Flashback

Beth Gualda


Father looked up as Vincent strode past, hiding his cheek behind his hand, heading for his room.

"Vincent? Is something wrong?"

Disappearing into his room, Vincent's only reply was a tearful glance back. Father rose and followed him. A small boy came running into the room. He reached out and snagged him as the boy attempted to pass by him.

"Mouse, what's wrong with Vincent?"

"No!" the child protested. "Promised not to tell!" He squirmed, trying to wriggle out of Father's grasp.

"Mouse! Stop it!" the older man scolded. "I want to help, but I can't if I don't know what is wrong." A crash sounded from Vincent's room.

The small blonde boy sighed heavily in capitulation. He faced Father. "Vincent hurt," he lamented. "Saw everything."

"I gathered as much," Father said, impatiently glancing towards Vincent's now silent room.

"Vincent took Mouse above. Showed me around." He suddenly shook his head. "Found a girl. Nice girl we thought! When she saw Vincent," he paused, sighing for effect and shrugging his shoulders, "Got mad. She yelled. Threw a rock! Hit Vincent. We ran. Men came." His eyes got bigger and bigger as he told his tale of woe.

Father frowned. "A girl saw Vincent? How old was she?"

"Mmm 'bout Vincent's age. Ten. Maybe more. Maybe less." Mouse nodded gravely. "Mad girl."

Releasing Mouse, Father started towards Vincent's room. "Oh she wasn't mad, she was frightened more likely." Mouse started after him but Father shooed him away. "No, you leave Vincent alone now. Go run and play somewhere else. I'll take care of him."

Mouse reluctantly left the main chamber.

Father stood at the entrance to the chamber that was Vincent's private sanctuary. His son sat dejectedly on the floor beside his bed, still covering his injured cheek with his hand. While clearing his throat to announce his presence, he spied the shattered clay pot across the room.

"Mouse told me what happened," he began, his heart aching with his son's pain. "I'm sorry you had to experience that."

The boy didn't want to talk about what had happened yet. Instead, he chose to explain the broken pot. "I must be dreaming, thinking I can get anything to grow down here. Nothing grows by candlelight."

Seating himself on the floor next to Vincent, Father gestured at the bloodied cheek. "May I see it?"

Hesitantly, Vincent removed his hand.

Father winced inwardly. "I'm sure she really didn't mean to hurt you."

The young man flinched away from his father's probing fingers. "I thought she wanted to kill me." He looked up, tears falling unchecked now. "She was so pretty. I just wanted to talk to her." He bowed his head. "Am I that horrible to look upon?"

Shaking his head in negation, the older man responded, "Vincent, you have to understand. The people above, they grow up hearing grisly tales. Fairy tales and old wives' tales. They know in their minds that the stories are not true, but still, sometimes they are reminded of those horrific tales and believe that they've come true. People have always associated those who are different with evil from those stories. The unknown, something to fear."

"Was that supposed to make me feel better?" the boy frowned.

"No," Father admitted. "But I wanted you to realize she was frightened because she didn't know you, not because you are so horrible to look upon." He struggled up, turning to pull Vincent up with him. "Come on. Let's take care of that cut."

He hugged Father. "I love you," he sniffed.

Gently rubbing the boy's shaggy blonde mane of hair, he responded, "I love you too, Vincent."

Mouse decided to go above and find something to cheer up his best friend. He stumbled across a demolition site. To him, demolition sites were like stumbling across buried treasure. It seemed to be quiet now. A few men were standing around on the far side, drinking coffee and eating sandwiches. All the machinery stood silent. He strolled leisurely towards the building that was being knocked down. Looking around, he guessed it was an old courthouse of sorts. Not much here to hold his interest. He pawed through some rubble before heading toward the other side of the building. Hopefully, he would have more luck there. Suddenly, he saw her. His jaw made a valiant attempt to touch the ground. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. But strangely, she was immobile. He would need help. Vincent and him together. They might be able to move her. He'd have to come back tonight. Hopefully she would still be there.

"Vincent! Vincent where?!" Mouse yelled at the top of his lungs at Father, while racing full tilt into the room.

"Mouse! You scare me to death when you yell like that. What do you want Vincent for?"

Mouse gasped for breath. Suddenly a change came over him. He became instantly calm. Nonchalantly he replied, "Just to talk."

Father eyed him warily. "Are you in trouble again?"

The boy looked indignant at the suggestion. "No!"

Sighing, the elder man settled back into his chair. "He went for a swim."

Mouse turned, walked slowly, calmly to the doorway, then burst into a run as soon as he was through it.

The lower tunnels were located beneath a chamber known as the maze. It was flooded with fresh spring water. An ideal place to swim.

Mouse arrived breathless again. Stopping at the edge of the pool, he glanced around. He spied a shadowy figure beneath the surface of the water. Bending down, he slapped the water with his hand.

Vincent broke the surface suddenly. He inhaled deeply before shaking the water from his eyes. "Mouse," he greeted. He swam over to the edge. "Care to join me? The water's great today."

Shuddering, Mouse answered, "Great for you. Too cold for me." He suddenly became enthusiastic. "Need your help! Found someone! For you! Can't move her alone though. Come with me! Tonight!"

His curiosity aroused, Vincent gazed at the towheaded boy. "What are you talking about?" He pushed his wet hair from his eyes.

"Surprise! For you." Mouse jumped up and down excitedly. "She's beautiful! Prettier than the mad girl. Oh come! Please! Please!"

Vincent frowned, pushing himself away from the edge. "I don't want to meet any more girls ever."

"No! Ruin surprise." Mouse started to panic. "Men will take her tomorrow maybe. Can't wait! Must come tonight! Please, please, please!"

Sighing with resignation, the boy floated back to the edge where his friend stood. "I will. Calm down."

Now Mouse was estatic. "Okay good! Okay fine!" He turned and skipped away, cheerfully chanting, "Lady of the law! Lady of the law!"

Vincent watched him dance out of sight. Tilting his head, he wondered if perhaps, just maybe, he had agreed to kidnap someone.

They met secretly in Mouse's chamber. Mouse was too little to have a chamber to himself, so he shared it with several other small children. Vincent was very quiet so as not to wake any of them.

Mouse lay in bed fully clothed, forcing himself to stay awake by studying the ceiling. Gratefully, he saw Vincent wave at him from the chamber entrance. Mouse lived up to his name and quietly made his way past several sleeping children towards Vincent. He took his friend's hand and led him away. "Thought you'd never get here," he sighed. "Thought maybe you fell asleep."

Vincent shook his head. "This had better be worth all the trouble we are going to get into, if we get caught going above in the middle of the night."

Mouse grinned. "No other way to take her."

"Who is she, Mouse?" Vincent demanded. He wanted to know what he was getting himself into.

"Lady of the law." Mouse tugged impatiently at Vincent's hand. "Must hurry!"

Reluctantly, Vincent followed Mouse above, through alleys and backroads that led to the demolition site.

Vincent peered curiously at the abandoned site. Mouse ran on, acting like he owned it, waving at Vincent to follow. Mouse led the way around the old tattered building.

Vincent wondered about the lady and why she would choose to inhabit a half demolished courthouse.

"Gone! Oh no! Took her! I knew it! I knew it! Too late!" Mouse ran in circles frantically.

"Mouse!" Vincent growled, losing all patience. "What are you talking about?"

His small friend started to cry. "Gone, gone," he moaned. "Men took her."

Vincent sighed heavily. Walking over to Mouse, he ruffled the boy's hair. "It's all right."

"No surprise," Mouse continued sniffling. "Wanted her for you." He wiped at his eyes and looked up. "Most beautiful..." His expression changed in an instant. "There!" He jumped up and down, pointing. "Rock pile, there!" He raced over to the pile of rubble with Vincent close behind.

Vincent's jaw dropped, suddenly everything made sense. He faced a statue of a woman, clutching a scale in one hand and missing the other. Mouse, pawing through the debris, found the other hand and brought it to Vincent. It held a sword. Vincent smiled. She had been knocked off her pedestal and was laying at the bottom of the pile of broken stone. As far as he could tell, she was still intact except for the missing hand.

He faced Mouse. "This is the girl you were talking about?"

Mouse nodded, running his small hands over her figure. He was entirely enchanted. "Beautiful, see." He sighed. "Lady of the law."

"She represents justice," Vincent reproved, while reaching down to pull on her until she stood solidly on her base.

Mouse held up the broken arm. "Fix yes? Fix no?"

Nodding yes, Vincent gazed appreciatively at the statue. "She is beautiful." He laughed suddenly, delighted. "Thank you so much." Then he looked at Mouse and sighed. "How are we going to get her down though?"

"I'll help! Can carry this!" Mouse waved the dismembered hand in the air.

"No you don't! She's taller than me. You're going to have to help me more than that." He carefully eased her on her side. "You carry the shoulders. I'll take the base."

"You like?"

Vincent smiled. "I shall treasure her always."

 

"Vincent!" Father's voice barked, startling his son awake. He sat up quickly, squinting at the man who stood open mouthed in the doorway. "Where did that come from?" He pointed at the statue, which stood unabashed in all her glory in the middle of the room.

"Oh," Vincent yawned. "Mouse found her. Isn't she great?"

The man approached the statue cautiously. Walking around her slowly, he asked, "Mouse didn't...take her...did he?"

Vincent shook his head. "No. We got her from a demolition site last night. They were just going to crush her."

"Well what are you planning to do with her?"

The boy slid out of bed. Retrieving the broken piece, he showed it to Father. "I have to fix her up a little. But I want to keep her in here. To look at."

Father sighed. "There certainly is a lot to look at."

"Please, Father?" the boy's soft voice pleaded.

Peering down at his son, the man smiled. "Since you already went through a great deal of trouble and are in a great deal of trouble, to get her here, you might as well keep her."

Undaunted, Vincent smiled. "Thank you Father."

Rubbing his son's unruly mop of hair, he replied ruefully, "You're spoiled, you know that?"

Vincent hugged him, looking admiringly at his lady and replied, "I know."

 

The End