“Many African societies divide humans into three categories: those still alive on the earth, the sasha, and the zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, the living-dead. They are not wholly dead, for they still live in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likeness in art, and bring them to life in anecdote.
― James W Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
Vincent found himself searching the tunnels, a familiar nightmare, the sepia stone stretched out before him like a prison. Mile after mile he searched, but deep within he screamed, She isn’t here, you fool! Find a way Above! There was no access, no egress, no way up. Just suffocating walls that kept him frantically moving in one direction, but not to where he needed to go! He searched and searched, but found only cold stone.
Skipping to a new internal landscape, in the way of dreams, he found himself in an area of the tunnels both strange and familiar to him. These tunnels were not man-made. The dripping walls and ragged stone spoke of ancient rivers that bore slowly and mercilessly through the rock. Incongruent to these primeval caves were scattered furnishings, all old and all beautiful. Vincent, in his youth, had been apprenticed for a time with Earl, the elderly restorer. Earl had laughingly proclaimed his workshop “the place where antiques were sent to die, but I resurrect them better than a Pentecostal preacher,” so Vincent had been well versed in dating and provenance. He recognized styles, time periods…and these objects were from a chaotic conglomeration. There were George III tea sets, Meissen statuettes, Regency clocks – in fact, myriad clocks, wall, tall, and mantel, telling him the time was rapidly passing him. There was everything a beautiful home could need: Italian cassoné, Flemish tapestries, beautifully carved French wardrobes set on 19th century Kazak rugs, lavish beds, even a cradle, almost black with age but perfectly and lovingly kept. It was new and familiar all at once. Whose riches were these?
As Vincent tentatively stepped through an opening, he saw the chamber opened wider, and there in an alcove he was drawn by a bizarre sight. On a golden-wood, carved desk in the middle of the large area full of columns, framed by an unknown light, sat a young woman, maybe twenty-five, fair – striking even – but almost faded. Her grey dress Vincent guessed was perhaps thirty years older in style – small waisted, and high-belted; it fluttered as she kicked her legs like a young girl might. She would have looked more at home in a family picnic photo than sitting on the heavy carved-leaf and turned-leg antique she posed on; it was anachronistic to say the least. She looked as if she was waiting for someone, and when she saw him she smiled, and her anticipatory tension seemed to ease with what he could only imagine was relief. He drew back reflexively and tried to hide his face.
“Oh, please, don’t worry about that, Vincent. I am so glad you are here.” The young woman smiled and jumped off the desk. She seemed familiar, but his deeper thoughts told him that could be the dream, which in itself surprised him; one usually did not recognize a dream.
“Don’t be afraid, please. We don’t have much time for explanations,” she said in a high New York accent, stressing her “S”s and enunciating with care. She knew him, called him by name, but he could not place her. He did not know this woman. “Don’t be troubled, I’ve come to help you. I know you, and I know why you’re here. You need to find Cathy. “
He moved toward the slight young woman. “Do you know where she is?”
“I do, and so can you.”
“Please, I must know,”he said curtly, his impatience to find Catherine always paramount.
“And I wish I could just tell you, but we have to take care of something first.” She swept her hands over her grey dress, dusting it off, and began walking quickly out of the furnished chambers. “Come on,” she called, leaving him behind, “we have to go, or we won’t find it again.”
Vincent followed, his long stride finally catching her. “Are you who Narcissa spoke of? Who are you?”
“That is such a very good question,” she said slowly, looking into the distance as they walked, searching for something. She barely turned. “Do you mind if I smoke?”
Vincent followed, perplexed. “Well, no, not at all.”
“Thank you,” she said, shoulders sagging, sounding relieved. She stopped, pulled a packet and matches from a pocket in her skirt, and lit a cigarette, taking a long draw, holding then blowing out the smoke. “She never lets me.” The woman smiled after taking another draw and exhaling. “Bad memories, I guess.” She tapped the cigarette with her thumb. “But my fingers,” she wiggled her open hand, “just don’t know what to do with themselves sometimes.” The woman began to walk on. “A woman of my time, I guess.”
“’She…who? Do you mean Catherine?” he asked, trying again to recognize his guide’s face. Who was this woman? Her hair was fair, shoulder length, and curled around her face. She was beautiful in a way that reminded him of Catherine. Her eyes were smaller, but she had a strong jaw and straight shoulders, and her movements, although those of a slightly younger woman, echoed Catherine’s.
The woman sighed. “When she was little, Cathy had this picture of me from at a picnic, in Larchmont or Scarsdale or someplace.” She slowed, her mind back in another era. “I can’t remember now. It was just after I was married, and in her mind that was who I was: young, full of life.” Her eyes were far away, remembering. “I was wearing this dress, although,” she looked down at her skirt, perplexed, “erruugh, I think it was pink then, not grey…” She smiled at the thought, but then said in a more circumspect tone, “Cathy’s father never wanted her to see me too sick, so he kept her mostly away when I was really ill. He had her going to the park climbing trees, or to movies, or out with friends, anything to keep her from the ugliness, anything to keep away the pain. Charles didn’t like pain, he never did – always tried to keep her smiling, but…well… then I was gone. I couldn’t be near her anymore, until now…” The blond woman looked away from him into the darkness of the tunnels as she dropped her cigarette and rubbed it into the tunnel floor.
“Most of Cathy’s memories of me were in pictures. She tried to piece together this person that she didn’t remember much, but what child can live without memories of her mother? If you don’t have them, you try to create them, don’t you, Vincent?” She took his hand and squeezed it. She was warm. He could smell her perfume under the bitter smoke. He could feel her heartbeat. It was impossible if she truly was….
“To her I’m just a song, a family story, a candle in the dark, a flower,” her slender fingers reached out to pick up the hand-made pouch around his neck, “just a memory, and maybe that is all I really am, but real or not, she was so very desperate. She brought me back, Vincent, and I’m here now, for you.” She let go of the keepsake and continued walking, taking him further down into the earth.
The woman that Vincent now believed, as one accepts facts in dreams, was Catherine’s mother went on, “You can’t feel her anymore, I know that, she told me.”
“She speaks to you?” Vincent questioned, greedy for knowledge, envious of contact.
“She does,” she answered, although she still looked ahead, still searching, “in her way. She’s positive she’s going mad. She’s always been open, you know, to the soft edges, the shadows, as much as she’s always denied it, just like you….and now…more so, but that’s beside the point. The old woman, the one who brought me here, assured me that your Bond can return, and it would lead you to her. It has to. You have to find her.” She stopped and looked at him. The girl was gone, and a mother’s eye bore into him, strong and serious.
“Vincent, she isn’t doing well.” She grabbed his hands the way Catherine had when she needed him to understand. “My girl is scared and…” Caroline Chandler, this ghost, a memory made real, choked on her words, “…when she stopped calling for you…when she had to forget…she…started calling for me.”
Caroline, after just a moment, found her strength, controlled her sadness, and went on. ”But I can’t really do anything for her, only try keep her…sane,” she sighed. “She’s all alone with the dead and the demons.” She let go of him in a gesture that spoke of her helplessness. “Maybe she called me back from wherever I’ve been since I died, or perhaps I am just that part of her soul that is ‘Mother’. I wouldn’t put it past her. She always did have an extraordinary imagination.” Caroline shook her head with both sadness and pride. “Doesn’t matter, really.”
She glided close to him and brushed the hair from his face in a maternal way. “You’re lacking, Vincent. Your Bond is broken, like a bridge missing its keystone; a piece of you is missing. I took a chance, leaving her, so I could find a way in here to help.” She poked his head. “Time is running out.”
“Come on.” She abruptly pulled his hand without fear or hesitancy, familiar. “There’s something you need to see.”
The dream moved again, the location changing in an instant, and they were at The Cave. The Cave where a patricidal monster had run to forget himself, to forget his lacking, to forget even Catherine. He could hear his howls, and the shame of it was soul-killing.
He saw her, for a split second. He saw Catherine, leaving the father he once thought he had murdered, cautiously walking into the cavern where the monster had fled. Catherine’s shout reverberated off cold stone.
“No!” The Vincent next to the ghost woman howled, “Please…”
Caroline Chandler grabbed his vest. Ghost or memory, she was strong and wouldn’t let him go. She grounded him.
“Vincent, look at me!”
He didn’t want to look. He shook his head, trying to throw off this part of his life, this awful aspect of himself.
Caroline, however, would not be deterred or denied. “Vincent! Look at me!” Finally, like a child, he obeyed. “You’ve been patient, tenacious, you’ve searched and searched, trying to find my daughter, to save her, but now it is your courage that she needs most. You must go in there and retrieve the memories of this time with her. It’s the piece of you that’s missing. Once you are whole, you will find her again.”
Please, let me find her. How can I be whole until she is with me?
Caroline continued, unrelenting. “She walked into that cave for love of you, and you will do the same for her. You have to regain who you are, and you have to understand what she gave you.”
He tried to control his fear. Why am I so afraid? His deeper thoughts answered, You don’t know what you will find in that cave, because the Beast is uncontrollable, and the Beast is you.
“Vincent, if you take back these memories, I can’t tell you everything that will happen, but I know you can save her and what she’s been keeping safe from the monster that took her.”
Hope. In so many months, he had forgotten what it felt like.
“I will help you if I can, but, Vincent, if you can’t face what is in that cave, she will be lost to you, to everyone, this I know. Now, you walk into that cave,” her delicate hands shook his sweater, “and find out what kind of man you are. Find out who you are with her.” She let go of his sweater. “All right?”
This was the very essence of faith, and he had faith,…in Catherine. He slowly nodded.
“Good,” Caroline said as she brushed his pullover flat and smiled. “‘Memory is the mother of all wisdom.’”
“Aeschylus,” Vincent answered as he looked into the black.
“Very good,” she chuckled and then smiled at him, and he knew why Charles Chandler had fallen in love with this woman. Her smile was a spark of light in the dark. “Thank you, Vincent. I’m glad you found her. I’m glad she picked you. A smart one, a kind one…finally.” In an instant she became earnest again. “I have to get back to her. She is angry, and she’s afraid.” She looked away as if into another room. “He taunts her. He is a demon, Vincent. Do this, and come quickly.”
“If it takes my very soul, I promise, Caroline, I will be there…”
Vincent walked into the cave.