“Everything flows, nothing stands still.”
-Heraclitus from Plato’s Cratylus
“Dear God, Peter, we are in a fine one,” Father fell, more than sat down, in his desk chair, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. A tension headache was coming on.
“Well, this certainly wasn’t what I was expecting to do today.” Peter dropped his bag on the old wooden desk in Father’s chamber. “But, Catherine seems healthy and the baby is good, so…I’ll take these blood samples, and let you know what I find.”
When Catherine and Vincent appeared in the Tunnels, the pipes rang out with their homecoming. It sounded so joyous, like an answered prayer to Father, and to all those that crowded around the couple as they made their way home. The first message, near Central Park, the second on from the West side, then a third, all proclaiming Vincent had found Catherine and was bringing her home, but there was a…hesitancy…about the messages. It wasn’t until later that Father realized why he took his physician’s bag with him. Many seemed to sense the wrongness, the fear. When his old legs finally intercepted them near the Whispering Gallery, he immediately knew something was wrong, but couldn’t, for that moment, recognize it. Father took stock of them, Vincent, grave and anxious, held Catherine up around her shoulders. She looked ill, a barefooted refugee wrapped in Vincent’s cloak, her eyes glazed, and she…shuffled, for lack of a better word. However it wasn’t until little Eric ran up to her that what should have been obvious, but couldn’t be believed, became plain.
“Catherine, I’ve missed you so much!” Eric cried with a child’s eager love, and tried to hug her, but her body, before hidden by Vincent’s cloak, was revealed by the boy’s actions to be very large with child. Eric simply couldn’t get his arms around her, and he pulled back. There was a gasp from someone in the crowd, and Catherine began to shake, and then, fail, her eyes rolling, her body faltering. Vincent swept up her suddenly limp body without a word, and moved towards the hospital chamber. It didn’t escape anyone’s notice when his cloak fell away she was covered with blood. Eric started to cry, but Father saw that Brooke was there to comfort him.
Peter was summoned, and after their initial exam, the two doctors left, to allow Mary and Vincent time to help Catherine clean herself and rest. The men waited, sipping cold and bitter tea. The pipes were almost silent now. The Tunnels entire held its breath, waiting for word on how Vincent and Catherine fared…and about the child. What was he going to tell them? What on Earth was going on?
“She’s resting now,” Mary said. She entered the room, wrapping her shawl a little closer around her body. “Vincent is sitting with her. She’s…clean, and clothed. Vincent insists the blood wasn’t hers, but that’s all he told me.”
“He told us the child is his,” Father contradicted her. “And, now…,” Father picked up his glasses twirling them in his fingers,”…what?” He nearly threw the glasses down in frustration, and grabbed his throbbing head.
Why did he have to always be the one to chart the course? Why did he have the responsibility? The years were weighing, and if he made the wrong decision…he had so, before…
Father sighed, he had taken it on, all of it, thirty some years ago, when he first held his extraordinary son in his arms. Every decision from that point was colored with his Vincent’s well-being in mind.
He pinched his nose. The headache was getting worse.
“Well…,” Father said, decisions made, speaking to Mary, “just tell everyone that they are all right, but nothing else until I talk to Vincent. I believe he and I need to have a conversation, one that now seems long overdue.”
Father got up unsteadily, his entire body aching with tension, and made his slow, labored way back to the hospital chamber. He pulled back the curtain. Vincent sat silent, elbows on his knees, hands together as if in prayer next to the bed that Catherine laid upon. Clad now in Tunnel clothes, she was turned towards the man who had searched so long, her sleeping hand protectively curled around her belly. Vincent looked weary, but he wouldn’t sleep, Father knew. Not if there was a chance she would need him.
“Vincent,” Father called to him.
Vincent awoke from his thoughts, “Father…”
“You should rest now,” a familiar refrain. They were both tired of it.
“You’ve come to ask me questions. I have been waiting,” Vincent closed his eyes, as if bracing for the onslaught.
Am I that person? Father asked himself. Do I persecute him so? Even if I believe it is for his good? He stood next to his son.
“Vincent, I am not here to…please son…I just need information. So I can help you…so I can help Catherine.” Father took his son’s hand. It weighed heavy within his grasp. Vincent wouldn’t look at him. His eyes were open now, but he looked only into the past.
“I didn’t know, Father,” Vincent told him, anticipating the first question. “She was going to tell me of the child, the night she disappeared. I am sure of it now, but until this very morning, I could never dream…” Vincent’s voice faded into silence.
Father glanced over at the sleeping Catherine. “She seems nearly ready to, uh,” he glanced down, nervously, “…to give birth. Do you know how far along…?”
Vincent breathed out, a small derisive laugh, “Yes, I know exactly, ‘how far’…it was the Cave, when I was lost to myself. That is when…our child…was conceived. It was…the only time…”
“Dear God, that was, what, seven months ago…,” seven and a half, perhaps? No more. Yet she measured full term, the baby low, ready for birth. “Are you certain it’s yours?” Was the next question about to leave his lips, but his son’s resolute and stony eyes brooked no argument on that score. Vincent’s child would be born soon.
“Tell me son.”
“She saved my life, that night, when I was no longer…,” Vincent began, “somehow she brought me back, and now…? What have I brought her? That criminal kept her because of me. Because he saw me! He wanted our child for his own. He would have discarded her after.” Tears began to fall from him. “She was there so long… She has scars Father. Cuts that cannot be seen, but they are there. She killed him, to save us,” fury and despair naked in his voice, “she killed him, as I would have. Her anger, her guilt seem…fathomless. I fear how…,” he voice barely a whisper above tears, “…what have I done?”
“No, son,” Father stopped him, “you are just a man, the man who loves her.” So many times he had counseled lovers, fathers in the same position, although he never quite believed he would be doing the same for his own son. “She chose you. Mary, Peter, and I, the whole community will try to help in any way we can. I cannot say that this wasn’t something I feared, for you..for both of you, but I promise, wounds can heal. You brought her to us once to heal, and she will do so again.”
“No, Father!” Dread and anger resurrecting his voice. “You know what I fear!” He stood and pulled him away from Catherine’s sleeping form. He would not allow her to hear his distress if he could help it, Father knew.
Father followed the terrified man, and once they were far enough away that Vincent could be certain his words could not disturb her, he continued. “You of all people should at least speak truth to me! You have instilled…intimated…enough in the past.” A flare of wrath, “Paracelsus’ words..,” but then, despair.
“Paracelsus lied to you, Vincent! We have no idea how you were born.”
“And if his words were true?” He opened his hands to his father, and then curled them in fists. “Those words burn in my memory. ‘…ripped your way…,’” he couldn’t finish. “Could I have condemned her to…”
“Vincent, John was a liar! Anna died because of him, not because of you, and your mother…” he could say no more on that, so he continued on, “If Catherine has been able to carry your child this far, we must have faith that a child was meant to happen. We must have faith. She is strong…”
“I told her that, that she’s strong, but…,” his breath was shaking with tears. “This last year, it is too much for anyone…even her. It is overwhelming. She is drowning, Father.” He sagged under the weight of it, and sobbed. “She is so lost…”
Father moved to embrace his son. “You were lost to us too, once…and she brought you home.”