VINCENT, I DON'T THINK WE'RE IN VERONA ANYMORE
A Fractured Fairytale by Lee Kirkland
(This story originally appeared in the fanzine Old Souls, which was published by MacWombat Press.)
"'...See how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek!'"
Hypnotized by Vincent's voice, Catherine completely missed her cue until he glanced up from the open book in his lap and cleared his throat. "Oh! I mean, 'Ah me!'"
She couldn't miss the affectionate amusement in his eyes as he went on. "'She speaks! O, speak again, bright angel!...'"
Catherine couldn't imagine a better way of spending this balmy spring evening than on her balcony with Vincent, reading aloud. She listened closely, not only because his reading was, as always, enchanting, but because she didn't want to miss her next lines. She was drawing breath to speak when the lights flickered and went out.
All of them. Everywhere. The city was plunged into blackness.
"Vincent?" She put out her hand, expecting to find him reaching to meet her, but found no one there. Panic flared. "Vincent?" She scrambled to her feet, only faintly aware that the blackness was not so total now, that an unseen source of light was beginning to glow dimly. Where was Vincent? She called again. "O, Vincent, Vincent, wherefore art thou, Vincent?" No sooner had the words left her lips than she clapped a frantic hand over her mouth. Whatever possessed her to paraphrase Shakespeare that way? From somewhere beneath her, she heard Vincent answer.
"Here I am! I am here! There is no need for you to fear!"
Catherine bent far over the balcony's rail, hardly noticing that the smooth cement surface had been transformed into cold, hard wrought iron. "'How cam'st thou hither? Tell me, and wherefore?'" The odd phrasing was involuntary; she couldn't seem to help it.
"I want down, do you hear? I want down, is that clear?" he said to no one in particular. He glanced up at her. "It seems our plans have run amok. I greatly fear that I am stuck!"
"Stuck? Howso?" By leaning precariously over the rail, she could see him only a few feet below her. He appeared to be tangled in an overgrown tree limb.
"Howso? I don't know!" he grumbled, tugging at the short cape he wore in place of his usual heavy cloak. It came free with a snap of broken twigs and Vincent had to grab at the branch to save himself from falling. Recovering his balance, he scrambled toward the balcony.
Catherine stepped back to give him room, and in doing so, nearly tripped over the floor length gown she wore. Startled, she surveyed herself. Last time she looked, she'd been wearing blue jeans, sneakers, and a soft blue sweater, but there was no sign of them now. Instead, she was laced into an elaborate, high-waisted dress of rich red velvet, heavily embroidered with pearls. The decolletage was low-cut and tight, making her bosom swell above it. On her feet were delicate satin slippers, totally unsuitable for daily wear, and on her head was perched a dainty cap. She reached up to adjust it. This was some fantasy!
Just then, Vincent made it over the wall and spent a busy few moments brushing twigs and bits of leaves from his clothes. Catherine watched in fascination. Finally he looked up. "I do not know just where we are, but I think we've travelled very far."
At the moment, Catherine didn't care where they were; she was too busy admiring Vincent's tights. "Thou hast a shapely bottom," she heard herself observe. "And thy legs..." She took a deep breath. "'Fain would I dwell on form,'" she murmured, still admiring.
Discomfited, Vincent hid behind a tall stone abutment, tugging futilely on the hem of his short tunic. "Catherine, please!" he chided. "We're in a mess! Ignore my knees and don't digress. I must confess, I like your dress," he added as an afterthought.
"'How cam'st we hither? Tell me, and wherefore?'" Catherine pleaded. "'My balcony is high, and hard to climb...'"
"I know it is," Vincent said churlishly. "But we're not there. Methinks that we're not anywhere!"
It was unlike him to be so pessimistic. She decided to ignore it. "'By what direction found'st thou out this place?'"
"You were with me, book in hand. Suddenly, we're in Wonderland!" He waved an all-encompassing arm at the vast array of flowering trees and shrubs that surrounded them. The colors were vivid even in the pale wash of moonlight.
Voices below made Catherine shrink back from the railing, joining Vincent behind the abutment. She shushed him when he tried to protest. "'If they do see thee, they will murder thee,'" she argued in a fierce whisper.
"Someone spoke about 'night's cloak,'" he reminded her.
"To hide you from their eyes?" she guessed, remembering the quote.
He nodded somberly. "I wish I had the cloak that's mine," he added. "This one isn't very fine." He was trying, without much success, to hide his legs with the cape.
The voices in the garden -- if it was a garden -- were gone now, and Catherine moved back toward the railing. Beyond the ornamental trees and shrubs she could see a high stone wall.
"'Stony limits cannot hold love out,'" she murmured softly. Vincent had never climbed that wall, but he had made the long, hazardous journey to her balcony many times -- surely that counted? The limits placed on him by the life she chose to lead could not banish his love for her. All wonderment at the strangeness of their surroundings vanished; she turned to look at him, her heart brimming with the love he would never let her express.
This time, though, his eyes met hers calmly, taking the love and returning it tenfold. "Catherine." Even his voice caressed her.
"'Dost thou love me?'" she heard herself say, and cringed inside. She never asked him that before, never wanted to pressure him, or make him feel obligated... But she was supposed to say something else now, wasn't she? Something about knowing that he did love her, but that he shouldn't swear...
It didn't matter, because he answered immediately, using that queer, unVincent-like patter that reminded her of Dr. Seuss. "From the start you've had my heart."
Hearing him declare his love, even in so uncharacteristic a fashion, was intensely satisfying. Catherine had no idea what made her take a step back.
He reached out, his gesture begging her not to go. She took another pace away from him. "Catherine! Please don't go! You leave me feeling full of woe!"
Startled, she peered at him. "'What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?'" She couldn't believe she was saying it; she knew perfectly well what sort of satisfaction she'd like to give him, if he'd only give her the chance.
But he was plunging on, not waiting for her to gather her scattered wits. "I know what; I'll tell you how. Give me your love's faithful vow."
She could sense the slow smile spreading across her face; when she spoke, the words were Shakespeare's, but they came directly from her heart. "'I gave thee mine before thou didst request it. And yet I would it were to give again...'"
He looked startled, as if he hadn't expected her to say that. "I don't understand. Don't take it away. Those are the words I want you to say."
"'But to be frank, and give it thee again... My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep. The more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite.'" Involuntarily she took yet another step backward. Amazingly, Vincent seemed unable to see her in the shadows that cloaked her.
He looked around, as if wondering where she had gone. "I know this dream; it can't be real. Yet it's so sweet, this thing I feel...", he murmured to himself.
"Believe it, Vincent," she said. Whatever it was (William Shakespeare, perhaps?) guiding her feet and putting words into her mouth nudged her out into the moonlight again. "'And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay, and follow thee, my love, throughout the world.'" Abruptly, her guiding force released her. She couldn't think what to say next, couldn't think at all as Vincent came closer.
"Catherine," he said simply, without adding anything inane to make it rhyme; a small inner voice wondered if he'd been nudged along, too, and was now also freed. His hand came up slowly, cupping her cheek, stroking softly downward. Her eyes closed, savoring the sensuous touch of his fingers against her face. She could sense him bending nearer; instinctively she tilted her face to just the right angle, felt his lips caress hers...
And suddenly, instead of the nightingale singing in the pomegranate tree, she heard the sound of distant voices, the rush of traffic, the faint bleat of a car horn. Her eyes flew open. She was on her own balcony, wearing her own comfortable clothes, feet propped up on a wrought iron table and an open volume of Shakespeare in her lap. Her finger still marked her place: 'O Romeo, Romeo...'
Heart pounding, she turned her head. Vincent still sat in the other chair, his own book open in his hands. His expression was distant but refocused quickly when he sensed her watching him.
"Catherine?" His tone was gentle, solicitous, but his eyes seemed somehow wary.
She rubbed her temple. "Vincent, did you...?" Her voice trailed away. It must have happened. She couldn't have dreamed it, she was wide-awake. Wasn't she?
Vincent would know. He was there, too... wasn't he? Wearing those incredibly sexy tights and talking in ridiculous schoolboy rhyme. He had kissed her... or had it all been an elaborate fantasy?