sequel to The Only Gift
IRON BEHIND THE VELVET
chapter 7 ~ The Shadowy Garden Where Love Is
Be for this,
keep being, for there is music in all this,
quietly it plays, almost inaudible,
but the melody remains.
Be for this …
Song after song, one dissolving into the next on the same breath, without the pause of note, without intermission … a traveling through a winter forest bronzed with light, a shiver then of birches … a whisper across an ocean and the spirit of the wave is roused, strung with diamonds now and now the storm, the scatterer of dreams … fair chieftains marching, splendid, into the light, glittering blue swords aloft, their mighty stout horns sounding … all the words of beauty, the beauty of the world … the beauty that must pass … the red rose murmuring of passion, the dark hills crossed for love …
Lulled almost into sleep, Vincent felt the violet bruise of the day’s toil fade from his limbs. Lost … lost in rhythms of heart-chant, the quiet, when it came, was still sweet music.
In the hushed meter, a welling tenderness …
“Oh, but you should see them, Lily,” a man whispered into the night. “So strong. So alive. So like you. I miss you still. If only, Lily … if only. A stor mo chroí, beidh tú, i mo chroí go deo. Codladh sámh.” 1, 2, 3
… a tune, then, a melody beyond longing, a farewell …
Then a gentled voice …
“Lady love, will you come with me now
Come and live merrily under the bough
I’ll pillow your head where the light fairies tread
If you will but wed with young Ned of the Hill.” 4
And silence … silence that thinned to a quiet cadence, perhaps to prayer.
His presence a trespass, wary of revealing himself, he turned inward to his own thoughts, the summoned white light blooming between his imagined open hands, a risen shield of privacy.
Was it memory or the gift of their bond? He could feel her next to him, her smooth skin so different against his, the swell of her breast at his ribs. His fingers traced the wondrous curves of her body, each hollow, every plane … at his touch, she trembled with anticipation … with happiness, happiness she wished to share, her contentment like warm honey, sun and blossom made one.
A rustle and a snap and he was without her. A click, then a scrub of shoe leather outside the door. He tensed toward escape. The iron latch jittered once … testing, but unsuspecting; the heavy bar held fast. A shadow moved away. Quick footsteps crossed what could only be stone and grass, then set upon a creaking stair. A not-too-far-away door screeched open and thwumped shut. Vincent let out his breath; his shoulders eased. Alone. He needn’t leave, didn’t want to leave.
He settled again and from a vest pocket withdrew the watch – Catherine’s gift. He lifted his chin, tasted the air again.
Alone … still.
A nail fitted into the slim catch at the stem, its buttery hinge gave way. The city’s light filtered through the slatted door, allowing him to see the face – a moon’s glow in the darkness. Though he could read the time, it was the measure of another world, not his. There might be hours enough if he would but hurry, hours enough to reach her side, to hold her, if only for minutes before she was called above once more. For a long moment he let himself believe, let himself revel …
Fancy sighed away. Too long a distance home, too far on foot to then return rested, ready for work …
As I must.
He had no choice in that, but there were other ways.
Dangerous, Vincent. He could hear her protest … and Father’s. What were you thinking? He’d ignored that question for years, since the night he made that first leap. But from the beginning, he’d known the answer. Freedom. Freedom to desire and then to have, to experience … more, to loose the constraints placed upon him from without, to fly, to risk …
Their time together too short, no matter the promise of years to come …
He could never have enough. He would do it. He descended the stairs, dispatch slowed by requirement at the secret doors and hidden levers, all the while mapping his race through the upper tunnels toward the junction near Bedford Park, toward a final hidden corridor and the subway.
“Irresponsible.”The warring, internal conversation began. “You have obligations, a duty to perform. No one but you, Vincent. No one else can …”
“Others can, others will, surely. This once, just this once. Why must I …”
“There is so much at stake here. To indulge yourself, to shirk the leadership you shoulder …”
“A few hours … what difference …”
“Vincent … Vincent …” With each stride toward what he wanted, toward what he’d begun to feel he deserved, his name, urgent in his conscience, grew louder. At the last gate now … the lock reset and tested …
“Vincent!”Someone tugged at his sleeve and he whirled, a gnarl deep in his throat.
“Mouse!”He was almost breathless. He’d sensed no one, heard nothing, his mind reeling with determination and desire … with argument for the contract he must honor, the society he must protect at all costs …
“Vincent. Better come.”
Olivia’s efforts to entertain … her need for normalcy … exacted a toll. Her eyes glistened as though tears waited for the last guest’s leaving; in lulls of conversation, she worried her lip. Luke was restless and up. He toddled from knee to knee, offering a toy, grabbing it back, as dissatisfied with his mother’s attentions as with her disregard. On her stomach, on her back, cuddled against a shoulder, the baby fussed and whimpered.
Jamie said good night.
Catherine nested their teacups, stacked the tray.
“Oh, Catherine … leave that.” Olivia threw out her hand, a trembling stop sign. “I need to talk to you. Rebecca, would you stay with Luke and … Can you? Just for a little while?” Luke rocked the cradle with an unappreciated vigor. Rebecca nodded without looking up, busy teasing his fingers from the railing. “I’ll walk you home, okay?”
At this hour, the tapping was slowed to the rare missive. They traveled in silence, past Father’s study where a lamp still burned, past the darkened corridor that led to Mary’s rooms. Catherine imagined Olivia ordering and reordering her thoughts, searching for a first word, but when they rounded the corner into Vincent’s chamber, Olivia was still speechless. She hesitated before Lady Justice, half-glaring, half-entreating, staring at the hanging scales as if, Catherine thought, some some answer would be found in one side or the other’s dipping.
In the center of the room, two chairs angled from the table, their velvet arms wide and worn with welcome. “Let’s sit,” Catherine said, guiding Olivia to a seat she’d surely taken a hundred times before without invitation.
“There’s something …” Olivia began at last, but instead of going on, she rubbed the palms of her hands over and over and over the worn, napped manchette, over the scroll-ends of the wooden arms.
At last, Olivia flattened both hands to the table top, fingers splayed. “… something I must ask you. You don’t have to answer right away and I’ll understand if you say no.”
She wanted to reach out, but, ever so slightly, Olivia pulled away. She placed a hand on the table, inched it close, ready. The chamber was so quiet Catherine could hear the wicks sputtering in their pools of candle wax. “What?”
“I don’t think Kanin–” Olivia’s gaze drifted to the statue on guard by the doorway. “If something should happen to me,” she said, her decision made, “I want you … you and Vincent to take my children. As your own.”
“Olivia! Kanin will … come around. Your children will have you both for years to come!”
“He’s changed, Catherine. He says I don’t know him anymore, that I never did. I’m … I’m beginning to believe him.” She pressed her fingers hard to her lips, drawing a shuddery breath behind them. “It’s like a wildfire, roaring between us – all that we don’t say to each other. Ice would be better.”
Caught between hope and evidence, Catherine was unsure, but she wouldn’t let go of faith, of love, not now. Not here. “Kanin will come home, Olivia, in every sense of the word. Soon. And nothing will take you from your babies, surely not! But if something should happen … the community here … your family …”
“I want more than that for them. I want them to have you, Vincent, the two of you. I want them to live with you. I want you to comfort them when they’re sick or sad. And who else …” Olivia broke off and drew herself up. “Who better to show them what love looks like?”
“Oh …” She leaned in, her hand on Olivia’s pulsing wrist. “You and Kanin will. If it helps you, if it lets you worry less about Luke and the baby, I’ll speak with Vincent right away. But I know … his answer, our answer, will be yes.”
Olivia released a breath. The candles flickered and stilled, the flames grew tall. “Thank you, Catherine. You and Vincent, above all others, can show Luke and … Althea – her name is Althea – all the possibilities of life, all its beauty. I trust you, both of you, with my most precious things.”
At the doorway Olivia turned for a last assurance. Catherine nodded, her promise in it.
Joe lay supine on the couch, one arm across his eyes against the light from his tiny kitchen. With the other, he cradled the telephone on his stomach. He was thinking of his mother.
She’d come from Queens on a rare visit. He unlocked the door to her open arms, but once inside her smile faltered. She surveyed the room … him … and concern etched her face. There he was – still single, the furniture not much improved since his college days, his refrigerator seriously lacking in healthy fare. She said nothing, and that hit him harder than if she’d harangued him to change. Often, home after work, he’d stand in the center of the small living room, stunned by questions. What was missing in his life? When would he find it?
He loved his work – he was good at it – and still hopeful he’d step up a notch or two on the pay scale. Responsible with his salary, meagre though it was, he’d stashed away a small but growing savings. He’d not made it up when he told Eimear he loved kids. He wanted one or two of his own. Some days, the not having was a physical ache. He loved music, jazz and blues particularly. I’m a good dancer, he thought, for a moment feeling a woman in his arms. The next time he talked to her, he’d have to thank his mom for making him take those lessons, though he’d have to make sure she was sitting down first.
Despite his reputation, he was well read. He liked sports – baseball and basketball and swimming – kept himself in shape. He pinched at his waistline and frowned. Well, damn.
“Who am I kidding? I’m pathetic,” he said and groaned. “And I talk to myself.” He opened his hand to a scrap of paper – Rosaleen’s number in green ink. Who uses green ink? Who carries a fountain pen? He closed his eyes again, his words waiting for him in the dark.
Maxwell, you idiot. You said it out loud to her. Not between you and me, Radcliffe, not ever … Awww, man! I can’t believe I did that.
There was no denying it. He loved her, as much as he was allowed to, not nearly as much as he’d wanted. He knew no one with as much determination, as much courage, as strong a sense of justice. No woman had her compassion and kindness or such fierce loyalty. And never had he so treasured a woman’s laugh. He was quite pleased with himself when he could make her laugh.
But never once had she encouraged him. He knew – he’d known for months – someone claimed her heart, and the mystery of who often pestered his thoughts as he tried to fall asleep. He’d never had a chance with her and even with that knowledge, he loved her still. It would necessarily be a different kind of love, and in a strange way, it already was.
So that door’s closed. Her merciful acceptance of what was clearly his declaration, even as she rejected it, gave him an odd sense of optimism, as if she’d handed him a shiny new key to a door that begged to be unlocked.
“Cathy, I don’t know how you did it,” he said out loud, “but I feel almost … good.”
He reached for a book on his coffee table, one he had unearthed at Smythe’s shop. A Saturday with too much free time on his hands, he’d wandered to the Village, standing for an hour at the counter, sorting through a box of vintage comic books, perfect editions of Archie, his favorite. The bookseller dropped a stack of hardbacks next to him, and when the dust cleared and he read the titles, he slid one from the heap.
* * * * *
“Hey,” Joe had asked, pointing at the flyleaf, “are these autographs the real thing?”
“Will and Ariel. Yes, yes. Quite authentic.” Mr. Smythe peered over his spectacles. “You … know the Durants?”
“Personally?” Joe bantered. “Oh, yeah, sure. I’ve been reading their Civilization series, though. I’m up to Volume 6.”
Mr. Smythe motioned for the book and wiped it with a chamois cloth. “Halfway there! Now, this is a lovely work, their Dual Autobiography. She was fifteen when she married him, did you know? She roller-skated to City Hall, late for the ceremony.”
“She fell only a few times on the way. They were married more than sixty-five years. Passed away within two weeks of the other. She stopped eating when he went into the hospital. Feared he wouldn’t come home. When Will heard she’d died, he had a heart attack.”
“Complete opposites, apparently, but undeniably happy as she described it. Let me see …” Smythe opened the covers and paged through, searching for a passage. “Yes, here it is …
… I have so many years of happy memories. And so much of it I believe I have to thank you for, Will. Not only all the attractions of a husband and a lover, but the deep companionship that has developed between us so that we almost have one breath, one life, one interest.”
“And you say those autographs are real?”
“Absolutely!” Smythe drew himself up, peered down his nose at him. “Do you think I would mislead you?”
“Hmmmph. How much?”
“Three hundred dollars.”
“Oh, man! You’re killing me. Is that the best you can do?”
“Do you know what the city pays me? Look, this isn’t even for me. I’m giving it to Cathy. You remember her, right? The woman I came in with the first time?”
Mr. Smythe smiled. “Oh, I certainly do remember her. Quite well, in fact. For her, then? A gift? I believe she’s quite fond of gifts. Seventy-five dollars.”
“Throw in a couple of these comics and you’ve got a deal.”
“Oh, ouch!” Mr. Smythe flinched, pretending injury. “You must be quite the formidable force in court, young man. I shan’t call you the titwillow ever again.”
* * * * *
The telephone still rested on his stomach. He propped the open book against it and riffled the pages. A passage caught his attention …
“I was the adventure in your life and I brought you this life and what did you do for me? You tamed my wild blood.”5
Green ink, he said to himself. Maybe an adventure is just what I need.
It was late, probably too late, but she said she often worked into the night. He hesitated for another minute before he set the book aside and dialed.
It was dark in the garden and damp and cool near the boundary wall. The scent of tulips and hyacinth lingered, sweet in the air. He hid in the shadowed nook, away from the house lights, but near the archway. The music had been beautiful tonight; its transport had worked a dulcifying magic, taking him away from …
… from things he didn’t want to name. For a while he’d felt elsewhere, remembered feeling golden-hearted, remembered a time when all the unanswered questions were like blue-rolling waves, and the mists they sent up were seeded with light …
“Martin must have something terribly grave on his mind to play on so long.” Her voice drifted to him, silvery and soft, like clouds across the full moon.
“What was his last? Did he offer up a song or did he trouble deaf heaven tonight?”
“He sang Ned of the Hill.” Talking hurt – the words scratched their way out of his throat.
He had … no words.
She moved closer to him, a single step. “And you … something weighs heavy on your heart.”
There was nowhere for him to go, no avenue of retreat, the thing he wanted and didn’t want. He pulled her close, fitting her body to his. “It’s nothing. Nothing. Don’t worry,” he whispered, his cheek turned against her hair.
“Whatever it is, tell me. Let me help you.”
“It’s nothing. I’m just tired.” For better or worse … She deserves better …
“It’s not tired that keeps you up at night, walking about. Standing your own self in the corner now are you, Flynn O’Carroll.”
Her heart was a fist beating at his chest, belying her murmured appeal. She sought no more than his smile. Would he not give her everything? All that he had? “Eimear, please. I’ll be in soon.” Maybe … maybe there’s nothing left …
“It’s so late. Come in now.”
He tightened his arms around her and sighed. She pulled back, searching for him, but he clung to his darkness. Still, her lips found his quickly enough. She would press no further into his thoughts tonight, he knew, and she would love him until he forgot … for a time. She was music, his enchantment. She whispered to him, took his hand, and he could only follow her through the garden to the house, to bed.
Chapter Title: James Joyce. Dear Heart. From Chamber Music. 1907.
Opening quotation: Tyler Knott Gregson
1. Gaelic: a stor mo chroí (love of my heart)
2. Gaelic: Beidh tú, i mo chroí go deo (You’ll be in my heart forever)
3. Gaelic: codladh sámh (sleep well)
4. Young Ned of the Hill – traditional lyrics. Listen to this version by Celtic Crossroads.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpVobgdiyVU&feature=related
5. Ariel Durant. Dual Autobiography. 1978.
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