Winter Blessing

by Zara Wilder


Vincent returned to the Tunnels just before dawn. The damp chill of February winds clung to his billowing cloak as he made his way down from the subterranean community's outer boundary. Winter stung his very bones, and he felt deeply, spiritually tired—but he felt clean too. Clean and comforted. Catherine's love was, as always, healing balm for a soul heavy-laden by recent turmoil.

He walked at a sedate pace, passing beyond brick or cement building foundations into the secret stone caverns of the world Below. He paused for some while on one of the rough wooden bridges spanning the Abyss in the Whispering Gallery. There he stood listening to the voices of the city, to a million echoes from a million lives, to the becalmed beat of his own heart. He left rigorous contemplation for another day. Now was the time to listen, to receive what graces life offered and make them a part of himself. Vincent inhaled the cool currents of underworld air. He knew himself loved. He knew himself beautiful. Peace sank into his inmost being with each slow breath.

"Catherine, I do acknowledge the good you see in me," Vincent whispered into the empty space around him. "I accept the beauties you impart." Through the connection he shared with her, he felt her slumbering presence Above. Perhaps, already dreaming, she smiled. Her strong vision of his identity had opened a new internal pathway to explore during the days and nights to come. Vincent remembered how she held him as he wept on her balcony tonight, how her lips and hands blessed him with her sustaining touch. He breathed, "Thank you."

Vincent continued his homeward journey.

He met Samantha as the girl exited the children's messenger station, where she had concluded her early morning duties, transcribing messages conveyed by Pascal out in the Pipe Chamber, then delivering the written notes to Tunnelfolk who dwelt in disparate locations throughout the Tunnels. Her shift must not have proved a busy one; Samantha carried her fabric pouch of stubby wax crayons, along with a dozen fresh drawings on gray, hand-recycled paper.

"Good morning, Samantha," Vincent greeted her.

"Good morning!" Samantha replied. She hurried to Vincent's side. "Want to see what I made?"

Vincent nodded. Samantha handed her pictures to him, eager to share.

She possessed, Vincent reflected, a talent for ingenious composition. He saw a drawing of three children who must be Geoffrey, Lana, and Eric, arranged playfully around Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Another portrait depicted Pascal and his new apprentice, Zach, working together in the Pipe Chamber, both crayoned faces smiling. A third drawing portrayed Samantha's favorite breakfast: eggs, sunny-side-up, served on toast with sliced tomatoes and accompanied by a tall glass of purple grape juice. Looking on, Samantha commented hopefully, "William got eggs in yesterday."

Smiling, Vincent turned to the fourth drawing. He recognized the combination of stair and tapestries which characterized the Great Hall. A dark-haired woman wearing the careful outline of an elegant dress stood en pointe in dainty ballet shoes at the foot of the stair. Samantha had decorated the elfin woman's cheeks with spots of pink rouge. Blue curlicues marked the corners of her eyes.

"Lisa," Vincent murmured.

"Do you like her?" asked the young artist.

His unvoiced answer loomed far larger in his mind than did the child's innocent question. Vincent understood Samantha's enchantment with Lisa, and with Lisa's magical tales of life as a prima ballerina in the world Above. Lisa must also have described to the Tunnel children her habit of rehearsing in the Great Hall during the days of her youth—a youth and childhood she had shared with Vincent in the Tunnels.

Do you like her?

Of course Vincent liked Lisa, loved her, wished her well. He longed for her to find different musics to inspire her future dancing—whatever form she chose for her art, whatever choreography she created for her life. He prayed she finally felt free to enter into a satisfying life Above, a life beyond him, and beyond them all. Vincent gazed at the colorful artwork.

He silently offered a final farewell to his beloved childhood friend. He hoped that Lisa could find a dream worthy of her skill and desire. He hoped she could find love, and truly learn to love, at last. Maybe someday she would come to understand that beauty does not require artifice. Maybe someday she would discover how to recognize the difference between the hand of a friend and the hand of an enemy.

Vincent regarded his own clawed hand. A hand, to this day, both loving and loathsome in Lisa's eyes. A hand both protective and dangerous in and of itself, quite apart from Vincent's personal intentions. His was the hand Catherine had claimed for her own. His the hand Vincent gave into Catherine's keeping with all his heart and all his soul. In Catherine's tender care, his the hand, the body, the being, made safe. That safety comprised a gift beyond all expectation.

A gift. A joy. A wonder.

Would that Lisa could find someone to love who gave her such safety and such joy. Would that she could grow into her dreamed-of self, in the same way he was blossoming into his greatest possibilities within Catherine's radiant light. Vincent wished Lisa good fortune and safe passage.

Glancing up from the pages he held, Vincent told Samantha, "Your drawings are beautiful. And yes, I like this one very much. Lisa looks happy."

Samantha grinned, pleased with her teacher's praise.

"Walk with me," Vincent said. "You can tell me about your other pictures too."

They began walking together in the direction of the Inner Circle. Samantha talked, Vincent listened. As he listened, he looked at one drawing after another, and breathed, and felt free. A shadow of old nightmares receded into mere memory. Present love beckoned him onward toward bountiful hope. Grateful, Vincent walked steadily into the future, toward all that his destiny held in store.



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