“It was the best of times,
It was the worst of times…
It was the spring of hope,
It was the winter of despair.”
-A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Finally, blessedly, asleep…
He approached his bed as one of faith neared an altar—reverently, somewhat questioningly, slightly fearful. One clawed hand stroked the crumpled quilt, feeling the heat and limbs of those slumbering beneath it. With care and veneration he draped the heavy cloth over Catherine’s shoulder and their child’s tiny form, brushing the holy. He stepped back to watch his wife and infant son curl into each other, their sleeping features made of gold and shadows in the low flickering light of the night, perfection enfolding perfection.
A wish, a desire—to slip back into their bed. Catherine had asked him earlier with her eyes, without words, but he had gently shaken off her request, as he did now with no one awake to see.
He could lie with them, twist limbs tree-like, bend around them with the bodily expression of I will keep you safe; we will be safe. But he would only lie there with them. Too anxious to sleep, his thoughts roiled and fought, thunderheads gathering. In such storms no sleep could be granted, and being so connected to those he most loved—both within and without—he feared his insomnia would catch.
I should have held her for days upon days, for a week, just held her in my arms…
After minutes of taking in the rise and fall of her breath, he wilted into the threadbare velvet chair between their bed and table to continue his study. Catherine’s one arm bent and pillowed under her head, the other wrapped around their baby, Jacob, his name a link to the past and a hope for the future. She encircled him, her body accepting the child’s form with her own inherent expression of security. Father would disapprove. Babies are meant to sleep in their cradles; they are safest there—this was his frequent admonition to new mothers. However, safety was a relative term, and Catherine was Jacob’s home, his touchstone. He needed her.
A feeling they had in common.
It had been fifty-three days since her rescue, since he had found her again. Found her with the lights of the city illuminating her pregnant form, the unfamiliar and glowing aspect of their bond proclaiming the small life she had kept safe, the new life she offered him. Elizabeth had painted her likeness along with his own, a commemoration of Jacob’s naming ceremony and their marriage. Elizabeth’s old, skilled hands sketched them on smooth underground walls with scrounged-for colors, but it was this Catherine’s image, exquisite and astonishing, that would always be the portrait of his memory. After months of desperate searching that had followed years of isolation interrupted by only the barest moments of union, her courage and beauty shone like a beacon and marked the beginning of their time together—the fifty-three days and nights of his shift from ascetic to husband and father—each hour observed and blessed.
Glancing around the room, it was impossible not to see the gifts that surrounded them:
A quilt in hues of violet, peach, and blue from Ellen, now the outermost of their covers, keeping Catherine and the child warm;
On his book chest, next to the clocks that more accused 3 a.m. then decreed it, stood Lin’s photograph of Jacob in Dr. Wong’s handmade red lacquer frame;
The knitted diaper covers from Kim stacked on their dresser beside folded cloths;
A small antique chest for the baby’s things from Edgar, and above it, decorating the stone walls, crayon drawings of his family by Madilynn, Isaiah, Lana, and half-a-dozen of the other children;
Close to their bed, his own used and reused cradle, now restored and refinished by Cullen; a rope of shells from Narcissa, both talisman and mobile, hung over the curved wood canopy.
And along with these gifts, fifty-three days of memories…
She assessed herself in Sarah’s mirror, her hair up, fresh-faced from the extra sleep he provided by taking the baby to his adoring—if somewhat disrupted— literature class that morning. Despite the last months and motherhood, Catherine looked fetching. Happy. She wore new Tunnel clothes: a long-pocketed skirt and warm gray sweater, an intricate pattern of stitching and piecework decorating each. Sarah had offered Catherine a few garments that ‘might do,’ but their delicate embellishments spoke of care and thoughtfulness, contradicting Sarah’s claim that they were simply extras she’d had on hand.
“What do you think?” Sarah asked, standing in the shadow of the screen around which Catherine had just stepped. With anyone else, the verdict would be a foregone conclusion—all garments, from a patched coat to a pair of mended gloves, were welcome gifts in the Tunnels—but as the newest and most talked-of resident, Catherine’s approval remained novel and sought after.
He stood next to the glass, bouncing their gurgling son on his forearm. He could see what Catherine was seeing as she turned, evaluating, considering. He knew she liked clothes. They were an expression of her—at times, her armor. Fine clothes delighted her—as did most of the efforts of his people on her behalf. Her smile, when it came, as he knew it would— bubbled up and glinted on her face.
“Sarah, they‘re perfect, beautiful…practical.“ Catherine reached into the pockets and lifted the skirt as she twirled to show off the useful feature. “I love them.” She gazed at the way the skirt twirled and flowed around her calves. She admired her whole reflection again before finding Sarah’s eyes in the mirror.
“Give me a year and a trunk full of your creations and I think we could have all of Madison Avenue begging for Tunnel fashion.”
He could see the effect of the kind words on the seamstress—a blush, a shy smile. Sarah only ever asked for small appreciation as payment for her efforts; Catherine knew this without being told. At that moment, he couldn’t have cherished his beloved’s warmth and insight more.
Catherine’s bright green eyes found his. “What do you think, Vincent?”
He felt his lips curl, his canines uncomfortably evident, but he couldn’t have stopped the joy from filling his face if he had tried, and he never wanted to try with her.
“’Tunnel Fashion?’” He tested the words, then queried. “Are we the makers of manners, Kate?”[i] Twisting the Shakespeare, knowing she would understand the allusion.
Everyone had been thoughtful, giving, despite her disruptive return. Still somewhat of a phenomenon, they had been feted and feasted more times than they could comfortably count, given gifts and blessings, indulgent consideration. It was almost embarrassing at times, as if they were a royal couple with the new heir in their arms.
At least they could laugh a little. She did, before kissing him on the cheek, her serene pleasure echoing between them.
“Something like that,” she said, accepting his reference, accepting his life.
Walking home from the staggeringly heavy work generated by the spring thaw, the jumbling responsibilities, the ones ignored during his months of searching—urgent maintenance on ice-shifted pipes, security, classes—and the newer ones—chamber expansion, attending to Catherine, looking after their son. Repaying some of the debts—never could he repay all—that had accumulated during her absence. All the obligations towered, teetered, and he wandered, isolated among them, too absorbed, taut, and strained.
He sensed her just as she caught his stride. She slipped her hand into his own, her palm soft, her fingers, fine-boned and warm, twining with his. She took his pace, smiling up at him, a balm in physical form. Catherine’s strong, unflinching love wrapped around his spirit like her arms that encircled their sleeping child, and like the slumbering infant, he found an ease, a loosening he would have never thought possible.
Today, this moment, she was fine, safe. They were ‘okay’ as Mouse would say.
Worries forgotten, they journeyed back together, walking silently, as one, his love for her, for this, drowning out all other concerns.
No longer alone, they merged with just the one thought. Shared? Perhaps, but true, defiant, and definite…
This is worth everything…
“Our work is never done, eh, Vincent?”
Narcissa caught him inspecting a bridge near the Stone Circle about a month after the baby’s birth. The magical woman stood on the opposite side of the span as if she’d always been there. A moment before he would have sworn he was alone.
“Pour estimer le doux, il faut goûter de l’amer, oui?” she asked.
“To taste the sweet…we must eat the bitter,” he had translated back, echoing across the distance. “Yes, Narcissa.”
The old woman, never one for much company, had disappeared since Jacob’s naming. She had surprised everyone in the hall that day by materializing seemingly out of nowhere to give her gift and blessing and leaving them just as quickly, a great deal of party food somehow tucked away in her skirts. A small price for her help finding Catherine.
“I am glad you are here to do dis work, Vincent,” Narcissa said in approval, halting every few words as if to remember how to say them. Her clouded eyes lowered to the decaying rope and rotting planks. “Dees bridges are important. Without dem, how will we find one another? De must be looked after.” She took the wooden boards with careful steps until she strode onto the stone of his side with a smile, stomp, and flourish. “Without dem, how can we cross to other worlds, eh?”
As she shuffled past, her worn hands grabbed onto his arm for support, and her mood changed to solemn. “But once our bridges are made, we cannot know who will discover dem, eh?” She turned back to him. “Dat is the way of the bridge of life. Your son is here.” She smiled gesturing with open hand to his side of the bridge. “The little ones are so light they can use any link to the world…any bond, eh?”
She couldn’t help a laugh, delighted in her inner knowledge, but then she paused, somber again, seeming to not wish to continue a warning he knew was coming. “But the bridge the dead use must be strong, Vin-cent. Not everyone can make that bridge, not everyone must, and once eet is done, da souls of the dead cry out every day for eet to be looked after. Once eet is strong enough to be crossed we cannot know what eet will bring.” She raised her hands as if even she didn’t know.
“We must be careful.” Her old finger rattled at him to advise, to caution, but her gaze focused on things he didn’t see. “We must watch. Who else will try to follow?”
“Watch your dreams, Vincent…” The old woman shambled into the darkness. “Watch hers…”
Narcissa wanted him to observe his dreams, to guard Catherine’s. Not being in the habit of discounting the woman who somehow made finding Catherine and his child possible, he had.
The opportunity to share Catherine’s sleep…to wake next to her, her scent distilling in the night, concentrating close…and when she opened her eyes, to see the color of summer leaves gathered into lamplight…
This is worth everything…
The opportunity to experience her joys…
In their fifty-three days, he had met so many Catherines: The ones hinted at, imagined … and new facets of her, totally unexpected. There was the Catherine who, remarkably, against all hope, returned to him, loved him. The one who laughed at Cullen’s jokes, who helped Olivia with the soap-making, Mary with the Nursery, Father with his books, and who marveled at Mouse’s creations, no matter how absurd. There was the Catherine, who surprisingly cowered and cried in frustration over diaper pins, and the woman who valued sleep over almost any other comfort. (She had not done so before, he thought, remembering the late nights of work and conversation they shared.) He knew the Catherine beloved by all the children, met her so early in their relationship—the reader, the game player, the soother, the listener—never realizing this same woman would someday fight to put aside her darkness in their light. She succeeded much of the time, but, when the memories finally eclipsed her, when even the children’s company was both too much and not enough to keep the blood-tinged thoughts at bay, there was the woman who retreated, who escaped all company. She would not repeat what happened with William.[ii] Instead, she isolated herself, sitting motionless, fading.
“After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –“
“…the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,” [iii]
He had found her there many times, more often after her meeting with Joe Maxwell. Another Catherine, the remote, frightened, shamed, yet quietly fierce woman from the other side of the struggle. When he called her name, drew her back, she took his hand, took up his child, came to rest in his bed, discussed the day, but would not recount the past. She had not yet come to the letting go –[iv]
Catherine spoke to Father of the basics of her captivity. Elements of it were known—the isolation, the tests, the man, the demon Gabriel and his questions…and the shadows that haunted her. He and Catherine had spoken of her mother’s ghost and his own twin shade. (How had she known? How did she share that?) But since the baby’s birth, she had only hinted at others. After Narcissa’s warning—could they all haunt her still?
“Don’t ask me, Vincent. Not yet…”
He didn’t challenge her. After the violence of the first time, it seemed unfair to ask her to become acclimated to the Tunnels, to motherhood, to heal physically, and to confront the memories all at once. Yet by not facing, not forcing, did he simply leave her adrift in past and present?
He wanted to destroy her barriers, to ask with compassion, Please, speak to me. To demand, insist, Tell me! He did neither.
Using forward momentum, she tried —no, you have as well, his second thoughts accused—to put miles between her and her imprisonment, frightened that any inertia would trap them there. The baby’s needs became their days—the diapering, comforting, feeding, and bathing—his growth, their growth together, something to escape in, an endless cycle that almost allowed them to forget the past and the future…
But no matter how much she wanted to kill it, to push it away, drive it down, she still lived her captivity every day, in her numb retreating, in the way she huddled on the bed, coiling herself, protecting everything vital, rather than stretching out gracefully as she used to. Those months lived in her losses of autonomy, identity. Her spirit lay within still unmended, too rent to clothe her in her strength, and this new…imperative…was pulling on the fragile stitches already placed.
Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes a matter of opportunity[v] — Father’s translation of Hippocrates.
Father’s own tale of injury weighed, the older man’s every step a reminder. In the days after a fall from an unsound ledge caused a displacement, when rest should have settled the hip back in place, the flu hit hard. The illness left the Tunnels without a few of its earliest residents, including the older Pascal, and nearly took some of the youngest, while permanently hobbling the doctor that cared for them all.
Could traveling Above to justify her actions to those that didn’t, couldn’t understand do the same to Catherine? Could it take away her opportunity to heal?
As the time drew closer for her to surface—to be surface, his tired brain circled—the more she pulled back, unwilling to venture far from the core Tunnels. The beset and agitated look returned, despite her best efforts to launch herself into existence Below. The last time he offered, she even refused to visit the park, saying she was too tired, but the truth filled the space between his suggestion and her refusal. She was afraid.
She would not speak, and wishing for more knowledge than he could have, more certainty and more time, his gaze turned from the temptations of his wife and child in their snug bed to his journal on the bookshelf, the one she gave him before she was taken. A new journal for a new life, the potential of it promised in her inscription.
With love all things are possible…
A part of that promise, the possibility, already fulfilled, the secret already growing inside her.
With love all things are possible…
Are they, truly?
Can love end the nightmares and allow our dream to begin without fear or doubt or obstacle?
Can it end the nightmares, Catherine…
This time it had taken them over an hour to calm the baby, an hour filled with walking and nursing, swinging and hushing, all before the child would be comforted. From the nest of Catherine’s arm, Jacob still hitched periodically, his body shuddering with the intake of breath, the after-shocks of his earlier shrieking cries.
Please, little one, please sleep and don’t dream…
This day will be hard enough.
He had woken other nights to Catherine’s dream-speak, her fears.
“Don’t touch him!” “You can’t hurt me…”
But this nightmare was different.
It began its visitations a few weeks after she returned, but it was vague then, and his only. Now the images, shared and lasting, would not leave them…
Snow gathering, swirling ghosts of silver and white, snake-like and undulating on a frigid wind
Gates banging as if to break, unlocked and impotent
Catherine in her imprisonment gown, gore-soaked, running, frantic to find him and their child
Running after her, knowing what was coming for her, never reaching her
Ice cracking under his staggering feet, bodies of those he loved exposed beneath
The snow rising to a blizzard, the storm the herald of the monster coming
Their baby crying, lost in the fatal cold
The baby crying, helpless, defenseless
The baby crying…
This night he had woken to Jacob’s panicked screams and to Catherine—her weary eyes gray and circled black by the shared nightmare. She was already reaching into the cradle to comfort the child. She had pulled the baby in, brought him close, and now there they lay, united against the dark and dreams.
He could rationalize the nightmare’s cold, perhaps a deep memory of his own abandonment surfacing with the tying of his and Jacob’s consciousness. He could account for Catherine’s running, her disorientation and turmoil. She’d been lost so many times since returning to the Tunnels, afraid and angry, but still refusing guides, expecting more from herself than anyone else did.
The bodies, the gates, Catherine’s screams for them, were real, far too real. The nightmare had become insistent, taking on the ominous, realistic details of precognition—the dream invading their dream.
In sleep, the horrors…in waking, the inescapable guilt.
I am sorry, my son. Participating in the feelings of others can be a piercing and unwelcome gift. I would offer you innocence if I could.
Whether the baby experienced the dream or just his parent’s distress was unknowable and, at this point, unhelpful information. The child needed—warmth, sustenance, comfort —and he would be soothed. Catherine couldn’t stand sadness in any of the children, but especially from Jacob. Her instinct to console compelled her. If he whimpered, she picked him up. If distressed, she held him, rocked him, nursed him, just as she had done tonight.
If he could have retrieved his journal from the book chest, he would write of this—of Catherine’s love, perhaps the tender legacy of her mother, and her grandmother before that, flowing through time and space, mother to daughter, mother to daughter, and into their son. He would write of their fifty-three days, of their shared memories, of Jacob’s daily changes and discoveries, of dreams and nightmares. He wanted to write their story, to indulge in the habit of years now subsidiary to the more pressing demands of their everyday life.
If he had the time, the opportunity, the mental alertness, he might allow himself to explore the If of the past:
If I had pressed her before she was taken, to tell me of her turmoil, to tell me of her pregnancy…
If I had stopped her from killing her captor…
If we had moved towards love sooner…if I had loved her body and soul when I had the chance…
If I hadn’t lost myself…
He could fill pages with regrets, but remorse had no place in the demanding now. Her fear of entrapment in the past was not wrong. He must renounce what was gone to focus on the massing shapes of future events and discover a map through them—a future, their future, that in three hours’ time they must dress and ready for.
They must meet Peter and Joe Maxwell, and then she would be gone.
Don’t let her go.
He shoved the instinct away, longing to excise it through his usual means—write of it, explore the words, chart a course—but he wouldn’t risk the movement—the steps to the shelf, the whine of the hinge on the wire front, the rustling pages, the scrape of the pen—all too perilous if it could in any way disturb the hard-fought-for sleep of the two in the bed.
So, in an artist’s way without the artist’s means, he sat away from them, forced to try to absorb the achingly perfect sight of what he could lose, what the feral part of him howled in protest that he must not lose. He could write everything down, explore the past, try to predict the future, but he still could fail them.
He did not need his journal to tell him that.
A day ago.
She stood in front of him, still no mirror in their chamber. She knew of the perfect one; it had been her mother’s. The things from her apartment, from her father’s house, waited to be recovered, but she’d risk no one to retrieve them. She would claim them when all the excitement and uncertainty passed, she promised, as if she could promise such a thing.
Until such a time, he was her mirror.
The clothes Laura brought from Above didn’t fit, her scrounging based on a person Catherine wasn’t anymore. The white, woven skirt just zippered, tight and taunt around Catherine’s hips. The blouse barely buttoned over her larger breasts, and the pale cream blazer couldn’t truly hide that fact. The heels ached; they served, but not well. She would be uncomfortable; she already was, although he knew that from her body language only, most of her feelings hidden in the deep well of her.
He did taste the panic she couldn’t fully suppress. She answered all his questions with denial.
“What if they try to keep you?”
“Joe and I won’t let them.”
“What if they charge you with murder?”
“They can’t, they…can’t. They wouldn’t, Vincent. It was self-defense.”
The paleness of her outfit against her sun-deprived skin produced a sickly hue that the borrowed make-up couldn’t cover. She did not look like herself, once so poised and self-assured. Instead, white and cream, pale fear and wan apprehension mixed, painting a portrait far too close to the one of his memory, of a woman in a hospital gown—executioner and sacrifice. It was too easy to imagine slick blood staining the white again, only this time, the blood hers.
He tried to banish the images, shake the fear, but the notes from Joe Maxwell and now the recurring nightmares reminded them of what they had pushed back for a time, but never truly forgot. She belonged to the world, and the world would not give her up lightly or easily. In the days leading up to this day, they fell into their old habits of coping with the unwelcome unknown—holding back, pressing on, not allowing the past to color present requirements.
“I can handle the fear.”
Ludicrous to the point of laughable, growled the deep voice, the one within. He hated and needed him. On his and Catherine’s journey together just before Jacob’s birth,[vi] he had accepted that, claimed it as he claimed her, an uneasy balance struck between craving and requirement. The other part was crueler, but strong and sometimes more truthful. He thought she had understood the lessons too—that they must accept their pain, that to hold in the hurt would not banish it—but that was the difference between a virtue unpracticed versus a habit ingrained. She was angry and frightened, angry of being frightened—her recourse denial. How long had she used her stratagem, carrying on, ignoring the wound? Longer than he had known her, and she wouldn’t easily change now.
In the face of what was to come, he coped in old ways too.
She launched herself at him, her lips almost violent on his. Her hunger, or was it his, melded, multiplied, assaulting intentional and subconscious resolve alike, the passion shared crushing his determination to leave this part of their lives unexplored until this ordeal, this forced separation, was over.
He had stopped them that day, despite the all but overwhelming glimpse of her fire, her spirit. He wanted her, of course he did. He wanted her to be his wife in every way, but they hadn’t loved since before the birth. He wouldn’t lie to her, or to himself—she was capable, but he held them off. It hurt, yet it was a familiar hurt, and one he returned to in times of doubt.
The bond drew them together, trying to keep her with no sense of obligation or circumstance. If they made love, the instinctual claim might, no, would intensify a thousandfold…
Don’t let her go…
She wants you. Take her. Love her. She is yours. Why not?
What if she isn’t?
She isn’t safe in New York.
What if her opportunity to heal is away from the city, from me?
What if she needs (wants, craves) the sun, more than I can give her? More than is safe for the life she’s chosen?
What if this can never be her home?
The indulgence of the others wasn’t just in gifts. His friends and family attempted to draw her into their world with the sincerest love for her, but also out of pity and compassion. Kanin understood the cell; Father, betrayal. Mouse, loneliness. Lena, the violations; Jim, the repercussions. They all understood there were those born to a life Below, those who chose it, and a handful who had it thrust on them. For a woman who valued choice so highly, who valued her freedom…
Could she tolerate the loss?
What could he do to help her? What could anyone do to make the injuries she had suffered bearable?
His people tried to engage her in their circles, in their work, and at times she found a small peace, some companionship, but she had not found what she needed, not yet, and perhaps, not ever.
This was not her home.
The baby lay in her arms, a beautiful and, to his shame, necessary barrier to desire until they could make sense of all this. She was their son’s mother fully, his wife partly, but not yet her own. Like a blurred photograph, the features of life were there––family, friends, work, shelter––but they lacked the color of safety, the clarity of healing, leaving them unsatisfied and yearning for a chance to breathe, to focus.
But there was no more time. First, she would have to face their ‘justice’ again.
Joe Maxwell had contacted the federal agents in charge of the Moreno case. He promised them a meeting with his star witness, his employee and friend.
He wanted to trust this man, but the other part balked.
Their ‘Justice’ nearly killed her.
Don’t let her go…
Don’t let her go…
Yesterday, gauging her in the borrowed clothes, seeing her discomfort, sharing her panic, he almost said the words.
You don’t have to do this.
The naive and needful part of him demanded the words be said, even if the rational side stifled them. He would let her go, not with any pretense of permission, only certainty. She must go, but the manic fear of losing her was still there. For Catherine he would swallow it down, a sharp and aching meal. He knew her reasons, obsessed over them, questioned and capitulated to their logic time and again.
Justice—Moreno might go free if she didn’t help, or at least help them find the book of names that could have been lost since her kidnapping. She had told no one else of it or who might have it, fearing for Elliot Burch’s life, and she was right to fear. The newspaper articles from the last weeks revealed the sheer immensity of the dead man’s, Gabriel’s, enterprise. His influence shrouded the city and might still lead them all to danger if any of his associates attempted to hide their misconduct through murder.
Loyalty—Evidence was missing, tapes and files that linked Catherine and, by association, Joe Maxwell and their friends to a monster. The F.B.I. might look past the losses of the N.Y.P.D. and the District Attorney’s office if Catherine submitted to their questioning. (Questioning, the thing she can’t bear, the deeper voice warned.)
And all these arguments meant little, at least not enough to take her from the Tunnels, from him, from her son, save one…
“Joe said if I didn’t meet with them, they’d come looking.”
Below was fragile, and even at more rational times than the middle of the night, one might argue enchanted, protected. For all the narrow escapes, all the absurdly close calls, it still remained a miraculous secret. But magical or not, Catherine wouldn’t risk the benevolence of fate against the safety of all those who called the Tunnels home. She would not endanger the place that might one day truly be her home…
Never, his deeper anxiety growled.
Irrelevant, his higher voice argued.
What wouldn’t she risk to keep them and their secret safe?
She would risk herself to go Above, unhealed and unready.
For him, for their son, she would risk everything.
She would walk the razor of lies for them, and he could do little but pray.
He looked to the contents of the table, their half-packed bag and a folded newspaper page, District Attorney Maxwell’s latest offering from the world where the dwellers of the Tunnels had no power and no standing. It was left at Nunzio’s three days prior. Franco had brought it down himself. After a glance—bewildered, dismayed, then irritated, bitter—Catherine had folded it, placed it upside down, and had not touched it since.
He reached and with the tips of his claws turned the paper over, opened and flattened it. The page was barely readable in the low candlelight, but he did not require illumination. He knew its words by heart.
The article wasn’t from the front page, nor from the second, not even the third––just a small story placed under one describing a suspicious arson in Chinatown. It might draw fleeting notice—except for the picture.
Two photographs actually accompanied the piece—the first, a society-page portrait of Catherine with a man she was once tied with, a developer named Tom Gunther, so the caption read. This picture would be easily overlooked save by those who knew her. She was stunning, elegant, cultivated, but—and perhaps he only imagined it, perhaps simply hoped—there seemed to be a disaffection in her features he didn’t recognize, in the smile that didn’t reach her eyes, however, this type of speculation did not matter. For good or ill, that Catherine died the night she went to the wrong party. He never met the woman in the first photograph.
It was the other image, placed opposite the first, which would draw anyone’s attention.
Catherine, trying to get away from the reporters, the scaring stitches holding together her jagged cuts obscenely visible to the camera’s scrutiny. The agony of the wounds was uniquely his to recollect, every pitiful whimper, every jolt of pain seared into his memory as Father worked desperately to stop the bleeding and save her life. In the photo, each of the doctor’s seemingly random sutures marred her face, her fear accentuating them, creating a portrait as lurid and captivating as a train wreck.
The article, titled Missing Deb D.A. Key to Dead Drug Lord Case, disparaged her in tone if not in words. Why were her fingerprints on the knife next to the corpse of Gabriel Sol, high-powered Mafia boss? Where had she been since disappearing eight months ago? Where was she now? Was she dead? Why wasn’t the District Attorney’s Office commenting?
These were the questions the world and the federal agents would ask her, and despite the bravado she projected for him, for Father and the others, she might not give the authorities the answers they wanted. Did Joe Maxwell understand or care what The World Above could do to her, had done to her? Did Maxwell think beyond taking her back to the light?
Joe Maxwell. What the man wanted, believed, couldn’t be clearer, and the darker, more truthful part of Vincent—the one who had been unleashed by the ordeals of the last year, who he now accepted would always gain sway when she might be taken from him—could hate the man for it. What did Maxwell know of them? What did he know of their love, of their fifty-three days and their years before? What did he know of their dreams of the future? Nothing, but that also didn’t matter.
Joe Maxwell believed in a future as well, one that did not involve the complications of a hidden world or of a monster and his child.
In the margins of the half-truth and horror-filled page, the ballpoint imprint of a date and time were written in Maxwell’s now-familiar writing. Beside those, a scrawled message, and in contemplation of every word, every letter, thoughts disbanded, like wind-chased clouds across the moon. Soon the reflections of the night would be gone as if they had never been, lost to a date and time, and to the three words, just three, with the power to shake his hopes as much any memory, as much as any nightmare.
He traced the words again and again. His claw marked them softly as snow falling, as quietly as the breath of his sleeping son, but in his mind the quote ignited every doubt, every misgiving, its significance loud and deafening as a gunshot—
Recalled to Life[vii]
[i] Henry V, William Shakespeare
[iii] “After great pain, a formal feeling comes”, Emily Dickenson
[iv] “After great pain, a formal feeling comes”, Emily Dickenson
[v] Hippocrates, Praeceptiones
[vii] Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities