Chapter 10

 
-1-

 

Monday, February 19, 1990

 

Catherine stared at the huge prenatal vitamin in the palm of her hand. After a few moments of contemplation, she popped the tablet in her mouth and downed it with a large swallow of orange juice. She hated the vitamins; they had a foul taste and sometimes she choked on the sheer size of them. Nevertheless, in order to satisfy Vincent, Father, Peter Alcott and her own sense of responsibility toward her unborn child, she took the vitamins faithfully after dinner each evening.

 

She stood in front of the mirror, turning sideways for a profile view. Her breasts were larger, her face was fuller, and she was only two months along. Father insisted on keeping a close watch on her, monitoring her diet, blood pressure, weight gain, everything he could think of. He was especially concerned about her weight, much to her embarrassment. For the past few weeks she had been overcome by the urge to eat constantly and then sleep whenever possible. She could only imagine how much weight she would have gained if she hadn’t been taking a walk every day.

 

Catherine suspected all this attention was as much for Father’s peace of mind as for her health. Her pregnancy with Jacob had lasted only six months. Father didn’t know if this was normal for a child fathered by Vincent or if it was due to the drugs Catherine had been given when Gabriel tried to make her talk, so he wanted to make sure she was in the best possible condition at all times.

 

She returned to the comfort of a large rocking chair Cullen had made for her as a wedding gift and continued working on a quilt for the new baby. In the weeks that had passed since her wedding, Catherine had dived into domestic bliss with an enthusiasm she would have thought impossible a year or even six months ago. This pregnancy was so different from her first. Being with Vincent, sharing the news of this new life from the very beginning...it was almost as if she were experiencing impending motherhood for the first time.

 

Much had happened since the wedding. Vincent and the tunnel world’s strongest men had moved the stained glass window in their old chamber and installed it in the new chambers a few days after the wedding. Devin had left the tunnels shortly thereafter, succumbing to what he called a case of “terminal wanderlust.” Vincent missed his brother terribly, and Catherine found herself wishing that Devin would come back soon.

 

Nancy Tucker had come back to visit and to bring a huge album containing the wedding photos, which she had developed herself in secret. She and Catherine worked together to press the petals of Catherine’s wedding roses between pages in the back of the album. Catherine was glad to save the roses, but she had to admit a certain sense of wistfulness every time she paged through the album, inevitably coming to the remnants of her bouquet. It had been so wonderful to have fresh flowers, if only briefly. Oftentimes the air in the tunnels seemed stale and close, and lately she had found herself fighting an urge to run outside at odd hours of the day, longing for just the smallest hint of sunlight, fresh air and green, living things.

 

Catherine’s chair was settled in the middle of a colorful braided rug, and she rocked gently as she worked with tiny patches of cloth donated by each member of the community. The quilt would be beautiful when finished, and literally would blanket the new baby with the love of everyone in the tunnels.

 

Cathy Chandler, making a quilt; what would my old friends say if they could see me! She gazed at her surroundings. Her son was asleep on a quilt on the floor; all was peaceful and quiet. She loved her new home, loved having more space, more light...and more privacy, thanks to the heavy wooden door Vincent had installed. She was surprised that she didn’t miss their old chamber.

 

She leaned a little closer over her work and accidentally jabbed the needle into one finger. She let out a soft cry, then popped the finger into her mouth for a few seconds. An examination showed no major damage; besides, her fingers and hands had become so much tougher...

 

A disturbing feeling crept over her as she held both hands in front of her eyes and looked at them, examining them in minute detail. Her small hands had indeed become stronger and harder over the last few months from the unaccustomed labors involved in living Below. The nails were unadorned with polish and were very short; a few were even broken. The palms of her hands were padded with calluses that hadn’t existed a few months ago.

 

She flung her quilting materials on the floor and flew to the mirror, the same mirror in which only moments earlier she had admired herself. For a few moments she stood and stared, taking stock of her total appearance for the first time since her wedding day.

 

Overall she looked extremely well. The prenatal vitamins gave her skin and hair a wonderful glow. Her eyes were clear and her face was no longer thin and drawn.

 

But she was pale, paler than she had been for years. Even though her skin was fair, for most of her life she had loved the sun and had spent a lot of time in the sunlight and fresh air. She wore not even a trace of make-up; had not, in fact, worn make-up since coming to live Below. And although her hair was shiny and full, a closer inspection revealed a few narrow streaks of grey.

 

Next her gaze moved to her clothing. She was wearing a dark blue cotton dress, a smock really, over a white long sleeved, turtleneck sweater. She was already to the point that none of her pants or jeans fit her expanding middle. She had thought nothing of the clothing that morning, as usual, dressing only for warmth and comfort. Now, as she scrutinized herself in the unforgiving mirror, the only word she could find to describe her appearance was “dowdy.”

 

She backed away from the mirror so she could see a reflection of her shoes. That was the final cap to what was turning out to be a depressing process. The shoes were sturdy, made for a great deal of walking on irregular surfaces. They were laced over a pair of thick black knee-high socks. She tried to remember wearing high heeled shoes. She had worn heels for as long as she could remember, trying to compensate for her shortness, striving as always to be taken seriously.

 

For several long minutes Catherine stood and gazed at herself in the mirror, trying to dredge up some trace of a memory of how she used to look. She closed her eyes and a picture appeared in her mind: herself, dressed in a sleek black business suit and red silk blouse, accented with just the right amount of jewelry and makeup. Her hair, blow dried and moussed, looked professional yet feminine. She wore expensive pantyhose. And, yes, on her feet were a pair of black four inch heels. In her mind’s eye she saw herself breezing into a courtroom, briefcase in hand and a look of confidence and determination in her eyes, ready to take on the most intractable judge and jury on the face of the earth.

 

She placed a hand across her stomach, glancing down for just a moment before looking in the mirror once again. The walls of the chamber seemed to have crept closer; the coziness of the room had changed to a feeling nearer to suffocation than safety. Her thoughts came unbidden as they had many times in recent weeks, frightening her, tumbling over each other like water washed pebbles in a rushing stream. What has happened to me? What am I doing here? Where do I fit; what is my purpose? What has happened to my MIND...?

 

She heard Vincent’s footsteps coming down the corridor that led to their chamber, and the sound jolted her away from the mirror and back to her chair. Shame and anger raced through her, and not for the first time she was thankful that Vincent couldn’t sense her feelings. She smiled at him as he entered the room, insisting to herself that she need look no further than the man standing before her, gazing at her with loving eyes, to find a meaning to her life. She held on to that thought, ignoring a small voice that persisted in repeating over and over in the back of her head. Your mind...what has happened to your mind...?

 

Vincent stood for a moment, drinking in the scene of domestic bliss that greeted him: little Jacob napping on his quilt, Catherine sewing in the big rocking chair, a pot of hot tea waiting on a small brazier.  His eyes returned to Catherine. Beautiful...she is so  beautiful. She grows lovelier with each passing day. Perhaps it is true: this life agrees with her, and she is happy.

 

“What are you thinking about, Vincent?”

 

“How beautiful you look.”

 

She set aside her sewing and gave him a curious look. “You always say that. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder...” She stopped and to his surprise cast her eyes downward.

“What is it, Catherine?” In a few steps he was kneeling by her side, his large hands touching her with the tenderness inherent in his every thought where she was concerned. “What troubles you so?”

 

She gave a short, embarrassed laugh.  “Oh, Vincent, I don’t know! I was just looking at myself in the mirror. One minute I’m congratulating myself on how healthy I look and the next...”

 

“Yes?”

 

She sighed. “The next minute, I think I look like the frumpiest, most unattractive woman who ever lived!” This frustrated sentence was followed by a torrent of tears.

 

For a moment Vincent couldn’t move, horrified at Catherine’s sudden mood shift and his inability to understand what was happening. Then he realized: of course...she was pregnant. Her emotional state was under constant attack by the changing demands of her body.

 

He embraced her, nearly pulling her out of the chair in an effort to hold her as tightly as possible. For a few moments he held her and let her cry, whispering over and over his assurances that she grew more beautiful and precious to him each day.

 

She recovered quickly, looking somewhat abashed as she wiped her eyes with the handkerchief he gave her. He felt relief when a tentative smile curved her lips.

 

“I’m sorry…”

 

“Don’t be,” he said. “You are pregnant, and therefore entitled to cry whenever you please.”

 

She gave a sniffly laugh. “You sound like Father. Every time he catches me looking gloomy, he gives me a lecture about hormones.”

 

Every time he catches you...? This goes deeper than your looks, doesn’t it, Catherine? “Father has kept you under close surveillance.”

 

“Mm-hmm...very.”

 

“I wish I could watch you as closely.”

 

She looked at him, a solemn twinkle in her eye. “But you have collapsing tunnel walls and ruptured pipes to repair, and I have a roomful of little ones to teach.”

 

“How are your classes going?” Vincent stood and moved to his own chair, taking care to step over his still sleeping son.

“They’re going well. I can’t believe how much I enjoy working with some of the older children on American literature. Their minds are so open, they’re so eager to learn.”

 

“And the little ones?”

 

Once again she sighed. “They break my heart sometimes. You remember Mandy, the four-year-old Laura brought down last week?”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Father ran some tests on her and determined that she is profoundly deaf. Laura and Rebecca are giving me a crash course in sign. Maybe you can help me with that too, Vincent.”

 

He nodded. “And in the meantime?”

 

“In the meantime, she spends a lot of time on my lap being hugged.” Catherine smiled. “I can think of worse ways to spend my time.”

 

”They need you. What you do makes a difference in their lives.”

 

“I hope so. I really hope so.”

 

He watched her as she lapsed into silence, staring into the air at…what? He felt as if she were leaving a trail of clues for him, daring him to unravel their meaning.

 

“Catherine, are you…”

 

She turned to him. “Would you mind if I leave for a little while? I just want to...take a walk, get out for a bit. I won’t be gone long.”

 

“Of course. Take as long as you need.”

 

“Thank you.” She stood and kissed his cheek. “I’ll be back in time for dinner.” She left the chamber.

 

Catherine walked as quickly as she could, seeking a destination she had frequented daily for almost two weeks. When she reached the Mirror Pool, she stopped just inches from the edge. The reflected sky was fading into an early winter dark. A sifting of stars powdered the cold grey sky. Funny how clear the stars looked in this improbable mirror, defying the blazing lights of the city that could render them almost invisible. She had been coming here to see the sun, but tonight she wanted the cold light of the stars. Sunlight, starlight, moonlight...any light would do.

 

She stared until her eyes stung, until her back hurt from standing in one position for too long. She thought about returning home where Vincent would be waiting for her. Instead she sat down, cross-legged at the rim of the pool, drinking in the night.

 

 

 

 

-2-

 

After Catherine left, Vincent sat in his chair for a long time, thinking, wondering. He tried telling himself not to worry, but he couldn’t convince himself not to be concerned. What was happening behind her troubled eyes? He would give anything to know.

 

His son awoke, and Vincent spent some time with the baby on the floor, encouraging him in his efforts to pull up and stand. Jacob’s strength and coordination continued to amaze him. His motor skills were developing at an unprecedented rate. Vincent never admitted this to Catherine, but he kept a close eye on the baby, who still resembled his mother and who still appeared to be perfectly “normal” in every way. Catherine would have chided him gently if she knew about his secret scrutiny, but it meant a great deal to Vincent’s peace of mind. Vincent became so engrossed in playing with his son that he didn’t notice when someone entered the room. This was understandable, since the visitor was quiet as a whisper and had chosen not to enter through the chamber entrance.

 

”You are a very lucky man.”

 

The voice startled him to his feet. He whirled around and saw a woman standing behind him. For one fleeting instant he thought he knew her, then he realized he had never seen her before.

 

“Who are you?” he asked. Before she could answer, he reached down and picked up his son.

 

“A friend,” she replied, a smile playing at the corners of her generous mouth.

 

“I don’t know you...do I?” He frowned, unsure of himself.

 

The woman drew closer, holding her hands in front of her in a gesture of peace. “I’m Maggie, Vincent.  Your guardian angel, as Cathy would call me. The friend you didn’t know you had.” She tried to look serious, but her smile won out.

 

“Maggie!” He looked at her again and instantly felt a spark of recognition. Long brown hair worn in a braid; the friendly smile; the simple white dress; and above all, the strength and beauty that emanated from her in a palpable force...suddenly he felt as if he’d always known her. “Yes, I know who you are.”

 

“I’m glad to hear it.”

 

“Why are you...?”

 

“Why am I here? May I sit down?”

 

“Yes, of course.” Vincent gestured to his own chair, but she chose to sit in Catherine’s rocking chair. He sat beside her, placing the baby on the floor between them.

 

“He’s a handsome young man.” Maggie reached out one hand and stroked the baby’s hair. The baby continued playing, turning once to offer a smile to the woman who gazed at him with fondness.

 

“He seems to know you,” Vincent said.

 

“Babies know many things, Vincent. It’s a shame we forget so much as we grow older and learn things that are usually unimportant.” She leaned back in the rocking chair and fixed her eyes on Vincent.

 

“Why are you here, Maggie?”

 

“I come when I’m needed. You need me now, to avert disaster if possible. If not…” She gave an eloquent shrug “at least I can prepare you for the worst.”

 

“Disaster?” Vincent sat very still in his chair as her words sent a dreadful chill across his skin. “For whom?”

 

“For you, for Cathy.”

 

“What could happen? She is happy here, she’s…”

 

“Is she?” Maggie delivered the query with no expression on her face. “Are you so certain?”

 

He closed his eyes and sighed, then looked at her. “I am as sure as I can be. I know only what she tells me.”

 

“And what was she telling you tonight, with all her cryptic clues and half-finished thoughts?”

 

He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

 

“Vincent, listen closely.” She leaned forward, suddenly intent. “Your beautiful Catherine has suffered an acute series of shocks over the last few months. Remember, only a year ago she was leading a busy life in the world Above, juggling her responsibilities in both worlds. She has made a remarkable effort at coping with the changes, but even her desire to make a life for herself here with you has not overcome some abiding problems.”

 

“What? What does she need? What can I do? I’ll do anything…”

 

“Fine, Love, fine. I know you will. Her life seems full, with a husband and baby and another child on the way, and children to teach and quilts to make and so many other details of life Below. But don’t forget: your Catherine is an educated, talented woman. Now, don’t misinterpret this as snobbery on her part, or mine. She needs a feeling of accomplishment; she needs to do something.”

 

“I had thought...the teaching...working with the children...” Vincent’s voice faltered. He looked at Maggie. “I think I’ve known this all along. I feared she would never be satisfied…”

 

“Oh, so wrong!” Maggie exclaimed. “My dear Vincent, you are missing the point. Overall she is happy, content, satisfied with her life. Still, she needs a challenge...something difficult, perhaps even impossible, to tackle.”

 

“What do you suggest?”

 

“I suggest you keep your eyes open, Love, and when the time comes that an opportunity presents itself, make sure her eyes are open wide as well.” Maggie’s face took on a look of concentration. “Don’t force anything; wait, and see what happens. It will happen soon. And now I must leave.” She rose from the rocking chair.

 

“You can’t wait until Catherine returns?” He stood, suddenly wishing Maggie would stay.

 

“She must not know I was here.” Maggie raised her eyebrows for emphasis. “Not a word, all right?”

 

“As you wish.”

 

She kissed his cheek, then leaned over to kiss the baby. “Little Jacob...what a mystery you are. Do be kind to your parents.” She straightened, winked at Vincent, then vanished.

 

Vincent blinked his eyes, expecting to see an after image or some trace of Maggie’s presence. He was still standing, staring, when Catherine entered the chamber.

 

“Vincent? Are you O.K.?” She walked over to him.

 

“Catherine.” He opened his arms, and she moved into his embrace. “I am fine. And you?”

 

“I’m O.K.” She pulled away from him. “I’m hungry!” He smiled down at her. She looked wonderful, relaxed, happy. “I believe it is that time.” He picked up Jacob, and they left their chambers for the dining hall.

 

-3-

 

Later that night as they lay sleeping in their bed, Catherine’s voice woke Vincent. He sat up in bed, listening. Her voice was soft, yet it had had the power to rouse him from a deep sleep. What was she saying? He waited a moment, and then it came again:

 

“Vincent,” she murmured in her sleep. He lay down and pulled her close. She wrapped her arms around him. “Vincent...where is the sun? Where is the rain? Vincent, what happened to the rain?”

 

He did not even try to answer her. He held her as tightly as he could without smothering her, hoping the warmth of her compact body could drive away the dark chill that had settled around his heart.

 

 Chapter 11