"What a Night!"
“So?” Winslow asked, as Pascal entered the dining chamber.
Three pairs of eyes turned simultaneously to the entryway at the curt question, looking expectantly at the brisk young man. He stopped for a moment, sighed, and shook his head, prompting a nice variety of eye rolling.
“They’re still discussing,” he said, sitting on the bench beside Winslow, “but… ” and he shrugged.
“Darn it!” Winslow exclaimed, slapping the table top.
“Oh, c’mon, did you really believe he would say: sure, Vincent, go, just be careful, huh?” Ike asked, in his notorious mimicry of Father’s accent, which would have made the other youngsters laugh, in another moment.
“No, not really, but…” Olivia didn’t need to complete the sentence. All of them wanted to go, all of them would go. And all of them knew it was impossible for Vincent to go too. But leaving him behind was…
“It’s unfair,” Rebecca said. And quickly added, “Life, I mean, not Father.”
“Father is only being sensible,” Olivia said regretfully. “I hate to say it, but it is really dangerous, we all know it.”
“Oh, c’mon, Vincent roams the park almost every night,” Ike replied.
“When the park is deserted, not with hundreds of thousands people around!” Winslow rebuked him, almost sorry to be so sensible as well.
“But it’s that very crowd that will hide him! Who sees a single leaf in the forest? We can put our blankets at the edge of the Great Lawn, close to the trees, and he could…”
“… pretend to be a little early for Halloween?”
This time five pairs of eyes turned as one to the entryway, at Vincent’s sarcastic voice.
“Hey, I thought the duel would last longer,” Pascal said, scooting over to make room for him on the bench.
He shook his head no, and stood close to the table. “There are only so many ways to say ‘absolutely NO!’, and after a while it gets… repetitive,” he said, his face unreadable.
“While I was there eavesdropping, he was quite creative though,” Pascal quipped.
“Vincent, I’m so sorry…” Rebecca said, reaching out to take his hand.
“Don’t,” he replied, slightly squeezing hers. “Father IS sensible. And yes, life is unfair.”
This was new. Vincent complaining. Vincent never complained. His friends looked at him, not knowing what to say. He let go of Rebecca’s hand and, looking slowly at each of them, said, “Now don’t even think of not going just because I can’t come.” They exchanged looks. As usual, he had perceived their train of thought.
“I hate it when you do that,” Olivia tried to joke. She looked at her husband and said, “Don’t you dare ever try reading my mind, okay?”
Ike grinned. “Oh, I rather like surprises… ”
“Vincent,” Winslow started, “after all, it’s not that… ”
“It’s dangerous, it’s impossible, it’s not something I can do, period,” Vincent overrode. “We all knew it. Asking Father was probably just a way to make him remind me of all this, instead of just looking at the ugly face of reality myself. It’s all right.”
He put a hand on Ike’s and Winslow’s shoulders, and with a little squeeze he added, reformulating Winslow’s truncated sentence, “After all, it’s not that I can’t live without seeing a memorable event that’s going to take place in my own back yard, and have a fantastic glimpse of the park like never…” he closed his eyes, realizing how whiny he was becoming, and stopped. “It’s all right, please, please don’t feel guilty for me.” He looked at them: his dear friends did feel guilty, he knew it, they knew he knew it, and everybody hated the detestable impasse they were in. He shook his head, and with a small wistful smile, he turned and was off, leaving them silent.
“It’s unfair…” Rebecca said again.
“What a night!” Art Garfunkel exclaimed at the microphone after the fourth song, looking almost in awe at the immense audience, while Paul Simon was fine tuning his Ovation. “God, I thought it might be somewhat crowded, but we seem to have filled the place!” And the incredible crowd roared, delighted.
The Central Park Great Lawn was an ocean of bodies, of blankets, of smiles, of arms waving, of voices singing and cheering. Probably half a million people, who together, just being there, proclaimed that the Park was theirs, that it was not supposed to be dangerous and dilapidated, but instead a place of fun and pleasure, of friendship and freedom, of peace and recreation. The struggle had begun to restore and re-conquer the green heart of NYC after too many years of disrepair and abandonment to the darkness, and somehow the people dancing and singing along knew it, and celebrated, feeling a part of it.
Then, the crowd cheered even more, recognizing the first chords of Scarborough Fair, and the duo began, “Are you going to Scarborough Fair?…”
On a couple of faraway blankets, at the border of the Great Lawn, five close young friends fervently, if unevenly, joined the thousands of other young and old people who whispered the beautiful song along with the duo, and when the music ended, they frantically clapped and whistled and cheered with the ecstatic crowd.
“That one is their very best, wonderful, wonderful!” exclaimed Olivia, happy and spent. They sat back down on the blanket after the long applause. Olivia leaned against her husband, who put his arm around her. “I’ve been waiting for that one, and they didn’t disappoint me… sooo beautiful!”
Rebecca, turning to reach for the tea thermos, proclaimed, “I’m waiting for The Bridge, and I’m sure they’ll… OH-MY-GOD!!”
The imposing shape was standing behind them, close to the edge of the blanket, unnoticed until then, in the falling dusk at the edge of the Great Lawn, almost under the trees where they had made their base many hours ago.
“I can’t believe it!!”
“You made it! You made it!!”
Rebecca pointed and exclaimed, “My scarf! And no hood!” She laughed, lightly clapping her hands.
“Shhh! No need to draw attention! Sit down! SIT DOWN!” Winslow whispered, feeling embarrassingly cautious and sensible. He took his friend’s arm and pulled him down, looking around nervously. He didn’t know whether to be happy or worried, and he kept patting Vincent’s back and smiling.
Vincent crouched and sat among his friends, legs crossed, turning his back to the most crowded area of the park, and the others grouped around him, welcoming him, protecting him. Nobody around them was paying attention to anything but the faraway stage though, waiting for the next song. Somewhat reassured now that Vincent was just a shadow among the other shadows, Winslow asked: “How long have you been here?”
Vincent replied, “Just this last song. Yes, indeed an enchanting tune, Olivia. And yes, I borrowed your scarf, Rebecca. Thank you.” He adjusted it around his neck and lower face, the light fabric loosely hiding his features. “I had contemplated a pony tail, but perhaps it was a little too much, don’t you think?”
The five friends burst into muffled chuckles. Before they could say more, Garfunkel’s voice broke into song.
“April, come she will…”
Vincent raised his head, and looked at the far-off stage, listening intently. “Beautiful,” he murmured.
They fell silent and gave their full attention to the short, sweet song, and when the applause exploded, Ike asked the question on all their minds: “Does Father know?”
A mischievous spark illuminating his eyes, Vincent began, “He is certainly––”
“Stephen, can we PLEASE just listen to the concert? Can you PLEASE forget everything else for a moment and let me enjoy the night and just be a girl among all these other girls? I’m NOT…”
At the unexpected burst of exasperated female voice behind him, strident and subdued at the same time, Vincent stopped speaking and crouched even more, almost cringing.
An angry male voice overrode the female one. “Cathy, just because we’re here among all these other people, we haven’t stopped being a couple! You’ve been…”
While the two voices continued their argument, Vincent glanced at his friends, a questioning look on his face. They collectively rolled their eyes. Rebecca whispered, “They’ve been bickering for hours now. It’s the only unpleasant part of this wonderful night. The poor girl could use some free air to breathe, if you ask me.”
“And he has no sense of rhythm at all! He keeps clapping all wrong!” Pascal added, drumming with abandon a perfect tempo instead. In fact, the irresistible beat of Wake Up Little Susie had started, inspiring people to clap, and to stand up and dance.
“Yes, I’m gonna dance, I am going to dance! What’s wrong with THAT?”
People on the blankets around them were mostly standing now and moving to the beat of the song. Vincent also started to get up. Ike put a hand on his arm and exclaimed, delighted: “Don’t tell me you’re going to dance too?”
Vincent grinned, and stood up along with his friends. “No,” he replied, “I’m going.”
“What? – No! – Why?” the others asked, “What’s wrong?”
Trying to be heard over the loud music, he replied, a smile in his voice, “Absolutely nothing is wrong. It’s wonderful… but it’s a little too much for me.” He looked around at the people singing and dancing, and stole a sideways glance at the petite girl on the blanket next to theirs. She was lost in the music, clapping with vigor and singing loudly and a bit off key, while a sturdy dark haired man sat on the blanket and watched her ominously.
He looked back at his friends. “It’s overwhelming for me.”
“All of them clamoring into your brain, huh?” Ike asked, sympathetically patting his back.
“More or less. I didn’t expect it to be this strong. But it’s… well…” he gestured at the surrounding magic, “fantastic.”
They all smiled widely, and Pascal, who hadn’t stopped keeping time with the music, snapping his fingers, clapping, beating his palms against his thighs, cried out, “You’re my hero, Vincent!”
“Told you guys we had to camp close to the trees, didn’t I?” Ike beamed.
“Going Below? To face Father?” Winslow asked.
“No, not yet. I think I’ll pick a nice high tree, and enjoy the rest of the concert from a little farther away.”
“Great! And tomorrow we’ll be on your side, whatever happens.”
“Whatever happens, it was worth it, Rebecca,” he said, still watching the dancing ocean filling the Great Lawn. In those fervent words they could all feel his pride, his need for freedom, his youthful rebellion, which matched their own, and they rejoiced with him.
“I’m so glad you did this, Vincent!” Olivia said, and threw her arms around his neck in a warm hug.
He returned the hug, and then, with a mischievous smile, he reached into a pocket in his vest, retrieved a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses and put them on.
They all laughed out loud. “Where on the earth did you find them? How can you see anything – it’s dark!”
“I can,” he said defiantly, and with a last proud wave of his gloved hand, he headed for the nearest cluster of trees.
From the top of the tallest tree of those bordering the Great Lawn – Vincent knew this tree; it was a dear friend of his, which he had climbed many times, many nights – the sight was impressive. A bittersweet feeling overtook him. Nobody else could see the concert this way, only him. This equated to both pride and solitude.
“New York, looking down on Central Park, where they say you should not wander after dark,” Garfunkel was singing now. Vincent looked down on Central Park, a place where he did wander after dark, only after dark, in fact. He glanced at the stage. They had arranged a backdrop depicting a rooftop, with a water tank and air outlets, symbolic of the NYC skyline. Vincent knew those rooftops very well too, and their cats were his friends. “But there’s a heart, a heart that lives in New York.” He closed his eyes and relaxed against the trunk. So many powerful pulls this night. It was exhilarating, and frightening. The crowd was a living entity to him, its vibrations strong, like another kind of music, one that only he could hear.
His friends were still visible to his unique eyes even in the distance and the darkness. He would watch them every now and then, a sort of invisible connection. And he kept looking at the couple on the blanket near them. That girl’s feelings had almost exploded into him, taking him by surprise. He was accustomed to this kind of thing, but it had never happened so powerfully before. Frustration, longing, a need for freedom, fear, dreams, a kaleidoscope of sentiments that echoed his own, or maybe were his own, he wasn’t sure of anything in this pulsing night. The couple kept quarreling, and yes, Rebecca was right, the girl needed freedom, it was evident in her body language, and he could strangely sense it in his heart.
Rebecca. A guilty feeling filled him.
He realized that she was starting to care for him too much. Perhaps she was not yet fully aware of it, but he was. No, dear friend, don’t. He looked down at his friends, on the faraway blankets. Why not? She was sweet, generous, fair and affectionate. But a strange, obscure sentiment prevented him from envisioning himself in a relationship. His innate honesty forced him to complete the thought: in a relationship Below.
Like that unknown girl oppressed by her fiancée, he needed more. An impossible “more”, probably. He looked at the sky, at the Great Lawn, at the people now mesmerized by the first chords of A Bridge Over Troubled Water.
Rebecca will be happy now, he thought, smiling. He looked at their friends, again, and noticed that the quarrel between the couple was getting heated. She was gathering her things, gesturing angrily and probably crying. She’s walking away from him. He was strangely happy at the thought.
“Sail on, silver girl. Sail on by. Your time has come to shine, all your dreams are on their way. See how they shine.”
Yes, follow your dreams, girl. He watched her go, watched the man awkwardly and irately gather the blanket and all their things, while the haunting music soared and filled Vincent’s senses. “If you will need a friend, I’m sailing right behind. Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind.”
He smiled. Improbable, he thought, but I can dream too. I want to dream too. He closed his eyes and let the music lull him. Good luck, silver girl. Never settle for anything less than your shining dreams.
And… I’ll try too.