“What is it?” asked Vincent.
Catherine looked at the object her companion had taken out of his battered cardboard mementos box. Vincent was cupping the thing in his clawed hands like a fragile treasure. Catherine knew it was not the painted ornament that was fragile, but the one holding it.
“It's a turtledove,” Catherine said. She touched the rough dents on the wooden figure's beak and breast. “It looks like she's supposed to be one half of a pair. Someone must have broken the other bird away.”
“Turtledove,” Vincent repeated, pronouncing the syllables like foreign sounds from an exotic language.
Catherine watched him think. He spent several silent seconds sifting through remnants of words and memories in his mind. Observing this process was less painful for her now than it had been a week ago. She supposed she must be growing accustomed to Vincent's newest hardship. It took many forms.
Unable to spare him from his travails, she was at least able to accompany him through the aftermath. Examining his undamaged possessions was one of the simple activities they could share during their recent languid afternoons and evenings together. This was also an activity they usually enjoyed. Sometimes a book or a trinket sparked recognition in Vincent's shattered mind, unlocking a torrent of words and memories. Other times...
“One turtledove is...a thing alone?” asked Vincent.
Gently, Catherine replied, “These birds are symbols of fidelity and friendship. Close friends and lovers sometimes share a set of two figurines, each person keeping a single bird, as a reminder of the one they love.”
Vincent's blue eyes were calm and a little sad. “Is this our turtledove?” he asked next.
Catherine said, “Would you like it to be?”
“I don't know who else this little bird should remind me of,” he whispered.
Catherine didn't know either. She reached for his hands, covering the broken ornament with her palms and resting her fingertips on his wrists. “Vincent, you're learning...and remembering...more and more, every day,” she said.
He answered, “Yes.” Then he gave her a warming smile. “And I still have not forgotten who you are.”
She loved seeing that expression on his face. Catherine smiled too. This was now a small joke between them. Vincent's recent illness had obscured his memory of even her name. He knew that he loved her, but did not know what to call her. Upon discovering this fact last week, Catherine had assured him that she would not let him forget her name again. So far, Vincent had not needed any reminders in this regard.
“Come,” he said. “Shall we discover what else this box contains?”
She nodded and moved her hands away from his. Vincent placed the turtledove behind him on his bed as Catherine reached into the box for the next item. It was a packet of papers, bound together with yellow yarn.
“Writings,” said Vincent.
“Letters,” Catherine specified, glancing over the handwritten lines. She untied the yarn bow and thumbed through the stack. “Letters to you.”
Another thoughtful silence from her companion. Then: “Letters...means more than the marks that make words.”
“Yes. 'Letters' can mean 'messages,' written thoughts that people send to each other.”
As she said this, Catherine felt a sudden pang. She found herself once again acknowledging the fact that Vincent's new trouble with flexible word usage included the loss of his ability to read, and to recollect even the basic practices of reading. His many friends Below, and his devoted father, were all working with him, but Vincent's gains in this area were slow. Their mutual friend Dr. Peter Alcott believed Vincent's knowledge was still present in his mind, and that it had fragmented into unpredictable patterns. Peter also suspected that Vincent was not ready to access or engage those skills. Not wanting to apply any pressure whatsoever to the one she loved, Catherine held the papers in her hand, trying to decide how she should proceed.
But Vincent was watching her just as closely as she was watching him. “May I see the letters, Catherine?”
She gave the stack to him, relieved. Vincent studied the top page, then touched the bold salutation with his fingers. “This is my name.”
“That's right.” Catherine held her breath. But a moment later, Vincent returned the papers to her hand.
“That's all I know. Father taught me. Or reminded me.” He sighed. “The writing. The thoughts on paper. I destroyed many books, didn't I?”
“Books were not what you needed at the time.”
He gazed into space for a moment. “I remember...I thought the books were...empty. They did not hold the right words. I couldn't find the right words.” He turned his face toward Catherine. “I can remember that.”
“How did it make you feel?”
“Angry. Angry, and...” Now Vincent shut his eyes. “A sense that everything is not good. A wrongness...a knowledge of bad endings.”
“Fear?” Catherine suggested.
Vincent accepted the name she gave to his emotion. “Yes. Great fear.” He opened his eyes to look at the pile of letters.
“You're not afraid now,” Catherine said.
“No. Not now. Not today. What do these letters say?”
Catherine's heart sank as she skimmed the writing. The letters spanned the years between 1972 and 1981. Almost a decade's worth of notes and musings, and all were signed by—Winslow. Brash, brave Winslow. Once, one of Vincent's closest friends, and now—yet another victim of the man who had so brutally unhinged Vincent's mind. How might Vincent react to what amounted to a papery ghost? Would Catherine be called upon to explain how and why Winslow had died?
She glanced up from the letters.
“Are you all right?”
She told him the truth. “I'm a little sad. And a little scared...for you.”
He waited for more.
Catherine said, “These letters are from your friend Winslow.”
Vincent shifted his gaze back to the stack of papers, digesting this information. At last he repeated, “Winslow,” and his smile returned.
“A good memory?” Catherine asked.
“Many good memories.”
Vincent leaned back on one hand, dimpling the patchwork blankets on his bed with his weight. The box between them tilted slightly as the angle of the mattresses changed. Vincent drew a breath and began, “I remember helping Winslow with his work, pounding metal on his...his...anvil. The red glow of the...fire...in the...it is called...the forge. And the sound of our hammers. The heft of our tools. I remember...holiday feasts. Winslow loved a merry party. He was...a tall man. I always had to look up to meet his eyes. I remember arguing with him in Council. I remember reading books together. I...I remember reading.”
As he spoke, Vincent's voice became wistful, but his eyes brightened with the arrival of each little moment in his thoughts. “Catherine. I remember Winslow.”
She had to ask. “Do you remember that...he's gone?”
Vincent's brightness dimmed. “Yes. He protected his friends. He's buried in a lonely place.”
“Yes, he is,” Catherine said softly. She didn't know whether or not Paracelsus was part of Vincent's remembrances, but she felt better about Winslow's letters.
“I want to remember more about him. He was a good person.”
“Okay,” Catherine said. “I'll read what he wrote to you.”
The letters related what was to Catherine a fascinating tale. It was the story of a strong-minded young man, raised in the Tunnels, leaving his childhood home to make his way in the world Above. He wrote abrupt, declarative missives to the younger friend he had left behind. The tone of his writing was friendly, even brotherly. He described his employment in a mechanic's garage in Harlem. He described the buildings he passed on the way to and from work each day. He wrote about the people he met, and the people he worked for, the cars he repaired. He wrote about sharing good meals with Helpers, and making new friends playing basketball on his days off. He also wrote about his entrenched inability to understand the crazy-making ways of the Topsiders.
From the March 10, 1973 letter:
Tried to break up a fight today. I was on my way home from the library and it went down right in front of me on the corner of West 130th Street & Fifth Avenue. A man walking by dropped a paper bill on the sidewalk. Went on his way, never noticed. This skinny kid, greasy blonde hair, fifteen, maybe sixteen, went to pick up the money, but some old guy beat him to it. Sick old man, gray like ashes, grizzled, a couple bottles behind his own thirst. The kid started screaming at him, like he'd been robbed, calling him ugly names. I think that boy threw the first punch, but the old man might have kicked at him. And I was stupid. I waded in, trying to talk sense into them. No one needs to get bloody over ten dollars, you know? That was when the policeman arrived. He must have got MONEY—THIEF—HIT ME out of the gabble on the streetcorner, and he yelled for everyone to freeze. So, we did, and I figured my part in keeping those two from killing each other was over, so I started to move away. And that was when the cop pulled his gun on me. V, unless you're shooting hoops, it's a bad deal to be big and Black up here. We knew that. I knew that long before I came Topside to stay. But knowing a thing and living it every day are two different animals. I'm not dead or in jail tonight because some schoolteacher saw the whole thing and set that policeman straight. She gave him an earful, then once the cop was busy handling the other two, she gave ME an earful. I think she must have been related to my mama. But I don't get it. I don't get any of it.
Catherine stopped reading. “God,” she said.
Vincent murmured, “Winslow must have felt...great fear. And anger.”
“Is that why he came back to the Tunnels?” Catherine asked.
“Perhaps. In part.”
The letters continued, relating less disturbing tales of daily life in the city, but the messages also became less frequent as time passed. Winslow had written to Vincent only twice in 1976, and only once in 1977. That single letter was little more than a few scrawled lines from the depths of July to say that Winslow was alive and out of harm's way.
“Harm?” asked Vincent. “There was danger Above?”
Nodding, Catherine answered, “That was an especially rough year for New York.”
“And for you?” He leaned a little closer, sounding concerned.
Catherine reminded herself that for the time being, Vincent possessed nothing beyond the present moment. History, dreams, plans for tomorrow were all irreducible components of his Now. She took his hand and felt the weight of his desire for her security—even while she was sitting right beside him, even if 1977 was twelve years in the past, even though there was very little Vincent could do these days to keep her safe in the world Above.
“Dad always hated New York in the summer. I was with him at the lake that year. In Connecticut. And I was glad to be there. We watched the news reports on TV. The city had gone—” She had meant to say, insane, but immediately determined that was a poor choice of words. “The city broke open under the weight of its own fear. I'm sorry Winslow had to see it happen firsthand.”
She watched him think again. A new question occurred to her. After Vincent met her eyes, Catherine asked, “Did you see that summer firsthand?”
His shoulders lifted and fell in a helpless shrug. “I don't know. I don't know if I want to know.”
Catherine decided that Vincent was only stating a fact, and that he was suffering no overt ill effects from this admission. She squeezed his hand and went back to reading letters aloud.
Beyond the solitary 1977 note, Winslow began to write about his nostalgia for the Tunnels. He started asking more questions about people he and Vincent both knew, wondering if anyone had heard from those who had gone Above, or left the city, requesting news about those who still dwelt Below. He wanted to know if Vincent remembered certain things about Winslow's mother, and whether anyone had ever tracked down some of the recipes that were apparently missing from her handwritten cookbook.
From September of 1978:
I've got this good friend of mine who knows her way around a kitchen. She's even done her damnedest to try to throw together Mama Julia's best chocolate cake, just from what little I can remember about it. Wish I had paid more attention when I was a kid! I think Shannon came close, but there's a secret ingredient or something that's got left out.
Catherine asked, “Have you noticed that Winslow writes a lot about food?”
Vincent chuckled. “He was the cherished son of our first cook. He spent half his childhood helping his mother in the kitchen.”
In late December, 1978, Winslow wrote Vincent to say that he would not be attending Winterfest in January. He was going to Rochester with Shannon for Christmas and New Year's, and might “stay on awhile,” if he could find good work there. Shannon was a grand and gorgeous singer who wanted to introduce Winslow to the jazz scene in her hometown. She also wanted him to meet her family.
“In my world, accepting that kind of invitation means only one thing,” Catherine said.
“Winslow was in love,” Vincent agreed.
They counted three letters in the collection that were mostly about Shannon and Rochester. The music was everything Shannon had promised (Winslow went so far as to offer: “O my God, V, you would love this stuff!”) and her family seemed accommodating. But then Vincent and Catherine reached an unexplained hiatus in the writing.
“Maybe there are some letters out of order,” said Catherine, flipping back and forth through the stack, looking at the dates.
“No,” Catherine concluded. “I guess there's nothing here. And he writes like he hasn't sent anything for a long time. Listen. Halloween, nineteen-eighty.” She held out the page as she read, positioning the letter where Vincent could see it too. He tipped his head to one side, considering Winslow's heavy handwriting while he listened to Catherine's voice.
I know it's been too long. I've been up here too long. All I can see anymore is the ends of things. Nightfall. Roadkill. Folks looking at me, thinking I'm up to no good. Folks looking at each other, keeping watch to see who's going to kill who first. It's crazy. Worse than crazy. I'm coming home. Let Father know?
Be there soon.
Vincent inhaled sharply.
“What?” Catherine asked. Beside her, Vincent sat motionless, arrested, squinting at the paper. Catherine reached over to grip his arm. “Vincent?”
He turned his head. “I'm all right. I am...remembering.” Now he looked upward, toward the high shadows of his chamber and the hollow sounds of a subway train rushing past overhead. “There's so much to remember,” Vincent murmured.
This time it was Catherine's turn to wait for him.
At length, Vincent told her, “Winslow was unhappy when he returned to the Tunnels. For several days he suffered from a noisy head cold and a sour stomach. He had not been eating well, nor sleeping well. He was angry when he left us, and he was angrier when he came back. I remember...he looked very old to me. Almost like a stranger. But he wasn't old. Only...older than when I had last seen him. He soon remembered how to laugh, though. Winslow had learned much about...machines...and engines...while he was Above. His knowledge was a gift to the community.”
“Did he say why he came back to the Tunnels?”
Vincent concentrated. “There's something there...something...just out of reach.” He shook his head.
“Don't worry,” said Catherine. “It will come.”
“I hope that is so,” Vincent answered, his words muted with disappointment.
Catherine pushed the box out of the way and set the stack of letters beside the turtledove. She slid across the blanket to Vincent's side. She felt his left arm settle almost automatically around her shoulders. Leaning upon his chest, she assured him, “Your hope will see you through this. Our hope, Vincent. Today and always.”
He said nothing, but his arm tightened around her body.
They sat together, embraced and embracing. A different subway train rattled by at a higher speed and from a greater distance away than the last one. Catherine heard the echos of the mechanical clatter, a stuttering rhythm syncopating the ringing tones of pipecode which chimed along the master pipes. She picked out a few phrases here and there, not really listening, just registering the increase of her own knowledge and inclusion over the past three years. Vincent felt warm and solid against her skin, the fabric of his flat gray vest soft against her face. His voice seemed to rumble up from his chest when he spoke again at last.
“Catherine, the hope I feel today is the hope you have given me. It is the tiny flower you've planted in my heart.” His free hand lifted from his knee and he slowly caressed her cheek with his furred knuckles. “Don't worry, Catherine. Please. Our love has survived...everything. Even now...it flourishes. Our hope grows in these moments. I feel it.”
“I feel it too,” Catherine replied. She took hold of his hand before he could pull it away, and she brought his fingers to her lips. She did not need to look up; she knew Vincent smiled. Catherine kissed his hand and said, “There was a final letter, dated after the one about Winslow's homecoming. Do you want me to read it?”
“Why would Winslow need to send me a letter after he returned home?” Vincent asked.
Catherine moved a strand of her hair away from her eyes. “I was wondering the same thing.”
She sat up. Vincent released her. Catherine reached backward and retrieved the letters. “Let's see. Here it is. September eighteenth, nineteen-eighty-one.” She read:
Sorry for the short notice, but I have to go Topside today. It's Shannon. She's back in town and Clarence just got word to me that she's trying to get in touch. She wants me to go with her to the concert tomorrow. It's a special deal, Vincent. I have to go. Tell Randolph I'll pull two extra sentry shifts to make up for it. Don't know when I'll be back Down. Expect me when you see me.
“Concert,” Vincent repeated.
“A public musical performance,” Catherine said. “Now, I wonder what concert they went to. Fall...eighty-one...” She sat up straight, recognition flooding her thoughts. “Vincent! The concert in Central Park! It must be!”
He tilted his head at her, startled.
“Oh. I'm sorry. No, it's just...” She took a deep breath to compose her thoughts. “There was a benefit concert on the Great Lawn, to raise money to restore the park, to remind the city that the park was still there. Two famous folk singers performed that night. And I...well, I had just flown in from Paris. A group of old friends from college invited me to go with them. We arrived after breakfast with tarps and blankets to be sure we got a good spot in the audience, but the place was already crowded. Janice and...oh, was she still with Gary then? Anyway, Janice and her husband brought an overflowing picnic basket with them. We sat and talked about everything...music, old times, our families...and all the little details in between. It was a long, damp day and a magical night. We had a good time.”
“The park is a magical place,” said Vincent. “And that's a wonderful memory.”
He sounded so much like his old self that Catherine almost missed the import of what he had said. She refocused her full attention on the present moment. “You can remember the park,” she stated, seeking his confirmation.
“Catherine, when I dream, I dream only of the park.” He held out one hand, gesturing at the cavern around them. “When I first came to myself in this chamber, I did not understand where I was...why I was not lying in a green land beneath a...a black space spangled with...with many sparks of silver. And the glowing light that changes shape. The breathing space.”
“The sky,” whispered Catherine.
“Sky,” said Vincent, savoring the word. “Yes.”
Heartwrenched, Catherine thought: He dreams of the nighttime sky. She calculated her way through recent history. To her knowledge it had been at least a month since Vincent had walked beneath moon and stars.
“In my dreams,” he went on, “the world is open and alive. I feel...such peace. I know I am not alone.” His eyes drew her gaze and held it fast. “Because someone I love is there with me.”
Blue. Her world was now awash in brilliant blue. The sunkissed surface of the ocean. The inner heart of the candle's flame. The cloudless expanse of the firmament floating breathlessly above her family's lakeside summer house. All of it, and more, in Vincent's eyes. His feline face was golden, his mane of silky hair the color of sunsets, scented with aromatic herbs and candle smoke. He remained unbelievably beautiful.
“I hope Winslow was able to go to the concert in the park with Shannon,” he said.
Catherine's lungs reminded her that she ought to try breathing soon. She sighed, “Winslow? Oh. Yes.” Catherine turned to the box, picked the length of yarn from its interior, and began bundling the letters together. Vincent's hand on hers bespoke his request for her to stop.
“Will you leave them out for me?” he asked.
Catherine wordlessly pulled the yarn away from the pages. Vincent took the stack. Again, Catherine was impressed by his caution, the way he moved, as though he had never touched paper before.
“I like remembering Winslow,” Vincent said. “I wish I had written letters like this to myself...so that I might remember other people now. My friends. My life.”
It took another few seconds for his words to sink in. By the time her mind had connected all the dots, Catherine was staring at him. Why hadn't she thought of this before? “Vincent. You do write letters to yourself.”
He blinked, and stared back at her.
“Is that...normal?” he asked.
Catherine laughed a little. “Very. You keep a journal, Vincent. You write down your everyday thoughts and feelings in a book.”
She could see this wasn't ringing any bells for him. Catherine stood up. She crossed the room to his antique sideboard and hutch, where she opened an upper cabinet door and took out the small volume of blank leaves Vincent kept there. She clasped the journal in her hands, considering its implications. Rebecca had once told her that Vincent's habits as a diarist were well-established even when Rebecca and Vincent had first come to know each other as children. There would be more notebooks, from years long past.
Catherine set his current journal on the sideboard and glanced across the shelves of books and other objects visible through the glass-fronted doors of the hutch. No obvious collection of journals stored there. She pondered the solid wooden doors to the cabinets beneath the sideboard.
“Vincent, may I look in here?” she asked.
“For what, Catherine?”
“Your old journals.”
He left Winslow's letters on the bed and joined her in front of the row of doors. “Let's look together.”
So they knelt on the floor and began a fresh excavation. Inside the sideboard, they found small crates packed with (no surprise to Catherine) old books: novels, essays, poetry. Boxes of papers, more letters, children's art. A worn leather tool belt. A latched toolbox containing a few aged but well-maintained hand tools. A wooden case with a padded interior, containing a meager array of lab equipment, glass slides, tweezers, magnifiers, and the like. They found Vincent's collection of art supplies and a set of stored paintings on paperboard and canvas. Vincent devoted a few minutes to a casual review of the images.
“I like this,” he said, holding up a dark watercolor depicting a cavern full of stone pillars and stalactites. The light source was a lone candle in the center of the great cave. Shadows stretched away from the candle in all directions.
Catherine thought the image eerie, but perhaps its atmosphere of solitude and silence appealed to her companion. As with all of his artwork that Catherine's had seen, the grades of light and shadow, the lines of perspective and the depicted shapes of objects, were all rendered with an expert hand and eye. “Your work is always beautiful,” Catherine told him.
Her sentiment surprised him. “My work?”
Vincent looked from his painting, to his large hands, and back again. Catherine saw unimpeded, innocent curiosity in his posture as he reached for the other paintings, to give each one a more thorough examination. He seemed hungry for memories, for identity. His movements manifested a purposeful energy that Catherine realized had been absent for weeks previous. He was coming back. He was wanting to come back.
“Catherine.” Vincent set the paintings aside. “Catherine, are you sad? What is wrong?”
She brushed her fingers across her eyes, clearing her vision of tears. “I'm fine, Vincent. Nothing's wrong. Everything is...finally right.”
They found what Catherine was searching for behind a file box of magazine clippings (grouped by subject) and teaching notes (grouped by student age-range). Six stacks of journals, bound into parcels of five books each, some tied with white kite string, some with jute twine, and only one book (Dec 1987 – June 1988, according to the inked notation on the front flyleaf) remaining separate. The parcels were labeled by date, scraps of paper caught beneath the knotted strings identifying months and years. The earliest label Catherine could find read: 1965-1969.
She rested a hand on the nearest pile of journals and said, “You have recorded twenty-four years of your life in these books.”
“I...I have...lived that long?”
Catherine had to smile at this. “Longer. You're thirty-four.”
Vincent was regarding his bundles of books with the speechless reverence of an adventurer who has stumbled upon an ancient treasure trove. When he spoke, he said bluntly, “I want to read them.”
“Now? All of them?”
Vincent looked up at Catherine's teasing tone, then laughed softly. “No. Not now. But later. With great care. Over many days. Perhaps...you can help me?”
It sounded close to Catherine's idea of heaven. “I'd be honored,” she said.
Vincent returned his gaze to the books on the stone floor. “These thoughts on paper...words we can keep in one place. It's a miracle to me.” He watched Catherine select one stack from the lot. “All the words. Names. Dreams.”
Catherine was struggling with the knot of the “Sept 1980 – Dec 1982” collection.
“I can help you with that,” Vincent said.
Catherine handed the problem over to him. “I know you can.”
He slid the claw of his right index finger over the twine, close to the center knot. The twine separated. Vincent pulled the string away, rolling it into a gathered loop and setting it aside. Catherine found the appropriate journal from 1981 in the center of the stack.
“Why that one?” Vincent asked.
“Well, we know I was in the park for that concert. We suspect Winslow was there too. Now I want to know what you were doing that night.”
“It's more comfortable to read on the bed,” Vincent observed.
Catherine rewarded his comment with another smile. “Yes, it is.”
They returned to their original seat, this time settling close together so they could both enjoy a clear view of the journal's entries.
“Autumn,” Catherine muttered, turning pages. “Oh, which month was it?”
It turned out to be September. Catherine needed a little time to find a pertinent passage, but Vincent's entry for 20 September 1981 was all that Catherine had hoped for. As she scanned the text, confirming her find, Vincent pointed to the page.
“That word has the same shape as the name from the letters. That is Winslow's name.”
Catherine turned to look at him. Vincent seemed pleased with himself. She cuddled closer.
“I want you to know,” she said to him, “that you have superb penmanship.”
“Handwriting. The way you form the letters on the paper.”
“Okay, listen to this,” Catherine said.
“You found writing about the concert?”
“You must read very quickly.”
“It's half of how I make my living. Now listen.”
“I am listening.”
Nestled against his side, Catherine idly adjusted the scoop neck collar of her sweater and fingered the crystal pendant on her necklace. Vincent's writing was not the same as Winslow's. The mood was vastly calmer. She found that it was not all that different from reading the letters Vincent had written to her throughout the course of their relationship. The tone of his journal writing was equally confiding, just as luminous in its honesty, and it contained the fluent immediacy that Catherine recognized from his correspondence. She read:
Last night Randolph completed his apprenticeship to everyone's gratification. This event in the park has afforded him the perfect opportunity to test his skills as a Tunnels warden. He arranged everything. The closure of our gates and secret doors in the vicinity of the park, the stationing of sentries, the hourly reports over the pipes. And I think he did this work with greater efficiency than even I might have done. I'm very proud of him. I'm proud of myself, of what all of us have built together—within these deep chambers and passages, within each other. In Randolph I can see the future of our world and our way of life. Last night, my student gave his teacher the gift of safety. It is a priceless treasure. I am grateful.
“I don't remember Randolph,” Vincent interrupted.
Then how to summarize? wondered Catherine. She said, “He was your apprentice in Tunnels security. By the time I knew him, Randolph was your second-in-command. He helped you to protect the community.”
“The way you speak of him...is Randolph gone too? Dead like Winslow?” Vincent asked.
Vincent fell silent.
“Do you want to know more?”
He shook his head. “Another day.”
That was fine with Catherine. She went back to Vincent's journal entry.
I spent the night with Pascal in the Pipe Chamber, ready to come to Randolph's aid, should a Stranger wander Down from the multitude gathered on the Lawn. But I was not needed in that capacity. Instead, I helped our pipe master coordinate his System Alert. Pascal possesses such tremendous gifts of concentration! My head still rings with pipesong.
As the hours passed, I thought often of Winslow. I have sensed the tumult in his heart ever since he's come home. He went Above early yesterday morning and has not yet returned. I hope this night has brought him peace and contentment, things he has too frequently lacked in his life. I know his friend from Above, Shannon, is very important to him. Winslow has not spoken to me of his love for her, but—I have sensed that too. Have they shared a time of reconciliation tonight? Are they resolving whatever matters divided them over this past year? Did they enjoy the music?
I have the impression that Shannon prefers a different style of music than what the performers promised to deliver for this concert. With a smile, I confess my certainty that it is not at all Winslow's favorite kind of singing. I believe I've heard him refer to the genre as “warble-mongering.” Most likely, the concert is not the gravitational force which pulls Winslow and Shannon together now. I hope that force is something stronger and more meaningful to both of them. I pray my friend is well today.
“ 'Warble-mongering' is set apart from the rest of the words,” Vincent noted.
“Well,” Catherine answered, “it's not a word you'll find in any dictionary.”
“What kind of music was this?”
“At the concert? Folk singing, and...I guess it's called folk rock.”
“Not...jazz...not what Winslow wrote about in his letters.”
His next question surprised her. “Did you see Winslow there?”
“No, not that I remember, but there were a lot of people,” Catherine said wryly. “Even if I had seen him, I doubt I could single him out now from the throng of other faces I didn't know.”
“Would I have liked this music, Catherine?”
She had to think about that one. “I'm not sure,” she admitted, and glanced at the blank stone wall where Vincent had once collected a gallery of photographs from posters and magazines: faces of inspiring people from all over the world. Catherine missed that optimistic collage. During his time of madness, Vincent had destroyed many books, yes—but he had shredded all of the photos from his wall. That absence now added to the sense of desolation in Vincent's chamber, an impoverished spaciousness occasioned by the removal of furnishings he had also destroyed in his agonized rage.
Catherine reconsidered the wall, calling to mind the catalog of faces she remembered seeing there. Imagining one face in particular, she said, “I know you like John Lennon. Do you remember anything about Simon and Garfunkel? They were the star musicians at the concert.”
Vincent's attention turned inward for a while. Then he came up with: “Hello, darkness my old friend. / I've come to speak with you again.” He didn't sing the lyrics, exactly. He spoke the words in a slow, rhythmic chant.
If his watercolor painting of the candlelit cavern was eerie, Catherine decided this recitation was even more so. Vincent's velvet voice exposed completely new shades of meaning for Paul Simon's “The Sound of Silence.” Catherine felt the weave of her mohair sweater chafing the gooseflesh that had risen on her arms and down her back.
“I'm...glad you can remember the words of a song,” she said.
His eyes questioned her hesitation, but Vincent did not choose to address her discomfort directly. Instead, he reached out to touch the pages of his journal. “Is there more about Winslow?” he asked her.
“Not on September twentieth of that year,” Catherine replied. She held the book higher. “Let's see if you noticed when Winslow came home.”
“I don't think I'd be a very good warden if I did not notice that,” Vincent murmured.
This mild jest lightened the atmosphere, and Catherine's unease departed as swiftly as it had come. She turned the page. “Nothing about Winslow on the twenty-first. Nothing on the twenty-second.” She turned another page. “Here we go. Twenty-three September.”
It is afternoon, and Winslow is home. He arrived this morning in time for breakfast. He arrived—singing. My friend is a happy man today.
After the meal, I went with him to work on our old gate beneath the Bowery, which Randolph had scheduled for repair. Winslow was quiet during our journey there. We completed the task in less than an hour. Then we walked to the Girl-of-the-Streets Antre. We laughed together, remembering how our friend Devin once decided upon the name for that particular chamber. We stopped there to share the noonday meal we brought with us. As we ate, Winslow began to tell me many things about his life—and his time with Shannon.
They were lovers while Winslow lived Above. They first met in the fall of 1976, as Winslow phrased it, “on a fine high Harlem noon,” outside the public library. Winslow had borrowed Rushdie's Grimus, while Shannon had selected Achebe's Arrow of God. Winslow stopped on the sidewalk to help a child gather an armload of books that she had dropped onto the pavement. I think Shannon must have been struck by the sight of my tall, strong friend kneeling beside a delicate young girl. They began talking, and spent a few hours together, and when Shannon invited Winslow to come see her perform in a musical at the Morosco Theatre, he was eager to go. Winslow says the play was “out of this world,” and it gave the two of them much to discuss as they began to know one another better. Stories, music, and good food already constituted common interests.
It is a sad misfortune for my friend that these were their only common interests. Their love never delved so deeply that one or both could not effect a hasty retreat at a moment's notice. Winslow desired a private, predictable life. Shannon was drawn to the flash and glitter of the stage. Winslow wanted to give his heart to Shannon alone. She enjoyed the company of many suitors. Yet she told him he was special to her, not like anyone else she knew. He believes they might have grown into “something more than special,” if Shannon's sister had not been murdered on the third anniversary of Shannon's and Winslow's first day together.
Grief can bring people closer—or it can tear them apart. I know something of the pain and difficulties Winslow has faced in the world Above. But this!—my soul aches for Shannon, for her loss. And I feel Winslow's suffering as well, to know he was unable to help, to be shut out of Shannon's mourning. To lose the woman he cared for because this bereavement drove them both into separate spheres of being. He went Above to escape the shadow of death which had haunted him Below. Winslow discovered it was no escape, after all.
Catherine paused. “The shadow of death,” she read a second time. “That sounds...ominous.”
“Father says...when I was young...the year I was ill...and the year after that...were dark times for everyone.”
“Oh,” Catherine breathed.
Vincent explained further, “It was not merely my own...distress. Our whole community suffered attacks from Outsiders, and a severe storm, and deaths among our people.”
“I'm sorry, Vincent.”
He nodded, receiving her sorrow, sharing it. “Life and death. Love and pain. Little names for such overwhelming things. The words are so...small. Yet they carry such powerful burdens of meaning.”
“Yes. That's true.”
“Will you read the rest, please, Catherine?”
She leaned against him and resumed:
But on the day he left us last week, Winslow found something better than an escape. He tells me this brief return to Shannon's world “set things straight” between them. These five days and nights, he was with her. He did not need to say more than that. The joy in his face, his contagious buoyancy of spirit—these speak volumes today.
He says they celebrated the anniversary of their good times. The following night, they honored her sister's memory, at the concert in the park, for that was the music Keya had once listened to with her friends. They sat on the wet grass with all the other people there. Shannon bought a keepsake from an artisan peddling his wares among the crowd. Two birds in flight, meeting for a kiss. They broke the carving in half like a wishbone, and wished each other safe journey. Winslow took the wooden figure from his pocket and showed it to me. It is a fair turtledove to carry with him always, knowing that Shannon carries its mate. The bearers of these birds have befriended one another. Old shadows are lifted away from their hearts.
And now? What more is there for me to write? I am content with Winslow's satisfaction. They parted well. This was a healing goodbye. I think my friend, my brother, is truly home at last.
“Not a traditional happily-ever-after,” said Catherine.
“Well, not one you'd find in Disneyland.”
Vincent tilted his head again. “This isn't Disneyland, Catherine. This is New York.”
Catherine closed the journal, trying to maintain control of her face. At that she failed, breaking into a wide grin, then dissolving into peals of laughter. Vincent held her. When Catherine was reduced to intermittent giggles, Vincent said, “My dearest Catherine weeps and laughs with abandon in my company. Winslow had his time of joy. Now I have mine.”
Joy? Catherine surveyed his features. She saw weariness in his face, and the shadows of deep wounds yet to be healed. But she could not deny the gentle glow of delight which shimmered just beyond the range of mortal sight like an underground aurora. She smiled up at him. The glow expanded.
Catherine placed the journal on the bed beside the turtledove. Winslow's turtledove. Vincent turned to view the collected objects now decorating his topmost quilt.
“Everyone has anniversaries,” Catherine said.
“Yes,” Vincent replied.
The way he spoke this simple affirmation made Catherine look up. His eyes shone like twin jewels in the candlelight. “Do you remember our anniversary?” she asked.
Gazing into those eyes, she began to drift once more into blueness. Vincent reached his hand toward her body. With a delicacy that belied his great size and strength, he traced one leisurely claw across her skin, gliding it over her jaw and down her neck, igniting a slow tingle in her nerves. The claw buzzed faintly along the fine gold chain she wore until Catherine heard the minute click of his nail upon the crystal pendant.
“We exchanged gifts,” whispered Vincent. “I gave this to you. The clear stone you wear over your heart.”
“My crystal,” Catherine said. “Or...your crystal...” Giddy, she held herself motionless. She had no desire to do anything that might dislodge gem or claw from their resting place between her breasts. “Our memento,” she tried.
She offered him a new smile. “You do remember that night!”
He moved his hand then, but Catherine felt no regret because he used that hand to pull her close, and then he wrapped both of his long arms around her. “Yes. Have we had other anniversary nights?”
Sighing, Catherine said, “One other.” But this was not the time to remind him of their tumultuous second anniversary season. “And our third is coming up soon.”
“Hmm.” He nuzzled her hair and became still, his quiet breath warming the top of Catherine's head. She reflected that this had been a relatively long afternoon for him, several hours spent practicing his words and his recollections. He must be getting tired. Her heart brimmed with grateful admiration for his patience, and for his progress. She now understood how much Vincent wanted to fully return to her. His strength, even enmeshed in his present vulnerability, was awe-inspiring.
Now Vincent murmured, “In the park of my dreams, I like to go to the glades that surround a circle of stone tiles. The circle...it's a...mosaic. There is a word written on the ground. It is...” His voice trailed off as he tried to dredge up the word. Catherine felt the silence begin to turn brittle as Vincent met with no success.
“Strawberry Fields?” she asked in her gentlest tone of voice. “Is the word, 'Imagine' ?”
She felt him nod his thanks for her help. “I believe it is. That's a good place for remembering things. And in the green time...in the spring...a beautiful tree blooms there.” He considered his statement. “Catherine, it must be blooming even now."
Catherine began to stretch her own memory as she tried to recall what kind of blooming tree grew near that memorial. Cherry? Magnolia? Maybe it didn't matter. Maybe there was a greater reward to be claimed than that of unearthing an old reminiscence.
“Vincent, maybe we could really go there soon. Together. To celebrate our third April night. Maybe you could come Above, and we'll see that tree in flower, and the mosaic. We could make a new memory.”
“I'd like that.” He raised his head from hers. Catherine turned her face upward so she could bask in blue again.
Vincent said, “If we do go to that place, if we create a new memory, I promise...I won't forget it.”
His radiant blue and gold warmth had become irresistible. Catherine reached for him, securing his beloved face between her palms. She touched her lips to his, and as his unique mouth curved beneath her kiss, opening to her advance, Catherine's hands swept upward into his hair. She entangled her fingers in his mane. Vincent's hands found the nape of her neck and the small of her back, pressing there, supportive, encouraging.
They luxuriated in their tender triumph. When Catherine relinquished her hold, they both relaxed without letting go of each other, resting cheek to cheek, heart to heart. Forget her? He could never forget her. Nor she him.
“I'm going to hold you to your promise,” Catherine whispered.
Vincent answered, “Good.”