Iron Behind the Velvet - Chapter 71

~ Simplicity Rises Like the Blossom of Fire1

Eimear’s back door closed with a firm snick, the decisive fastening sending a vibration through the porch framing to the chimes hanging from the eaves. The wind sail circled within the cage of copper tubes and a soulful chord spiraled out.

Catherine turned to the churchyard, surveyed the stone enclosure. The modest cathedral adjoining the rectory rose three shielding stories, the bell tower higher still, on either side no tall apartment buildings with overlooking windows, friends the only neighbors. In the few days since she’d seen the courtyard in daylight, the perimeter trees, their limbs arching above the stacked stone wall, had leafed out even more. A confetti of petals was drifted down. Pink and white and fading magenta blossoms littered the flagstone path, adorned the glossy emerald, sweet-scented shrubs. The ambulatory where Eimear and she had lingered was still deeply shadowed, and given its architecture and meditative purpose, would so remain all the hours of the day. An exceptional place, a historied point of rendezvous. Where once Father Seamus and Noah’s grandfather met as friends, bridging more than an extraordinary geography. Is it Friday? Seamus had worried, the confines of Maryfields and the distance of decades notwithstanding. Those are Lev’s cups. His Kiddush cups. He’ll want them.

Where Vincent, too, with Martin ... Little remnant of their first visit – nothing of the sandwich Martin had prepared for him or of the apple tart, not a crumb of brown-bread crust or tender pastry left as treat for the resident doves. The celebrated bottle of The Green Spot spirited away, an almost mythical elixir she vowed to search out, anticipating the occasion at home below, an upraised toast to new and welcome friends. Only their two chairs remained, one situated deep within the covered passageway, the second at its paved edge, each angled away from the other. A positioning, she noted so fondly as to taste tears, never again necessary.

Eimear’s recounted vision danced up. Catherine felt the uneven cobbles beneath her feet, smelled the briny sea-wind Eimear described, willing to believe there to be, somewhere beyond the high walls she could see, a cliff at the edge of an ocean where white-crested billows raved, where seabirds soared above the sea stacks, rising on the gusts, calling, calling, falling on the lulls. Where their soul family once converged and lived and worked and shared the joys and sorrows of their one large life. If she didn’t believe in twin flames and soul companions, or in the Aos Sí living underhill, or that descendants of the Tuatha and of angels existed on earth, sharing the same blue eyes – Shhh, Martin chided her in memory, they might hear you – she should.

I have to hold on to some of my certainties, don’t I? Softly, she laughed. Maybe we were wrong, Vincent. A single being, made of possibility and light, cleaved to separate selves, scattered across the earth and time, instinctively searching the path home, the reunion both a surprise and not. Miraculous and inevitable, an astonishment and a recognition. An essentiality. Not something there had never been, but something that once was and would be again.

Síordheirfiúracha. Bráithre. She heard the enchanting words in Eimear’s melodic cadence, a piper’s song she would follow into a world where she might throw her arms wide, loose the stop from her throat.2  Where they might all walk out under the sun. She swept the garden with a grateful glance. A haven. Her own vision, manifest, Vincent’s as well. Here, he could step so safely out into the light he longed for. Here, they could simply, finally, freely be. She’d often rued if only, pined for some day. Now, she was sure. Soon … Fáilte, their friends would proclaim. Céad míle fáilte.3

She shook the bright vision away. Not fruitless or fanciful, only ... untimely. This moment was not hers, but Flynn’s and Eimear’s. The chimes tolled again – not the baritone, time-keeper’s note she’d heard repeating while they awaited Flynn’s arrival home, but a hollower tone, struck and struck and struck. A midnight sound. Flynn, for weeks – for years, forever – deep within a serpentine passage, Eimear’s revelation layering stones onto the burden he already cradled in is arms. The journey would be rubbled and ghosted, and Eimear would travel as far as she could, would stand with Flynn at the chasm’s edge, would stand steadfast as Flynn crossed over the abyss on a splintered bridge she could not, into a land she could not. But not alone, Catherine willed once more. Not alone. Neither you nor Flynn. Not this time. A phenomenal wind at their backs, they were sped to this last threshold. We’re here. We’re meant to see this through together. Through. And then ...

But she had promises she wanted to keep, work to do. A Helper’s work. All and everything she could do.

Martin stood watch at the kitchen sink, his image wavery through the rectory’s paned window. One arm folded across his body, the elbow of the other propped upon it, his chin resting on the heel of his palm, he gazed into a distance even farther-seeming than the archway through which Eimear had passed. Her approach unacknowledged, Catherine raised a hand in diverting signal. Martin startled and blinked. A beat ... then another, and he waved her on, disappeared from view.

She’d left her jacket and bag at the base of the porch steps; now she gathered them up ... as well, a relic of hesitancy. Martin’s preoccupation had nothing to do with her, was utterly with Eimear and with Flynn, she was sure. Yet ... Could this man, this priest ...?  Martin, across from her at the diner’s patterned, red formica table, over the wish bite of a wedge of apple pie, had offered his assurance. I’ve spent a lifetime believing, he’d told her. To me, the unexplained is glorious. But ... was it? Face to face with the mystery of Vincent ... Would he bless their union? Accept it?

Vincent’s family below, even the helpers above, had, after all, studied her, had gauged her worthiness, her ... rightness. She’d been the one granted acceptance. Even Father. Hadn’t he his ... reservations? Some he might well struggle with today. So few still outside Vincent’s world knew of their love. Isaac, who heard all she couldn’t say aloud, who saw, who offered, without question, his protection, his silent respect and aid, who, yet, only surmised. Brigit, who–

The muffled rap of hard-soled shoes on wooden floors sounded within the rectory. The latch lifted, the entry door swung back, and Martin leaned out, one hand on the crossbar, pushing the screened door wide for her. He smiled so kindly. “Inside with ye, now,” he said, his welcome followed by a soft, trilling chirrup. Catherine’s breath caught. Any judgment or wariness, any question she might have feared he’d ask ... or dare not ask ... was dispelled.

Behind Martin, the long corridor was cool and dim, paneled in rich, dark-shining wood, intricately trimmed and wainscoted. Midway down ... a crossroads, doorways right and left under gothic arches and carved crucifixes, each flanked with wrought-iron sconces she would expect below. Fitted with ruched, taupe silk shades, the fixtures cast spheres of remindful, champagne-colored light on the walls. At its far end, a jeweled glow filtered down through a high, round, stained glass window – a trefoil, she’d learned to recognize, three overlapping mosaic circles. A crown in one, in another a resting lamb, a dove in flight in the third. And – whether by loving design or fate, she resolved to later ask – in the center, at the heart ... a single, pure white lily.

Catriona,” Martin murmured, begging her jacket from her arm, lodging the collar on the bentwood hook of a standing coatrack. He scooted her bag beneath a neighboring, narrow hall table, took both her hands. “Tógaimíd an mionn seo go dtí an uaigh. We take this oath to the grave. Ye must trust that. Your secret is safe.” He pressed his lips to her knuckles, then his cheek to hers. His skin was cool and smooth, his shaving soap spice-scented – anise and cinnamon and cedary, vanilla musk. A fatherly memory. She gave way to his whisper. “And your glory ... Bless you,” he said. “Bless you both for arriving at this threshold, for bringing your light to our world. Catriona. Uinseann.4  Mo pháistí, m’aingil."5


First to ground from the staircase, Kanin hustled over to the long work table where the maps were rolled to tubes, stored upended in an old metal pail. The bucket’s red color was dulled, the letters spelling FIRE in milk paint nearly faded away. Kanin sorted through the cache, culled one, then another, plucked free the jute ties. The chosen brownprints unfurled, arrayed side by side, he weighted the corners with anchors within his preoccupied reach – a ribbed coffee can of nails, a hammer handle missing its clawed head, a blue-speckled tin mug steaming with someone else’s tea. His arms crossed, he studied the drawings, nodded to himself. One foot tapped a count on the ground. A tallying of points, Vincent determined. Whatever Kanin had decided – the ideas he was prepared to have no one like – he was eager to share and would back with reason, with evidence ...

And with a mettle and confidence that seemed almost an entity to him if to no one else – Kanin’s aura a dark brownish-gold edged in pale yellow, shot through with green.6 The student, trying to make up for lost time, to learn many things at once. Emerging awareness, the possibility of hope. Maturation, balance, significant change imminent. His own colors had read nearly the same – his tinged bluish rather than green – or so Narcissa had informed him, holding her hands inches either side of his face, nodding at something or someone beyond before he’d broken from her clouded scrutiny and dashed from the Chamber of the Winds, before he’d understood. His aura then, as young as he was, would have been, at best, a weak halo, and the reading that day her cryptic encouragement rather than assessment or even presaging. Though he’d never experienced his own lustre in the few mirrors he acknowledged, he’d learned to perceive in others the subtle body, and Kanin’s now ...  Bright, growing brighter. Vincent gazed around the busy room. The community might not see, but, in time, they would trust. Kanin’s aspirations, considered failed and futile, would come ‘round again, one day be realized. A council position of consequence, his dignity and self-respect regained. Perhaps he would name a third child, perhaps hold his fourth ...

On his knees by the central pit, Damien tracked Kanin’s crossing of the campsite, yielding to duty with a huff and an air of hurried determination. He stirred the coals to vibrancy, stoked the fire from the pile of dry, night-gathered fatwood. Smoke spiraled in the draw through the high, domed roof and he sat back on his heels. When flames licked the bars of the cast iron cook grate positioned over the embers, Damien handed off the poker and the tending to a passerby with empty hands. He hurried across the chamber to stand shoulder to shoulder with Kanin at the worktable, keen, Vincent knew, to share the discovered positions of the rolling stone gates, the envisioned pattern of a possibly protective maze. Damien pointed first at the different ground plans, then, searching the room, gestured Vincent over, talking all the while. Whatever he relayed clearly overrode Kanin’s earlier dismissal of the information. Kanin nodded Damien on. His fingers interlaced, he tapped his chin, tapped his chin again, turned back to the charts. Their conversation was unreadable, the chamber broad and the assemblage milling about, but an obvious energy balled between the two men, an energy Vincent sensed would be released only with action. He’d best hear it out.

His own crossing was slowed by the attentions of those crew members stationed elsewhere that morning, absent from the incident, still rocked by the reports of near-tragedy and new hazard. You’re all right, then? You’re sure? A dozen friends touched his arm, ten offered him tea, a place to sit. What’ll we do about that entrance? Think we should close it? Move on? That’s never happened before, has it? There’s another problem ... that iron spiral under Cambridge Avenue. Bolts are loose in the rock; half the risers rusted through. Don’t think we can save it. Gonna be a bear to take down, but something needs to go up in its place ... The secret door we’re installing under Dom’s brother’s new building? From topside, the latching only lets it slide about six inches. Can’t figure out why. Need you to take a look at the mechanism …

He’d deemed the conversation the most reasonable degree more frantic, widespread relief naturally speeding the patter, and no louder than normal, nothing that required his ... stewardship. But without warning, without reason, every spoken word, every touch, echoed and percussed. The familiar, steady blaze of torchlight strobed. He closed his eyes and the flashing seared through; he turned his head and the flaring followed, persisted.

Not Catherine’s pain. Sunlight be damned if it were.

A deep breath meant to clear his senses sent a hot shock ricocheting ribs to breastbone, a sharp offshoot up the back of his neck, over his cranium to lodge behind the ridge of his brow. He rocked his knuckles against the pressure. No hangover, this, he managed to assess. No residual of Martin’s rare Green Spot, or the short glass of beer he’d downed at the rectory’s kitchen table late the night before. No repercussion of days of hard labor, of little sleep on stony bedding. No warring of his conscience, his contradictory feelings for and about Mitch settled, he realized even through the throbbing, to an acceptable unresolve. No aftermath of the near-overwhelming whorl of water. No effect of remembrance, the rereading of old words, of reliving his emptiest hour, of the recognition at last – what denial could spoil.7  No physical consequence of too few hours in Catherine’s arms – that bristly ache familiar and gratefully borne. No fear of all he anticipated telling or of the transformation he was poised to make for her, with her.

Not his pain. Not his, but ... Another’s.

As if revealed in the flash of lightning, a figure made of blue shadows and bleached bone appeared ... vanished, its burned-in afterimage swallowed up by nothingness. He gathered the rays of his consciousness, turned sideways into the dark current.8  And he felt the reverberation of a speechless heart, its stubborn rhythm a knelling, strike upon strike upon dull strike.

She’s told him. The calls, the threats she endures. The cut Eimear dreaded making, she’d carried out. As he’d counseled. Trusting, if not his example, his sentiment, trusting Flynn to share it – Whatever comes, we share Truth. But within Flynn – a man you’ve never met, a part of him argued, a part that surrendered to a profound fraternity – a desperate storm raged, the crashing long and loud, grace obscured.

Remember love, Vincent cast out, convinced of their linked spirits, willing hope through. But his next words were swallowed back. Not without her, he’d almost added. His shoulders sagged. The river flowing through the darkness cut a peculiar channel, and there were lonely crossings to be made. Eimear – Catherine – could travel only so far, the final journey Flynn’s – his – the terminus either the abyss or over its fearsome bridge into the badlands, through a pathless Burren of trials, the grail a mirror leaned against a crag at the end of the earth, a mirror of confrontation and honesty.

A second flash, a grim reveal ...

Bootless. The imperfect penance of sharp stone. A raw and awkward careening over torn ground. A hilt of cold steel molded to his eternal grip, the glittering blade that would not be laid down, its tip dragging, clattering over fissured limestone. Slipshod time. A mix of memories, peaceable and crippling. An iridescence, half-bird, half gem, its humming wings a resonance.9  A flickering-past of still photographs refusing the fade of age, grainy and gritty both to the eye and to the soul. No. No more. I remember. I will ... always ... remember.

His was a wound too deep to bleed fast and free. She would see the slow, fat drops oozing from the laceration, would think them staunchable. His chill would shudder on layers beneath the touch of her assuring hand. Her soft gaze, full of all she believed still future, he would meet even while considering the chasm, its jagged outcrops, its juts, and the bottom rushing up too soon ... or never.

A rubbled promontory, a looming edge. The promise of blessed nothingness ... 


"Wait! he roared, fearful from too far away. Wait!!

... a flash in the pitch, the burnt odor of fear and excitement, the bright, bleak exposure of a man's face in profile, just turned, turning toward his call ... 

“Vincent! ‘ncent!!”  In duet, Noah’s twins converged, one attaching to either thigh, throwing their arms around his waist, stepping up with their child-sized, lug-soled boots to ride the tops of his feet. They bounced and argued for his attention, and he threaded his fingers through their black curls in an attempt to quiet their weighty demands. Joy and trust illumined their upturned faces, a light almost too bright to bear.10  He breathed back a wince, converted the grimace he could not avoid to a smile ... or so he hoped.

 “I saw that,” Liz said. The straps of a lidded bucket and her leather medical bag were crossed over her chest, the container and the satchel riding each hip as her sons clung to his. She held out both hands, and her boys peeled away to take them. “You’re getting a once-over,” she said, “whether you like it or not.”

He shifted his feet, flexed his liberated toes. Between heartbeats, the despair had separated from him, its revenant thinned to wisps and dissipated. No longer his. The vision come and gone, he was returned to his world, precious, precarious and full. Yet the emptiness the leaving left was a familiar void, a terrible saved place. So wretchedly elemental – the feeling that nothing can come.


I will be that brother, should I be needed.

Who was he to have sworn such an oath? He’d yet to unravel his own last black knot.11  Ahead a journey through a pathless terrain, crusted with debris, spiked with thorns. He, a guide? He, Flynn’s companion? He, after everything ... still a novice, his face, too, burning and tickling with the cobwebs broken through, his eye, too, weeping from a twig’s having lashed across it open.12  He could only pledge his willingness to follow into the barrens, to source the torment, to stand in concert against the dragon when it again reared up.

Hardly enough, yet all he had.

In a land without blessing, no beauty could dwell.13

A reminder edged with challenge, the logic incontrovertible. The whispery voice his own. He knew beauty. He’d found joy. When his claw-tips raked over the last lonely ledge of hope and the stone was crumbling away and he’d surrendered to the fall, he’d been grabbed back.

No, he realized. He’d not let go. There’s a difference, though one he could hardly articulate.

So great my happiness that I was blessed and now could bless.14   Hadn’t Catherine said as much? To be able to give is what you’ve given me.15

The true call would come. Already he felt, if not its hour, its drawing force. How eager he was – and grateful – to keep his promise. He would show not the angle of his face, but allow the full reassessment of reality. All would not be understood – could not be – but he would hold steady the candle, prove they were not cornered by all that had happened, but at the frontier of a new world. Flynn would not travel the barrens alone, and, neither, now, would he.

Someone passed behind him, clapped him soundly on the back, gripped his shoulder. Blue sparks flew from the surprise, bouncing off the chamber’s high, glistening, white granite ceiling, raining down like fireworks. This was, he conceded, his pain.

“I saw that, too.” Liz shifted both boys to one hand’s tight hold. And somehow, under his thick, padded vest, determined fingers raked down from just under his armpit, managing to dig through the under-layers he wore to bump-bump-bump over the staves of his ribcage.

He’d not anticipated her probe. “Ahhhgghhh.”

“And I heard that. Into my office, so to speak.” She tipped her head toward the corridor of the bathing chambers.

But Stuart had stepped down from the ledge of the rope station, he noted, a long, loose coil over one arm, the loops trailing behind him on his way to the work table. The crossing rope, wet and unwise to use, in need of drying, of the flaking-out begun but not finished. Cullen, too, had joined the small group. And Esther. And Miriam, wedging between broader shoulders, working her damp hair from its braid. Stuart twice checked his pocket watch. Vincent opened his mouth to protest an examination. He’d hear Kanin’s report instead. And had no one heard from Wren?

“Whether ... you ... like it ... or ... not,” Liz repeated. She trained her brown eye on him, squinted her blue one, arching her brows at the same time. It was a menacing look, and he had a vague memory of having once disregarded it. “What?” she challenged him. “You got some place you’d rather be?”

Some place other than an isolated chamber, with you digging in to the tender spots, swearing pain must be sought out and met with a brushfire of knuckles and fists and elbows? Two decades later, Father still harangued – and cringed – at any discussion of her experiment with postural release and structural integration. Rolfing, Father would sputter. Rolfing!

And indeed, another place ... But the time was not now. His sense of Catherine hummed with what he’d affirmed as occupation – tasked purpose, tenacity, insistence, independence. His sense of Flynn ... dark ... still ... yet somehow charged, a corridor strung for lights, but unswitched, and he recalled Martin saying, If I’ve a part, ‘tis in a later act. There was work to be done between now and then, and he could use some help wrapping, tying tight the bandage he needed ‘round his bruised – bruised! – ribs, that he might do his part. He sighed, and the heaving hurt.

“Better mind Mom,”  Ephraim suggested.

Click HERE for Chapter 72


1. David Whyte. In the Beginning. Fire in the Earth. 1999.
2. Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass.
3. Fáilte. Céad míle fáilte. Irish Gaelic: Welcome. A hundred thousand welcomes.
4. Uinseann. Irish Gaelic: Vincent (pronounced INN-shunn).
5. Mo pháisti, m'aingil. Irish Gaelic: My Children, my angels.
6. Aura color meanings:
7. Emily Dickinson. Denial.
8. An alternative paraphrasing of a line in David Whyte's Tobar Phadraic.
9. Edgar Fawcett. The Hummingbird. 1897.
10. Rainer Maria Rilke. A Light Too Bright To Bear, or the Patience of Mountain Trees.
11. John O'Donohue. The Eyes of Jesus. To Bless the Space Between Us.
12. Robert Frost. BirchesMountain Interval. 1916.
13. The Eyes of Jesus, op. cit.
14. William Butler Yeats. Vacillation.
15. Diaogue: Ashes, Ashes. Season 2


Mamacrow said...

Dear Carole - I would toast you with Green Spot, for your lovey writing if I could afford it. That stuff is very dear...SOI will toast you with some of my favorite moments:

~Vincent’s family below, even the helpers above, had, after all, studied her, had gauged her worthiness, her ... rightness. She’d been the one granted acceptance. - I wish I had said it! It is so true! I am knocking myself in the head for the genius, (and also wishing I had a V8.)

~ Uinseann.4 Mo pháistí, m’aingil. The Gaelic is such a wonderful, and integral addition to your story. Along with all the other surrounding details, it makes the story alive and real for us.

~Not Catherine’s pain. Sunlight be damned if it were. - You KNOW I love this. :)

... a flash in the pitch, the burnt odor of fear and excitement, the bright, bleak exposure of a man's face in profile, just turned, turning toward his call ... - what an amazing image and conjunction you make with the old and new, the magical world and the less magical one. I am, of course, waiting with crazy amounts of anticipation for when Flynn and Vincent do meet in the story, but what a thrilling foreshadowing.

Better mind Mom - Truer words were never spoken.

And of course everything in between. Another winning chapter. :) Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Oh SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE!!! Vincent has connected with Flynn!!! And just in time, it would seem. The poor man is suffering horribly and needs an understanding companion on the barren plains of self-discovery. Vincent certainly knows that desert, and he has only to show Flynn his face to prove the phrase, "I KNOW your pain."

And how much do I love Liz -- "I SAW that . . . I HEARD that!" No, you can't get anything past "Mom," can you?

More please!!

Best regards, Lindariel

Carole W said...

I think we should make a Green Spot promise - to have a nip of it together one of these days. :-)

You know - I know you know - that mentioning the lines you liked makes me very happy. So encouraging. Thank you for doing that and, of course, always, for reading.

I'm anxious for Vincent to finally speak with Flynn too. Sandy asked me "WHEN?" and I did promise her soon. If all goes well this week up in the office ... :-D


Carole W said...

Lindariel, you are always, always, always, good for my spirits. Thank you for the squee! You made my day!

The doors are flying open between V, F, E, and C. I know - it's about time!! Flynn is suffering and he has a truth to tell that Vincent will surely elicit. We will see - hopefully very soon now (at least, compared).

Aw! Thank you for liking Liz! That makes me very happy, reading that. I want her to be real enough to care about. You made my day again!


RedNightBird said...

"In a land without blessing, no beauty could dwell."

OK...I am dense....this could be so many places. Just about now I'm ready to succumb to a good Rolfing.....for mind and body.

Jut stopped in to thank you for giving me a place to lose myself, fall into the words and let the Carole-current propel me below the streets.

As always,
Your simple friend....

NYC Utopia said...

Surprising, amazing.

(why haven't I figured out how to get notified of new chapters? it's unlike me)

NYC Utopia said...

One facet of your tour-de-force: you've hardly let us directly meet Flynn at all, so far, and yet you're making us feel for him -- so much.

RomanticOne said...

Wow. I could use a nip of Green Spot about now. I was reading "full tilt" when I ran smack into that unwelcome wall - to be continued... That's what I get for letting the real world take me away from this one for so long. Can't tell you how easy it was to slip right back. Here's hoping your muse is dancing around you sprinkling fairy dust. :)

Carole W said...

R1 - I am SO GLAD to hear from you. We need to catch up.

Thank you for coming back to this story and reading again. It means a lot to me that you have. You know I wish there were no more 'to be continueds', that I wish I were faster (and I've been banging my head on my desk for a few weeks, tweaking and retweaking the next chapter), but ... I won't give up until it actually is done. Your kind words are so treasured.

More soon!

Carole W said...

Claire - I'm really glad you feel this way about Flynn. I realize he's had very few face to face scenes. That's all about to change! :-)

Anonymous said...

Dropping in once again during my re-re-re-I've-lost-count-reading and had to bring THIS beautiful gem forward:

"A single being, made of possibility and light, cleaved to separate selves, scattered across the earth and time, instinctively searching the path home, the reunion both a surprise and not. Miraculous and inevitable, an astonishment and a recognition. An essentiality. Not something there had never been, but something that once was and would be again."


Yes! They -- all of them -- have always been. Anam cara, braithre, eternal sisters. Split them apart, and the gravity of the Universe will always bring them back together no matter the miles or the depth of the chasm or the Dark Night of the Soul.

Love, Lindariel