Falling Stars by Rainer Maria Rilke
Do you remember still the falling stars
that like swift horses through the heavens raced
and suddenly leaped across the hurdles
of our wishes--do you recall? And we
did make so many! For there were countless numbers
of stars: each time we looked above we were
astounded by the swiftness of their daring play,
while in our hearts we felt safe and secure
watching these brilliant bodies disintegrate,
knowing somehow we had survived their fall.
Vincent awoke. His gaze traveled the topmost arch of his window, along the curves of the woman at its center, in its heart, to rest at last on his copy of Great Expectations on the ledge beneath it. How many hours did I read that book to Catherine? Day after day of reading to her… caring for her… I felt her through our Bond for the very first time as she lay here in my bed… How I miss being able to reach for her, to feel her mood, to know she is well… If only…
He shut his eyes tight then, a futile attempt to lock out the world, his pain, the loss of her. If only…
He surrendered to the pull. Even knowing he would not feel her presence; Not now, not ever again… Even though anguish and agonies tortured him each time his heart sought hers and found only that infinite emptiness… Even so, his soul reached out. And then -
He felt her. Close. So very close.
He bolted upright in his bed. The hiss of his blood dulled all thought and he struggled for breaths that came thready and weak. He tried to focus, to search the chamber, but his vision grew dark around the edges and the world blurred. The scent of her was strong, overwhelmingly near. He blinked again and steadied himself on braced arms, instinct seeking her out.
Curled under one of Mary’s scrapwork quilts, she lay asleep on the settee, the one he had had in his chamber years ago when he’d first found her. Her cheek rested on one palm. Her other hand clutched the blankets of his bed; even in sleep, she bridged the distance between them.
“Catherine!” He tried to get up. The need to touch her consumed every shard of his being. The planet lost its axis then, and the room pitched and reeled. He collapsed onto the narrow patch of floor between the bed and the settee and reached up to her. The warmth of her skin anchored him at last.
“Vincent! Vincent, you’re awake.” Delicate fingers brushed his face and through them he felt joy and love engulf him.
“Catherine, you’re alive! How…? This is real. Isn’t it? You’re real.” His hands tremored as he touched her cheeks, her hair. He sobbed at the wondrous, impossible reality of Catherine, his Catherine, restored to him and in his arms. “I’m not dreaming you. You’re alive. Oh, Catherine.”
He remembered then they’d already made love, and he hadn’t hurt her. Of course he hadn’t. He could never hurt Catherine. He knew this now – he had proof of it. Again he surrendered, this time giving in to a more physical longing. He reached out to her body as his soul had always reached out to hers. With her face framed between his fingers, he kissed her.
Surprise, delight, adoration, relief, passion… all these sang to him through their Bond.
“Vincent! Thank heavens.” At the chamber’s doorway, Father whispered a nearly silent prayer of thanks toward the ceiling.
Of course he’s relieved and thankful, Vincent thought, to find Catherine isn’t dead after all.
“Father, Catherine is alive.” Vincent glanced from Father to Catherine and back again. “We were wrong. Somehow, we were all wrong. She’s alive.”
Father’s forehead furrowed. Did he not understand? How could he not rejoice at this miracle?
“Of course she is. And now you are awake and all will be well again soon, my son.”
Son… My son… The word stunned him. My son! “Jacob! Where is Jacob?”
Catherine tilted her head and looked up Father with raised eyebrows. Their expressions mirrored one another. Why do they look confused? Don’t they know where he is?
“I’m here, son. I’m right here.”
Father approached Vincent and cupped his cheek with practiced casualness; it was a gesture Vincent well knew him to use to covertly assess a patient’s fever.
“No, not you.” Vincent brushed Father’s hand away. “Jacob. My son.” He turned to Catherine. “Our son. Oh, Catherine, have you seen our son yet? He’s so beautiful. So much like you. Where is he?”
“Vincent.” Catherine’s gaze never left his, never faltered in its steadfastness. “We don’t have a son.”
He felt the truth of her words, the bone-deep truth of them - the Bond-deep truth. Even so, he knew that couldn’t be right. He searched the chamber for some sign of his son - the antique crib, the baskets of diapers and sleepers, the lingering scent of powder – there was nothing. How can this be?
“You’ve been sick, Vincent.” Father gripped his elbow and Vincent was too weak to fight the firm touch that guided him back to his bed. “Terribly sick. We thought we’d lose you. It was so much like before, when you were younger, after Lisa. You’ve been delusional, dreaming. For weeks now. Catherine has never left your side.”
“I’m not dead, Vincent,” Catherine reassured him. “I’m fine. I don’t know what you’ve been dreaming, but I’ve been right here, with you, taking care of you. I’ve talked to you and read to you, but I don’t think you ever heard me.” She smoothed his hair back from his face. “You’ve been so deep inside a nightmare, I couldn’t reach you.”
Vincent laid back, thinking, remembering, or trying to remember. Already it was fading, becoming harder to recall the details of the delusion. The threads of the mad dream unraveled from one another: a midnight blue dress… shattering glass and balcony doors… though they sink through the sea… a comet reflected in a pool of water… a moonlit graveyard of buried hopes and wishes… The harder he fought to hold on to the fragments, the faster they sifted through his fingers.
“But it’s over now, Vincent.” She kissed the palm of his hand. “The nightmare is over.”
How many times had he wished Catherine were alive again? How many times had he begged the heartless heavens for one more moment with her? How often had he longed to tell Catherine all those things he’d left unsaid, or to kiss her, as he just had? His regrets were numbered like the stars.
“Yes, Catherine,” he whispered. “It’s over now.” He pulled her down beside him, his embrace secured her against his chest. “I love you, Catherine.”
Another spike of elation and bliss burst into their Bond. The love that radiated from her eclipsed everything else in his universe. Still, in spite of that joy, a part of him could not help but mourn the loss of the son he had imagined. “It wasn’t all a nightmare, Catherine,” he whispered against her honey hair. “One part of it… one part was a dream.”
“Dreams are something we can make real, Vincent. So long as we have each other.”