NWDLucy Clean Copy

Zara & S, in English, started in Winter 2012/2013
Vincent, Lucy
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NWDLucy Clean Copy

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NWDLucy Clean Copy document

Night enveloped the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Down beneath the abandoned Beaumont building, a heavy iron door creaked open, revealing a dim and dusty subbasement room. A cloaked and hooded figure walked past the door, pushing it shut behind him. Then he turned and stood silently regarding the dark, rust-colored stains on the concrete floor. After a long moment, the figure crossed to the stained patch. He reached a large clawed hand inside his cloak and took out a small book. Opening the volume, his claws delicately removed a dry sprig of pressed flowers from between two pages. He closed the book, returning it to the pocket of the heavy vest he wore, and knelt to place the dried flowers on the floor. Softly, Vincent whispered, “Hope is like a harebell, trembling from its birth.” His gleaming eyes studied the fragile, faded-blue petals and thready stems. “Thank you, Howie,” he breathed.

He stood up, and looking at the darkness of the subbasement ahead of him, he almost reflexively put a hand on the shape of the volume in his pocket. “When I was dead, my spirit turned / To seek the much-frequented house: / I passed the door, and saw my friends.” He had another mission to accomplish tonight.

With quiet steps, Vincent made his way through the subbasement to a series of staircases leading up to the ground floor. He moved without hurry but his journey was a cautious one, his senses alert for threats. There were always dangers to avoid when he visited the city Above his home in the Tunnels. And on this occasion he must also navigate the many dangers from within his own heart and mind. He tried to stay attentive to his thoughts, watchful of his fears. As he walked, he decided he was not frightened at the moment. Regretful, yes, he thought to himself. And grateful. But not afraid. He reached the main floor of the building. He glanced once toward the boarded-over front door, then went to a vandalized and unglazed window which appeared to be boarded-up from the inside. In reality the rough boards served as a secret shutter. Vincent pulled at the boards. They creaked on rusty hinges and swung slowly aside. Vincent paused, listening. After a minute of uneventful silence, he climbed through the open window, pulling the inner shutter closed behind him. It was a six-foot drop to the sidewalk. An easy jump for him now that his body had healed from it injuries. Vincent landed, stood up straight, and gazed out into the night.

An alien and dangerous part of the city was in front of him. He recognized its smell, and the blurred images and sounds of that dreaded night assailed his mind, waking up painful memories and a primal need to growl. He clamped them down, and focused instead on the mental image of the map he had studied, where he had retraced his steps, with the help of Catherine. While his eyes scanned his surroundings, to gauge the safety of leaving the sidewalk to start his journey, he could not help smiling, remembering the appalled reaction of Father, at the idea that he could return there, no matter how noble the reason was. Well, Father had to live with Vincent's decision eventually. And a sweet warmth invaded Vincent's heart, instead, at the immediate, admiring agreement he had felt in Catherine, when he told her of his intentions.

"I think I understand how you feel," Catherine had said. "You see, after you brought me home that first time in April...all those months passed by, and I caught myself thinking, so often: If only I could thank him. When you came back to me that one night on my balcony, it meant so much to be able to share my gratitude with you." Vincent remembered the way Catherine leaned her head against his shoulder as they sat together talking about Howie and Broome Street, and Vincent's many close and recent brushes with death. "You always find the strength to face your fears, Vincent. Sometimes, you even make it look easy." Wary, Vincent started walking north, following the sidewalk until he reached the far side of the Beaumont building. There he turned a corner and left the flat stripe of gray pavement to enter a dilapidated neighborhood playground. Not easy, he thought now. But this visit too is the right thing to do. His mental map, and the silent urging of his heart, led him onward.

The clicking sound of her heels on the pavement preceded her. From the shadow, the same shadow where he had sought refuge that night, Vincent watched her descend the short flight of stairs and fumble with her keys. With his softest tone of voice he called, "Lucy... "

Startled, the blonde woman jerked her head up, staring at the dark recess beyond her doorway. Then Vincent eased forward and Lucy saw the shape of his hooded head and shoulders. Her startlement shifted into surprise, and at last she smiled. "It's you!" she said. She went to him and stood looking up at his face in wonder. "You're alive! Oh, honey, that night. The guns. I thought..." Lucy shook her head, abandoning that memory. More quietly she asked, "Are you okay? You made it to your father?"

He looked into her tired, honest face, comparing it with his blurred memories, completing the mental image of this unlikely, generous guardian angel he had been treasuring in his heart, and replied, softly and warmly, "I did... thanks to you."

Lucy glanced down at the ground between them, smiling a little. When she looked up again, her dark blue eyes were bright with relief and pleasure. "I'm glad." She gestured at the door to her apartment. "Come inside?" she asked. "It's cold out here tonight."

He nodded, ignoring the usual tightness in his chest at the idea of entering a foreign room in the world Above. She hurriedly opened the door, switched the light on, and turned to invite him in. He approached, and recognized the smell of the room that welcomed him at the threshold.

The underscent of Lucy's living room smelled of aged carpet and damp plaster, but she had tried to freshen the air with the floral candles on her coffee table. A heady perfume wafted toward him from the bedroom as a draft of night air from the front door circulated around the tiny apartment. These scents were as he remembered them. He could also smell the new addition of ripe apples in the kitchenette. Vincent entered and stood looking politely at the furnishings as Lucy shut the door. Past and present overlapped in his mind. A little nervously, Vincent located two very small windows, both positioned high in the walls of the front room and the kitchen area. His only way out was through the front door.

Sighing inwardly, at the almost reflexive, wary assessment of his surroundings, he made an effort to ignore his nervousness and turned to face the woman. "You know," she was saying briskly, heading to the cupboard where she tossed her purse into a drawer, "I've been thinking of you a lot... and I had no name to put to your... um... memory."

"Vincent," he informed her, and watched Lucy smile at him again, grateful to finally know his name. He added, "I've been thinking of you too, wondering whether you returned safely to your home. A friend told me that the gang caught you as well."

"Isaac?" she asked. Now she was standing in front of him, openly scanning his bulky frame and clothing, his face and unusual features. He could perceive her wonder, and her... admiration. "I know him. I have pestered him, but he is playing the blind and deaf passerby. Heaven knows that it's okay sometimes, but I was so curious about you... "

Isaac, Vincent thought. A friend of a friend, Catherine's teacher in self-defense. A man Vincent had never met, yet to whom he owed a great debt for helping Catherine and Lucy. "It can be safer not to reveal certain kinds of knowledge," Vincent said. "I think Isaac knows that. In any case, I'm here now. I came to see you...because I wanted to tell you something."

"You'd better tell me something! I've been wondering if I made up the whole thing or if I was high or something! Who are you, Vincent? Or... is that part of what's safer not to reveal?"

Vincent considered her questions. "I'm a friend," he said at last. "I try to live quietly in this city." He looked down at the patterned rug on the floor. "You've seen...that sometimes this is impossible for me." He looked up again and saw in Lucy's face the same cautious sympathy he had once felt welling up for him in her heart. "I'm sorry my troubles endangered you. I don't want you to become entangled in any further danger to yourself."

Lucy listened to his words, then gestured at her sofa, inviting him to sit down. "Well...Vincent...it was already a dangerous neighborhood," she said. He nodded, and accepted her unspoken invitation to be seated.

At the feeling of the sofa bending beneath him, the impression of a painful déja-vu assaulted him, and again he firmly clamped down on it. He filed away for a later consideration the evidence of how deeply that night had marked his senses. For now, he had Lucy to consider instead, and perhaps Lucy herself was evidence of the good that streaked the darkness of that horrible night, the very cure for his scorched soul. "I owe you much, Lucy. Perhaps... my life," he started.

"They were gunning for you," Lucy said somberly. "The Silks...they've got some bad creeps in that crowd." She shook her head. "But you don't owe me, honey. I mean, if people don't help each other out when there's trouble...well, where would any of us be?"

Vincent smiled at the truth of her words. "Where, indeed?" he replied. "But, Lucy, it required true courage for you to help a stranger. To help me. You took a great risk. I want to honor you for that. I want to thank you."

She gazed into his eyes for a moment. Then she looked away. She murmured, "I'm the one who felt like I owed you something. Because of how I was...you know...when the light came on."

“When the light came on in your heart, you accepted me, and helped me. That’s what I remember, Lucy.”

Lucy sat down beside him, eyes downcast. "You're...really nice," she said. "You know that?" She looked up at him again. "Really special. I mean, the parts you're holding onto...no grudges, no guilt. That's...different. You're different." She smiled. "Sure, I guess you know that. But I mean it in a good way." They sat in silence for a moment. Vincent held still while Lucy studied his face. At last she said, "You look better now. They hurt you so bad. Like I said, I've been afraid...that you didn't make it."

“I did, and I healed. I have been afraid as well that you might have suffered some kind of retaliation. I had… friends who assured me that the Silks were… not a menace any more, and that no further troubles would come to you. So, as soon as I could, I came. And I brought you this,” he said, reaching into the folds of his cape.

Lucy watched with attentive curiosity as he drew out a small book. Vincent said, "I...often turn to poetry for guidance. For comfort. While I was healing, I read a poem...and thought of you." His blue gaze rested on Lucy's small, surprised smile. "May I read it to you?" Seeming at a loss for words, Lucy nodded. So Vincent opened the volume to a page in the middle of the book. He read:

"Gone were but the Winter,
Come were but the Spring,
I would go to a covert
Where the birds sing;

Where in the whitethorn
Singeth a thrush,
And a robin sings
In the holly-bush.

Full of fresh scents
Are the budding boughs
Arching high over
A cool green house:

Full of sweet scents,
And whispering air
Which sayeth softly:
'We spread no snare;

'Here dwell in safety,
Here dwell alone,
With a clear stream
And a mossy stone.

'Here the sun shineth
Most shadily;
Here is heard an echo
Of the far sea,
Though far off it be.'

He fell silent and sat quietly, holding the open book in his clawed hands.

When it finally came, Lucy's voice was small and unsure, her eyes shining with the hint of tears. "Th... this made you think... of me?"

"Yes," said Vincent. "I thought of you. A sanctuary of light and warmth in the midst of a bitter winter storm. And after the storm, a treasured memory of new Spring. Know this, Lucy. Know it is true about yourself." He closed the book and held it out to her.

It was a small, worn-out volume, with a simple title engraved on the cover. The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti. Lucy looked at it, in Vincent’s hand, and almost reflexively passed her hands over her skirt, as if to clean them. She darted an uncertain look at Vincent, and he saw that the hint of tears in her eyes was more than a hint now. Eventually, she took the little volume, cautiously, delicately. She looked at it for a long moment. And, bringing the book to her chest and hugging it, she broke into sobs.

Vincent let her cry alone until he sensed shame creep into her weeping. It was the shame of dissolving into such an emotional display in front of him: her guest, a near-stranger, and...a man. The shame of her unfamiliarity with poetry, with literature, with books. The shame of believing herself so far removed from the beauty of the words that had pierced her wounded heart. With gentle hands, Vincent took Lucy by her shaking shoulders and pulled her close, embracing her, without shame, without fear. He felt the street-tough dimensions of her body, remembered this supportive woman-shape placing herself beneath his arm on the night they had met. Only now, it was his turn to support her. She rested her head upon his chest and cried, and Vincent listened to the tragic lifesong that pulsed beneath her sobbing.

Slowly, the sobbing subsided, and she awkwardly pushed herself to a sitting position. She looked at the book, and up at him. "I... I'm sorry. I made a complete fool of myself, didn't I?" she sniffled, trying in embarrassment to wipe her wet face with the free hand. The other hand kept the book close to her chest, treasuring it.

"If that is so, then I share your foolishness, Lucy," said Vincent. "Some poems touch me so deeply that I weep too."

She shook her head. "I know nothing of poems, Vincent. Whan I know are... men. And I never thought that a man would touch me so deeply to make me weep." With a sigh, she let her head fall onto the back of the sofa. "I actually never let anyone come close enough to do it. I... I didn't know that weeping can be... good."

A man, thought Vincent. Lucy's words penetrated more powerfully than she knew. Vincent savored her acceptance. "Before tonight, you have shed only tears of fear or sorrow?" he asked her.

"I have shed no tears, if I could help it," she said, looking away with a brusque movement of her head. "And yet... " she turned again to him, her eyes limpid and cleansed by the tears, "this is the second time you made me cry."

A common reaction, thought Vincent, remembering Lucy's scream at her first sight of his face. That, too, was a common reaction which no words could prevent or disarm. He glanced at Lucy's square hands and short-bitten fingernails. Those small white hands, wearing purple lace gloves with the fingers cut out, still clasped the poetry book with fierce and grateful strength. "I hope tonight is the last time I make you cry," Vincent said. "I would much rather see you smile, and hear your laughter."

She looked at him for a long while, pensive. “You can’t know it, but when you ran away in that filthy basement, they forced me inside, and left the women to watch over me while they went hunting for you. I felt you were already dead. They were furious, they wouldn’t leave you alone. And… I cried. I sobbed. It was so… bad. So unfair. I heard the gun shots. I felt miserable. And I don’t like to feel miserable.” A long pause. “Then Isaac came back and played Mr. Mystery man. I was confused, and mad. I decided to forget you. But I couldn’t.” Her hands caressed the little volume. “And now… this.” She smiled up at him. “Told you already, you are a special guy, Vincent.” Suddenly she stood up, adding briskly "Wish there were more like you around! Now, where are my manners? Want a coffee? A beer maybe?"

Without warning, a ghostly voice in Vincent's mind taunted, Oh! Well! I guess he don't like beer! Still lost in the horrific image of Lucy held captive by that gang, yet sobbing for Vincent, grieving the expected end of his life, the intrusive memory took him completely by surprise. Vincent flinched away from the sting of foam and sour spray across the burns on his face and neck. Burns which are not there tonight, he insisted to himself. It is past. It is done. Lucy was speaking to him. She said his name again, radiating uncertainty. "No," said Vincent, his own voice sounding distant, hollow. "No coffee...or beer. But perhaps a glass of water?" It was the only beverage safe to accept anyway, when he visited friends Above...and when he had the time to stay indoors long enough to drink something in their company.

Lucy looked at him intensely for a moment, then she hurried into the kitchenette, and Vincent could hear the sounds of a glass being retrieved and filled. She came back and offered it to him, asking: “What is it, Vincent? Did I say anything that hurt you? I’m not… that used to say this kind of things, sorry if I was… I don’t know, careless?”

"Your hospitality is not at fault." Vincent took the tall blue water glass from her, careful to keep his hand steady and his claws well away from Lucy's skin. "And you are not careless. A dozen times that night, I thought I was dead too." He shook his head. "I have tried to understand. But such hatred...such evil...is beyond my ability to grasp. I grieve that it terrorized you, hurt you." Vincent lowered his voice to a sad murmur. "Hurt us." He watched Lucy sit beside him again.

Her comforting hand she put on his knee was, indeed, strangely comforting. “Oh, honey! I’m so sorry,” she exclaimed. “No, don’t think of me! I was neither terrorized nor hurt, not especially, I mean. It’s…” she vaguely gestured around, and shrugged, “it’s my life. You can’t imagine…” for a brief moment, the look in her eyes became distant, and cold. Vincent, the glass forgotten in his hand, could perceive in her a resigned forlornness, an echo of endured debauchery and filthiness. “Hatred and evil are hardly uncommon, around here,” she added. “What’s uncommon is… poetry, and kindness, and… and gratitude. I was right to feel so miserable for you. You’re special.” She smiled at him. “But I’ve said it enough times already, didn’t I? All’s well what ends well, my old lady used to say, and you’re okay now… aren’t you?” she added, with a touch of uncertainty.

Vincent glanced at the glass he held. "Yes, I am well. These past several days, I've been trying to reconcile difficult memories with...my ideals for my life. Learning how to dream good dreams again." He sipped water from the glass. "It seems life always teaches something new, whenever the lesson is least expected."

Suddenly, the wailing siren of a police car could be heard in the street. It was fast approaching, and stopped not so far from Lucy's door.

Water sloshed over the rim as Vincent hastily banged his glass onto the coffee table. He shot to his feet, his gaze darting from the windows, to the door, and back again. He glanced at Lucy, straining his ears to hear what was happening outside.

She was already running to the light switch, and after a moment the room went dark. He could hear her angry sigh and sotto voce whisper: “Sometimes I’d like to tell life where to go to teach its new lessons…”

Vincent resisted his instinct to slip away from the furniture to stand in the shadows with his back to a wall. Instead, he watched Lucy. She had snatched up her book of poems, as though to protect the gift from confiscation, and she now stood an arm's length away from him, listening too. She felt him looking at her. She turned to meet his alarmed gaze. She did not seem especially frightened, only wary in the longsuffering way she shared with many fellow residents of her crime-plagued neighborhood. City authorities rarely demonstrated much kindness or compassion toward even the innocent residents of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Despite his own startled unease, Vincent felt curious, and concerned for her. "Are you in danger from the police, Lucy?" he asked softly.

“No, why, cops are my best friends! Let’s invite them in and have a party!” she sneered. And quickly added: “Sorry.” Vincent could feel her angry powerlessness. She was worried for him, not for herself. Refreshing. He liked this woman. He reached out and slightly squeezed her arm, silently accepting her apologies. Confused voices and noises could be heard outside. The instincts of the creature of the night finally kicked in, fighting the paralyzing terror that had first invaded him. He silently stepped close to the door. Lucy perceived his movement rather than seeing it, and asked in a very low murmur: “You can see in the dark, can’t you?”

"Yes," Vincent answered. "When I have not been blinded by an explosion from a pipe bomb." An angry male voice shouted from the vicinity of the sidewalk in front of Lucy's building. A younger male voice shrilled a desperate reply: "Hey, don't shoot! I'm not packing! Don't shoot me, man!"

Noiselessly and very slowly, Vincent opened the door a crack. The darkness in which the brief stair flight to the outside door was immersed – the painful memory of himself hiding there in misery flashed in his senses – mingled with the shadows of the darkened room. “Lucy… thank you,” he fractionally turned to murmur to the woman, who suddenly realized what he was going to do. And he slid off.

Lucy stared after him, open-mouthed. She rushed to the door and stood at the threshold, hesitating. She listened. The sounds of heavy bodies scuffling on the sidewalk echoed into the sheltered entrance of her home. Voices cursed. Red and blue lights flashed through the night outside. She moved against every shrieking woman-living-alone-in-the-city instinct and craned her neck to look out of her doorway.

Vincent had vanished.


"Gone were but the Winter, Come were but the Spring, I would go to a covert Where the birds sing…” Lucy kept repeating the words in her head, like a mantra. It had become a habit for her, to cling to the beautiful words of the poems, whenever… the things that her clients were doing to her were far from poetic. This night, she had needed much poetry to stand… she shook her head and deliberately blocked that train of thought, thinking instead of the shower she was going to take, of the nice little pink pill that would erase everything and make her sleep a dreamless slumber, of the money in her purse making it worth… Worth? Again she blocked her thoughts and looked around her in the street, on her way home. The streetlamps were her only company at this late hour, the noise of her heels marking her weary pace. No, not her only company, she realized, alarmed. She caught a glimpse of a silent shadow walking behind her, her hand ready to grab the mace spray can in her purse. And then she relaxed, slowing down and letting the shadow fall into step with her. “Hello Isaac,” she smiled. “Looking for company?” she added out of worn out habit, gratefully knowing he was not.

Isaac's broad grin flashed like a friendly meteor in the night. "Only if the company wants to be looked for," he said. "I saw you cross the street a couple blocks back. Thought I'd come say hello. Mind if I walk you home?"

“Home, her home, was close at hand,
Utterly out of reach… ”

she sighed, almost reflexively. Oops. How did she let the words leave her private sanctuary? She side-glanced her companion, half amused at his surprised look, and half scolding herself for the lapse in her streetwise guard.
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