By Gwen Lord
The gentle scent from the blossom trees in Central Park drifted forever upward in the direction of Catherine's apartment making the air seem to come alive with a collection of fragrance that only nature could take credit for. The sun had set on yet another hot and languid day which had tempers frayed and endless showers were a necessity in order to keep a modicum of sanity. With the onset of evening a slight, but very welcome, breeze played happily with the hem of the long net drapes, which hung against the open doors on Catherine's balcony. Coming from within, was an amber glow, reminiscent of the home chambers far below them, as a few candles lit the apartment that the music now embraced. Grieg, Strauss, Beethoven had all had their place in this magical evening. Now as the hour drew near for Vincent to return to his world, the strains of Schubert's unfinished symphony painted the perfect picture, that any artist would have desired to capture.
"Catherine, the hour is late ... and I must return below." Vincent's soft voice was like velvet against her ear."
"Oh! ... just when it was all so perfect." Catherine turned her head so she could look directly into the face of the man she adored. His deep blue eyes met her soft green eyes with a look so full of love.
"I must Catherine ... with the dawn, ... there is danger for me, you know that. But my heart wants to stay with you." Vincent placed a soft kiss on the top of her head, as his strong arms held her with a possessiveness he never thought would be his.
"I'm sorry, I'm being selfish, ... it's just that the time we get to spend together is so short, so measured, ... and never enough." Catherine leaned up within his encompassing arms to bring her lips to his. It was as gentle as a feather, yet it sent shock waves through both of them. Then Vincent returned her kiss with a passion that knew no bounds.
"I love you Catherine, with all that I am."
"I am so lucky to have you all mine." She held his gaze as she let her feelings flow to him through their bond.
Getting to his feet, Vincent turned to Catherine, to offer his large clawed hand. As Catherine placed her small hand in his, so he pulled her up and to him, which resulted in yet another wonderful embrace.
"There's a concert in the park tomorrow evening, would you like to share listening to it, with me?" he said as he picked up his cloak and placed it about his huge shoulders.
"Really, tomorrow night, oh that would be lovely, Vincent, I'll look forward to it." she linked her arm through his as they made their way to the balcony.
"I'll be waiting for you at your basement about seven o'clock."
"I'll be there."
Now as they stood together against the wall of the balcony, looking out into the night, the silhouetted skyscrapers could be seen, as the dawn sky drew them out of the darkness it had pulled them into, hours before. Vincent's arm crept around Catherine's tiny waist.
"Till tomorrow my love," he whispered.
"I wish it was now! Vincent why does the world conspire to keep lovers apart?" she asked with a sadness born of a love so deep, there were no words to describe it, ever.
"I sometimes feel it has to be a dream I'm living through ... yet when I look into your eyes, I know it's for real. I ask myself all the time ... WHY ME, ... there are no answers to that. Except that love is blind," he sighed.
"It is I who am the lucky one, Vincent, out of all the women in this huge world, you chose me." Her arm tightened around Vincent's back.
"The sky gets ever lighter, my cover will be gone soon, I MUST GO."
Taking her hands in his, he brought them up to his lips and kissed them. Then almost as if he had never been there, he was gone, swallowed up into the darkness he came from. His incredible eyesight, cat like grace and speed, soon had him back within the safety of the home tunnels. Once the huge iron gate had clanged shut and, only then, could Vincent ease his pace. The vapour from his breath puffed out into the cold tunnel air, as he sought to regain his breath and calm his racing heart. The fear drilled into his as a small boy by Father, of being captured above, still loomed as a warning within him ... what they would do to him if they caught him above. Father's words echoed in his head always, 'til he once more felt safe. Ahead of him after the long walk, lay the amber glow of the chambers which, for all of his life, had been the only home he had ever known. Whenever Vincent had been Above to be with Catherine, he would marvel at the stillness, the deep silence of it all,
"Could the world above offer a prayer more perfect, than this tender silence."
Vincent drew comfort from the words he loved of Walt Whitman's. The world Below slept, as the pipes also slept. So, Vincent allowed his thoughts to turn to the woman he loved, to the wonderful evening they had just spent together. The feel of her small hand in his, the scent that was Catherine, the looks she gave him, the love she wanted to give him alone, forever. Yes, forever, ... forever was such a long time, yet she wanted to love him even beyond the grave into eternity itself. A love like this was special, but for it to be for him, it was every dream he'd ever had come true and he feasted on it, he now knew without it, he would die. Their souls were joined and he thanked God for just ... being. To feel her complete trust in him and with him, brought tears to his lovely blue eyes, as they swam around before spilling over and down his cheek, he was indeed blessed.
But his reverie was abruptly cut short as he approached Pascal's chamber. What should have been in darkness, was lit within, as a single candle flame played against the rock walls of his chamber. Silently Vincent came to a stop at the doorway. Then with both hands on the opening, he eased himself into the entrance to see what was wrong within.
"What troubles you so Pascal?" Vincent's soft, but concerned, voice broke through his friend's thoughts.
"Vincent ... you startled me ... I was miles away. I'm sorry, is there something you want?" Pascal rose from the small stool he'd been sitting on. Worn away it's from continual use, but bore a wonderful shine, telling of the use it had had with Pascal and his father before him. Stretching and yawning, Pascal indicated to the soft over stuffed chair close by.
"Come in Vincent, take the weight of your feet."
"Thank you, I was on my way back from Catherine's returning to my chamber ... when I saw the flicker of your candle at this very late hour, ... I wondered if you were unwell?"
As Vincent sat down so did Pascal, a silence descended in the chamber, then Pascal broke the silence.
"You say you are only on your way back from Catherine's." Pascal said as he pulled out his gold watch on a chain, attached to his tunic pocket.
"Yes, ... it's almost dawn. I didn't want to leave her and yet, with the dawn, I am forced to return to my world."
"Good job Vincent, Father didn't catch you coming in this late, for as old as you are he would still have had a go at you my friend, like he did when we were small."
"Yes," was all Vincent could say, nodding his head in agreement.
"I think I'll make some tea, would you like some?" Pascal asked.
"That would be most acceptable, thank you."
Pascal picked up the earthenware pitcher from the floor and poured some water from it into the small gleaming tin kettle, then, placing it on the burner, lit the flame and set about getting down two mugs from the cupboard. An old oxo tin held the tea bags from which he popped one into each mug, then stood back and turned to Vincent.
"Some of the ideas they have above are ingenious," he smiled weakly, as he reached for the jug of milk.
"So tell me, what lies so heavy with you this night?" Vincent asked as he made himself more comfortable in the old easy chair.
"Life Vincent ... life." Pascal shrugged his shoulders and also gestured with his hands.
"Philosophy in the small hours can only mean a heart in turmoil. We have been good friends all our lives, as well as working along side each other. I know you, I know you as well as I know myself. I sense in you a great sadness ... we've always been able to share what life threw at us, why not now?" Vincent took the mug which Pascal now handed to him, filled with steaming hot tea.
"The cup that cheers, eh Vincent?" But Pascal didn't drink, instead he left his mug on the surface along side the kettle and milk. Sitting down he reached into a tunic pocket to pull out a large homemade handkerchief. First he wiped away a tear, then blew loudly into it. But the tear didn't go unnoticed by his friend.
"I'm waiting ... share it with me, please," Vincent urged.
The silence that followed was charged with sadness and, at the same time, with an air of a secret about to be shared. Vincent sensed the difficulty his friend was having to find the right words. Even the still pipes, seemed ready to burst into the symphony, that they were to Pascal.
"Very well, I can see you want to help, I also know when I see that look Vincent, if it takes all night, you intend to hear my story. I'm ..." He cleared his throat, "I'm so ... very alone ... I'm lonely Vincent." There, he had finally said it, but with the announcement came more tears.
"I know that feeling ... oh so well. You can be surrounded with friends and those you love, yes even family ... yet still be ... alone."
"Yes, yes Vincent, that is exactly perfect, you HAVE grasped how I feel."
"I've had a lot of practice at being lonely and alone," Vincent sighed.
Picking up his tea, Pascal took a sip then set it down again. Vincent had already finished his, so sat back patiently waiting for him to find the right words, which would allow him to open up his heart, in order for his heart to start to heal.
"As boys, remember Vincent, we gave Father many a tense moment or two."
"I remember," Vincent smiled, as he too remembered fond and also painful memories.
"Mitch, Devin, Ruth, Stanley and yes, the small Indian boy ... Yano. We were a formidable gang, were we not." His eyes shone for a moment with the memory, then the sadness returned.
"Yes, we all spent many happy hours skinny dipping in the falls, discovering the forbidden tunnels, like Columbus discovered life Above."
"Then ..." Vincent whispered encouragingly.
"Then, one by one ... they left us, until only the two of us remained," Pascal ran his hand over his face, then leaned forward to Vincent.
"Yes." The sigh told of the pain remembering was costing them.
"It was ... because we were both different, in a way from the others."
"Different ... ME yes, but ... not the both of us," Vincent was quick to point out.
"Oh yes Vincent, BOTH of us. You used to say you felt you were flawed, that the differences angered you and because of that, no one would ever want you. That you felt your life was an empty shell."
"That was true ... that is how I felt ... until that magical night I found Catherine."
"The change in you started there and then, she certainly brightened up all our lives, that's for sure." Pascal was almost his whole self again, as he chatted to Vincent.
"That was a wondrous time for me, as I felt my life change. She opened doors I never dared hope would be there for me. Our 'bond' told me how special it really was."
"You have Catherine... but ... I have no one. Who wants me, look at me, the exact opposite of you. We are like before and after, the Laurel and Hardy of the tunnel world." Both smiled at this, a little light relief amid this deep sadness.
"All the women want a big man to protect them, they want a man skilled with a trade. They want a home and garden, holidays. I'm nothing, amounting to zero ... who wants me? I'll tell you ... no one."
"Pascal, if Catherine can love ME, with all my flaws, then, out there, unknown to us now, there has to be someone, for you."
"I wish I had your faith, Vincent, I really do," he sighed.
"You do yourself a injustice my friend. You have a wonderful talent with the pipes. Without you we wouldn't have any communications down here. Your father passed those talents on to you, as would a father Above would pass on to his sons, the skills of the family business. You have a kind and generous heart, that tells the world you are special. You see Pascal, I've learnt something from Catherine, that took a long while to accept, beauty shines from within. We have to look beyond the surface we see. Not everyone can do this, that's why so many people move away from love, instead of towards love. We have to ... turn our disadvantages into our advantages." Vincent was up and pacing Pascal's small chamber.
"We are both nearly 40, almost confirmed bachelors. Yet Pascal, I hope one day to ask Catherine to share a life with me."
"I'm happy for you Vincent, but where is this woman for me? I don't see any Catherines hanging about for me."
"You ..." but Pascal stopped him.
"Once I thought maybe there was someone ... you remember her Vincent, she was called Ruth. It broke my heart when at 16 she decided to go Above to look for a better life for herself."
"Yes, we were all saddened when she chose to do that. But father said everyone should be allowed to try for a happy life and if that's what she desired, then he allowed her to go. If I remember rightly, she went to stay with a helper, then after a while she moved on." Vincent once more sat down next to Pascal.
"Since my father was killed in the rock fall, I've tried to hide the loss of him as he was such a good man. I was only 15, but I had to grow up fast. I regret not being here when he died, but we were off exploring the tunnels and it wasn't until we returned, that we learnt of his terrible death, I'll never forgive myself that you know," he confided.
"Yes he was a pillar of life down here. With Father and Paracelsus they designed the code we still use today. You must be very proud of your father," he said brushing the cushion.
"Did it ever bother you Vincent when all our friends got married? Did it make you sad?"
"In a way. But Father always gave me to believe, that a life like that would never be mine. So, from an early age, I had accepted it, but deep in my heart I too wanted that too."
"Vincent, I seem to be everyone's favourite Uncle, when ... what I really want is to be a father to my children." Again out came the handkerchief, to wipe away the tears.
"One day, someone will come, and you'll live another dream, both you and your heart will know when it happens, trust me on this."
"I lay awake like tonight, unable to sleep, longing to hold my woman close and call her mine. I long to have children, to hear their voices echoing along the tunnels, like ours used to do. " Vincent nodded.
"Then it would be OUR turn to worry what they were up to," both laughed at that, as the truth of it was so clear.
"Aloneness is a sadness born of faded dreams. You have to have HOPE, to make a dream come true."
"Yes, maybe you are right, I should heed your advice," Pascal grasped Vincent's large hands.
"I'm running along the same parallel lines as you, so I see all too well, believe me."
"I think we should call this all for tonight and catch some sleep while there is still time. Remember Father's called a special meeting in his study for nine sharp."
"In that case, I agree with you, we must rest while, I will see you in Father's study. I believe he said it had to do with someone who used to live in the tunnels and went Above to live, but now seeks sanctuary back among her family."
"Good night then Vincent."
"Good night my friend." Then picking up his cloak, he quickly left the chamber.
Once outside Pascal's chamber, Vincent continued his way along the familiar tunnels. Passing first Mouse's chamber, then Zack's, a little further along was the nursery, which joined with Mary's chamber. As Vincent approached Father's the boy in him still hoped against hope he was asleep. The snoring and occasional breaking of wind, told him all was well, as he silently slipped into his own domain. But sleep wouldn't come easily this night, too much talk, too late, had Vincent's mind in overdrive, for his friend. Deciding this was as good as any time to catch up on his journal, Vincent sat down and opened the pages, ready to continue his personal feelings. Sitting back in the tall carved chair, he closed his eyes in meditation, then picked up his pen started to write.
The hum of excited voices ebbed away as Father, leaning heavily on his old carved stick, limped across the worn old carpet, which covered most of the floor. Following behind was the reason they were all there. A small woman of about 35 or so, with short red curly hair, with a face that was pleasantly pretty but not quite beautiful. She looked nervous, as she followed Father never taking her eyes off the floor. Father coughed, then tapped his stick to get attention, a command which was instantly observed.
"Thank you all for being here as I asked. The hour is still early, but this is a matter that needs attention. We have here among us ... someone who knew and loved these tunnels all her life. She was brought to us when she was only six and a half. A frail little mite, beaten into submission by her step father, after her dear mother died. Old Sam found her in the alley, near the disused theatre. I remember it was New Year's Eve, snow was falling thick and deep Above, but this little child wore only a torn cotton dress, no shoes just socks and bruises. She had a happy childhood with us all, then when Ruth was 16 she wanted to have a life 'Above'. One of the helpers offered her a home, also gave her a job. Then one day, she met a man and fell in love. He was a lot older than her, a father figure. He promised her a life she felt she had to accept. But all his good looks and charming manner, hid from her the shallow man he really was. A man of no substance, who treated her abominably."
Pascal and Vincent stood motionless, as her life was laid bare before them all; a necessary channel all had to go through, to be accepted back into life Below.
"I want you all to welcome home ... Ruth. Welcome my dear." Father hugged and kissed her. Then, one by one all greeted her back. As their voices drifted away, so Ruth stood alone in the centre of the chamber, as Father sat down at his desk and Vincent and Pascal emerged from the shadows.
Turning her head she saw Vincent.
"Vincent, my special friend, how tall you have become, come, hold me," she begged. As Vincent's mighty arms held her tenderly, she felt she was finally home. Then out of the corner of her eye, she spied ... Pascal.
"Oh, my God Pascal, it's you!" Leaving Vincent's arms, she went and stood before Pascal. They stood looking at each other for what seemed like a lifetime, or was it a heartbeat.
"Welcome back Ruth." Pascal's face was glowing, his eyes alive with genuine pleasure for the only woman he ever loved and lost as the world called her Above.
"Pascal, it's been so long. I have missed you so much. The three of us used to have such wonderful times together."
"Yes, we were only talking about that together last night, weren't we Pascal," Vincent encouraged his friend.
"Yes, that's right Vincent, I believe we did touch on the subject." Vincent concealed a chuckle as he remembered their discussion.
"Tell me about yourself Vincent. I have so much catching up to do. And you Pascal, I want to know everything," she implored.
So, as Mary joined them with a tray of cups, full to the brim with steaming hot chocolate, the five of them caught up on the last 20 years.
"So, you have romance in your life Vincent, I would love to meet your Catherine."
"That you will my dear," Father told her. "Vincent and Catherine are inseparable, you will see her soon, as I believe she is joining us for dinner tonight. Isn't that so Vincent?" Father asked.
"Yes, Catherine will be here about seven o'clock."
"Good, then I will look forward to that very much." Ruth now turned to Pascal, "Is there a woman in your life? I expect you, like Vincent, have been captured by some lucky woman."
Pascal blushed to the very centre of his being. But it was Vincent who answered Ruth, "No, Pascal remains alone, waiting for the right person, to steal his heart. Well, I must go, I will see you all later, but I am expected on the lower level, they will be needing me so, 'til later," and with that, he was gone. Father stood and also excused himself, saying he had to see Cullen and suddenly he too was gone and they were the only ones left.
"It would seem Pascal, we are being left alone, to catch up on all the missing years."
"Come I will show you my pipes. There are many more since when you left."
"Do you still clean the copper ones near the home chambers, so they ring clear?" Ruth asked him.
"You remember that!" Pascal was surprised she remembered.
"I remember it all so clearly. I've had a lot of time to perfect my memory," she looked sad and suddenly alone.
Pascal ventured his arm around her shoulder.
"I missed you when you left. I felt as if a light inside me had gone out," he confessed.
"Did you really miss me? Because I used to cry myself to sleep at night, wishing I was back with you all, Father, Vincent ... but most of all ... You."
It is now five years since Ruth was returned to the welcoming arms of her family 'Below'. The tunnels are alive with the sound of happy voices. Vincent and Catherine have a home in the tunnels, where they bring up their son Jacob, now just turned three. He has two play mates, much the same age, they are twins; Lian and Lilly. These are two of Pascal and Ruth's four children. The three remind Pascal and Vincent of what lies ahead for them, as when they are old enough, they will explore the same tunnels. But until then, Ruth rests as her seven month old son sleeps, called Devin J, and two year old Molly eats William biscuits.
"Hello Vincent, you waiting for Pascal?"
"Yes, if I may."
"Would you like a drink," Ruth asked him kindly.
"No, thank you, Catherine's drinking cold tea with orange in it. She was just the same when she was expecting Jacob. It makes me feel very unwell, so to answer your question, no thank you, nothing to drink!"
"At least Catherine's not too sickly with this baby, so that's something isn't it?"
"You know Ruth, there was a time, not too long ago, when what we four have now, was just a dream. How very lucky we all are to have found such happiness."
"To have my Pascal, I feel like a queen. When everyone rejected him to go above, they went looking for ... life. But they left the best reassure behind. Pascal is the sweetest person in the world. He is taller and bigger, than even you are, to me. He is my knight in shining armour. He taught me to really see a rainbow, the beauty of a daisy, he sees beauty in what most people never see. He is wise ... and we love each other so much deeply."
"Pascal and I have so much ... yet there was a time when we went to the very brink of despair," he confided.
"One thing I've learnt over the last few years Vincent, is never to judge a book by its cover. It's what we are inside, that shines through, which makes us special," she smiled.
"Now our children will be our legacy. We have much to teach them, about the ways we hold so dear," Vincent smiled, a thing he never used to do.
"Pascal wants a large family, Vincent, to replace the one he never had. And I want to give him that so much."
"We also want a large family, I think we can all thank God, that we have indeed been blessed, with ... our HAPPY LIFE."