Iron Behind the Velvet - Chapter 18

Moulded Like in Nature’s Mint1

Vincent, listening in the dark.
He could neither settle nor depart and though the music masked his movements, his step was practiced silence. In that inaccessible land where others strode unrestricted, arms swinging, full-voiced, eyes forward, skyward, wide ... he padded shadow-to-shadow, head down. The skill mocked him; the requirement burned.

His was a cramped patrol within the wall, his circuit constricting until he was wound about himself, yoked under equal weights of envy and demand, his fists balled, his wrists crossed at his chest. 

Loud! Loud! Loud! I call to you my love! 2

He reached out, lifted the chain, palmed the heavy lock. An impotent attempt to stay him.

She is mine ... my lover ... my life.

The truth of the words – their solace – warred with his need to shout them, to shoulder open the door and this ... man ... aside, to take his place beside her. Through long-nursed channels of doubt, his blood warmed and rushed and he was seized with misgiving. The spiteful whisper resumed, its recitation a cruel poem of a life lived in a dark and empty hall. He saw himself seated at an ancient desk before a single guttering candle, its last flame fanned by his pointless breath. His aloneness cackled from the murk.

Such pangs my nature sinks beneath and feels a temporary death.3

He closed his eyes and covered his ears.

A gathering not unlike those Below ...

It was entirely different, stingingly different. This was Catherine’s world where she lived forever apart from him; where, from her friends, she must forever isolate herself. From worthy suitors, she would forever sidestep, forever hide her secret – the secret of him.

How does she bear this? How do I?


 Neal raked his fingers through his hair. “I’ve made an error, haven’t I? Though really, who could blame me for trying.” He grinned at her and backed away. “Cathy ... regardless ... you’re a lot of fun. I hope to see you again.”

She watched him quick-step to the house, returned his wave, laughed at his fake stumble over a round-clipped bush. A nice man, she thought, but when she turned to share the teasing moment, she felt a stab of surprise to find herself alone. Her hand rose to the wooden door. Beneath her palm beat a steady heart – the drum’s rhythm.


In the night air, music sang along an age-old glen of gorse and bell heather, a susurrus of primeval wind. Her breath quickened and she knew a stirring, leaned closer, reached for the latch …

“Well, well!” Martin’s words sailed over her shoulder, but she managed not to jump. “It appears you’ve dumbstruck a dozen lads this evening, my dear. ‘Twas not only I who was unprepared for your beauty.”

“Go on with you,” she said, smiling when he winked at her. “I left an impression, all right. On their toes.”

“Indeed, I found you quite light on my feet.” Martin snickered at his own joke. “Truthfully, now, you waltz beautifully. You’ve had practice at that, have you?"

“I love the waltz.”

“Did you know the dance was once considered quite risqué?”
paper luminaries in the garden

“Imagine that!” Hoping to hide a mirth and a memory she couldn't fully explain, she settled against the deep jamb, gazed past him to the churchyard. Along the low stacked-stone border of the flower bed, a march of paper luminarias flickered, their pierced designs the evening’s craft of the children in attendance. Eimear’s doing.

“Ah, such a lovely smile,” he said. “What brings it on?”

“You remind me of someone, Martin.”

 “Well, 'tis obviously a grand comparison, yes?” He shuffle-tapped one foot. “Shall we sit then? I’ve enough of playing and dancing for this night and it's a fine late evening.” He dragged two folding chairs from the garden into the sheltered space, setting them open against the narrow door. “A craic, was it? A good time?” he asked, handing her to a seat. “And you'll come back?”

“It was ... is ... and I’d love to. Eimear said – next Saturday? For Rosie’s installation.”

“Yes, yes. The statue. You’ve seen it which means she asked you the, umm, question. And that she approved your answer. So tell me. What did you think of it, the sculpture?”

“It's ... extraordinary.” She crossed her arms, hugged her elbows. Catherine …

“Oh, dear, are you cold? Shall we go inside?”

 Martin’s face wrinkled to a focused concern. She’d not be able to hide either her smile or the shiver she felt and she wondered if her expression was startled even now, if he would question her, press her, but he nodded, accepting her first demurral.

 “It comes with credentials straight from Genesis, sure,” he went on, his hands on his knees. “Yet I’ll not hear the end of it from certain parishioners. The tut-tuts will rise, as will attendance for a few weeks at least. ‘Twill be the price of admission for viewing. Of course, hardly anyone, anyone at all, will understand ...” Martin stared into his garden, his demeanor suddenly grave. In the soft light of candle and leaf-filtered street lamps, the swath of tulips flared with a sepia luster. “It is beautiful. Powerful. So much of Rosie’s certainty evidenced there. ‘Tis almost life-changing to look upon it.” His words trailed away, and the music toed the stillness between them.  

Life-changing ... yes. It will heal a deep hurt. There must be a way, a way for you to see ...
“Eimear has spoken of you, Catherine.” Martin’s tone was soft and reverent. “She knew kinship with you, she told me, ever since your first meeting. As Rosie must have.”

“I felt it too. And today, at Rosie’s studio ... it's strange.” She spread her hands. “I can’t explain it.”

“You don’t have to, A Mhuirnín.” Martin held her gaze for a long moment. “Do you know the anam cara? The soul friend? Hmmm,” he murmured when she shook her head. “‘Tis a bit of a story, but I’m thinking you’d take well to the old ways, to the belief in ancient knowing.”

 “Why? Why would you think that of me?” she asked, and in the moment before he answered, she heard her own question. I have to hold on to some of my certainties, don’t I? But after today, the coincidence …

“Because Eimear’s telling was recognition,” Martin continued. “And strong it was. An awakening, like a breeze across embers. ‘Tis impossible it was one-sided.”

 A race of children – two girls, three boys – careened around the corner and through the archway, making a laughing lap about the churchyard. Skidded to a stop, they volleyed for place, each with a story for Martin of their school week – a rained-out field trip to the botanical gardens, a troublesome exam, a lost step-dancing shoe, brand-new and its wearer in trouble. Grounded, she admitted, starting the next afternoon. Martin held a serious expression, expounded on adaptability and patience, the value of study, of responsibility and thrift. Catherine pressed a knuckle to her lips. The complaints might be Kipper’s, Samantha’s, Geoffrey’s.

“You’ve known Eimear and Rosie since they were that age,” Catherine said, once she an Martin were again alone. The music had quieted, a good many band members having packed up their instruments, a few corralling their still-chattering offspring as they passed through to the house. Still a sweet melody of mood and moonlight sang from the corner.

“A bit younger even, yes.” Martin said as he leaned back in his chair. “They’re wonderful, magical girls.”

“You’re very important to them. Eimear told me ...”

“Like my own daughters, they are, as they might have been, had I shown more – what's a polite word for it – pluck – yes, years ago. I love them with all my heart ... as I loved their mother.”

“What happened? Can you tell me the story?”

“‘Tis too long and too sad for this fine night. I’ll say just this for now. She was the one love of my life, but I was too unfinished. I couldn’t match her. Destiny can be so terribly delicate.” He shook his head, sighing. “Ahh, ‘twas a lifetime ago. You’ll think me a silly romantic.”

“No, I won’t. I don’t.” She wanted to hear more about Eimear’s mother and a young Martin ... more about Rosie and the night in the park, about the anam cara.

But Martin sat straight, clapping his hands twice. “So ... if our Neal's not to your liking, might I point out another lad to you, one who’s grand altogether?”

“That’s sweet of you, Martin and I'm sure you’re a fine matchmaker.” He beamed his agreement. “But, I’m ...”


“More than that.”

 His gaze shifted to her left hand and she caught her breath. “Married, then?” he asked, though it was hardly a question.

"Even more than that.” Stumbling on the words, grateful to say them, she could not suppress the welling in her eyes. It was the second time that day she’d claimed him out loud, above. 


"Even more than that. A marvelous story’s borne on those words, yes? As Eimear and Flynn, perhaps. Another twin flame. ‘Twould be no wonder you’ve felt a bond with each other, few enough on this earth so you would gravitate together.”

“I’m not sure what you mean ... is that ... what you said before, the anam cara?”

Ah, yes, ‘tis that, sure, but as you said ... even more.” 

He reached for her hands, clasping them between his. Under his touch, her fingers threaded and folded together. Her cool skin warmed in his tightened grip and she blinked away a glittering luminescence, a flare surely imagined. 

“Twin flames,” he said. “The reunited single soul. The other half of yourself who mirrors your deepest truth. Two spirits rushed together, their knowing overwhelming, undeniable. Tested in fire, you endure and apart, even at great distances, the connection is constant, a blue-silver chord that cannot be broken.” He tipped his head. “Is it like that for you?"
“It's said you most often meet your twin flame after experiencing a dark night of the soul; the pain, the ... emptying out ... prepares you for each other. I remember you from the newspapers, Catherine. You suffered a terrible ordeal. Is that when you first met?”


Mine. My love. My life ...

Her words were symphonic, a thousand resonate strings, the lowest, strongest notes steadying the pulse of his heart. My love. He echoed her words, but beyond them, beyond speech, into the spaces she was required to leave, he ... melded. Light surged within him.

My life. For him ... I would do anything, sacrifice everything.

He held out his hands. Mine ...

She was his deliverance, and obstinate, incredulous, hesitant, he had denied her sweet assurances, squandered precious hours. How many times would he require her repetition?

Don’t question, don’t interpret. Believe. Have I no faith in my own advice?

He knew enough, had heard ... enough. He left his hiding place, descending the stairs in solemn step, filled with single purpose, with anticipation.

I’ll find you ... tonight.


Martin drew their still-clasped hands close, tucked them beneath his chin and a silent moment stretched between them. 
Martin’s scrutiny was kind, his question gentle and deniable but at last she nodded. Martin touched his lips to the base of her thumbs, returned her hands to her knees.

“Eimear met Flynn the bleak year of Lily's illness,” he said. “A funny thing. Flynn came to me with three of his four brothers, all needing work. As if ordained, I sent him to her; the command that loud in my mind. Lily could see it herself, right away. She left us, knowing one day her girl would be well loved.” Martin sighed and smiled ... brightened. “You should bring him ‘round, your young man. Let us have a look at him. Say, next Saturday?” 

the door in the churchyard wall
A look at him. The phrasing charmed her. And it doesn’t seem impossible.

 “I’d love to,” she said, “but he’s often out of town.” Before Martin could gather breath for another question, she turned in her chair and placed her hand flat against the wooden slats behind her, the solid proof of the weathered boards almost a surprise. “What’s this odd little door? Where does it go? And over there ...” she said, gesturing toward the opposite wall of the archway and its mirroring portal, “there’s another.”

Ahhh. Church secrets, my dear. But one I’ll gladly tell you. If you look past the shadows, you can see that one has a grill in it, hung with a tattered curtain and behind it, there’s a small alcove where a confession would be heard. I suppose years ago, before the days of privacy fences, neighborhood men might walk by on their way to work to speak with a priest. Fast food for the soul, perhaps? And this one ...” He patted the stones behind his chair. “‘Tis said to be a passage from the old sacristy, built before the open-air ambulatory was added. It’s doors have been jammed fast as long as I’ve been priest here. To tell the truth, I’m a bit claustrophobic. Not to mention queasy in the face of spiders. And I'm sure, in spots, the wall is fallen in, though I’ve never ventured through the first inch.” He shuddered and grinned. “I do sit out most every night, mind you, I come by the back door and along the garden. ‘Tis a charmed place for me, here, between two worlds in a way. I’ll play the flute or the box. Revel in memory. Sometimes I gnash my teeth at the unfairness of life. But I do my best listening here.”

“What do you hear, Martin?”

“Oh, if I’m quiet, the night birds, the wind in the leaves. And I’ll talk with whomever turns up. I do love a good chat.” He nodded his head in rhythm, his foot tapping a few measures of a song. “‘Tis the last tune they’re playing. We always end the evening with The Mist on the Mountain.He bent to her. “But to answer your question. I often talk with Eimear. Rosie, if she’s over home. Sometimes Flynn. But every night, I spend a moment with Lily."

“Does she speak to you?”

“I hear her,” he said, touching his heart. “Here. I tell her of her girls. Some nights ... some nights, I’m sure I speak with angels.” He pressed his hands to his cheeks and fell silent, then tapped a finger to his temple. “But enough of that. You’ll know I’m considered by some to be a bit spare, with barmy ideas never espoused in seminary.” His puckish grin evident in the soft lights of the moon and the gardens, he shrugged and stood and offered his hand.

“I should stay and help you clean up.” Catherine lingered at her car, the door open. “Are you sure it’s not too much?”

“You helped us get ready,” Eimaer said. “And we can’t impose on our guests at both ends of a party. You might not come back if there’s nothing but work. Martin will shepherd the folding chairs back to the church and after that, I’ve just some washing and tidying. All that will keep for tomorrow when Flynn’s at work.”

“I had a wonderful time.” She took a deep breath. “I can’t tell you what this day has meant to me. All of it, Eimear, not just the party, but you and Flynn, Rosie’s story, Martin. I feel ...”

“Connected,” Eimear finished and she pulled Catherine into a warm hug. “I know. I feel it too.”

Catherine backed her car into the street and shifted from reverse, a last glance at the house before she pulled away. Lamps still lit the mullioned windows upstairs and down, their amber glow as inviting as massed candles behind stained glass below. Eimear had disappeared inside but Flynn separated from the shadows of the porch to lean against a post. He lifted his hand in goodbye, folded his arms across his chest. Watchful. Protective. Familiar.

Connected, she repeatedMaybe more than that.

There was an animated energy on Katonah Avenue, the pubs and restaurants spilling laughter and spirited patrons to the sidewalks. She checked her dashboard’s clock. Not so very late, she noted. Only just after eleven. Cornering 235th, relieved to see Dominic’s van in the service lane, she recognized the helper’s business – Dixon’s Print Shop.

Brenda and Dix. I remember them from Winterfest.

alley, fire escape and ladderIt was a tight fit for her car, wedged in close beside the van. With a silent apology to the driver, she grabbed a heavy cabled sweater from the back seat, eased the door open, closed it with her hip, pocketing her keys as she sprinted up the walk. She saw no one in the darkened front room; no shifting shadow-shape materialized in welcome. She scuttled along the side of the building to the wide door of the service bay, but it was chained and locked. Not here …

Behind the shop, the security lamp offered only a feeble shaft of light, one that puddled on the ground before the rear exit. The door was solid, of grey and rusted steel, and although she rattled the latch twice with both hands and focused impatience, it gave not an inch. The noise disturbed the nested birds asleep in the eaves. In a search of the wall, she found only a single, dusty window in the blackened bricks, a promise of nothing. Above her the fire escape loomed, with its zigzag of steps and a tantalizing door on every level, but its last ladder fastened too high for her to pull down. She whirled on the alley. Where now … 


Vincent on the rooftop
His call shimmered down from the roof of the building. His cloak billowed in the soft night air; four floors above her, a warm sanctuary waited within his outstretched arms. Eschewing the fire stairs for the outer railings, he swung over the wall and dropped and lowered himself, hand to hand, until swinging in on the last landing, he could release the catch of the sliding ladder. With a rattled groan, it descended on its tracks.

His gaze riveted to hers.

Too slow …

As if she had voiced it, as if he had heard, he leapt the barrier. His plummet required hardly two heartbeats, yet the moment slowed, the sharp distinctions of brick and asphalt, of streetlight and sound blurred. She felt the tense, rippling energy of the muscles in his shoulders as he vaulted the rail, shivered as the anticipation of impact gathered in his legs. He landed on his feet, graceful, virile, elemental ... pared to a sultry maleness. He rolled his spine straight, rising to his fullest height, his chest expanded. One stride brought him within her reach. Dissolved with tenderness, they clung together, sank to each other, in the solitude, a single flame of sensation.

V and C in embrace, behind the print shop in the alleyA strange vibration radiated from him – a quaver, a throb – strumming her with the bronzing heat of a tropic sun. Her lips at the lobe of his ear, she murmured his name, but his fingers threaded her hair, stilling her. Their course a rope of lights flared live with his touch, his nails grazed her scalp. He tasted her throat, nuzzled the scoop of her shoulder, ardent with the scrape of his teeth. She was at the white edge of the world.

“Not here.” He stepped back from her, led her to the ladder, molded her hand to the rung. “Go on. I’ll follow.”

Unsure of her legs, unsure of her voice, she nodded and made the first step.

“Hold tight, Catherine.”

On the rooftop, she turned to overlook the building, keen to have him back, the seconds required to secure the ladder behind them, until he rose from the darkness interminable. When at last he surmounted the rooftop wall, his presence filled the secret space within her heart where all her dreams lived.


She nestled to the powered drub of his heart.

I'm yours, Vincent. Yours for everything.”

click HERE for Chapter 19.


1. Alfred, Lord TennysonIn Memoriam, A.H.H. LXXIX. 1849.
2. Walt WhitmanOut of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking.
3. George Gordon, Lord ByronTranslation from Catullus: Sappho's Poem of Jealousy. 1820.


Anonymous said...

Three poignant're so GOOD at this! Love from your...
#1 Fan

AT44 said...

I am so incredibly slow, but I promise, more to come post-haste! I'm working on it now. I am!!!!

Brandy said...

Argh! I love you and your fiction to death, but PLEASE post something soon!

Hugs and kisses and lashings with a wet noodle, Brandy

AT44 said...

Brandy, here's half a chapter. Not all that I hoped to have finished by tonight, but better, I hope, than nothing.

I think I'm satisfied with it. On the other hand, I may tweak it to pieces.

I'll tell you this, the second half of the chapter will be a romantic one.

Urban Literati said...

Okay, I've read this four times. I can no longer stop anytime I want. I need rehab.

AT44 said...

UL, you're making me laugh. And smile. Thanks for that.


PS - I'm enjoying the Creative Mind cd's you recommended on your site. I'm not getting faster, but I'm calmer and more relaxed when I write. I had used a play list of my own devising as inspiration, but this seems to be working an odd magic on me. I hear the CM melodies in my mind, all through the day and regardless of my activity. It is truly meditative.

New York City Utopia said...

Beautiful, as always. Sigh

AT44 said...

Thank you, NYC U! I am so deeply touched by your response and pleased that you feel this way. V & C are such special people. I want to be always careful of them.

It's difficult to express my feelings in this little box but I'll try... For all of you who have left a comment or emailed me - I am truly grateful. Your encouragement, your questions, your requests for clarification, (your finding of typos!) - all this has made an impact on the story and even though I am terrifically slow, your interest keeps me working hard on it. It means so much to me. Thank you all.


Mich said...

This is so WRONG, Carole! You leave me hanging like this ... it's positively inhumane. Cruel beyond belief. How could you put a link to ch 20 and leave me with only a blank page?

ACK! Why should I bother writing Joe's measly epiphany when I have your writing to soothe my troubled soul? There is no point. I prefer your poetry to hard investigation. You may be waiting a long, long time for #17 now!

Mich said...

All that said, my dear, dear friend ... TAKE YOUR TIME. Don't listen to the impatience of others. The muse knows no deadlines, and works in its own quiet time.

Enjoy the process, and don't let yourself be pressured or swayed by those of us who are anxious for more. We will wait as long as it takes. You are more than worth it!

AT44 said...

Michelle, you sweetheart. Thank you.

I do apologise for the fake-out link, but isn't the title a good one? With no content (yet! I'm working on it! My goal is Friday afternoon!) we can give attention to the line of poetry, no?

I can divert myself from writing for hours, just pouring through the classics, trying to find a good line of poetry for a title.

Instead of working on Vincent's chapter 20 epiphany, I came to fiddle with and tweak and worry over this chapter. I'm convinced it's important to do it and it does keep my angst level high.

You'll write your chapter 17, or else! I'll come up there to force it from you, if I have to. I've been waiting and waiting too and I know it won't be measly!

Mich said...

Touche, my friend. Touche. Don't wait with bated breath. You might keel over before you see a single word.

It comes, but it comes ... slowly. Too slowly for my liking. But then, you and I are of one mind on this subject, no?

Here's a line to entice you (something I've added to chapter 1 in a fit of procrastination) ... you might as well enjoy it, because you won't get anything of Joe for awhile yet ...

Life leaked warm and sticky from the apex of her thighs. She felt it … tried to reach down and touch it, her womb aching and tight, her chest clenched in an endless, anxious sob … and the cold cuffs of reality clicked around her heart.

How you like them apples?

AT44 said...

I'm speechless. That is an incredibly powerful image, Michelle, and knowing chapter 1 of your story as I do, I am just stung with the power of this addendum. It was already a whole-box-of tissues read.

Is...WOW...adequate? No, it isn't, but wow, nevertheless.

Brandy said...

I love episodes. I can back up and read a few to refresh the memory, then jump right back in and know where I am...

I LOVE IT. Those limp noodle-lashings must be doing the trick. :)

Krista said...

Oh, Carole. This is lovely, so beautiful, the connections that interweave and merge. I love this---and I thought the original was pretty damned awesome. How do you keep improving like that?

Great job---glad to see you back with us. ;)

-Krista :)

SandyX said...

Ahhhh, I didn't realize just how much I missed visiting here with your writing, Carole. It's like coming home.[happy sigh]

Carole W said...

Krista and Sandy - Thank you! Thank you for your encouragement and for re-re-re-reading. You both are beyond patient. But more than that, you make me feel like I can.

More soon!

Anonymous said...

Your writing is so beautifully exquiste, I ache in my chest to read it, poetic, insightful, luminous. Cathy S

Carole W said...

Cathy, Thank you. The words sound thin, unrepresentative of what I want to say. How kind you are, how generous. Finding this from you this morning -- I'm just so grateful.

But you made me cry.