And So It Begins...
For much of the day Catherine remained the same, moping around her apartment, fidgeting unable to concentrate on much at all. Her mind was constantly filled with images, and everything reminded her of Vincent. They had done so many things together but then not nearly enough. Their time had always been so limited. If she had known it were to have been so short as well she would have let nothing stop her from spending more time with him, and she wondered why she had let things come between them in that way. She hadn’t needed to work, although he’d insisted that she should. However she could have worked part time and spent her free time in the tunnels with him. Why was it that she only now thought of that, when it was too late?
By late evening, her own four walls were driving her slowly insane and feeling very much like her apartment was growing smaller with every passing second, Catherine went outside to stand on the balcony overlooking the city and the park. Her eyes wandered to the area she knew Vincent would, had he of been alive, have been waiting for her. The thought of that empty place broke her heart afresh and she knew it would be a long while before she found the courage to enter the tunnels via that park entrance, come to that even beneath the basement of her apartment building would be difficult. She had grown so used to feeling his arms about her lifting her down from those last few steps of the ladder that she didn’t think she could ever go down that way again. Still, the apartment was awfully claustrophobic and Catherine needed the affection that she knew she would find in the people who lived below, knowing that they too, would be grieving. She had to be with them and so donning appropriate clothing for traipsing the tunnels she left her apartment and headed for the threshold.
Her heart thudded as she removed the packing crates covering the door and descended through the blue white light that took her from her world to his. For a moment on that last rung of the ladder she paused imaging him behind her, awaiting his arms to glide around her waist, anticipating that moment of joyous contact. When it did not come, Catherine drew in a deep steadying breath and braced herself for turning around and finding him absent, even so the actual sight of finding nothing but a brick wall almost had her scurrying back to her apartment until she heard a reassuring voice beckon her back down.
“Catherine, we knew you’d come.” She turned recognising Geoffrey’s voice even though it was thick from crying. “We’ve been taking it in turns knowing that you wouldn’t want to walk the tunnels alone. Father has been expecting you all day. He says you are to stay with us for a while. Is there anything that you need to do upstairs before we go?”
Catherine shook her head unable to speak. She had all she needed below, fresh clothing she could borrow, but she was undecided about staying, not knowing if she could.
Taking her arm, Geoffrey walked with her a short distance in silence. They felt one another’s pain but were powerless to lessen it. It was raw and deep and they needed to feel it. Masking it would be of no help for either of them for each had to come through the grief on their own terms. Soon they reached the first sentry who bidding Catherine welcome with a nod of his head said nothing as the two walked by, but as they passed the second sentry who also nodded in acknowledgment, Geoffrey told Catherine, “It doesn’t seem real does it? Bet you think you are dreaming?”
“It’s more like a nightmare.” She told him. “I don’t want to be here Geoffrey, but I can’t stay away. I need all of you so much. You are the only family that I have, and you are Vincent’s family too.”
“Yet he was more to you than a brother.” Geoffrey stated firmly.
“Yes, I loved him. I still love him, will always love him.” Her final words were caught on a sob and Geoffrey hugged her arm tighter knowing her pain. “I loved him too. We all did. Father is devastated, inconsolable. He needs you Catherine, there are arrangements to be made, and he won’t face any of them without you.”
“I don’t know that I will be of help, Geoffrey. It is more than I can bear to even think about it.”
“Still, it has to be done and we think you would know what Vincent would have wanted.”
“Its not something we ever spoke about.” Catherine told him but Geoffrey reiterated, “Even so, you will know.”
They finally reached the home chambers and found them unusually quiet for that time of day. Geoffrey took Catherine straight to Father’s chamber where a sea of faces met her, red from crying, some looked away as she entered unable to meet her gaze.
“Catherine!” At his first sight of her Father left his chair, hobbled the short distance to where she stood and enfolded her in his arms, “I hoped you would come. I know it is difficult my dear, but there are things that we must do. Arrangements to be made, people to be contacted.”
Unable to speak, Catherine nodded and through a blur of tears allowed him to lead her to a chair positioned at the side of his and she recognised it at once. It was Vincent’s chair. “Oh no, Father I can’t sit here.” She protested looking around for somewhere else.
“I understand Catherine, however I also know that Vincent would have wanted you to. You are very much a part of us now, and very much a part of Vincent. And it would make me feel happier seeing it being used.” Nodding, Catherine did not disappoint him, sitting slowly into the large chair that almost swallowed her up. It had never seemed big enough when Vincent had sat in it, thus the memory only served to highlight another of their many differences, her petite figure to his overlarge one. Even so, there had been things that they had achieved despite that fact…
“Has anyone been down there?” Catherine asked, suddenly feeling the overwhelming desire to go to him, to touch him one final time.
“Mouse keeps vigil. Cullen is making a casket, Mary and Olivia are working with him, I had hoped that you might suggest something we could dress him in, although I appreciate that will be a difficult task and there is one other I would like to ask of you my dear, as painful as I’m sure it will be…”
“What is it Father?”
“Would you wash his hair? I know it is dreadful to ask, but since he perspired so much during that fever, he will need washing and a change of clothes.”
Again Catherine nodded, accepting this was so, still not knowing quite how she would manage it, but understanding that it was an honour to be asked. Vincent would have appreciated it for she knew how he felt about cleanliness.
“Of course. When did you want me to go?”
“If you aren’t too exhausted, tonight would be good. Cullen will have finished the casket in a few hours and the men will carry it down there. We thought it would be fitting to lay him to rest where he fell my dear. It is quiet down there and he will be undisturbed except by those wishing to visit, and then they will find solitude and peace in such a place. We have started placing lanterns all the way down. Vincent chose that place to die Catherine, we feel he should be granted that final wish.”
“Yes, and the lanterns will make it accessible to anyone that wishes to visit his grave in the future. I take it you will be burying the casket, Father?”
“No, my dear. We did think of that at first, but the soil is nowhere near deep enough and so it is not possible, one of the reasons why we generally take the deceased lower down to where there is enough depth to lay someone at rest. However, we thought perhaps the cave where Vincent died could act as a memorial tomb for many more of us to join him in our time. Winslow is working on encasing the caskets in cement and Kanin is having engraved plaques fitted before the cement is set. If there is anything that you wish to place in the casket Catherine please tell Mary or Olivia and they will see that it is done before the lid is closed.”
Catherine nodded. It seemed to be so unreal speaking like this. Clearly Father had come to terms with death many times in his life but it was taking all his willpower to manage to deal with this one. His red-rimmed eyes spoke of his weakness though and she was sure that he only cried when he was certain of being alone.
“Why don’t you come down there with me, Father?” For a moment she thought she detected hope in his eyes, but then he shook his head, “No, Jamie will go with you, or Geoffrey. I can’t Catherine, I can’t see him again, not like that, and if you’d rather not go, I’m sure one of the other ladies will oblige.”
“Its not that Father, I just wondered if you would like to come with me, that’s all.” He looked at her shrewdly knowing she had not missed a thing and told her, “We will spend time, just you and I. I think we will both benefit from the exchange, but not just now Catherine, I’m sure you will understand, I need to be alone.”
“With all due respect, Father…” A voice issued from across the room and they looked up to find Lena there, “I think you should not be alone at a time like this.” Only the fact that her young daughter was present stopped Father from making an angry retort. However, Catherine understood, and standing she ushered all members of the tunnels from his chamber knowing he needed to be alone now.
Outside in the tunnel Catherine asked them, “Have you been with him all day?”
“Yes, we didn’t want to leave him by himself. And someone should be with him now.” Jamie told her trying to pass by and re-enter the chamber.
“No, Jamie. I know that you mean well, but Father needs to be by himself right now. He’s so used to being there for everyone else, he’s forgetting that he needs to grieve also. Let him be till morning, give him his space. Now is there anyone that will come down to where Vincent is with me?” She had no need to tell them why they had overheard her conversation with Father. “I’ll come.” Jamie offered, “Need to see Mouse anyway.”
“Thank you, I’ll just collect some things together and meet you outside of Vincent’s chamber in half an hour.”
Jamie nodded and the small group of people dispersed each to his own chamber, each wrapped in his own grief. Catherine tried to grasp and squeeze the hand of each one of them as they passed. Suddenly she felt like Father, wanting to impart sympathy to others when inside her heart was bleeding, but it felt right to be doing something and Vincent would have wanted her to be strong for the sake of his family, and especially for the children.
“Jamie!” She called as the other woman almost disappeared from sight.
“Tomorrow, after the funeral, bring the children to Vincent’s chamber and we will sing songs and afterward we will send Vincent messages in a fire at the mirror pool.”
Jamie nodded understanding the gesture, she knew that the children would like that many had been afraid of entering Vincent’s chamber that day, Catherine’s idea would set them at ease and being able to send Vincent their messages as they had done when Ellie had died would help them say goodbye. Even so, Jamie wondered how Catherine would say goodbye, and if it were possible that she could. She and Vincent had been so close and it would be terribly hard on Catherine to live without him. Jamie hoped she would be able to offer a merit of comfort when they arrived at the sandy cove where Mouse kept vigil, and praised the older woman’s courage for the task she would perform there. She couldn’t do it and Jamie hoped she would never be asked to do something like that.
An hour later saw the pair making their way in relative silence down to the sandy cove where Vincent had fallen as dead at Catherine’s feet. Nobody but Catherine knew what had happened after that, one of the reasons why it was so hard for her to accept that after something so beautiful happening between them, his heart should give out and he should die. That was what was so tragic about it all, that they had never had the chance to talk about what had happened and that she had never had a chance to look into his eyes when he had made love to her as there were no lanterns that far down. She had envisaged that they would continue to make love and she would see into his eyes on other occasions thus, did not know that the last shuddering breath emitted from him had been a sign of his heart giving out. How long she had lain there rocking him in her arms not knowing his life had left him, Catherine did not know, but she felt a fool now believing him to be alive and weaving her fantasies when all the time they’d been in vain. That’s why Father’s announcement had come as such a shock, she had not known, had not realised that Vincent was no longer in the land of the living.
Silently she and Jamie made the journey, and Jamie delighted at finding Mouse still outside the sandy cave even though his eyelids drooped and his swollen eyes bore witness to his grief. ”Come, Catherine is here. William has sent some food.” Jamie tugged Mouse away from the entrance and to Catherine she said, “We’re only down there if you need us, just call and we’ll come.”
“Thanks Jamie.” Catherine did not look at the girl instead keeping her focus directly on the cave entrance. Drawing in a deep breath she bolstered her courage and stepped within, Mouse’s lantern in one hand, her eyes drawn to the place where she knew Vincent to be. She had not know what to expect, seldom had she seen a dead person, but she was still surprised that Vincent looked for all intents and purposes to be sleeping. Slowly she stepped toward him as if a sudden movement might wake him, and equally slowly she settled the lantern at her feet and dropped to her knees at his side. His eyes were closed Father must have done that, though Catherine had no way of knowing if they had been open before. It had been too dark to see with the candle that Father had held.
“Vincent?” Her voice echoed strangely in the cave. It sounded hollow and odd even to her own ears, Catherine decided not to speak again and taking a deep breath began the task she had gone there for. There would be time enough for tears later. If she started crying now she knew she would never get through it…and soon Cullen and the others would arrive…
Thus she washed his hair, towelling it dry and his face arms and hands, and knowing the futility of trying to lift him to put on fresh garments Catherine only did as much as was possible, finding it strange that he was not yet as stiff as she had supposed, but rather supple as though he really were sleeping, but then not knowing how long rigor mortis would take in a damp subterranean world, Catherine passed it off as acceptable. Finally, she did something that she had longed to do ever since Father had told her she could put something in the casket with him if she so desired. She cut a long strand of her own hair and lifting his began to plait it behind his ear, tying the end with a tiny green bow, a love lock that only she would know to be there.
*** *** ***
That done, her busy hands still at last, Catherine shuffled as close to Vincent as she could, wrapped her arms around him lay her head upon his chest and let the threatened tears fall. This would be the last time she would hold him and she was grateful that when Cullen woke her several hours later she had had that special time alone with Vincent knowing it was to become the first and the last time that they had ever slept together after they had become lovers.
Several hours after that Catherine with Father made her second journey down to where Vincent lay, having returned with Jamie earlier. Behind her came all the tunnel residents, silently moving with one accord, some holding bouquets of flowers others pages of verse. The children were crying unable to hold back as their parents tried to comfort them. This was a day none had expected to see, a tragedy none would ever forget.
Never would there be another like Vincent. He was the first and the last, the alpha and the omega, a special person in so many ways and each held account of him in their own heart for the person that they knew him to be.
“We’re almost there.” Catherine whispered to Father, feeling him clutch her arm more firmly. She hadn’t needed to say anything for the place where Vincent fell would remain imprinted in his mind for the rest of his days. Days he hoped would be few now as living without Vincent was a burden he could not endure.
From the sandy cave just ahead they heard whispers and knew that Cullen, Kanin, Mary and Olivia were making the final touches. Way back at the end of the line of people Winslow and William carried bags of cement and sand, water could be found near the cave.
When Catherine supported Father as they stepped into the cave, her eyes naturally went to the place she had last seen Vincent, only to find it empty and slowly her eyes focused on the domineering presence of a large wooden casket and knew her truelove now lay inside. Nothing had prepared her for this moment and tears slipped down her cheeks unstoppable. All she wanted to do was throw herself over the wooden box and remain there preventing the addition of cement unless they entombed her also.
Behind her several members of the community passed by, some wanted to pay their final respects by placing things into the casket with Vincent, others just wanted to see him laying there. Catherine could not, for the life of her, go any closer. The way she remembered him that afternoon as she had lovingly washed his hair and lay with him afterward was the way she wanted to remember him. Father however, stepped away from her and slowly walked to the casket spending long moments looking inside, adjusting this or that with Vincent’s clothing, making sure he was just perfect. His lips moved but no sound was emitted as he whispered words to his son, tears falling down his cheeks in rivulets that he did not brush away. Catherine’s heart went out to him, but it was Mary that went to his side, holding his arm, lending her comfort. Her eyes were red and her cheeks were puffy, never had she cried so much, not since her own child had died many years before.
“Are you going to see him?” Catherine heard Jamie whisper at her side, “This will be your last chance.”
Catherine knew that, yet she was undecided. “He looks beautiful.” Jamie told her, “Just like he’s sleeping. He doesn’t look…well you know…he doesn’t look that way at all.”
Catherine nodded, and began to step toward the casket. It seemed ominous and beckoned to her to come close. In slow motion Catherine watched her own hands reach out and grasp the side, before taking a deep breath and closing her eyes, opening them again to fasten on the body before her. What she saw took her breath away and she knew at that moment as morbid as it might seem, she would not have missed it for the world. He did look beautiful. His amber hair surrounding his firm leonine features, cascading over his shoulders like a copper river, and she was surprised and pleased to find that the men folk had obviously managed to lift him and change his clothing, for he looked immaculate in crisp white shirt, the ruffled one that he so adored, warm emerald slacks, tan jerkin and the pouch that held her rose lay over his heart. It was that which Catherine picked up, and Father could tell that she was undecided about something. “Would you like to take it back my dear? I know that it was your mother’s.”
“Do you think he would mind?”
“No, I think he would like you to have it back.”
“I can’t leave it empty though. I have to put something in the pouch in its place.”
“What about a strand of your hair?” Mary suggested kindly. “I have some scissors.”
Not mentioning the lovelock, Catherine nodded, “Yes, I’d like that. Thank you Mary, and she deliberately held up a strand from the right side of her head lest Mary noticed a length was missing from the left. Once cut Catherine wound the hair into a ball and extracting the rose from the pouch she replaced it with the hair, and patted it firmly back into place.
“Now he can really take something of you with him.” Mary smiled, “Here put the rose into this bag, you will need something to carry it back so it doesn’t get broken.”
“Thank you Mary. I know it might sound strange that I wanted it back, but I would like to place the crystal that he gave me and the rose someplace together. I couldn’t bear to part with the crystal or I’d have put it with the rose into the pouch, and I couldn’t bear for them to have been apart either.”
“Its alright Catherine, you don’t have to explain. Besides if you didn’t do it now, you never would be able to, not after the cement is set.” Father told her.
“I know, I thought of that.” Catherine told them, still she felt terrible about taking the rose back from Vincent. She would have to find a really special place for the crystal and the rose after this, somewhere they could be together forever.
Finally it was time, the children were growing cold, and truly they had had enough, they were tired and exhausted from endless crying and their parents were eager to take them home. Father stood back and every one watched as Cullen and Kanin nailed down the lid, closing Vincent off from Catherine’s sight forever. At that moment the threatened tears began to fall and she lovingly spread her hand over the sleek wooden lid in a farewell gesture as she whispered, “Goodbye my love, sleep well.”
Father broke then, huge tearing sobs that seemed as though they would rend him in two and Mary clutched his arm holding him up or he would have crumpled to his knees. He’d intended to say some words, but he couldn’t and so shaking his head he handed a slim sheet of paper to Winslow expecting that he would do the honours. However Winslow shook his head unable to utter a word of it, and Catherine took it from him, read it through and tried to speak but nothing would come out…finally she too shook her head and Father waved everyone away, “Another time.” He told them gruffly, “Not today. Vincent will understand.”
Slowly they turned, touched the casket in passing, whispering their heartfelt goodbyes, some of the children kissed the wooden box, others just left behind their teardrops, unable to say a word. Catherine was the last one to leave, even though Winslow and William wanted to get on with the final part of the proceedings.
“Can’t you leave it?” She asked them her heart aching. “Just till tomorrow? I’d like to stay awhile.” Nodding the two men left her with a squeeze to her shoulder as they passed by. “Take all the time you need, lassie.” William told her. “We’ll come back tomorrow.”
When everyone had gone and only Catherine remained, the scene before her seemed so artificial. Her tears were spent now, they would come again, but right at that moment she felt mildly at peace. On the other side of the cave to where the casket stood, Catherine sat down on the sandy floor, remembering the love she had shared with Vincent, trying to remain strong even when she ached to feel his arms around her and slowly as her breathing steadied she started to speak, lowly and mild. “Where are you Vincent? Can you see me? Are you here? You promised my father that you would love me and care for me until your last breath, does that mean its finished now? I think not. I think our love will go beyond death and I think wherever you are now, you will wait for me to join you there. I hope it’s not long to wait my love. How will I ever live without you?” For a moment her voice shook and tears gathered behind her lashes. Catherine forced them resolutely away.
“Tomorrow, my love the children are going to send you messages and we will burn them in the fire at the mirror pool just as we did when Ellie died. Are you with Ellie now Vincent? Give her our love. Sing her my lullaby. If you should meet up with my dad tell him how much I love him please.” The last caught on a sob and Catherine took quite a while to recover enough before she could speak again. “Vincent there’s something I want to read to you.” From her pocket she took a square of paper unfolded it and with a voice quivering with emotion began to read the words aloud.
“When the rain is falling and I’m overcome
With the doubts and demons of a love undone
No voice need tell me that you were the one.
I will remember all my life
A love that set me free
And whatever comes of you and I
I will still believe
That once upon a time a dream came true
Whenever I remember loving you.
Not a single moment not a single kiss
Would I have traded would I have missed
No other (Vincent), could move me like this.
Its not that I don’t feel the pain as deep as pain can be
But I will not be denied the light your love has brought to me
What you have given me will last forever
I refuse to lose the treasure of you inside my heart eternally.
I’ll always feel the love we once knew
As long as I remember loving you.”
Quietly, Catherine refolded the sheet of paper and standing placed it back inside her pocket, then with a last backward glance in the direction of where Vincent lay, she whispered her final goodbye and left him at peace.
*** *** ***
An hour may have passed. Catherine would have reached the main hub and the children would have been tucked into bed when walls that had ears gave way to sound as several rocks that no one had noticed being loose began to move.
“Stupid fools.” A voice filled the sandy cave and two figures walked toward the casket and carefully with tools they had brought for the task started to lever off the lid. “Be careful, don’t damage it. We have to replace it like it was never touched.”
For a while they worked extracting the nails that Cullen and Kanin had knocked in only hours earlier, and together they lifted the heavy lid and one of them stared down at Vincent lying there. “Call himself a doctor?” He muttered. “The stupid, stupid old man. Well his loss is my gain.” Derisive laughter followed. “Here you take his feet, help me lift him out.”
They shuffled together, lifted the body and lay it onto a stretcher that they had brought along for the purpose and then they very cleverly disguised their tracks by replacing and re-nailing the lid as though it had never been tampered with. That done, they carried Vincent’s body through the hole in the wall resealed it and such was their expertise that none would be any the wiser that they had ever come and gone.
*** *** ***
To be continued in Chapter Two.
Lyrics from the song 'Whenever I Remember Loving You' by Michael Bolton.