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Dreams and Fairy Tales

Joan Stephens

The sound of falling waters seemed especially loud as he lowered himself to sit on the ledge overlooking the waterfall, or was it only that he had opened himself to the roar of tons of water striking with untamed ferocity into the lake below.  The roaring cascade of the waterfalls inaugurated corresponding rhythms in his soul, reminding him of the last time he had felt such a sensation.
It had been a year ago when he had lost her; a year filled with grief and pain.  The pulse of his emotions still matched the feelings that he had felt then; and he had spent the day remembering, yet trying to forget, all she had meant to him.  There was nowhere he could go that he didn’t find mental snapshots of her or hear her voice in all its lovely manifestations.  It was useless; he could never forget her, nor did he want to.  He had ended his flight from memories at the Chamber of the Falls.  Sitting on the promontory to the right of the tumbling waters, he had opened himself fully to the music of the liquid cascade.  As he did, all the bitterness rose up to overwhelm him, and he cried out loudly.  All the dreams in his life, but one, had died.  All the fairy tales had crumbled to dust at the instance of her death.  All he had left was the grey, relentless years of one to whom life had dealt a crushing blow, depriving him of the sublime love of someone who understood and accepted him for who he was.  He could expect no light in his world.  The light had died with her.  All color, all brightness had left his life.
He stiffened as he felt soft, loving arms slide around his shoulders and a body firmly press against his back.  He caught a glimpse of honey brown hair and the unforgettable scent of the woman he loved.
“You’re here,” he said in wonder.
“Yes,” she answered simply as she rested her chin on his shoulder.  She inched her head forward and softly kissed him on the cheek.
“You’ll not leave again?” he questioned fearfully, afraid that this was only a waking dream.  He reached up and grasped her arms in his hungry hands.  Just the feel of her was more that he had dreamt he would ever have again.
“No, I’ll always be here.”  For emphasis she squeezed him and kissed him again.
*  *  *
Standing in the entrance to the chamber, Father and Mary were carefully observing the man they both loved as a son.  “He looks rather peaceful, doesn’t he?”
“Yes.”  Mary nodded slowly.  “He seems . . . ‘content?’  Is that the word I want?”
“I don’t know, my dear, but I certainly hope he finds some kind of comfort.  This seems to be the only place he can find any peace.”
They started as Vincent suddenly reached back and appeared to pull something into his lap.
“What was that?” Father asked.
“I don’t know.  Do you suppose he was just straightening his cloak?”
“He’s not wearing his cloak.  I wonder what he was doing,” Father answered in a puzzled voice.  He couldn’t tear his eyes away from the sight of his unhappy son sitting cross-legged on the ledge, leaning intently forward, staring down into his empty lap.

*  *  *
“Let me be your light,” she whispered in his ear.  Somehow she had felt his aloneness, his despondency.  “Remember.  I live in your heart.  See through my eyes.  See the hues of all existence . . . the colors of all life . . . the brightness of every new day.  Let me lead you through the darkness.”
He turned his head to look at her and took the hand that rested on his left arm.  Placing it over his heart, he repeated the words she once had said to him, “There is no darkness when I’m with you, Catherine.”  Then he placed a tender kiss on the palm of her hand and suddenly lifted her over his shoulder.  With an eek! she fell into his lap, then proceeded to giggle uncontrollably.  Vincent looked down into the sparkling, grass green eyes of the woman reclining in his lap, in his arms.  “I don’t want you to ever go,” he said.
“I’ll never leave you,” she replied.  “I’ll walk beside you wherever you go; I’ll lie beside you in your bed.  I’ll be with you whenever you’re awake and whenever you’re asleep.  I’ll see you in your dreams, and I’ll be with you when you’re awake.”
Vincent bent down and raised her lips to his.  She tasted of sunlight, moonlight, all of nature blooming, and could it be . . . happiness?  He would never get enough of her kisses.

     *  *  *
“What’s he doing now?  It looks as if he’s doubled up in great pain.”  Father started toward his son.
Mary stopped him with a hand on his arm.  “He can’t know that we’re spying on him, Jacob.”
Father stared at her in askance.  “Spying on him?  We’re not doing that; we’re . . . we’re just overly concerned with his mental state.”
“Isn’t that spying on him?   He doesn’t know we’re here.  If he did, he would be very angry and you know it.”
Father had the grace to look a little chagrined.  “But it’s for his own good,” he protested.
“He wouldn’t see it that way,” Mary answered as she pulled him away from the entrance.  “We’ve invaded his privacy long enough.  If he wants to tell us, he will.  Come on, I’ve got a new mix of tea that William made for me.  Tell me what you think of it.”
With a last, lingering look, Father followed his longtime friend and co-worker into the tunnel.  He prayed with all his heart that Vincent was finding some kind of peace in the Chamber of the Falls.

*  *  *
“Oooo, that was wonderful.  Can I have another one?”  She batted her eyes at him and started to giggle again.
“You can have all you want, my heart,” he replied, chuckling with her.   He rained kissed over her eyes, cheeks, and mouth, and then straightened up, smiling down at her, happier than he had ever been in his entire life.  “Will anyone else be able to see you?”
She thought for awhile.  “Narcissa, certainly . . .  Jacob, maybe.  But no one else.  I’ll be like Elwood P. Dowd’s six-foot rabbit, Harvey.”
He stared at her quizzically.  “Elwood P. Dowd?  A six-foot rabbit?”
Laughing lightly, she explained, “I saw a movie on TV when I was about 13.  It was about a man who escaped the world by talking to an imaginary, six-foot rabbit.”
“I see,” he said, smiling at her happy face.
Suddenly she became serious.  “You’ll have to be careful, you know.  They thought Elwood was crazy and tried to have him committed.  If you’re seen talking to thin air when you’re by yourself, they might have thoughts about your sanity.”
“I’ll be very careful,” he said dryly.  “I know they are worried about me already, but how do I explain the change in my attitude?”
“Don’t.  Gradually become less sad.”
“But I won’t be able to,” he cried happily.  “I’m too jubilant to act sad.”  He pulled her tightly against him, almost squeezing the breath out of her.
Patting him on the chest, she said, “Well, do the best you can.  Now, let’s go see if Jacob can see me.”

*  *  *
Vincent left many a tunnel dweller gaping at his back as he jauntily strolled back to his chamber.  No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t keep a broad smile from blossoming on his unique face at the most inopportune moments.  It was almost impossible for him not reach for Catherine’s hand.  She had to remonstrate with him several times before they reached his chamber.  At last they came to the safety of his room.  Looking back at the entrance, he commented, “I think I will have to have a door put in the entrance.  I’m going to need my privacy.”
Catherine was only interested in her son, and she went immediately to his cradle.  As she had hoped, Jacob was able to see her.  She bent over his crib, smiling at his wriggling antics as he bounced up and down holding on to the railing of his crib.  “Hi, Jacob, I’m your mommy.”  He squirmed even more, making the cot rock back and forth and grinned toothlessly at her.
Before she could pick him up, Vincent came up behind her and slid his arms around her.  “He’s the greatest gift you could ever have given me, other than your love.  Every time I look at him, I am reminded of my own humanity.”
Catherine turned in his embrace and reached up to kiss him softly.  “It was the only way to show you that you are, and have always been, a man . . . in every way, my love.”
“I know that now, but why did it have to take your death to prove it to me?  Couldn’t there have been an easier way?”
“I don’t know.  But I’m here now, and I’ll never leave you again.”  At this moment Mary gave the customary request for entrance.
Vincent started.  “What shall we do?  She might see you; it could cause problems.”
Trilling a gentle laugh, Catherine replied, “She can’t see me, love, remember?”
Sheepishly, Vincent called out to Mary, “Come in, Mary.”
“I thought I heard you talking to someone.  For a moment I thought it was . . .” she stumbled to a halt, realizing that it couldn’t have been Catherine.  And to remind him of her loss was something she didn’t want to do.  “I’m sorry, Vincent; I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Don’t fret over it, Mary; I must learn to accept any discomfort that comes from the mention of her.  After all, I have a constant reminder of her sleeping in his crib.  I have decided to make a concerted effort to do that.”
“Oh, Vincent,” she cried as she buried her face in her hands.
Vincent gathered her in his arms, trying his best to soothe her troubled feelings.  “I’ll be all right; really I will.”
Smiling mistily at him, she stepped back.  “I know you will, but you will never forget her.”
“No, I never will.  Thank you for caring about me.  Did you want me for anything?”  He escorted her to the entrance.
“No, I just . . .” she shook her head and left the rest of her words to lie silently between them.  “I’ll see you at dinner then.”
“Yes,” he agreed
He turned to find Catherine looking gravely at him.  “That’s what I mean, Vincent.  We have to be very careful.  We don’t want anyone to think that you’ve lost your mind.”
“They are worried about me already; they think I should have accepted your death and gone on with my life.  But this . . .?”  He spread his hands out.  “I don’t know what they will think.”
Catherine wilted onto the side of his bed.  “Once again I’ve caused you more trouble than you need.  I’m sorry, Vincent, maybe I should go back.”
“No,” he almost shouted.  “I can’t lose you a second time.  If you go, I go with you.  And I take Jacob with me.”
“Then we’ve got to be more careful.  I won’t ruin your life again.”
“Ruin my life?  Catherine,” he took her by the shoulders, “you gave my life a meaning, a purpose that I never had before.  A love I never thought possible.”  He pulled her into a tender embrace.  “I shall go to my grave thanking all the powers that be for you ‘ruining’ my life.”  Lifting her face to his, he kissed her, ardently.  “Ah, love, you gave me so much and asked for so little,” he said when he released her lips.
“You gave me a lot too,” she retorted. “Courage; strength; someone to adore, to care for; a life full of the richness of family, and a son.”  She grinned up at him.  “Shall we compromise and say that both of us had the best of our relationship?”
“Yes,” he responded quietly.
“Vincent?”  Mouse’s voice said, “Time to go to chamber, Kanin waiting.”
“All right, I’ll be right out.”  Making a face, he said, “I forgot that I’m to help with the making of a new chamber.  Will you be all right?”
“Of course, I’ll be right with you.  I said I would walk beside you, didn’t I?”
“Oh . . . I didn’t think it meant being with me when I’m working.”
“All the time, love.  All the time.”

*  *  *
She preceded him out of the chamber and took her place beside him as they started down the corridor.  Mouse chattered away not paying attention to his companion’s silence.  Jamie passed them on her way to Vincent’s chamber.
“Is he awake?” she asked.
“Yes.  There’s fruit for him if he gets hungry before I get back.”
“Ok, see you later.”
Vincent kept looking in amazement at the woman, spirit, angel, ghost, or whatever at his side.  He was supremely happy.
He might have been supremely happy, but her presence was a decided distraction, and he made several mistakes.  Kanin finally blew up and rounded on him.  “For god’s sake, Vincent, what’s wrong with you?  You’re off moon-chasing or something and not paying attention to what you’re doing.”
Vincent couldn’t keep from glancing at Catherine during Kanin’s tirade.  He shrugged his shoulders apologetically.  “I’m sorry; I just can’t seem to keep my mind on what we’re doing.”
Mollified, Kanin grinned regretfully.  “I know you’ve had a rough time of it lately, but really, you’ve got to keep your mind on your work or we could have serious problems.”
Vincent nodded in agreement.
“Let’s call it a day,” Kanin said with a sigh, “Maybe tomorrow will be better.”  Shaking his head, he led his work team into the corridor.  Vincent lagged behind, loath to cause any more problems or to be the butt of any more complaints.  Catherine took his hand in concern.

*  *  *
After Jamie left, she looked at him ruefully.  “Well, that was a fiasco,” Catherine muttered as she sat on bed.
“Yes,” he agreed wholeheartedly.  “Catherine, you cannot come with me when I am working.  You’re too much of a distraction.”
“I’m sorry, love; I guess I was being greedy.  After being apart from you for so long, I couldn’t bear the thought of being away from you for even one moment.”  She rose and wrapped her arms around his waist, snuggling up against him.  Heaving a very exaggerated sigh, she murmured, “I guess I’ll just have to learn how to live without you when you’re working.”
“That difficult, eh?” he said, teasingly. 
Her head bobbed up and down against his chest.  “You don’t know the half of it.”
“Oh, Catherine, the thought of you waiting for me to come home will lend wings to my feet and strength to my arms.”  Laughing, he spun them around in circles and then staggered to fall in a heap on his bed with Catherine on top of him.  “I love you, I love you,” he repeated over and over again.
“Vincent?” an inquiry came from the entrance that sounded like a very puzzled Father.
“Oops,” Catherine whispered as she slid off Vincent’s form.  Picking Jacob up, she thrust him into his father’s arms.  “Here.  Pretend you were playing with him.”
Vincent jumped to his feet.  “Come in, Father.  Jacob and I were just having a little play time.”
“I wondered,” the older man said.  “I heard laughing and giggling from your chamber: a sound that gladdened my heart, son.  I haven’t heard that in over a year.”
“I know, Father.  But I promise to make an effort to be more like my old self.  Jacob will give me a reason to do that.”
“I’m glad you finally reached that conclusion.  You simply couldn’t go on grieving for the rest of your life; it would have killed you.”
Vincent looked properly contrite.  “I know that now.  But you have nothing to worry about, Father.  I will be perfectly all right.”
“I certainly hope so,” the tunnel patriarch said acerbically.  “Now I’ve forgotten what I wanted to talk to you about.” He gave Vincent a sour look as he left the chamber.  “Maybe I’ll remember by supper time.”
Catherine was quietly laughing as the old man left.  “Oh, Vincent, this is not going to be as easy as we thought.  I dread thinking of what they will do if they find out about me.”
Folding her close in his arms, he chuckled lightly.  “That is something that we will find out if it happens.  But, oh, what a journey we have before us.”
Years later as Father lay dying; he called Vincent to his bedside.  Sitting beside the old man, Vincent took a withered hand in his, rubbing the back gently with his thumb.
“How do you feel, Father?”
“That’s a silly question to ask an old man,” Father said sourly.  “I’m dying.  But I didn’t want to see you to answer foolish questions.”  He winked at Vincent conspiratorially, “I know your secret.  I’ve known for many years.”
“What secret is that?”
“Catherine,” he said smugly.
“Catherine?”  Vincent looked at his father blankly.  “What about Catherine?”
“Oh, you may think you’ve fooled me, but I know that she is standing by your side.”
“Father, I think you’re imagining things.”  Vincent leaned over to feel the old man’s forehead.  “Are you feverish?”
“No, I’m not,” he said grumpily, pushing Vincent’s hand away, “and stop patronizing me.  I’ve been aware for years that somehow Catherine has come back to you.  I’m glad, son.  Now I’m not worried about leaving you alone.”
Vincent raised his head to see Catherine laughing silently.  “I guess we can’t fool an old fox, can we, my love?”  And she materialized next to him.  “Hello, Father.  I’m glad I could be here to say goodbye.”
“You mean I can’t come back like you did?” he asked with a smile in his voice.
Catherine moved to take his hand in hers.  “No, your love awaits you.”
“Margaret,” he whispered lovingly and closed his eyes.
“Yes, Margaret.  She told me to tell you not to keep her waiting too long.  She’s impatient to have you with her.”
“I won’t be long.”  He sighed deeply.  “I wish Jacob were here.  I’d like to see him one last time.”
“He will regret not being here, I know.  Europe is far away, but good opportunities do not happen all the time.”  Vincent smiled down at his father.  “I miss him too.”
“Tell him how much I’ve loved him and how proud I’ve been of him.”
“I will.  And, please, know how much he has loved you, Father.”
“I do.”
Catherine bent down and, releasing his hand, gently moved a strand of hair from Father’s forehead. 
The old man’s breathing began to falter.  “Come closer.”  Fumbling for their hands, he said, “Goodbye, my children.  Be happy.  I love you both.”
Smiling into his eyes, Catherine said, “I love you, Father.  Margaret is waiting.”  As she kissed him on the cheek, he closed his eyes and went to meet the woman that he had held in his heart for all these years.
Vincent stood looking sadly at his father.  “Goodbye, Father.  I love you and I’ll miss you.”
With arms around each other, they stood for a few minutes by the old man’s bed and then left to tell the others that he was gone.  One chapter of the tunnel’s history had closed.  Another one was beginning to open.