If I were loved, as I desire to be,
What is there in the great sphere of the earth,
And range of evil between death and birth,
That I should fear,– if I were loved by thee?
The fragrance of autumn leaves, some fallen, some still clinging to their branches, was rich in the air this evening as Catherine hurried across Central Park to meet Vincent. She was wrapped in slacks and a sweater, a wool coat, leather gloves, and fleece-cuffed boots. The season was changing to winter, and the trees in the park—spreading oaks, maples, and cherry trees—still displayed gloriously colored leaves. Catherine noticed the bark of the saucer magnolia trees turning silver-gray, and she pictured their branches later striking a solemn pose against the pale skies of the season. Electricity crackled in the air as the first chills began.
Catherine rushed into the tunnel entrance, thrilled to see Vincent waiting there.
"Oh Vincent, we can do it again! I just didn’t get enough last time!" she exclaimed, as she grabbed for his hands. They were standing only slightly beyond the park entrance and Vincent feared Catherine’s excited comments would attract attention. He drew her gently into the shelter of the tunnel.
"A masked costume ball!" she went on. "Saturday night!"
As Vincent beheld her, he thought that Catherine had the capacity to feel happiness as a child feels happiness. Her joy shone from her eyes; her laughter came up from her belly. It was so contagious, even he began to smile.
"At the old St. Marks Theater in Manhattan—the East Village—a five-story brownstone, a hundred years old! It started as a Yiddish theater and later, in the 70s, showed ‘midnight movies!’" She clutched his cloak, shaking him to make her point. A small chuckle escaped him.
"The owners are renovating and digging a new basement—over 3,000 square feet! The architect said he was amazed the building stood so long with all the structural problems! They’ll rent it to retail tenants after Christmas—and there’ll be some upper loft apartments ready in the spring!" She clasped her hands together under her chin, as if the mere image of the finished product was delightful. She was animated, happy, living her dream.
Catherine stood on tiptoe and clutched at Vincent’s shoulders. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement and the autumn air as she said, "I could meet you in the basement at 11:00. I can open the service door to the alley. The closest subway is 6 to Astor Place. There’s a Tunnel entrance there. The theater is on St. Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A!"
It had barely been one month since they had ventured Above on Samhain to walk the streets of New York in costume—or, in Vincent’s case, in natural attire.
"Catherine . . ." he said, pulling away from her embrace, shaking his head slowly from side to side. "The last time we went Above together . . . we almost . . ."
"We almost had a perfect evening!" she asserted, dismissing the danger of their encounter with Brigit O’Donnell and her enemies, and the abrupt ending brought about by the passing jogger.
Vincent looked down on her, his heart aching with love and empathy. Her face shone so brightly with enthusiasm that he could not deny her.
"Of course we will go," he said softly, adoring her and simultaneously dreading his decision. "I’ll meet you there."
* * *
On Saturday night, Catherine stepped from the taxicab at the entrance to St. Marks Theater. A uniformed doorman checked her invitation and guided her courteously through the front doors under the glaring marquee advertising the event. The building entrance was down a flight of stairs and the theater was down another short flight. The stage was set for a party, accommodating a quartet of musicians, with lighting and equipment for recorded music. The original theater audience seating had been rearranged to create a gathering area for the party guests to socialize. Catherine checked her wrap, and then gazed about at the scene.
Fountains of champagne and silver trays of hors d’oeuvres sat upon long banquet tables dressed with white linen cloths. Candelabra glowed brightly across beribboned bouquets of gold and white chrysanthemum, placed strategically against mirror tiles. Lavish topiaries draped across doorways and windows, silver and gold and white, with frosted grape clusters and curling green vines and leaves, intertwined with glossy ribbons.
Catherine mingled through the crowd, giving her father’s regrets, confirming that, yes, indeed, she had made a change going into the District Attorney’s office, and, of course, she would call for lunch, and, thank you, your costume is stunning, also! Aware of the time, Catherine moved toward the service area behind the stage.
She traveled down the stairs and landings to the basement floor. The basement was cluttered with construction materials and bars and planks of scaffolding. Blue neon light from a street sign filtered in through the high, tiny windows. Old theater props were pushed against the walls, racks of fabric, pieces of furniture, coils of rope and cable, light fixtures, and paint cans.
Catherine made her way to the alley door and pushed against the heavy iron bar to open it. Silently, Vincent slipped inside. He wore the hood up on his cloak and he was wearing his velvet gloves. They took a moment to embrace, and Catherine stepped back for Vincent to admire her costume. As Cleopatra, Catherine wore a gold half-mask combined with a beaded headdress, a long white tunic with wide bejeweled belt and neckpiece, armbands and wrist cuffs, and gold sandals on her feet.
"What do you think of my costume?" she entreated, laughing and posing in an embellished manner.
"It beggars all description," he paraphrased, wryly; then, more gently, "It is beautiful . . . and so are you."
Undaunted, Catherine headed for the stairway. "C’mon! Let’s go upstairs and join the party!" she said.
They climbed the stairs together, hand in hand. They merged into the party crowd, not turning one head. It was unbelievable! Other men and women were in exotic costumes. Some wore large papier-mâché heads or crowns or wings. Vincent and Catherine walked to the edge of the dance floor. They hesitated . . . then, stepped out . . .
The musicians played a melody for a Viennese Waltz. Vincent, Catherine, and every other couple swept over the dance floor, moving effortlessly in their turns and change-steps. Catherine’s laughter floated above the music as Vincent allowed himself to fully experience the moment. The close proximity of their two bodies moving to the music was exhilarating.
After the dance, they lingered at the edge of the room and Catherine lifted two glasses of champagne from a roving server’s tray. She turned happily toward Vincent, extending one of the glasses.
"Let’s drink a toast!" she asserted. Then, as Vincent hesitated, Catherine paused, regretfully, lowering the glass. "Oh, but . . . if you would rather not . . ."
"I will," said Vincent, reconsidering, and reached for the proffered glass. They touched the two glass rims, then raised the sparkling beverage to their lips. Catherine had never felt so real with Vincent. She was full of joy at this moment. If this was to be the height of her pleasure in all her life, she was satisfied.
They walked through the crowd, feeling free and at ease. Vincent argued the merits of Voltaire versus Montaigne with a giant magician’s rabbit while Catherine compared independent film producers with a lovely French maid. They nibbled caviar and cracked-pepper crackers, mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat, and tiny cookies decorated with edible flowers and sugar crystals. Classical music from the quartet provided a beautiful background score to the evening.
Time came too quickly for Vincent to go. He and Catherine made their way to the basement access stairs. Cautiously, Vincent opened the door, and he and Catherine stepped onto the first landing, pulling the door closed behind them. They walked slowly down the stairs, arm in arm, not speaking, drawing the evening to a close in their minds.
Suddenly, as they reached the bottom steps, a man’s voice came from the upper landing.
"Yeah," said the voice, "These electric locks are great!"
Three large wooden cabinet structures with double doors, intricately carved and ornate, polished wood glowing softly, stood in a row along the far wall, reaching from floor to ceiling. Vincent and Catherine rushed toward the closest cabinet; he silently swept the doors open and ushered her through one as he stepped into the other.
"Here—just set the code on this keypad—see?" said the voice, "Now it’ll open right at 6 a.m.—and not before!"
Catherine and Vincent froze in place as they heard the click and clank of locks securing the basement doors to the upstairs and to the alley access. They remained quiet inside the wooden cabinet until the others had gone, then turned to face each other. They were left in partial darkness on opposite sides of a lattice window behind a soft burgundy-colored gauze drape. Dark velvet cushions were placed on the floor and a small bench was fixed to the wall of each booth. Catherine looked around slowly.
"Vincent, these are confessionals!" she gasped.
"The Sacrament of Penance . . ." Vincent replied evenly. "Reconciliation is believed to impart grace to the soul . . ."
As he spoke the words, a strange new idea came cautiously into Vincent’s mind. The concept felt like a tiny sprouting seed, pushing upward toward the light, struggling to be born, demanding his attention.
They sat in silence for a moment. Then, the realization sunk in, and Catherine stood up.
"Vincent, we’re locked in the basement! What should we do now?" she asked anxiously.
Glad to shift back into control, Vincent stated with calm confidence, "We will be able to leave."
She trusted him at once, and feeling more at ease, she ventured, "It wouldn’t be the worst thing to spend the night here . . ." She pulled her costume mask away to see Vincent’s reaction, as she resumed her seat.
She could see his profile in a shadowy outline behind the lattice and drape. His head bowed slightly and she heard his soft exhalation. He was deep in thought. This was an extraordinary situation, highly suggestible. Vincent felt compelled to unburden his heart to Catherine—yet, with so little experience at doing so, and with so much practice at keeping control, he could not speak. Under the influence of the sacred enclosure, Vincent considered his next action.
Their uncommon surroundings had begun to affect Catherine, as well. After considering for a moment, she relaxed a little; then, whispered cautiously, smiling shyly, "Have you anything to confess?"
Her heart skipped a beat when he answered, "Only my desire for you."
Vincent felt as if he had just developed wings! He could hardly recognize the voice as his own—this voice declaring his deepest, most protected emotion.
"Oh, Vincent! It is mutual!" Catherine pressed her hands against the lattice screen, wanting to make contact with him. "What do you think it would be like—between us?" Her impulsive question both subdued and excited her; she felt moved by a source beyond herself, heated, unrestrained.
Though she feared she had alienated him, miraculously, he answered, "I think it would be beautiful . . . powerful . . . frightening . . ." Vincent felt opened as never before, wrapped in the absolving shadows of his confession.
Circumventing the beauty and power, Catherine questioned, "What frightens you about it?" feeling some fear herself.
"My inability . . . to control . . . to modify . . . to accommodate you . . . as a man would accommodate a woman—" he said, bearing the pain of his words.
Catherine did not respond verbally. She pressed her face against the screen, between her hands. Her breathing came in shallow wisps and she felt a tremor throughout her body. In Vincent’s vulnerable state, she felt connected to him.
"I am not only a man, Catherine," Vincent said softly. "Even Father doesn’t know. Nor Peter, Mary, Narcissa . . . no one . . ."
"I may be less than a man . . ." he intoned.
"But more than a boy . . ." Catherine countered with a smile, and she felt his energy surge at her comment.
Turning from this line of reasoning, Catherine asked gently, "Ours would be your first experience?"
In a low voice, Vincent replied, "Yes . . . though, I realize, not for you . . ."
Weighing her words, discounting every relationship in her life except this one with Vincent, Catherine explained, "In college, I think it was part of the entire liberation theme, being away from my father’s watchful eye, asserting myself as a woman—being in charge of my own life."
"Did it bring you happiness?" Vincent asked directly.
"Only more questions, more confusion," she answered honestly. The past seemed so clear to her now. She looked down at her hands in her lap. "Sharing physical intimacy doesn’t connect the spirits or the minds," she said, feeling a new stability, speaking as much to herself as to Vincent.
Turning to face Vincent’s image behind the lattice, Catherine felt a swell of emotion. She plunged in assertively, tossing her concerns aside, "I’d love for us to start with a full embrace, a gentle kiss, several kisses."
She continued, "Your mouth has always intrigued me, Vincent! I long to taste you, feel the full effect of your uniqueness, savor the taste and texture!"
"I’d love to experience you with all my senses—your scent, the sound of your movements and breathing, that low rumble in your chest, the textures of your clothing, your face, hair, and hands. I want to lay my head upon your shoulder, rest against the strength of your chest and arms. I envision you over me, enfolding me. Vincent! How I desire you!"
She fell silent. Maybe she had said too much, offended him. She sighed and waited, imploring him with her frustration.
Hesitantly, he began, "Your trust, your belief in me . . ." She could hear the surrender in his voice. "I would kiss your face, your lips . . . your throat, where I would feel the beat of your pulse . . . I imagine my hands on the bare skin of your shoulders."
Catherine responded passionately, as she answered, "Our bodies would be pressed together! Ah! Oh, Vincent! Let me feel your hands in my hair, hold my head in your hands! I want you to kiss me, kiss me, Vincent!" Catherine cried out as tears spilled from her eyes.
Vincent shifted his weight on the little bench in the dark booth. Catherine could feel his body heat through the screen. She held her breath.
"In my childhood, I remember . . ." he disclosed painfully, slowly, "to have been joyful and free from blame."
"Before the incident with Lisa," he continued, "I used to wander very close to the access points Above. Father and Mary admonished me, though I continued to wander around the perimeters."
Catherine exhaled and waited patiently as Vincent gathered his thoughts. "One night," he resumed, "I saw a woman—a prostitute—with two men. They seemed almost violent, clutching, panting, wild vocalizations. I was impressed with the base emotion of the scene. Later, when I was alone with Lisa, I thought aggression was the reason . . . taking hold and not letting go . . ."
Somber poetic lines came into Vincent’s thoughts, and he recited them, saying, "Lust stir’d up a desperate courage, to make the taker mad . . ."
"Though, the slight coquette, she could not love," he finished, and Catherine could hear the sorrow in his voice.
"Vincent, I love you," she said simply.
"Perhaps, we look to like for qualities, and come to love for defects," he replied, as random, dark lines continued to tumble in his brain. "Who can paint another’s passion?" he lamented. "Dreams have lain stern in my soul’s chastity." The mournful quotes seemed to match his mood.
They sat in silence. The polished wood of the confessional booth had a deep fragrance of oils and incense and the solitude of the scene was upon them. "Catherine, your passion is a mirror to me," Vincent said; then, with the realization, "and now, I must look . . . at myself."
"I saw you coming . . ." he said, struggling, "coming to play upon my heart strings. Coming home like a truth, long awaited in my life. This path to love seems to be the way shown to us."
Suddenly, Vincent turned to face Catherine’s silhouette behind the drape. Placing his large hand upon the lattice screen, he quoted, "If I profane with my unworthiest hand this holy shrine . . . the gentle fine is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss."
"Good pilgrim," Catherine quoted in response, enchanted, "You do wrong your hand too much; For saints have hands . . ." she placed her open hand against Vincent’s with the screen between them, "And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss."
"Let lips do what hands do," Vincent murmured, as he leaned in toward her. She drew aside the gauze and raised her face to the lattice barrier. They touched lips on either side of the screen, the full impact of their near contact sending electricity through both their bodies.
"You kiss by the book," Catherine breathed, smiling, and she could hear the smile in his short whuff’d response.
* * *
As the night continued, they remained in the confessional booth, resting against the cabinet walls, feeling connected. "Tell me, Vincent," Catherine said languidly, flushed with desire. "Where would our first intimacy occur?"
He paused, then answered slowly. She could tell from the direction of his voice, his head was bowed. She could see the large shadow of his profile, imagine his facial expression.
"I have prepared a chamber near the nameless river. It is modest, but there is fresh water and a crevice nearby that is open to receive sunlight part of the day," he described with a tone of shy pride.
Catherine could scarcely contain herself. Vincent had made a sanctuary for the two of them! He had planned to be alone with her! She could not suppress her happiness at the thought!
Tentatively, Catherine ventured to inquire, "Vincent . . . what would happen there?"
"There would I make you a happy bride," he said.
Catherine brushed fresh tears aside and gathered her courage to ask, "Tell me how you would hold me. What would the expression of our love be like?"
His answer surprised her. "I imagine we would be standing, supported against the wall of the earth. We would carefully draw away our clothing . . . you would . . . accept me . . ."
"Of course I would!" Catherine almost screamed the words. "Oh, Vincent, how can you doubt me? I love you with all myself!"
"Tell me . . . Then . . ," she asked, more quietly, getting a grip on herself, "what would happen . . .?"
She touched the lattice with both hands, bringing her face close. Vincent’s breathing became labored, rapid. There was a long pause.
"As you would allow me," he said with effort. "I would lift your breasts in my hands . . . I would never hurt you, Catherine! I picture your fair skin, rose and cream, a soft blush across your skin with the excitement of being so . . . close."
His voice was low, intense. "I would lift you against me; your arms would be around my neck, your legs . . . around my waist. Our bodies . . . would merge . . ."
Catherine could scarcely contain herself. With extreme effort, she remained silent so he could continue.
"You are my . . . Catherine . . ." he went on, "the woman I love. I imagine the rise and curve of you, the rose and the crystal. Though I honor you and believe I could show that respect to you . . . I could not chance to leave a scar upon the scene . . ."
"How would you even do such a thing?" she protested, suffering at the doubt he held in himself.
"Sometimes, my thoughts shame me . . . urge me, yet, restrain me," he replied, his voice subdued and tortured.
"Tell me these thoughts . . ." Catherine insisted, her heart in her throat.
Abruptly, he stood. Then, finding no room to pace or turn, he sat down again, heavily. "I worry . . . how to position ourselves? My weight on your body. . . Will we . . . our bodies . . . mesh together . . . connect properly?"
His anguish was evident. "Would I simply assail you—invade you?" he wondered aloud, tearful now. "Mount you like a stallion, like a bull!?" He pressed his hands to his face, suffering with the idea of his sexuality unleashed upon his beautiful Catherine.
She wept silently, recognizing the ignoble, yet somehow thrilling, aspect of his concern.
"Vincent, I am never giving up on us! You know that! I don’t know the answer to all your questions. I do know that I understand your fears," she desperately wanted to comfort him. "I imagine your body against mine; your lean, hard lines. It hadn’t occurred to me that we would first love braced against the tunnel walls . . . but, actually, I can envision it. And, I must say, it is an exciting image!"
Catherine was not sure how Vincent was receiving all this. "I have thought about our first time, too, Vincent," she said carefully. "I have fantasized that our first time would be in your bed, in your chamber . . . I didn’t know you had prepared a new chamber for us!"
She heard his sigh, and she realized he was waiting for her to continue.
"I have imagined that we would finally plan to be together. We would choose a time. I would make necessary arrangements Above to be away for a while . . . I would take the time . . . to be with you . . . the man I love . . ."
Catherine could feel Vincent’s rapt attention. She wanted more than anything to ease him, reassure him, and convince him of her love and acceptance.
"I imagine us . . . alone . . . in the candlelight . . ." She could feel his reaction behind the screen, as he physically withdrew from her words.
"We would undress each other," she continued gently. "We would take our time . . . get to know each other in this new way. We would touch . . . all over . . . use our hands and our kisses to lead us." She gave a soft little laugh. "I would be sure to be wearing a lovely camisole . . . one that opens easily . . ."
She felt him growing restless. "Catherine . . ." he warned, "you do not know . . . my body . . . my form is . . . not like other men . . ."
"Vincent! Please trust me!" she implored, wanting so desperately to touch him. "I am in love with you! I love you! I accept everything you bring to our relationship! All of who you are! Can’t you see how much I want you?!"
The silence between them was heated, full of fear and desire.
Catherine drew in her breath sharply. "I can only . . . imagine your body . . . under your clothes . . ." she said.
"Surely, you have male anatomy, Vincent . . ?" she asked, tentatively.
"Yes," he answered. "In an . . . exaggerated form . . ."
Her words had the power to wound or heal and she was conscious of this. "I realize you are proportioned . . . generously . . ." she continued with care. "Vincent, I have felt the strength of your arms as you embrace me. I know your body is incredibly powerful. I imagine the pattern of your body hair . . . thickest across your chest, tapering along your limbs . . ."
"It must be red-gold in color," she went on, "judging from your hair and hands . . . I imagine a darker color . . . as it trails down . . ."
He was so silent that she worried she had pushed him away.
"You would hold me in your arms," she went on, changing course. "Position me gently on the bed. I would relax upon the cushions and you would come over me . . . Vincent! I would open to you, and you would take me as a lover takes his beloved . . . gently, passionately without violence, our bodies would align lovingly . . . we would fit . . . perfectly . . ."
She could hear the tears in his voice, as he replied, "Catherine, if I ever harmed you . . ."
"You cannot!" she rushed to his rescue, and her own, as she denied any possibility of harm or violence.
Catherine leaned against the wall of the confessional, hugging herself. Her eyes were closed as she drew a deep breath. "Vincent, I imagine your body connected to mine. I feel you in the very core of me. Your breath against my face, your heartbeat against my own, your arms holding me . . . so securely!"
"Our connection is magical, beautiful . . . it’s everything I ever imagined in a perfect love! Oh, how I long for you! Vincent! You don’t know . . ." she trembled with the expression of her desire.
She felt his discomfort and shared the burden of it. Perhaps, for the first time in their relationship, Catherine understood just how difficult it was for Vincent to imagine their intimacy. His frame of reference had nothing but violence and shame. She ached for him. She longed to prove him mistaken; however . . . she realized she may never know . . .
She shifted on the velvet cushion and leaned her head against the lattice screen between them. "Vincent, what about after our lovemaking?" she asked.
"Afterwards . . ." he responded, sighing softly, as if it were understood. "You would be my wife."
* * *
Listening to the traffic sounds above, Vincent stated, "The time is near 4 a.m. We should go, before the dawn’s light leaves us no privacy, no cover."
Vincent stepped out of the wooden booth and over to the alley access door which was locked electronically. Reaching upward, he swept his hands over the wall and ceiling next to the door. Then, finding what he was looking for, he swept past a rectangular cast-iron skylight inlaid with violet-colored glass with raised letters spelling out Cornell Iron Works. Just below the skylight, a smaller cast iron door was positioned in the wall with a fleur-de-lis design and a curved pull-handle. Unused for years, the door had been painted over more than once, and seemed to be just an irregularity blended into the wall.
Effortlessly, Vincent tugged the handle. The door creaked open, letting in a frosty draft of air, as debris, leaves, and flakes of rust and paint fluttered to the floor. Catherine gasped in wonder as the alleyway became visible under a milky patch of dawning sky. It was a perfect, simple portal to the outside. It had been there all along.
"Coal chute," Vincent said informatively, casting a sidelong glance at her. "Most of these old buildings have them."
Was there nothing Vincent couldn’t do or didn’t know? Catherine gazed at him with admiration, feeling completely connected to him.
The dawn was still new; sufficient to share moonlight with the night, and silver moonbeams shone down upon the two of them standing there in the opening. The atmosphere was chilled enough to show their breath upon the air as they faced each other, feeling the edge of their emotion.
A light snow began to fall. The feeling was ethereal, delicate, and Catherine dared not disturb the moment.
Vincent opened his cloak and Catherine stepped inside the folds, against his warm body. Cautiously, they leaned in, searching, reaching. Their lips touched and their bodies pressed together. Their kiss was full of the passion and the longing they had just described. Vincent’s hands held Catherine’s head and body carefully, respectfully, possessively, as she clutched his cloak with one hand and his thick golden mane with the other.
Slowly, their lips parted, allowing their tongues to touch. She felt his cool, sharp canine teeth. He reveled in her soft yielding. They drank their passion—one from the other—until they were filled.
They stepped apart, gasping, recovering. "Here," he said, motioning for her to step into his clasped hands and sit upon his shoulder, which she did, positioning her head and body above the level of the sidewalk outside. Vincent boosted her, and Catherine grabbed for the iron railing, pulling herself up to stand on the sidewalk. As she looked back down into the basement, Vincent leapt up to the sidewalk, tugging a rusted chain to draw the door closed behind them.
He swept her back under his cloak, and they scurried through the alleyways. One alley led to another, and they kept low along the walls, until they arrived at the tunnel entrance and ducked inside, safe and unseen.
They walked along the tunnel passageways hand in hand, without speaking, until they came to Catherine’s turn. They paused at the junction in the path, both of them remembering Vincent’s description of their lovemaking against the walls of the earth.
"That was quite an experience," she said, looking up at him, loving him.
"Yes," he responded in his characteristic way, gazing at her, holding himself apart from her.
"What’s next for us, Vincent?" she asked, keeping the slight distance while feeling the energy between them.
His voice was the velvet growl she loved and his gaze was the enigmatic look she had come to honor and endure as he exhaled, and answered, "That, my Catherine . . . will have to wait . . . for another time . ..