I had a dream, which was not all a dream.1
At Lin’s passage from their private alcove, the beaded curtain shimmied – at her return, danced again. The laden tray she carried stationed on the lacquered sideboard, she slipped a woven rush mat to the table and dealt two shallow wooden saucers, centering each with a handleless cup. The teapot in Lin’s steady grip bore a glowing patina, the zisha purple clay now the rich russet-brown of earth and forest, the color nurtured, she had once explained, by the ritual drenching and rubbing-in of any leftover tea. A woodsy-scented steam drifted from the snubbed spout, fogged from the filled cups. Catherine wrapped her hands around the warmed white stoneware and breathed in a memory.
Beyond the secluded tearoom, the apothecary’s street-side door swooshed opened. An announcement of bells tinged and jangled. Lin turned to peer through the screening bamboo, but at distanced rustle of drapery and Henry’s greeting, she took her seat.
“You look miles away,” Lin murmured. “Or years.”
Catherine sighed, and the soft plosive dispelled the cloud gathered in her cup. The liquid – a pale honey-gold – rippled as would a lake under sunset’s last breeze. In its mirror a darker image wavered. She closed her eyes at the sighting.
Lin’s touch was feathered. “Catherine?”
The sudden vision was too precious to lose. Ever-so-slightly, Catherine shook her head. “I don’t know. The aroma ... For a moment, I ...” She lifted her tea to her lips, returned it, unsipped, to the table.
“Was it something from your past?” With a woven cotton towel, Lin dabbed away a nonexistent spill. “Or from your future.”
Lin’s intuition hardly registered. After all, nothing was impossible. Except, maybe, this.
Oh, why? Why couldn’t it be both?
“When I was a girl ...” Catherine began, stating no more than a fact of her childhood, the wistfulness she would not broadcast chased away with a determined draught from her cup, “ ... we spent our summers at a lake in Connecticut. Sometimes the trees and the sky were so perfectly reflected in the water, I believed two worlds met at the shoreline. I was free to wander, and one day I discovered a glen of tall grasses. I would hide there, and if I sat very still, the deer–”
Henry parted the long strands of the curtain dividing the alcove from the dispensary. “I’m sorry. Please, please excuse me. Someone wants a consultation with your Grandfather, Lin. I can’t find the appointment book.” He shrugged and waited. Behind him, Catherine saw a man standing at the scarred oak counter, cloaked, not in the saffron-colored robes of the Buddhist monks from the Temple nearby, but in a full-length brown homespun. The cowl up, she could see nothing of his face. Though it didn’t drag the floor, the garment’s hem was dark, inched with snowmelt, and she noted beneath it the rumpled break of faded jeans over the man’s sturdy, lug-soled boots,. Henry glanced over his shoulder, raising his chin and one finger in a messaging language the customer didn’t notice.
“Oh, sorry. I have it,” Lin said, scooting her chair aside. She slid open the drawer of the altar cabinet atop the sideboard and handed over the string-bound red-leather journal. “Grandfather was called Below,” she whispered, once she returned to her seat. “I had to move clients to later in the day.”
“Is someone sick? Work’s been crazy this last couple of weeks. I haven’t– Vincent hasn’t mentioned–”
Lin swept back a shining black ribbon of hair. “Everyone’s fine, really. Don’t worry. A bit of bronchitis weaving through the children’s dormitories; a few of your elders are coughing. This late winter snow after a month of rain, the returning cold, well, it’s hard for some. He took down pills – ban xia and huang qi. Ping Chuan for Eric’s asthma, and Jade Shield for Mary and Elizabeth to boost their immunities.”
“It has been so ... overcast,” Catherine agreed, though more than the sky seemed gloomy lately.
Lin lifted the teapot to pour. A fragrant brume billowed up, obscuring her expression. “Everyone just needs some sunshine, I think. It cures almost everything.”
“Thank you,” Catherine heard Henry say. A soft murmur answered. The door’s string of bells jangled again.
And then again.
“Forgot the appointment card,” the man said, full-voiced. There was a tic-tic of sound, as if he flicked a finger against the stiff paper. “Maybe Dr. Wong has something for memory. Any more, these notes prove very useful.”
The bells rang out yet again, and Catherine leapt up, sprinted for the door.
The sky seen from Mott Street was a dingy flannel blanket. Water gurgled in the storm drains beneath dirty hills of pocked snow. A vintage but muck-spattered Volkswagen bus was parked in the loading zone half a block a way. Outside it, an assemblage of mostly gray-robed monks queued on the sidewalk, the first just climbing inside the blue and white van. The passenger windows were small and of smoked glass. Even if they dropped their hoods once they were seated, she couldn’t see in ... couldn’t tell ...
“Devin?” she called out.
One figure startled, swung ‘round, stepped out of line. Within the shadows of the raised cowl she saw a flash of white, as she drew close heard the familiar chuckle of her name. Chandler. But now the fact of the robe made her shy, as did the sign painted on the van’s side panel. The Abbey of the Roses of Bethany. Instead of reaching for him, she hugged herself, elbows in her palms.
“You gotta be freezing,” Devin said, and though for a moment he hesitated, he pushed back his hood and released the cloak’s fastener.
She held up her hands and backed a step away. “Are you leaving?” she asked, flinging a glance at the bus. “Couldn’t we ...” And she gestured toward the apothecary.
“I’m their driver, Catherine.” He checked the single-file of his peers, though no one looked on with either impatience or curiosity. “But I’m not the only one who can drive. Luke knows the city. Hold on a sec.” Devin tapped the shoulder of another hooded fellow and, though through silent sign, offered an apparent explanation. His friend nodded and clapped him on the arm, and Devin fished the van’s keys from the pocket of his jeans.
“Want some coffee?” he asked her.
“I was having tea at Dr. Wong’s. We could go back there. I need to. My purse ... my briefcase.”
“Your coat.” This time he did sweep his cloak from his shoulders. On her, the hem did puddle on the ground. “You can’t drag around Chinatown like that.” Devin studied the other businesses on the street. “Is Wong’s still a good place to talk? I didn’t recognize the guy behind the counter. Twenty years is a long time. ”
“Longer than that,” Catherine corrected. “Henry Pei is Dr. Wong’s grandson-in-law. Lin’s husband.” When Devin wrinkled his brow, she understood. “You must have left before she came to live with him. They’re both ... friends.”
“Good. You can fill me in. How’s Vincent? How’s the old man?”
“Father’s well. Vincent’s ...”
In truth, she wasn’t sure how to qualify Vincent’s state of being. Lately he was restless, given to longer-than-usual after-hours walks above ... or so she gleaned from vague references he made to this cobbled alley or that dark pier. Distracted, he was slower to respond when spoken to, but more intense when he answered. He frowned when she left his side, and his gaze homed to her as she crossed the dining room or the music hall, his eyes narrowing if she caught him staring, even though she was glad – and he knew it – for the azure blaze of his attentions. He held her with the same fervent tenderness, but before they’d move apart, his arms would tighten as if ... Wait. Not just yet. Once she was sure he prepared to speak; the fine hair at her temple ruffled with his drawn breath. But whatever she imagined – wished – he would say, was expelled in a ragged sigh across her crown. All she heard was the doubled beat of his heart, racing half-happy, half-sad. Or was it hers?
She began again. “Vincent is ...”
“Vincent,” Devin finished, and he held the door for her to pass by him into Wong’s.
The introductions made, Lin replaced the tepid tea with a second steaming pot, the squat cups with two lidded porcelain mugs. Arm in arm with Henry, she disappeared into the warren of workrooms beyond the alcove.
“Newlyweds?” Devin asked.
“Not really, if you go by the calendar.” The clattering curtain stilled. Catherine leaned across the table, grasped Devin’s wrist. “I have to ask. I saw the sign on your van. An Abbey, Devin? Monks?”
Catherine eyed his plaid wool shirt, his black knit turtleneck and raised one brow. She’d had a peek of a white cassock, a surplice of black, under the robe of the substitute driver. Things change, I guess. Or maybe Devin wasn’t Devin these days.
He blushed under her scrutiny. “I’m only a resident employee. A lay employee. With all the rights and privileges thereof.”
“But ... the robe.”
“Hey! It’s cold out there! Guess I’ve lost my tunnel temperature.” Entirely unconvinced by the mock shudder he offered, she scowled and squeezed his wrist, which he pretended was painful and coercing. “Look, it’s a handy overcoat. Besides, a couple of these guys are just here from Belgium … helps them pick me out of a crowd on the streets. Funny thing,” he added after a moment’s introspection. “To everybody else, we’re invisible. Who looks at the face of a monk?” He filled their mugs with – this time – a robust, burgundy-red brew. ”I don’t always wear it, Chandler, and never the vestments. Even the Brothers don’t. But Charles does. Brown, for the non-ordained. It’s good for him to feel like he belongs.” He shrugged off the subject. “How’d you recognize me, anyway?”
“Something you said, how you said it. I’d heard it before.” Over the rim of her cup, Catherine studied Devin’s face, finding more the mystery of his mother, Grace, than the certainty of Father in the planes of his cheekbones, the deep, starry brown of his eyes. “I like the beard,” she said. “Did you grow it to ...” She brushed her own scar with her knuckles.
“Nah, I’m lazy. It’s just us guys, after all. They’re not particular or meddlesome.” Devin laughed. “But even if they wondered, they’d never ask.”
“They’re a silent order. Which is where I come in. I ... help out.”
“I’ll bet you’re more than a helper.”
“I shuttle the Brothers wherever they need to go and do whatever talking’s necessary, but the Abbey’s self-supporting. They make beer. Trappist Beer. If you haven’t tried it, you should. I take orders, arrange the deliveries, deal with the vendors and the bank, pick up supplies.” He leaned back in his chair and stretched out one leg. “I’m half-done with an apprenticeship. I’ll be a certified craft brewer by the end of summer. Maybe I’ll ... bring you a quarter-barrel of ale next Winterfest.”
“Yeah. Father’ll be happy to hear I actually graduated from somewhere, huh? ‘Course it hasn’t happened yet.”
Catherine waved away his remark. “It’s been months since we heard from you. How long have you been there? How did you get there? Where is there, anyway? And what about Charles?”
“So many questions!” In a maddeningly purposeful manner, Devin savored his tea, prompting in Catherine a certain flash of empathy with Father. Answer me! Grinning, he seated his cup in its saucer. “How we got there is kinda complicated. Lets just say it was through a series of fortuitous events. How long, though ... about five months now. The Abbey’s in the Adirondacks, not quite a four hour drive from here. The Brothers own an entire island in Great Sacandaga Lake. The whole thing, Catherine. You gotta get there on the little ferry they run. I’m telling you, it’s an Eden. Secluded, forested. The cottages isolated from each other. Charles doesn’t wear his mask any more. He takes his meals in the refectory along with everybody else, and this summer, he wants me to teach him how to swim.”
“Really? That’s ...” She couldn’t choose a word. Vincent would have one, the perfect one, when he heard.
“He has a job now. He’s depended upon, believed in.” Devin met her gaze. “He’s changed.”
As are you. She signaled her encouragement. Go on.
“Trappists live by the work of their hands. There’s a huge greenhouse in the center of the island where they grow food year-round. The Brothers gave Charles something important to do there. He manages certain plants ... and tends the butterflies. You should see him. He dots his face and hands with sugar water and stands like this in all that sunshine ...” He spread his arms wide in demonstration. “Butterflies light on him and open and close their wings. He hardly breathes, he’s so careful with them. He loves them. And they love him back.”
“The butterflies and the Brothers,” Catherine recognized.
Devin’s eyes glistened, his smile half-happy, half-sad.
“I wish–” they both began at once, breaking off without saying Vincent’s name out loud.
He’d been in the city two days and hadn’t gone Below. The schedule was tight. Already they’d visited three new Manhattan outlets for their beers and met with several potential customers. With the Buddhists across the street, they’d discussed a joint retreat in the spring and left with contracts to review. He could finally make good use of his experience in the DA’s office, he said. She didn’t offer to look over the documents for him.
The appointment Devin had made with Dr. Wong wasn’t necessary. “I wrote to Father,” he told her. “I thought Dr. Wong might deliver it for me, but when he wasn't there ... It was just cover. I was gonna call to cancel.” He unsnapped the flap of his breast pocket, dug out a small pale-blue envelope. A muscle in his jaw twitched. He wadded the stationery to a ball. “Maybe I’ll take a little hike after all.”
“Father and Vincent will be so glad to see you, Devin. So glad.”
“Might be best to, umm, avoid Father this trip. But Vincent ... yeah. Him I wanna talk to.”
He’d taken a overly-intense interest, she thought, in the silver teaspoon by his cup, bending to inspect its intricate terminal detail – a Chinese symbol she couldn’t translate. “Devin.” He tapped the bowl of the spoon against his saucer, unmoved by the hiss of warning in her tone. “What are you thinking?”
“I was thinking about how good I used to be at avoiding the late-night sentries. Making it to our chamber, diving into bed without Father materializing in the room.” He reared his chair to its two back legs, but didn’t hold the pose. Now he leaned intimately forward, his forearms on the table. “We’re leaving tomorrow morning, early. Really early,” he said. “He can wear my robe, Catherine. He’ll be just one of the guys. I’ll tell the Brothers ... he’s a friend of Charles’, that he’s like Charles, and needs some time outdoors. They won’t say anything, and I mean that literally. The van’s old, but runs like a dream. We won’t have to stop for gas or food. Monday I have to deliver the signed contracts and negotiate a few details. I’d planned to drive down that morning – by myself this time, just me and the paperwork – but I’ll come Sunday night instead. It’s two days. Two days. I can make this happen, Catherine. I can get him there and back. I can get you both there.”
“Me? In the van?”
“Yes, in the van. They don’t have a problem with women, Chandler. Women stay in the retreat houses all the time. I’ll tell them you’re my ... sister.” He slapped the table once at her mustering protest. “A friend I owe a favor, then. Or somebody I care about – that’s the truth, isn’t it? Somebody who goes where Vincent goes.”
“I don’t know ...”
“Go with me to ask him. He won’t say no to you.”
“I ... no. No. That’s the problem. I can’t ask him.” With impatient fingers Devin drummed the tabletop, though when she shot him a surely pleading look, he rose and retreated to the alcove’s far wall. One hip against the sideboard, he hooked his thumbs in his belt loops. “Once, we were together at the Falls,” she explained. “Vincent was reading to me, from Fern Hill. There was a moment when he couldn’t go on for seeing everything so clearly, and he told me how, as a boy, he would come there to dream ...”
“Green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves sang to my horn...”2
“Yes. And I started to tell him about a magical place I’d once known, where I would go to dream. A lake in Connecticut, a glade full of deer. I almost – almost – said, I wish you could see it.” That same singing wish balled again beneath her ribs. “I could say that to you, Devin, and it would mean one thing, but if I’d said it to Vincent, it would have meant something else altogether.”
She’d checked what she insisted to herself was but simple exuberance, yet even so, he’d known. Known what she’d thought better of saying, what she withheld for his sake. He’d sobered and soon walked her home. Two days followed without a tap on her window, without a message. Gone looking for him, she’d found him asleep in the middle of the afternoon, dreaming a terrible dream. I thought I’d lost you, he’d said when she awakened him.
I thought I’d failed you. He hadn’t. He couldn’t. But she was sure that’s what he’d meant.
“I hear that,” Devin said, so very softly. His arms folded, he stared at the floor; the heel of one boot bounced against the toe of the other. “Why are you here in the middle of the afternoon, Chandler. Playing hooky?”
She chuckled, though cautiously, unsure of the segue in the conversation. “Comp time, as Joe so ordered, in advance of the very late night he predicted for us. I have to go back.” When she rounded the table, Devin met her with open arms, but said nothing more of consequence, even as he donned his robe and walked her through Columbus Park, even as he hailed a cab that would take him to the Franciscan guest house where he and the Brothers were lodged. The House of Atonement, he said it was called. In Chelsea. On 14th Street.
Joe made good on his promise of extra hours, though she was home, showered and under the covers by midnight. She was restless with hunger, supper having been a hurried affair at her desk – a container of mushroom barley soup that sufficed at the time, but hadn’t the staying power of William’s rich chowders and stews. With no good reason to get up – her cupboards were bare, and her instinctive first rush to her balcony had confirmed it still snow-crusted, the black track of footprints hers alone – she pulled the comforter higher. Saturday, she supposed, would necessarily be one of errands and chores. She might as well sleep.
Two faint raps. 2 AM, the clock proclaimed. She wasn’t sure ... Had she heard or merely hoped? She threw off the blankets, swung her feet to the floor. He pulled her into his arms before she could reach for her robe.
“It’s something I never even dared to wish for,” he whispered, his breath fanning her cheek. “You would never ask, and so I shall. Catherine, will you come with me?”
Behind him, through the open door, the moon rode high and smiling.
He sat on a rock at the shore of the lake, his knees drawn up. The sunset was glorious – a spangling convergence of orange fire and lavender smoke in a darkened cornflower sky. Trees rose up all around, strong-trunked and tall, black-green guardians of their world. Two soaring birds lofted high overhead. A soft breeze rippled the water and played through his hair, mingling the forest incense of balsam and spruce with wood smoke and anticipation.
The sunshine had been a gift. The last patches of snow melted away, her footsteps made no sound on the damp, grassy path. She might have surprised anyone else. “There you are,” she said, nevertheless.
He held out his hand. Ledge enough for her to stand before him, he guided her there, setting her back to his chest, lowering his feet, scooting forward to steady her between his legs. She rubbed her hands over his knees. “Have you had a good day?”
“Hmmmm.” His chin on her shoulder, he wrapped his arms around her waist. “You should have worn a coat, Catherine.”
“I thought you might come inside. There’s a fire. It’s warm.”
His hold tightened. “Not just yet.”
Already the furnace of him simmered through her heavy sweater. Settled further against him, she arched her neck and his soft lips grazed her throat. “Devin and Charles have gone home,” she said. “Devin’s in a mood.”
He chuckled softly. “Is he? He always was a sore loser.”
“He said you cheated. Then Charles started laughing, and that really set him off.”
“How does one cheat at frisbee, I wonder.”
“That’s what Charles asked. He said, ‘Dev, you threw it good and Vincent caught it. Vincent threw it good, but you missed it.’ He sounded a little like Mouse.”
“Such simple, unarguable logic. I imagine Devin went quite red in the face.”
“Very.” His forearms were hard muscle and tender clasp, and she was grateful for her brace against the stone ... but more for the close press of his thighs. “You couldn’t tell me earlier. What did Father say when you told him you were going?”
“Well, at first he was ... silent. And then, he fell even more silent. Finally he sighed – quite dramatically – and did something with his head. Half a denying shake, half a stunned nod. It was dizzying enough for me. I presume it was worse for him.”
She understood. All day, she’d felt like weeping and singing at once.
“By the time I’d packed a bag,” he was saying, “Father had sent Jamie for Peter and Mouse for Sebastien.”
“I was surprised to see that long, black Lincoln pull up to the curb behind the Abbey’s van. But the dark window glass. The medical license plates. Two older gentlemen, entirely unsuspicious-seeming ... and Peter’s used to being called out in the night.”
“Back-up, Father said. I didn’t know he knew the word.”
“Devin said there’d be no one at the lake this time of year, that it would be easy for them to get rooms at the bed and breakfast nearest the ferry point. I imagine they’re sitting in the den now, playing chess. Peter was already badgering Sebastien for a game. Has he ever won against him?”
She could hear a new boldness in his reply. “No one has ever beaten Sebastien, except ...”
“Except you. My hero.” He loosed his grip and put his hands on her hips, turning her with a gentle urging. My love.
“You look– Vincent. What’s wrong?”
He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “It’s not your lake, Catherine. The one you told me about.”
“No, it’s not. It’s better. It’s our lake. Whatever you’re thinking ...”
“I’m thinking ... how very desperately I want to kiss you.”
“But you’re frowning.”
He stroked slowly across her shoulders, down her arms. “If I am, it’s because I’m serious, so very serious about ... this.”
This. There was portent in the word, delicious portent. He would kiss her. He would kiss her soon enough and long, kiss her as if it were all he would ever be allowed to do ...3
He quieted, but only to gather her closer, only to lift her sweater … just … to spread his fingers at the small of her back. Only to encircle her shoulders, to draw her hair aside. Everything ... everything ... was mirrored in his eyes.
“In this moment of glory and grace,” he said, “I know ... all we really are is what we imagine we are, be it brave, be it bold, be it covered in ash."4 His lips parted, drew near to hers. “I am yours, Catherine. And I am free.”
The Great Sacandaga Lake is real and there are islands in it, but the Abbey of the Roses of Bethany is fictitious. There are seventeen Trappist abbeys in America, and their cheeses and breads are well known, but heretofore, Trappist ales have been made in abbeys only in Belgium and the Netherlands. Recently a Cistercian Order in California has announced plans to brew genuine Trappist ales. The Sierra Nevada Brewing Company has partnered with the Abbey of New Clairvaux to produce the Ovila Abbey line of craft beers. I have no financial interest in the brewing companies, only an appreciation for a good product. And Devin did say he was “still looking for that mug of beer.” Maybe now, he can make his own. :-)
Title: David Whyte. Everything Is Waiting For You. Many Rivers Press. 2003.
1. George Gordon, Lord Byron. Darkness.
2. Dylan Thomas. Fern Hill.
3. Tyler Knott Gregson. Daily Haiku on Love. www.tylerknott.com
4. Ibid. I Believe. www.tylerknott.com
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