Iron Behind the Velvet - Chapter 76

~ The Flowering of Everything1

After nearly two hours at Eimear’s desk and telephone and a second gainless walk to Wren’s dark, still office, Catherine rested her elbows on the arms of the barrel-backed chair and laced her fingers, thumb tight over thumb. She’d done what she could. Now almost without task, how much longer might she linger before she’d have to pack up and leave and return without all Eimear worried for.
Not only Eimear, she amended.

I’ll walk you down to Zivah, Helen in Reception had offered. Let me get somebody to cover the phone. In the office across the broad foyer, behind the tall double doors left just ajar, a quiet conference ensued. First on the docket, I thought. Nine o’clock, wasn’t it? Catherine overheard, then No, nothing yet.
After showing her in with a sweeping gesture from the doorway, bidding the welcome Eimear’s alerting call had her advance, Zivah had checked her watch and cast a knotted, if quickly unraveled look down the hall toward the office around a corner, two suites away. Her offer of coffee or tea or a cold Dr. Brown’s Cel-Rey soda came with an easy smile, the strange last with a twinkle of levity, but Catherine knew …

Helen and Zivah, no doubt the facility’s entire staff, worried – for Wren, but more, for Edward’s best future.  

Surely Stuart.  

They’d packed a girls-lunch of talking into the morning’s twenty minute climb to the upper tunnels and their parting point, Wren and Eimear and she … even some blessedly carefree laughter. Stuart was her rock, Wren had said, pun entirely intended, going on with the story of their first encounter by the pond in the botanical garden, of the stony miniature landscapes he created there that prompted their first conversation. Then she’d sobered. Her keystone, she’d murmured. Her believer. Catherine imagined Stuart nodding Wren away, above, to the work that had chosen her. So like Vincent …

Stuart worried.

As must Liz …

Liz, whose reputation for meeting challenge head-on was balanced with such a gathering nature - her wide-open arms closing around you, a fierce clasp to her heart. Loved One. Ten minutes in her presence made it plain. Once embracing, she would not let go. 

Liz … Liz waited for news. 

And Vincent … 

A look, no more than a flare of exchange, had passed Wren to Vincent, Vincent to Wren. Earlier … days, perhaps hours … sometime before … they’d spoken, shared … something private, something sweet, she remembered noting at the time. Something important. You have a child to save, he’d said to her. I have no doubt. Fortifying her, reminding her. A priori; ex ante. Ex animo.2 And Wren declaring, I’ll do what it takes – about Edward, yes, but more … about everything. 

She reached for the receiver, almost certain of the number for the Family Court Clerk’s office, the receptionist there a friend of Rita’s. Juvenile custody orders a matter of public record – hardly a favor to ask for a check of the day’s rulings. A telephone call could ease so many. 

Or prepare them, a chilly insinuation rasped. 

Don’t even think it, Vincent interjected, the sense of him warming away the nip of foreboding. Dum spiro spero. While I breathe, I hope.

How often must he so counsel her? She pulled back her hand, relaced her fingers, drew in that hopeful breath. Wasn’t it Wren’s report to make? Wren’s celebratory announcement?

Besides, she had no professional involvement in Edward’s case, no need to know. She was new here, new to Eimear’s circle, likely unspoken of before … could it be … last week. To go to Zivah or Helen with a ferreted outcome, victory or … setback, would call into too-curious question the connection between Eimear, Wren, her. She’d wait.

Catherine glanced down at the list she’d been given. It lay unfolded on the desktop, each item ticked off, some with annotations directing Eimear on to a second page of details and commentary. Successful … helpful, she hoped, if a bit presumptuous. Not busy work, she understood – and had at its handing-over – but busying work. She’d been grateful for it, for after each Goodbye, and thanks! and the penning of her summary notes, before the next lead-in and explanation, in the pause between dialings, her own worry had risen from a crouch in its forced corner. 

She saw Flynn, lame and self-conscious, mounting the stairs so armored, so familiarly turned away from love. And Eimear’s tearless face as she but watched, as she allowed his struggle, defended his aloneness as she braved her own. 

She heard Joe’s voice again … in it a heaviness, a blue gloom. Yeah, of course, he’d said when she called him from Martin’s study. Take the day. No, he wasn’t going to Rochester, so No, he wouldn’t be telling Rosie anything. Look, he’d begged her, staying her almost-voiced Why? There’s … stuff … going on. Call me back, will ya? Noon, maybe? Or … whenever.” 

A part of her was thankful she’d arrived before Wren, anxious at the thought of meeting her in the hallway with others about, for any stammered greeting, any flummoxed demeanor. Do I let on we know each other? Catherine imagined Wren considering. She was practiced – mask, veil, becloud, cloak. Keep the secret. But Wren, distracted today if not distraught, taken by surprise at her presence at Howland House, with less experience covering up … 

Be ready, Catherine coached herself, to lead. As Helpers met above ... her friends ... her family ... had early on led her.  

And in those unfilled moments … Vincent.

His responsibilities defined him, gave him vision and purpose, and he was radiant with them. But the message from Mouse – Stupid, stupid flap gate – and the misgiving – part ache, part airlessness – its casual relaying caused her aside, she’d left him clearly occupied and more than vaguely burdened. Old words, old memories. Old relationships, the depths of which she only intuited; their renewal, the necessariness, she was nevertheless sure of. New thresholds, thresholds of want and possibility, and with their crossing, new privilege … new responsibility … The inevitable new boundaries … The something left behind.

We have the courage, she whispered, brushing her thoughts against the pulse beneath his distant ear. We all do. And she would prove hers with industry and tenacity, by keeping her own worries and what-ifs corralled and tamed. By trusting the millstones of justice and their exceedingly fine grind, resisting the discovery of dire meaning in the latening hour. By believing a river widened between twin flames, its waters bleak-gray and white-capped, would soon narrow downstream. By refusing, utterly refusing, to consider the hazards of a failed flap gate or any ramifications below, that a stirred memory might front a shame storm, to imagine only moving into Vincent’s embrace, into their exquisite future. 

Catherine unwound the string closure of a green kraft-paper envelope Eimear’s assistant had found for her, whether she needed some kind of catch-all Zivah’s only question beyond the offer of refreshment. From the adjoining office had come the rumbly squeak of a file drawer opening and closing while she rustled one up. Hardly a minute passing between the offer and the delivery, Zivah excusing herself then to a commitment in another wing of the building ... The unexpected privacy had proved a blessing.

The list and the notes from her calls fit snuggly in with Eimear’s appointment book and the requested documents and files: The proofs of the fundraising campaign brochure – the scheduled printing on hold now; she’d called Dix in time to stop the presses, though he promised he wouldn’t have charged the school had the alert come too late. They do good work for those kids there, Dix affirmed, quietly, somberly adding, and we can’t take them all.  

The library, gym, cafeteria, and classroom wish-lists from which she’d copied a few particular items she determined the school should receive long before the winter giving campaign began. 

A dog-eared skateboard catalog – SHUT – equipment available from a city shop, she’d noted. On Orchard Street, the Lower East Side. 

Billy had been home when she rang expecting to leave a message on his machine – as she had on Sebastien's. Just back from our appointment at Peter’s, he’d told her rather breathlessly. We saw the baby! Brooke too; she was shadowing Peter’s midwife today. Peter got a call, had to leave right after the sonogram. She heard a cabinet door creak, the clunk of old plumbing, water rush from the tap. Of course, he remembered meeting Eimear in Foley Square the day before. It was just yesterday, Catherine. Billy's laughter screened her speechlessness. Yesterday? Yesterday? She heard a skrrooonnnk, a plop-plop. A metal ice tray, the making of a cool drink. Grandpa took a real shine to her, Billy said, having taken a polite swallow. Already working up some new tricks for his show at her school. You’re friends? he’d asked after a pause. More than that, she’d answered, and he’d immediately understood. Cool. 
Eimear’s had something come up, a family situation, she told him. I’m helping out, going on to explain the scope of the skate park project as best she could, the newly handed-down stipulations. Think of the forced delay as a positive, Billy recommended. More time to work on the final plan. I’ll need to know the boundaries, he went on. If they’re hard and fast or if there’s wiggle room on the layout. The specific security they’re gonna need. Permits, codes, set-backs – I’ll get the Bronx book – but we’ll have to discuss the level of challenge. There’s a balance between safety and creative risk. Kids gotta jump, slip the surly bonds, feel the wind. All that. And Catherine remembered the expression on Vincent’s face that midnight when he played the skateboard back and forth with one foot right before he pushed off. 

When she asked his opinion, concerned about the price-per-skate board times who-knew-how-many eager children, Billy approved both the quality of the gear and the owners of SHUT.  Let me talk to them, he’d offered. They’re good people. Pretty much all of them know what it’s like. She didn’t need to ask him to define ‘it’.

She’d paged through Eimear’s calendar, noted the open blocks of time in her week ahead. If … circumstances … wouldn’t allow Eimear’s swift return, she’d take off work and meet him herself, Catherine silently vowed, introduce him to Rivah, to the school’s director, recommend Billy’s expertise, vouch for his reliability. Make an earmarked contribution to Howland House to pay for his services.

Tell Eimear no charge, Billy volunteered. But fundraising’s got rules. If she insists on paying me, I’ll just donate it back. 

It’s important. When– she began, her words choked off by the sudden stricture of her throat, the sparkle of tears. 

I’m free as a bird till early August, Billy said, and designing a skate park for kids – for these particular kids – is a project I can really get behind. Let’s do it.

All she needed now were the close-up photographs of the school’s dry stone, front grounds-enclosing wall a counted-on benefactor now wanted extended, replicated – fence for the skate park. Donation contingent on … 

Monkey wrench, Mouse would classify it. Late-thrown, Father might well add. The worst. Catherine could well imagine Eimear’s frustration. She’d been involved with the project barely an hour and felt her own blood simmering. 

Take the Polaroid, Eimear had directed. Get six or seven shots. I’ll need to locate one of those architectural salvage places, canvass a few contractors. Not that I’ll ever find rocks like that, or anyone who can build to match.

That was before, of course. Before she’d seen Below.

If Eimear still fretted over the Gundersons’ caveat for giving, then the consultation arranged with Dominic and Aniela should put her worries to rest. The rocks, what? Dominic had questioned, and she'd recognized the crumple of paper as he no doubt flipped to a blank yellow page of the legal pad he commonly carried, the readying click-click-click of a retractable pen. Schist? Gneiss? Inwood? Marble or granite? he clarified when she couldn’t answer. Rubble fieldstone or Ashlar? Round-like, buncha different shapes and sizes? Or quarries … you know, flat cuts, like they was chiseled? 

Got one! Finally! She chuckled to herself as she described the wall. But Dominic pressed on. Capstones or coping? Mortared or chinked? Boulder wall or a double with through stones?
She chuckled again, but behind her drawn-out Ummmm crowded a nudge of uncertainty. Was it too much? 

Never mind. Any which way, it’s right up our alley, Dominic had assured her. Kanin’s, particularly. Fella’s an artist. Plus it’ll count toward his community service, we run his hours for free. Gotta tell her ‘bout da parole, yeah. Gotta finish all dat business down ‘nere before we can start. But the rocks? Figurati!3

Turning to Eimear’s calendar for the month of May, she followed up. I can tell her ‘pretty soon’ then, don’t you think? A scheduling query, but more – the hope of a cleared desk, a return to life together. A new day’s dawning. Freedom to explore. I’m hopin’, yeah. Dom had answered heartily enough, but, in a retrospect she briskly shook off, he’d hesitated perhaps a beat too long.

Gunderson … Catherine dragged the contents of the envelope out, fanning the pages, sorted through for the brochure galleys, for the donor biographies. Jan and Frida Gunderson. The names were familiar. Friends of Dad’s? Clients maybe? Did I meet them at some wine-and-dine with Tom? Not for the first time, his memory prompted a crawly shiver, as if a cold fizzle of rain dripped down her collar. But now and then, she granted, drumming her fingers on the desk pad, an acquaintance acquired during those days rounded a pleasant corner. The names – and two question marks – added to the list she’d devised for herself, she penned a reminder to call her own investment manager.  After a moment, she drew a square on the page, bottom-right, went over the outline once, twice, a dark indent. Realtor, she printed inside the box, the name Martin had given her unrecalled, but under that, Cardinal Cooke Building, 1st Street, 19th floor.

Sunshine slanted through the panes of the arched window; the room brightened with the leading edge of afternoon light. She should get sharp photos of the schoolyard wall, its design and detail. Take your time; wait on for Wren, Eimear would surely urge. She scanned the bookshelf wall. Middle section, top – the Polaroid camera was right where Eimear said it would be, behind it, distinct in rainbow packaging, a few boxes of the special film. But the next shelf down … Clipped to bundles with clothespins, the square, white-bordered photographs propped against a grouping of blue canvas notebooks … 

Keepsakes from our outing to the ball park, Catherine recognized, pushing from her chair.

Rosie had carried the camera that day, though right away she’d passed it over to the clamoring children, and throughout the afternoon, like magic, one after another, she’d produced at least a dozen silver foil-wrapped packages of film from her bag before even a shade of disappointment registered on the next photographer’s face. The results were magic, too. Catherine bent close for the first packet, sifted slowly through it and the next, studying every picture, remembering the day, wishing Vincent might see and know these faces, this joy.  But he can,  she reminded herself.  Eimear will gather these snapshots, share them, tell the stories. Invite him as fully in to her world as possible. Her heart gladdened. And then … 

The third sheaf, the last photo … Rosie and Joe with hotdogs in red-striped cardboard trays, Edward between them, wearing his new Mets cap, waving his new Mets flag …

There’d been a moment, just before the photo was snapped …

Engaged in a sweet debate, Rosie and Joe meandered the concession concourse with their assigned troupe of young charges. Which is best? Grilled or steamed, grilled or steamed? Rosie asked Edward to break the tie between them, which he did without hesitation. At his vote, Rosie high-fived the grinning boy. Joe had taken the first finished order from the chosen vendor, handed it to Rosie. Dragged through the garden, as she’d requested – a Nathan’s foot-long, seared and marked and a deep reddish-brown from the sizzling grate, richly squiggled with a yellow mustard, loaded with brined peppers and sweet pickle relish and a wintry mound of diced bright white onions, that last condiment one Catherine knew Joe favored himself. But … Hold one of the onions, he’d told the man behind the counter cloaking the row of franks with a beefy chili and, Catherine thought, an unusually orange cheese sauce. Hold two, Edward had chimed in with a tap on the glass. Joe looked down at the boy just pressing into his side, and spontaneously, simultaneously, equally-smitten, she determined from their matching, ruddying cheeks, equally astounded, they’d each turned their gazes to Rosie. Having been offered the camera, Catherine brought the Polaroid up. Smile, she’d commanded when they left the counter, but they’d needed no prompting.

There was something … luminous … about the photograph, she saw now, something beyond the ear-to-ear exuberance, the blush of mid-day, mid-week freedom. Behind the three of them, smoke from the charry grill clouded away the real world backdrop of steel girders and concrete blocks, milling, chattering strangers. Rosie, Joe, and Edward seemed to step through the billow from another place and time, connected, bonded, as one. Family. A glimpse of a possible future. If she hadn’t captured the image herself, she might have seen Kristopher’s hand in its making.

Catherine shook her head, wistfully, fondly, reclipping, repositioning the photos, though with Rosie and Joe and Edward’s foremost. Eimear’s sister, Vincent’s little girl in the park, someone she already trusted with the secret Rosie didn’t know she knew. The secret Rosie had championed all these years, used as her benchmark – How much can you accept?  And Joe, her ally, her friend. Another someone she wanted so to trust – with all that I am and will be – the barrier to that knowledge between them at long last dissolved. 

But it was all too new between Joe and Rosie; she shouldn’t plot or assume … or give her deep-heart wishes too much rein. After all, reality – no – hope insisted, Wren had found a fitting family for Edward with whom he would thrive, with whom he would soon leave this therapeutic school home for a room of his own, parents and siblings of his own, once this hearing settled the uncertainties, set aside the suit of the dubious petitioners. 

She looked at her watch, checked it against the ticking wooden mantle clock atop the filing cabinet. Family Court would have adjourned  for lunch and reconvened by now, the determination of Edward’s fate either made or postponed, the afternoon’s docket begun. Though she must, Wren had not passed by Eimear’s open office door. Where is she? Catherine cast another look at the clock. The sweep of the minute hand nudged the hour onward.  Eimear’s day, expectedly choppy, had turned thunderous. Had Wren’s? 

Catherine … Vincent’s warm assurance so close-seeming, she bent her head to his fancied shoulder, closed her eyes.

Faith. Faith and patience. Hadn’t Martin assuaged her, comforted her just so, seated opposite her at the table? Through faith and patience, he’d asserted, we inherit the Promises.4 Enter generously into your own unease, Catriona. Accept your longing as divine urgency.5 Journey to that place in your soul where there is love, warmth, feeling. Let it change you.6

Vincent … oh, Vincent. Even from his ephemeral presence she drew a burnished energy, a new candle lit from a guttering one. I have so much to tell you.

The camera’s counter showed nine exposures left. Enough, she determined, though she nevertheless reached for a spare package of film. The photographs she had yet to take would require time to dry before she could add them to the envelope; she could dash out, hurry back. But instead she checked her watch; instead she retook her seat, tapped the documents spread across the desk to an even sheaf, tucked them inside the envelope again … leaned back. Without impulse, the chair swiveled on its mahogany star base to a natural-seeming resting place, turning her to a musing view through the mullioned window. A sense of interim, of interlude, welled up. A sense of Eimear – regularly, repeatedly, needing more than a rest of her eyes, a look up and away from columns of dollar figures – the needed, the found, the perpetual imbalance. Needing release from the treadmill of urgency she stepped up on every day. Breathing space. Stillness. Solitude. A moment’s address of another world

Catherine nodded to no one. It’s my job today, the highest task for a bond between two people, Rilke said, to protect her solitude and Flynn’s.

Eimear might simply have called Zivah and the requested paperwork would have been gathered and messengered over. Zivah or Helen, concerned and industriously thoughtful, the both of them, might have delivered the documents in person – or David, who, not long after Catherine had settled down to work, had appeared in the office’s open doorway and introduced himself, who’d asked if Eimear needed anything, a casserole, perhaps, or milk for tea, or yard work done given Flynn would be laid up for a while. Word had traveled, between friends … but fast. Her presence – her assignment as the delegate – kept Eimear’s sympathetic co-workers at bay … for now.

And me from hovering too closely by. Martin, too.

Martin …

Tell him, Eimear had sanctioned. All that’s mine.

And all that’s mine, she’d decided in that same moment, though she realized now she’d held her breath as she mounted the wooden steps to the rectory’s back door.

He’d ushered her in, taken her bag and jacket from her, fussing only a moment with the peg and placement before he turned to her, offered her his unconcealed face. Martin’s true face, Vincent would later assert, his soul’s face. Not just a glimpse of one emotion, not even a chase of feelings fleet across his countenance, but everything at once. Wonder and familiarity, gladness and calm, a gracious patience and generosity that asked for nothing back. His championing, his concern. Delight … and terror. His gaze riveted hers as he pledged what felt like divine shelter. At the far end of the hallway, through the stained glass medallion set high under the apex of the arched roofline, jeweled rays of light streamed like joy, like surprise, like rivers of dreams. And what shone from his eyes was no less. A turbulence of the infinite,7 of the eternal, of the unknown, of the sure. Devotion. Love … and more than that. A father’s love, illimitable and constant. 

For Eimear and Flynn … yes, yes, always and foremost … their need was sweeping and immediate. This … What she must tell him … wasn’t about her, and yet … 

The longing she couldn’t deny staggered her into Martin’s opening arms. 

Mo pháistí, he named her. My child.

Tell him …

The deep lines framing  his settled frown had softened when Catherine relayed Eimear’s appeal. Ask Martin to come at supper time, to give us that long alone, the two of us. Eimear’s offered reasoning – He’ll have a full calendar and honoring my wishes will give him a way to fulfill his responsibilities and see to us without feeling quite so torn between his two … families – went wholly unsaid.

Ahhh. Is í an t-angeal í. Cailín a máthar, she is.” A tender smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Her mother’s darling,” he’d translated. “Like her, so like her. Many a day and too many nights, Francis was late coming home. Lily waited for him, sure. Or for someone to ring her up, or worse, knock on the door. But rather than sit, hands on knees in the front parlor, watching the clock tick on, she’d rally her girls, send them purposefully out. Carrots and neaps thinned, toy shelves gone through with an eye for the charity box. The copper pots scrubbed to gleaming, little nosegays snipped and ribboned and delivered to the homebound. She’d charge them, Lily would, from the front or back porch, leaning out over the railing. Skip along! I’d hear her sing.”

As if to urge the moment forward, the kettle shrilled. Martin took her elbow to guide her from the vestibule into the kitchen, snapped off the flame, pulled out a ladder-backed chair for her. A yellow crockery teapot rested on the counter, warmed with water he poured out before spooning in black tea and filling it again. Hinting of jam and spice, a rich malt and honey aroma steamed from the spout. He fitted on the felt-lined, aluminum cozy and carried the pot to the table, turning back to the counter for a black metal tray crowded with a toast rack and cream pitcher of shining silver, an apple-shaped glass jar of tawny preserves, three plates and three delicate cups and saucers adorned with green shamrocks. As below, a mix of the fine and the humble. With a fingertip she traced the rim of the tray, daubed and scrolled with gold. Tole-painted with cabbage roses and violets … a similar one – its center enameled with pears and figs and grapes instead of flowers – had leaned against the wall behind the heavy, white, red-rimmed china plates on the pantry shelf at her family’s cabin in Connecticut. 

Home. It felt like home.

Martin removed one place setting – Eimear’s – and after a quiet moment at the window, left it stacked beside the sink. “I’ve my orders, then,” he acknowledged. “You, too, I’m thinking.”

Tell him …

Later, she’d been loath to leave. Eimear so proximate, all flame and nerves and treading so carefully the camouflaging quiet of her home. And Martin, his hushed attention, his confirming touch when, halfway through her story, he pushed aside his cup of cold tea and took her hand, then both hands, holding on until the end.

Until the end with its promise of grace and beginning.

Click HERE for Chapter 77

1. David Whyte. Again. Fire in the Earth. Many Rivers Press. 1999.
2. Latin: a priori - in everyday speech, something known before the event. Ex ante: a forecast. Ex animo: from the heart. 
3.  Figurati: Italian, meaning, you don’t have to worry about it. It was/is a pleasure; I’m glad to be helpful.
4Hebrews 6:12
5. John O'Donohue. Blessing for Longing. To Bless the Space Between Us. 2008.
6. Ibid. Blessing for Friendship.
7. John O’Donahue. Ânam ćara. 1997.


Anonymous said...

Carole, this is a highly INTERNAL piece -- the most difficult kind of thing to write -- so I completely understand why this required so much thought and tweaking and reorganizing. The hard work definitely has paid off! You do such a wonderful job of taking us inside Catherine's thoughts and feelings while she's doing the necessary "busy-work" all the while wishing that she could DO and BE more to help her friends and loved ones. She's pulled in so many directions right now and trying so hard to do the right thing, to let people have the space they need even though it's KILLING her to do so. Sometimes the right thing to do is to step back, to recognize that you need to let others do their part, or to accept a loved ones wishes even when they go against your own desires.

Well done! I am definitely going to read this again, because I know there are deeper levels I have missed in my greedy, greedy rapid first read!

Can't wait for Chapter 77!

Regards, Lindariel

NYC Utopia said...

Thank you for the flashback to the party -- Rosie and Joe, Catherine's admonitions to herself calming or kindling our own wishful thinking? Both, I think!
Thank you for the last part with Martin, his true face (wonderful passage), the implied pouring out of secrets (secrets we know and need no more eavesdropping around) leaving only his response visible, as if we readers were birds on the windowsill.
Got to re-read earlier chapters to clarify bits of the "busy part".

Carole W said...

Oh, no! Lindariel, Claire ... I was sure I'd responded to your kind comments. Didn't they take? Did I only dream I'd answered? I'm so sorry to be late back to you.

Lindariel - thank you for finding your way inside Catherine's heart and mind. That is what I hope for - that you might feel her feelings and understand her motivations. You encourage me to keep going. How can I ever truly thank you enough?

Claire - I hope *kindling* our wishful thinking works, because one of these days, I have to write out the Joe and Rosie story that's burbling in my head.
Thank you too for filling in the narrative between Catherine and Martin. Snippets of it will come out in the future, particularly when Catherine is in Vincent's arms again.

Both you you - grateful hugs for still reading, even though it takes me most of forever to finish a chapter.