Down To A Sunless Sea
The stillness of everything gone, and being still,
Being and sitting still, something resides,
Some skreaking and skrittering residuum
The rage was a red love.
“It’s over.” She fell against him, her cheek to his chest.
A crimson blaze on her starlit blouse, a dagger to his own shoulder; her bruised throat his constricted breath. Too close the clanging din of life’s last hour …
“Over,” she proclaimed.
Blood glossed the trampled grass, cooled cupped in the fallen leaves. He’d have taken her from him, this bleeding man, once her intimate, her … lover. This man who knew her, knew her taste, her touch and did not love. Held the memory of her and was not satisfied. He’d have taken her from him, this ruined man, this demon.
The rage was a red love.
Over, she willed. And he could feel her, feel the gauge of her heart, its steadying chime. He curled around her. There were no words.
Saved by her, he was not dead, but twitched and shuddered on the ground.
“Vincent, we have to–”
He did what she could not ask – felt first for pulse, passed divining hands over the sour dreams and sundered spirit, carried him from the shelter of trees across the clearing to the house. He walked ahead – two paces, three – unwilling even from the corner of his eye to risk a glance at her face.
Saved by her, he was not dead, but deadened.
The rage a red shame.
“Lay him here.” She pointed to the steps beyond the shattered window, to a bed of splintered mullions, of glass glittering in the moonlight. She pointed and disappeared, and he obeyed, hovering in numb watch until heels on crystal shards announced her return.
“I’ve called the police,” she said. “An ambulance.” She took his hand – stained, sticky – and kissed his open palm. “Go,” she whispered, her lips lingering at the crosshatch of life and fate. With no choice, she would stay.
With no choice, he would leave her. Alone she would circle sorrow in this cemetery of debris. Alone she would make safe his going, cloak him in the shadowed hour. He backed away, unwilling now to lose sight of her face … and saw it crumple.
Catherine! he cried, the words unyielded from his leaden tongue. It was not you. This … is not your doing. He swayed forward, her clammy dizziness his.
But in the distance a siren wailed. She put out her hands to stop him. Go, he heard.
And before the dark woods enveloped him, he saw she knelt, saw she tugged, pushed, shoved at his shoulder, at his hip … saw the ashen face rolled to the pavers … saw her stand and peer into the gloom. It’s done, he felt her say, caging her fears, her needs … dividing from him.
At first he stumbled in the thicket, the hollows and sink holes a mirror of his soul, hidden, dark, sudden. He longed for a storm to wash away the stiffened blood, viscid with sweat … with tears … but no rains came. The badge clung – black and foul – as he did to the subway’s roof.
Backed by bruised evidence, by the clutter of obsession, her story had stuttered from her – words left out, time lost to shock – and was accepted with sympathy, with finality – the detective’s nod, the doctor’s grave frown and scratching pen. It’s over, she would have repeated; over, she would have promised, but she came to his chamber … and found him gone.
“I wanted to tell you …” she offered the empty room, falling still at the echo.
No density of granite, no tunneled depth blunted the sadness. He could not burrow from it, but at each turn faced her unrecognized denial, her unaccepted losses. Loyal to a rare, remaining friend, she railed against blame … for to name the treachery would scissor treasured thread work from the raveling tapestry of her life above. To replace the bitter memories with one last – washed clean and bright – she’d refused the truth she knew, snubbed his counsel.
I understand. I do! He cried out, but it was no more than a shredded breath, his arms tight about his ribs to countermand an arguing heart.
Now, days later, too separate, they stood on her balcony, the precious minutes ticking past, awkward, sullied.
“Have you seen him?” His graveled words, spatters on dry ground, broke the long grip of drought.
“They wouldn’t let me.”
Though she’d tried. He’d known she would, yet beneath the weight of remorse, the burn swelled again – the jaundiced eye, the festering …1 This man would have killed her; he would kill for her. Who between them did she call monster.
“Don’t be ashamed, Vincent. You only did what you had to do.”
“I know that.” Why? Why – when I would flay my own skin – do I then feel this raw gash, a wound no water, no sponge can cleanse, no bandage can bind. No matter. He would risk everything – her anger, her horror, even her pity.
“I thought you were feeling … betrayed. I forgot for a moment how you trust me.” She turned to him, a first step. “I should have trusted you.”
His heart seized fist-hard at her admission; his look tendered. Will I add to her burden? No. The remedy for his love was only to love her more.2 The distance between them a wide, rubbled moraine, on bared soles, he picked his way to her through the damage. Trust yourself, he begged, his plea a white ache. Hear yourself, your palest call, your thinnest alarm. I will protect you until my last breath, but you … you must protect … us. My dreams are spread beneath your feet.3 Tread carefully. Oh, Catherine, please … tread carefully.
Wallace Stevens. Autumn Refrain. (opening quote)
1. Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Locksley Hall.
2. Henry David Thoreau. Journals. July 25, 1839.
3. William Butler Yeats. He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven.
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