'My heart feels exhilarated when I think of the warmth and safety these tunnels offer me. I’ve read somewhere that nothing can chase the lustre out of a human life – not even when that life is spent in darkness, like mine – as long as the inner light is burning. Even though the tenderness and trust Catherine continues to show me, challenges me never to cease transcending the limits of my love, I know that there is another side to my being. I can sense the shadows in my mind will not be driven away and that frightens me. The extremes of my mind where there is no control and shadows dwell in chaos. And most of all I fear to lose myself in them in the presence of Catherine.
I have always suppressed these thoughts, but now they haunt me continuously. Horrifying nightmares are causing this, nightmares where I can see myself – a murderous beast – and each time at the end there is Catherine and her undying trust in me, one so strong it seals her downfall. Words fail to describe the terror in finding myself hurt her, my claws wounding her soft face as I try to control myself in vain.'
Vincent could feel the sweat crawling over his back and threw down his pen. Slowly he leaned his head against the chair and opened his mouth to hoarsely sigh. Glimpses of ivory fangs. He closed his mouth and rested his forehead upon the table. This fear was literally making him sick; he could feel the nausea and realised it would only get worse as long as the nightmares continued. The mere thought of him ever hurting Catherine in any way was unbearable to him.
His long, dry hair slowly rose down his neck, the faint light of his lamp colouring it amber. He lifted his head and noticed he was crying. Clear salty water in the wrinkly dales underneath his eyes, tickling, pulling, enhancing the miserable feeling of self-disgust he was building up inside of him.
As he got up, he tried to cleanse his mind, but couldn’t and the rage he so feared possessed him. He fought it, pressing his furry hands against the tabletop, whilst softly groaning – the deep guttural roaring of a lion. Then he rushed out of the room, leaving his long malachite-coloured cloak swaying behind him.
The tunnels were quiet, if not for the moist ticking of metal on hollow tubes. Vincent sat there, deeply tucked away within his wide cloak, pointlessly staring at the abyss from which arose chaotic reverberations of strange voices. As a child, Vincent spent a lot of time listening to the musical echoing of the voices, the remainders of lives he would never be part of. Back then it comforted him to imagine the voices spoke merely for him, but now he knew what the world these voices belonged to despised him. Many times he had seen the fear the repulsion, the emerging madness in eyes, which had first intrigued him. That was his curse. He was but an observer in their world and no matter how well he got to know the people, he would never be able to approach them. This he had accepted because there was no alternative. Yet sitting here, alone and surrounded by darkness, the voices sounded macabre somehow. He felt distant from them and that too frightened him because the community had always admired him for his warmth.
*** *** ***
"Vincent?" A deep voice colliding on the rock-faces. He looked up and there was Father. Leaning on his walking stick so wearily he look vulnerable, still a great amount of inner strength showed upon his face. "What is going on, Vincent?"
Vincent folded his hands and replied: "I am not sure, Father. A terrible sense of fear has crawled up on me. I do not know its cause."
For a few moments Father remained silent – a torch cast a golden shimmering over his face – then he asked with caution: "Catherine?"
"No." His head was spinning and he sighed, frustrated. "Maybe. I have been tormented by repulsive nightmares."
"The subject of these nightmares," Father started, "is Catherine?"
Vincent closed his eyes. "They all start alike: I am fighting strangers and I can see myself hitting and scratching and then there is Catherine and I ..." He opened his eyes in panic. "I can see her skin get ripped apart by these hands. Every fibre in my soul cries out in horror, but I am powerless." His voice almost sounded pleading. "I can feel her grow cold in my embrace."
The silence was ominous, the whispering in the background dreary, until Father spoke: “They are but dreams, Vincent, and dreams tend to be no more than the reflection of our fears.” He lifted his eyebrows and the wrinkles on his forehead deepened. “Perhaps it is time for you to face your fears."
The night was a black nebula, slowly moving around in Vincent’s chamber. He was lying in bed still fully dressed and slept restlessly, continuously shaking his head while his split upper lip subtly moved. He saw Catherine and looked at her in ecstasy: her golden hair, sparkly eyes and the long turquoise evening gown which fitted her perfectly. She smiled at him with dreamy eyes and a warm light guided her like an aura. Far away he could hear a silver bell ringing. A false, sinister sound. He was afraid for Catherine; he needed to bring her to safety, but all of the sudden she had disappeared. Vincent’s panic came close to insanity as he started running. "Catherine!"
No matter how far he ran or how hard he searched, he could not find her. Could not sense her. She was gone and he knew it was forever. That thought drove him mad. He roared, shaking his head like a wet animal. At that point he felt a hand on his shoulder, cold and pressing. He turned around and had scratched even before he recognised Catherine’s gentle face.
Another hand woke him up, softly rocking him. Just for an instance, he thought himself still dreaming. Clear blue eyes opened in a glance of pure terror, sharp fangs were revealed and large clawed hands hurried their way up from under the covers.
*** *** ***
Mouse pulled away in fear, his hands with the worn down gloves up high in surrender. It only took Vincent a few seconds to remember where he was and to realise what could have happened. With a hopeless sigh he collapsed. At that moment he came to the realisation that he had become a threat to the people he held dear.
"Don’t be sad, Vincent," Mouse hurried to intervene. As usual he made a hasty, absent impression, his straw-blonde hair a mess. "Mouse ok, Mouse fine."
By the time Catherine came out of the shower, it was already dark outside. She hadn’t managed to get all of the stress out of her system, but the water had made her feel calmer and the endless pile of files on her desk were temporarily forgotten. She had tucked away the grey ladies-suit she wore to work and had slipped into a more comfortable sweater. Her hair was up in a ponytail and the tips caressed her neck as she opened the large glass doors to her balcony, letting the cool night air welcome her with a smile. Behind her, pink curtains moved in the gentle spring breeze. Before her lay New York, a black valley, covered in twinkling lights. The endless noise of cars hooting and engines roaring was now reduced to a soft murmur like the wind in leaves.
Gazing at the overshadowed corner of her balcony, she suddenly felt ill at ease. She couldn’t explain, only that the feeling was strong and unsettling. She tried to picture Vincent in that corner, like he had stood there so many times before: a big, dark shadow, one with the night. But the image did not calm her. To the contrary: it only enhanced her fear that something was wrong.
She didn’t take the time to dwell on it any further, but hurried back inside, grabbed her keys and rushed to the elevator.
After running through the park and into the brown mouth of the tunnels, she looked haunted. Her hair had partly gotten loose and her eyes looked large and shiny. "Where is Vincent?" she panted, a tone of resentment in her voice.
*** *** ***
Father opened the iron gates, allowing her to enter. He opened his mouth to speak, but decided against it. The sad, powerless look in Catherine’s eyes scared him beyond reason as she insisted: "Where is he?"
Father averted his eyes – his lips were thin and his dark fringe made them seem even smaller – and said as calmly as possible: "He refuses to see you, Catherine."
The disbelief and desperation she felt at that time were ferocious. "What?" She considered a second hysterical ranting, but was only capable of mumbling: "Why?"
"He is being consumed by an irrational fear for himself,” Father explained, still not quite at ease. “For the side of his personality which he ..." He wavered, rubbing his hands industriously. "... does not control."
Catherine stared at him with huge eyes and a shaky chin. "But that is ridiculous!" A feeble smile. "I know him!"
Father forced himself to nod. "He has convinced himself that he causes a threat to you. His fear is clouding his rational thinking." He smiled and touched her hand as means of comfort. "He just needs some time to sort through his feelings, I’m sure."
At first she couldn’t speak, vastly scoping the scenery, but then she persisted: "I must see him."
She raised her voice: "Father I must! He needs me."
"No," Father gently objected. "I’m sorry, Catherine, but I can’t take you to him while he is in this state." His chin rested upon his chest as he looked up to her. "It is my duty to protect him, Catherine," he said. "And that means also protecting you."
She stared at him, beat, and faltered: "Father, I love him."
He nodded, both understanding and sad, and said: "I know, Catherine."
For the first time it felt lonely, this sacred silence the tunnels carried within them. Vincent had been roaming them all night, before an invisible force had drawn him outside. He had crawled through holes in ruinous walls and stepped over debris, which crackled unpleasantly underneath his feet. Eventually he had seen the spooky blue light of the naked night. He had hesitated, but decided to go back to the secure darkness of the underground. Somewhere in the back of his head he was quoting his favourite poem. I am one acquainted with the night. The emotions it evoked: solitude, fear, insecurity. As a child, he had wanted to caress the words; he had pressed the book against his chest and smiled. But the poet was a stranger who would run in fear should he ever lay eyes upon him. There was only one soul he was bonded to. One soul which loved him so painfully and that was Catherine’s. Even now, when he had rejected her, he could feel her spirit in his mind, and it made him feel so desperate because he knew that, no matter how hard he tried, he would never fully be out of Catherine’s life. She wouldn’t be able to go on without his soul wondering her thoughts like a gentle parasite.
He sighed while he paced his room. Catherine. Her name haunted him.
"Are dreams really worth all of this, Vincent?" Father startled – the fabric of his mitten felt hard on his forehead as he kept rubbing his headache away – and continued: "I suppose I don’t have to tell you how much this is hurting Catherine."
*** *** ***
"No you don’t!" Vincent stopped pacing and sat down in an antique couch. Slim white candles flickered all around him. "I am familiar with the nature of these dreams, Father." He looked very tired and vulnerable. “I have seen them before. They are massagers." He folded his hands and rested his chin upon them. "I dreamed of Catherine when she was in Los Angeles. I knew then that she was in danger, like I know now." His eyes were tucked away in their furry blonde lairs. "If she stays with me, I will injure her and I refuse to let that happen."
Father remained silent for a few moments, before saying: "For the longest time I have worried about your relationship. I thought of the past, of Lisa." He willed a short, faint smile to come over his lips. "But Catherine is not Lisa." He grabbed Vincent’s shoulders and the ropes that stuck out of the thick shoulder-seams swung. "She is the strongest woman I know and she loves you unconditionally."
Vincent averted his eyes, but Father persisted: "She has shown you so many things, things I would never have been able to teach you. I envy that sometimes you know." He noticed Vincent’s confusion and explained: "Vincent, Catherine’s soul and yours are one. Have you any idea how many of us ever live to find such a blessing?" He kept smiling, obviously moved. "Even if you wanted to, you could never turn your back on that."
Eight PM. At the district attorney’s office the only light still on was Catherine’s. She had surrounded herself with law books, from which she had been copying passages for the last three hours. When Joe passed her office on his way out, he halted at her door and looked in to find her sitting there almost hypnotised, until he couldn’t bare it any longer and came in.
*** *** ***
"Cathy!" He put on his happiest face, but the look she gave him was weary and spiritless. "Hello, Joe," she said with a faint smile and immediately continued her writing. It disturbed him greatly.
"Listen Cathy," he started, putting his hands on her desk. "Is there something I should know about?"
"No, Joe." Short and nervous. He didn’t like it one bit. He ran his fingers through his hair. “Cathy," he insisted. "It’s obvious something is bothering you and I thought you knew by now that you can trust me." He wondered if he sounded too demanding, too much like a boss and too little a friend, so he sighed. "I just want to help you."
"I know," she said and her smile was sincere. "You are a dear friend, but there is nothing you can do for me."
A couple of hours had passed since Father had entered Vincent’s room, casually inviting him to a game of chess. Shortly afterwards Mouse had arrived to demonstrate his newest invention, but neither visit had cheered him up. He was still sitting in his room alone thinking of Catherine. During those short years he had known her he had gone to great lengths to insure her safety. He had thrown himself onto the metal roof of trams and had let them carry him to her, the wind biting his flesh. He had jumped straight through windows, ignoring the pain of the splattered glass. And he had felt powerless and torn apart that one time he thought he hadn’t reached her in time. O yes, especially that. How he had despaired while his knees hit the mud and he was searching in vain for Catherine’s essence - that glowing white light – and realised it had dimmed. Catherine had only been dead for a few seconds. He had still been able to save her. He had pulled her back only to push her away now ... He started to doubt his decision. Mouse had told him Catherine was very unhappy. "Mouse knows stuff." He was right, Vincent knew, for he could sense her sadness and it ate at him.
*** *** ***
He lifted his lip and roared – a sound both beastly and mechanic, yet not human.
Catherine got home late. She turned on the lights in the living room and was drawn to the balcony instinctively, but Vincent was not there and there was only a cold breeze stroking her face while she looked over the city, her face a mask of suffering. She put her hands on the rail and searched the darkness with narrowed eyes, whispering: "Where are you?"
He stood hidden behind a damp wall and could feel the wind in the hood of his cloak as he gazed at the building across the street. The one where Catherine lived. He could see the limousines pass him by, impenetrably black, and earlier that evening he had witnessed Catherine greeting the guard by the door. He had also felt her mood: empty.
*** *** ***
He knew she was on her balcony even if he couldn’t see her from down here. He sensed her as she sensed him.
Joe had been waiting for her to arrive and she must have seen that coming because she rushed by his office in a terrible hurry.
*** *** ***
She came back, obviously against her will. My God, she looked a total mess! Her eyes big and red with lack of sleep, her skin pale and dull. He had to do something. Now!
"Come in for a moment."
She closed the door behind her and in the process hushed the chaos of phones ringing and type-writers pattering. "Sit down, Cathy."
She took a seat opposite of him and the blinds cast grey shadows over her face, like bars.
"You’ve got a case today, right?" he asked and waited for her to nod with a confused frown before adding: “Do you feel up to it?"
"Joe ..." She instantly got up, holding out her hands in defence.
"I’m not trying to undermine your work, Cathy," he said truthfully. "But as your friend I can see you’re suffering and I want to help."
She averted her eyes conciliatory. "Thank you, but I need my work." She looked at him and insisted: “It is all I have left.”
Putting on her woollen coat she thought of Vincent and the last time they were separated. The helplessness she’d felt when she saw him rush through that concrete wall, roaring in anger, unable to warn him of the dangers. She’d seen him claw, bite, hit with hands too large to be human only to protect her. And when the time came he had to leave, she had begged him to come back one last time, her face contorted with pain. "Hold me,” she had cried out. “For the last time, hold me." When they finally did see each other again she swore she would die before she let anything separate them a second time. Yet now, on the stairs of this courthouse she could feel him slip away further and further. Something had happened tonight. She had felt him so strong and then nothing. Like he had said goodbye and broken the link.
She sighed and walked down the stairs. The city noise, that benign certainty in her life, she could hardly hear now. She felt light as a feather, on the verge of fainting. Her legs hurt from the short walk down the street, but she couldn’t make herself stand still. Some strange essence inside of her kept producing this crazy energy and she had to keep moving. Faster, faster. She couldn’t stop and think. Not now. She had to keep going.
That’s when she heard the horn - aggressive, nearby - and when she looked up she saw two blinding headlights approaching.
Vincent got up abruptly, his eyes wide open and a heavy, sick feeling in his stomach. At first he only wanted to die with misery, but then he opened his mouth to groan: "Catherine!"
He rushed through the tunnels, his cloak collecting the air like a parachute, and for a moment it felt like he was flying. At that time, he would have busted through anything if it stood in his way.
She lay on the street surrounded by a crowd, all firing questions at her. The car had stopped but a few inches from her and the driver was now pacing the sidewalk nervously.
*** *** ***
It was still quite dark when a tingling in her stomach woke her up. Slowly she got herself out of bed and tried to recognise the strange shadow in the pink haze of her bedroom. Even though this feeling seemed awfully familiar, she was afraid to give in to it, yet the hope washed over her and she hurried across the living room, throwing open the glass doors to her balcony. She could sense him! Barefooted and in her silk wardrobe she ran outside to find him standing there, his eyes a river of compassion. He meant to speak, but she threw herself into his arms so wildly it cut his breathing. Once more she smelled his world of candle-crease, old books and torches in damp rocks. "Vincent," she sighed out of breath. "How I’ve missed you!"
His voice sounded deeply touched: "What I have done to you shames me beyond words."
She felt his breath, warm in her hair, and his chin covered in golden stubbles stroke her forehead. "I was possessed by doubts of my own humanity."
She loosened her grip to look up at him and vastly shook her head. Before he had a chance to avert his eyes – unworthy of her love, ashamed of his – she lay one hand on his cheek. "There is none more human than you," she said with tears in her eyes. "And I love you, Vincent."
There was that familiar look in his eyes: the mixture of disbelief and immense happiness. With a deep sigh she hugged him again.
"Catherine," he objected, but she immediately interrupted: "These last couple of days without you I felt like I had lost myself.”
The wind blew his hair upon her forehead. It felt soft and comforting, as did his voice near her ear: "I thought my presence in your life would end up destroying you." She tightened her grip as means of disagreement. “... until I sensed that terrible feeling inside of you. That complete indifference towards death." He sighed. "What I have done to you ... This curse I hold over you ..."
Instantly she let go of him, her eyes big and reproachful. "It’s not a curse, Vincent. It’s a blessing. It’s our blessing."
He thought of Father’s words: "Have you any idea how many of us ever live to find such blessing?" And he smiled, both happy and worried.
© Anita Meuris 1998