sequel to The Only Gift




chapter 51 ~ I Know of Nothing Else but Miracles

We have circled and circled
till we have arrived  home again,
we two.


There, on the edge of Eimear’s … or was it Rosie’s? … bed, she shifted ever so slightly toward their candlelit rooms, deep and away but ever-near. As if on a dream-cloud, she sailed the tunnel passages, past their chamber’s entry, past dining-hall and chandlery, on to the council room. The instinct of protection was fixed, her second nature as well, and she might have anticipated a chorus of chary questions, Father’s voice the weighty overtone  How, indeed, Catherine? How did you come to this decision? What you’ve set in motion … But now, the conjured roundtable of faces cast her direction bore expressions of but patient curiosity, of judicious, fair-minded inquiry. She acknowledged the spectral assembly with the lift of her chin. 

Over the years, the Council had surely heard the petitions of any number of tunnel dwellers, heard their grave assurances, the references and proofs. Her own first sponsorship had suffered a rocky start – Lena still tread a bit at the circle’s edges – but Father had listened and had, on faith – Faith in me, she realized – agreed to the meeting, side-stepping the honored process, the process followed by all … 

Except Lin. Except Devin. Except Vincent.

Except Stuart as well. 

He’d surprised everyone, Vincent had told her, no one with an inkling of his new-found companion, the outlying society known for it’s unorthodoxy, its privacy. Solitudinarians, Father pronounced them. Fringers, they were affectionately called. During a secret planning session for Mary’s birthday celebration, Pascal relayed a sentry’s rapped announcement – arriving, second level, northern passage, Stuart Aizenberg and friend unknown and a hush fell on the animated discussion. Everyone turned to look at Father, who hooked a finger to the crosspiece of his glasses, pulling them to the very tip of his nose, who folded his arms and pursed his lips. She’d laughed when Vincent mimicked the gestures. But Wren had arrived with a tin of Father’s favorite tarts tied round with string, Stuart with a warm, decided look. There was, Vincent recounted, no resistance.  

No resistance in the face of such confidence, such surety. 

Would she even have to give voice to what she knew – to this truth beyond knowledge?

Somewhere deep within the walls of the house, a pipe tinged. Eimear waited, her question suspended in the nimbus of the moment. Flynn and Vincent  … How …

“I’m not exactly sure,” Catherine acknowledged. “Not how or when. Only that they will. We’re just … all of us …” 

“Starting out?”

Vincent’s falls-side declaration … Eimear’s echo of it … swirled her heart. Now is not the time to weep, he would say were he at her shoulder. In her imagination, his eyes sparked and deepened to cobalt and he pressed closer. But the time to rejoice in something that has never been, she heard him whisper, until this day, this moment.  As if from above, from somewhere near the starry ceiling, she looked down upon Eimear and herself – no shadow, no smoke, no blur between them, no riddle, no separating secret. She curled her fingers around the gift in her grasp. 


Still at the open window, Eimear’s hand rested on the oak sash; her thumb tapped the rhythm of the wistful tune drifting from the churchyard. The Faraway Waltz, Catherine remembered … from the ceilidh. 

In the break and shuffle between tunes and dances, flushed and breathless, she’d retreated to a corner of the living room, but Flynn had sought her out. You were right about the Cashell Set, she’d admitted, fanning her face. I had no place in that one. But you should have warned me about the High Caul Cap. And about– What was it called? The Corofin? I really fouled that one up. 

All evening, regardless of his willingness to teach her the steps, he’d held something back, his connection to her, to the occasion, somehow just … bridled, yet in that moment, the veil of mastered restraint dropped away and he smiled with gentle awareness. But this is a waltz, he’d said, as he led her back to the floor. A familiar place. 

His grip was easy yet anchoring, confident, his step unfaltering. When they spun past, from where she lingered in the doorway, watching him  – watching out for him – Eimear smiled encouragement, gratitude, relief. Catherine knew her feelings – the looking-on in hope, the net of protection and faith she had, herself, so often cast out from her waiting-place at a chiseled entry, at her balcony’s brick railing.

She knew Eimear’s feelings now as well, her expression mirrored in the window’s dark panes, a puzzle of tenderness, vigilance, heartache …  

“What you told me,” Eimear began, “about Vincent. What he’s called upon to do, what he’s willing do … the tax of it. I believed I could counter the weight Flynn also bears. I have constancy. I have words. I have … touch. And still, I see him on some forlorn precipice, by the brown thorn-trees, fighting a bitter black wind.1 Alone. Alone, always.” Her knuckles paled against the window’s worn wooden frame. “No one believes me, or would if I’d share it, that he thinks himself a debtor, seeing the Flynn who washes the widows’ cars and rakes their leaves, who herds the street’s youth off to spear trash in Pelham Bay Park, a man ahead, not behind. Or that the man who can pleach an arbor and breed new roses, who once warmed a hummingbird, senseless from flying into glass, in his cupped hands ‘til it gained breath and wing again, sees the grim shadow of a brute in his mirror … when he looks.” Her voice softened. “There are others who do the same job, Flynn’s mates on his truck … but Flynn told me, once, early in our courtship, after he had to– When afterward he wrestled so … That they have to gear up for their work, while he must gear down. That he comes from a wilder place. A dozen times, he begged me to see it, at the same time refusing to take me with him through the thornbush to the barrens.” Eimear turned to meet her gaze. “You understand, as can no one else.”

“But …” So long she’d stood on the bank of the rushing river, no longer wholly part of her world, no one to turn to from it, no one with whom, in companioned step, to start across the unimagined bridge, to show there is another sky.2 “You have Rosie to talk to.”

“I do,” Eimear said. “Rosie understands conscience and she sees, oh, she sees, but she can be fierce and often a bit more on my side than is fair. And some things … some things are … more than private. Yet to you – you, Catherine – ‘tis not disclosure but communion.” Though the glow of the lamp deepened the hollows of her cheeks, accented her sooty sleeplessness, her eyes glistened. A small smile trembled. “We’re alike, more, I’m thinking, than we’re able to know. Their aloneness. And Catherine, ours … but also, our delight.”

The same longing, the same solemn heart beat in Catherine’s own breast. Vincent and Flynn shared a dark and demanding place. They shared conviction, commitment, duty – the triumvirate’s heavy burden, its freeing glory. And love. Great love. Both its giving and receiving. She imagined their spirited conversation, the non-necessity of speech. The places they would go. Through the open bedroom doorway, an amber glow blossomed – from the street, from the foyer, she knew, not from below, not candlelight, not lantern or torchlight held high in Vincent’s hand – but the dream, their dream, seemed to glow  in resonance, in shimmer. Tears once rebuffed welled now and spilled. In a moment, Eimear was at her side.

And we can go together. We will go together.

Martin’s music swept without a lull from sweet slow air to lively dance. “The Humours of Whiskey,” Eimear noted, and many merry bars later, when the tune changed again, she laughed softly and released her hand. “Can you believe that. It’s Follow Me Down he’s playing.” She rose and latched the casement, tugged the drape of one lace curtain even with the other. With a chitter of dismay, Mab reclaimed the wooden sill, arching and pressing against the closed window. The music muted to a thrummed pulse, the counting-off of time. Eimear raked back her hair and knotted it, bunched and wound it again when a few ungovernable strands refused the coil, nodded at her own reflection. Ready. “I should change my clothes, yes? Wear a coat?”

“Boots, too. It’s a ways to walk.”

Now lights flickered from beyond the garden, in jouncing contrast to the almond incandescence of the bedside lamp. Shadows of leaves ghosted the glass in a strobe of headlights clearing the rear wall. Eimear’s neighbors, home at last. Nothing more. Nothing sinister. Not a reminder that out there a vague menace gathered corporeal breath, shook its shadowy fist. That she was here foremost because Eimear needed her help. But Mab’s ears canted; her whiskers quivered, and she sprang from her perch, skittering with poor purchase out the door and away. From the hallway, the telephone shrilled. 

“Let the machine pick up,” Catherine said, compelled to whisper. 

Eimear swept out her arm in broad gesture and Catherine imagined the device sent crashing to the floor. “It can’t.” 

* * *

Damien tapped the rim of his spoon to one of the maps spread on the long table. “Here … here,” he said, afterward dipping up a bite of lentil stew. He swallowed and pointed the utensil to a second drawing. “And the last one, number six, here. There’s something … but I lose track when I move from level to level and map to map. Wish we could suspend them over each other somehow and make ‘em transparent.” He scraped up another spoonful, another. “I saw this television show once,” he mumbled, “A long time ago at Benny’s and his mom’s apartment when I delivered their Winterfest candles. These guys were on a space ship playing chess on this tiered board. Tri-D, Benny called it. He had a book about it. A tech manual.” Frowning, he inspected his empty vessel. “But I guess it wasn’t a real game.”

Beside him, Vincent leaned over his own clutched bowl in study of the array of charts. “A German named Ferdinand Maack invented three-dimensional chess at the turn of the century,” he said. “Raumschach. Space Chess. Think of the board as a cube sliced into five layers, 125 cells each. White begins on the A and B levels, black on E and D. All the standard playing pieces appear – kings and queens and rooks – but there’s a special piece, two per player. The unicorn. It moved triagonally, up and down through the corners of …” Damien snorted and Vincent looked up and grinned. So much information, Mouse might have said. Kristopher, too. 

Damien’s eyes widened. “You see it already, don’t you. The pattern.”

“A maze of seven centers on three levels, I think. Stacked double spirals, the paths going into the center and out again, one level up or down. The seventh rolling gate … if it were here on this level and open … ” Vincent enjoyed a gingery chunk of sweet potato, pointing then with his own spoon to a third diagram, to a stretch of tunnel marked as a dead-end, then to yet another blueprint, to a penciled-in tributary marked rumored wet, unexplored. “And the eighth gate here … and closed, all traffic from the portals along the northern perimeter, from Saratoga Avenue to Tibbets Road would be diverted back to the entrance under the old Putnam Station. If the gates were reversed – open to closed, closed to open – any incursion from the Riverdale tunnels would be rerouted to the entrance beyond the Russian Mission School, into the woods on Vimont Road.”

Damien set down his bowl and spoon and rubbed his neck. “If you say so, Vincent.”

“If the remaining two gates exist and function,” Vincent went on, “and if sentries are posted here … and here, the adjustment could be made quickly, and any intruder would wander up and down for hours, but never leave this confined area or progress beyond level four.” With a clawtip, he drew an arc through the northwestern corner of Van Cortlandt Park. “The maze of gates would protect more than half the territory we planned to lose.”

“Do we need it though? Hardly anybody lives there any more. Pretty wild, Jamie says.” 

“But beautiful. And if the deep lands are safe, people might return. Our community needs space to grow … as others join us.” Like Aniela, Vincent divined. 

Damien blushed and ducked his head. “We’d still lose Spencer and Leighton,” he said, “but that’s just as well. Too many ghosts. And that entrance under the college, Levon’s old place.” He layered one map atop another, a third atop the two, and curled back one corner, flattened it, curled it back again. “But what if the gates aren’t–”

“Then Kanin will chisel and install new ones. He was intrigued by the design and function. I expect him to return with plans for several more in strategic places. Your instincts and curiosity have saved us weeks of work, Damien. Thank you.”

“Who do you think did this, Vincent? How? When?”

“We’ll never know.”

Damien rocked back on his heels. “That is just so cool.”


Supper finished, the assembly had broken into bands of three and four, a platoon of six, a ten-man troop, each league preparing for the next day’s task. Tools were rowed up for cleaning, cables inspected, nail- and bolt-pouches filled. Canteens were gathered. A team would empty, wash, and fill them tonight before lanterns-out. Supper, an hour’s rest, and Kanin’s return was a catalyst to effort – the trump of knowledge over the unknown, the change of plans made due to his discoveries, now the possibilities rumored by the rolling gates. He planned to send word the next morning to the second crew, to each inhabitant of the northern tunnels – a reassessment was required, a convening called for – but on his way to the wash station, Damien’s bowl stacked with his, Vincent surveyed the chamber. The conversation had grown deliberate, the spikes of laughter ebbed. Cal rolled his neck, dug into a shoulder muscle with his fingers. Ira wrapped Martha’s wrist in a wide crepe bandage. More than one of them limped.  Weariness was a creeping tarnish. 

Despite repeated invitations, Wren had seemed reluctant to share their meal, begging off the lentils that might upset the baby. What she didn’t say, he’d heard, nonetheless – that the crew needed all the sustenance they could muster, that she’d not take a portion from them that she could provide for herself from their own pantry. She’d insisted her walk home was short enough and necessary, citing work she must do herself, that she’d be fine on her own. But Stuart said he’d see his wife home. Now, a shadow loomed in a far passage and Stuart reappeared, alone, his eyes downcast, his step slow and scuffling, reminding Vincent of a time when, twelve years old, their hands shoved in their pockets, they’d stood before Stuart’s mother. “Two gloomy Gusses,” she’d scolded, shaking her head. She’d jerked a thumb in the air, an umpire at her own home plate. “Take it outside, boys. I mean it.” The memory of her command was clear, but the cause … he could no longer recall.

Now there was no mystery behind the dour mood. Gone just over half an hour, Stuart hadn’t tarried, but unless he’d rustled quick-fare from home and eaten it out of hand on the walk back, he’d missed his own supper – the scoured pots were upended and drying by the fire. Without complaint, walking the length of the work table, he lay his hand in succession to each coiled rope, sat down at the wheeled whetstone and took up the first chisel. If prodded, Vincent knew what he would say. My job to is protect her, provide for her. To do all he could, to bear this and any sacrifice. Even though he missed her. Even though separation hurt. Even though a single night, lying skin to skin would–

Catherine …

She was so close. Her heart brimming with gifts, magical and warm, enticing, promising. He pulled the watch from his vest pocket, first tracing the engraved stars, the winging bird with the pad of one finger, prising open the gleaming gold cover with a thumbnail. Nearly late enough. Above, darkness surely gathered at the garden’s edges, within the ambulatory, in the archway where Martin would bid Lily a soft good night. A ghrá mo chroí. A chuisle. Oíche mhaith.3 Where she would be, where he was needed. 

His heart thudded against his ribs, once, a sharp, cold blow. 

Where he was called.

* * * 

Eimear snapped off the table lamp and they hurried from the room into the hall. Pointing to the bank of switches on the wall by the jamb, Catherine shook her head. Twilight had given over to full evening, but the landing wasn’t dark; the bay window’s filmy curtains opaled the white flare of the street lamps. Shoulder to shoulder, they advanced on the handset jangling in its shallow niche. Eimear squared her stance and Catherine sensed more anger than fear in Eimear’s demeanor. 

Good. But still … 

“O’Carroll residence,” Catherine snapped, having snatched up the receiver. “Who’s calling?”

“Who?” Eimear mouthed, when Catherine fell silent.

“Hold, please.” She covered the mouthpiece. “Harold Pinter? I’m not buying that, but it seems a bit too literary an alias for thugs.”

Eimear laughed. “Harold’s our mechanic.”

More than relief washed over her. No threat in this call – but Eimear had to pry the phone from her hand. As Eimear thanked her friend for his work, affirmed she’d recovered her car key, Catherine slipped to the front window and drew back the gauze panel. Every house she could see glowed upstairs and down with grateful warmth. Supper over, dishes done; two people at the kitchen table, she imagined, over coffee, over tea, relaying tales of the day. The one-way street below was lined with the evening’s parked cars, the passage through barely more than a single lane. A low rumble filtered up – a long-nosed, wood-paneled station wagon slowly cruising past. In watch, she froze, but the car showed no hesitation; the headlights stayed on. Three houses down, it swung into an empty driveway. A dog barked; a door slammed. A muffled call – “Dad!”. 

“Thank you again, Harold. I should have rung you the minute I was home,” Eimear was saying. “I’ll drop by with a check tomorrow.”

Catherine let the curtain fall. Tomorrow. In Eimear’s voice, she could hear a step-change, a ragged edge of concern. These last hours had proved respite, their sharing of secrets like a magical spell of protection, an elixir of forgetting, but tomorrow would come. Tomorrow Eimear would tell her story likely half a dozen times to as many detectives. Tomorrow she would tell Flynn of the chilling calls, see on Flynn’s face the guilt he would assume, watch his shoulders sag, see his mouth turn down, a crease deepen between his brows, his eyes dull with sorrow … and retreat. Soon, she would tell Vincent of Eimear’s troubles and see the same cloak of regret settle around him, a sad wardrobe shared between brothers.

The phone settled to its base, Eimear stood before it, solemn, her hand on the receiver. “I’m reminded now,” she said. “I have to make a call before we leave. I blew off a meeting today, walking out the minute Wren began her report. I can’t imagine what she thinks, Edward’s custody hearing tomorrow and needing all our support.” She reached for the landing’s light switch. “Her number’s in my Daytimer.” 

Catherine followed Eimear down the stairs and into the kitchen, an awareness sailing before her, just out of reach. Martin could still be heard in the garden archway, the melody slow and sweet, a fare-the-well, a lullaby. Her skittish flight forgotten, Mab was regal, perched between the sink and the window, turning to them as they entered, blinking once, twice. 

Eimear fished a zippered planner from her purse, opened it on the counter. “Wren’s our advocate,” she said, skimming the colored tabs. “Our entire legal department, actually.”  She flipped a section divider over. “Such an apology I owe. This might take a while, if she answers, that is. I’m forever getting her machine.”

Mab padded across the countertop, batted at the burgundy leather cover, plucked at a page. Catherine retrieved it from beneath her kneading paws. Aine Rafferty, she read from the list of names and numbers. Tom and Martha O’Raghailligh. Zivah Rabinow. Sean Rankin and below his, the name Nora Quinn crossed out, Bonnie Jean Cannataro penciled in. And then … 

Wren Rasmussen, Stuart Aisenberg. An address she recognized – the apartment above Dix’s print shop. 

From the hallway, she heard the click of buttons, a draw of breath. “Wren, hi. It’s Eimear.” 

Snippets of information she’d gleaned now joined end to end; black and white outlines now filled with color. Wren, Stuart. Their wedding celebration. A first conversation over mulled cider cut short by Cullen asking for a dance – a child welfare attorney, a treatment home for abused children in South Dakota, transferred to a sister school in the Bronx, living in the northern tunnels, maintaining an Above address – she remembered now – in Woodlawn. 

“First off,” Eimear was saying, though clearly to a recorder. “I’m needing to apologize for darting out of the meeting today as I did. ‘Twas rude. I’d forgotten an appointment in Manhattan altogether, one I couldn’t miss.” The spiral cord stretched taut, Eimear paced the wood floor, back and forth in the scuffed track already worn there, telling, Catherine realized, only a slightly shaded version of the truth, a skill she herself had honed to instinct. “I’m sorry to miss you at home. I’ll be going out again soon myself. And tomorrow … I’ll be in late – too late to wish you well, but we’re not worried. You’ll win, because you’re right.” At the end of her tether, Eimear pivoted one last time. “We’ll watch after Edward and plan the celebration. Zivah does love a new-family party. Bye, now,” she finished and hung up the phone. 

Catherine leaned in the kitchen doorway, arms crossed, elbows in her palms. “Wren isn’t home,” she said, no question in her voice. “Well, she probably is, it’s just …”

“Just what?” Eimear asked, her brows knitting. “Wait. Do you know her? She’s hardly here a year – could your paths have crossed downtown? A blue-million lawyers in New York City and you know ours?” Mirroring her stance, Eimear tucked her arms to her ribs.

“Vincent told me Wren and I would have much in common.” She studied her feet, biting her lip to keep from breaking into laughter; even so, she couldn’t contain a smile at this – a further corroboration, sealing wax poured and stamped below the declaration’s crowning sentence. Testament. All was right with their worlds. Righter than right. She glanced up at Eimear, whose eyes were wide with dawning comprehension. As wide as saucers, as wide as mill wheels, as wide as the Round Tower.4 In the silence that ensued, she envisioned Wren’s expression just as stunned when she learned of their commonality.  

And Vincent, so difficult to surprise … but this just might do it. 



Chapter Title: Walt Whitman. Miracles.

Opening Quotation: Walt Whitman. We Two, How Long We Were Fool’d.

1. William Butler Yeats. Red Hanrahan’s Song About Ireland, From In The Seven Woods. 1903

2. Emily Dickinson. There Is Another Sky.

3. Gaelic translation: Love of my heart. My treasure. Good night. {pronounced: a graw hum kree. a quish-leh. e-ha whawt}.

4. Hans Christian Andersen. The Tinderbox. 1835.


  1. We are approaching important events step by step, meeting with the Council, introducing Eimear, Catherine doesn’t know how much respect and love she has in the tunnel community?, how much do they trust her?? I think she realizes that..and now we have a very important meeting between Flynn and Vincent and sharing their similar pain and tormented soul. Carole, you keep me in suspense… and all I can do is wait🙃. I really enjoy the connection that Catherine and Eimear have, they can support each other in situations that only they understand, what a relief to their hearts. Both need each other
    for mental balance..It’s good that in the tunnels they found a faster solution, but still requiring a lot of work, I feel their tiredness, longing and I see Vincent as a man of many talents and great intelligence, caring, well-read, giving his best ..and I say that it is impossible not to love him..
    and in the end it turns out that Wren also belongs to a common circle of friends, and she divides her life into both worlds, she will understand perfectly well with Catherine…..
    Carole I love your makes me forget the hardships of everyday life and works wonders for me. Thank you.

    • Paula, your responses to this story work wonders for me! Your kind words make me want to work harder, to do my very best to create this new world below in such a way that it is accepted by readers. You find in the chapters everything I hoped would be found. Truly, you do my heart so much good. Thank you, thank you!

  2. There’s so much about your story that underscores the idea of the path already lying beneath our feet, if we could only be open to the signs and watching for the markers. There is such a force churning here, a gathering of common threads — I know you, I have KNOWN you, we share so much in common, we were meant to be. And this sense applies to Catherine and Vincent as a couple, to Catherine and Eimear as friends, to Eimear and Flynn as a couple, to the gathering of a new kind of community that also includes Rosie and Father Martin and … maybe by extension Joe (through Rosie and Catherine?).

    Some new exciting discoveries here: The series of rolling doors that could provide wonderful protection for this northern Tunnel community of “Solitudinarians” (leave it to Father to find the perfect word!) with only a fraction of the work included in their original plan; and Wren turning out to be another connection point between Catherine and Eimear, Above and Below.

    I know what’s coming next. The threads are pulling tighter.

    MORE please!



    • Thank you SO MUCH for always finding the common threads and for finding they’re pulling tighter. That makes me really happy. You’re always so kind and encouraging … I don’t ever feel like I’m standing alone at the edge of the abyss, ready to throw in the towel. Hugs, back!!

  3. I always so enjoy reading of the bonds between people — of love, of friendship, of service, of shared interests, of so many things, formed in those sometimes overlapping circles, various levels and directions that hold individuals together yet are malleable and flowing. How fortunate we are to recognize those people in our lives, to share with them, to lose something of our aloneness. It’s all portrayed so well throughout this story, and it always touches my heart.
    A friend once told me about “soul groups” wherein — a very simplified explanation, this — we are eternally bonded to a group of people who are with us through all lifetimes. The relationships between any two people in the group can vary from lifetime to lifetime — child and parent, lover and lover, teacher and student, friend and friend, and on and on — but the souls in that finite group are always the same, always together. You just have to be able to recognize them as such.
    It’s really wonderful to read about Catherine’s soul group and for us to know — for her to know — that once recognized, these souls are the end of her aloneness.
    So looking forward to the next chapter — as always!


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