Iron Behind the Velvet ~ Chapter 49

~ Erelong, Erelong1

Mary hurried through the twists of corridor, her nose buried in the deep purple stars.  You are brighter than apples, sweeter than tulips. You are the great flood of our souls bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts. You are the smell of all Summers, the love of wives and children, the recollection of the gardens of little children.2 Tears welled in her eyes.

old house, Mary's, two-story, flower bedsGibson Street. Only a few blocks from downtown, he’d told her. “Don’t peek, Mary. Let me surprise you.” And, oh, he had. He had. A small, square, plain house amidst gingerbread and turrets, grey-weathered siding beside corals, ochres and greens. But porches on three sides. A porte-cochere for his – their – blue Pontiac. A long, lush, level lawn, a shady side yard where babies might play on the quilts she would piece. Flower beds already brilliant with bloom – with purple flags and nodding red columbine, with cream-pink peonies. At every corner and post, in every color – lilacs. Nineteen years old, a single year at William Smith behind her, with a husband – a husband! – so handsome and kind. Her own mother couldn’t see how happy she was, nagging her to wait for someone with better prospects, for someone younger. Giving up her education, moving to ten miles from nowhere with a school teacher, when she might have landed a banker or a doctor, might have lived the society-life in Philadelphia or Boston. As if she were cut from that cloth. Settlingtrousseau photograph. lilacs in a jar, white gloves, train case, sheer gown into his family home, as if only a newly-purchased one would do. Forgoing a honeymoon – even a weekend at Niagara Falls – as if being practical was a flaw, a failure. As if love didn’t matter. That first night, they’d watched the sun set over Lake Canandiagua, danced in the gazebo at Kershaw Park. That first night together, hers and Andrew’s, where candles softened anything shabby or worn, where, on the dresser, a Ball jar stood massed with lilacs, the lavender blooms arching above her open train case and her sheer white gown ... perfuming their bower. When everything lovely was yet before them, before John Robert's arrival and Ella’s, before ... 

“Mary? Mary! What’s the matter? You look like you’ve seen– Is that lilac? Where–”

Jacob. Standing in the middle of the passage. She’d nearly bowled him over. Staggered past him, she stilled at his voice, lifted her head from the bouquet’s memories. Turned into his open arms.

“Mary. Dear Mary. Back with us now. Just a ways. Here we go.”

One arm around her waist, he urged her retreat into the upper alcove of his chambers, to the welcome, empty bench. She sank down, grateful her knees had not failed her, grateful for her oldest friend at her side, for his warm hand steady on her fluttering one. At his tug, she released the woody branch. Holding her gaze, Jacob breathed in the scent of the blossom, a loud and long breath, another and another and another, until hers matched his orchestrated rhythm. With his soft handkerchief, he mopped her clammy forehead and cheeks. The dappled yard, the azure sky through a tapestry of leaves, the kiss of sun on her upturned face dimmed and diminished ... cooled to gray and rust-red stone lit ... lit still ... by candlelight. She closed her fingers on his wrist and smiled.

“Kanin is back,” she said. As am I.

“Kanin!” Jacob sputtered. “Has something happened? I heard nothing on the pipes of his return. Is he on his way here?” He half-rose from his seat. “I must speak with him. Now.”

Mary cupped her hand over Jacob’s where it knuckled the knob of his cane. “Sit. Sit. Now is not ... appropriate.”

“But ...”

“He brought Olivia lilacs. Lilacs!”

Jacob stared at the bloom he held. “Ah,” he said. “Her favorite.”

And mine. Once upon a time. “If the news had been bad or urgent, he’d not have appeared with flowers, unannounced. This was ... private.”

“Yes. Well.” He tucked the handkerchief into an inner pocket of his robe. “In due time, I suppose, Kanin will come ‘round.”

“Perhaps he already has.”

After a long moment of contemplation, Jacob nodded. “Was Olivia pleased to see him?”

“Oh, yes. If only I could have scooped up both children in their sleep, given them some time alone together.”

“Sleep, did you say? Both?” Jacob’s eyes widened and she imagined he placed a mental tick in the column of good signs versus bad. “I’d been thinking about your plan to spirit Olivia north ...” he went on. “About their getaway. Perhaps now it won’t be necessary.”

“No, I suppose it won’t.” A wave of dismay washed over her. She knew it showed on her face; she could feel the heat in her cheeks, the caving of her shoulders, hear her selfish, selfish sigh. Now what? What will I ever find to talk about with Sebastien? 

“You were crying, Mary. And now you look ... lost.” He leaned into her shoulder. “Tell me.”

“There’s nothing to tell. Not really. Kanin, the flowers ... reminded me.”

“Of ...?”

“A place and time. What I once had.” Who I had. Who I was. She’d shared so little. So little.

“Of what you might have again?” Jacob brushed the lilac spray against the back of her hand and lay it on the bench between them. The scent wafted up, there, when she remembered to breathe. “Margaret’s favorite flower was the lily,” he murmured. “The calla lily.” From inside his cloak, he produced a sealed envelope. “This came for you. The sentry beneath 86th Street received orders to personally deliver, but brought it here as she didn’t find you in your chamber.” For Mary, from S, the address read, printed clearly, simply, with none of the swoops and curls of the showman’s signature. She shoved it in her skirt’s patch pocket. Jacob  patted her knee. “You should get that in water – the bloom, I mean. If I remember correctly, the thing to do is strip the bark two inches from the end and smash the stem. Do you have a little hammer? I’ve one if you don’t. And use warm water, not cold, in your vase.”


“At 34th and Herald Square, we’ll take the B, but how far? What’s your cross street?”


The repetitive clack punctuated the heavy air. At the screech of brakes, Eimear nudged her forward. “73rd!” she exclaimed and, lowering her voice, bent to her ear. “The Dakota?”

Catherine shook her head. The bells rang their two-toned alert. “Look!” she said, stepping out from the waiting crowd. “An empty car.”

“Wait! There’s a reason for that, sure enough. One we don’t want to discover, I’d wager. We’ll try the next.” Eimear grinned and led the way. “I like the last car, myself, though Mom taught us better, warning of who or what might lurk beyond the platform’s light in the long black tunnel.” A worn, hungry tide surged them forward. “Here we go. Hold on. There’re but two stops till we change.”

There was little time to do more than sway and step, sway and step, then hurry to their transfer. Eimear wove the throng with practiced ease, tall enough to see over suited shoulders, agile enough to dodge the stuffed backpacks and mismanaged umbrellas. Catherine clung to her elbow. On the B, they held fast to the handrail, but at Rockefeller Center, Eimear pressed her arm and tipped her head in signal seconds before a trio of orange seats opened behind them, two together along the windows. A scraggly-bearded man plopped down in the remaining backwards-facing chair, wearing shiny, pegged black pants and a worn silk hat – Lincoln-esque, if a foot too short at least. He whipped a newspaper from his coat already folded to the daily crossword and flourished a fat pencil, the red kind she’d used in first grade. Loudly and to the ceiling, he proclaimed the clues, brandishing the pencil straight up as if some divine lightning bolt might deliver the answer to the dull tip. “Message received,” he crowed and licked the lead, bending double to scratch letters in the squares, careful not to let anyone see. Everyone averted their eyes, Catherine noted. Everyone except Eimear.

72nd Street subway entrance
They emerged at 72nd Street a miraculous thirty minutes later. A stream of white panel vans and yellow cabs droned past, the usual din muffled by the lingering assault of the subway’s cacophony. But sunset filtered through the treed perimeter of the park, and across the street, on the corner, her favorite vendor was still open for business, his yellow and white striped umbrella angled in welcome. She could taste the tangy, fresh lemonade with its crush of ice and emerald mint. The Imagine mosaic was but a short stroll away. Perhaps what she’d soon tell Eimear might be better broached there. On a bench, beneath the tall elms. Beneath this very bench ... 

Even as they passed the Dakota, the park’s call to her was strong, yet a line of taxis idled at the curb in front of her building. Surely they’d beaten Harcourt home. Surely he’d be stranded on the sidewalk of Centre Street until dark. A cab’s door popped open and through the rain-spattered window, she saw the passenger check his reflection before he emerged, reach with both hands to smooth his hair. She rushed Eimear to the Langham’s steps, past Roger’s evening replacement and across the lobby to the elevators. If it were Harcourt arriving, if he followed her, this time ... she’d have to hurt him.

They’d had no opportunity to talk, not since they’d sprinted for the Canal Street station. The subway was louder than loud, and she’d answered Eimear’s barely-audible question about Harcourt only with the roll of her eyes and a dramatic growl. In the elevator, it seemed they stood shoulder to shoulder with everyone else on her floor. Even her hallway was crowded as, home at last, all laden with mail and shopping bags, one with young children in tow, her neighbors stabbed at their locks. Catherine unbolted her door and tossed away her briefcase and purse, turning to drag the waiting five-gallon water bottle inside. After her, Eimear followed with the second, rolling it over the threshold, straightening from her task just before the sculptured antelope at the entry. Eimear drew back, her lips pressed together in a quivery curve. Catherine thought she might burst out laughing. Or crying. Or shake with nerves. She’s trying so hard.

“It is kind of ...”

Bizarre, Catherine. I have to say it, but in that, a match for my foyer’s umbrella stand with its gasping fish, though you were polite enough to o’erpass its unique features.” Eimear unbuttoned her jacket. “There must be a story behind this.”

“No, not really.” Not compared. She gestured for Eimear’s coat and draped hers with it over the back of the couch. “Eimear, I ...” She laced her fingers and tapped her chin. “About these calls. You’ll tell Flynn in the morning and then the paperwork begins. The reports. I’ll go with you to the station. I’ll stay with you and help all I can. I have ... access ... and what I don’t know, I’ll find out. This is Flynn and you. They’ll have these guys picked up by noon. They’re not hiding and I’m sure I saw the car. I’m a witness to the threat. You have the tapes. There won’t be any glitches. They’ll get pretrial detention so they won’t be released on bail. But tonight ... I’m taking you someplace safe, someplace secret. A place close to home, very close, in fact. A place where even afterward you’ll always be welcome. Trust me. Don’t be afraid. Please don’t be afraid.” Catherine held out her hands and Eimear took them, a long wordless promise welling between them.

In the middle of her living room, Eimear made a slow revolution, her gaze traveling the shelves and mantle and bookcases, a bit forlorn with so many of her treasures secreted Below. “Are you moving?”

None of her friends visiting of late seemed to notice the changes. Even Jenny merely scowled at the marble creature on its stand, remarking only ‘Oh, the horns are back’’. True – the new objects d’art on display were actually old, their recycling evidence to most observers of nothing more than whim or her changing mood – and decor Jenny had seen before. How could Eimear know? About her heart’s home, their hidden chambers Below. About the possibilities kindled by Martin’s dream and a serendipitous classified ad left behind in a cab. Was what she’d said – between my world and his – and what Eimear had witnessed – his shirt, his singular, mysterious, unexpected shirt – revelation enough? Perhaps the question should be rephrased. How much does she know already? Before she could answer, Eimear pointed to the stack of flattened cardboard boxes on the floor beside her desk, the remnants of her last foray to her storage locker to bring up filler for the empty places. Still, she wouldn’t equivocate or invent or mislead. Not this time.

“I have, in a way.” And might again. She touched her vest pocket and heard the reassuring rustle of newsprint. “And that’s part of what I need to tell you.”

“Show me,” Eimear said, looking past her to the carpet at the door. “You said you’d have to show me. And Catherine ... you have mail.”

Catherine, looking down, looking pensive, reading note
Catherine bent for the note. The message was over-wrapped with ruled notebook paper, but peeking from the edges was an onion-skin envelope, its border red- and blue-striped, one from the box of vintage airmail stationery she’d found at the flea market on Columbus Avenue. The image made her smile – Vincent too, when she handed him the gift. Certainly Benny, who was her most constant messenger, seemed to fly through traffic, and letters dropped through the grates of storm drains arrived at their destinations as if on magical wings.

Missed you twice, Benny had scribbled. A Mets day. Inside the wrapper was a card, a Topps bubblegum trading card. Dwight Gooden. His rookie year, 1985. It smelled still ... pink. Sometimes Benny left Beatles cards, the same black and white ones girls in her grade school had once collected, sometimes Elvis, sometimes Batman or Superman and she’d pass them on Below. Sarah, in particular, harbored a fondness for Elvis; Eric was mad for comic book heroes. But this one ... In a flash, she was at the pizza parlor, Edward’s expression just as earnest as he presented the children’s gift to their chaperones, his instruction to Joe and her to share the Dave Magadan card just as firm. She looked up at Eimear. “For Edward.”

“Go on,” Eimear said, slipping the proffered card into the pocket of her purse. “Go on with your reading. I’ll ... I’ll just ...” She eyed the balcony doors. “The view must be spectacular.”

Kanin is safely back, she read, with good news ~ our concerns here are less urgent than we believed. Mitch is not involved. The work continues.  

What I do and what I dream, include thee, Catherine. When next I see you ... V.

Less urgent. Vincent’s cryptic understatement implied the intrusions the crews labored to contain had been identified, judged and a plan of management decided. And his words were an intimate pledge: When next I see you. A passage from one of her favorite poems.3 Catherine sighed with relief and anticipation. So much had transpired. Her visit with Sam. Maryfields and Martin and Seamus. The tramp-art chest of treasures and coincidence. Earlier, she’d determined she would somehow join him once again beneath Woodlawn. Tell him. They’d have needed hours, but now ... She returned the sky-blue paper to its envelope, on the way to the terrace tucking the edge of it under the saucer of a potted cyclamen on her dining room table, the handwritten address topmost. Unhidden.

Catherine ~ 
        ~ Vincent

“Can I get you anything?” Catherine asked. “Coffee or tea?”

Eimear turned from the railing, her arms folded against the coming evening’s breeze. Behind her, the pale spring leaves of the park’s expanse had deepened to hunter and forest green. The street lamps would soon wink on. Even from this distance, Catherine could point out the landmarks of her heart – the dark hill of their beginning, the now familiar unlit paths and byways, the secret doors. Don’t tell her anything. Not long ago, bundled together under their eider quilts, Vincent had recounted Father’s first admonishment. She’d turned in the embrace of his arms. But you told me everything. And he had, without hesitation. I knew, he’d murmured against her cheek. From the beginning, I knew.

As do I. It really was that simple.

“I’d better be leaving off the caffeine. I’m jittery enough,” Eimear said. She held out her spread fingers and indeed a mild tremor traveled through. A last glint of sun reflected from the silver of her wedding band, a bright prism off the center setting.

“Your ring is beautiful. The symbols ... what do they mean?”

“‘Tis the Warrior Shield, fashioned after the Ardagh Chalice.” Eimear circled the medallion with its blue stone once, twice. She lowered her hands, clasped their nervousness behind her back. “A long story.”

Catherine ushered Eimear inside and into the kitchen. “Have you eaten today? My refrigerator’s bare, but I have ... ”  She opened an upper cabinet and inspected the contents of the shelves, hands on her hips. Peanut butter. Some Fig Newtons. Dried apricots. Raisins. Sticky foods Vincent avoided as a child, but tastes he loved. “Well, not that much.”

“I’ve half a tray of lasagna leftover, Catherine. And since we’re going home ... before ...”

Eimear’s eyes were dark with growing confusion. With worries enough on her mind, this tease was unfair. “You’re right. We should get on the road. Let me pack some things. My car’s in the garage below.”

Standing at her dining table, Eimear studied the pages of the donor’s flyer she’d left there – the Naumburg Orchestra, the summer concerts in the park. She’d receive four season tickets for the check of support she’d written, tickets she’d give away, unneeded. This morning, she’d dreamed of Eimear and Flynn sharing their secret seats below the bandshell. Only a few doors remained closed between them now. Somehow, she would – they would – open them.

Vincent’s note lay in plain sight and Father’s invitation was atop the morning’s mail, his script ornamented and flowery, too distinct to disregard. She’d read it. Of course she had. It was meant to be ... and time. Catherine shouldered her bag, waiting in the open doors of her bedroom for Eimear to meet her gaze, to begin their journey.

“Before we leave, I need to send a message ...”

In the elevator and down – fifteen flights until they were alone in the car, until the doors opened to an empty hallway. Two levels of red-carpeted steps; the service stairs the rest of the way. In silence. Only the dull echo of their tread ... and the beat of her heart.

Eimear followed without question, through the quiet laundry room, past the gray doors to the garage to the storage area, through the labyrinth of hodgepodge and rummage to the maintenance-way, barricaded by the building’s super since Brian’s adventure with a rickety utility cabinet stowing little more than worn mops and ragged brooms, easy to push aside. Without hesitation Eimear stepped onto the first rungs of the ladder. When she disappeared from view, Catherine began her descent, pulling the doors closed, repositioning the cabinet from her perch, thanks to Mouse and his complication of inserts and levers, casters and camouflaged slots. She emerged from the shaft of light to an empty threshold. Already Eimear had ventured from the block basement into the old brick passage and through the rubbled entrance. The red-gold gleam from the tunnel beyond was a brilliant aura around her.

Catherine wedged the crowbar from its hiding place behind the messaging pipe and tapped out her coded regrets. Work. Obligations Above. But soon, she promised. And thank you, Father. I miss you too. By the last rap, Eimear was back at her side.

“Where we’re going ... ‘tis an underground shelter?”

“It’s more than that. More than shelter.”

“Between your world and his, you said.” Eimear queried the white light streaming from some fine-placed ocular high above them, then the corridor’s beckoning glow. “Is that where we are, Catherine?”

Click HERE for Chapter 50.


1. Sara Teasdale. When Love Was Born.
2. Amy Lowell. Lilacs. From What's O'Clock. 1925.
3. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Sonnets from the Portuguese, IV.


Krista said...

Oh, Carole. Imagine my joy when I saw this on my RSS feed. :)

Your Mary...oh, all that she's loved and lost...I like her, and I'm so glad she's got Jacob as a friend and Sebastian as...something more. ;)

But you and your cliffhangers are going to be the death of me, one of these days. Guess that means I'll have to keep reading to see what happens next...oh, the horrors. :-P

Marvelous job, sewn with magic. :)


Carole W said...

Goodness! I think I was still tweaking and wrestling with Blogger while you were reading! But thank you for reading. And thank you for such kind words of encouragement.

Poor Mary. I feel bad for her. I think she needs a make-over after how the writers portrayed her - a few episodes at a spa or something. She's just not that wimpy in my mind! I hope this Mary is compatible with canon - there just has to be more to her than what we saw.


SandyX said...

Carole - I don't know what to say. I think I've used all the words I have to express my appreciation of your writing. Your words are what I love - all carefully chosen, I know, but seemingly effortless. I started to pull some examples of phrases that rang particularly beautiful and true, but they're everywhere, too many to pick just a few. It's all lovely.

It was nice to see a glimpse of Mary's past, even such a poignant one. What was the extent of what she had and lost? Will she ever reveal enough for us to know?

And Eimear's below!! The thought of someone - a friend - standing there at the threshold with Catherine as she taps out a message is grin-inducing!

You say that you're slow and you keep apologizing for the time it's taking you to finish this story. I'd not have it any other way than for you to have taken each moment that is necessary for you to craft what you've created here for us.

Big, grateful hug,


RomanticOne said...

Oh my gosh! I loved the back story on Mary but my heartbeat actually increased when I got to Catherine and Eimear. The suspense is killing me but the anticipation is also exciting. WFOL and the holidays will be the death of your fans who have to wait through them for the next chapters. At least WFOL and the holidays will make it worth the wait. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

OKGoode said...

My heart is in my throat, Carole! I want more! NEED more!

Mary's story is so rich and I want so much to see her through your eyes here. I want for her a redemption - a la Carole - so that I can erase that simpering twit she tended to become on the show. She's more than that when you write her.

And Eimear's introduction to the tunnels - Squeeeee! You're killing me waiting for the rest. But 'tis a sweet pain!


Carole W said...

Sandy, thank you. You know I'm only going to work harder now to hope to measure up even halfway to your kind words. You've given me such a gift. I'll always be grateful.

Mary - the writers did her dirty, making her such a goody goody. The only personal revelation she made was in Labyrinths and the little teeny one in Outsiders about how long she'd lived in that chamber. She used the fall-back of being The Giver to cover . She has to want to Take sometimes. She has to Need. She really did deserve some layering in the show and she sure didn't get it.

Boy, am I ready for Eimear to see Below! I'm glad it makes you grin. Can you imagine? I wanna be taken below too!


Carole W said...

Hey, R-1! I think there'll be at least two chapters posted between now and Christmas. I once thought I might finish I/V by WFOL 2012, but it's the boy who cried Wolf anymore with that. Nobody believes it; I don't either! Okay - so ... April 12th. That's a good target date.

Oh, I hope you'll be satisfied when Eimear's scenes continue. She and Catherine have some quality time, just the two of them and then ... :-D

You're good to me - thank you for reading and always taking the time to tell me you were here. It really does my heart good to know that.


Carole W said...

OKG! You nailed it -TPTB made Mary such a one dimensional ... blah! Dull as dishwater, and yes, simpering and twitty! She needs that make-over bad.

But I think of her good qualities. Father depended on her for nursing skills and she was always there. Even though she lost her own children, she mid-wifed the new babies into the world. She really was good to Lena. I really should read the original scripts and see if, in them, they made her any more than we saw.

Goody-two-shoes types work hard to cover up something. Maybe something awful they believe about themselves? Some guilt that weighs so heavy they have to sublimate their needs and desires? I wish I had the psych skills to adequately explore that.

Oh, I'm glad your anticipating Eimear's introduction below. Thank you for squeeing! That makes me happy. :-)


Anonymous said...

Here we go again!

Oh Carole! (Ha! It's inevitable, isn't it, Krista?) I am desperate now for more of your Mary's backstory, and I heartily agree that she is much more than a dithery doormat quietly fawning over an oblivious Jacob.

But I'm also dancing with anticipation over Eimear's introduction to Below. She's certainly ready, having already put together so many pieces on her own.

And I can't decide WHO I want Vincent to meet face-to-face first -- Martin, his new friend and advisor? Rosie, who saw him, believed in him, and found him beautiful? Flynn, his brother Warrior? Eimear, Catherine's supportive, intuitive new soul-sister? Or, maybe all of them at once -- a double-unveiling at Rosie's statue? The idea of a safe place Above populated with a community of genuine friends is SO tantalizing!

More please, said the greedy child!

Best regards, Lindariel

Carole W said...

LOL, Lindariel! I can't really answer your comment without spilling too many beans! I'm just glad it matters to you and that you want these meetings. Believe me, I do too!!!

It really makes my day to know of your enthusiasm for what's to come. If no one cared, I'd be, as Kristopher said, crushed! Thank you for being so generous and thoughtful.

I'll be adding a bit more to the Mary/Sebastien sidestory. Because of something else I've been working on for WFOL, I have part of their bigger story written. At this point, it may seem hard to connect the dots of it, but eventually, things should mesh together. Mary's full story probably won't make it into I/V (or it will never end) but I have some new stuff noodling. Gosh, these 44 episodes sure offer a lot of inspiration.

I have to run to the bank and the grocery and do a couple errands, then it's back to the office and to work on that next scene. Things are heating up!


NYC Utopia said...


Carole W said...

LOL, thanks, Claire (I hope!) :-D