Friday, May 21, 2010
Classic Round Robin
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, ‘
‘“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
“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
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.”
“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
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.”