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Friday, May 21, 2010

Stages

Grateful thanks to Joan W. for allowing me to write
this companion piece to her wonderful story, Grief.
When I read her story, my first thought was: 
This is so genius that I just wish I’d thought of it first!
My next thought was: What would these stages
have looked like for the one who caused that grief?


Denial

It was the itching that woke Devin that morning. The claw marks on his left cheek, although nearly healed, were firmly entrenched in that phase of the healing process when the desire to scratch the wound becomes nearly unbearable. 

He rolled over and flipped his pillow to the cold side; maybe that would soothe the itch. It didn’t. All it did was put him face to face with a sleeping, angelic Vincent illuminated by the light of the amber window above their bed.

“Little Saint Vincent,” he thought sullenly. “You always get off so easy! You were allowed to watch Sebastian’s magic show last night. You aren’t grounded for another month of kitchen and laundry duty. The Old Man always has liked you best!”

Part of him knew these thoughts were unfair, but a larger part simply didn’t care, at least not at that particular moment. Perhaps it was the itching that was the final straw, but just then, Devin couldn’t tolerate looking at Vincent one more second. He felt exactly the same way about everyone and everything in the tunnels. 

He rose from bed, pulled on some clothes and climbed the ladder to the second story of their chamber. There, from its hiding place between a pipe and the rock wall, he extracted his clasp knife, recently liberated from Father’s study. He bolted down the auxiliary tunnel towards Midtown, determined to spend the day Above. Somewhere. Anywhere. Consequences be damned, he wouldn’t be trapped in these tunnels today! He just had to get out.

Devin stalked to the Penn Station threshold which bypassed the concourse area and led directly to a platform. As he stood in the darkened recess, he watched people milling about outside the train, obviously on a smoking break. New passengers boarded from the concourse far down the platform. The smokers began extinguishing their cigarette butts on the concrete and re-boarding the train as he watched. There were no conductors here since all the passengers had already been ticketed as they boarded.

His eyes darted up to the sign on the side of the train: The Pennsylvanian. The name didn’t exactly conjure images of Neuschwanstein Castle or Machu Pichu. Nonetheless, at that moment, it did sound deliciously exotic to young Devin. He thought about where that train might be going, the places it could take him. His head filled with images of the Liberty Bell, Wrigley Field, the Rocky Mountains! Oh, the things he could run away to…

Visions of Father yelling, finger waving, brow furrowing with blatant disappointment, also ran through Devin’s mind. Not just memories of this most recent incident with the knife and the carousel, but from countless other similar conflicts as well. Oh, the things he could run away from…

There are crimes of opportunity; Devin’s was an escape of opportunity.

The train was there. The door was open. The allure was overwhelming.

Later, he would remember that moment when time seemed suspended, a million factors both propelling and compelling him. Only later would he remember something which, in that elongated moment, he had forgotten: Vincent.

Devin was thinking about himself when he jumped through the open train door. He was thinking about Father when he bumped a passenger, causing his briefcase to spill open in the aisle. He was thinking about Shangri La when he snatched a ticket from the overhead shelf and disappeared into the next car. What he wasn’t thinking about was the grief he’d be causing to Vincent, not only today, but for years to come. 

The excitement of this adventure lasted a good forty-five minutes during which time he fantasized about how far he could get before he was caught. By the time the train pulled into the station in Trenton, the adrenaline had begun to wear off, and he asked himself, “How am I going to get back?”

The answer formed fully-grown in his mind, like Athena emerging from the head of Zeus. “I’m not. I’m not going back.”

The repercussions of that thought echoed through his heart for many long minutes and he saw his reflection in the window shaking his head. “No. No! It’s not like I’m never going back! I’m just not going to go back right now. Yeah! I got this far, and I’ll get farther, if I just keep going. And man, am I going to have some great stories to tell when I do go back!”

While he hid from the conductor in the restroom, he washed the sweat from his face and thought, “I can’t give up now! What fun would that be? I can’t very well go back now and let everyone know I chickened out. I’ll go back… someday!”

The face in the mirror seemed unconvinced.

“I will go back someday! I will!”

Weeks later, he was still telling himself, “Vincent will know that I’ll come back someday. It’s not like I’m never going back.”


Anger

Two months later, Devin was finding it almost natural to answer to Carl, and was Carl honing his knife-throwing skills at an amazing pace. During a break between shows as the knife-thrower’s assistant, Devin lounged in the shade between two game booths, eating some fries that had sat too long to be sold to paying customers. He’d learned right away which of the food vendors he could con into saving a few grease-logged fries for him.

It was a busy Saturday, perfect weather, and the midways were full. He watched family after family strolling by. He watched little kids dragging dads over to toss baseballs at milk bottles, moms tying balloon strings onto their kids’ wrists so they couldn’t blow away, big brothers helping little sisters onto merry-go-round horses.

He chucked the empty paper cone into a trash bin and sauntered to the sideshow midway behind a family with two boys. The parents gave the kids some cash and sat on a bench while the boys ran ahead. He lost sight of the brothers for a while, but rounding a corner, saw them again laughing and elbowing each other for space in line to ride the Scrambler. The more he watched them, the more he realized that only the older boy, the one who was about his age, was laughing. The younger brother was desperately trying to be first in line.

He remembered a similar scuffle with Vincent last winter. They were jockeying for position outside the chandlery to get an early start delivering their Winterfest candles. Vincent had spent the last month reminding Devin how he’d beaten him the previous year, and Devin was determined to get a jump on his younger brother this time.

The carnie operating the ride opened the chain to let the brothers in and they both rushed to the nearest open car. There they continued jostling each other to see who could get the outside position. To Devin it was obvious that the bigger boy wanted to be on the inside so that he would be able to squish his smaller brother with the centrifugal force of the ride.

Devin didn’t catch what the older boy said next, but he clearly heard the smaller one yell back, “Nuh-uh! I did not! It wasn’t me!”

He hurtled himself over the small fence surrounding the ride and rushed the older brother. “Stop it! Quit it! Let him have the seat!”

Devin pulled the bigger boy out of the Scrambler and pushed him to the ground, screaming down at the befuddled kid, “Don’t you know how lucky you are?! He looks up to you! He’s only trying to sit there because you want to sit there! He wants to be just like you, you selfish jerk! He can do a hell of a lot better than ending up like you!”

The older brother stared up at this lunatic boy from nowhere as his little brother remained in the seat, tears welling in his eyes. The ride operator manhandled Devin and carted him away as Devin continued yelling. “You selfish jerk! You’re supposed to be looking out for him!”


Bargaining

Four months after he left, Devin formulated a plan. “If I go back when I’m 18, I’ll be a grown-up then. Father won’t be able to drag me back down there again, no matter what. He won’t make me stay in those tunnels if I don’t want to. Then Vincent will know that I’m OK, and I’ll have four years of adventures to tell him about. He’ll love hearing about my living up here with the carnies and about all the things I’ve seen and done…”

Four years after he left, Devin amended that plan. “If I go back when Vincent is 18, I’ll find some way to bring him back here with me. Then Father won’t be able to make him stay Below if he doesn’t want to. If I can get a car or something by then, I can take Vincent to the Mississippi and we’ll go camping under the stars and rafting…”


Depression

Years and incarnations came and went.

It was a warm spring day and the air was so full of the scent of orange blossoms that Devin could have sworn he was breathing honey. He had spent the day exploring the palaces and the gardens of La Alhambra in southern Spain.

He had climbed the ancient Moorish fortress that was conquered by Ferdinand and Isabella almost 500 years ago. He was serenaded by the same dancing fountains where Katherine of Aragon played as a child before she left for England and married King Henry VIII. He even stood in the shade of the very same cypress tree that Washington Irving described in Tales of La Alhambra.

“How many hours did Vincent and I spend reading those stories to each other? His favorite was always the one about Prince Ahmed who was trapped in one of the towers of this palace, until magic birds helped him to escape.”

Finally he stood on the balcony of the sultan’s hunting lodge, a vantage point from which he could take in the entirety of this masterwork of Man and Nature. He watched the sun setting over Granada, painting the heavens pink and gold above the fortress turrets and the snowy peaks of Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was so stunning, so heart-stoppingly beautiful, it should have given his soul wings to see it.

But all he could think of while watching that palace shining golden in the sunset was how Vincent was still trapped Below, and no magic in the world could help him to escape.

Living out one’s dreams, with no one there to share them, can be a nightmare.

“Maybe I’ll try Africa next…”


Acceptance

Devin wondered why it wasn’t hot. He thought it should be hot - oppressively hot and muggy. But the air was damp, and it was a cold dampness. Somehow he knew that it was always cold and damp here. As he attempted to reconcile this conundrum of climate, he scanned his location. Bookshelves, bedrock, candelabras… a raspy voice with the faintest hint of a lisp calling, “Dev, Dev, Dev,” with the cadence of pipe-code.

He followed the sound of the voice up the ladder to the rock ledge above their chamber. Vincent’s feet were dangling off the edge of the upper level as he recited from a dark russet volume:

“I years had been from home,
And now, before the door,
I dared not open,
lest a face I never saw before
Stare vacant into mine
And ask my business there.
My business? Just a life I left.
Was such still dwelling there?” 1

Vincent’s eyes stared blankly down at Devin.

Devin’s eyes flew open and he sat bolt upright in his cot. He wiped at his face as if that might clear away the dream that enveloped him as thick and hot as the night air. Knowing the futility of trying to get back to sleep after one of those dreams, he went outside to the fire.

Kawassi, the Kenyan guide he’d been working with these last several months, was there standing sentry. His lilting English, heavily influenced by his native Swahili, wafted across the fire. “You have that dream again, Derek. The one that bothers you.”

“Yeah, I did, mate. How did ya know?” So far, Devin’s attempt to imitate an Australian accent was still fooling the clients. So far.

From the darkness on the opposite side of the fire, Kawassi’s brilliant smile illuminated the night like the Cheshire Cat’s. “You always look even whiter after one of those dreams, my friend.” Despite the months spent in Samburu Game Reserve, Devin was perpetually pale, and Kawassi loved to tease him about it.

“Derek, here in Africa we have a proverb for everything. The wise mothers say that, ‘the dreamers remember their dreams when they are in trouble.’ Are you in trouble?”

“Nah… I’m not in any trouble, mate. I guess I’m dreaming about… some old trouble. Trouble I started…. and it’s too late to fix any of it now.” Devin poked at the fire with a stick. “‘What's gone and what's past help, should be past grief.’ 2 One of my wise ones used to say that.”

“Did your mother say that to you?”

“Nah, mate. Was a bloke named Shakespeare said that. But I was weaned on him, ya might say.”

The two men sat in companionable silence for some while, each absorbed in his own thoughts. Kawassi rose and walked the perimeter of their camp, listening to the tourists snore inside their tents. Beyond the firelight, he surreptitiously observed Devin, who had by then forgotten he was not alone.

Kawassi was an exceptional tracker, and now he caught the trail of a most elusive prey: his friend’s true face. It was something he had glimpsed only one or twice before; this man allowed himself precious few unguarded moments. He watched a sadness appear in Devin’s eyes, as if the weight of a world were on his shoulders.

Kawassi walked silently back to the ring of firelight and stood at its furthest edge where he made a small noise to remind Devin of his presence. Devin looked up, and in the darkness could barely make out his guide. But he did hear his voice.

“Derek, the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”

Kawassi turned and left that proverb to keep his friend company. Devin scratched at his face, which was suddenly itchy. He could just discern the three deep scars beneath his beard.


 ******


One Fall evening -

Real horses at a full gallop could not have pounded harder than Devin’s heart as he crossed the park from the carousel. He managed to keep his hands from trembling as he cut the lock and pulled the chain from between the door’s iron bars. That control faltered as he pulled out his old clasp knife and knelt to jimmy the lock near the bottom of the secret door.

Before he could even begin to manipulate the mechanism, the door sprang back, leaving him standing there. Startled by the unknown figure silhouetted against the backdrop of the tunnel, he backed away until the movement of an arm illuminated the golden mane and sapphire eyes of Vincent.

Vincent! His brother!

“Devin?” His name!

“Nobody’s called me that in twenty years. Oh, god… Vincent!” His home!

He was home again at last.




1 Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Poem 79
2 The Winter's Tale (III, ii, 223-224)

Photo Montage Courtesy of Cyndi

WFOL 2010 Classic Round Robin - Ch. 1

WFOL 2010

Classic Round Robin

Chapter 1

Olivia K. Goode



Vincent looked up from where he had been reclining on his bed with a novel. “Is Charles settled?”

“Yeah,” Devin grinned, “tucked in just like Father used to do to us when we were little. I even started re-reading him A Tale of Two Cities.” He plopped down across the foot end of the bed and propped his head on his hand. The dimple beneath the scars on his left cheek deepened as his thoughts wandered.

“Remember that time when you and I tried to re-enact the storming of the Bastille from Tale of Two Cities?”

Vincent’s smile began in his eyes. “Yes… in William’s kitchen… with baguettes for swords…”

“Hey, those things made great swords! And we had prisoners to rescue! Tyranny to overthrow! What else could we do?”

Vincent’s smile now infused his whole face as he recalled that particular shenanigan. “I remember William’s face as we charged him crying, ‘Liberty! Equality!’”

‘“Fraternity!’” They said together in the same moment that they each raised an arm holding an imaginary weapon above their heads.

Devin clapped his brother’s outstretched leg as they laughed at the memory. “Oh, that was a good time!”

“Yes,” Vincent agreed, “until we were assigned an extra week of kitchen duty as our punishment.”

“I think we probably got off easy, considering that William would have preferred to have had our heads paraded through the streets of Paris.”

“I believe you are correct,” Vincent concurred. He regarded his brother for a long moment. “I'm so glad you decided to visit us, Devin, for a little while anyway.”

Devin rose and crossed to the opposite side of the chamber to the cot that had been set up for him there. He began to rummage in his duffel bag and replied without turning back to look at Vincent.

“I should have stayed before, Vincent, I know, but...” He exhaled hard and forced himself to look back.

“That first time back here, I told you about that dream… I had to see if home was still here.” Dev paced across the chamber, idly touching objects he remembered from his youth. “If you were still here, Vincent. If I still had roots below Central Park.”

He laughed an ironic laugh. “Then the next thing I knew, Father was telling me that he's my father! Suddenly, I found myself with a lot more roots than I’d ever imagined! More roots than I was anywhere near ready to deal with…then.” He paused in his pacing and looked at his brother. “Vincent, I spent twenty years not being me, and then I had to digest a whole new version of who me was!”

Vincent stood and set his book down on the table as he passed it. “I understand, Devin, and I know who you are.”

Eyes as black as night looked into ones as blue as sky and waited for an answer.

Vincent gripped him by his shoulders. “You’re my brother, Devin. And this last year, you’ve become Charles’ brother as well. And, I think, his father, mother, nurse, teacher, and friend. Am I right?”

Devin nodded in acquiescence. “He’s taught me so much, Vincent. I used to think that I had it so bad growing up here. I used to think this place was like being in a cage. Charles really was kept in a cage. I didn’t know how good I had it back when this was my chamber, too.”

Vincent could see what it cost Devin to confess this, and he could not help but think that perhaps Peter Pan was finally growing up after all.

“That’s very touching,” Vincent replied drily, hoping to lighten Dev’s mood, “but I’m still not giving up my bed; you’re stuck with the cot!”

As Vincent had hoped he would, Devin smiled and gave him an affectionate shove.

The tension broken, Vincent began to move about the room, extinguishing the majority of the candles as he did each night. While Vincent put on his sleep clothes, Devin made up the cot for himself and then began to get undressed as well.

“What's that on your arm?” Vincent looked intently at Devin’s left bicep.

“It's a tattoo.” He pushed up the edge of his t-shirt sleeve and showed Vincent a delicate scroll with the name Grace written in a beautiful, flowing, feminine script.

“I've had that since I was 15,” he volunteered, looking at it himself, as if for the first time in a long time. “Sometimes I can hardly even remember a time when it wasn't there.”

“Who on earth would give a tattoo to a 15-year-old? Is that not illegal?” Vincent looked mortified.

Devin smiled, a far-away, nostalgic smile. It was a smile that had a story behind it.

“Tell me,” Vincent prompted.

“Vincent, I can't tell you how many stories I've made up to explain away this tattoo! Usually ones having to do with lost loves, first loves, star-crossed loves. I never did tell anyone, but one, who Grace really was...”

Devin pulled a patchwork blanket off the cot and brought it with him over to the foot of Vincent’s bed. He crawled across it until he reached the wall holding the stained glass window, then turned and leaned back against the wall, pulling the blanket over him.

“You never told anyone that she was your mother?” Vincent asked as he followed Devin’s lead. He rested against the wall by the head of the bed at the other end of the window. The two brothers sat there like a pair of beautiful, mismatched bookends.

“No. That was mine. I didn't want to share it.” Devin looked to his right at Vincent, finding it wonderful and liberating that at long last he could talk about this honestly with someone, someone to whom he could not lie, someone who already knew the truth. But of course, Devin reflected, there was a lot of his life that Vincent didn’t know about, just as there was much of Vincent’s existence these last 20 years about which Devin was in the dark. Maybe tonight would be a good night to fix that.

Devin found his voice and began his story.

“On the day that I left here, I went to Penn Station and snuck onto a train headed out of the city. I managed to get just west of Philly before they caught me.” He grinned, remembering what an accomplishment that seemed to him at the time.

“The conductor was dragging me off the train and onto the station platform when I looked up into the face of just the most amazing, the most stunning looking woman I had ever seen... or even imagined!” Devin gestured to the empty space between them as if he were framing this woman between his hands.

His eyes stared off into some far away spot and he grinned an odd, enigmatic grin. He looked back at Vincent to gauge his reaction to the tale he'd been telling.

“Go on!” Vincent encouraged him. Truly, he was loving this. How like the old times this was, when they were boys together, telling stories late into the night behind Father's back.

“Picture William,” Devin commanded, angling himself towards his audience of one, arm propped on the shelf beneath the window. “OK. Are you picturing him?”

Vincent nodded, his brows furrowing.

“Good. Now, take off the beard.”

Another pause.

“Are you with me?”

Vincent tilted his head, playing along.

“OK. And now, add tattoos - everywhere! - and you'll pretty much have a picture of Mildred!”

Despite Vincent’s dubious expression, Devin didn’t delay his story any longer.

“Give that mental image Mary's big heart, and her whole maternal mother hen thing, and then that will definitely be Millie!!” His grin covered his whole face.

“Millie was the tattooed lady in a carnie. She and her husband, Tom - he was the knife thrower - had been in the city for the day and were heading back to meet up with the carnie. She paid my train fare and that kept me out of juvie. I tried weaving some BS story about getting lost,” he waived a hand dismissively, “but Millie saw right through me. I never could get anything past her. She didn't care at all that I was running away.”

Devin sighed. “Millie took me under her wing. Tom was a tattoo artist on the side; he was the one who did her tats. He taught me to throw knives when he saw how good I was with my clasp knife. I became his assistant and travelled with them and the carnie all that summer and fall. We went all through the Midwest and up and down the East Coast, ‘til they quit for the winter. Then I wintered with them in this… well, it was basically a commune. It was weird, but nice. A lot like being in the tunnels in a way, an extended family kind of bunch. A little dysfunctional, but it was pretty good.”

Vincent watched a dozen emotions flicker across Devin’s face as his thoughts traversed that time in his youth.

“That winter, I told Millie about my mom - the truth about my mom - that all I’d ever really known about her was her name.” His eyes gravitated to meet Vincent’s again.

“And she wrote 'Grace' on my arm. This is her handwriting. Didn't she have gorgeous handwriting? And Tom tattooed it on.” He looked fondly at the tattoo for a minute.

“I probably would have stayed with them for a long time, maybe permanently, but…” His expression became sad then. “One night...Millie passed away in her sleep...”

A hard expression began to shadow Devin’s dark eyes. “Then Tom started drinking again...”

He shrugged, “Then it was time for me to leave...”

He looked back up at Vincent, his visage gentling and warming again with the love he felt for his brother. He nodded towards the tattoo. “But I've had Millie with me ever since.”

Vincent nodded, understanding that the truth of that story was always a precious, closely kept secret, one of the few things that were truly Devin’s own as he transformed from persona to persona. Finally he had been able to tell it to someone.

“Thank you for telling me, Devin. I am glad you had someone to watch over you. For a little while, at least.”

The last candle on the table sputtered out, dimming the chamber. The light from behind the stained glass was now the sole illumination on the brothers’ faces.

“Tell me more, Devin, about the things you have seen. The places you have gone. The lives you’ve led.”

Devin lowered his eyes and shook his head amicably. “I will, but it’s your turn next, Fuzz. You tell me about something that you did while I was gone.”

Vincent thought of what he could say, what story he could tell. While Devin was meeting Millie, Vincent and the others left behind here had been searching every last corner of Below for Devin… or his body. But the story of that long search was not one that Vincent felt like revisiting just then. What tale could he tell? He knew only this place, and only these people.

A glint appeared in his azure eyes as he glanced over at Devin.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” Devin barked out a laugh. “Come on! Spill it! You got a good one. I can tell.”

He leaned back against the wall and stretched out his long legs, ready to be entertained.

“It must have been…” Vincent paused to mentally check his facts, “about six months after you left. There was a lot of sickness in the Tunnels that autumn, and Father had obtained flu vaccinations from Peter for all of the children. Olivia was assisting Mary in the hospital chamber, giving us all our injections. We were lined up down the corridor outside the curtain, waiting. Father was not certain how my body might react to the vaccination, so I was not to get an injection myself. Nevertheless, I was standing with Rebecca, Pascal and Winslow, keeping them company as they awaited their turns.

“Rebecca went into the hospital chamber, got her shot, and returned rubbing her arm at the injection site. Then she went back to the classroom. Pascal went in next; and while he was beyond the curtain, Winslow turned to me and complained that Mitch had been hiding all morning, ever since the vaccinations had been announced at breakfast.”

Vincent looked meaningfully into Devin’s face at this point in the story. “Winslow never did forgive Mitch for telling Father about your pocket knife and starting all the trouble that led to your leaving. Winslow’s loyalty to his friends never waivered.”

Vincent’s expression entertained a ghost of his own regrets for a moment before he returned to his narration.

“Pascal returned looking decidedly uncomfortable just as Father and Old Sam came down the passageway, dragging Mitch bodily between them. While they were tussling with Mitch, Winslow went in for his shot. Old Sam ordered Mitch to wait with Pascal and me while he and Father stood down the way talking amongst themselves about Mitch’s disobedience.

“Mitch very reluctantly stomped over to where we were just as Winslow came back to our side of the curtain. For some reason that I did not understand at the time, Winslow was adjusting his pants and refastening his belt as he returned. As he told Mitch how very much the injection hurt, Winslow began rubbing his backside. I do believe that his bottom lip was even quivering a bit.

“Mitch affected a great deal of bravado and sauntered past us, undoing his trousers as he went.” Vincent paused to see if Devin would anticipate the climax of the story.

“He thought the shots were in the butt?!” Devin closed his eyes with a sigh of appreciation for the prank, relishing the image being painted by Vincent. “How brilliant! Don’t stop now, Fuzz! Keep going!”

Devin pivoted and scooted closer for the culmination of Vincent’s adventure.

Vincent began to chortle. “The next thing we knew, we heard Olivia screaming! And then Mary slapped something! Mitch came racing out of the hospital chamber as if he were being chased by the hounds of hell. Which was not too far from the truth; you know how protective Mary has always been of her little ones, especially the girls. From Mary’s point of view, she turned away for a moment and when she turned back, she found Mitch mooning poor Olivia!”

“Oh, yesssssssss!” Devin drew that word out over seconds, savoring Mitch’s comeuppance as if he had been there himself.

When he could finally stop laughing long enough to breathe again, Devin saluted something invisible in front of the bed. “Way to go, Winslow! That is so genius I can hardly stand it! I only wish I’d thought of that!”

From the genuine admiration that Vincent heard in Devin’s voice, he knew that this was truly the highest compliment his brother could pay to Winslow.

“How I wish I’d been here to see it myself!” Devin’s laughter was arrested now, as he realized that his comment had caused Vincent to stop grinning quite so broadly. They both knew why Devin hadn’t been here to see it.

“It’s all right, Devin.” He reached out his left hand to grasp the back of his brother’s neck. “We weren’t together then, but we are together now. Let us concentrate on that.”

Devin acknowledged the wisdom of Vincent’s words with a nod.

“Not to mention the fact that we’re now too old for Father to tell us to go to sleep.”

Devin's Dream

I never told him what I dreamt
that night under Kenyan stars.
I dreamt
I walked
these tunnels again
not a kid anymore,
but grown,
and everyone was
calling me Devin.

That's it.
That's all.
That's the whole dream.
Doesn't sound like much,
does it?

I dreamt it countless times.
Dreamt of reading in a chamber
or sitting by the Falls
and being called Dev.

After all those hundreds of places -
Amazing, exciting, exotic places -
After all those dozens of lives -
Empty, unloved, lonely lives -
I dreamt about
being
in the only place
I still longed to go
and being
the only person
I'd never yet been.

They say you only live once.
Unless you're me...
Then you get a dozen lives.
It took twenty years to get it right
to get back
where I belonged,
should have been,
started out.

Things change, I guess,
I said
People change, too
and I'm trying.
I'm good at changing names
changing places
changing lives
Not so good at changing me

But I'm learning.
I'm trying
to be
less Black Sheep
more Golden Boy.





Austen and Allegory

Pathetic sobs echoed through the Chamber of the Falls, loud enough to be heard clearly even over the great drone of the cascading waters. Their afternoon of poetry reading abandoned, Vincent and Catherine looked up to see Samantha coming toward them down the passageway, a book cradled in her arms and a teary pout on her face.

“Samantha, what has happened? What makes you cry?” Vincent asked sitting up and leaning toward her, caring and concern emanating from his every pore. Catherine opened her arms wide as the young girl approached, and Samantha lurched into her embrace.

After a moment, Samantha sat back up, endearingly wiped off some tears with the back of her hand, and said, “I’m sorry to bother you, Vincent, Catherine. I didn’t know anyone would be here.”

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” Catherine asked as Vincent handed her a handkerchief.

Samantha blew her nose and raised her chin with a defiant sniff. “Brooke says I’m too much of a baby to understand Jane Austen!”

Catherine quickly planted a reassuring kiss on the top of her head, a gesture which also allowed her to mask a small smile. It wasn’t that she was laughing at the girl’s distress; she simply couldn’t help but reflect on how wonderful it must be to grow up in a world where the bone of contention was Jane Austen, rather than the brand of someone’s blue jeans.

“What did Brooke say to you, Samantha?” Vincent asked somberly.

“She was mooning over Stephen, telling him how dreamy he is, and how much he reminds her of Mr. Darcy. I told her that was a terrible thing to say to Stephen, because Stephen is really nice, and Mr. Darcy is rude and arrogant and I don’t like him. He’s not nearly so nice a character as Colonel Brandon.” She showed Catherine a dilapidated reddish book with Sense and Sensibility emblazoned in worn gold leaf on its spine.

“Brooke said that if I like Colonel Brandon better than Mr. Darcy, it just proves I’m too young to understand Jane Austen. But I’m not, Vincent; am I?” Her eyes begged him to tell her that Brooke was wrong.

“No, I don’t think that at all, Samantha. You are a most astute reader for your age. Although I do believe that the critics have generally acknowledged Mr. Darcy to be an archetypal romantic hero figure, the epitome of masculine desirability…”

Samantha’s forehead creased and she began to pout again, seeing where Vincent was heading.

Catherine interceded.

“Samantha, take it from me: it is not ‘a truth universally acknowledged’ that every woman who reads Jane Austen falls madly in love with Mr. Darcy,” Catherine informed with great conviction.

“It’s not?” Vincent and Samantha asked simultaneously.

“No, it is not. I, for one, and my friend, Jenny, for another, both happen to agree with you, Samantha. In fact, it was a conversation very much like this one that made Jenny and me friends.”

They both encouraged her to tell them more; Vincent, because he always wanted to know everything there was to know about his Catherine, and Samantha, because she thought Catherine was the smartest, neatest and most beautiful lady she’d ever met. So, basically, for the same reason.

“It was our first day of literature class, freshman year, when I first met Jenny. The professor asked the class, and I think she meant it to be rhetorical, if Mr. Darcy wasn’t the sexiest male character in all of British literature. Jenny and I we were the only two in the room who didn’t fall all over ourselves trying to agree with her. She looked at us like we each had grown two heads when we started arguing with her.

“Jenny piped right up and launched into a vehement dissertation on how much more attractive Colonel Brandon was, and I backed her up. We pointed out that Brandon was in love with Marianne from the moment he saw her, treated her wonderfully, and was willing to move heaven and earth for her. And if that didn’t make a man sexy, we didn’t know what did. Whereas Darcy spent most of the Pride and Prejudice with his nose in the air, insulting the woman he supposedly loved, sabotaging her sister, mocking her family, and generally being a major jerk.”

“Yes! Exactly!” squealed Samantha, much encouraged (and not a little self-righteous) knowing that Catherine was on her side. “I know that Mr. Darcy got better by the end, and that’s what’s important, but Colonel Brandon was good right from the start!”

“Precisely my thoughts, Samantha,” agreed Catherine. “Brandon was everything good, loving, steadfast, and selfless.” She looked lovingly at Vincent, thinking how well those adjectives described her own archetypal male hero.

She looked back at the glowing girl beside her. “I just wish that Marianne had started out a little smarter; if only she could have seen beyond Brandon’s flannel waistcoat when they first met, it would have saved everyone a lot of time and grief. But unfortunately, she was foolish and superficial then, and it took her a while to figure out just how wonderful he truly was.”

Catherine glanced back up at Vincent, thinking that the same could thing be said of herself when she first met Vincent.

Vincent, sensing the thread of her thought, replied, “We cannot blame Marianne; Willoughby was dashing and handsome. All she’d ever dreamt of.” He looked down and began idly playing with the dirt. “Brandon was so unattractive, ‘silent and grave.’ It was only natural that she would long for Willoughby, someone as beautiful and as vibrant as she was.” His eyes darted up to Catherine’s face.

Catherine looked at him meaningfully for a long moment before retorting, “First of all, Brandon was not unattractive! Far from it! If I recall correctly, ‘his appearance was not unpleasing… his countenance was sensible and his address was particularly gentlemanlike.’ I think he was far more handsome than he ever realized.” She fixed him with her gaze until he looked away in acquiescence.

“And secondly, Willoughby was nowhere near beautiful, not in any true way, not in any way that counted. He was shallow and selfish. He had no honor, no morals.”

“But, he did love Marianne - as much as a man like that can love?” The shadow of her own words came back echoed from his lips.

Catherine shook her head. “Which everyone has seen, was not very much, and not true at all. Willoughby cared far more about money than love, more about power than people. Why couldn’t Marianne have seen that right away, instead of hurting dear, sweet, beloved Brandon all that time? Brandon deserved so much better than that from her.”

“Perhaps,” Vincent whispered, “knowing that the woman he loved had a chance at happiness was more than enough, for Brandon?”

“Exactly why Brandon was called ‘the best of men.’ And all the more reason that I wish Marianne had come to her senses sooner and realized that her only chance at happiness was with Brandon. But, at least she did finally appreciate and fall in love with him. And luckily for her, he had enough goodness in him to forgive her.” Now it was her turn to look away, adding softly, “He always did deserve far better than her.”

“No,” Vincent countered vehemently, his eyes boring straight through Catherine’s soul. “There is no one better than her. No one could ever be worthy of her.”

“She’s not some kind of goddess, Vincent!” Catherine’s voice rose, her eyes locked onto his. “She doesn’t want to be up on any kind of pedestal. She’s a flesh and blood woman, not an abstract ideal!”

There was a pause.

“Are we still talking about Sense and Sensibility?” Samantha quizzically inquired.

Catherine and Vincent both jumped a bit, startled Samantha’s continued presence.

“Well, sure we are,” Catherine said with as much conviction as she could manage.

“Why don’t you read us some of your favorite passages, Samantha?” Vincent suggested. “You read so beautifully.”

Beaming under Vincent’s praise, Samantha began leafing through her book.

Vincent, nearly ‘as happy as all those who best loved him believed he deserved to be,’ extended his strong arm in invitation to Catherine. Catherine, ‘who found her own happiness in forming his,’ snuggled contentedly into his embrace.

“‘The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex…’”

One Thought


Clich├ęs about emotions and roller coasters wheeled through Vincent's thoughts.

For the last few hours he had been buffeted by a succession of increasingly strong emotions from Catherine through the Bond.

It had begun first thing in the morning with a sudden powerful sense of shock and disgust. At least there was no threat to her safety. That sensation turned to one of futility and resignation, interspersed at odd intervals with anger and displeasure.

A few hours later, he felt frustration. Fury. Impatience. More frustration. Exasperation. Frustration to the nth degree.

By early afternoon, Vincent could scarcely concentrate. Catherine was experiencing an irritation so overwhelming that it was actually making his own blood pressure rise. He grew increasingly bothered by every little thing around him, and had to keep reminding himself that these were not his own emotions that he was feeling, but Catherine's. She was seething with annoyance to a degree that he had never felt from her. It became an all-consuming aggravation until he thought he would need to escape to some solitary place where he could roar to release the emotions.

Suddenly without preamble, he felt Catherine fill with calmness. Contentment. Where a moment before there had been an all-consuming frustration, now there were only delight, joy and love.

“Bliss!” he thought. “Catherine is perfectly blissful! What could have caused such a rapid transformation?”

He tried to imagine what had prompted her to swing so wildly between emotional extremes. The disparate feelings he had shared with Catherine today were quite out of character for her. Yet he was at a loss as to how something like that could have been resolved so instantly and so completely. Even when one of her important cases was determined in her favor, the sensation had never been anything like this.

He concentrated on the Bond again. He continued to feel that same euphoric happiness thrumming throughout her being.

This was a marvel.

It was a mystery begging to be solved.

It was the perfect excuse to go Above to her balcony tonight.

***

“Catherine.”

Each utterance of her name was a caress.

“Vincent.” Turning to absorb the sight of him emerging from the shadows, she leaned back on the balcony wall. “I hoped you'd come tonight.”

“How could I not? After everything I felt from you today…”

“Oh!” She giggled, shaking her head ruefully. She gently bit her full bottom lip and glanced up at him through her bangs. “I can just imagine what you must have felt from me today! Nothing ladylike, I'm sure!”

He tilted his head endearingly as he confessed with a hint of amusement in his voice, “Mmm, no. ‘Ladylike’ would, perhaps, not be among the first descriptions that would come to mind.”

“Let me try some descriptions - you felt… frustration?”

“Yes.”

“Anger?”

“Yes.”

“The overwhelming desire to choke the ever-loving daylights out of self-important, self-aggrandizing, overpaid, under-brained middle management plebes and flunkies?”

The shock of her highly hyphenated diatribe earned Catherine the sight of his smile.

“Ah, yes, I think that might very well describe it.”

Her laughter filled the air around them. He was glad to see that whatever had caused her so much vexation earlier could now be a source of such amusement to her.

“And pray, what was the cause of all this Sturm und Drang? If I may ask?” he added, not wishing to presume.

“Of course you may. I got up early this morning, so I actually had time to make myself breakfast. I opened the refrigerator - the brand new one I just bought last month - the one I had to special order to fit into my itty bitty teeny weenie little kitchen - to find that it was dead and every single thing in there was spoiled.”

“Oh, no, Catherine!”

“Oh, yes. So instead of getting a nice breakfast, I was stuck cleaning out all the rotten stuff, which was utterly revolting. Then as I went to cart the garbage down to the basement, the bag tore and rancid milk leaked all over my skirt and down the hall. I had to go back, change clothes and scrub the carpet: it was an awful start to the day.

“And by the time I got done with all that, I was half an hour late for work. So, I went to the office where all the computers in word processing were down, Edie was freaking out, and I nearly missed a filing deadline.

“Once they opened, I called the store where I bought the refrigerator. They had one of those annoying automated answering systems. I despise those things. I called a dozen times and couldn’t get through to any real human beings no matter what numbers I pressed.

“Finally I gave up on that and during my lunch break, I went all the way back uptown to the store in person. The customer service counter had a line a mile long, and just as I finally got to the front of the line, they tried to tell me that it was the wrong line. Half the workers were clueless and the other half acted like they were doing you a favor by waiting on you. It was like dealing with the Circumlocution Office!”

The literary allusion earned her another of Vincent’s sweet, small smiles. That was the second one tonight; Catherine couldn’t help but wonder if she might be able to manage a hat trick.

“By now my lunch hour was long since gone, so I asked to see their supervisor and they kept giving me the runaround. I had to play my Assistant District Attorney trump card just to see the manager. And, oh, this manager, Vincent! She was the absolute incarnation of Lady Catherine de Bourgh!”

Vincent smiled again. A little voice in Catherine’s head whispered, “She shoots! She scores! If only…”

“The manager kept insisting that they couldn’t do anything about the refrigerator because it had been a special order. She didn’t seem to understand the concept of a warranty. A conversation with the proverbial brick wall would have been more productive. How this person ever got to be a manager, I’ll never know; she should never even be allowed to speak with the public! She had all the people skills of Attila the Hun, the manners of Genghis Kahn, and the bubbly personality of… um….”

“Vlad the Impaler?” Vincent offered.

“Oh, you've met her?!”

Vincent laughed. He tried to duck behind his hair, but he didn’t make it there before she caught sight of his expression. All the aggravations in the world would be a small price to pay if they bought her the treasure of happiness on his stunning face. If only he could see what she saw, the way he could feel what she felt; then he would know how truly beautiful he was.

“I'm so sorry that you had to go through all of that today, Catherine.”

Her smile thanked him for his sympathy.

“Something about that woman pushed buttons I didn’t even know I had. At one point - and I'm just barely exaggerating when I say this - at one point, I was ready to pummel that penny-ante dictator!” She laughed and rolled her eyes melodramatically.

“But just before I reached that point, I had…” she breathed a deep sigh, “one thought.”

A beatific smile illuminated her face.

“And that one thought suddenly made everything… all right!” She gazed up at his glorious golden face, basking in pleasure at the sight of him.

“I felt that!” Vincent revealed. “One moment, you were literally shaking in frustration, and yet within a heartbeat you felt... bliss.” His azure eyes widened trying to express the enormity of the wonder. She nodded serenely.

“What was it that you thought of?” he asked in his delicious raspy whisper. He felt it might be prying to ask, and he was sworn to never ask anything of Catherine. But, the idyllic expression of her countenance when she mentioned that one thought… surely such a thought must be the key to all the secrets to the cosmos. “Can you tell me this thought?”

She stepped closer to him. “I thought,” she answered softly, her right arm moving snakingly under his cloak and around his waist, “about this.” Her other arm encircled him from the opposite side and she pulled herself snuggly against his broad chest. Her cheek against his vest absorbed the heat of his body, the cadence of his heartbeat. She sighed deeply, intoxicated by the heady scent of him. “Just this.”

His breath was taken. A wave of the same heavenly joy he'd experienced that afternoon flowed over and through him, only now it was magnified infinitely by being Catherine's reality and not merely her thought.

It was him? She had thought of him? That the thought of him could bring his Catherine the least modicum of pleasure, let alone to have affected her to such a depth as to be the cause of such felicity... It was at once too good to be true, and too true to be doubted.

Worshipfully, his arms returned her embrace and pulled her closer, savoring everything that was Catherine.

“See?” she whispered, glowing with contentment. “All’s right with the world!”