Iron Behind the Velvet - Chapter 78

~ Love Costs All We Are and Will Ever Be 1


I’m not going, she’d declared. I can’t.

The heels of her hands pressed hard to her temples, her fingers, raking through her upswept hair, jammed under the bun’s too-tight pins. The resulting snag of pain was, Mary told herself, only her due. 

How could I? How dare I even consider …

But Olivia … Olivia … standing there … had echoed her deadened pronouncements. I’m not going. I can’t.

I won’t, she’d meant, because she could. Olivia could choose; she could still choose.

Lucky girl. 

Olivia … with their baby warm and cooing in the fabric sling across her shoulder … Olivia, who could look down at Althea’s face, into her eyes, and see –  See! Not remember, not imagine! – the trust the miracle of birth bestowed, the matchless blessing of guardianship … 

Oliviastanding there, refusing … refusing the boon of partnership, refusing Kanin’s appeal to move their family North, his plea to try, not again, but anew, to go forward, because there was no going back. 

Olivia, oh, Olivia … Was she unaware? Blue beyond her will? Spoiling for a fight?

“Or just spoiled,” Mary muttered. “I won’t means something very, very different from I can’t.” She pulled her hands from her hair, toweled their dampness on the apron of her dress. The crabby speculation went against all the charitable tenets of her long-nursed mind-set, but for a moment she savored the abandonment of her habitual sway, the benefit of the doubt going unoffered, not hers to award, not her job, not her business.

But it was only a moment.

Olivia … she resumed, sympathies gathered up, clutched, clung to like a shield.

She took an off-balanced step toward her doorway. “Olivia?” Mary ventured. To her own ears, her call-out to the tunnels was too breathy and modest to turn even a just-departed visitor ‘round. Still, she listened for returning footsteps … but the corridor winding past her chamber funneled only the clangs and clatters from the lunchtime kitchen, the dull percussion that oddly underscored the elementary teaching rooms regardless of subject. Gone, then. How long, she wasn’t sure. 

Oh, Olivia …

One evening months before Althea’s birth and with Luke in Catherine’s and Vincent’s care, the two sat sewing, she piecing the Storm At Sea crib quilt, Olivia opening the side seams of one of Kanin’s shirts. The ‘Vs’ of plaid flannel she'd add to the corduroy garment would accommodate her growing baby. They’d worked in companionable silence and through nearly two pots of Darjeeling, until Olivia gasped. A needle stick, Mary had thought then, but no … Olivia broke into tears, racking sobs muffled only by the work-worn-soft fabric pressed to her cheek. Across the table and over tea gone cold, Olivia disclosed what she’d said to Kanin instead of goodbye. Come back to me. 

Come back to me. Not a plea, but a promise … of her forgiveness, of their future, the path to it cleared.

Cry it out, just cry it out, she’d encouraged, as if such were possible, but, indeed, it was the last time she witnessed Olivia’s tears. Yet, today, after all the months of their separation, after all the subsequent bearing up, the eschewing of pity, the stoic focus on the finish line – their family, larger by one, reunited, surely stronger for all they’d endured – she’d balked. 

For better or worse. It was mostly decision, was it not, that the worst was over, that better had arrived? 

Olivia. Dear Olivia … Don’t wallow in the worst. Don’t squander the gift of a new beginning. Seize the day, the hour! Time, Mary could tell her, was not always on one’s side. Time would be, one day, the singularly wanted thing. Time, time turned back, turned back to that crucial moment of choice. Time, if only a moment more of it, with those who meant … who still mean … everything. Olivia, don’t waste it. Don’t … please, don’t …

I’m not going. I can’t. 

(Mistake) a small, small voice offered … like one heard at the Whispering Bridge, floating by, sourceless …

Oh, she understood.

(Mistake, mistake)

An apology more acknowledged than accepted – There’s a difference! Mary could evangelize – a stubborn cling to grievance, the childish need to strike back. This! This is how it feels!

She understood. Understood too well.

Wronged, yes. Angry, yes. 

Embarrassed … yes. 

After demanding the whole truth, after asserting You can tell me anything; you must afraid … afraid there would be, after all, more than the one lie … Yes.

Because every breath had to be pulled in over sharded glass, because there was no alternative but to breathe on, because at every turn, life – life with, life without him – seemed impossible … Frantic, yes, yes.

And confused. Confused, yes, oh yes, YES …

Because, despite everything, still … there was love.

Mary’s gaze veered to the bureau mirror where a visage she no longer anticipated materialized: her old self, at least the glinting notion of it, decades-tempered, not her adopted mouse-brown self – no, rosier, livelier, like a hand-tinted photograph, creased but kept … 

Kept … like something tucked away.

Locked away. Wanting freed. Wanting recognition.

Her reflected flush deepened; her mirrored eyes sparked, and, despite her efforts over the years to starve it, in the wavery glass and clouded silver mercury Pride gained texture and substance … gained influence. It folded its arms, jutted its chin, its voice stale but still stout. 

Olivia had … has … a right to be angry. YOU had a right–

“Righteousness comes with a price!” she hissed back, the interruption lusty enough to sputter one of the candles aflame on her dresser. A splat of hot wax landed on the lid of the tramp art box that safed her guarded history, on the very spot she thumbed in hushed memoriam every day, twice a day, at morning’s leaving, at evening’s return.

The image flickered at her vehemence and a shopworn spirit – fading in, fading out – clucked a routine reminder: Any passerby might hear. Shhhhh …

Back … and stronger, puffed up … her haughty likeness snorted, leaned forward. Hear what? Hear you talking to yourself? So what if they do? 

She wouldn’t be the first below to carry on both sides of a conversation in the privacy of lodgings. When she’d first arrived, broken into more pieces than she believed survivable, a caterwauling had echoed off the bare walls of her first assigned chamber. Months passed before she quieted enough … coalesced enough … to leave the deepest and most sequestered of her lived-in rooms and move closer to the community center, before she trusted herself to take part. Months more before she’d mended enough to move to its heart, to this chamber, into service.  

Her reflected counterpart – Larger than life, Mary had the fleeting thought, taller and squarer of shoulder than she ever remembered being looked straight at her and scowled. She stared back, giving glare for glare until compelled to look away, look down.

(Mistake, mistake, mistake.)

The flowers woven into the rug beneath her feet blurred, and she blinked and blinked until they sharpened into merely paled, merely aged and worn. A threadbare spot just beyond the round brown toe of her boot showed the cold stone floor. She inched her foot forward to cover it, to disguise it …

Go to her. Go to Olivia.

Ahhh, there it was. Her duteous voice. Attentive. Well-mannered. Well-trained. She drew and released a long breath. Surely, if she dared another look now, the mirror would supply a more ordinary vision. Homespun Mary. Durable Mary. Dependable Mary.

But she didn’t look. She couldn’t. Pride goeth before a fall, she’d heard all her childhood, heard now. And it certainly had. The carpet of flowers blurred again.

When she didn’t immediately obey, didn’t collect her signature shawl, her basket of teas and sympathies, didn’t charge out with selfless purpose into the tunnels, the soft voice nudged on, patient and persistent. Practiced. Petulance … stubborn petulance … is an indulgence. You’ve come to believe that, at least that. Go to her. Go to her. Share what you know, what you so grievously learned. Tell her she has a choice. To stay, stay and fight, fight side by side for what truly matters or, instead, to punish. Show her what choice looks like.

What choice looks like! Another glance in the mirror wasn’t necessary; indeed, she covered her face with her hands, fending off any confrontation with Remorseful Mary, Mournful Mary … whose aloneness reflected the outcome of her decision. 

Go to her. 

You should, she chided herself. You should, you should, you should. Make sure Olivia had counted the costs, listed, tallied, weighed and measured the exchange … because some choices, once made, could not be unmade. Some choices set the worst into unstoppable, unerasable motion. Some choices would be written in ink – lifelong, indelible, and like hers … blood dark.

But still she stood unmoving. A chill snaked into the chamber, swirled her ankles, settled across the nape of her neck.

“Why? Why me?” she petitioned, her shoulders hunched, her hands pressed one atop the other over her heart. There was no guarantee Olivia would listen, Mary argued. She wouldn’t have herself, not then, not mired in the thick of things … had anyone offered guidance or encouragement, had anyone offered anything other than two cents worth of I-told-you-so.

Because, because, because, the voice shot back. Because you know. And hadn’t she chosen give as her avocation? Taken the poverty she’d been left with and made it over into a vow

“Why … oh … why me,” she faltered.

Because this is who you are now. Who you’ve become. 

The Penitent. The Atoner. Who had yet miles to go to reach even the edge of Absolution.

Mary dragged a sluggish foot forward, wrenched the other from what seemed a bog. A slough of despond! The reasons of the badness of this ground, a place as cannot be mended! 2 A forced march to her chamber’s entryway, a stumble into the deserted corridor … 

“Olivia,” she whimpered into the emptiness …

And turned back to her own.


(Mistake, mistake, mistake.) 

The wine-red dress splayed on her bed was a blot on her patchwork quilt. Why, why had she saved it? Not Andrew’s favorite, no, not his favorite at all, that one … that one goneruined. This one … this one, with its silly round pearl buttons down the back, its loop closures, required his help to don. The one time she’d worn it, called him up the stairs to her aid, he’d teased her while he fastened, grumping waistline to neckline that the dress was work to put on, at the last brushing aside her hair, his lips on her skin just behind her ear, to whisper And a delight to take off. My love, my love.

Oh! she remembered. Oh! OH! A keening rose in her throat, sharp and sour and stinging. She staggered to the bed, barking her shin, her knee, her elbow, her shoulder on the obstacles in her path, the armless rocker sent clacking, a reading lamp wobbling … snatched up the dress by its skirt. What I once had, what I might have again? The very thought of Jacob’s suggestion bent her double over the wadded fabric, the pain acute, surgical. If only it could be cut out.

A date! How could I? How dare I … trivialize … what I had. What happened … 

What I did.

Mistake, mistake, mistake. Mistake. Mistake, mistake …

Louder now, untimid, close, so close, the word paled and stained, paled and stained, paled and stained like the final throbs of a flawed heart. As if she didn’t understand, as if she didn’t live with mistake as one might a lover.

She’d been greedy. So happy, she’d become … expectant, smug even, projecting a seamless existence. Sure she knew what love meant, how love felt, what love could endure. But at love’s first test, when at a crossroads of choice: 

Stay and fight for all that mattered … or …

Or else. And this … She looked wildly about the prim room, a solitary’s room. This is ‘else’.

She’d spent long nights alone, utterly and sorely alone, as a result of her wrongness. And would … Her mistake – mistake, mistake, mistake, mistake – had cost her everything. Her debt was for life; she would go on paying. She would pay forever.

Punish, she’d opted for. 

Punish everyone, it turned out. Herself the longest, but in truth, herself least, least of all. 

The worst pang that sorrow ever bore.3

Mary sank to the edge of the mattress, the dress balled in her lap, her head bowed over it, wishing for and shying from the lingering perfume of memory … of lilacs in full bloom, a different color at every corner of her home, the windows thrown open to the sweet, sweet scent of spring’s promise … too tired, too tired to pray for either forgiveness or strength or mission.

Sleep. Sleep was all she wanted. Sleep to shut off the berating voice she heard now. You, you, you. Shame, grief, guilt, self-pity, self-reproach Oh, but she could go listing on every despairing word that layered muck upon mire … and had, for years, for decades … in the dark of night, which was, down here, every moment of every day. 

Go to her, Duty repeated, but its call had dulled, like tarnish on silver’s shine. Easy to overlook in the gloom.

Too many candles, too much light. Snuff them, she instructed her shadow self, crawl back into bed, under the covers, the afternoon’s obligations be damned, the week’s! William could make the spinach pies without her pastry expertise; Sarah could tutor the beginners' tailoring class. Or Rebecca, with her showier, freer style, could take a break from the chandlery. The young students wouldn’t call her a fuddy-duddy. 

Olivia could make up her own mind, lead her own life. Only Olivia knows what is best for Olivia, she silently sputtered. Vincent would agree with that, she’d be willing to bet.

(Mistake, mistake) 

That nag of a voice again. A flagging, last-ditch gibe. At Olivia? At herself? She didn’t know. Didn’t care. Not caring was freeing.

One learns best, she countered as she rose from the bed, from one’s mistakes. What was it they told the children, quoting from the greats? Mistakes are the portals of discovery.4 Our best successes often come after our greatest disappointments.5 Mistakes wake up the Phoenix bird in you so you rise from the ashes. 6

She shuffled to the first tall candelabra, blew out the stair-stepping candles, up one side, down another, flame after flame pinched to tendrils of smoke. Whirled and advanced on a second. Darkness congealed behind her. Yes, oh, yes. 

Please.

She reached out, her thumb and forefinger pinched in the air above the candles flanking her walnut mantle clock. Its tick-tick-tick-tick-tick was relentless, the ornate iron hands pointing, pointing, advancing. Sebastien – RichardSebas–, Rich– OH! – would arrive at her chamber’s doorway at seven o’clock, if not before, unless she stopped him. 

OW! She snatched her toasted fingers back from the flame, left it burning.

The dress bundled under one arm, she dragged open the bureau’s top drawer, fumbled her stationery box open, plucked from it a sheet of rose-pink paper … scratched out a note one-handed. Or tried to. The notepaper skidded and wrinkled under the nib of the pen, and when she weighted it with the heel of her palm, her awkward scrawl was wholly illegible. She had to sit down at the table, the dress bunched in her lap, and use both hands – hands that shook, she distantly registered – and still a second page, a third … yet a fourth … was required to get the wording right. One paragraph she fleshed out to two, the two discarded for an apologetic half-dozen she then scowled over – too padded, chockfull of loopholes. The last version – pared down to three sentences and her signature – she folded into an envelope. 

(Mistake, mistake, mistake) 

I’m not going tonight, she’d written. I can’t. Please, please don’t ask again. Mary. 

(Mistake)

The man could not – could not – be allowed to hope. 

(Mistake, mistake) 

She needed a courier for the message. The duty shift would be changing soon, the runners clocking in and out with Father in the library chamber. If she hurried, she could catch the messenger assigned to Sebastien’s … Richard’s … sector of the city. She wouldn’t have to call for one on the pipes, alert everybody and anybody to her business. Deliver this into his hands, she’d instruct the runner. Not in his mailbox, not under his door. Don’t wait for an answer. Absolutely do … not … wait.

And after she found a go-between for the letter, she grumbled half-aloud, half-chagrinned she’d been doing so all along, half-daring anyone in earshot to poke their nose in – I might just bite it off! –  she’d send the dress into the abyss. The dress and the crocheted bedspread it had hung beside all these years, she decided, yanking an embroidered pillowcase off the top shelf of her linen press, snapping it open, stuffing it full of watered claret-colored silk and – stumbling to her wardrobe, reaching blindly in – bride’s white cotton lace.

The pillowcase’s hem twisted to two ears, she was poised to tie the bag shut. “Lilacs!” she cried, noting the thread-work design on the wide cuff. “Lilacs! Oh, OH!”  The irony, the cruel irony of the coincidence. Of it all! Pillowcases came in pairs … and she was no part of a pair. She jerked the flowered match off the stack of linens, packed it in after the coverlet. 

Lilacs … The word left her lips bitter and dry. Later – when she could bear it – she’d go through all her bed linens and tablecloths, tea towels and doilies, purge anything decorated with a pink or purple panicle of flowers. “No more,” she vowed. No spray-flowered needlework, no dried or pressed florets, no scented blossoms in a vase. Any such gift from anyone, even a child, would be passed along to someone else, someone who could be cheered by petals real or rendered, someone above, someone far. And no walks in the park, solitary or otherwise, day or night, the entire month of May ever, ever, ever again. April either. Spring, altogether.

(Mistake)

She eased into the passageway, the letter to Sebastien sealed and in the patch pocket of her overskirt, the knotted pillowcase gripped hard. She might feel her knuckles going white, the letter burning through to her skin, but her expression, she believed, was composed but preoccupied, her step directioned, her air engaged and busy, too busy to stop and chatter away over triflings – she had somewhere to be and soon. At the last moment, she’d grabbed a lidded basket from the collection outside her entryway. It was empty, but no one would know, and, with something in each hand, those she passed in the corridor would be less likely to question what she carried. Thank goodness Mouse was away up North. Should they meet, the first words out of his mouth would surely be What’s in the bag? And how would she answer? How? 

The tunnel between her chamber and the dining hall was nearly deserted – a bit of luck. Kitchen service was ten minutes into the first seating; the primary classes, the laundry and chandlery and woodcraft workers just about to tuck in to their lunches. The water and steam pipe fitters, the electricians, would walk through next, trudging in from their inspection routes, but not for a good twenty minutes yet. The secondary students, she remembered, had a field trip planned for the afternoon, their box lunches already sent on to the way station nearest their destination. They’d have left the central tunnels already and would be skirting the abyss … probably … about … now. They’d be long gone before she arrived there. 

Still, she decided, she’d best take the first spiral to the upper level, then the hidden stairway to the high overlook. She wanted no company.

Now … if only Father will let me be … 

She needn’t have worried. Her sudden appearance in the chamber vestibule, the cast of her shadow on the tall statue across the room went unnoticed. Something was aflurry – half the drawers of the map chest hung uncharacteristically open; the glass doors of the rare book case stood ajar. On braced arms, Father leaned over the long library table which was covered end to end with brown-prints and sketches, the drawings’ corners weighted with the fat leather-bound journals the early dwellers below – the Pathfinders – had kept. He dragged one map left, one right, thumbed through a sheaf of diagrams to extract another, settled it between the two and overlapped the edges. His lips pursed, his brow knitted. He removed his glasses, put them on, yanked them off again, folded and tossed them to the table. Retrieved, inspected, polished, and donned them again. Leaned closer in.

His sighs were audible, coming one after another in such heaving succession she might have considered rushing over to take his pulse, to at least calm him with her presence, shoulder to shoulder, lean on me. But Father’s intensity was familiar, even necessary, part of his process, was it not? If something had arisen of community concern, some emergency, he’d have summoned the council and she’d not been sent for. Whatever this was … 

Let it be, she sang under her breath, the tune coming to her out of the blue, out of the past, out of Vincent’s chamber, out of his little tabletop jukebox, Liz at his bedside pushing the particular buttons for it over and over, night after night after night one long-ago, difficult summer. Let it be, let it be … 

Let it be … for a change.

The foyer’s blazing sconces cast warm spheres of light, leaving only a sliver of shadow between their circled reaches. She retreated into that thin cover. Her shoulder blades scraping the wall, Mary tipped back her head and closed her eyes. She’d arrived in time – In time! In time to put an end to this … this … mistake! – the couriers’ shift change obviously yet to occur. Three parcels, brown paper-wrapped and string-tied, were stacked waiting for pickup on the corner of Father’s desk – one of them a package Mary had addressed herself …

A gift, a repaired and altered, vintage ruffled and beaded blouse destined for Laura – far frillier than Laura tended to, but antique enough, no – vintage enough – to be cool, as Brooke put it. And becoming, quite becoming, Mary thought, befitting a special evening occasion up top, one Jerry had planned. A smile surprised her clamped lips. She bit down on it, bit it away.

… and the tin bucket labeled ‘outgoing’ must have been nearly full of envelopes, since a few cream and blue and pink corners showed above the rim. The accumulated missives and packages would be divvied up among the afternoon carriers, as would anything brought below by the morning detail, and delivered. She could, she supposed, slip into the room, sidle past the desk and drop her letter in with the others, then make a distracting to-do over Jacob’s obvious agitation, but … there remained the issue of instruction: Into Sebastien’s hands. Don’t wait for an answer. And privacy for its issuing. Though her request would be met with some degree of quizzical expression, she expected the quiet compliance Pascal had trained into his staff. Red-faced (which Jacob was, Mary noted, craning her neck to peer into the chamber), huffing and puffing or not, otherwise engrossed, Father possessed an eagle-eye – ask any of the children, ask Devin, ask Vincent – and would think nothing of grilling her. She could just hear him defending against any objection of hers: I only … inquired. After Mouse, he was simply the nosiest–

“Mary? Mary, is that you?” Father called, his voice thick and rough. 

She leaned out for another look. He’d dropped into his big chair and sat there, downcast, slumped, and small-seeming, kneading his temples with his fingertips.

“I–” he began without looking up. “Could you–” His voice came from a place too far away. “Could you … please–”

OH! He needed her. She pushed off the wall.

Mary leaning over Father, looking concerned
“Are you all right?” She hurried down the iron steps toward him, the empty basket and the overstuffed pillowcase clumping and chunking against the railings and her legs. Chair-side, she bent over him.

Father startled, but he settled back and met her gaze. His eyes were focused, if a little pinched at the corners, a little sad. The distress she read there wasn’t physical … not really, not entirely.  Not … medical.

Relief … of course … washed over her. She could … she could leave …

As soon as I take care of this mess I’ve got myself into.

“Yes,” he answered. “Yes. And no. I’m …” 

Offering but half a wistful smile, he gestured vaguely outward, beyond the strewn table, she divined. Into the maze and miles of tunnels? Into the future? The past? A cobbled path looped the two, a path hours of contemplation wouldn’t clear. Hadn’t cleared over all the years of their friendship … though the shortchange of openness and honesty precluded it, didn’t it? Hers, certainly. His, too … Devin’s parentage still a sore, sore surprise … to her, anyway. No less than the truth of Margaret, his life before, the invitation to call him Jacob now, instead of Father.

She let her gaze – and her interpretation – fall purposely short, lighting on the tea service laid out on the sideboard.

“Thirsty?” she dodged, skirting the suggestive signs Father tended to employ – Oh, he does enjoy being drawn out! – signs her customs of manner, her patterns, if not her nature, would otherwise fix on. Aiming for lighthearted and unaffected – by him or anything else . 

Acting as if. She’d witnessed Father’s own such philosophical counsel to a circle of youthful, upturned faces. Pretend to what is not, he’d instruct his students (Wise Skills, he called the character education class), to become, in truth, what one studies to be. 7

What she wanted right now was to be undetainable, unengaged.

No … came the small voice. Forgiven. Forgiven.

But there was no one left to offer forgiveness. No one with the right to. No one. 

She turned and moved away from Father’s side before the tears that welled in her eyes could spill over. Busy with the tea cups and tea leaves, her back to him, she could keep one ear attuned to the corridor traffic. The afternoon couriers were a notoriously boisterous bunch, dismissed from classes early, restless and excitable and ready to rove. Without rousing Jacob’s attention, she might bustle out after them once they gathered their parcels and letters, ride their wake, follow along through a few corridors, call out to whoever was assigned to the Hudson Street entrance before the messenger made the necessary turn south. 

What are you waiting for, she questioned herself. Why are you here? Why didn’t she just head out now, hole up at the last junction the mail carrier would have to pass through, ready to pounce? Why? Why

Father cleared his throat. His hand settled on her shoulder. “Mary?”

Dear Lord. How long had she stood rooted, bag and basket still in hand? He’d have had to make some noise of approach, if not the audible complaint his knee had recently taken up (A click and grind. Painful. Though they’d not yet addressed it, though he determinedly did not wince, Jacob’s tightened expression told her so) then the dull thump of his cane on the stone floor. Yet she’d heard nothing. She could imagine his next words. Is something troubling you, Mary? You’re off … where? To do what?

She feared she couldn’t think fast enough, clearly enough, to keep ahead of him, but deflecting words came of their own accord. “Your favorite mugs are missing,” she pointed out, setting the basket by the foot of the short flight of stairs, dropping the stuffed pillowcase in behind it as if it were nothing, easy enough to … to grab and go … as soon as the couriers arrived. Where are they? She glanced at the oversized clock on Jacob’s wall. If she didn’t get away soon, William would come looking for her and she’d be doubly trapped, expected to come along, pressured to explain when she couldn’t, to explain things she couldn’t–

Things you don’t want to explain.

She imagined the heat of his gaze on her back, but when she turned, she caught no dart of Jacob’s gaze. He seemed intent only on the teacups nested together in two rows in a wire basket.

two rows of old tea cups nested in an embroidered cloth in a wire basket“Yes,” he said, fussing with an edge of the embroidered, scalloped-edged cloth that cushioned the delicate porcelain. “Esa came ‘round with cleans from the washing up. Took the dirty dishes away to the scullery.” He sighed and looked over at her. “Any more, my fingers hardly fit these old fineries, Mary. I’m … knotty … and clumsy.”

He meant something by that last, she knew. Something he wanted her to pull from him, inch by inch, hand over hand, like a pail of pure water hauled up from a deep, dark well. 

Well … not now. Not now. Not me!  

She set the kettle on the brazier’s grate, fed the embers below it with twists of willow and sassafras branches and dried lakeside grasses. His basket of kindling and tinder was nearly empty, she noted, more put out, more riled up, more pettish over the shortage than was called for. 

Was it someone’s lack of attention to detail … or was it her own noticing? The ever and always noticing? She wasn’t sure. 

But the fact that Jacob hadn’t noticed her … her fog, the turmoil she shouldn’t be able to hide from a true friend, the burden she’d only physically laid down made her feel … 

(perversely, she recognized, because didn’t she want to be spared explaining? Didn’t she want a clean away?) 

made her feel …

… …  

… … …

Huffy.

As surreptitiously as possible, she blew out a long, guilty, nettled breath.

“Esa went so long with so little,” she managed afterward. “She is drawn to the pretty.” To you too, Jacob, an observation Mary didn’t and wouldn’t voice. Esa would not be the first to fancy love for the kindest (and sometimes the most bafflingly reserved) man she’d ever met, for her rescuer, her hero. 

Apples really don’t fall far from the tree, she mused, thinking suddenly of Vincent. 

Mary dislodged two cups from the stacked array, a flowered mint green, a translucent white trimmed with gold, both crazed with webs of dark lines, both gilt-worn … both Limoges. Upon inspection, she turned up the white and gold with its less-curlicued handle on the silver serving tray. “Esa’s still new here,” she went on, at the same time lifting the lid of the sugar bowl. Cubes enough for the afternoon, at least. “She’ll learn your schedule, your preferences, too, but you’ll need to tell her what those are. It’s worse to find out later you’ve been doing it all wrong and have all those … shortcomings … rear up and demand to be counted.”

“I don’t want her to think me critical.”

The kettle’s whistle interrupted, and Mary, with as sympathetic a smile and magnanimous a nod as she could muster, the retort - Then don’t be! - swallowed back (because sometimes … sometimes he was a bit … hard to please), tested, then doused the black Keemun leaves with the steaming water … swirled the pot. There was no cosy handy, knitted or quilted, to wrap the vessel, the need for which she’d mention to Esa … another day. 

She folded her arms to wait out the steeping, ticking off the requisite minutes in her mind. Her tapping foot summoned, summoned, summoned the late, late couriers. For all she knew, Sebas– … Richard … was out shopping for a new shirt and slacks, heaven forbid, a new suit. More comfortable than he let on, what with his retirement from the newspaper and the dribble of royalties his crossword puzzle books still generated, he wasn’t made of money.8 She couldn’t let him spend it on her … when there could be no her. And if he’d made a reservation at a sit-down restaurant, wouldn’t he need time to cancel it? Would they charge him anyway if they were … what did they call it up top … no-shows? Her foot tapped harder, jarring her heavy heart.  

Jacob scuffed back to his worktable. She heard the clearing shift of paper, the scrape of a chair’s legs along the floor. “You’ll have a cup with me, Mary,” he said.

Hardly a question at all, was it – her companionship. She set a second cup, the flowered one, on the tray.

“I’ve had some news,” Jacob began before she even took her seat. “Kanin … this morning, early …”

“Yes. I know. Olivia stopped in. She told me.”

“What do you think?”

“I think it’s … not our affair.” 

Having heard the snap in her voice, the staccato of her sentences, she’d endeavored to soften her tone, but, regardless, Jacob’s unsipped cup clattered back to the mahogany table, a ripple of milk-pale tea nearly spilling over the rim. 

“Not our affair! How can you say that? The trouble, the potential for trouble, affects us all!”

True, Kanin’s admission of long-hidden truths had sent shockwaves through the populace – suspicion, uncertainty. For a while, the pipes, the corridors, and dining tables were oddly quiet; the sideways glance seemed commonly cast. Their standard review process – recommendation, interview, Father’s ultimate intuition – had been proved imperfect. Who else hid what from whom?

Her cheeks flamed with heat. In the mirror behind Jacob’s chair, she could see her splotchy reflection. Who else, indeed.

But for others, for almost all others, (Not for myself, not for my undeserving self!) she’d argue the difference between privacy and secrets, between healing  –however long it took – and hiding.

“We have to let them work it out themselves. Whatever happens–”

“But … but …” He spluttered, leaning forward, his hands on his knees, rather imperiously, she thought. “They’re a part of us. I don’t understand you, Mary.”

“Olivia didn’t agree, Jacob. Who are we to–”

“Agree?” he interrupted. “To what? That this … this band … this throng … beyond our perimeter isn’t a threat? That this … MD … doesn’t operate with harmful intent?”

The drawings Jacob studied were detailed maps of the northern tunnels; she’d recognized them when she sat down.  He’d been looking for the best empty, family-sized chambers available to Kanin and Olivia, hadn’t he? Hadn’t he? 

“What are you talking about?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about Kanin’s idea, his invitation. For Olivia to move to the northern tunnels for a while, so they could be together instead of apart. He’s needed there. He wants to help, to regain his footing. Regain his family.”

“Oh! Oh, how I wish that were what I was talking about. Kanin went Across!” With his peculiar emphasis, Jacob gave the territory outside the perimeter an ominous proper name. “He met up with – infiltrated – the intruders! His report was nothing about … anyone … moving! Although it’s entirely possible everyone there will need to move here … and soon! I never approved of their … of their … their separateness, anyway.” He pursed his lips, glared in the direction of the troublesome territory. “No one is moving north,” he repeated.  

Heavy with breathy disturbance, a disquiet fell. Though it wasn’t the case in the northern community’s establishment or the reason for any subsequent migration there, on Jacob’s clamped and downturned lips she read the words disunion, disaffiliation, defection – three of his greatest fears going just unnamed. 

And in her own mind, a dark knelling. 

Throng. The scrabble of intruders overhead, like nocturnal animals in the attic looking for a way, any way, in. 

Threat. The rabid menace. The terrible consequences. 

MD. 

The malignant image of Mitch Denton coalesced just over Jacob’s shoulder, behind the vision of the banished man a resentful mob just short of inflamed, just short of surging. Dirty, hungry, angry, coarse, brutish– 

At what … thirteen, fourteen? … Mitch was already all of that when she arrived below, not so heartsick, not so self-destructive that she didn’t know to stay out of his way. He could smell blood; it … it spurred him. Since running away, he’d returned twice, albeit not allowed through either time. Might he try again?  

But no, reason told her. No. After what he’d done to Catherine, after Vincent’s fateful but final mercy … Mitch was long-gone. Forever gone.

MD. For a moment, I thought you might mean …”

“Yes, I feared the same. But no, MD is a woman, a leader … of sorts.”

“Surely, then, she–”

“Not so surely! Honestly, I’d almost rather the devil I know.” Jacob ran both hands through his hair. “ According to Kanin, her … colony … is disorganized. Benign, for the most part. If you dismiss his black eye, that is.” 

A black eye? A fight? An accident? Olivia would have noticed. Even angry she’d have been concerned, rattled. But in her chamber earlier, she’d been cool and calm, asking about the treasures in the tramp art box, about the little elephant lock. Somehow, Kanin’s bruising was dismissable. 

And something … Something more offered a complicated peace … even to her, even now. 

She pulled her hand out of the pocket where she’d rucked with the undelivered note. Kanin discovered who’s been making the incursions in the North–“

“Yes.”

“And he came to tell you how they were handling the situation, what refinements they were making to the original protection plan.”

“Yes, but–”

“If the circumstances were truly dire” she interjected, “Kanin wouldn’t have entertained the notion of moving his family there. Whatever Kanin told you – and I do want to hear it, Jacob. I do. Clearly, you’re … bothered. But tell me what he said, not what you’ve …” Oh, what is the kindest word I can use here? “Not what you’ve gathered.”

He couldn’t argue with her logic; she knew him well enough to believe her deduction was one he would make himself eventually. But other than to sniff, Jacob didn’t respond. Instead he pushed back from the table and hobbled over to the map chest, pulling out one of two drawers not already hanging open, muttering as he sorted through a sheaf of drawings. The blueprints he brought back to the table were marked with penciled stars, paper-clipped to them the recent inventory of unoccupied chambers in the central community. She’d inspected some of those rooms herself, made some of the notations as to size and amenities.

He pushed his tea cup aside, fished a pad of notepaper from under the accumulation of maps on the table and centered it in the emptied space, retook his seat, opened the leather ledger at his elbow, one she knew contained the census of all the tunnels  … adjusted his spectacles, reached for and uncapped his pen.

“Wait …” The skin at Jacob’s hairline suddenly glistened. With the intent of taking his pulse, she settled a touch on his arm, wrapping her fingers around his wrist.

But Jacob couldn’t wait. Wouldn’t. “I need to go there,” he announced, withdrawing from her grasp. He ran a forefinger down the labeled tabs, one for each particular geographic area below. At the North/Van Cortlandt divider, he stopped, flipped it over. 

She couldn’t imagine him making the fourteen mile walk. Not in one day, not in two. If it were a straight shot, a level plane, maybe. But it wasn’t. No frequency of rest stops would reduce the stress of the journey on his knee and hip. The terrain was difficult and he’d not traveled that far in years. Why, that night he’d had to hurry to the old entrance beneath the Beaumont … Vincent in such desperate need of him … the relatively short, relatively easy, four mile trek laid him low for weeks. Weeks! 

Well, more, the worry flattened him. More, the fury at those who’d held his son captive, tortured him, those he wanted to dispatch himself. More the grudge he held against Catherine for its happening, no matter what Vincent told him or what Jacob witnessed himself.

“Go there? Why?”

His brows arched high over his glasses. “There are decisions to make!” 

“They’re being made, don’t you imagine?”

“Well, yes. Vincent is there. He–”

“He’s listening, I guarantee it, not determining. The northern community has always taken care of the borders. We’ve had more invasions in the last two decades than they have.” A below-the-belt blow, she knew, but she was tired of pulling punches. “Besides, it’s too far for you to walk,” she went on. Another jab, truth-fueled, but she’d soften it later. She had to … disinvolve. The pipes relayed a message: Afternoon couriers. On our way. 

“Too far to walk, hmmm. Well, then, I’ll take the subway.”

“It’s still a ways to walk, Jacob. The 4 only goes so far, and it’s like the Zion Canyon from there.”

“Then I’ll have someone drive me straight to Dix and Brenda’s print shop. The way down from that entrance isn’t so steep – it’s a supply route, after all, longer but less of a decline, less rubbled. Catherine, perhaps, could drive me. Or Sebastien. Yes, yes. Sebastien. When he comes for you tonight, tell him I need to see him.”

The messenger team shouldered through the archway, homing in on the full bins, falling in to load letters and packages into backpacks and duffles. Geoffrey picked up Laura’s package and inspected the label. “I’ve got the southwest today,” he announced, holding the box aloft. “Who’s Lower East Side?”

Geoffrey, then. Good. Some luck at last. He was a favorite of hers and one of the more empathetic youngsters below. She could ask him to leave the note in Sebastien’s hands, that he not wait for a reply, and receive not much more than a quick nod in response.    

“I’m not going … on a date,” she choked out, reaching in her pocket for the envelope. For some reason, she couldn’t rise from her chair.

“Whatever you need to call it, Mary. Just have Sebastien stop by on your way out. Up. Please,” he seemed to remember to add, his attention fixed on the census list.

“I’m not going … … … period.”

Jacob looked up then, peering at her over the rims of his spectacles. “Why?” He ducked his head, trying to intercept her shifting gaze. 

Now? Now he insists on seeing me?

“Why, Mary?” he persisted.

Jacob’s last question was compassionately uttered, and if they’d been alone in the study, she might have leaned on his shoulder, let herself cry it out. But they weren’t, and she didn’t want to cry it out, for then … then, she’d be left with nothing. Then she’d be done hiding, be free and in the world

Then why are you hell-bent for the Abyss? With your dinner dancing dress and your bedspread and your memories of lilacs stuffed in a pillow case? Why, Mary? Why, why?

“Mary? Dear Mary.” Now his hand was on her arm.

“He’s … a bit old for me, don’t you think?” More deflecting. Low-down, mean-spirited, purposed. 

“Too old!” He sat back and folded his hands. “But … Richard is my age … or nearabouts!”

“How old do you think I am, Jacob?” The month and day they celebrated below were true, but she’d never been asked her birth year, never volunteered it. Why should she? Jacob was in his sixties, well into them; Richard approaching the edge of the next decade. Her dress, her hair, her colorlessness, aged her out of possibility, she knew, but she’d been only twenty-eight years old when she came below, only fifty this past year. Still young, she’d typify anyone else.

Unpracticed as he was with women, still, Jacob closed his mouth on a reply. On any other day, she might have laughed.

She dragged the letter from her pocket.

Mistake. Mistake.

Managed to stand.

Mistake.

Geoffrey laughed and held a baby aloft. Althea. Althea drooling and cooing and not crying. A rush-brown Moses basket was wedged between the arms of Jacob’s desk chair, Mary saw now, the distinctive fabric of Olivia’s baby sling draped over the finial. Asleep this whole time? Quiet? Content? 

And Olivia? She’d dropped off her child with Jacob and gone where?

“Should I deliver her to her mother? I don’t see any stamps.” Geoffrey grinned at Father over his shoulder.

“Ha, ha,” Jacob replied, moving up behind her. “Olivia will be ‘round to collect her soon enough, I expect.” He lowered his voice, nearly whispering in her ear. “Did she tell you why she wouldn’t go north to be with Kanin?”

“Because …” 

“Because why?”

“Just … because, Jacob. It’s a reason. Her reason.”

Hmmm. Well, she seemed rather anxious to be off. Perhaps you could hunt her up, have a listen.”

Go to her, you mean?”

“Well … yes.”

Who goes to me? she almost cried. Who hunts me up? But Jacob’s urging was a reprieve, a release. She grabbed up the pillowcase but left the basket, empty as it was, false as it was, hurried out into the corridor and headed south, finding an out-of-the-way niche in which to loiter, to wait for Geoffrey to pass by.

Bless him, the boy didn’t bat an eye, neither at her sudden appearance in the tunnels, nor at her instructions. I forgot, she explained, when I was in Father’s chamber. Take this, will you? In his hands, now. No reply.

Then …

Into the tunnels, stumbling, running for the abyss. Heedless of those she passed. The pillowcase stuffed with the coverlet from her marriage bed and the wine red dress bundled in her arms.

I’m not going. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. 

All these years later, the same words repeated. The same fatal words. And in a note, no less. In a note, just as before.

How could I? How?

Every step up the spiral and up the steep stone staircase like a station of the cross, a counting of her failures and shortcomings. Selfish, prideful, stubborn, grudging, small, thoughtless, stony, icy, heartless, uncharitable, unfeeling, unmoved. Unpitying. Unsympathetic. Caster of the first stone. Unforgiving.

How could I have lived on so long after … after everything … and learned nothing?

Undeserving. 

At the rim of the high overlook, she dropped the pillowcase to the ground. It lodged against her leg. She pulled out the flower-embroidered linen stuffed in at the top, offered it up in one hand. The mists and winds fluttered the fabric, billowed it, snatched it away. Filled with the rare air of the chasm, it sailed and flapped and circled and soared, then, like a bird shot through with an arrow, plummeted. She leaned over the ledge to see … to see …

The determined winds would take a stronger hold on the bedspread once she unfurled it. Even in both hands’ grasp. Even then …

She bent for it, bent on sacrifice.

From around the next promontory, from behind the craggy, black jut of granite, came a soft, mechanical whir, then a bell-like song. Ringing notes, reverberating, trilling. A sweet, slow waltz. 

A music box.

Olivia’s music box.



Mary sank to her knees and sat back on her heels, the knot of memories dragged into her lap, gathered close, cradled … embraced … giving in to tears at last. 

___________

1. Maya Angelou. Touched By An Angel.
2. John Bunyan. the Pilgrim's Progress. 1678.
3. William Wordsworth. Surprised by Joy. 1815.
4. James Joyce.
5. Henry Ward Beecher.
6. Anne Baxter.
7. Ovid. Remedia Amoris (The Cure for Love).
8. For Sebastien's backstory, see: Badges of Grief and Patience HERE (WFOL 2012/ Secret Keepers - Hearthside Stories, Volume 2)

20 comments:

Brenda K said...

Carole - this chapter tantalizes with questions to which you only hint of answers, someday, perhaps.... Difficult to imagine Mary so prideful as to make an irretrievable mistake that shattered her marriage, her family, her life -- her self-esteem. We saw Margaret's fateful choice, made out of the weakness bred into her very cells, but Mary is cut of different cloth. Do you cast her here as Guinevere, serving the rest of her life penitent in a nunnery, to atone for the destruction her self-indulgence brought down on all she loved?

I understand Olivia better -- it's all but impossible to keep love alive for a man who does nothing but reject you and shut you out, who lies to you with everything he says and does, who then offers you a return to life only at the price of cutting you off from the support network you've known and relied on your entire life. How can you make that leap of faith when it requires trusting someone who has proven himself untrustworthy? When the demand is not to rebuild that trust in small steps, but to gamble on its reappearance all in one blind leap off a lethal cliff? Not one in a hundred has that kind of mettle inside.

I did go back and re-read from Chapter 61, and then re-read Sebastian's backstory. Will you ever tell us how he lost Charlotte?

I understand Vincent's dilemma most of all. Since the day he found Catherine, he has been living a lie, keeping such a deep secret that it has gnawed out the core of his very bones with its power. To reveal that secret, even to Catherine, he has to be willing to risk returning to where he was before -- to be willing to either embrace his own obliteration, or return to the hollow life he lived before. But she has changed him so deeply, her love caulking and spackling all the hollow spaces in his spirit, that he no longer believes he has the courage return to the creature he was -- certainly not to return and continue living hollowly. We watch them and know that Catherine is as incapable of rejecting or abandoning him as she is of growing gills and breathing water. But Vincent's innate nature does not give him that certainty in her love for him. His very differences have proven to him all his life that love for him is conditional, not absolute, from everyone except Father.

We play out here the final test posed by the Phantom of the Opera to Christine -- can you love me, even though I do evil things? How pure is your love? Where is the line drawn, past which you will reject me? If I unmask, can you still love the horror that I am?

Anonymous said...

Oh Carole! What an amazing, tantalizing, intimate portrait of Mary's confusion and penance, while still skirting the edges of actually giving us her backstory! BRAVA!!!! This is QUITE an accomplishment!

I'm also thrilled to see Sebastian's story woven in here. How on earth to you manage to keep hold of all of the many threads weaving in and out of this story?

I also share Brenda's enthusiasm for the way in which these different characters are all essentially grappling with the same problem -- If I reveal myself, in all my faults (real or imaginary or blown out of proportion), how can anyone -- even my dearest, truest love -- still love and accept me?

Don't we all face this conundrum?

Again, BRAVA!! Your greedy fans eagerly await more!

Best regards, Lindariel

Anonymous said...

The wait was long, but as always it was worth it.

As a non-native, it takes me a bit longer to fully comprehend the meaning of such complex chapters, reading them two times, maybe more and in context to others.
The result is - as always - beautiful and gives the characters more depth and colour. I can hardly imagine the amount of work necessary to do this. And I agree with Lindariel here - I too want more. ^^

Greetings from The Old Lands,
Crashcat

Barbara said...

Oh Mary, Mary, Mary .... Poor, poor Mary. She asks, How could I have lived on so long after … after everything … and learned nothing?
She breaks my heart! Doesn't she see? Doesn't she understand? ... that life is giving her one more chance ... one more chance to forgive ... not only herself ... but whoever betrayed her trust and broke her heart. One more chance to finally let it go and be at peace. By helping Olivia and Kanin she will be helping herself and by doing that she can save a family from years of heartache and regret and free herself from the terrible burden she has carried for far too long.
They are all in good hands with you, Carole, I know you will get them al where they need to be.
So Glad to see your new chapter! Good job!
Barbara

Carole W said...

Brenda, Lindariel, Crashcat, and Barbara - I have much to say in response to your comments. I'll make individual replies soon, but wanted right away to thank you for still coming 'round. You are all true gifts to me.

Now, I meant it - because you left a comment, I have a small present to send you. Everyone, send me your mailing addresses via email. You overseas folks, too! :-) (Lindariel, I have yours.) I'm so grateful to know you're reading and encouraged to keep working on this because you're here.

Hugs, hugs,
Carole






Carole W said...

PS: I want to send gifts to everyone who leaves a comment on this chapter so slow in posting. If you even just say 'Hey!', I'll need your mailing address.

More hugs,
Carole

Carole W said...

Barbara, I want to let you know that your comment on Chapter 77 absolutely nailed the theme of the final chapters in this story: The Coming Storm. You really helped me with focus. I'd like to use that as a divider title when I set up the final version and the pdf/hardcover zine of I/V. :-)

Anonymous said...

Dearest Carole, Please know that YOU are giving US an incredible gift by writing each and every chapter of this amazing story. While I will gladly look forward to your gift, commenting your writing is almost a purely selfish act to encourage you to write MORE for us to greedily consume! WE should be sending YOU gifts!!

Love, Lindariel

Mamacrow said...

Dear Carole,


First, totally worth the wait. I know how much work went into this chapter. Every sentence is carved, impressed with the endeavor. You have created an amazing piece.

When you said it would be a Mary chapter, I was certain I would like it, but I never thought I would really, really, envy, enjoy, engage. This is nuanced, insightful...sigh...I wish I had wrote it!!!

Mary was one of the characters that always felt a little wrong. Could someone this selfless, this effacing, even be real, much less living under New York? Here we understand why. Here we see her as a person, and not only a person with flaws, but with intelligence, soul.

~"Olivia, oh, Olivia … Was she unaware? Blue beyond her will? Spoiling for a fight?

'Or just spoiled,'" Mary muttered. 'I won’t means something very, very different from I can’t.'"

She is beautifully aware, an awareness that can only come with age and mistakes.

~"Pretend to what is not, he’d instruct his students (Wise Skills, he called the character education class), to become, in truth, what one studies to be.

What she wanted right now was to be undetainable, unengaged.

No … came the small voice. Forgiven. Forgiven.

But there was no one left to offer forgiveness. No one with the right to. No one."

That is so wonderful, discerning, understanding. People could offer her absolution, but it would be hollow. She has waited so long the only person who can forgive her is herself, and the waiting has made her old.

I understand Mary here. I understand her dilemma. She isn’t old, but she has made herself so with regret, and guilt, old with not wishing for anything. Although, I agree with Lindariel that this is a story of unmasking the monster, I think, in many ways this story is about (finally) recognizing the voice that says, “I want. I need,” and giving it credence, even when, especially when there are consequences. They are related, these story ideas - the Id as the monster - but my sick-with-cold brain can't figure out all the ways at this moment.

~"Who goes to me? she almost cried. Who hunts me up?"

To even have the strength, the centered audacity, to have these feelings reads real. Of course we want her to help Olivia see, but the caregiver can’t always give. Mary is in that dark place we go to gain insight, depth, to be born again. She is a midwife, so I think she would get my transition analogy. She is transitioning, and we hope she makes it out. Not everyone does.

Mary had and she lost, we knew that, but you make her breathe, and give her reasons for past actions. I love you for that.

And the message couriers, the cup washing, the Wise Skills classes - what fantastic mysteries I didn't know needed solving, but of course they did.

Thank you again for getting to the root of things.

The wait was absolutely worth it!

With love and respect for your amazing talent and work, work, work,

Karen (Crowmama) :)

Barbara said...

Dearest Carole, You are most welcome to use my comment about the coming storm. As I read I can feel the tension building and the storm clouds gathering. Everything is coming to a climax at the same time. I am so excited! This is an epic story and I am impressed with your courage in tackling it.
Hugs! Barbara

Carole W said...

Brenda, Thank you for such a thoughtful post. I'm always interested in your point of view - you always make me think. I'm incredibly grateful to you for reading. Without you out there, I'd feel so alone.


You're right about the un-masking. It is more than just Vincent's question.

Olivia has a lot to confront, and it's different confronting it with Kanin home as apposed to Kanin away. It gets real-er. It gets harder. It goes up and down and around. Love isn't always anger-less, but there are boundaries. She'll have to determine if her boundary is fixed or if crossing it (and coming home with a black eye, so to speak) is possible.

Mary is a character who more often than not irritated me! She was so giving, so self-effacing, always so other oriented. How could she not think of herself now and then? (Vincent has this problem too, but my heart went out to him more; I was differently irritated by him, LOL.) Something drove her below, but all we heard in the episodes was that she'd 'lost' her children. That was an awfully veiled statement. Something happened to break her so badly she was offered this very special place to heal. But has she? What *was* it that ripped her world apart. Surely more than an accident or losing a child to illness. And what about their father? Who was he? What happened to him? In my mind, she became the super Giver as an atonement for her sins/actions/decisions. We saw surely just her surface, the woman she wanted to be (but because why?). I would really like her character to change and become more humanly possible ... or else I'll go on feeling like an incredibly selfish person compared to her. She needs to realize it's okay to want things if only for herself.

But will she come to realize, to take, happiness? That is all to come. I will endeavor to not take another year to get to it.

Another thing that bothered me about Mary was that I saw her as Father's age, but the actress was only 46 in 1987, while Roy Dotrice was well into his 60's, 18 years older than she! How'd she get so 'old'? Something aged her, and I wanted to figure out some reason for it.

As to Sebastien's loss of Charlotte, yes, I'll tell that story in its entirety one day. There are snippets of hints to it along the way in I/V, and it even involves Vincent, but it's for another day. I worry that I/V is way too long as it is.

Thank you again. I'll be in touch in email soon. :-)

Carole

Carole W said...

Lindariel, thank you for noting what I hope, hope, hoped you would, that these characters are all grappling with personal versions of the same problem. And you nailed it exactly - don't we all? That shared land of barrenness, rubble, and darkness is fully inhabited. We're all fighting private battles. With just a little light, we'd see we're not alone. But how to let that light out ... that's part of the battle.

Thank you so much for still being here. It makes such a difference in my writing spirits to know you're reading. I'm grateful for your insights and your kindness, more than I can adequately express.

And thank you for recalling Sebastien's backstory! That means a lot to me, too, a whole lot.

More soon,
C

Carole W said...

Crashcat, You're amazing and kind and thoughtful, and I am so lucky to have you as a friend. You make me feel appreciated for this effort, and I am, in kind, appreciative of you. I don't know if I would keep on keeping on if nobody at all was interested in I/V. So you matter, and you make a huge difference.

I'm stunned and so very pleased that you will reread chapters (hopefully without wanting to throttle me). That you're still 'with me here' means everything.

More in email,
C

Carole W said...

Barbara, You're the best. You're kind and supportive and good to me. You make me feel like I can do this!

Mary is being given one more chance. She's at a crossroads, and maybe, maybe she can finally fully unpack the suitcase she's still carrying. She wars with herself, not trusting the good person she's become, as if she doesn't get to change. The soul is what, inside of us, is capable of transformation. She believes it possible others, but not for herself. Why, why is that? She sees and hears her separate selves, but won't contemplate the new whole.

Wouldn't sharing her shortcomings help her face her fears? She fears her aloneness, yet she keeps herself so. What a troubling familiarity!

I'm so grateful for your willingness to hang in there with me while I work this story through. I wish I wasn't so slow.

Hugs and more in email soon,
C

Thank you for believing I can

Carole W said...

Crowmama, I can't thank you enough for your comment. It really does help to know that certain passages are meaningful. That the details I worry sometimes are distracting are noteworthy. You boost my writer-spirits so high. I want to keep working. Hugs, hugs for all the so very nice things you said to me.

You're right about the voice that says "I want." "I need." And extra right about allowing that voice after the experience of consequences. More to come in the story about that, but I want you to know your comment really helped me focus on what it is I want to convey. That is a priceless help, Karen. Thank you again.

More in email soon,
C

Carole W said...

Brenda, Lindariel, Crashcat, Barbara, and Karen Crowmama, you're all getting little presents as a thank you for still reading after all these months/years. They'll take me a little time to complete, but I promise them before too terribly long!

Happy 28th Anniversary of the Premiere of our story!
C

Kuli said...

Still here, still reading, still worth it!

Thank you for another intense and beautiful and painful chapter. Your character insights are always a treat and an experience. Truly.

~K

Carole W said...

Thank you, Kuli, for still being here, for letting me know, and for saying such nice things. It does my spirit good and I'm encouraged to keep trying, to work harder.

And for commenting, you'll find something in your mailbox in the next little bit. :-) I'm not quite as slow at crafting as I am at writing, but I'll let you know when it's on its way.

Always,
C

Kuli said...

You've proven that words are so much the richer when they have time to ferment; your work often reminds me that time and care have their own value.

I've moved since last you sent me anything. I'll get my new address to you.

~K

NYC Utopia said...

Just a word to let you know I'm still here! I only read this chapter shortly before Christmas, however, and as it was one of the more painful ones, I was at a loss to leave a sensible comment... I'm now as anxious to find out how this side plot unfolds, as I am with the main tangle!
Love,
C.