Steady Light

 

“You lie in all my many Thoughts, like Light,”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Love”

 

It was a place out of time, the black cave she called him to.

He ducked into the small space created where the concrete and rock joined.  Water dripped in the corner opposite a worn, wooden table and broken chair placed on higher sand.  The old furniture along with some graffiti sweeping across the back wall punctuated that, while they were alone now, others knew of this meager room beneath New York.

It wasn’t really out of time, but it certainly felt so, the intimate darkness only eased back by the lamp he carried with him.  He placed it on the table between them without comment, contemplating the yellow glow and play of shadows on her affectionate face and open expression as he waited for her to explain herself.

Why he had even thought to bring the lamp was a mystery.  He felt her descend, and realized he needed the light for her.   His unconscious mind had spoken to his hands before his rational thoughts had caught up to question.

“I sensed you Below,” he began when she didn’t.  Their bond’s slow return through the last weeks still seemed a fragile magic.  He needed to hear of its reality, even from his own lips.

“You did,” she confirmed, but without inquiry or wonder, as if it were a given.

Why had she come this way, the opposite direction from him and home?  It was dangerous on this path.  There could be intruders—although his senses promised there weren’t.  No foreign smells, no strange noises to lure her, nothing out of the ordinary, save that she was here—away of her routine and taking him from his—waiting for him, in a cavern, in the dark.

In the world above when a couple left their commonplace lives to be with one another, to go to dinner, or a performance, or just for a walk, it was called, “a date”.  Perhaps she had used the word to describe their visits with one another, but he never had.  It felt wrong, too informal, especially countering, as those meetings did, the danger they’d endured.

Their stolen times were special, of course, distinct from the everyday.  She did not expect him to watch her at her work, even if that were possible and possibly enjoyable.  He did not ask her to attend the classes he taught, or watch him as he labored, although she might also find that pleasant.

Their visits were extraordinary, but for a long time now, not enough, especially after the reporter and Paracelsus.  She spent much of her free time with him, even taking on less work, despite his protests, to sit with him, talk with him, read with him. Still, at the end of their days, she would leave for her life above, but always with a question unable to be spoken on both their lips.

Perhaps that was what happened to couples—when the special times, the visits, the “dates”, weren’t sufficient.  They would venture into each other’s routine, into each other’s lives.

If it were possible …

It wasn’t.

He could not and she could not, and so a gnawing impasse grew between them, especially after his illness. It was a threat to them, to their dream, but what could be done?

When together, they seemed on the verge of something unable to be uttered, and apart, he could sense her restlessness, her worry.

She was calm now though, a stark contrast to her state the last few days.  It was as if no time, no concerns existed outside this cavern she had called him to like a siren to a sailor.

“Catherine, you stand in the dark.”

“I know, but you brought the light.”  She motioned to the lamp.

“Weren’t you afraid?”

“No.” She shook her head.  “I let love guide me.”

“Into the dark?”  He tried to sound facetious, casual, attempting to step around the significant conversation she clearly wanted to have, but she would not be turned from that path.  He could feel that, the thrill and fear of it like a beat rising in his ears.

“I wasn’t afraid, or, at least, I can control my fear because of you … and for you.”  She looked between them, at the lantern he’d brought.  “I knew you’d come, Vincent, and bring me light.”

He didn’t know how or where to take her words.  Thankfully, she continued before he had to choose.

“It was smart of you,” she said before a small breath of laugh escaped. “The lantern—the glass keeps the flame safe, and if you keep refueling it, the lantern’s light goes on nearly forever.”

She walked around the table, tracing the patterns made on the furrowed surface.

“I told you once about my mother’s candle,” she said, taking her time after her querying statement to allow him to remember.

He nodded.

“It was so small, more for wishes than for light.” She stopped, eyes still on the table, memories transporting her back.  “After she died, that light went out.  My wishes stopped coming true.”

She had wished her mother wouldn’t die.  He could see her, a small girl praying desperately for her mother’s life with only a candle for company.

“After she was gone, I didn’t know I could wish anymore.”

She stayed there, for a moment, lost in those somber years, but soon her melancholy modulated, transforming into a tender warmth.  She glanced up and smiled.

“You gave me a candle, too, for Winterfest. A real candle.  It said, I belonged—to your life, to the Tunnels.  It was one of the most wonderful presents I’ve ever been given, that light.”  But her grin faded quickly, too quickly, just like the brief happiness of that Winterfest.  She shook her head. “But every flame needs guarded, Vincent, or it can go out.” She quietly clapped her hands together.  “Candles are wonderful, but only if they can stay out of the wind, and once they’re gone, their beauty can only live in our memory.”

She crouched until equal with his lantern on the table and spoke into its steady flame.  “Lanterns are better, especially for moving forward.   They’re safer for everyday living.  Sometimes our light needs protection.”

She stood.  “That candle you gave me … it’s gone now, but its light lives here.”  She pointed to the place next to her heart, between her breasts.

(He shouldn’t think too hard on that.  He would though, later, without wishing to, too weak to stop the wanting.)

“You placed a part of you in me, and your light lit the dark places inside my heart.”

“It is the same for me,” he acknowledged. Confessed, really.

“But, Vincent, it frightens me,” she said, shaking her head, trying to find the words.  “A strong wind can snuff out a candle … or even make it fall.  Then its fire might–” The first fear reached her voice. “Might burn everything around it.  It might consume us.”

He placed his hand on the table, looking away, trying to steady himself.  He nodded.  “I understand that fear.”

“I need you, Vincent.”

Her statement was perfectly clear, even to ears rushing with sound and used to every type of denial.  The words held none the frantic desperation he heard after her father’s death. Different in a subtle way … not grief, but potential grief, leading to resolve, dedication.

“I need you … and your light.  You were almost lost.”  She searched for his gaze.  “And I’d be lost without you.  I can’t let that ever happen again.”

How can we fight this, Catherine?

She walked into his embrace as if there were no barriers between them.    “I need to keep an eye on my light, to shelter it.” She pointed to his chest.  “If we’re going to move forward, I need to care for it every day so it won’t be in danger again.”

She raised a lock of his hair, twisting it with gentle fingers, and even he would have to admit it looked golden and glowing, in that place, in her presence.

“And what of your ‘light’?” he asked, his voice sounding flat, compressed under the weight of every thought contrary to hope.  “How would we feed it, down here, in the dark?”

She backed away a step, looking down, slightly guilty about something.  “Well,” she began as she drew a piece of well-known stationary from the pocket of her jacket, “I talked with Father.”  She placed the folded note on the table as one of the children might place their homework before him.  “He and I had some … ideas.”

She had talked to Father? Behind his back?

Before he could think, she said, “They’re about making a life together possible.”

He stood helpless, unable to reach for the heavy paper,  both of them silent until finally she looked away, down at the table, his paralyzed state the only thing that could fluster her, apparently.  She took the note and stuffed it away. “I’ll show them to you … later …” she said nervously.  ”If you want to see them …” She placed both hands in her pockets.  “If you want to.”

How could he not want?  Want filled the space all around them.

“Father said there would be things to work out, and that I’d made a lot of ‘ambitious assumptions’ when it came to you and me,” she offered, along with a shy smile.

He couldn’t see it in the yellow glow that surrounded them, but he was certain she was blushing.  He recognized his own answering heat beginning to rise.

“It might get a little complicated—the give-and-take,” she continued, and as she spoke, he could see in her improving posture, hear in her firm voice, the confidence returning. “But both Father and I agree, the trade-offs are worth it.”

She returned to his arms, grounding herself, grounding him, gazing up, so sure now.   “Father doesn’t want to risk your light again either.”

He chuffed, laughing at how simply she dismissed what appeared insurmountable.

Could it be that easy?  Together, could they navigate the harrowing everyday, as frightening as braving Satan and all his legions? [i]

“Maybe once I thought we couldn’t be together …” She shook her head. “But I don’t want to be apart.  I don’t think we should.” A radiant glow lit her face, and she continued, plainly returning to the case she intended to present.  “And you’re forgetting something—more than anyone else, anything else in my life …” She nodded to him. “You feed my light.”   Her hands smoothed the ties of his cloak from shoulder to elbow.  “We keep each other safe.”

Entreating eyes returned to his own.  “Is it really too much to ask – to want that, Vincent?  To have that as much as we can, for as long as we can?”

She was willing to try.

To bravely step into the unknown …

“No, Catherine.  It isn’t wrong to want that.”  He sighed.  “To be together—I have wished … so long …”

And because she was so brave, he could be brave also.

Wistful gave way to courage, meekness to strength.

“I want that too,” he answered, and instead of only returning her embrace—as easy and familiar as that would be—he advanced.  He flowed forward and kissed her—lips touching, a light, caress—exciting, exhilarating, and also comforting, welcoming.  It was the kiss of someone too old to be a young lover, and too new, too full of wonder, to take any touch for granted.  It was the kiss of a man who had seen the light, the light she discovered, uncovered, protected, and whose fate was sealed by those who loved and believed in him.

It was that simple.

After too many trials and so many sleepless nights, it was simple after all.   He was loved, thoroughly, and beginning to realize he might just be worthy of it.

It was love and love was all.

He deepened the kiss, as much as he understood how, following where instinct commanded, drawing her up, gathering her in.  Her lips were so soft, and he explored their texture and shape as he had always wished to, thoroughly.

The question on their lips all that time hadn’t been a one for words after all.

She was surprised at his boldness, pleasantly, happily, if what he sensed from her was right.  He withdrew only enough to communicate with his eyes that he too shared her “ambitious assumptions.”  She smiled, tears of relief and joy glinting gold in the lamp’s rays.

All the rest would work itself out—he hoped; God, he hoped—but she seemed to have enough certainty and love to light all the caves of Manhattan.

He gathered her hand, smoothed it and kissed it, then reached for the lantern.

“I have a deposition Monday,” she began, slightly out of breath, “and promised to meet my friend Sarah for a lunch date tomorrow, so …” She lengthened the word. “What are we doing until then?” she asked, as if it was the most normal thing in the world, as if nothing was different, even if, in that place out of time, the world had tilted, and life— for better or worse—would never be the same again.

The lantern, held aloft, illuminated her smile and the path home.  For a moment he could only admire her beauty, steadfast and shining, then stepped carefully out of the cavern with her by his side, back into time—their time.

 

“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth….” 
 E.M. Forster, A Room with a View

  

[i] Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

 

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