O SWEETEST SONG
Vincent’s Bed Squeaks!
The Squeak occurs when Vincent is talking to Brian in his chamber. Listen closely, you’ll hear it.
Upon what instrument are we two spanned?
And what musician holds us in his hand?
“There you are!” Catherine sat at the round table, its surface littered with notecards. “I was getting worried. There hasn’t been an update on the pipes in over an hour.”
Scrooonnnkk Vincent sank to the edge of the bed. Reclined on his fists, he arched his back, stretched his legs. Scrrriiiinnnk
“Ummmmmm,” he groaned, drawing upright. His hands behind his neck, he twisted his shoulders side to side to side. One sleeve was ripped along his bicep and the muscle flexed through. Scrrrroonk Scrrrroonk
A replica of the Empire State Building weighted the two dozen syllabuses she’d stapled together. Wreathed around its spire was her watch – her rude, chiding watch. If it truly had a hand, one finger would wag uh-uh-uh at her thoughts. She ordered her cards and tapped them, tapped them, tapped them to a neat stack. Over her work a green-shaded banker’s lamp goosenecked. As she groped for its rocker switch, her hand trembled a bit – with nerves, she insisted to herself. When she looked at him again, he’d rounded over his knees, his elbows to them. His head drooped above his clasped hands, his hair a dust-dry veil.
“You got them out, didn’t you? You must have.”
“We did,” he said. His shoulders rose and fell with laughter. scree-scree-scree “Though I’m not sure William was pleased by their release. Trapped in his pantry, alone with Rebecca for five hours? For him, the time passed far too quickly, his audience far too large and … attuned.”
“I imagine soon enough it might be necessary …”
Scree-scree “Rebecca did shoot from the room like a bottle rocket.”
“Any sign of the key? Is Arthur still your suspect, still at large?”
“He is. Last seen dashing through the dining hall wearing a shiny necklace, Brooke said. We’ve issued an alert for him, but it’s no matter now. We drilled out the lockset. Which inexplicably bent the hinges and jammed everything, which led to hours of chiseling. It took three of us to prise out the door and … well, there was a pile-up when the lever slipped.” Scrrannnk He lifted one booted foot, then the other for inspection. The sole flapped toe to arch. “I’ll need new shoes.”
“Are there any to fit you in the storeroom?” she asked, slipping the sheaf of papers into one pocket of an accordion file, the note cards into another.
“I doubt it.” Scrriinnk
She glanced at his feet, now only sock clad … sccrrooonnk … now bare. The latches of her case suddenly troublesome, she bent her head to them, and though she bit hard on her bottom lip – No, no, don’t say it. Don’t! – the words teased out. “What, umm, size shoe do you wear, Vincent?”
“I’m not sure. Mine must always be … modified.”
A fallen wing of hair concealed her heated cheeks. “Let me buy you a new pair. After my lecture tomorrow morning, I have an hour or so free before I’m expected in the office. There’s a specialty shop on Orchard for, uhhh, big and tall men.” She peeked at him, but intent on the tear in his shirt, he seemed oblivious to her blushed words.
“But how–” A perplexed frown creased his face as he traced the placket of his jerkin. “I ripped open three buttonholes,” he said. “And I’ve lost a pocket.”
“I missed something spectacular, didn’t I, stuck here working?” A sheet torn from a legal pad, after studying his foot, the page, his foot again, she ripped off a second. She fished in her bag for tape, affixed the two together. “Stand on this piece of paper,” she instructed. “I’ll draw around your foot. They’ll have one of those sliding measuring things …”
“Do you mean a Brannock Device.”
She laughed. “I suppose I do. You are such a show-off. Hop up. If they don’t fit, I can take them back.” Crouched at his feet, she smoothed the paper flat and pointed at it. “Come on. Right here.” Scrreeeenk-scrrriiiiiiink
“That tickles, Catherine.”
“Does it?” Does this? she imagined. Does this? Before she folded the finished drawing into thirds, she glanced at him … admired him. Heh heh heh, she thought. If she could, she’d high-five herself.
Sccrrrrooooonnnnnk He flopped back across the mattress. “I should shower.” Nestled into the covers, his arm thrown over his eyes, he sighed with contentment. “But perhaps, for just a moment …”
Scrriinnk scrriiink Scrriiinnnk Catherine climbed onto the bed after him. “It’s late,” she murmured. “The shower can wait a few hours.”
“Are you ready for tomorrow?” His voice was muffled by the fabric of his shirt and by fatigue.
Scrrriiinnk “I guess. I used to think I’d like to teach, but I’m petrified about this lecture.”
“I want to hear it.”
“You sure?” He nodded beneath his elbow. “All right then.” Settled against his shoulder, she focused on a crag of quartz-sparkled stone in the chamber’s roof. “Welcome to Law 6200,” she began. “The Art of Legal Persuasion. My name is Catherine Chandler. Today’s special topic is ‘Being Eloquent. The Classical Understanding of Eloquence.’ The reading is from Aristotle and Cicero’s Understanding of Rhetoric and Cicero’s In Defense of the Poet Aulua Licinius Archias. In the practicum, we’ll translate classical to modern eloquence using Shaughnessy v. United States ex rel. Mezei as our case study.”1
Sccrrrooonnnk He turned over on his side, his slowed breath stirring her hair and his, mingling the strands. “Excellent, Catherine,” he whispered. “A-plus.”
* * *
“How do they feel?”
Seated on the bench, he wove the stiff laces through the metal grommets and around the hooks, working the boot shafts close … closer … folding the supple tongue inside. The padded collar snugged about his ankle. He rose and took a tentative step and another, seating his heels.
“Good,” he said. “Very good, in fact. I’m … surprised.”
“The salesman said I should have measured you–” A small fit of coughing overtook her. “With socks,” she managed. “So I added a little width and length.” The coughing resumed.
He paraded before her, pivoting at the doorway and returning. “Shall I get you some water, Catherine?” squink squink
“No, no. I’m fine.” Recovered, only a bit breathless, she snugged the last loop and button of his new leather vest. “This is handsome on you. I just couldn’t resist it.”
squink His arms wide, he puffed out his chest. “Thank you … for everything.”
“Well, I should be going. I might have to work late.”
“As might I. Gideon will be in Foley Square should you need to send a message. Catherine …” She’d turned to go, but one step closed their distance. squiink “I don’t have to ask. Your lecture went well. You’re relieved. Satisfied. But still …” He took her hand, touched his lips to her knuckles. “Tell me. How did you fare?”
“I won’t be changing careers but, yes, it went well enough.” She smiled. “At least no one fell asleep.”
* * *
squink squiiiink Vincent hoisted his end of the beam, Cullen and Mouse the other, and the hewn log balanced, they stepped onto the swinging bridge. squink
Midway, Cullen turned a stricken face over his shoulder. “Hey! Do you hear that? Is it bridge? The ropes?” Panicked, he hurried their pace. Vincent lengthened his stride. squiiink squiink Once across, they dropped the timber.
“Heard it,” Mouse said, leaning over the rungs, his palms on the banister posts. “Didn’t feel it.”
“We reinforced this bridge only last month. Understudied the ropes with cables, drove in new anchor bolts. The steel makes a different sound. Don’t worry.” He clapped Cullen on the arm. squink
“Again!” Mouse whirled for the corridor. “Not the bridge. Arthur maybe.” Cullen chased after him, calling him back to task.
squink Vincent knew he was the source of the noise, but there was no time to return to his chamber for a change of clothes, not with all that must be done. But more than that, he was protective of her gift, loyal to it, the leather’s chirp a gladdening sound. He lifted the hair from his neck, and the abyss-spun winds cooled his skin. The exertion of rescue the night before must have taken a toll, he mused. squiinnk He wasn’t at all tired, but all morning long he’d had notions of going back to b–
He broke off his thought and smiled a small smile. squink
A half-dozen times during the work of the afternoon, Mouse was sure he heard Arthur’s chatter. A half-dozen times, Cullen ran to retrieve Mouse, reorient and reassure him.
“I hear it too,” Cullen exclaimed. “And it’s driving me nuts, but we gotta fix this, Mouse. And Pascal’s waiting on us to help him hook up that new line of pipe. Pay attention, okay?”
“Vincent! ” Mouse danced with nerves. “You hear everything. Why not Arthur?”
Feigning innocence, he raised his brows, set another nail and pounded it in, the hammering loud enough to mask the creaking from all but him. squink squiiinnk squiiinnnk The small smile returned.
* * *
Pascal drew a finger along the map. “We need to connect this chamber and this one to the main line. The branch feeding it finally rusted through. Can’t get a tidy message around that hole. Grab those pipe wrenches, will you, and follow me.”
squink squink squink squink Pascal’s robe floated behind him as he trotted to the work site. More than once he stopped to beat a tattoo on an outgoing pipe, then put his ear to it. Later he repeated the drum, whipping out his stethoscope, pressing the chest-piece to a run, to a joint. He frowned.
“What is it, Pascal? Is there a message?” Vincent leaned close to the conduit. squink squiiiiinnk
“No, not a message, not a tapping exactly. It’s a … a rhythm … and it’s … following me, but every time I listen for it, it isn’t there anymore. I don’t know …” Pascal squinted in concentration. “Do you hear anything?”
“No,” he said, careful to stand straight and still.
“Mouse thinks Arthur might have crawled into the broken pipe.” He snatched the tubes from his ears and glared up at him. “What’s funny?”
“Nothing. Nothing’s funny.” Once Pascal resumed his lope, he tucked the tools under his arm and strode after him. squink squink squink He smiled again. A rhythm, indeed.
* * *
Father’s library was evening-quiet. Jarred by the subway’s rumble, china cups stacked in their closet tinkled like wind chimes – a lovely sound crowded out by the busier day, the competition of classes and conversation. He swung down the short stairs. Squiiiiinnnk Squink squink
“Ah, Vincent. You’re home.” Father peered over the railing above. “Come up here, would you? There’s something I want to show you. Oh, and bring that stack of books on the left corner of my desk … no, the other stack … yes, that one. And there’s a package from Dr. Wong on the chess table. Bring that too, please.”
Squink squink squink squink Squinksquink squinksquinksquink squink squink Squiink Squink
Anxious to make his report and retire to their chamber, he crisscrossed the room at a clip, then attacked the spiral stairs. At the crest, Father met him with wide eyes.
“What is that infernal noise? Did you hear it? That … that animal is loose among my rare editions, I know it. If I find a nest of shreds of Wordsworth or … or … Coleridge. Even Melville!”
Melville! He might offer those volumes to Arthur himself. “What is it I should see, Father?” He leaned against the bookcase and folded his arms. squiiink
“I no longer remember! Hurry down again. Flush him out. Capture him. I’ll search behind these books … perhaps send him your way.” Father scowled. “This truly isn’t funny, Vincent. How can you smile at a time like this?”
He thought better of clasping Father’s shoulder, of calming him with the truth. His daily tally-sheet might be postponed if he’d only slip quietly away. Well, as quietly as possible. With his every step down the winding stair, Father’s search grew more purposed, his brow, Vincent knew, more furrowed. squiiinksquiiink He leapt the last treads.
* * *
She’d not yet returned from Above; their chamber was empty. He opened the armoire, rummaged the floor of it, emerging with an older pair of boots, worn at the heels, thin at the toes, but wearable until he could condition the leather of the new ones. He need only warm them, rub them with mink oil. As the shoe leather stretched, its voice would fade. And the vest would soften with wear, go silent.
But for now … he waited for her.
Soon he knew her approach, swept on his cloak, hurried to meet her, took her in his arms. squinksquink squinksquink
“Tighter,” she said. Squiiinnk
Even as she entered the room, she shed her jacket, passing her briefcase hand to hand to slip from the sleeves. She dropped onto the bed’s edge, then scooted back against the headboard. Scrrriiiink Scriiiinnnk
As he folded his cloak to the back of the chair, as he spread the carved, wooden screen across their entryway, she watched him. From one side of the room to the other, he paced, attending to small tasks. He could feel the warmth of her gaze, hear the laughter bubbling up from her. scree-scree-scree
“Vincent,” she squealed from her nest of pillows. “Your vest squeaks. And so do those boots! You hear it, don’t you?”
scree-scree-scree The bed shook, and bells pealed within his breast. Deny me bread, he thought, air, light, spring, but never your laughter, for I would die.2 “Oh, I hear it.”
“Did anyone mention it?” she strangled out. “The sound must have driven you crazy!”
He pressed down on the mattress with the fists of both hands. Scriiinnk scriiiiinnk Scriiinnk scriiiiinnnk “Crazy?” He tipped his head. “In a way. Apparently I smiled when others thought I shouldn’t.” He put one knee on the bed. Scrrrooonnnnk. “I hear something far different than did Father or Cullen or Mouse.”
Her breath was shallow now and rapid. scree-scree-scree “What Vincent? What do you hear?
“Music, Catherine. Our music.” He tipped his head again. “Dance with me?”
Rainer Maria Rilke. Love Song. (title, opening quotation)
- Columbia School of Law, Spring 2010, First-Year Electives (lecture topic)
- Pablo Neruda. Your Laughter.
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