
They’re already that! her mother growled. I want them safe.”
“I thought I saw– she began, and then they heard it, overhead, a solid thump, a landing. They eyed the ceiling, but the metal didn’t bulge. The others, their heads bent together, giggling, seemed unconcerned, oblivious. Rosie met her gaze, shrugged her shoulders, and they both turned back to the window. Something – a scrap of dark cloth – fluttered at the edge of the glass. She gasped; Rosie echoed … and it was gone, snatched away.”
I LOVE these peeks into Eimear’s childhood. The perpetual pull of parenting between “I want them strong and curious” and “I want them SAFE.” So VERY familiar. And another brief intersection between young Eimear and Rosie and a young Vincent — two worlds touching ever so briefly.
Kanin and Vincent conferring together while cleaning up the tools is priceless.
“Ask for what you want. Your asking names Olivia’s worth, proves her necessariness to you. You may find, as I did today, that asking allows others the opportunity to give, that asking is not so terrible a thing after all.”
“You should already know that, Vincent.”
Yes, indeed! “Cleave to me, Catherine.” I STILL squee over your genius in using such a potent phrase — Cleave to me. Such an expression of oneness, of Bond.
And finally having Eimear step into the breach left by Jenny’s departure. Into the gloom comes light and freshness and understanding without prying.
“Tell me, Catherine,” Eimear whispered. “What do you want? What do you need?” …. Catherine released a pent-up breath. “I want to go home,” she said. “Go with me?”
I want to go home — there are so MANY meanings in that sentence. Home, to her apartment. Home, to Vincent, her true home. Home, to this new friendship. Home, back to HERSELF.
Another magnificent chapter returned to us. And your greedy fans want MORE, of course.
Thank you, Lindariel, for finding what I hope readers find, for going below the surface words for the deeper meanings, and for remembering things that came before this story. You do my heart good!
I was so deeply immersed in this chapter from the first word. I was in the city, on the subway with the girls. It was so real and reminded me vividly of my own younger life there that when Eimear heard the thump above, I also wondered what it was, not thinking at all of Vincent for the first few seconds until I read further. I wasn’t in batb until then; I was in my beloved NYC.
That’s just how good you are as a writer, Carole, that’s just how deep your talent runs. And even though I already knew that, still I am awed and amazed all over again.
The door in the wardrobe, the looking glass, this story. How fortunate we readers are to be let through to other worlds, worlds so exquisitely imagined that they become their own form of reality. It really is a special kind of magic.
Linda, I (almost) have no words! Your very kind comments have made me really, really, really happy. I was stunned to read this this morning. I still am. I’m anxious now to get on with the next chapter and so very grateful for your encouragement and inspiration.