Iron Behind the Velvet - Chapter 10

~ Some Walls 1

He performed his evening duties methodically and well, cleaning and oiling the handles of the pickax and adse, the chisels and hammers. He sharpened the wedges, coiled the ropes, sorted the carriage bolts from the anchor studs, counted washers and nuts. These rote tasks occupied his hands, the necessary details his mind, but the undercurrent between them washed him to her shore – where she need say nothing, her urgency his incentive, her determination his resolution.

So long – too long – he’d paced a dark corridor, a barred and blackened door his charge. A rut worn before it, beyond, furies raged. But to the black ends of his earth, she brought light in a steady approach – confident, unflinching ... never giving up. She loosed him from his inhibitions as theirs became a more fluid fusion.

Like this I want you, love,
love, Like this I love you,
as you dress
and how your hair lifts up
and how your mouth smiles,
light as the water
of the spring upon the pure stones,
Like this I love you, beloved.
... and Like this, I need you.2

His skin hungered. He ached to hold her.

Tomorrow, new workers would arrive, and he, with Kanin and Cullen, would divide the crews. The reports of intruders in the western tunnels made it a surety. He would be obligated to go there, to stand ready in defense. He swept his cloak around his shoulders. Tonight might be his last to hear music at the stairs.

Earlier he’d retrieved that sector’s map from Mouse, unfolded it from its pocket-sized square, compared it side-by-side with a street grid of the Bronx. The remembered narrow passage, its winding incline and final ascent he traced to the western edge of Woodlawn, just beyond the boundary of Van Cortland Park. Perhaps Dominic could guess the address.

It was still early by Vincent’s measure – no longer day Above, not yet nightfall. After springing the last latch, he made his way up the steep stairs, through the trap, pressed his ear to the old-oak slats of the door. The end-of-day filtered through – the screech of brakes, a mother’s call, a child’s protest against the dying of the light. He smelled the rain-drenched earth, the still-wet grass. Earlier, there’d been a storm.

Mural Passage
Hefting the padlocked chain, he found it rusty but substantial enough. The walls around him were stacked and mortared and riddled with roots, the ceiling spanned by wooden joists, capped with flat stones. He skirted the open stairwell, exploring past it to a sharp corner, then right, the further passage damp, some rubble at his feet. Through a high chink, a dagger of street lamp light thinned the darkness at the alley’s end and in the gray shadows, a narrow door outlined, barred as well and chained and locked. A walled garden, he decided, joined to a structure, an old mansion, perhaps a church. Last closed by someone retreating Below – a mystery who and why – the exits were once a secret way out ... and in.

A dozen paces along, he heard a creak and a slam, the sound of footsteps and a low, hummed tune. And then the music began, this night’s melodies more high-spirited and dashing, the mood lighter, the concertina loud enough to mask his return to the landing. He settled near, leaned back and closed his eyes.

concertina - button box
The box, he knew it was called, but how it was played? One tune merged with the next and the next. Their names must be poetry. And this man’s story, his and Lily’s, their love lost – was it to time, to another?

The music was beautiful to hear, and he was grateful for it, but if he confessed the truth ...

He wanted more.


Voices roused him from a half-sleep he’d neglected to guard against. Crouched, poised to flee, he was more disappointed than fearful, but the musician played on, a nimble, rounding chorus.

“Flynn, please,” a woman begged. “Something’s happened.”

“I told you, it’s nothing. Just ... work.” The man’s voice burned and chilled at once, dry ice from his throat. “And I’ve had enough today. I'm fine. You don't need to follow me around.”

“You’ll have me believe you’re pruning the roses this time of night.”

"I just want ... " He drew a sharp breath and discarded it. “Let me be, Eimear. Please. Let me ... stand here.”

“All right, then. All right,” she repeated. “I love you. You’re scaring me.”

Vincent heard the quick tread through wet grass, a clattering on wooden steps, the snick of a door. A waltz of tender hopes danced to its end. The notes drifted away, wavering harmonics in the night air.

“Will you be wanting to talk now?” The musician’s voice was gentle, a hand held out.

“No, Martin. Play on, will you.”

“Have ye any requests, then?”

“No ...Yes. Something on the flute.”

“So it’s the hollow places you want. The Dark of the Moon, is it? The River of Jewels?” The concertina sighed to silence. He heard a rustle, a click, the frictioned rasp of wood.

He could sense him – Flynn – could visualize his posture – arms folded, head down, shoulders slumped against the stone. He’d mirrored that stance a hundred times, a thousand.

I should leave. He rose and edged toward his escape but a pull begged him ... stay.

A whispered wish filtered through the stone. “The Coolin first.”

A long moment of consideration fell between the two. “Ah, sure,” the musician agreed. “An Chúilfhionn.” And the song began, a sad soul’s mirror.

Full of longing and uncertainty, the music reached farther than his ear, the beats of its rhythm reaching into his muscles, the chambers of his heart ... reaching reaching for some long-ago, fusing grief to grief to grief. How? How could he leave the man to stand alone?


wooden flute in case
“'Tis time I put the cork grease to it,” the musician said. Martin. "It needs attention."

“I thought you poured Guinness down the bore and let it soak overnight.”

“That’s a myth altogether. And you know I’d not waste my daily allowance like that.” He paused. Like a tossed stone, his next words rippled a deep lake. “You should tell your wife. Let her help you through.”

“I can’t,” Flynn answered after a long beat.

“Come closer. Sit with me. We'll talk. You know ‘twill not leave this alcove."

"I'm fine where I am."

"Not so. Not so fine. You’ve gone on with it long enough now. Weeks. You’re but a shade of your own true self. I'll wait here ‘til you're ready."

"Ready ..." Flynn spat the word into the air, chased it with a bitter laugh. “I saw that today – my own true self – through the eyes of a child.”

“Tell me."

“Today at the shop. We were headed out for the truck and I got a call to come to the desk. Those kids and their parents ...”

“Children from the Yeshiva.” 3

“Yes,” Flynn snapped. “From the Yeshiva. Where else?” He hesitated. “They came ... to thank me. To thank me for saving them.”

“And this breaks your spirit? There's something more.”

“There’s more. Oh yeah, more. The teacher, he was there. He did the talking. And it was good at first. I felt like it might be okay, seeing them, all of them alive. Unhurt ...”

“Go on.”

“Each of them stepped up to shake my hand. They were so little, so–” His voice dropped to a whisper. “One of them, when it was his turn ... he looked up at me and I saw such fear in his eyes. He grabbed his mother’s leg, turned his face away. She pushed him behind her ... protected him. She was protecting him from me. I knew it then.”

“Knew what, Flynn?”

“What I was. What I am. I was ... there ... all over again. I had that demon’s throat in my hands and I wouldn’t let up, even when I knew it was over. That’s the killer they saw. I'm who they remember.”

“They’re but babies, Flynn. You can’t take their reactions as judgments!" Martin countered. "Their parents ... they know. They’re grateful, thankful for you, that you were there and willing.”

Flynn snorted. “Willing? Was it a choice? The thing is, even after today, after that little boy, the look on his face, I’m not sorry I did it.”

“You’re sorry you had to do it. Therein’s the difference.”

“There’s something dark in me, Martin. I always knew it. I’ve tried ... tried to keep it buried, but it’s so strong. The power of it ... Sometimes I want it. Need it.”

“Sometimes it’s necessary!”

Breath by breath, the silence deepened.

“Eimear should hear this from you, Flynn,” Martin said at last. “She’s afraid.”

“She should be.” Flynn shuddered, a dry rattle of breath and bone.

“Not of you ... for you, for herself. A mhic 4, talk to her. She knows you. Sees you. She always has.”

“She sees what she wants to see. ”

A leanbh na páirte. 5You’re wrong. So very wrong. Don’t leave her standing up the heather glen. An gcoinneóidh tu uathi, a fhad is atá sí ag fanacht, ag iompair an tsolais?”

I don’t ... I can’t concentrate on it. I don’t know what you’re saying.”

“Think, now,” Martin urged. “Think on the words.”

“Something about waiting ... and carrying a light.”

“Not quite, lad. I asked you, Will you keep this from her, while she waits, bearing the light?’”

Flynn struggled, a few misbegotten sounds wrenched out ...

Nochtfaidh ... a solas mé agus ... cha dtig ... liom sin a sheasamh.”

Seconds later, the wooden steps complained; a door groaned and Martin whispered after him, “Her light will reveal me and I cannot bear that.”

Both hands to it, Vincent sagged against the wall, his forehead bent to the chill stones. He hadn’t needed a translation to understand the words, the lament. And sorrow, sorrow like rain. Sorrow to go, and sorrow, sorrow returning. 6 Behind a chained door, in a long-forgotten place, he stood, Flynn’s cloaked and hidden Other.

“Ah, Lily,” Martin implored. A chair scraped across the stones. “Now what? I'm lacking a way to reach the lad – the right words, the proper understanding. He needs ... someone else, Lily. Someone else." The last words fell unevenly, almost as a sob. "If only ... Beidh tú, i mo chroí go deo. Codladh sámh. You’ll be in my heart forever. Sleep well. love.”

Flynn ... Eimear. A Yeshiva. A deliverance from evil ...

He knew this story, these people. Catherine had told him – of her connection to this woman, her compassion for the man. He’d seen it, felt it then as if it played out before him ... now, as if Flynn’s hands had been his. He touched the back of his neck. He was sweating, and when he touched his face, he found tears.

The woman’s growing anxiety, her helplessness, gnawed at him. How often had he turned from Catherine, closed the door on her love. Standing up the heather glen. He frowned. Fragrant poetry to describe a barren place.

The man’s despair was a red, stabbing pain behind his eyes, the aloneness a black and familiar shroud. Too well he remembered the agony of his own first look – at the beast that paced and prowled, that laughed and licked its chops in anticipation of escape. He lifted the chain and padlock that safeguarded the door. Twisting the slack from the links, he tugged at it, and he knew it was no obstacle to him, that his slightest exertion could snap it. The air was suddenly stale; the space confined, confining. He wanted out.

His descent of the stairs was swift, and his steps, ever quickening, took him to a little-used entry into the cemetery. Pushing at the heavy door, spending himself, he burst outside at last, his chest heaving in the night air. In this vast, wooded place, his head thrown back, he could actually see stars. He lifted his arms in silent supplication, beyond his walls and free.


Joe and Catherine in Law Library
“I can’t take any more of this,” Joe said. “Can you? It’s probably pointless anyway. Without Phan, who are we gonna put on the stand tomorrow? We’re not gonna win on my smile.”

“We can’t just give up, Joe,” Catherine argued, tucking back her hair.

“Kiddo, some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you. Prepare yourself. We’ve done our best.”

“While you were at dinner, I called a friend of mine. He’s Vietnamese. I thought he might know Phan or someone in his family."

“Does he?”

“No, not by name, but he'll ask around. I told him I'd get him a photograph. Long said he’d let me know the minute he learns anything. I told him to call me at home, even if it’s the middle of the night.”

“It’s almost that now,” Joe said, yawning. He snapped his head around. “Hold it. Wait. You want to send a photograph, we'll get a courier service. And if this guy calls – and I’ll get to the question of how you know so many potentially helpful people later – if this guy calls in the middle of the night, you are not going down there. That’s a day job and a uniform goes with you, even then. And don’t start in with that he won’t talk if there’s a cop around stuff. I don’t want to hear it. Remember. I am your boss.”

She smiled. “It’s not even midnight. I thought you were a night owl.”

“Do you promise?”

“Yes, yes. I promise! Can we drop it?” She checked her watch. “We might as well go home. I’m reading the same reports over and over. Nothing changes. Maybe some sleep will help.”

“You want to share a cab?”

“Sure.” She put on her jacket, gathered her purse and briefcase, more than ready to leave. She had somewhere to go.

Catherine rested against the taxi's upholstery and closed her eyes. Behind her lids, the city lights still strobed. Sirens and horns muddled her thoughts. And to think I once found the pipe-tapping bothersome. She heard Joe's briefcase snap open. “What’s this?” she asked, eyeing the book he held. “For me?”

“It’s nothing really. Just something I thought you might like. I found it at that place in the Village, the bookstore.”

“At Smythe’s? You were shopping at Smythe’s?”

“How come everybody thinks I don’t read? You’ve been to my apartment. I have bookshelves. With books on them.”

“You’re protesting a bit too much, I think.”

“Fine!” Joe sputtered. “I’ll take this back. Give it to ... my mother.”

“Oh, no you don’t.” She opened the cover and held the book to the window, angling it to the streetlights. “Will and Ariel! It’s signed! Oh, Joe, this is lovely, but what’s the occasion?”

“Ummm, I was in there. Thought of you. I figured, for your birthday or something, but now’s good. Best, I think. No sense hanging on to it.”

The cab pulled up to her building and hovered, double parked beside an idling black limousine. “Don’t get out,” she protested. “I’ll see you in the morning, bright and early. You owe me a story about your date.” Ignoring his stammer, she patted his hand where it rested on his knee and scooted out. “Thank you for the book. For dinner. You know I love Angelo’s Insalata Capricciosa.” She leaned in the open door. “And Joe, you’re a great boss.”

She arrowed to the basement, descended the ladder and ducked into the tunnels, stowing her briefcase and Joe’s gift in a bricked niche. At the first junction, she tapped a terse message on the pipes, listened for a reply and when it came, hurried on, the narrow walkway above the misted depths familiar now, the necessary turns second nature.

“Catherine! I was surprised to hear from you.” Palms up, Cullen gestured to their meeting place, a level up from the clustered chambers, a guard-ring out from his. “Everything all right?”

“The truth is,” she began, “I can’t risk a long conversation with Father tonight.”

“Better not come any closer then. He’s still up. I just left him.”

“I have a favor to ask, Cullen.”

“Anything. What?”

“You’ll take relief crew north tomorrow, right? Father told me you’d be leading the second shift. I have a letter for Vincent. Would you make sure he gets it?”

“There’s been a change. Everybody’s staying on. Splitting the crews. The work will go faster.”

“Has there been a problem?” she asked, searching his face. “You’d tell me if there was?”

He scrubbed a hand through his hair. “Vincent might not want me to tell, but you should know. There’s been an ... issue ... north and west. A couple more intruders. But nothing serious.” He touched her shoulder. “Try not to worry.”

“That’s impossible.” She sighed. “I don’t want him to have to ...”

“Nobody does.” Her letter tucked to an inside pocket, Cullen patted it protectively and winked. “I’ll tell him you were looking well. Quite well, in fact.”


Vincent circled the cemetery, keeping to the shadows through the silent city of monuments and gravestones, past many grand and cold mausoleums. Their walls of granite and marble were impermeable; their immutability mocked the self-constructed barrier. Fear, doubt, pride. Stubborn bricks, impediments to life. A test. Who will care enough to knock it down, find the gap? Kanin’s, Flynn’s ... his own walls ... made of something other than metamorphic rock. A foolish man who would keep love out.

Near the entry to his world, loath to give up the breeze and the nightjar’s song, he sank onto a mourner’s bench. He knew his name now, the musician’s – Martin. And Eimear’s ... Flynn’s. That he’d found them was coincidence beyond reason. Disconcerting. Curious. Chilling. He’d come for a last concert and instead a page was read from the book of his own life. But he was soothed by a sudden knowledge ... Catherine’s knowledge – her trust, her determination – a potent feeling that, though they spiraled separately for now, they moved toward a single center; that love would lead them to a new destination and they would arrive together, full of hope.

Illustration: Vincent in the Cemetery by Esther Wijnbeek. Click for a larger version.
{Thank you, Esther!}

Click HERE for Chapter 11.


YouTube - Finbar Furey ~ "The Coolin" Uilleann (Irish) Pipes

~ Cois Abhann na Séad ~  Beside the River of Jewels - an Irish Air

1. YouTube - Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose "Walls"
2.  Pablo Neruda. Because Love Battles.
3.  I Carry Your Heart. Chapter 3 - Counterparts.
4.  a mhic - Gaelic. My son. Implying 'take heed'.
5.  a leanbh na páirte - Gaelic. My dear child.
6.  Rihaku (Li Po). Lament of the Frontier Guard. 760.


Anonymous said...

Carole, the walls, the garden, moody Flynn and poor Eimear, Martin and his concertina and his flute ... and his music...ah, how delightful is this scene, with our Vincent partaking of the gift.
You are gift to us, your readers. Believe that!
#1 Fan

RomanticOne said...

" the black ends of his earth, she brought light..." What a vision this brought me! For some reason, it made me think of "A Happy Life" when she told the psychiatrist, "He gives me everything." They each think the other gives them everything. That's the way it should be. Also, thanks for the bit of Neruda. He's one of my favorite poets. I'm looking forward to more "edits" and to the next new chapter. They brighten my day.

Krista said...

Gosh, Carole, you've done it again---the edits have brought everything deeper to more commonalities. The darkness that Flynn and Vincent share on either side of a wall...Martin's choice of tune (I think I might have that one buried on my iPod LOL) and...well, everything. Forgive the incoherence, but I don't know how you make the best better, I'm just glad you do. :)


Carole W said...

R-1 - Thank you for re-reading! Your words give me such a good feeling, but it is you who brightens my day.

Neruda is beyond passionate, isn't he?

When I was young, one of my favorite fairy tales followed the enchanted hero to the end of the earth. I always wondered what that looked and felt like. I think Vincent showed me. In my fairy tale, the heroine found him and saved him and they lived … as you can imagine.

I hope to get another edited chapter up this weekend and then soon, the next new one. Thank you again.


Carole W said...

Oh Krista, how dear and good you are to me. Thank you. This chapter was a mess and I couldn't believe the missed opportunities. I was just compelled to fix them. I'm really glad it's a better read and not just evidence of my tweak-obsession.

I need to take a listen to your ipod. I'm pretty sure I'd like everything on it. The tunes you've shared, I've really enjoyed.

Thanks again - for rereading and all your thoughtful comments.