April, Come She Will

Aliset

 

Catherine stared at the campus bulletin board. Nestled in among the ads seeking roommates or selling textbooks or looking for one lost item or another was a large red and green poster, announcing a free concert in Central Park the next week. “Are you going to go?” Dinah Goldstein asked. They had met at Columbia Law School’s orientation the month before and had become fast friends. There was something so…open about Dinah which Catherine had found instantly appealing.

“I’m not sure. We have Civil Lit on Monday---are you sure we’ll have the energy?”

Dinah chuckled. “It’s Simon and Garfunkel and they haven’t performed together since I was in high school. Come on, let’s get a bagel before class starts.”

Catherine smiled. “Deal. My treat.”

“Oh, no, rich girl,” Dinah said, but her smile took the sting out of the words. “You paid last time. Besides, I’m starving.” She patted her rounded belly. “I don’t think a bagel is going to do it.”

“You are eating for two,” Catherine agreed equably. “Come on, let’s go before the lines at the café get too long.”

***

Dina contentedly spooned some scrambled egg onto her bagel. “So where are you thinking of specializing, Chandler?”

Their law professors called them by their last names only; it had become something of a joke between them. “My dad is a partner in a law firm.”

“Defense? Medical malpractice?”

Catherine shook her head. “Corporate law.”

Dinah groaned. “Joy. More civil litigation than you can shake a stick at. You want to work in his firm?”

“I don’t know,” Catherine admitted. It was more than she’d said to her father, or to Nancy or Jenny, and some part of her wondered at her daring. Why could she tell these things to Dinah but not to people who had known her far longer?

Because she won’t judge you, an inner voice answered.

“Well, we just started, you’ve got time to figure it out.” Dina peered at her closely. “Look,” she said, suddenly serious. “Did I ever tell you about Avrom and me?”

“I don’t think so,” Catherine replied.

“My whole life was planned out,” Dinah told her. “I married the rabbi’s son because my father insisted it was such a great match, and then I was supposed to have a bunch of kids.” She took a bite of her bagel. “Except the rabbi’s son didn’t want to be a husband or a father and now we’re divorced and he’s shacked up with some Californian shiksa.” She shrugged. “The point is, life has other plans sometimes, you know?”

“I guess,” Catherine replied. “But…I don’t really know what else I’d do otherwise. I grew up in that law firm. And dad’s counting on me.”

“I grew up in the synagogue,” Dina countered with a smile and a shrug. “My father was a cantor. Sometimes familiarity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

***

Father looked up at his son, haloed by the light of a hundred candles. “Yes, I see the notice here,” he spluttered. “But you can’t be thinking of attending this concert!”

Vincent turned, a rough pivot, evidence of his agitation. Father had seen him pace a thousand times before in childhood, but Vincent was no longer a boy. At twenty-five, he’d grown into an adult, broad-shouldered and powerful, his height exceeded only by Winslow’s. His long shadow flickered over the desk as he paced. “These musicians are famous Above; the concert is to raise money for the preservation of the park. There will be a huge crowd---”

“Yes,” Father interrupted. “Where exactly do you think you’ll be safe? If you’re seen---!”

Vincent shook his head, the mass of bronzed hair flying with the movement. Does he ever comb his hair?  Father wondered irrelevantly. “There is a concert shell,” Vincent went on. “Under the park. I should be able to hear it there.”

Father blew out his breath in relief. “I thought you were planning to go Above. I’m sorry, Vincent, of course you’d never do such a foolhardy thing.”

That there was a warning implicit in the words neither man acknowledged. “Of course,” Vincent said with an indefinable tone in his voice which was somehow…raw. “There is…nothing for me there, as you’ve reminded me.”

Father nodded briskly at this return of sense. “Now, about this pipe reroute…”

***

The next day after class, Catherine met her father for lunch. “How are you doing, kiddo?” he asked as they were escorted to the private table in the elegant, upscale restaurant.

“Good, Daddy,” Catherine replied.

Charles Chandler leaned back against the leather booth. “Jay and I talked and he’s saved a place for you to intern this summer.”

A pressing weight settled on her chest---expectations, Catherine realized. “I haven’t even finished my first year yet, Daddy.”

“Oh, I know, but you’re smart; you’ll be an asset to the firm.” Her father chuckled. “Certainly better than that knuckle-head son of Jay’s who just changed majors for the fourth time. Boy doesn’t know what he wants.”

Neither do I, Catherine thought, wondering when she’d begun to question the safe seas of her life. Where had all these doubts come from? “Better let me get through Civil Lit first, okay?”

Her father’s dark eyes studied her. “What is it, Cathy?”

“I’ve barely started law school,” she said dryly. “Sounds like you already have me in the office next to yours.”

He reached across the table to take her hand. “Well, of course I want you to take over the firm one day but…if there’s something else you want to do---”

“That’s just it,” she confessed, wanting him to understand. “I don’t know if this is what I want to do.”

“Cathy,” her father said. “I…don’t know what to say. Did I push you into going to law school?”

In a hundred different ways, Catherine could have said, but how could she tell him that? From somewhere, she found her voice, the voice of the good daughter, the one who had always done what was expected of her, and was astonished at …how normal it sounded. “Not at all, Dad. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. What are you going to order?”

***

Vincent had sentry rounds that evening with Winslow. Once they were well out of earshot from Father’s chamber, Winslow turned to him. “So, you going to that concert?”

Vincent relit one of the guttering torches. “I am.”

Winslow leaned up against the corridor wall, brawny arms folded. “And I’m guessing you failed to mention the concert shell can be seen Above and is clogged with mud and leaves from that last storm.”

“If you know where to look,” Vincent acknowledged. “I’m not…concerned about the debris.”

Winslow sighed. “There’s a risk, you know. Father ain’t wrong there.”

Vincent’s hand tightened on the handle of the torch before he remembered to temper his strength. Releasing it carefully, he slid it back into its bracket. “I know. Will you…help me?”

“Sure. Just wanted to make sure you thought this thing through,” Winslow retorted.

“I have,” Vincent confirmed.

Winslow clapped him on one shoulder. “All right then. What do you say we get these tunnels inspected and check out that concert shell tomorrow?”

***

Dinah cornered her after Torts on Thursday, their last class of the week. “I’m starved. Let’s get something from the bistro, okay? And put your wallet away, Chandler.”

They were lucky to find one lone table at the bistro. Catherine picked up their orders and brought them back to the table. “Okay, Goldstein. What gives?”

“My uncle is an attorney. He does criminal defense work and two days a week, he works pro bono at a legal aid clinic in the Bronx. You and I don’t have class tomorrow. Do you want to come with me? We’ll have to do some really brief training first, but…”

“Criminal defense?” Catherine asked. In the Bronx? Her father would have a fit. “I never thought---”

“Well, yeah, I know that,” Dinah said with a grin. “But the law isn’t all contracts and so on. And these people really need the help. We won’t be allowed to do much except watch but…”

“All right,” Catherine said. “Count me in. Where should I meet you tomorrow?”

Dinah reached into her bag and scribbled out an address. “My mom and I are sharing an apartment right now. Meet me there, say, tomorrow at nine and we'll catch a cab?”

On the weekends, she was rarely out of bed before ten. Nevertheless, Catherine nodded. “I’ll be there.”

Dinah smiled. “You surprise me, Chandler.”

“Why?”

“I never thought you'd consider it. It's not precisely Park Avenue.”

***

Dinah's Uncle Saul was a pleasant, jovial man who shared both Dinah's dark hair and her sense of humor. Before Dinah had even knocked on the battered storefront of his legal aid clinic, Saul was hustling them in. “Dinah, Dinah,” he said, hugging her. “You should not be about.”

Dinah laughed. “Uncle Saul, the baby's not due for several months and I feel fine, really.”

Saul looked spectacularly unconvinced. “And who is this?”

“Oh, sorry, Cathy---Uncle Saul, this is my friend Cathy. I told you about her last night, remember?”

“Of course I remember; my mind's not gone yet.” Saul studied her. “So you're interested in criminal defense?”

“No,” Catherine said. “At least, I don't think so, but I've never seen a legal aid clinic. How does this work exactly?”

Saul gestured to a desk in the corner. “That's intake. People come in, they fill out a form letting us know what they need, we do a brief interview, and then we try to route them to an attorney who can help them.” He glanced at the clock. “We'll be seeing our first clients soon. You'll see a little bit of everything, volunteering here. Civil, criminal, family law, you name it.” He folded his arms. “I'm not gonna lie to you---this isn't neat and pretty like you see it in law school, all tidy fact-patterns. You'll see people desperately in need of help and sometimes, we have to turn them away.”

“I'd like to help,” Catherine said.

Dinah grinned. “See, Uncle Saul, what did I tell you?”

“All right,” Saul said. “Cathy, you’ll go over here at intake. It'll be good practice for your interviewing skills. Dinah, you're with me. And remember, no legal advice, even if you’re sure you know the answer. These people are confused enough.”

Catherine nodded, though she was beginning to wonder what she’d gotten herself into. “Okay. Where do I start?”

***

Once the concert shell was cleared of mud and leaves and other debris, Vincent was startled to discover it was much larger than it looked. Winslow shoveled the last of the leaves into a garbage bag for reuse in William’s compost heap and stood. “I never would have thought it was this big,” he said. “Good place you found here. Throw some quilts and pillows here and there and it would be real comfortable.” He tilted his head. “Why is this concert so important to you?”

There were many things Vincent could have said: how Devin had loved Simon and Garfunkel and how the music brought back memories of their boyhood. But then Winslow might assume he was grieving for his dead brother and if there was one thing Vincent knew, Devin was not dead. Gone, yes. But not dead. Finally, he asked, “Is it so strange I might want to hear a concert like everyone else can?”

Winslow rolled his eyes. “You and Father…”

“What?”

“You both dodge a question by asking another one. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

Vincent chuckled. “All right. Do you ever find yourself…pulled someplace by music?”

“You know I’m tone deaf,” Winslow said with a grin. “About the only place it pulls me is in the opposite direction.”

Vincent tilted his head back to look at the starry sky just visible above the grate. “I hear their music and something in it…calls to me. As if somehow they might understand even…me.

Winslow nodded, a rare, gentler expression softening his face. “Yeah, man, I got that. Just…be careful, all right?  If someone sees you looking out of that grate...”

***

Catherine sank into the softness of her couch. The day had been—much like Saul had predicted---difficult and exhausting, a triage of needs and troubles which could not possibly hope to be completely served by a legal aid clinic of three volunteer lawyers and two first-year law students. And yet…there was a stirring of satisfaction deep inside her. As he’d drawn the shades on the clinic door and thrown the deadbolts, he’d turned to her and Dinah. “Great job you two, and Cathy?”

She had been so mentally exhausted she almost didn’t hear him call her name.  “Yes?” she asked after a moment.

“I’ve had volunteers here before---they take one look at the clients or their problems and throw up their hands. Or the clients clam up and don’t want to talk because they know when they’re being patronized. But they talked to you; you’ve got a knack for this and it shows.”

Catherine had smiled, feeling more at ease with her career choice than she had at any point since she’d applied to law school. She had stepped out into uncertain waters, without her father’s aid or knowledge, and succeeded. And maybe Saul will have an intern position next summer…

The phone rang just as she was nodding off. “Hello?”

“Cathy, it’s Dinah. Are you going to go to the concert?”

She held back a yawn by force of effort. “It’s…um, Sunday?”

“Saturday,” Dinah corrected her. “What do you say we grab a lunch and head over there?”

Catherine glanced at the calendar above the phone, suddenly feeling as energized and free as if she’d been running.  “Sounds good.”

***

A myriad of smells filled the concert shell by the time Vincent reached it at dusk---the scents of food and plastics, blankets and clothing and deodorant, and the thousand or more people who sat above him, waiting for the concert to begin. Vincent was usually sensitive to such a deluge of smells but tonight, he embraced them as being part of the tapestry of this night. It was the first time he’d seen a concert since…he swallowed, remembering (how could I ever forget?) the feel of Lisa’s long skirts against his neck as she’d climbed the ladder to see her first ballet.

He shook his head, banishing the memories to a far corner of his mind. That night was not this one, after all. In his abstraction, Vincent realized he could hear snatches of conversation; there must be people very close to where he stood. He drew the hood of his cloak up to shadow his face and leaned against the wall under the grate.

“Uncle Saul was impressed,” one female voice said. “He wasn’t kidding about the other volunteers.”

“Oh?” the other voice asked. “I don’t know if I’m cut out to do what he does, Dinah.” There was a pause, and then her words burst from her. “Don’t you ever feel trapped sometimes? Like your whole path was set out for you before you knew it?”

There was…something about the woman’s voice, a sort of tired, pained uncertainty that struck Vincent to the core. He had never thought of people Above being as…unsure as he himself was. Perhaps we are not so different, he thought, then immediately chastised himself for the thought. If they saw him, both women would run. Or throw something. Or worse.

The woman---Dinah, she must be---chuckled. “Hello, remember me? The one who let herself get pressured into marrying someone her father picked out for her? Yeah. I know. Believe me, I know.”

“I’m sorry, Dinah,” her companion replied in genuine chagrin. “I didn’t mean to sound so thoughtless.”

“I know,” Dinah replied. “But…it’s your life, in the end. If you want to work in your dad’s firm, you can. If you want to spend the rest of your days working at the legal clinic, you can do that too.”

“I don’t know, Dinah. I don’t know if I have the strength.”

Her words unwound a hidden coil deep inside him. As if in a dream…or a premonition…Vincent heard himself say to an unnamed, faceless woman in a future he could not quite touch, “I know you. You have the strength. You do. And what you endured will make you stronger.” He shook his head violently and the vision faded, but not before a harsh gasp escaped his throat.

The conversation above him halted and Vincent froze. He pressed himself flat against the wall, hoping against hope he had not been heard, that neither woman would not look down in his direction. “Dinah, did you hear that?” the woman said, and Vincent bit down on a muttered curse.

“What?” Dinah asked.

“It sounded like…” There was a rustling sound---clothing against grass, Vincent realized in horror. She was looking around. “I heard someone groan near us.”

“Well, everyone looks fine,” Dinah replied. “Except for that couple over there----they’re sure to have a hangover tomorrow.”

A sigh, then, “You’re right, I’m sure.”

Somewhere nearby, a speaker shrieked and Vincent winced. “They’re starting the sound-check,” Dinah observed. “Relax, will you?”

For the rest of the concert, Vincent stood in the same motionless position as the music washed over and through him. In their words (“Hello darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to speak with you again…”) he found the understanding he sought and something else too. The memory of the unnamed woman’s voice---low, cultured, both intelligent and uncertain—stayed with him. He felt he knew her---or would know her---as one knows the other part of one’s soul.

It wasn’t until much later that night in his chamber that Vincent acknowledged his folly. A woman above, one of thousands who’d come to Central Park that night---how could he think they would ever meet again? Or that anything good could possibly come from their meeting?

 ~


 

 


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