by Cynthia Hatch
The bridge and the basement of Levine's Hardware Emporium were jumbled in her mind. One moment she was standing in the greenish fluorescent light of the cellar, watching the wall balloon inward, the aluminum ladder detaching itself, flying towards her; the next she was braced on a rocky floor, teetering on ground that was crumbling from beneath her feet, reaching out to Vincent.
With what expression did he return her frantic look? It made her head hurt to remember. She would sink into unconsciousness, only to rise again, the same two scenes flicking interspersed behind her eyelids.
The periods of blackness became fewer. She fought hard to focus on the part of the film that kept replaying itself in fits and flashes, entwined with another whose import she couldn't grasp. The memories slowed. She thought she knew the beginning: she and Vincent walking in a wide tunnel of umber rock. Her hand was in his. They were talking - about what?
Small things, exchanges about what they had done since they last met, about the people close to them in their respective worlds. There was a chasm, no more than twelve feet across, spanned by a bridge of stone. The thought of crossing it had not frightened her; she was with him.
The bridge was not wide enough for them to walk side by side, as they had been doing. He stepped out on it first, holding tight to her hand, looking at her with encouragement, and she had smiled, letting him see that his hand, his eyes were security enough for her. She had stepped out behind him, and the shaking began. Had there been a sound? She thought there had, but when she tried to call it back, she saw again the cold light of the cellar, the ladder coming towards her and heard a muffled boom.
She willed her aching head back to that other vision of herself leaping back onto firmer ground. How? How could that be? She saw the bridge crumbling into the abyss and Vincent on the other side. But something was wrong; the pain must be playing tricks with the memory, distorting images, but it was so clear.
He had let go of her hand. Purposely let go. And she - why hadn't she clung to him? Why hadn't he pulled her with him in the two long strides it took him to reach the other side? Had he known she'd be safer there, if he let her jump back onto the rocky path where they had been strolling? But it wasn't safe: no sooner had she landed there, than the earth beneath her was falling away. And the expression in his eyes - what did it mean?
The pain grew sharper, as she felt hysteria rising within her. She had called to him frantically, terrified for herself, for him; in that brief instant wanting to be with him, whatever the horror that was shaking the tunnel, raising yellow clouds, as the stone disintegrated.
The walls shuddered; pieces of rock descended around them, the hideous dust almost obscuring him from her sight. There was death here, pulsating all around them, and she wanted only to be with him when it came. He had taught her how to face life with its inevitable pain, and she knew that he could give her the strength she needed to face death as well. If she could be with him, in his arms, even its power would be secondary. The truth of their bond flowed through her and through him, and she never doubted that their oneness would survive beyond this life. Perhaps only outside the limits of these worlds they lived in now could they ever truly be joined.
He was only a few feet away from her, but the chasm yawned between them. She reached out desperately, threatening her precarious balance, and he just stood there, hood thrown back, looking at her with that expression she could not understand. There was love in his eyes, oh yes - the clear, blue brilliance of them seemed made of love, but there was no fear in them, no sadness.
She fought hard to name the emotion she saw there and realized it was pride. He was proud of her; she could feel it, but for what? It made no sense. As she watched, other faces appeared in the tunnel behind him: Father, Mary, Mouse, so many others, all standing smiling slightly, watching her. Her panic increased, and a scream ripped from her throat, "Vincent!"
She heard it as only a strangled sound. Her eyes snapped open to be assaulted by intense light. She blinked and took in the smooth beige walls, the crisp white sheet that covered her, the metal rail on the bed. A balding man in a doctor's coat stood, holding her wrist.
"How do you feel?" he asked, when she looked at him.
She was surprised that her voice sounded almost normal. "My head hurts."
"I'm sure it does. Can you tell me your name?"
"Catherine - Catherine Chandler."
"Uh-huh. I'm Dr. Golding, Miss Chandler. Do you know what day this is?" He had taken a penlight from his pocket and was shining it into her eyes.
"I guess it's still Thursday, May 18th."
"Good. Know what year that might be?"
"'89," she said with some exasperation.
"And who's president of the United States?"
"Who's the RBI leader in the American League?"
"I have no idea."
"That's okay, I don't either." He smiled and put the flashlight back in his pocket. "You'll be alright, Miss Chandler. There's no fracture, only a mild concussion, but I'd like to keep you here overnight, just for observation. Is there a relative we can call?"
"No, no one. I have a horrible headache."
"We'll be able to give you something for that soon. You should feel much better by morning. The man who brought you in - he's waiting outside. Would you like to see him before we get you settled for the night?"
Vincent! But no, it couldn't be. He had brought her safely to a hospital before when she'd been badly hurt, but, of course, he couldn't come inside. She felt confused, watching Dr. Golding's retreating back, watching the doorway that opened onto the highly polished linoleum, the clean dull stretch of corridor wall.
Why did hospitals always look so depressing despite their bright lights and pristine atmosphere?
Footsteps approached. Illogically, she hoped they were made by booted feet, would give anything if that powerful figure would come to fill the doorway, but the face that peered at her, concern in the warm, brown eyes, was Joe's.
"You scared me this time, kiddo," he said, approaching the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I've got a bad hangover."
He sat down on the plastic chair near the bed and leaned his elbows on his knees. "Don't worry, Cath. The doc says you'll be fine. It could have been a whole lot worse."
"I - I don't remember. What happened, Joe? How did I get here?"
"The doctor said you might not remember - it's nothing to worry about. A gas main exploded down on Canal. You and me and Greg Hughs - we were down in that crummy basement, looking for the .38 that Sutter said he hid there. The thing blew, and a ladder hit you. We made it out of there before the whole damned wall fell in, and got you an ambulance.
"Were many people hurt, Joe? There must have been a fire."
"I don't know. The city was on top of it before the ambulance even got there - fire department, the maintenance guys, ConEd. The place was a circus, but apparently the explosion was down deep. They may have contained it before it did much more than shake up those lousy firetraps."
The tunnels? The explosion had been in the tunnels, and she'd been there too and Vincent.
No, that couldn't be. Joe said she'd been with him, and she could picture it now - the junk filled cellar, the three of them poking through boxes and behind filthy piles of rubbish and tools. There had been bugs and cobwebs, and she remembered she'd been fearful that she might encounter a rat. The other must have been, had to have been, a dream brought on by fear and her injury. But if, in fact, the explosion had ripped into the tunnels, had it reached those she loved? The center of their world was far away from the lower east side, but what about the city crews that would go down there? Would they see something - someone - they shouldn't? Her head began to pound harder, and the pain must have been reflected on her face, as Joe leaned forward and took her hand.
"Hey, you look like you could use some rest. I better get out of here. Is there anything you need, anything I can bring you?"
"No, thanks Joe. I can go home in the morning."
"Yeah, I know. I'll come get you, Cath."
"You don't have to do that."
"Look, tomorrow's a working day. I'm the boss, and your assignment is to let me take you home. I'm giving you the day off, Radcliffe, you'd better appreciate it. It probably won't happen again."
"Okay, Joe. Thanks," she smiled. He got up to leave, and as he reached the door, she called, "The gun, Joe - did we find the gun?"
He grinned. "Blew right out of the air duct - almost knocked Hughs over on the way out. We're a great team, Cathy. What did you expect?"
He left, and she tried again to make sense of the vision that had seemed so clear, yet inexplicable. It had to be only that - a nightmare vision. Even now it seemed to be fading, taking on the elusive quality of a dream, but still she worried. Damage to the tunnels, the possibility of discovery.
She glanced at the window, wondering what floor she was on, knowing it wouldn't really matter; if he could come to her he would, and she needed to be with him, to see his face, and erase that other vision of him, letting her go, watching her struggle in her isolation and looking at her with admiration.
If he came to her in the night, she didn't know it. She slept deeply, scarcely aware of the brief examinations she was subjected to throughout the night, When she woke to the smell of breakfast, she realized she was hungry. Her headache was gone, and she felt quite normal. Joe arrived soon afterwards, and Dr. Golding released her.
On the ride uptown Joe filled her in on the aftermath of the explosion. There'd been several injuries, but no fatalities, the fire contained, and the damage restricted to a single block. She tried to think of some way to quiz him further on what had happened underground, but he probably wouldn't know anyway.
At her apartment he fixed them both a cup of coffee, and they argued briefly over whether she should be left alone.
"Joe, if you knew how well I actually feel, you'd drag me into the office, so just stop fussing. Go to work. I'll call if there are any problems."
She shoved him out the door and glanced at the terrace. It was sunny. So many hours till he could come to her. She tried to read, to watch television. She'd been told to rest, but she felt wide awake, and she needed to know that everything below was well. Finally, she put on her sweat clothes and boots, grabbed a flashlight and left the apartment.
The subbasement was deserted, and she moved with practiced ease to the hidden entrance, pulling back the boxes that obscured it. Her fingers froze. The wall they revealed was solid; someone had bricked it up.
She ran her hands over it, unwilling to believe what she saw. The bricks had been painted to match the rest of the wall, but the paint didn't seem fresh. It looked dingy; dust came off on her fingers. How many days since she'd used this entrance - five or six? It didn't seem possible. She rocked back on her heels and stared at the blank expanse, trying to make sense of it.
Finally, she stood, not bothering to scoot the cartons back into place, and ran up to the lobby. Out on the street she was forced to wait for the stream of cars to slow, her heart pounding. She threaded her way between them, crossing into the park where she broke into a run. Near the drainage tunnel, she forced herself to slow down. A couple lay on the slope, necking. Farther up the green hill that rounded gently over the pipe, three teenagers were playing frisbee. You can't go in there, she told herself. You can't jeopardize the secret.
She took a gulp of air and sank down on the grass, her mind racing with her heart. The vision - that panic she'd experienced was eating its way into the waking world. It was only a dream she'd had, brought on by the bump on her head. She mustn't let it influence her. But the wall that blocked her access to the tunnels - that had been very real.
Confusion gripped her like a drug. The people around the ditch still showed no signs of leaving. There were thoughts, frightful thoughts, nudging at her consciousness, bizarre notions no doubt brought on by the trauma, that she was determined to ignore. She had to think clearly, to make sure that she concentrated on the issue at hand, the assurance that all was well below.
The tunnel was just in front of her, so close, but she dared not go in, not with the number of people who might see her. After a while, she pushed herself up and started back the way she'd come. She'd just have to wait, get a hold on herself, till he could come to her. Vincent would have an explanation. He would soothe her. Everything would be alright.
The running had caused her head to ache again, and she entered the lobby, sweating, breathing hard.
"This is the wrong time of day for jogging, Miss Chandler," the doorman greeted her. "It's too hot out there."
"Yeah, Roger, I found that out." She hoped her tone didn't betray the cold anxiety that was creeping in at every pore.
She entered the elevator, and the door closed. The trip back up seemed endless. There was something she had to get, had to hold in her hand. She let herself into the apartment and rushed to the bedroom, pulling the bedspread back, reaching under her pillow. It wasn't there. Frantically, she tossed both pillows on the floor and ripped the sheets from the mattress. Nothing.
Strong with adrenaline, she shoved the heavy bed out into the room, crawling on her hands and knees behind it, feeling every inch of the carpet. She stood up and searched through the night table, then ran to the closet. She pulled clothes from their hangers, going through the pockets, snatched purses from the shelf and turned them upside down, discarding them on the bedroom floor. Her knees were shaking, and she let them carry her to the carpet. The crystal was gone.
She'd known it couldn't be anywhere but under her pillow, the place she always kept it when it wasn't around her neck. When Vincent had first put it on her, she had sworn to herself that she would never take it off; that sweet moment would always be remembered as long as it lay over her heart. But later the very pricelessness of it had given her caution. If she wore it always, someone might notice, might guess that it held for her some deep significance that would make them curious, so she had resisted the longing and protected its secret by wearing it only occasionally.
She couldn't have lost it. She would have felt its absence the moment it slipped from the slender chain. She was always conscious of it, resting against her skin, reminding her of him. Could someone have broken in - found it under her pillow? She looked around. Her art objects still gleamed in their glass case. The television and VCR - all the mundane things that might appeal to a burglar were stolidly in place. The only havoc in the apartment was what she'd wreaked herself.
As her eyes swept the familiar surroundings, she felt a sudden rush of nausea in the pit of her stomach. Why? What had triggered it - something she'd noticed? No, her mind offered no explanation; it must be a residual effect of the concussion and her agitated state. She tried to calm down, reminding herself that head injuries could produce all sorts of irrational thoughts, but the next moment she was leaping up to run into the living room.
The book of sonnets he'd given her - she always kept it out, so that she could pick it up and read a verse at anytime. It wasn't on the coffee table. She reached underneath and ran her hand under the couch. Maybe she'd slipped it unthinking into the bookcase. She went to it, touching each book, willing it to be one of them. She couldn't find it. Her panic was palpable now, smothering her so that it was hard to breathe. It seemed she might collapse under its weight. Then suddenly something else caught her eye, not what she'd been looking for, but just as dear, just as powerful in its ability to calm her, to allow her to take a cleansing breath again. The afternoon sun picked out the gilt design on its spine, the words Great Expectations. She snatched it from the shelf, hugging it to her breast, saying a prayer of thanks for its reality that dispelled her unnamed fear.
The terrace welcomed her, and she sat down still clutching the book to her. Darkness would come, and he would come with it. She didn't go back inside, didn't eat or clean up the mess she'd made in the bedroom. She wanted to be here the second he arrived, did not want to miss one instant of his presence. The afternoon wore on. She dozed, but her sleep was haunted by that same old reel of cinema noir: she and Vincent walking hand in hand, the cataclysm that followed, the enigmatic look he gave her as she floundered.
The phone rang, and reluctantly she went inside to answer it. If she didn't, whoever was calling might worry about her and come over, and she wanted nobody here, nobody but him. It was Joe, asking if she needed anything, wondering if she'd like to have company. She begged off, telling him she was going to bed. When she looked at the clock, she gasped. It was after nine, and he still hadn't come. It must have been dark for an hour or more by now. She ran back outside. The shadows were cool and empty. Why? Why hadn't he come to her? Surely, he felt the turmoil that had consumed her since yesterday. What could possibly keep him from her?
The dream - the horrible destruction in the tunnel. Could it have been something real that he was experiencing? Had their connection brought that picture to her, and had it been true? Had he really stood in a shower of stone at the edge of the abyss? She threw down the book she was still carrying. Stopping only for a flashlight, she ran out of the apartment. streaking by the doorman and across the darkened street, running desperately through the night shadows of the park.
She barely glanced around as she entered the drainage tunnel and stumbled for the gate. It was, of course, closed. As her flashlight played over it, the bars appeared to be more firmly in place than she remembered. It looked rusted, fused to the walls, nor did the sharp tug she gave it produce the slightest movement, the faintest creak to indicate it could be budged. The lever that would allow the door to be opened from this side winked mockingly in the flashlight's beam, safe behind the metal gridwork that also refused to yield.
She whirled and knelt, fumbling for the rock that was always there, so she could tap out a message on the pipes. It was gone; someone must have absentmindedly carried it away. She pulled off a shoe and tried to use the heel as hammer, but the sound was muffled; it wouldn't carry far below.
She darted back out of the tunnel, scrambling over the hillside until she found a good-sized stone, running back inside to bang out an SOS, again and again. She stopped, listening. Was the message reaching its destination? There was no reply. Impossible that the pipe chamber would be unmanned. Impossible that someone down there hadn't heard her frantic signal, wasn't responding to tell her they were coming.
Her ears strained for a hint of sound beyond the door: footsteps, the click of the mechanism hidden there, but there was only the sound of her own labored breathing. The nameless fear welled up in her again, threatening to expose itself in all its awful finality.
She turned the flashlight on the tunnel wall and reached out with the other hand, scraping at the dirt. It should have been right here - that inscription carved long ago by two boys, the names Vincent and Devin, but she couldn't find it. She scratched harder at the surface, tearing her nails, her fingertips raw and bleeding. It enveloped her now - the panic, the unnamed dread that was whispering in her ear, pushing, wanting to tell her its name. She clutched at the iron bars, shaking them, sobbing, her forehead against the cold, unyielding metal.
"Hey! What are you doing in there?"
Glare from a flashlight much more powerful than her own assailed her eyes. It moved, and she could see the silhouette of a man in the moonlight, looking into the mouth of the tunnel. The moon shone on the badge he wore. She'd done it - jeopardized the secret with her carelessness. Dimly, she felt the shame of it, but her shaking body was overcome by a greater emotion. She turned back, pulling madly at the gate. An animal cry echoed shrilly off the walls.
She screamed for him again and again, even as the patrolman grabbed her, pulling her away from the gate. She fought him, kicking and scratching, mindless of the more effective techniques Isaac had taught her, caught up totally in the madness that enshrouded her. It was as if doors were swinging open in her mind, revealing hideous thoughts, crazy images. Behind one of them she saw quite clearly the thing that had so upset her in the apartment, the thing that hadn't registered because it couldn't be there - her mother's porcelain rose, gleaming whitely in the glass case. She was still fighting, still screaming his name, when the doors slammed shut, and she sank into oblivion.
The ducklings had grown, lost their childish wobbliness and now swam gracefully after their mother on the tranquil pond. The sun was warm, yet even in August, there was a crispness in the air, a hint of autumn.
Her wrist on the wrought iron table was thin and pale. She looked at the dandelion that her fingers explored listlessly; you're pretty, she thought, You may be a weed, and people think you don't belong, but it doesn't change the fact that you're pretty.
The wide stretch of manicured lawn was dotted with patients sitting at little tables, some in wheelchairs. Many were talking to visitors. She had had her share of those over the last three months. It had warmed her to find how deeply her friends cared for her. Jenny and Joe driving all the way up from the city to spend the afternoon. Several people she'd almost lost touch with had materialized, expressing their friendship and concern. It had surprised her; as much as she had cut herself off from old friends over the last two years, they hadn't forgotten her, wanted to show that they still cared.
And Nancy - Nancy had come most often. The sanitarium was in Westchester, not far from the Connecticut border, so even with her own busy schedule Nancy had managed to set aside time to spend in conversation. How she had welcomed her visits - not at first, not when the wound was so raw that every word brought her to tears, but later, as she grew stronger, she had been glad that it was Nancy who came most frequently. Only Nancy of all her friends had already heard her speak of Vincent, knew the depth of her feelings for him, and it was only to Nancy that she spun long tales of the life they shared.
At last she could tell the secret, and she did so wanting someone else to understand, to see that wonderful hidden world as clearly as she did in her mind's eye. She described every physical detail she could recall of the people who lived there, every object in Vincent's chamber, in Mouse's, the jumbled richness of Father's study. There were things she left out, things too dear, too personal to be exposed to light without tapping that seemingly bottomless reservoir of grief. They were things difficult to put into words, and so she didn't try, hugging them safe in her heart, the last vestige of a dream.
At first visitors had approached her warily, afraid to question her, to say the wrong thing, but they had come back faithfully, aware that their friendship was bolstering her. After those first tortuous weeks with the doctors when she had raved, tearing pieces of the story out of herself for their perusal, she had gradually calmed, reached some level of acceptance. She was able to have normal conversations with her visitors. No longer brittle and fragmented, she would tell them a little, very little, of her thoughts, and they would relax and relate to her incidents in their own lives, gossip, and news, and she would be able to smile and return their empathy.
It no longer shocked her when one of these people spoke of some event in her life, something that had happened in the past two years, describing it in a way that she would not have recognized weeks ago. Jenny had spoken of Steven Bass, still locked away in a psychiatric hospital, far less in touch with reality than she was now. Catherine had asked about his physical injuries, and Jenny hadn't understood.
"You mean what you did to him, Cathy, when he tried to attack you? I'm sure his groin has recovered by now, which is too bad. I don't care how crazy he is, you were lucky to get away from him."
No, not lucky. It had been the skills Isaac taught her, the ability to use her own fear and anger to attack him. She remembered that now - remembered Steven rolling on the ground, incapacitated with pain, and her own mad dash to the nearest neighbor, banging on the door, being taken inside while the police were called. So many things, so many incidents which now had a new explanation in her mind, but she wouldn't forget the other, wouldn't even try.
Some conversations had been harder than others. Two weeks ago she had sat in the parlor with Joe, and he'd been praising her for the good work she'd done since joining the DA's office, assuring her that her job was still waiting whenever she was well enough to return.
She had been unable to meet his eyes, when she said, haltingly, "But the bodies, Joe, so many bodies - the blood."
He had given her that nervous look they all did when they feared her illness was talking. "The bodies, Cath? You mean the guys that have died - the cases you were working on?"
She managed a nod.
"I know, it's tough to deal with that - the shootings, the guy that fell out the window - all of 'em. It's hard for anybody to be involved in that crap as much as you've been. I blame myself. I should have run more interference between you and Moreno. He wanted to throw you into the thick of things, and I went along with it. I should have known that somebody from your background couldn't be exposed to all that so fast and not take it pretty hard. You were so tough, kiddo, bouncing back like a trouper from every rotten incident. It was stupid of me not to realize it was tearing you up inside."
"Oh, no, Joe," she said tearfully, grabbing his hand. "I didn't mean that. I'm grateful for the part you let me play bringing so many awful people down. It made me feel that I could really help make a difference. Please don't think you did anything wrong. I'm just feeling - fragile right now."
"Well, don't think we're putting you back out there on the streets right away. I'm chaining you to your chair, and I'm gonna weigh you down with so much paperwork, you'll need bifocals before you're finished with it."
"It sounds boring." She smiled at him through her tears and was touched by the way his eyes lit up in response. God, she was lucky to have people like Joe. It couldn't be easy for him, coming here. His blunt nature must be hard pressed to negotiate the dangerous shoals of dealing with an unstable person, someone he respected and cared for, but he forced himself to do it, to run the risk of saying the wrong thing, causing her bruised emotions to overflow in a way that would leave him feeling clumsy and helpless. They all did it, all of those who cared about her, and she loved them for it. It had taken such a long time to recognize how much good there really was in people. It had been Vincent's doing, always Vincent.
At first she had been subjected to sessions with several different psychiatrists. They had seemed to find her case unusually intriguing. She had the sense that they discussed it continually among themselves, like astronomers who'd discovered a new star. Maybe that was paranoia. Dr. Grafton had told her that if she had the rationality to question that assessment - to wonder if she was being paranoid, then she probably wasn't. He'd even gone so far as to quote the old cliche: just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean somebody isn't out to get you. He had gotten her to smile that day, one of the first times, and he'd told her that yes, her experience would undoubtedly find its way into medical journals - that the fact she was still so in touch with it, could describe it articulately was unusual, that such a diagram for the delusional process would be invaluable to future cases.
She had winced at the word "delusional" and knew she was anything but articulate in their first sessions. She had spent what seemed like many hours over a period of time, refusing to divulge her thoughts, refusing to compromise the secret, but she knew, even then, that the secret lay only with her; the world she protected and him - they lived only in her heart, her mind.
She was immeasurably grateful when Dr. Grafton took over her case completely. He would drive all the way up to Westchester for their sessions. Had he guessed a year ago when she first went to him, ostensibly to discuss her mother's death, that the other information she'd given him was not precisely what it seemed? His quiet encouragement had allowed her to speak of Vincent. He had prodded her gently, needing to know more about this elusive figure who dominated her thoughts. When she'd refused to elaborate, had he surmised that it was a mental block he was confronting and not just her refusal to break a promise? He never said, and she had no wish to ask, preferring to keep that chapter in her life untainted by the scrutiny of rational examination.
She was released from the sanitarium in late August, restricted only by orders to take two more weeks rest before she returned to the office, and by her twice weekly visits to Dr. Grafton. She had hated those first confrontations with the doctors in Westchester, hated the way they tried to make her speak of things heavily guarded in her heart, hated herself for every meager glimpse she let them have of the world she'd promised to protect. The hysteria that had gripped her in the park that night had given way under her exhaustion and the sedatives they'd used to control her. She had little memory of a brief stay in Bellevue before she was whisked away to the gentler climes of Lakeside. There she had been calmer but still rebellious against the cold truth she could no longer deny.
It was only later, as the summer wore on, that she realized she was looking forward to her talks with Dr. Grafton, though they inevitably brought some pain; it was a pain that he helped her put into perspective. Others spoke of her "breakdown"; Dr. Grafton called it a "breakthrough". What some saw as an affliction, he celebrated as a triumph - proof that the human mind, her mind, was a wonderful and powerful thing, capable of sustaining life by whatever means necessary, until it could be lived fully again.
More importantly, he never suggested she put her memories of Vincent and that other world aside. He saw them as an important element of her character to be cherished and enjoyed in their own light. She could never have done it, would never have tried, whatever the consequences, but his acceptance of that made her feel open to him, grateful.
Now she sat in the familiar leather chair in his Manhattan office, a late summer sun warming the room. They were going over territory they had covered before. At first this tendency in therapists had annoyed her, but slowly she'd realized the wisdom of it. It was not enough to examine the problems, to understand their origins, to discover ways to cope with their implications. It was far too easy to mouth the words, claim an understanding that she didn't truly feel. He would coax her to find her own truth in them, to recognize it as true, and to believe in herself again - in her feelings.
Initially, it had seemed she did all the talking, that his carefully crafted silences were designed to make her uncomfortable so she would fill the void with her own voice, revealing her innermost thoughts. The method had served its purpose, but of late he was more forthcoming, more willing to answer her questions instead of turning them back on her. As she'd regained a healthy perspective, their sessions had taken on more the feeling of conversations, the exchange of ideas between friends who trusted each other. She was no longer attempting to hide anything, and he rewarded her with a certain candor.
"People still keep talking like I've had a nervous breakdown. They're sympathetic and kind, but it bothers me that they have it all turned around, that they think what happened this May was the beginning of my illness instead of the beginning of my recovery."
"Nervous collapse is something most people know about. They're comfortable with the idea, knowing patients recover."
"I know. It's picky of me, I guess. It's just that I know they're trying to figure out what caused it, and that bump on the head I got at Levine's wasn't sufficient cause. I feel like they're wondering if I'm too fragile for my job, if the pressures of work didn't bring it on."
"What did bring it on?"
"The accident - two years ago - the attack."
"People who know you well will think back and make that connection."
"I suppose so, but they know so little of what actually went on in my mind. It would be a pretty tenuous connection."
"Few people appreciate the resiliency, the infinite capacity for adaptation that a healthy mind has. Would you like some coffee?" She nodded, and he went to a table behind his desk to fill two cups.
"I have trouble thinking of myself as particularly healthy back then - mentally, I mean."
"Why?" He handed her a cup and returned to his chair beside the desk.
"Before the attack I didn't think much about anything important - my next date, where I was going on vacation. I wasn't very sensitive to other people.'
"You weren't utilizing all your resources, but you were capable of it, Cathy. Your psyche was just waiting for something to tap its potential."
"Would that have happened, do you think, if it hadn't been for the attack?"
"What do you think?"
"I don't know. It's common, I suppose, for people who've been through a crisis, something life-threatening, to reevaluate their lives. You discover that your time's too precious to waste on trivial things, but I'm not sure I could have done it, if it wasn't for --"
"If it wasn't for Vincent?"
"And what are you really saying when you tell me that, Cathy?"
"That it was his image in me that showed me the way." Her voice had lowered as it always seemed to do when she was forced to speak words that denied his reality.
"And who created that image?"
"You can be proud of that, Cathy. Sometimes in the wake of a terrible trauma such as you suffered, the mind escapes entirely, often never to be fully functional again. It may cope by fragmenting - schizophrenia or even multiple personalities."
"Any old mental illness in a storm, I guess," she said with only a hint of bitterness.
"However incapacitating those illnesses may be, they are, in fact, attempts to survive, to cope, to regain a healthy balance."
"But they don't work."
"Sadly, that's often true, but there's a big difference between those conditions and yours. Have you figured out what it is?"
"Not really. They all can be cured sometimes, can't they?"
"Sometimes. But while they last, the victim operates at only a fraction of his usual capabilities, if at all. What have you accomplished since the night you were assaulted?"
She was tempted to say, "very little". Her job seemed so frustrating at times - two drug dealers popping up for every one they took down, people guilty of heinous crimes against whom there wasn't enough concrete evidence to act, the endless stream of abuse cases that crossed her desk, the criminals, guilty as sin, who walked on a technicality. But she had to be honest. What progress had been made by the DA's office had often involved her own hard work, her willingness to risk her life in a just cause. "More than I ever accomplished in the thirty years before that," she said finally.
"I'm glad you see that, Cathy. You were not just functional - you surpassed your former self in every way. I don't want you to think of this delusional pattern you constructed for yourself as anything shameful or negative."
"I never could."
"Good. You found a way to bear up under the horror. You reached down inside yourself and brought up compassion, courage, sensitivity - a kind of nobility."
"You're describing Vincent."
He nodded. "Vincent is a part of you."
"He used to tell me that," she said, trembling at the memory. "He said the beauty I saw in him was in myself. He told me we'd always be a part of each other, that we were one." A tear escaped her, and Dr. Grafton handed her a tissue.
"The mind isn't devious, Cathy. It's a pretty straightforward machine. It was telling you - through Vincent's words - the simple truth. You just weren't ready to hear it yet."
She wiped her cheek and whispered, "I needed him. I needed a safe place to go when life got too scary, even if it was only in my head."
"And how beautifully your mind accommodated that need. It gave you, not only Vincent, but a whole world that was loving and safe and accepting - everything that I'm afraid good old NYC is not."
He allowed her to sit quietly, following the trail of her own thoughts. "Father," she said at last. "Father was so wise and protective of us all."
"Was there any of your own father in him, Cathy?"
"Some - in his unconditional love for Vincent. I always felt that from my own dad, but Father was far more intellectual than Daddy - more scholarly."
"Did you ever wish those qualities for your own father?"
She laughed. "I don't think so. Daddy was just Daddy. I adored him. I don't ever remember wanting him to change - just perhaps to take more time to be with me."
"Like Father did with the people in the tunnels?"
"Yes. Father always had time for everyone - especially Vincent, even when he was grown. They'd have long talks together, share books, play chess. They had enormous respect for each other." She was relaxed now, thankful that he let her go on this way, describing the people she loved as if they were real.
"Did you share the same mutual respect with your own father?"
"Yes." She hesitated. "No, not really - love, yes, and towards the end I think he learned to respect my decisions, but it was a long haul. Daddy tended to see me as an extension of himself. It wasn't till after the accident that I had the courage to contradict his idea of what I should be, but I always respected him. I thought he was perfect."
"Nobody's perfect, are they, Cathy?"
"No - nobody real." She managed a wan smile. Dr. Grafton sat silently, obviously expecting her to go on. She squirmed slightly, and the leather chair creaked. "I guess maybe part of me didn't respect the life he'd chosen, the fact that his work took precedence over his personal relationships, but what could I say - I was just as self-centered myself, so I couldn't have been thinking anything as critical as all that."
"But you did - eventually."
"Yes, I guess I did. It hurt him when I left the firm, but I wanted to do more - to help somebody besides myself."
"And a part of you, deep down, must have always been capable of that."
"I guess so," she conceded. After a moment, she said, "It was my mother who was really the intellectual. As young as I was when she died, I knew how much she read, how she loved plays and lectures. She didn't have a very happy childhood. I think she must have taken solace in books."
He nodded. "All the people that you admire, real and imagined - you knew which qualities were important to you. You found comfort in those. Have you thought anymore about Vincent - what he represented to you?"
Had she thought of little else? The fact that Dr. Grafton hadn't guessed how much Vincent still consumed her thoughts made her feel suddenly shaky, as if the safety net they had constructed together was not totally secure. But he'd told her it was alright to remember. He was even discussing Vincent on the same factual basis that they'd discussed her father. She took a deep breath. "He gave me everything."
"Love, protection, friendship, understanding, respect, safety, knowledge, insight, an appreciation for literature - everything."
"Is that quite everything, Cathy?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"Okay. Would you like some more coffee?" She shook her head. "What about men, Cathy? What kind of relationships have you had with men since the attack?"
"Good ones - nothing unusual."
"The men who assaulted you - they must have made you feel helpless, as well as terrified. You must have hated them."
"I did, but they're dead now. The police shot them." It felt strange to say that, but she'd asked Joe for the police report, and he'd given it to her. It clearly stated that she'd been in imminent danger and that two patrolmen had entered the brownstone and shot her assailants. There had been a minor brouhaha over the use of unnecessary force, but they'd been exonerated. Still, she remembered the guilt she'd suffered, the shame for having been the catalyst for so much destruction.
"What?" She came back to an awareness of Dr. Grafton patiently waiting.
"Did your attitude towards men change as a result of the assault?"
"If you mean did I decide to take my anger out on all of them, I didn't. Some of my dearest friends are men that I met during that period."
"I wasn't talking about friendship. Did you have any intimate relationships in the past two years?"
"I don't know; I just didn't meet anyone I felt that strongly about."
"Is that surprising, do you think? You're an attractive young woman, out and about in the city. There must have been men who were interested in you."
"Some, but I didn't feel that way about them."
"I don't know. Why does anyone feel attracted to some people and not to others?"
"That's a good question. Why don't you tell me the answer?"
She threw him one of her old defiant looks, but he appeared at ease, ready to wait her out. She twisted the Kleenex she still held in her hand, not liking the direction the conversation was taking. "Because," she said finally, "they weren't Vincent. Nobody mattered but Vincent."
He nodded. "And did you ever imagine that you and Vincent had an intimate relationship - physically?"
She bridled, but whether at the question or his use of the word "imagined", she wasn't sure herself. Yes, in the dream she had imagined, burned with the longing for it, but it had never been acted upon. "No," she said tersely, "we didn't."
"The feelings you've described to me were of a very deep, mutual love, yet you never attempted to consummate those feelings."
"No." She refused to say more.
"It would be understandable, Cathy, if your attack left you feeling vulnerable, fearful of getting too close to a man."
"Did you ever admit that to yourself when you came across someone who appealed to you?"
"I told you. I wasn't attracted to anyone else - just Vincent."
"But you also told me you never became intimate with him either."
She lapsed into silence,
"Has it occurred to you, Cathy, that as long as you were going to the trouble of concocting a perfect world in your mind, you could have made Vincent perfect also?"
"He was perfect," she said, rising to the bait.
"Yes - no. I've told you - he was different."
"Why do you suppose you needed him to be different?"
She bit her lip. "Maybe because when I first met - when I first dreamed of him, I was disfigured. I didn't know if I'd ever look normal again, and I guess I needed someone who could relate to that, who could teach me how to cope with it."
"Is that the only reason?"
"It's the only one I can think of."
"Is it possible that you used that difference to avoid a physical relationship - even in your imaginary world?"
She looked at him, startled, but after a few minutes of careful consideration, she admitted that there might be some truth in the idea. "Maybe at first I did. I suppose the prospect of a man touching me was a little intimidating, but after a while I started having those feelings again - for Vincent. They were growing stronger towards the end."
"As you were getting stronger and healthier."
She stared at him, then shifted her attention out the window.
"But still this relationship remained platonic."
"Did you let him know about these feelings you were developing?"
"Why not - didn't he find you attractive?"
She smiled, but it was only partly with amusement. "He thought I was beautiful. If you expect me to say he was turned off by me - by my unworthiness, that I'd concocted him out of some deep need to punish myself, you'd be giving me - and my imagination - far too much credit."
"You think you've been unworthy?"
"In terms of being shallow and self-absorbed, yes. I think I've got the shallow part beat, but these sessions aren't exactly designed to discourage me from thinking about myself."
"No, they're not," he smiled. "Why didn't you sleep with Vincent?"
He'd taken her off guard. "He was afraid."
"Afraid of what - of you?"
She sighed. "Because that other part of him - the non-human part that killed - he was afraid that violence would take over - that he might hurt me."
"Did he tell you that?"
"Not in so many words, but I knew."
"You knew that a man might get carried away, if he got too close to you; he might hurt you in some way."
"I didn't believe that - Vincent did." Dr. Grafton only looked at her, until she had listened to her own words, let their meaning sink in. "It's the same thing, isn't it?" she said finally. "I was apprehensive about men, afraid that I'd be hurt." She turned the idea over in her mind for a few moments.
"Do you think that could be true?"
She swallowed. "I think it's possible, yes."
"It's very natural, Cathy. It would have been far more unusual if your feelings toward men hadn't changed after an assault of such a personal nature. Maybe, now that you've accepted that, you'll find those fears dissipating."
She waved the idea away. Right now she couldn't imagine ever being interested in a man. Even if he was only a figment of her imagination, Vincent still represented an ideal that would not be easily approached.
"You created a lover," Dr. Grafton went on, "who asked nothing from you, relieved you of any guilt you might feel about refusing his advances, and at the same time gave you an excuse not to become involved with the real men in your life. Think about how completely your mind covered all the bases - gave you everything you needed until you were strong enough to recognize all of it as a part of yourself."
"I've never thought of myself as a particularly creative person."
"Maybe you should. Have you considered writing down all your memories of Vincent and his world, while they're still fresh in your mind? It might be a good release to deal with every detail now. Or you could keep a journal and add things to it as they come back to you."
"Better to have it down on paper, than cluttering up my brain where I might start believing it again?"
"Are you afraid that might happen?"
"I've only been afraid it might not," she admitted. "But I'm past that now. I understand - it won't happen, Dr. Grafton. You know," she added, "I've never really written that kind of thing, but Vincent did; he always kept a journal."
"If he could do it, you can do it." He smiled at her.
"That's exactly the way he made me feel - about everything."
"You should listen to him, Cathy, to your vision of him. He's telling you the truth. You made Vincent the protector of all your aspirations, your ideals." They sat in silence for a few minutes. "Did you inherit your mother's love for books?"
"Well, it's funny. I loved reading as a child, but as I got older I always seemed too busy to do it - until Vincent."
"He reminded you of a pleasure you'd lost sight of, something that would enrich your life."
"Yes. I've read a lot over the last two years. I went back and tried some of the classics that seemed too challenging to wade through in school. I've really gotten a lot out of them that I missed the first time." She gave a sheepish laugh. "I remember I had a lit course in college, and I did a whole term paper with nothing but Cliff Notes. I never cracked the book, and I got a B+. It - " she stopped. "Oh, my God," she said softly, and something in her face made Dr. Grafton lean forward with a look of concern.
"What is it, Cathy?"
"I just remembered - the book I cheated on - it was Great Expectations, the first book Vincent ever gave to me. When things started falling apart, when I began to fear that the tunnel world wasn't real, I started looking for something, anything, that would prove I was wrong, and I found this volume of Great Expectations on my bookshelf. It was exactly like the one I'd pictured him giving to me."
She sat deep in thought a moment. "I remember now where it came from. Before the attack - just a couple of days before, I think - I was down in the Village on some errand for my father. It started raining like crazy, and I didn't have my umbrella, so I ducked into an old bookstore. I only intended to stand there until the worst of the rain let up, but it was a comfortable feeling place, and I started to browse around. I know I found one book - poetry, I think, but I can't remember what it was, and then I saw it - a beautiful old edition of Great Expectations. You'd think I'd have felt too guilty, after that fiasco at Radcliffe, to ever have anything to do with Dickens again, but I remember holding that book and having the warmest feeling. I bought them both - that one and the poems."
"So even before Vincent, you were reminding yourself to try reading again."
"I suppose so. I wonder why I remember that now."
"Don't be surprised, Cathy, if a lot of the things that played a part in your delusional construct, don't start cropping up in reality. The brain doesn't create matter anymore than any other power does; it constructs things out of useful bits and pieces it finds. Like dreams. We can usually get to the bottom of some seemingly irrelevant dream symbol, if we're persistent enough. Symbols are either universal or quite specific, having a particular significance to the dreamer that he may not remember."
"I've wondered about things like that - like why the tunnel people dressed as they did, whether all those candles symbolized anything, why Vincent looked the way he looked."
"That's alright. Finding sources for those things can be an interesting and enjoyable discovery."
"Plus, it will ground those things in reality?" she asked shrewdly.
"It might, but don't jump to any conclusions. Some things may have very complex origins, others may be ridiculously simple. Now your memory of buying the book - that's very concrete. We could theorize that perhaps that particular novel stirred some guilt feelings in you that account for the significance you placed on it, but it's perfectly valid to assume it simply showed up in your dream because it happened to be your most recent purchase and was fresh in your mind. If you're tempted to torture some symbol into significance, come to me, and we'll see if it's worth it."
"When you say universal symbols, do you mean that to me Vincent may have resembled a lion, because the lion's the king of beasts, fierce and strong, and I needed that kind of protector? Do you think that's why I saw him that way?"
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"Maybe. It makes sense, doesn't it?"
"It could - to some people. The important question is does it make sense to you. Remember, you're not talking about a subtlety here. This is Vincent's face - the first thing to be noticed about him. Is that quality of fierceness the primary feeling he evoked in you?"
"No. First it was feelings of gentleness, comfort, safety."
"Are there any references to that in your own life?"
"In connection with a lion?" She laughed. "I don't think so; it's kind of a contradiction in terms, isn't it - a lion and gentleness, comfort?" She shook her head. "I remember my dad used to - oh!"
"What is it? What did your dad used to do, Cathy?"
Her voice had fallen to a whisper. "I had a stuffed toy that I slept with when I was little. I loved it. I'd hug it to me, as I fell asleep and the darkness wouldn't seem so scary, but my dad used to grab it and tickle my tummy with it, and say, 'he's going to eat you - he's going to eat you all up', and I'd giggle and squirm, and my mom would yell at him to stop getting me all wound up at bedtime."
"The stuffed toy - it was a lion?"
She nodded. "I'd forgotten all about that - at least I thought I had."
"Those were happy times, safe times, when you had two loving parents to watch over you." He handed her another tissue.
"Yes. I never knew that kind of love and security again, until Vincent. Why? Why did it have to end so soon?"
"Your life with your parents or your dream of Vincent?"
"Both, I guess. I've worked through the grief about my mom and dad, some of it anyway, but this - sometimes this still feels so fresh."
"It is fresh, Cathy. It takes time for pain to fade, but there's an important difference between the loss of your parents and the loss of Vincent. Your parents died of illness. The best medical care couldn't help them. Neither could you."
"Are you saying I could have prevented losing Vincent?"
"You could have, if the time wasn't right. In fact, I suspect you have done so in the past. When you came to me last year, for instance, you were obviously torn. A part of you was ready to get on with a normal life. It was ready to jettison this delusion, this crutch you'd needed since the attack, but part of you wasn't ready - I suspect the wiser part - and the dream continued. This year all of you sensed that it was time."
"You make me feel like I killed him," she said harshly, wiping her eyes.
"No! I never could have done that. I didn't do that."
" Do you remember how you described that vision to me at Lakeside? The vision of you and Vincent at the bridge. Think back, Cathy."
"I don't like to think about it. It still hurts."
"You were on the bridge. Who let go, Cathy?"
"Describe for me the way you said he looked at you then. Was it coldly?"
"No, it was loving, but he didn't look worried. He wasn't afraid for me - for the danger I was in."
"The tunnel collapsing and rocks falling everywhere."
"Was that a real danger, Cathy?"
"No. I mean, I know it didn't really happen, but it did in the context of his world. He should have been afraid for me."
"But the tunnel world was disintegrating. Has it occurred to you that he was moving into another context?"
"You mean that I was finally recognizing that all this was in my imagination?"
He nodded. "You said, he looked as if he were proud of you."
"He did. He knew - that part of me that was him - knew that I was ready, that I could stand on my own, that I could keep him only as a dream." Her voice was soft but steady, calm.
"You didn't kill him, Cathy. He let you go. He gave you back a normal life. You gave it back to yourself."
"But if the accident at Levine's was simply a catalyst, if I was truly ready to let go, why has it hurt so much?"
"Doesn't it always hurt to let go of an ideal? Do you remember finding out there was no Santa Claus?"
She nodded. "I kept wanting to believe he was real, but as I got older there were just too many things indicating he wasn't. It made me sad."
"What if you'd been five years old, a true believer, and someone told you Santa had died. Do you think you would have felt the same way?"
"No. That would have been worse - much worse."
"Well, the sadness you feel now about Vincent not being real - compare that to how you would have felt if you still believed he was, and something had happened to him - he was killed. Would that have been worse?"
"I think I would have died."
He accepted the statement without question. "You figured this one out for yourself - just as you faced the fact that Santa was only a symbol. Your subconscious knew when you were ready, knew how much sadness you could handle, and you have done it beautifully, Cathy. You've come a long way in just three months. The moment you let yourself acknowledge that Vincent and his world were fantasies, they lost their power to destroy you."
"And to protect me."
"Do you need protection?"
"I guess we'd all like to feel protected, have someone who would watch over us, keep us safe."
Dr. Grafton nodded. "We miss the security of childhood."
She managed a brave smile. "But sooner or later we have to grow up and look out for ourselves, right?"
"If we're lucky, and if we can find our own strengths. What you've been through has given you that. You've acquired a self-knowledge that many people search for all their lives. It will serve you well, and it doesn't matter how you got it - from experience or your own imagination. When you were strong enough, you were able to separate the dream from reality."
"I see that, but there's a part of it that was so real, more real than the crystal, the tunnels, anything. I can't let that part go. I feel it inside me all the time. It fills me up."
"What is it, Cathy?"
"Love - an incredible sense of having been deeply loved and of giving it back freely and completely."
"You're right, Cathy. Don't try to give that up. Use that memory to help you love someone else."
She looked at him and burst into tears.
The next two weeks brought fewer tears. Even her visits with Dr. Grafton seemed to have passed some critical point. She no longer looked for Vincent in the shadows of the terrace. When she'd first been in the hospital, first faced the truth, she had thought she would have to give up the apartment, that the memories connected with it would be too intense, but now she was glad she hadn't. Dr. Grafton had helped her to see that she couldn't really lose what she'd never had and that what she'd gained from the experience would always be with her.
The hardest place for her to come to terms with reality was on the balcony. She had discussed the fact of Vincent's reluctance to enter the apartment, the fact that he'd never done so unless it was absolutely crucial. She thought he'd been uncomfortable in her world. They toyed with the idea of the balcony as a romantic symbol, but lately she wondered if the restriction hadn't been a hedge against the day she came back to reality, so that there'd be few memories of his presence in the rooms to bother her.
The balcony posed the biggest problem. She fought the images that crowded there, but when she finally forced herself to spend time on it, to look out over the park with only a tinge of melancholy, she found she had no physical sense of him at all. His words were in her heart. And his eyes - they didn't haunt her; they were far too beautiful, too gentle for haunting, but the image of them stayed with her, and she found comfort there. How had she ever dreamed those eyes?
She had taken Dr. Grafton's advice and begun to keep a journal, writing constantly in it, fearful of missing any nuance, any description that might soon fade from her mind. She hated the thought of that fading, though she knew it meant she was adjusting to a viewpoint free of delusion. She wished she could describe his voice, but no words seemed adequate, and already the music of it was receding from her memory.
She ate well, thanks to a stream of friends and colleagues who insisted on stopping by with unexpected surplus food. She tried at first to tell them that she was perfectly capable of cooking her own meals, but then she remembered Father's words about accepting help from those who offer it, and she knew it made them feel better to believe they were contributing to her recovery, which of course they were. Their concern gave her strength and confidence.
Nancy had come down for a weekend, and Jenny stayed over now and then, not because she couldn't be left alone, but she hoped, because she was becoming better company again.
She spent the still warm days reading on the terrace, and her color returned. Her convalescence had interrupted her jogging routine, but she began to get back in shape by taking long walks, finally venturing into the park. The day she crossed the bridge above the drainage tunnel and didn't slow her pace, she felt certain that the worst was over.
On the Saturday before she was due back at work, she woke up feeling strong and restless. The day was gorgeous. Who knew how many like it still remained before the city settled down to a slushy sleep? Where to go - not a museum or gallery, not shopping; the day begged for a walk in the sunshine.
On an impulse she hailed a taxi and had it drop her off in Greenwich Village. She strolled the sunny streets, peering into shop windows, stopping in an antique store to ask about the origin of a carved chest she saw there. She recognized in herself a curiosity, a zest for life that had only just returned. There were old men playing checkers in Washington Square, while all around them younger generations found their own amusements: kids on skateboards, teenagers with jam boxes, couples walking hand in hand. She bought popcorn and fed the pigeons. All around her real life was pulsing, and she felt a part of it again.
She started down a block that looked vaguely familiar. She couldn't be sure, but it might be the one where she'd find the bookstore in which she'd bought Great Expectations and that other book whose identity still eluded her. She had wondered about it, after mentioning it to Dr. Grafton. Shouldn't it have been a volume of sonnets? But a search of her book collection had turned up no Shakespearean verse, and no other volume had leapt out at her in explanation of the missing one. Whatever it was, she must have bought it as a gift.
The shops began to look increasingly familiar. Funny, since she was sure she hadn't been here in two years. Dr. Grafton had pointed out that her job during that period had required intense concentration, her total attention, sometimes just for self-preservation, and when she'd retreated to her apartment, she would quiet her fears, regain her strength by escaping to that other world, weaving comforting and complex scenarios around it, altering the events of the day to fit a version she could live with. He had pointed out that, far from being crippled, her mind had worked overtime to accommodate two versions of most of her life. It was little wonder then that some of the things that had happened in those two years were hard to bring into focus, covered as they were with a gauze of romantic fabrication. Events prior to the accident might seem clearer in her mind.
She felt that now, as she passed a junk shop, a tiny art gallery, a store brimming with lamps of every style and vintage, and came to the bookstore. A gilded wooden sign swung above the door, proclaiming it to be "The Study". She went inside and began to browse among the wooden shelves that towered to the ceiling. The shop had a soothing atmosphere with its clutter and faint aroma of old leather. There were books on every subject imaginable. They filled the shelves and poured over into stacks around the walls; many of them appeared old and valuable, others took their worth only from the wealth of words inside them. It had felt cozy here that day in the rain; she remembered feeling peaceful, safe from the chill, grey streets and the wet wind. Today the sunlight streaming in the windows gave a patina of warmth to the many colored spines that nestled close together in a design that was both chaotic and pleasing to the eye. Maybe she'd try to find a book of the sonnets; she certainly didn't seem to own one.
"Is there anything in particular I could help you find?"
She whirled at the sound of his voice. He was standing at the end of the narrow aisle, wearing a baggy brown sweater and khaki slacks. His spectacles were balanced on his nose, his hands on a cane.
"Father?" she whispered, and the room started to tilt. She clutched at the nearest shelf to keep from tumbling down the oddly shifting floor.
"Here now, what is it? Are you faint?"
She managed to nod, and he moved to her side, putting an arm around her waist. "Come with me. We'll sit you down in the office." He helped her along the aisle and through a faded blue curtain into a tiny room, where he pushed her gently into a captain's chair. "Put your head down low as you can. That should help."
She did as she was told, wanting desperately to remain conscious, to prove to herself that what she'd just seen was real. When the floor had settled, she sat up slowly to meet a familiar frown.
"Is that better?"
"Yes, thank you. Are you a doctor?"
He chuckled. "No. I'm afraid a medical man would have had some
thing far more sensible to suggest. Would you like me to fetch a doctor for you?"
"No, please. I'm fine now. I haven't eaten much today, and I just got a little lightheaded."
"I see. Well, sit there, please, as long as you like. I'll get you a cup of tea."
She watched him with wonder as he moved to a hot plate in the corner. The rest of the room was lined with still more stacks of books. The only other furniture was a second chair, a battered desk, and the small table in front of her, where he now set a steaming ceramic mug. She picked it up finding the strong aroma bracing, liking the delicate taste. It did make her feel more centered. She looked up to see him studying her face intently.
"I'm sorry to be so much trouble. I've just recently recovered from a long illness, and I guess I'm not as strong as I thought."
He sat down opposite her, resting the cane between his knees. "It's quite alright. One of the purposes of owning a bookstore is the prospect of meeting interesting people."
"You call me interesting?" To her own surprise she was smiling.
"Oh, very. The art of swooning has all but been forgotten. You looked quite poetically pale just then, and it gave me the opportunity to feel a bit chivalrous."
Catherine felt her smile widening into a grin. "I don't think the fair damsels of yesteryear wound up with their heads between their legs and their hair sweeping the floor."
"No," he conceded. "I believe to be absolutely correct one must sway fetchingly, perhaps with one arm flung languidly across the brow."
"I'll try to remember that next time."
"Well, let's hope there will be no need. To tell you the truth, I assumed at first you were intoxicated or on drugs. That's not unheard of in this neighborhood, unfortunately. You were far too well dressed to be a starving street person. Therefore, I must assume that your own diagnosis is correct."
"You took in a lot of information in just a few seconds."
"Yes, well, I deal in information - for the mind, for the heart, for the soul. You see it here all around you.'
"I like it here," she said simply.
"Be that as it may, it has been a very long time since your last visit."
Her cup halted midway to her mouth, and she set it back down. "Once. I've only been here once before - over two years ago."
"Oh," he shook his head, as if at some private joke, "you don't have to tell me that."
"Why? Why do you remember me?"
He passed his hand over his brow in a gesture so familiar that it ached in her heart. Then he waved it, dismissing the subject. "It doesn't matter - something happened that day that fixed it in my memory. It was raining, as I recall."
"Pouring," she confirmed. "I came in to get out of it and stayed to buy a couple of books."
"I hope you didn't feel that was a necessary price to pay for a roof over your head."
"No," she smiled. "I wanted to. I suppose you rang them up for me. You wouldn't happen to remember what they were, would you? I know one of them was Great Expectations, but I can't seem to recall the other."
"I fear, I've given you a rather deceptive impression of my powers of recollection. I really have no idea. Is it important to you?"
"No, not really. I was just curious."
"Would you like some more tea?"
"Yes, thank you. It's very good. Are you sure I'm not keeping you from something important?"
He refilled the mug, and this time brought one for himself as well. "There is nothing more important than relations with one's customers. You are a potential customer, are you not? You don't just make purchases when it's raining?"
"No," she laughed. "I'm a serious shopper. I promise."
"Well, in any case, it's imperative that I get your name this time."
"I have it right here," She reached in her purse and pulled out a business card, handing it to him.
"District Attorney's office." His eyebrows rose. "Catherine Chandler. Chandler - the candle maker."
"Yes," she said. She hadn't thought about that in years - the meaning of her name. Could that be the simple explanation for all the candles in her fantasy? "Please - call me Cathy."
"Well, Cathy, I'm most happy to meet you officially. You have no idea how happy. I'm Jacob - Jacob Wells." He had taken her hand to formalize the introduction and must have felt it go instantly cold and damp, for he frowned at her with concern.
"I - I didn't know," she stammered, nonsensically.
"I'm sorry to hear that in view of the small fortune I spent to have it painted in gold on the window, but it's no matter. I want you to stay right where you are. I'll be back in a few minutes."
The request was every bit as much a command as Father would have made it. "Please," she called after him, "I don't need a doctor."
"I know what you need. Stay there."
She heard the shop door close behind him and blew out a puff of air, grateful for a moment alone. It was like having her dream come to life, but no, she recognized quite well that it was just the opposite. She had read his name on the window two years ago, if not today; he had waited on her then, and something in his manner, his scholarly demeanor, had lodged in her subconscious. The brain, Dr. Grafton had said, uses bits and pieces that it finds useful. Yes, it made sense. There was no madness in it.
She hoped it wasn't unwise to exploit this connection with her fantasy world, but it felt so good to sit here, chatting with him. She couldn't help that it warmed her to be near him, that she felt a familiarity and a friendship. The love, Dr. Grafton had confirmed, don't let go of the love. It was part of what she was feeling here. The only strange thing about the encounter really was that he had welcomed her so fully. What do you expect, she asked herself, when you threaten to keel over among the Irish playwrights?
He was open to people, as she must have sensed that first day. A mind curious enough to surround itself with books of every conceivable kind, might also have an intrinsic interest in human beings. She suspected this little office was the site of many a conversation between Jacob and the diverse personalities who found their way to his door. Had there been anyone else here that day? She couldn't remember. Apparently, the details of that incident had chosen to take up residence in her very active subconscious, leaving no detail behind in her memory to examine.
No, she was sure there was nothing unhealthy in this situation. After her initial shock, their conversation had been easy, easier she realized than a typical exchange with Father, who, although he loved her, felt always a hesitation, a painful awareness that it was she who jeopardized, more than any person of evil intent, the two things dearest to him - his son and the world he'd created. There was none of that between her and Jacob Wells, bookstore owner. In face, she realized that her brain in its foraging for interesting pieces to put into its elaborate puzzle, had missed almost entirely the humor, the good-natured teasing that belonged to Jacob. Perhaps, she'd seen no flash of it in their first brief meeting, and so Father had been condemned to remain solemn in her dream, as befitted a patriarch.
She heard the door open again, and he reappeared, carrying a flat cardboard box and a paper bag. He set them down, and the familiar aroma of pizza filled the room.
"This is not what I'd term proper food, but it will fill you up and make you feel stronger." He brought out a soft drink can and handed it to her. "There's nothing like a jolt of caffeine to ward off a fit of the vapors."
"Who recommended that?" she asked, popping the aluminum top. "One of the Bronte's?"
"Actually, I believe it was the Coca-Cola company, but no matter. Eat up."
"Only if you join me. You're really awfully kind."
"Not at all," he assured her, helping himself to a slice of pizza. "It's far more pleasant than dining alone. So, Miss Chandler, why don't you tell me about your most interesting career?"
"It's Cathy, remember?"
"Ah, yes, Cathy, and I am Jacob. What was it you called me in the shop - father? Did I remind you then of your own father?"
She shook her head, unwilling to explain. "My father died just this past winter." She found herself telling him about Charles Chandler and about her work. She couldn't help the feeling of trust she had in him, and she spoke freely, while he regarded her as if everything she said was fascinating. At last she dared to confess the most delicate issue. "The illness I suffered - it was emotional. I've been in a sanitarium."
The news didn't seem to shock him or add awkwardness to his manner. He nodded. "The loss of a loved one can be devastating, I know. My wife died several years ago, and before that - there was a son." It was obvious that the memories still pained him. "He died in infancy."
"No other children?"
He shook his head. "Still, there are so many people who come into one's life and one's heart. If you let them, Cathy, they can fill many a void."
She thought of Father and his loving acceptance of so many outcasts. "I know. When I was sick, I found out how kind friends can be, how important if you let them share your pain, as well as your joys."
He nodded. They had finished their lunch, and she stood now to help him clean up the mess. "I'm afraid I've taken up too much of your time. I should be going. Do you have a copy of Shakespeare's sonnets?"
"Oh, assuredly. Let's go have a look, shall we?"
They searched together in an aisle devoted entirely to the Bard. At last they found a slim, red volume that she announced was perfect, but when she opened her purse to pay for it, he stayed her hand.
"This one is a gift," he said.
"I couldn't. You bought me lunch, listened to the story of my life. You must let me pay you for it."
He took her hand in both of his. "Cathy, your openness today, your acceptance of my friendship, was a most gratifying thing. I've enjoyed your company immensely. Besides, it's not a particularly valuable edition, I assure you."
"Oh, yes. Yes, it is," she said, feeling tears behind her eyelids.
He walked her to the door and stood with her, while she hailed a taxi. "You will come back and visit soon, won't you?" he asked, as she slid into the cab.
"I'd love to."
He nodded, and as they pulled away from the curb, she could still see him standing, looking thoughtfully after her, leaning on his cane.
On Monday she went back to work. She had dreaded this moment, not because she wasn't ready, even eager to return to the job, but because she feared the solicitous attentions of her co-workers, dreaded a change in the easy rapport they had shared.
There were flowers waiting on her desk and a box of candy, a note asking her to lunch. Throughout the morning people stopped by to welcome her back, and if at first they looked at her with some uncertainty, her aura of health and friendly enthusiasm soon allayed their fears.
"What did I tell you, Radcliffe? Think you'll ever make it through this mess before you're collecting social security?"
She smiled at him over a mound of papers. "I love it, Joe. I'm even enjoying trying to decipher Hanson's chicken scratches."
"Boy, you're sicker than I thought --" He stopped himself, and the wave of embarrassment that crossed his features was endearing to her.
"It's okay, Joe. I don't want you watching your words, afraid you're going to hit a sore spot. Stay as charming as always, and yes, I'm sure by the end of the day you'll have driven me nuts, but I've gotten used to that over the years."
He smiled sheepishly, hands in his pockets. "You're alright, Cath. It's good to have you back."
"It's great to be back," She threw him her sunniest smile to reassure him. "Now, I need to concentrate on this, or the Simon Legree I work for won't unchain me for lunch."
The week passed quickly, but she recognized that the unaccustomed pace had left her tired. She stayed in all weekend, reading, writing in her journal. A quote she couldn't place was running through her head. She'd have to ask Jacob if he could pin it down for her.
As she'd hoped, Dr. Grafton had seen nothing inadvisable in her fascination with Jacob Wells. "This was obviously a person for whom you felt a certain empathy on short acquaintance. You drew on that in your delusion, but it's perfectly real. He sounds like someone who could encourage your interest in literature."
He had asked her once, if at anytime during their meeting, she had become confused, thought she was speaking with Father, instead of the flesh and blood Jacob Wells.
Her response had been a laugh. "If you knew how incongruous it was to think of Father eating pepperoni pizza, you wouldn't have to ask that."
On Wednesday of the following week, Joe released her to take a deposition in the Village. She arranged her schedule, so that she could spend her lunch hour there and returned to "The Study". The weather had turned quite cold, and she welcomed the warmth of the shop as it enveloped her. When she entered, she could see Jacob sitting at the little table in his office. Another man occupied the chair she'd sat in. They were deep in conversation, but Jacob was keeping an eye out for customers, and when he saw her, he rose and came out to the front.
"Cathy, I'm so pleased you came back."
"I was in the neighborhood and wanted to say 'hello', but you're busy. Don't let me interrupt your conversation."
"Oh, Raul?" He turned to see the other man, a slight figure, wearing thick glasses, emerge from the office. "He was just leaving. I've refused to continue our discussion, until he rereads a chapter of Schopenhauer whose gist has obviously escaped him."
Raul grinned and shook his head in exasperation. "Later, Jacob," he said and left the store.
"You're looking quite robust, Cathy. Much more color in your cheeks now."
"I feel great. I've gone back to work. It gives me a sense of purpose."
"Yes, we all need that, but come - surely you can sit with me for a few minutes. We'll have some tea. You have eaten, haven't you?"
"Scout's honor," she told him. "Lox and bagels, not ten minutes ago."
"Good." He led her to the back and prepared the tea. "Are you enjoying the sonnets?"
"Very much. There was something I wanted to ask you, though. Do you know a quote by Wilde, I think, about a blue bird, and things that never happen, but should be?"
He reflected for a moment. "Yes, I know the lines you're referring to, but I'm almost certain they don't appear in any of his poems. A story, perhaps?"
"I don't know."
"I haven't an anthology of Wilde in stock just now, but I'll look through his poetry in case I'm mistaken. Better yet, I have a friend, a former colleague, who's a professor of English literature at Columbia. He visits me frequently; I'll ask him next time."
"You were a teacher?"
"Oh, yes. What you see here is an indulgence of my retirement. I've taught philosophy, history, literature. I even worked on a newspaper in my younger days."
"In what capacity?"
"A bit of everything - reporter, editor, columnist. I think I enjoyed the latter most of all. For several years I wrote a weekly column."
"Sports?" She couldn't hide her amazement. It was so unlike her image of Father.
"You find that surprising? My dear, there are few art forms more pure in the American culture than a good game of baseball."
"I never thought of it that way," she laughed, sipping her tea. "I've always had to write as part of my job, but I'm keeping a journal now; it gives me a chance to express my more - fanciful thoughts."
"An excellent practice that, not just having a journal, but staying in touch with your dreams, the romance in life."
"Yes," she said quietly.
"Tell me, Cathy. Is there a young man in your life, someone special to you?"
She shook her head. "No one." She expected him to tell her what a shame that was, that an attractive young woman should have no trouble finding a man who interested her. She heard such comments more often than she liked, but he said nothing, seemingly lost in thought.
Finally, he looked up. "I almost forgot. I was sorting through some old ledgers the other day - I'm afraid I'm loath to toss away anything resembling a book - and I came across one dated two years ago. If you like, we can look through it, and perhaps find out what that mysterious purchase was that you can't quite recall."
"That would be interesting, yes."
He rose and went to a stack about three feet high, sorting through the dusty volumes. "I know it's here somewhere. Bear with me."
She suddenly became aware of a sound that had been there ever since she entered the shop. It hadn't registered, simply because it was so familiar - the clanging of the pipes. "What's that noise?" she asked.
"Noise? Oh, that. I'm afraid it's such a fixture on cold days here that I scarcely pay it much notice. It's the radiator acting up - steam building up in the pipes. Annoying, isn't it?"
"Not really." Another dream element fell into place.
"Ah, here we are - 1987." He drew his bifocals from the pocket of his heavy cardigan and put them on, as he brought the ledger to the table.
"I'm afraid these don't include customers' names, an omission I was never made to regret more than on the day in question, believe me. Now when did you say it was?"
"I think it must have been between the ninth and eleventh of April."
He flipped some pages and ran a finger down the entries. "Ah, yes, here we are on April tenth, indeed. The sale of two books, one Mr. Dickens' Great Expectations and the other a collection of poetry by Millay."
"Yes - 'the world stands out on either side no wider than the heart is wide; above the world is stretched the sky, no higher than the soul is high'."
"Millay," she whispered again. "Edna St. Vincent Millay."
"Does that answer your question?"
"Yes, one I never thought to ask."
"Jen, have you got my book of poetry by Millay? I'm almost sure I lent it to you right after I bought it."
"That's yours? I'd about decided it actually belonged to me. You didn't put your name in it, Cathy."
"Well, I hope you didn't put yours in it. I want it back, Aronson."
"Okay, I'll tell you what. I'll give it back to you, if you promise to come to the party we're having to celebrate the fall books. It's at the Plaza - cocktails, dancing, the works, and there'll be lots of eligible men there."
"Jenny," she groaned.
"I mean it, Cath. It's time you got out there and at least started talking to some of them."
"What do you mean? I talk to men all day long."
"Well, I don't mean the ones wearing handcuffs or sitting in the witness box. We're talking real men for you to dance with, flirt with, have some fun. You've got to do this, Cath, or the Millay gets it."
"Okay, I promise."
She resolved to make a real effort to join in, to open herself to the possibilities. It was not as hard as she'd thought it would be. Always, she realized, when she'd gone to these functions over the last two years, she'd only been half there. Part of her was eager to get away, to go back to the balcony and to Vincent. Now that was no longer an option, and she found herself having a good time. It was an eclectic mix of people, but by and large an educated crowd, capable of talking more than office politics.
She danced with several different men, tried to give them her full attention in the time she spent with each. She was flattered by several of them, men she recognized as appealing and interesting. She enjoyed their conversation, but retained a reticence. When they finally moved away from her, she felt no regret, no sense of an opportunity lost.
"You're enjoying yourself, aren't you, Cath?" Jenny cornered her.
"Yes, I am."
"I knew it. I saw Paul Kendall talking to you. He looked totally smitten. He's gorgeous, single, and I'll bet he's dying to drive you home."
"He already asked."
Jenny's excitement began to fade at her placid expression. "Don't tell me you refused."
"I didn't want to give him the wrong impression."
"What wrong impression? You could spend a little time with the guy. You've got to at least get to know some of these men a little better. I worry about you."
"There's no need, Jen. I'm just fine. It's a terrific party."
She wondered though, as Jenny dissolved back into the crowd, if what she'd told her was true. She'd honestly felt she'd given it her best shot, been open to whatever feelings might arise dancing in the arms of a handsome and charming man, but there'd been nothing - no physical response, no desire to get to know any of them any better. Dr. Grafton had said her fears of physical contact would diminish now that she'd acknowledged them, and in truth she could feel no fear in her responses, only indifference.
Had she truly buried her capacity for desire? She didn't want to; she wanted a full life again, maybe marriage and children. Could a woman be frigid and still feel what she felt when she allowed herself to remember the dream? It was harder now to picture Vincent, to hear his voice, but the love that still flowed through her when she thought of him, brought with it every natural response she could hope to feel with a real lover. Surely, that proved she wasn't incapable of sensual feelings.
She asked Dr. Grafton about that at her next visit.
"You say it's the love you feel that evokes the response, not so much a physical image?"
"Maybe you're telling yourself that you don't want to settle for sex alone - that you want a complete relationship."
"I never slept with anyone just for sex," she said, defensively. "I always felt at the time it was something more."
"'Something more' is a far cry from the all-encompassing passion you shared with Vincent."
"I know, but isn't that unrealistic? What are the chances of finding some
one that you instantly feel connected to, who can return that intensity - always? How few people ever find that?"
Dr. Grafton shrugged. "I'm not a betting man, Cathy, but you must realize that in a relationship like you describe, one of those rare, intuitive combinations, it's necessary that both parties have a great capacity for love and empathy. You have that, Cathy, so I'd say your chances far exceed those of most women. There are men out there with the same potential."
She eyed him doubtfully, grateful that he hadn't admonished her for dreaming still of Vincent.
She approached the subject less clinically with Jacob when they next met. "I'm afraid I'm holding out for something that's impossible, a relationship that feels right from the beginning - that's fated somehow. Does that sound anachronistic?"
"A transcendent love? No, not anachronistic. Such an affinity is not limited to an era or a culture, but it is quite rare. The concept of romance may go in and out of style, but the capacity to feel it - that's inborn in certain fortunate individuals."
"You don't think it's impossible?"
"I know it is not." He was silent then, but his statement had held such conviction; she waited for him to go on. "I met my wife on the campus of a university in Boston, Cathy. I saw her, and something in me knew. Oh, I realize that sounds like the most untrustworthy of emotions - infatuation, love at first sight, a simple physical attraction, and often I'm sure that's the case, but when I finally succeeded in getting someone to introduce us, there was so much more. We were very different, yet we understood each other perfectly; our dreams were the same, our values. We could almost finish one another's sentences at first acquaintance. It never seemed like a beginning. It was as if a book had been opened in the middle, a story of love and discovery and hardships, and we found ourselves living it, gladly - both the joy and the sorrow."
"I'm afraid I was a rather wild young man, tending to fly off in all directions, eager to grab everything that life had to offer. Eleanor helped me to use that enthusiasm in constructive ways. She had suffered a rather tragic childhood; it had left her unaware of her own worth, her many talents. I helped her to see that, gave her confidence. Together we were so much more than either of us could have been alone. We had a love strong enough to sustain us through the greatest tragedy - the loss of our only child. We had a full life together, and when she died, the grief was terrible, but in some sense that sort of bond can never be broken. I feel her presence often. I have no doubt that whatever lies beyond death - take your pick of theories -" Here he waved his hand, indicating all the books in which great thinkers had tackled that thorny issue. "Whatever befalls us after this life, that love will endure."
She felt tears stinging her eyes at his heartfelt words. "It must have been wonderful. I'm glad you had that."
"Yes, well perhaps you shall have it too someday; who's to say? There's no denying, when one is in the grip of such a passion, that there's such a thing as fate, and fate alone chooses who will be its victims. Still, I would say you are an excellent candidate."
"Why? Because I'm the most incurable romantic you've ever met?" she smiled.
"No, no. I certainly couldn't say that. There are those far more hopeless in that regard than you, I assure you, but that reminds me..." He seemed restless suddenly, standing up to take his cane and limp back to the tea kettle. "I've found our elusive quote from Mr. Wilde. That is, someone found it for me. I called my young friend at Columbia and asked if he could search his own material. No sooner had I told him the gist of it, than he was quoting me chapter and verse." He turned back to the table with the ubiquitous tea, and an irritable frown she didn't recall seeing on him since they'd met, but it was all too familiar on Father's face. "It drives me to distraction when he does that - makes me feel I've never opened a book. Well, never mind." He sat down. "It's from an essay called 'The Decay of Lying'. He's promised to bring me a copy."
"That's nice," she said, "of both of you."
"Do you play chess, Cathy?"
The question was so unexpected that she almost choked on the tea. "No, not really. Do you?"
"Mmm." He seemed distracted now. Of course, there was a chess set sitting on the desk. It had always been there, probably even on that long ago April day. She had failed to take note of it before, because - like the recalcitrant radiator with its banging pipes - it had seemed an intrinsic part of her image of him. "Your visits, Cathy - they are usually quite unexpected. I feel sometimes, unlike today, we don't get the chance to sit and talk as much as I would like."
It was true. She'd popped in unannounced whenever the opportunity arose, often to find him deep in conversation with someone else. His visitors ranged in age from the elderly to the very young. She had been touched one day to see him crouching to talk with a boy of five or six; she thought it must have hurt his hip to remain in such a position, if in fact, it was a hip injury that caused his limp. When she found him occupied, she simply looked through the books, content to bask in the vast expanse of beautiful and thought-provoking words whose depths she'd only started to plumb. Now she wondered if she'd been unfair, if her spontaneous appearances hadn't prompted him to slight his other friends. "Would it be better if I called first, or made an appointment?"
"Oh, lord, no - nothing so formal as all that. I was merely wondering when you might be stopping in again."
"How about Saturday?" she asked. "Around two?"
"Yes, that should be perfectly convenient."
When she arrived home, there was a message on her answering machine from her friend, Rebecca, a warning that her brother Buddy would be in New York for a few days and intended to give her a call.
It was sweet of Rebecca to sound the alert, giving her a chance to plan her response. Whether she agreed to see him or not, she knew Rebecca would understand. What would she do? She sat on the loveseat and pulled her knees up to her chin, considering.
It was an intriguing possibility. She'd always liked Buddy, found him attractive. When she'd seen him a year ago, her mind had been too full of thoughts of Vincent to act on that attraction, but now it could be just what she needed. She knew he wouldn't push her, wouldn't expect things from her that a new man in her life might demand. She realized that the two of them had a shared history. Maybe they had simply drifted in and out of each other's lives over the years, because the time hadn't been right.
A thrill of anticipation began to thread its way through her. On Wednesday night he called, and they talked for nearly an hour, arranging finally that he would pick her up for the opera on Friday night. Catherine hung up the phone with a smile. He'd been easy to talk to, despite the time that had elapsed since she saw him last. Of course, he knew of her illness, and she was glad their talk would make it possible to meet with none of the initial tentativeness she felt from people who weren't sure if her affliction had changed her.
"Do you think I'm making too big a deal of this date?" she asked Dr. Grafton in their Thursday session.
She shrugged. "I can't tell. It's just the first time that I'll be seeing someone I'm already drawn to, someone I like. It's kind of exciting."
"And that feels good?"
"Yeah, it's fun."
"Then enjoy the feeling, Cathy. However the date turns out, the feeling's good for you."
She'd planned her outfit carefully and had her hair done on her Friday lunch hour.
"Getting ready to knock 'em dead again, Radcliffe?"
"Where you going?"
"The opera - 'La Boheme'," she told him. He shook his head. "Why - what's the matter with that?"
"I just don't understand why you can't do something fun once in a while - you know, loosen up."
"The last time I loosened up, Joe, I ended up in the funny farm." She could say things like that now without his flinching.
"I'm not talking that loose. Before I forget it, I got a favor to ask. Any chance you could drop down to the Village on your way home and see that guy Spitzer again? There's a few things in his deposition I'd like double checked, and somebody should take another look at those photographs in light of what L.A. told us."
"No, Joe - no chance, none. It's already almost six, and tonight's important to me."
"I wouldn't ask, Cath, but there's nobody else. The guy's leaving town tomorrow night; he's got a right."
"Whatever happened to chaining me to my desk? Look, I'm planning to be down there tomorrow anyway. I'll be happy to do it then, but I'm not doing it now."
"Yeah, okay. I'll give him a ring and see if that'll work."
Buddy arrived precisely on time. He did, she thought, look very handsome in his tux. She was ready to go and didn't ask him in. His expression told her that she looked good, but he told her again in the taxi.
"You're more beautiful than ever, Cath. I mean that."
"Thank you. I feel pretty good."
"I'm sorry I never got a chance to see you when you were at Lakeside. I've been all over the country in the last few months."
"That's okay. I wasn't always good company, but Rebecca came. She even brought me her special homemade fudge."
Buddy laughed. "That's better than I could have done. Did you have a lot of visitors, Cath? Any of the old gang?"
"Practically everyone." She proceeded to tell him all the news about mutual friends, until they arrived at Lincoln Center.
There was always an air of excitement about attending the opera. The grandiose scale of the entertainment seemed to generate a larger than life party atmosphere in the audience. They whispered together over their programs. During the last act, he reached for her hand, and she gave it to him, enjoying the warmth of affection that had settled easily between them.
After the performance, they stood by the fountain, readjusting to the real world of the city at night, which in its own way was every bit as dramatic and magical as the production they'd just seen.
"What would you like to do now? How about a carriage ride through the park?"
"No." She wasn't sure why she felt so emphatic about that. "I'd rather not, but I am hungry."
"Fine - the Four Seasons alright with you?"
"It will do in a pinch," she laughed.
They lingered over the meal, talking about old times, things they'd done in college. When they arrived back at her apartment, she turned to him.
"I've had a really great time tonight, Buddy." She knew she should ask him in for a drink or a cup of coffee, but she hadn't wanted to invite men in for a long time now. Sadly, she discovered this occasion was no different.
"Cath, it's been very important to me. I don't know when I'll get back to town, but I'm going to treasure the memory of this evening till I do." He pulled her towards him, and she went willingly, accepting his kiss. A part of her responded to it, to its tenderness, to the sensual touch of an attractive man she was fond of. She gave him one last smile and then slipped into the apartment, locking the door behind her.
"Damn," she said, throwing her purse on the couch. "What in the world do I want?" She sought the comfort of the balcony, sat down on the bench there to sort out her feelings. She decided finally that there just weren't that many to sort. She cared for Buddy, had enjoyed his kiss, but it wasn't enough. She hadn't lost all sensitivity to the opposite sex; that should have been a relief, but there was something more she needed to respond completely, or was that just an excuse, a barrier she'd built to avoid intimacy? For a moment she considered calling Dr. Grafton, but it was the middle of the night. What could she say to him? And what would he tell her, except to search her feelings, which she could very well do on her own.
Once in bed, she tried to go over the night's events, identify what was missing that left her so dissatisfied. She had thought she wanted someone who knew who she was, her past as well as her present. Buddy did, but maybe that was part of the problem. Most of their conversation had revolved around the past, and things were different now. She was different. The girl Buddy had admired from afar was not someone she admired very much herself. She fell asleep, still seeking an answer. That night she dreamed of Vincent, and he came to her more clearly than he had in months.
She was still asleep when the phone rang at eight the next morning.
"Cath, Joe. Listen, I'm at the airport."
"The airport," she repeated groggily.
"Yeah, remember, I'm going to Boston? Wake up, Cathy. This is important. There's a report coming in from L.A. at noon their time. That's three o'clock here."
"I know that," she said irritably.
"You're gonna have to take it. I gave them your number."
"I'm going to be downtown, Joe. Remember? Can't they just leave the message on my machine?"
"No. Look, it's Saturday; we're lucky these California types will even get back to us on the weekend. I need you there - with the added information from Spitzer, so you can coordinate the details between you. I'm sorry to do this to you, kiddo, but I'll bring you some clam chowder."
"Thanks so much. Bye."
She felt uncommonly depressed, as she fixed her coffee. It was, she supposed, the inevitable flip side of the excitement with which she'd awaited her date with Buddy.
After two cups of coffee and a shower, she felt better, but there was a layer of disappointment, almost of hopelessness under all she did. She cleaned the apartment and called Spitzer to tell him she'd be there at noon.
A half hour into the interview she realized that Joe might be demanding, but he was no dummy. There were many new points of significance that she hadn't appreciated until their contact in California had put a new slant on the case. She went over everything thoroughly, studied the photographs, took copious notes. By the time she was satisfied and went out onto the street again it was one forty-five.
The one bright spot for today had been her proposed visit with Jacob, and there really wasn't time for that now. Considering the whimsies of Manhattan traffic, she'd have to allow plenty of room for unforeseen disasters in order to make sure she got uptown in time for the call. At least she was in the neighborhood. She could stop and explain.
The shop was the busiest she'd ever seen it. There were people in almost every aisle, and Jacob was busy with a customer, so she moved off to the other side of the room, and took down a volume of Arthurian legends. The illustrations were stunning, and she spent several minutes admiring them, but when she looked up, Jacob was still talking to the same man. She began to wonder if he was, in fact, a customer. They were standing on either side of the counter, bathed in the bright light from the window, their heads bowed close together over a book that lay next to the cash register. The other man was tall, broad-shouldered, wearing sunglasses and a dark sports coat over jeans. He was leaning on his elbows, one knee bent, the other long leg stretched out behind him.
She checked her watch again. It was two, the time she'd said she'd come by, so perhaps he'd forgive her for yet another interruption. She crossed the shop, and Jacob looked up at her approach, breaking into a smile.
"Cathy, you are as good as your word. We were just having a look at the very quotation you asked about. It is such a romantic thought taken out of context, isn't it? However, I think you will find that if you read the entire passage, much less the essay itself, you will find it has a decidedly cynical intent. Not surprising in Wilde, of course." She eyed him curiously. What was he so nervous about? "Still, that is the purpose of cynicism, is it not- to protect our more delicate yearnings, our most vulnerable sensibilities. You will find that --"
"Jacob." The other man had spoken softly, but his voice had a deep resonance that brought Jacob's strange soliloquy to a halt.
"Oh, yes. Forgive me. Cathy Chandler, I'd like you to meet Phillip Paxton, Professor Paxton, that is. He's the young man I told you about from Columbia."
"Professor Paxton, I'm happy to meet you," she smiled, as he straightened up to take her hand. He was big with a strong jaw and a mass of dark, sandy curls. "I appreciate your going to the trouble to find this for me."
"Trouble!" Jacob scoffed. "He recited the whole paragraph by heart."
"Now, now," Professor Paxton soothed him. "It happens to be a favorite of mine."
"Yes, well, you see, Cathy, Phillip used to be one of my pupils, quite a brilliant one I must admit. He's supposed to be concerned primarily with the Elizabethan era, but he persists in showing me up in other areas as well."
"Don't listen to him, Miss Chandler. He can destroy me with Schopenhauer and Ty Cobb, and he knows it."
Catherine smiled. She had the feeling this affectionate bantering had gone on between them for a long time.
"Why don't you two go on back to the office," the older man suggested, "and I'll join you as soon as I've assisted our one customer over there."
"There are fifteen people in here, Jacob."
"I know that, Phillip. I also know there is only one of them who ever puts her money where her mind is. Go on now."
"Jacob, I'm sorry, but I can't stay," Catherine interjected, and wondered at the quick look he threw his friend. "I thought I'd be able to, but I'm expecting an important phone call at three. It's crucial to a case we've been working on. I'm really sorry."
"I see. Well, why don't you let Phillip here drive you uptown?"
"Oh, no. That's alright. I can grab a cab."
"It's no trouble, Miss Chandler. I was headed that way eventually."
"Don't worry," Jacob said. "You can trust him."
"I'm sure I can," she smiled. "Well, if you're certain it's not an imposition."
"Not at all." He reached across the counter and squeezed the older man's shoulder. "Jacob."
"Come back anytime, Cathy."
"I will - soon." When they left the shop, the woman Jacob had indicated had come to the cash register with an armload of books.
Outside they had walked only a few yards, when Professor Paxton unlocked the door of a late model sedan and helped her in.
"How did you manage that?" she asked, as he got in the driver's side.
"A parking place right in front of the shop?"
He smiled. "Jacob says I have a gift - that I pull cars out of parking places simply by arriving. It's just an excuse, so he won't have to drive when we go anywhere together."
"Jacob Wells drives a car?"
"Does that surprise you? He has a jeep."
For some reason that struck her as deliciously funny, and she laughed. "You two must be very close."
"You felt that? We've known each other for fifteen years. He was the teacher - that one every student should have - who made it all come alive for me. From the moment I took my first class from him my direction was set. He was sharp enough to see that and to nurture it. I owe everything to him."
"He's obviously very proud of you."
Professor Paxton didn't answer. He was negotiating a stretch of city block made nearly impassible by double-parkers. He was such a powerfully built man, and his hands seemed too large for the steering wheel, but he used them gracefully, swinging with ease around the illegally parked cars and trucks.
"You'll have to tell me where you live, Miss Chandler."
"I'm sorry. I forgot you didn't know." She gave him the address and added, "It's Cathy, please."
"And I'm Phillip. Jacob tells me you took your law degree at Columbia."
"That's right." She wondered if he'd been at the university then but decided he hadn't. "I'm with the District Attorney's office now."
"I know. You must have a high tolerance for frustration."
"I suppose that's true. Most people ask about the danger or sensational cases or the political implications, but it's really all about taking one step forward and two steps back. If you can't put up with that, you don't last very long."
"And it's worth it?"
"Yes. Yes, it is. This week, for example, we put a man away who'd been abusing his wife for years."
"She testified against him?"
"Finally. Even the most intimidated person reaches a point where they'll fight back."
"Especially if there's someone there who cares."
"It can drain you emotionally, if you care too much about every victim you meet."
"But you do."
"What makes you say that?"
"Jacob's become very fond of you in a short time. Only a warmhearted person could win his loyalty that quickly."
"I think he must have lots of friends."
"He does, but he seems to have reserved a soft spot for you."
"And for you."
"What has he told you about me?" He was still looking ahead, and she wasn't sure what it was about him that gave her the impression he had tensed slightly.
"Nothing, except who you are - your position. I'm assuming that if he likes me as much as you say, he wouldn't send me out in this insane traffic with just anybody."
He smiled. "Deductive reasoning. You must be tough in the court
"I think it's probably a less treacherous place than the classroom. I remember some of us didn't make it very easy for our professors to teach us anything."
"It's up to the teacher to bring out the magic in his subject, to make it so intriguing that the students want to learn."
"Did Jacob teach you that?"
"Among other things."
Traffic was hopelessly snarled, their progress ominously slow. At 34th they sat through two red lights without moving so much as a car's length. Catherine stole a look at her watch..
"We will make it," he said. He hadn't looked at her and seemed to feel none of her sense of urgency, his elbow resting on the window slot, one hand draped loosely over the wheel, and despite all the evidence to the contrary she believed him.
At 41rst they broke away from a line of cars and didn't slow again till he pulled up in front of her building. He came around to open her door, and she said, "Wait - would you like to come up for a cup of coffee?"
He hesitated and nodded. "You go on. I'll park the car."
"It's 21E." She turned and ran into the lobby. It was still only ten minutes to three, but who knew how laid back their L.A. contact might be regarding time. Inside the apartment she hung up her coat and laid the file beside the phone. Then she rushed to the kitchen and had the coffee perking when his knock came at the door.
She opened it. "There is no parking on this block, " she greeted him with a throaty laugh.
He smiled, showing strong, white teeth. "I walk fast."
The phone rang. "This is it - it may take a few minutes. Please, make yourself comfortable. I'm sorry." He shook his head. "Hello, yes, this is Catherine Chandler. Lt. Gebhart, we appreciate this. Yes, I've got it right here." She rested the receiver on her shoulder and pulled the phone and the file to the couch. "Yes, go ahead."
Phillip was still standing by the door, looking dark among the pastel furnishings. He pointed at the terrace with a questioning look, and she nodded. As she started to write, he opened the dining room doors and stepped outside. The phone call took nearly twenty minutes, but it was time well spent. Joe would be happy with what they had. She hung up, smoothed the wrinkles from her skirt, and hurried to the terrace.
He had his back to her, arms extended, leaning on the terrace wall, looking out over the city. She felt a lurch, the rustling of some half-forgotten memory, and then she joined him.
"I appreciate your patience." And, she realized - his discretion in not wanting to sit in on her phone call.
"No problem. The view is spectacular."
"Yes, it is, isn't it? Would you like to have our coffee out here?"
He nodded, and she went to get it. "I forgot to ask how you take it," she said when she returned. "It's been a while since I entertained."
"Black." He accepted the cup, which immediately became tiny in his hand, and took a drink. "Thank you. It's a welcome change of pace."
"Jacob's tea. Surely you've noticed he has an unending supply."
"I know," she laughed. "But it suits him somehow. He has an old-worldliness about him, if there is such a word, but he isn't stuffy."
"No, I think he'd save that adjective for me."
"Why? Do you think you're stuffy?" Great, I'm starting to sound like Dr. Grafton, she thought.
"I don't, no. But Jacob claims I've lived too long among the Elizabethans and the romantics. He accuses me of trying to impose their values on a modern world."
"What does he think you should do?"
"Settle down." He placed the cup on the terrace table and turned to her. "Catherine --"
Her own cup hit the balcony and shattered. She bent down, trembling and started to pick up the pieces, but he grabbed her hand. "Don't, please. You'll cut yourself."
"Right." She straightened up, pushing her hair behind her ears, still feeling disoriented. "I - I'll get something to clean it up." She hurried into the kitchen and walked more slowly back, taking deep, calming breaths. Phillip took the dust pan from her and held it, while she knelt and swept up the broken china. By the time she'd dumped it in the trash and returned she was in control again.
"Excuse me. You must think I'm an awful klutz." She felt a sudden need to be honest. "It was the way you said my name - it reminded me of some
thing, and I was startled."
"I'm sorry. Blame it on too many hours of Wuthering Heights. You prefer to be called Cathy?"
"No, actually, Catherine's fine." She sat down on the bench, looking up at him. "So, you're not married then?"
He shook his head. "Jacob claims I'm too idealistic for my own good. He'd like to see me marry the next grad student or teacher or writer --"
"Or butcher or baker..." she went on.
"You get the idea. He's anxious to be a grandfather, and he sees me as a necessary link in that process."
"You've taken the place of the son he lost."
"Well, I'm sorry if his suggesting you drive me home was some sort of matchmaking ploy on his part. I didn't recognize it, but I know how awkward it is to be put in that position. It's happened to me often enough."
"Catherine, it wasn't like that. I --" He seemed to think better of what he was going to say and lapsed into silence. He picked up his cup again, head bowed, as if the dark liquid there absorbed all his thoughts.
This time she let the word wash over her. It wasn't the same at all, not really. His voice was different, but there was a quality to it, to the way - No, she mustn't think about that. What was it he'd said a moment ago? "You must be the other one he was talking about."
"Well, I asked him once if I was the most incurable romantic he'd ever known, and he said no - there was somebody even worse. He must have meant you."
"But he told me to hold out - not to settle for just any kind of relationship."
"You've only known him a few weeks. Try holding out for fifteen years, and he'll change his tune."
She laughed. "I feel very close to him already - like I've known him for a long time."
"Sometimes that happens."
They stood for long minutes in silence, looking out over the park, but she didn't feel self-conscious, wasn't tempted to fill the void as she so often did in Dr. Grafton's office.
"I should go," he said finally, setting the cup down again. He turned to leave but stopped at the French doors. "There's a concert in the park tomorrow at three. I don't want you to feel obligated - to think that because you're fond of Jacob, you have to put up with his friends."
"I'd love to go," she said quickly. "Why don't I meet you in the park at two-thirty?"
"Do you know the carousel?" She nodded. "I'll come for you there."
She walked him to the door, locked it after him, and sat down on the couch. There was something unreal about the whole day. It reminded her of those many events over the past two years to which she'd given two explanations - the real ones she now recognized and the fanciful interpretations she'd woven over them. Today seemed somehow like the reverse. The facts were obvious: she had let someone with whom she shared a mutual friend drive her home. She'd invited him in, and they'd had a pleasant conversation. The situation was cut and dried. She felt no compulsion to embellish it, only a faint buzzing sensation, as if somewhere out of her reach some other scene had been playing.
What had possessed her to ask him in, when poor Buddy - long time friend that he was - never made it over the threshold? It must have been the very casualness of their acquaintance that had made it seem safe to do so. Safety? Was that really the issue? Was part of her still harboring an irrational fear of men and what they might do if she let them too close? She searched her feelings but could find no anxiety in her reluctance to invite
Buddy in or even Paul Kendall. No, she was sure it had been more an unwillingness to impose new images on her own space, the place where she'd dreamed such beautiful, life-giving dreams. There wasn't room here yet for other memories, other passions.
Once again, she thought of phoning Dr. Grafton, but what was there to say? She wasn't frightened or worried; she felt no temptation to fantasize. The sense of something having changed could simply stem from the fact that she was behaving normally again, observing a few of the social niceties.
She was a little annoyed by her own introspection. The self-examination engendered by therapy could only continue for so long, before she became just as egocentric as she used to be. The antidote lay in not remaining alone, maybe in doing something for someone else. She wondered if Jenny was available for dinner. She could invite her over and fix the Spaghetti Carbonara she liked so much.
She dialed her number, and as she did so, came up with a line that would guarantee her friend's quick arrival. "Hi, Jen. It's Cathy. I've met a man."
"I know who he is," Jenny was saying between bites. "I've never met him, but he's been quoted often enough in some of the literary criticism we've published. I'm pretty sure he's written some books himself for another publishing house. Why don't you bat your big green eyes at him, and tell him you've got a wonderful friend in the business who'd simply love to put him on the best-seller list?"
"I hardly know the man," Catherine smiled.
"So what's he like? Is he good-looking?"
"I'm not sure," she said thoughtfully. "Not in the way Paul Kendall is, nothing so obvious as that, but he's attractive. He has a kind of presence, a magnetism... I don't know."
"The forceful type, huh?"
"No, he's really very quiet, contained; but there's something about him - just a feeling, I guess."
"I don't believe this," Jenny grinned. "You're talking about feelings - for a man. Way to go, Cath."
"Come on. Jen. Don't read too much into it. I'm not sure what kind of an impression I made on him. I - I got so nervous at one point I dropped a cup and broke it. He's probably used to more intellectual company."
"Well, he asked you out, didn't he?"
"Sort of. We're just going to meet for the concert in the park tomorrow. He may have suggested it out of politeness, since I asked him up for coffee."
"No guy's willing to be stuck for a couple of hours with a woman he doesn't like just for the sake of good manners. Chivalry's dead, Cathy."
"I'm not sure it is too him," she smiled.
"So tell me more. What color eyes does he have?"
"I have no idea," she said, realizing for the first time that this was true. "We were in the sun all the time. He work dark glasses."
"That's too bad," Jenny said, twirling the spaghetti around her fork. "The eyes are the mirror of the soul."
On Sunday morning Joe called from Boston. "Did you get it, Cathy?"
"Yes, I got it. I spent almost two hours with Spitzer yesterday, and you were right - there's a lot more there we can use. And I took the call from Gebhart. Between us I think we've got this one beat, Joe."
"That's terrific, Cath. I knew I could count on you. Look, I'm sorry - I hated to put you under that much pressure. Are you okay? You getting some rest today?"
"I'm fine, Joe. As a matter of fact I'm going to a concert this afternoon."
"More big fun, right Radcliffe?"
"Right," she laughed," but don't worry - I wrote my report hours ago. It will be on your desk in the morning."
"You're the best, Cathy. I really appreciate this. Can't wait to read that report."
"Yeah, just be careful not to spill my clam chowder on it."
The weather had turned warm again. She'd never seen an autumn so reluctant to give way to winter. Dressed in a sweater, skirt and boots, she strolled briskly across the park, enjoying the brilliance of the day. The vague buzzing had never left her, but it wasn't unpleasant - just odd. She waited for some cyclists to go by, and abruptly thought, what if he's not there? What if he doesn't come? There was no rational justification for that fear. Hadn't Jacob said she could trust him?
In fact, he was waiting for her when she got to the carousel, dressed much as he had been yesterday in a dark jacket and sunglasses, slim jeans over boots. He smiled at her approach and abandoned his relaxed position against the fence.
"Catherine. I was afraid you might have changed your mind."
"Why? Am I late?"
He shook his head. "No reason. You're right on time."
They walked toward the band shell. She was conscious he was adapting his own long strides to her shorter ones.
"I forgot something yesterday, Catherine - the book I'd brought for you. I left it on the counter at Jacob's."
"That's not surprising, considering I broke up your visit so abruptly. I'm sorry. I'm sure Jacob was disappointed not to spend more time with you."
"Did he strike you as disappointed?"
"No," she admitted, laughing. "He didn't. He'll keep the book safe, I'm sure, until I see him again. He said you knew that whole passage by heart. Could you recite it?"
He did so, as they strolled through pools of light and shadow cast by the massive trees. She enjoyed the deep, mellifluous sound of his voice caressing the words, bringing out their meaning with a subtlety that might have been missed in the reading of it.
"Things that are not and that should be," she repeated softly.
"Things that should be, will be, Catherine," he said quietly, and she wondered at the comfort she found in the curious statement.
They found seats in the sun and discussed Wilde, going on to other writers of the era. At first she was afraid he'd be dismayed at the holes in her knowledge, despite a first-rate education, but what she had skimmed through in college, she had relished later on, and she was able to contribute enthusiasm, if not additional facts, to his comments. He seemed to enjoy hearing her opinions, listening as though she'd been a scholar who could actually enlighten him. She felt inordinately grateful to that part of her which had coaxed her to read in earnest.
The concert began. It was a melange of works by different composers - Monteverdi, Beethoven, Schubert. When the first notes of the Unfinished Symphony poured through the sunlight, she felt a familiar twinge. Phillip must have noticed her discomfort, for he leaned towards her. "Is something wrong?"
"No," she answered and found that it was so. For months she had been unable to play her recording of this work. It brought back too many memories, too sharp an image, but today she found she could enjoy it again, that the notes spoke to her instead of the visions that used to claim her attention.
It was still sunny when the concert ended, but a cold wind had blown in from the river and the ocean beyond. She shivered, as they got up to leave.
"You're cold," he said. "Here."
Before she could stop him, he'd taken off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. It was far too big, and she wrapped it around her, hugging it closed. "Aren't you cold?" she asked him.
"No," he said with a small smile. "I'm not."
They walked back towards the perimeter of the park, and for the first time today, she felt a touch of melancholy. Was it the park - that familiar slope over there, that tree, the bridge over the drainage tunnel that she could just make out through the foliage?
"I'd like to take you to dinner," he said, and the sadness vanished like a windswept cloud.
"I'd like that," she answered. "But why don't you let me fix us something? I've got a couple of steaks in the freezer, some wine. I can make a salad."
"You already entertained me yesterday."
"A lousy cup of coffee?"
"It was a good cup of coffee."
"I wouldn't know. I'm afraid most of mine ended up on the floor." She instantly regretted reminding him of her peculiar behavior, but he didn't comment.
"On one condition then," he said. "You'll let me fix the salad."
"It's a deal." As they walked along, she noticed for the first time how beautiful the park had become. The autumn colors flickered around them - red, yellow, orange - struck by the Indian Summer sun. She wondered that she could have felt anything of sadness in the scene. "What kind of miraculous parking place did you come up with today?"
"None. I took the subway. It's more or less a straight shot from the campus to here."
"You live near the university?"
"I have a house there, yes."
She was wondering what his home would be like, as they reached her building. When they entered the apartment, she gave him back his coat and put the steaks in the microwave to thaw. While she prepared potatoes for baking, Phillip chopped vegetables for the salad, his big hands moving with surprising efficiency and finesse.
"You're better than a Cuisinart," she teased.
"One of the benefits of sustained bachelorhood."
She poured the Cabernet into goblets and led him back to the living room.
"Would you mind having our drinks out on the balcony?" he asked.
"Of course not. It's lovely at this time of day." She wondered if he felt as incongruous in this room as he seemed to her, but no - he undoubtedly appreciated the view as much as she did. "You go on. I'll get a coat."
She pulled a suede jacket from the closet and went out to join him. "I enjoyed the concert very much."
"So did I."
"I hadn't been to one in a while," she continued, "but my parents used to take me when I was little, and it's a habit I kept up for a long time."
"My parents died when I was young," he told her, "but I had an aunt who started bringing me - from the Bronx - when I was very small. I'd just get to the point where I rebelled against practicing my piano lessons, and we'd hear some concerto, a sonata that would stir me, and I'd be eager to go back to it again."
"Do you still play?" She must have sounded surprised at the idea. He gave a little self-deprecating laugh that was hardly more than a sudden exhale of breath. The sound curled through her with the poignancy of an elusive tune and was gone.
"These hands," he said, "are not always as clumsy as they look."
"They're nice hands," she heard herself saying, "strong and gentle."
He turned back to the view without comment, and she wondered if she'd sounded too personal.
"You have the best of two worlds, Catherine. The buildings, the streets of the city, all the things that are of the moment, the essence of life as it's unfolding now. And you have the park with its beauty and timelessness." The sun was going down now. He removed his glasses and slipped them into his pocket.
"I know," she answered. "The view was what made me fall in love with the apartment. I think I could have managed with one room, as long as I had all this to come home to."
"Catherine," he said, turning towards her. "There is something I should have told you."
She looked at him and for the first time into his eyes. The trembling started at once; it increased until she knew her knees were giving way under her. "Oh, God," she whispered. "Oh, God, oh --"
"Catherine?" He was regarding her with alarm, starting to reach out to her, but he apparently reconsidered and hesitated until her imminent collapse prompted him to move forward. He pulled her head to his shoulder, surrounding her with his other arm. "No, Catherine, don't." The shaking - it wouldn't stop. He held her close. His embrace was infinitely gentle, but he was lending her his own strength. She tried to blank out the irrational messages flooding her mind, to concentrate instead on the familiar comfort of his arms around her, but no - that familiarity was yet another trick her warped mind was playing on her, a sure sign that she was losing touch with reality; this man was a virtual stranger. Still, the solid feel of his body soothed her own and after a few minutes, the trembling had subsided, but not the tumult in her mind. She took a deep breath, and willed herself to step back from him, to look once again into the depths of his clear, blue eyes.
"I'm sorry, Phillip, but I think you'd better leave."
His concern for her was punctuated by a sharp flash of pain that shone from those eyes, as it had done so many times before. "You're not well, Catherine. Can I get you a doctor? A friend to stay with you?"
"No, please. You're right; I have been sick, but I'm fine now. I just need to be alone - to get some sleep."
"Positive. I - I'm sorry about dinner."
He shook his head and started for the door, but turned there. "I don't like to leave you like this."
"It's what I want. Please, just go."
She didn't move, until he'd let himself out the front door, then she sank to her knees on the floor of the balcony, shaking again. All her hard-won sanity - an illusion. They'd told her she was better, that she'd put her delusions aside, but it wasn't true. Tonight she had looked into them as clearly as if they'd been real.
How had she fooled them all? How had she fooled herself? Dr. Grafton had even felt free to leave on vacation today, confident that she could get through a week without his help. He'd left her the name of a colleague to call, if she felt the need, but she had no wish to try to explain this madness to another person, not when none of them had truly understood how deep it ran.
After a while, she forced herself to get up and go to the kitchen. She turned off the oven, pushing the half-baked potatoes down the garbage disposal, and wrapped the other food, putting it in the refrigerator.
She changed for bed and crawled under the covers, though it was barely dark outside. Sleep was mercifully quick in coming, but with it came dreams, peopled with figures - mainly Vincent and Phillip Paxton, blending and fading into each other, their beautiful blue eyes giving her no comfort.
She woke feeling tired and frightened, but she had to go to work, had to concentrate on the one thing that she'd always done rationally. Her co-workers had obviously accepted the idea that she was back to normal again, as none of them seemed to pick up on her nervousness. She tried hard to concentrate on the brief she was writing, but found herself questioning her conclusions, even her observations. How could she trust any of her thoughts when there was still something so terribly wrong?
By eleven o'clock she knew it was hopeless. She pushed back her chair and went to Joe's office.
He looked up. "Got a problem, Cathy?"
"Yes. Joe, I'm sorry. I need to go home."
"Why?" He got up and came around the desk. "Are you sick? What's the matter?"
"It's not what you're thinking," she lied. "I got a little chilled in the park yesterday; I think I might be coming down with something."
"Oh." He looked relieved. "Well, yeah, that's not surprising. Your resistance is probably low. Don't worry about it - take all the time you need. You want me to have somebody drive you home?"
"It's not necessary, really. I think I just need some sleep." Sleep? She'd slept for twelve hours last night.
"Okay, but you call me now, if you need anything."
"I will, and I'll phone you tomorrow, regardless. Thanks, Joe."
"Yeah, sure. No problem."
Outside she hailed a cab, but the directions she gave the driver sent them hurtling downtown, not up towards her apartment. Nothing was certain anymore. Phillip's eyes - in reality were they muddy as clay? Did he really exist at all? Was it possible that she'd gone to the concert alone yesterday, sat listening to the music, dreamily reconstructing a fantasy world? If he wasn't real, how did she get home from the Village on Saturday? Jacob had spoken of him several times, but had she really met him?
By the time the taxi neared Fourteenth Street she had hit rock bottom. Was Jacob himself only an illusion? Stripped of the elaborate world she'd created, having filed it, after hours of relentless therapy, into the realm of wishful thinking, had her mind gone blithely on with its little game, simply adapting the characters to a new scenario?
She flung a twenty dollar bill at the driver and ran to the shop door. The store was real, the name "Jacob Wells" prominent on the window, but a shade was drawn over the glass door. Damn! He'd warned her that the shop was closed on Mondays. She realized that she'd never asked where he lived - over the store, behind it, somewhere else entirely?
She banged on the glass, shaking the knob. "Jacob!" It took her back to the moment when she'd stood at the gate of the tunnel world, fingers bleeding, mind shattered by the truth about the dream. Mustn't lose control like that again, mustn't attract attention. She had to know what face belonged to the name, Jacob Wells. She breathed deeply to calm herself, and the door opened.
"Cathy! Good heavens, whatever is the matter?"
Her relief at his familiar presence quelled the worst of the hysteria that threatened her. "Who is he, Father?" she demanded, her voice harsh and uneven. "Who is Phillip?"
Jacob took a firm grip on her shoulders and looked into her eyes with concern and determination. "Cathy, I will answer your questions, and you may perhaps answer some of mine, but not until you get a hold on yourself."
The authoritarian tone of his voice made her realize what she'd called him. He was right; she needed to control her fear, keep all her faculties about her, if there was to be any hope of finding her way back to sanity.
"Come, sit with me in the office. It will be alright."
She nodded and followed him back to the familiar chair. He helped her with her coat, and within seconds had handed her a cup of his standard refreshment and taken the chair opposite her. Only then did he speak again.
"Phillip is precisely who I told you he was - no more, no less. He phoned me last evening, very concerned about you. He felt guilty about leaving you alone and wanted to know if I thought it was safe to do so. Knowing about your recent problems and how well you've conquered them, I told him that yes, you would be alright on your own. I see now that I was wrong."
"No, you weren't wrong. I managed."
"His primary concern was for you, Cathy," Jacob went on, "but I know him - I know he felt terrible wondering what he'd done to upset you so."
"He did nothing, Jacob. He was wonderful. It's just that I looked into his eyes, and I saw someone else, someone that I can't go around seeing, if I hope to keep my claim on sanity."
"Cathy, we've never spoken of the exact nature of your emotional problems. Do you think it would be helpful if you told me a little of it? Only what I need to know in order to understand what has frightened you."
She nodded. "It's going to sound strange to you, I know, but part of it is the reason I have your friendship now."
"And you do have that, Cathy. Regardless of what you tell me." He reached for her hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
She started with the assault and went on to describe the world below and as many events connected with it as she could, but primarily she focused on the people and what they had meant to her. What might have dimmed in her memory by now was still fully accessible, because of the journal she'd been keeping.
Jacob sat rapt. Occasionally, he'd ask a question or encourage her to elaborate, but for the most part he listened. After about an hour, he left her and came back with a greasy bag of barbecued ribs, along with cole slaw and fries. She was surprised to find she was hungry, but breakfast had been only coffee, and she'd had no dinner last night at all.
Once she'd started her story, she found that she was eager to continue. It had always seemed that Jacob was an integral part of her fantasy and, therefore, had a right to know about it. She told him things she'd never bothered to mention to Dr. Grafton, trivial details that he clearly found fascinating. Instead of picking things apart as the psychiatrist had done, and had encouraged her to do, he merely absorbed it all, as if she were a marvelous storyteller. She talked while they ate and for what seemed like hours afterwards. When at last her voice was giving out, she felt drained, but the chaos in her mind had quieted.
"What a marvelous thing the human imagination is," Jacob said finally.
"Please, you sound like my therapist."
"Is that such a bad thing? He seems to have guided you safely back to health."
"I thought so too, until yesterday - until Phillip."
"What was it, Cathy. What troubled you so about his eyes?"
"They seemed to be Vincent's. I looked at him, and all my certainties disappeared. Please, tell me that I didn't see something that wasn't there."
"I'll do better than that." He went to the desk and brought out a book, which obviously had special significance for him. She took it. It was a thick volume of literary criticism, dealing with Restoration dramatists. The author was Phillip Paxton.
"Go ahead - turn it over."
She did, and there was Phillip looking back at her from a photographic portrait. Even in black and white there was no question that he was regarding her with Vincent's eyes. She looked at it for a long moment. "I still don't understand."
"Oh, I think the answer is quite simple really. You and your doctor determined that the day you were here was fresh in your mind on the night you were attacked. Your brain drew on what it had seen that day to help sketch its characters, and I must add that I shall be eternally grateful for the sort of man I inspired - someone far more noble and wise than myself. I have never felt so deeply flattered, and apparently, Phillip made a distinct impression upon you as well."
"Phillip was here that day?"
"Oh, yes. Didn't you know?"
"No. I have no memory of it at all."
He shook his head and sighed. "Cathy, I have not been entirely candid with you. If I had been, you would not have suffered so these past twenty-four hours. I am deeply sorry, but Phillip had asked me not to speak of it. I wanted to protect him."
"Protect him - from what?"
"From embarrassment, rejection. I see now, far more damage was done by my reticence." He got up and returned Phillip's book to the desk drawer. "You may remember that when you first came to me in September, you were amazed that I should recall your brief appearance here so long ago."
She nodded. "You said something happened that day that caused it to stand out in your mind."
"True, but I never told you what I meant by that. You will understand why, when I've explained. You remember that it was raining. There were few customers that day, and Phillip and I had just started another game of chess at this very table - why, I can't think, since he was beating me unmercifully as usual. I recall we were discussing a Fischer-Spassky game, when the door opened, and you walked in. The curtain was tied back so that I could keep an eye on the shop, and we turned to see you hesitate and then begin to look around. You came to the poetry aisle, just there in full view of us, but you seemed quite oblivious to our presence. You were lovely, of course, and the way you moved among the books, touching them almost tentatively, as if you hardly dared to probe their secrets - well, it was a charming sight. I glanced at Phillip and saw on his face a look that unnerved me."
"Why? What was it?"
"I couldn't place it - that's what made it so troubling. He was admiring you, of course, but Phillip has an eye for all beautiful things. Then it struck me. He was looking at you in much the same way I must have looked at Eleanor that day in the distant past. I came out to the counter to help you, and by then you'd moved off to the classics."
"Phillip left the office after me, and he stood, leaning against the wall there at the end of the aisle. He told me that you turned, as you were selecting a book - Great Expectations, I suppose - and looked at him."
"I did," she said slowly. "I can see it now - very clearly." She looked up at Jacob, conscious that the dawning amazement was evident in her eyes and in her voice. "He was standing right there. He looked so solemn, but so nice. I smiled at him."
"Yes, well, that was his undoing, I'm afraid. When you'd left, he asked me your name, assuming you'd given me a check or credit card. I suppose the expensive clothes you wore made that method of payment seem logical, but unfortunately, you had paid in cash. He went outside to look for you, but you had already disappeared."
"He was quite impossible to deal with after that: making me promise that should you come in again I would not fail to find out who you were, dropping in here every week at the same time you'd been here, in hopes some appointment brought you to this neighborhood on a regular basis. I pointed out to him that you might not ever return, that perhaps you were a tourist on a one time visit to New York, that you might be married, an axe murderer, anything, but he wouldn't listen to reason."
"I'm surprised one of you didn't see my picture in the newspapers or on television."
"Believe me, if I'd realized you were in a prominent enough position to make that likely, I would have watched the infernal thing from dawn to midnight, just to get Phillip off my back, but no, neither of us finds much of value on the television, I'm afraid. We tend to get our news from the Times, which as you know relies very little on the kind of sensationalized pictures so dear to its tabloid competitors. No doubt, we've both read your name from time to time without realizing its significance."
"I had no idea."
"No, of course, you didn't. Phillip grew quite restless in his personal life. He'd been living with a woman for several months, a social worker. She was quite lovely and warm, a thoroughly suitable match, and absolutely mad to marry him, but after that day --"
"Are you saying he dumped her - because of me?"
"Oh, nothing quite so crass as all that. Phillip's a man of great sensitivity, but gradually the inevitable happened, and of course, it wasn't because of you, but because of his dream of you. None of the relationships he had from then on seemed to satisfy him. He'd always been an idealist, of course, but seeing you had convinced him that his romantic theories were valid, that somehow he'd been destined to find you here that day. He claimed something was missing in all the women he met. Of course, I told him he was being perfectly foolish."
"How could you, when you'd felt something like that yourself - for Eleanor?"
"Indeed, but you see, Eleanor was right there in my world. It was only a week or so before we were formally introduced, and I discovered for myself that what might have been simply an attraction went far deeper. But Phillip was living in a dream of someone he might never see again. It seemed such a waste. I warned him that you might be a thoroughly shallow young woman. You'll forgive me for that, I hope."
"It's not necessary. You were perfectly right," she smiled, totally captivated by what he was saying. "When did you tell him you'd seen me again?"
"Oh, right away, of course - that first day you came here, but I urged him not to try to contact you. There was still so much I didn't know about you - whether you were involved with someone else, for instance. I felt confident that I would see you again, and indeed I did, but you never mentioned Phillip; apparently he'd left no impression upon you that day. I hated to watch him find you, only to be met with indifference. I wanted to protect him from that."
"But he did leave an impression on me - the most powerful one of all. Not just his eyes. There were so many things, most of them seemingly minor, that I noticed this weekend, and yet at the same time, I didn't notice them. I kept feeling that something was happening, something important, just beyond my grasp. I think I was afraid to face them head on, afraid that it meant I was deluding myself again. I felt so good being with him, but these inexplicable feelings kept building up, and when I finally looked at him, looked into his eyes, it was too overwhelming. I really thought I was losing my mind, but I had it all turned around again - like the first time I saw you and called you 'Father'." She thought a minute. "I didn't feel that Phillip was particularly anxious to be with me. In fact, I was afraid he was seeing me as a favor to you."
Jacob laughed. "'Oh, what a tangled web we weave', eh? I'm not surprised that he didn't attempt to sweep you off your feet; that's not his way. He's naturally reserved, but he's a man of great passions, Cathy, fierce loyalties. Never doubt that."
"Yes," he stroked his beard, chuckling. "It would be interesting to see how he would react, if he knew what your fantasies had done with his appearance."
"You're not going to tell him!"
"No. No, of course not. Cathy, believe me, I would never betray your trust. Nothing of what you've told me today shall ever leave this room."
"I know. I'm sorry."
"It's only that there's a certain irony in your description of Vincent. Phillip has never thought of himself as a particularly attractive person, which can be a blessing in an otherwise confident individual, gives them a humility often lacking in those who are well aware of their beauty. It seems to be lost on him that women follow him, as if he were the Pied Piper. To think that you translated him into a figure so outside the norm that he was forced to live in a separate society - well, I hope you'll forgive me, if I find a certain amusement in that."
She smiled, feeling flushed. "But I was intensely attracted to Vincent."
"Yes, well, you see - that proves my point."
"Why didn't you tell me about Phillip - about his interest in me?"
"My dear, Cathy - think what you're asking. It would have embarrassed him no end to have me running to you with tales of his obsession. How could I tell you there was an otherwise intelligent young man who'd been thinking of you, holding you up as an ideal, for two years - all on the basis of a single look, one smile. It would have frightened you, or at the very least, made you uncomfortable. I'm only telling you now, because your recovery was imperiled by your misinterpretations, so you can see that everything that's happened has a logical explanation."
"He wanted to tell me. I think he started to more than once, but he couldn't bring himself to do it."
Jacob nodded. "He's an uncommonly honest man. It must have pained him to be less than open with you; but no doubt he feared a greater pain - if he told you everything, he might very well frighten you away, just when he'd found you again."
"I would have understood," she said softly, and sat for a while lost in thought. At last she looked up again. "It's ironic, when you think about it. I felt very trusting of him, right from the start, as if he was someone I could really be open with in a way that people seldom are, and yet I couldn't tell him about my delusions. I was sure if he knew how I'd tried to escape reality for so long, he'd think I was too weird and be gone. And he seemed so straightforward to me, a person who could be counted on to tell you the truth, yet he was holding something back as well - the fact that he'd been thinking of me all that time. I'm just realizing what an awkward position we've put you in."
He dismissed the thought. "None of it was intentional, and it is gratifying to know that I've been able to comfort each of you in some small way. You are both very important to me, Cathy. That's why I was loath to get involved in any scheme to bring you two together. It's a thankless task, attempting to maneuver fate to one's own ends. The last thing I wanted was to see either of you hurt by the experience. Of course, I couldn't hold Phillip back forever. That's the reason I suggested you come to see me at a prearranged time, so that he might be here. I had hoped the three of us could visit - that we could see if this attraction was mutual without resorting to anything so threatening as, what I suppose you would call, a date."
"Most dates aren't what I'd call threatening, but I'm afraid yesterday's turned out to be."
"It's understandable that Phillip's presence could make you uneasy. I see that now. There's no need to apologize for your feelings."
"But I didn't feel uneasy with him, until the end. In fact, I felt strangely comfortable with him. I didn't want him to leave." She sighed. "But that's not what I communicated to him. I started falling apart for no reason that I could explain to him. He tried to comfort me, and I told him to get out."
"Yes, he was afraid he'd made a mistake, gone too far by - uh - embracing you."
"He told you that?"
"Yes, when he phoned last night, and I must say, I agreed with him. What can he have been thinking, taking such liberties on brief acquaintance? I don't know what gets into the boy."
His exasperation made her smile. "Jacob," she said, leaning across the table, "he's not a boy, and he didn't 'take liberties'. I was shaking, and he held me. I liked it."
"Very much." She could feel her cheeks glowing.
"Be that as it may, if he can't control his impulses, he should keep them uptown among all those dewy-eyed, unprincipled young women who fawn over him. I won't have him making improper advances to you."
She was laughing now. "You'll wear yourself out, Jacob, trying to decide which one of us to protect. I don't need your protection, and I very much doubt that Phillip does either. We do need your friendship and your good advice, but we all have to make our own mistakes and try to learn from them."
"Ah, yes," he said, rubbing his brow. "I suppose that's true. At least you seem to have recovered from the mood you were in when you arrived here this morning. I was certain that you'd come to revile me for introducing you to such an objectionable young man."
"You were wrong," she told him. "I feel like you've given me everything today - my sanity, missing pieces of my life, a true perspective on Vincent and his world, and maybe, if I'm terribly lucky, even a chance with Phillip. How can I ever thank you for that?"
He made a sound that very much resembled "pshaw", but she could tell that he was pleased. She looked at her watch.
"I don't believe it. It must be dark out by now."
"Would you care to stay for a bite of supper?"
"Thanks, but I've got a couple of steaks in my refrigerator that won't last. Why don't you come back and have dinner with me?"
"That's very kind of you, Cathy, but I'm afraid my television set beckons."
"I thought you didn't watch TV," she reminded him, shrugging into her coat.
"My dear girl, it's Monday night. It's autumn. The glories of the gridiron await in living color."
"Sports - I almost forgot." She picked up her purse and bent to kiss him on the cheek. "I'll get used to it. Just give me time - I will get used to it."
She went out into the cold night air, feeling oddly exhilarated. The strange vibrancy that had first manifested itself on Saturday was pleasantly increasing. The whole city seemed to throb with it. Finding a cab would be easier at the corner, but she'd gone only a few yards when she heard her name and turned to see Phillip standing at the bookshop door.
"You're alright now."
"Yes, I'm fine."
"Good." He put out his hand to open the door.
"Wait! Please." His deep-set eyes were in shadow, and she stepped forward until she could see him in the light of the shop window. "I need to tell you something."
"What is it, Catherine?"
"I - I don't know." She felt he was drawing her like a magnet, but that he was oblivious to the pull. Any moment he might turn away, disappear into the bookstore, closing the door behind him. "Someday I'd like to tell you why I acted the way I did last night."
"Yes. It's too soon. I - I don't want to scare you away."
He tilted his head and looked at her intently. "I don't scare easily, Catherine."
"I know that."
"I'm sorry if I offended you last night."
"You didn't. Please - it's important to me that you believe that. I don't know what I can say to you." She was afraid she sounded incoherent again. Her thoughts, her feelings were so clear to her now, but she was unable to give them words. She only knew she couldn't bear it, if he turned away. There seemed to be only one choice, one thing that needed to be done. She walked up to him and deliberately put her arms around his neck.
He stiffened, surprised, and for an instant she wondered if she'd been wrong to listen to her heart, but then his arms came around her, pulling her closer. "Oh, Catherine," he whispered, and tears sprang to her eyes. There was no hesitation from either of them, no doubt, no need for rational analysis; they moved swiftly and naturally into a kiss that was anything but tentative. Every dormant feeling flared into life. She clung to him, wanting it to last forever, delirious with the proof that his passion was as great as hers. It was a kiss perhaps he'd dreamed of for two years, a kiss she knew she'd waited for all her life. Neither of them wanted to end it. It became more impossibly intense with every moment, until it was clear that it couldn't be continued even on a New York City street in the dark. When it ended, they both struggled for composure, but neither could let go of the other, the warm, vital confirmation of the deeper power that connected them. She closed her eyes again, as he tenderly kissed the tears from her cheeks. He didn't question what had caused them; he seemed to sense that they spilled from her happiness.
"I don't have my car," he said finally, unwilling to release her.
"I'd rather walk," she beamed.
"All the way home?"
"Maybe. I just want to walk the city streets with you, see everything with you."
He didn't speak, just pulled her close to his side, and they started up the block. She kept her arm around his waist, reveling in the rhythm of his body close to hers.
"I can offer you one beautiful, if slightly wilted salad, and I've still got a couple of steaks."
"Do I get to eat one this time?"
"I promise. Then what would you like to do?"
"Please, Catherine, don't ask me that when we still have fifty blocks to go."
Her laugh rang out in the cold, clear night, and she tucked herself closer under his arm. "Do you mind walking?"
He shook his head. "I love the city most at night - the mystery of it, the lights like stars forming new constellations that no one's ever seen before, promising new things, unlimited possibilities."
She smiled. "The chance to live another life."
He looked down at her, and his eyes were filled with love and admiration, as if she'd mastered some particularly enigmatic lesson. "Yes," he said softly, "to live another life - and dream another dream."