IN THY SHADOW
Bruce Alen Klaiss
Logically, this story deals with another character Imfascinated with: Laura, played by Terrylene in two episodes of"Beauty and the Beast." I dont know if its also curiosityabout the deaf, or about the incredible, beautiful language many ofthem use, which motivates me as well. I suspect primarily the latter;as a person with latent hackish tendencies, Im curious aboutthe use of non-standard languages (to users of spoken languages). Thechoice of typography in this story reflects the dichotomy between thetwo forms of communication, and my attempt to emphasize thisfact.
Sign language is not a literal translation of spoken language intovisual form, despite what the hearing are given in television andfilms. It is a language all its own, with its own syntax andgrammatical forms. It may seem that Laura is speaking exactly thesewords with her hands. Perhaps she is, in a sense; though she may usehands instead of her mouth for most of her communication, this doesnot mean that she is restricted to lesser thoughts, feelings andconceptualizations. While sign languages carry far fewer elements intheir vocabularies than spoken languages, their spatial and otherrules of grammar bridge the difference in a most elegant way. Atthose times when a concept simply doesnt translate &endash; ordoesnt exist in the local dialect &endash; the technique offingerspelling comes to the rescue. (The aspects of dialect andfingerspelling can be found, for instance, in the party episode ofthe story, where Laura must ask someone else to translate for her asshe is speaking about specific concepts of art. A technical dialecthas arisen that Jerry is not completely familiar with.) Therefore,while my dialogue for Laura would not translate word for word intoEnglish in this way (when signed by a native speaker such as Laura ora child of deaf parents such as Jerry), the sentences are the totalsense of what she is communicating.
There is, of course, a more obvious dichotomy within "In ThyShadow": the tension that women in the modern world face. Societystill wrestles with the role of women as breadwinners vs. caregivers,as do the women themselves. Whatever choice she makes, a woman islikely to be pulled in an opposite or tangential direction &endash;both by society and by her own conflicting desires. Lauradoesnt face the strong tug of desiring children yet (thoughthat may come in its own time); but she is pulled by the desire tolove and fulfill her lovers wishes for her, offset by the needfor personal creativity and fulfillment. As many women find today, tochoose does not mean that the problem is solved.
The timeline of "In Thy Shadow" takes place in an alternativethird season, and is loosely derived from the extensions created byKathy Cox for her final stories in "Destiny III," one of herexcellent zines. (If available yet, from her or on thecollectors bourse, get them! Checking out "Beauty and theBeast" on eBay might bring some results .) Parallel events aredrawn from the main time stream to fit this alternate world, keepingCatherine alive and removing Gabriel from the scene, but alsoremoving the ever-ghostly John Moreno from the background as well,and giving Joe Maxwell his chance as District Attorney of Manhattan.Diana Bennett appears as well, as a single mention of her existencetowards the end of the story. (If I ever became interested incontinuing this world, the Enringéd Huntress would be workedmore fully into the history; I find the possibilities behind Dianafascinating.) Though this has been rattling around on my disks forover a decade, it has never been published.
Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forbore --
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sonnets from the Portuguese,
...Grow, Sarah, but not too much. Understand yourself, but not better than I understand you. Be brave, but not so brave you don't need me anymore....
James to Sarah
Children of a Lesser God, Act II.
The June sun was still an hour shy of setting as Catherine arrivedhome from work, and she glanced at the slowly-reddening orb throughthe French doors with annoyance. Late as it was, it was still notdark enough for Vincent to come Above! Once again, her life wascoming up against its main frustration source.
It had become even more frustrating over the past year. In thattime, since the days of Vincent's madness and her rescue of him fromthe cave, many things had changed -- most importantly, they hadbecome lovers in all ways, physically as well as heart-lovers. Thecrisis had made them take a fresh look at their love, at theirunderstanding of what they were, at what they did, and at what theymeant to each other.
That was the most important part, for Vincent had now learned toaccept himself and his self-worth completely, and his right toreceive both Catherine's love and body. And Catherine now recognizedhow the dangers of her professional life had contributed to thenear-destruction of Vincent's soul. She saw the need to remove thatvector from her life. Just as important, she now fully understood andaccepted the duality of Vincent's nature, and that she loved theBeast as well as the Man.
Now that they truly knew their love, they embraced it even morethan they had before. Finally, tentatively at first until theyovercame the final fears, they found delight in more than just warmembraces and shared feelings. They finally shared the joy of loversin mind, soul -- and in body.
Now they suffered from the same old problem -- not enough timetogether with each other -- but with new dimensions. Catherine hadrequested a transfer from the investigations division of the D.A.'soffice to prosecutions. This took her out of the dangerous situationsshe often was involved in before. Unfortunately, it also increasedthe already long hours she spent at the office. Vincent came Upalmost every night now (when she did not go Down), sometimes to makelove with her, or to just sleep with her, or to simply share a quiethour or two before the fireplace on the loveseat. But more than awaking hour or two each night was rare. Even when she returned homerelatively early on summer nights, the lateness before full darkshortened their time together.
In another way, though, she was grateful for the late sunsettonight, for it gave her a decent chance to wash and get supperready. And, of course, there was always the anticipation of whatmight be done when Vincent did arrive.... Catherine smiled at thoseenchanting thoughts as she dried off from her shower, drew on shortsand a T-shirt and sauntered to the kitchen.
She had learned long ago to keep at least the basics of a freshsalad always on hand for workday supper. It made a good change ofpace, especially when all the poor-quality fast food wolfed down inthe name of Justice finally began to make her choke. Now she starteddicing boiled chicken and mushrooms, adding the chunks to the bowl ofBibb lettuce on the counter. She glanced out the doors again whilewhipping up a light dressing. Maybe ten minutes, she estimated, untilfull dark. The anticipation quickly overruled all other emotions --except one....
Vincent quickly checked about for signs of life before rushingdown the alley behind Catherine's apartment building. Nobody wasabout, and nobody opened a window or appeared from behind a dumpsteras he shot through, a black-shrouded shape on silent feet. Regainingthe deeper shadow of her building, he slipped along his usual routeto the rungs of an embedded service ladder in an alcove, and startedclimbing. Eighteen floors straight up hanging onto nothing but metalbars would, to say the least, severely tax the endurance of normalmen. Vincent's strength was barely exercised as he reached the ledgebetween the eighteenth and nineteenth floors, the next stage of hisjourney.
On his way up Vincent only half-concentrated on his route; it wasso safe, and had become such an automatic thing, that he need onlymake sure he kept a grip on each rung. The rest of his thoughtscentered on Catherine; on her beauty, on their love, on the greatgift she gave to him each night they were together, whether simply ofher presence beside him or of her loving, living body. Vincent stillcould not help but regard it at times as a miracle. Every time theymade love he silently thanked her for all she had done for him.
It was Catherine, after all, who saved him when he was drowning inthe madness of his personal darkness. It was she who finally helpedhim accept himself in all his uniqueness, both man and beast. Shemade him see that he could receive as well as give. And it was shewho then gave freely to him what he cherished most -- the unstintingfullness of her love and body.
He could sense her waiting for him; her anticipation was growingas the minutes passed. So was his own the farther he edged along theparapet toward the final stage, the clamber down the decorative slotsof the wall until he jumped onto Catherine's balcony. He smiledruefully, thinking, The trick, of course, is to arrive withoutbreaking your neck or killing yourself!
After three years, though, Vincent was an old hand at this route.In only a few more minutes, the terrace thudded slightly from hissoft impact. He rose from his landing crouch and tapped on thedining-room doors. In a split second the bond between the twothrummed wide open with love and joy and desire. Vincent smiled, histeeth gleaming in the light streaming through the glass. The impactof her emotions on him was this strong almost every time they met,but it was always both a surprise and a delight.
A few moments later, the doors were opened by an angel, andVincent freely walked into his own private heaven.
They lay together in the contented weariness that followed theirlovemaking, in tune with one another, happy to simply rest there sideby side, sharing the touch and thought of each other. Frequentlythese quiet moments were even more joyful than their actual joining;their connection was wide open, giving them a closer togethernessthan other lovers would ever know.
At these times Catherine could glimpse down the bond intoVincent's emotions. All she need do was open her mind, as she hadgradually learned how, and let the play of his feelings flow into herperception. Quietly doing so now, she was not surprised to find thejoy and peace that she expected. But there was something else aswell, a kind of...Dissatisfaction? Puzzlement? Concern? shethought... which meant, she had learned, that Vincent was worriedabout something.
Brushing his arm as it lay across her breast, Catherine said, "Issomething bothering you? You seemed a little distant at supper, andnow.... Well, I think you know I've been peeking." She smiled faintlyand shrugged a little. "Has something happened?"
She felt Vincent's emotions twitch as she spoke, then settle downto their previous rhythm. "No," he said. "I have just been thinkingabout someone."
She turned over to face him. "Is anyone having problems?"
"No," he reassured her, trying to cast what he had noticed thatday into words. "It's Laura. She was Below for a while today to leavesome food and magazines and visit.... I sense a restlessness in her,a need for something.... It is as if she were living in the Tunnelsagain, needing to know more of the wider world, as when you mether."
"The last time I saw her, she seemed happy, though she was alittle worried about bills. Of course, that was two months back; Ihaven't seen her since. I may have shed a lot of people I thoughtwere friends three years ago, but the damned job won't give me timefor the real friends I've made since." She gave a rueful little sigh."You know, there are times I wish I was June Cleaver, or some otherWonder Wife from a 1950's sitcom; no job, no responsibilities, justkeep the house clean, cook the meals, care for the kids and visit theneighbors. I'd throw Gloria Steinam and the 'independent woman' outthe window in a moment and turn into a complete homebody."
She fell silent at that point. Yet Vincent sensed the undercurrentin Catherine's feelings, which were nowhere near as light as herwords. He gently combed back the hair which fell over her eyes andasked, "What is it, love?" though he thought he knew.
Her smile turned wistful. "It would give me more time with you,too." Then she grabbed his hand and kissed it soundly. "Don't worry,Vincent; there are no regrets. I know you feel that longingyourself."
A few moments passed. Then she said, "I'll make some time to seeLaura on Saturday. Maybe we can help if something is wrong. Rightnow, though," she grinned, "I have other things on my mind."
"You do?" Vincent asked.
"Catherine!" Vincent said in mock shock, then smiled. "I waswondering when you would remember...." He pulled her closer totenderly kiss her, feeling the pleasured tingle in both himself andher at the brush of their lips. "But may I ask something?"
"Who is June Cleaver?"
Vincent and Catherine were not the only lovers coming togetherthis night. Many others across the City were returning from a longday's work, or stepping out for their supper, or perhaps simplyfalling into each other's arms for a few minutes before turning outthe lights in search of even more closeness....
Jerry Burowski trudged up the stairs to his apartment around 6:30,flexing his shoulders to drive a kink out of his back. Whoever saidthe life of a police detective was not physically demanding shouldhave been stood in front of a firing squad of .38 specials! Graduallythe pain eased away until it was only a slight catch. He sighed inrelief and fished in his pocket for the door keys. A beer, somesupper and a night's rest in his lover's arms should take care of theproblem.
As he closed the door, he reached for the light switch and flickedit on and off a few times. A few seconds later he heard two stamps onthe floor from the direction of the kitchen. He smiled and walked inthe sound's direction, smoothing his black hair straight as hewent.
A young woman clad in jeans and a T-shirt decorated with theStatue of Liberty stood over the stove as he entered, tasting aspoonful of homemade spaghetti sauce. Noticing Jerry out of thecorner of her eye, she twitched her brows in greeting, then set downthe spoon to come to him with a hug and kiss. Then she begangesturing in a pattern that Jerry translated as How was your day?
The woman was Laura Williams, whom Catherine and Vincent wouldspeak of later that night, and the gestures she used were theAmerican Sign Language spoken by many of the deaf in the UnitedStates. A year and a half had passed since she helped to save Jerryfrom being killed in the deaf-gang case; having fallen in love withhim during that time, she moved into his apartment.
Answering Laura's question, Jerry said in both sign and voice,"Typical cop's day; long, hot and thankless."
Poor thing, she said, but with a gleam in her eye. Well, at leastI'll thank you.
"I may take you up on that later," he replied with a mock leer."Do you need some help there?"
Would you start the spaghetti up? Jerry nodded and set towork.
Later, after the meal was over and the table was cleared, theysettled in together on the loveseat; Jerry closed his eyes and letout a groan of contentment as he lowered himself onto the cushions.Laura, sitting down beside him, caught his grimace out of the cornerof her eye. She tugged at his sleeve to get his attention.
"Huh?" he said as he opened his eyes back up. Laura asked, Are youfeeling all right? Jerry nodded. "The captain's had me going up anddown a block in Flatbush questioning witnesses, that's all. It justcaught up with me."
That's worse than my day. At least I get to sit down once in awhile. Things weren't boring for me, though.
Two men tried to pick me up today after I left the OutreachCenter. At Jerry's horrified stare, she added, Don't worry; nothinghappened. Once I figured out what they wanted, I knew how to get ridof them.
"How did you do that?" Jerry was still leery of the idea.
I talked to them, Laura said casually.
"You...talked to them? How could you tell they knew sign?"
I didn't use sign. I just talked to them. She placed her hand ather throat so she could feel the movements of her vocal cords andmuscles, and spoke softly and slowly instead of signing, "Ah takhdlakh thes," then signed, but without checking myself.
That brought Jerry up short. Laura almost never used her voicebecause whoever raised her could not afford the expensive speechtherapy that might have improved her vocal skills. On top of that,Laura was born profoundly deaf, with almost no vestigial hearing.Amplification did not help her; she could not pick up any audial cuesto associate with mechanical movements. Now here she was, talkingaloud to a pair of jerks! He chuckled at the thought of how they musthave reacted. "I wish I could have seen their faces!" he said, thenhe turned serious. "But you see now why I still worry about you outthere by yourself."
Laura's face went set and stubborn. Don't start that again. I needmy job, Jerry; I can't stay shut up here. I need the world around me,not to hide from it. I learned that the hard way; I'm not giving upon it now.
"I know. I was there, remember?... I just wish there were a way Icould always be with you, so these things wouldn't happen. Itcould've turned into something else."
I understand. But I can take care of myself. They teach me how atthe center. Anyway, we need the money. She leaned over to plant akiss on his cheek. Thank you for worrying, though.
He shook his head resigned. "Okay. By the way, how are the artclasses going?"
Mr. Andrews keeps saying there is no more he can teach me. He asksme why I keep coming.
"He's right, you know; you're damned good," Jerry said, whichLaura answered with a tolerant look. "Okay, okay," he chuckled."Don't believe me if you don't want to. Could I talk you intograbbing me a beer before you hit the canvas?"
Laura punched him in the shoulder in amused exasperation and gotup to go to the kitchen, returning with a long-necked bottle; shehanded it over, then went to a corner of the living room near thewindows.
Some shelves hung on the wall here, containing books on arttraining and instruction, or collections of work by renowned paintersold and recent. Most of the books were second-or-more-hand, obtainedfrom used-book stores or lent to her from the Tunnel library --though Jerry, of course, did not know about that particular source.There was also a selection of brushes, a plastic palette, the largesttubes of acrylic paints Laura could afford in a variety of colors, abox of pastels, jugs of artists' turpentine and fixative. Severalsketchbooks were stacked up in a corner. A few blank low-costcanvases leaned against the wall next to a chair and a homemadeeasel, which held a roughed-in painting. Laura examined this as shepulled out the palette, preparing her tools and thoughts.
Art was Laura's passion. It helped her relax,releasing the tensions of the workday and thefrustrations of a world that was too often cold and misunderstandingof her condition. During her free time, she could usually be foundwalking about the neighborhood looking for ideas, or sitting in apark sketching. At night, she would work on transferring the drawingsto canvas and pigment.
Laura had started drawing while living in the Tunnels. ChildrenBelow were always encouraged to find a way to express themselvesartistically; when she was first given a pencil and paper and shownwhat you could do with them, she took to it instantly. She would fillher time drawing pictures of the words she was being taught in books,or whatever took her fancy around her. Still, her skill never quitegrew far beyond a child's stage.
Then she discovered Elizabeth. Vincent happened to mention"Painted Tunnels" one day as they were sitting down to lunchtogether; the eager thirteen-year-old instantly started bombardinghim with questions. He agreed to lead her to Elizabeth's domain andinterpret for her.
Between Elizabeth's skill and motherly manner, the fire withinLaura was raised from a low burn to a great blaze. She becameElizabeth's apprentice, learning form and perspective and color --all she needed to begin flying on her own. Laura herself could notexplain why the old woman's instructions inspired her so much morethan anyone elses did; they simply did, and she was forevergrateful.
When she moved Above, Laura found herself under far more strainthan she had ever known. Below, she was accepted as herself, a personwho was forced to speak and receive information in comparativelyunusual ways, but no different otherwise. Above, she had to deal withstrangers who all too often were unwittingly cruel or insultinglypatronizing. These frustrations made Laura lay aside her artwork asshe sought to cope. She began looking for those who seemed to trulyunderstand her anger... and she found them in the gang of deaf youthsrun by Lincoln, where she also met Jerry.
At the time, it seemed a betrayal when Jerry, out of love forLaura, revealed to her that he could hear and that he was anundercover cop. But her love was stronger, and she was able toforgive him in the end. She moved in with him two months later, andhad lived here ever since. He provided a needed centering for her, anunderstanding haven during those times that still occasionally camewhen life seemed to choke her. And as this new peace was found, thedesire to create returned.
She was already wonderfully talented, but her self-confidence hadbeen badly shaken after being duped by Lincoln, and she was findingit hard to believe in her ability. She felt the need for more formaltraining, so she enrolled in an art class at the New York DeafOutreach Center; that was three months ago. What few rough spotsremained in her technique had been smoothed out in that time, yet shestill did not find it easy to believe in her capability.
But, despite her low in confidence, Laura knew one thing, and shereaffirmed it in her thoughts as she mixed a small quantity of brightorange for her canvas. Her artwork, no matter the quality, was themost vital thing in her world. Except for Jerry, of course, shequickly amended herself. But sometimes, she admitted in her thoughts,even her love for Jerry took a back seat when she was workingintensely, and she would not come to bed until one or later, after hewas fast asleep. He always seemed to understand, though, and shethanked him for that.
She glanced over at Jerry as she finished her preparations. Heseemed absorbed in whatever was on the TV; then he looked up, smiledand toasted her with his beer bottle. She smiled warmly back,thinking Thank God we found each other, and settled down tobusiness.
A group of boys had been playing stickball in the streets of herQueens neighborhood last week, and she had been drawn by the action,the color of their shirts and hats, the older people watching fromthe shade of buildings along the street. Now she tried to capturesome of that impression here so that she could come back to itwhenever she desired. It was a hard task, and required concentrationto make the feeling she remembered come out of pigments and atwo-dimensional space....
A touch on her shoulder roused her from her work. She looked up tofind Jerry standing there. "I'm heading for bed, Laura," he said."You going to be a while yet?"
Laura glanced ruefully at her watch: midnight. She'd done itagain. A longing look rested on her canvas, then she shook her headwith determination. Not tonight; the painting felt close to done. Ithink I'm ready for bed myself, she signed in answer. Though I'm notfeeling too tired right now.
Jerry smiled, and stretched over to turn off the lamp behindLaura's back.
Saturday was bright and warm, sure to become warmer in the JuneManhattan heat. Catherine came up from the Tunnels at the Storm DrainDoor at 11:00, having spent the night Below in Vincent's chamber. Shestrolled down the grass and paths, enjoying the day and collectingsights of Above to share with him later. But no matter how much shewandered, she kept moving in the general direction of a newsstand onCentral Park South.
She arrived near 12:30, knowing that the stand's workers would beclosing up for the day after their half-shift. In fact, Laura wasjust counting change for deposit at the bank when Catherine walkedup. Catherine politely waited until Laura was done, then stepped upto touch her on the shoulder.
Laura looked up at the contact; her face brightened on recognizingCatherine. How are you doing! she asked. Catherine said, "I'm fine,"signing the words as well; since their last encounter in the line ofwork, she had started taking lessons in sign language fromVincent.
Can you hold on a few minutes? I have to finish here, Laura said.Catherine replied, "Yes, I'll just step back and watch."
Fifteen minutes later the day's receipts were counted and baggedand the sides of the newsstand locked down for the weekend. Laurasigned goodbye to Sam, the Helper who ran the stand and with whom shehad lived when she first moved Above; she grabbed her shoulder bagand a large sketchpad. "How'd you like some lunch? My treat,"Catherine said as Laura joined her.
Sounds good. Let's go!
They walked down the street to a diner Catherine knew was decent,talking about the past few months on the way. They quickly chosetheir meals and Catherine passed on the orders to the waitress. Thenshe noticed Laura trying to settle the sketchpad where it would notflop open or catch a spill. When it was finally positioned right,Catherine said, "I see you're keeping up with the art. How are youcoming along?"
Laura smiled. Doing good, I guess, she said. At least my teachertells me I am.
"May I take a look?"
Laura hesitated a second, then shyly nodded. She passed thesketchbook over to Catherine.
Catherine flipped through the pad, growing more pleased with eachpage she saw. The views of the young woman's world, done here inpencil, exhibited a skill and eye for detail that made the scenescome alive for the viewer. Was the work so good, Catherinespeculated, because Laura's condition emphasized the visual even morethan the "normal" world did?
Catherine handed the pad back and signed, "You're very good; youdon't need to blush."
You really think it's good?
"Yes! Haven't you shown this to anybody?"
Just my teacher and Jerry. Jerry likes it, but that isn'tsurprising. Mr. Andrews is always encouraging, too. And I've shownElizabeth, of course.
Catherine smiled at her own memories of visiting the elderlyartist in the Painted Tunnels. "I'm not surprised you're so talented;she's a good teacher.... Do you have any more? I'd love to seethem."
From the smile on her face, Laura was definitely pleased by hersketches' reception. She said, Yes, back at the apartment. Sheglanced down the aisle, and her eyes turned amused. But let's waituntil after we eat.
Catherine turned to follow Laura's gaze, saw the waitress comingwith their hamburgers. "O.K., I can hang on," she grinned.
"Laura, these are wonderful," Catherine signed, turning away fromthe paintings to face her host. Laura beamed with pride at thecompliment. "You started these only after coming Above to live,right?"
Yes, Laura answered, I started doing the paintings then. Elizabethoffered me whatever paints I wanted when I was living Below, but Ifigured she needed them for her own work. So I stuck mainly todrawing. A thoughtful look passed over her face, then she went overto a closet. She opened it up and rummaged around on a top shelf,returning with a battered storage cylinder.
Catherine accepted the tube and pulled out a sheaf of drawings,somewhat curled from their long storage. All the subjects were fromBelow; the difference in style and quality marked them as some ofLaura's earlier work. Catherine could see the emerging talent growinto the skilled draftswoman Laura had become as she leafed throughthe pages.
Father sat behind his desk in one picture, books scattered infront and a thoughtful hand brushing his beard. In another, Tunnelchildren were swimming in the pool beneath the Triple Falls; one wascaught frozen in midair, legs tucked underneath for a cannonballlanding in the water. Mary and Sarah busily crocheted shawls in thenext, the texture of the patterns in the yarn perceivable to theeye.
There were fifteen or so more pages in the bundle, but twoespecially caught Catherine's attention: a study of two hands oneabove the other, one wearing a ring like the costume gem Laurasported on her own finger, the second a hand with large strongfingers, heavily-haired wrist and clawed nails; and a full-faceportrait of Vincent, one of her more recent before leaving theTunnels, judging by the quality. The spokes of the old ship's wheelin Father's chamber were behind him as he sat on the floor. And hiseyes.... Laura had drawn the portrait in pencil, but Catherine sworethat she sensed the depth in those eyes despite the lack ofcolor.
Catherine felt a tapping on her shoulder as she admired theportrait; she looked up to see Laura, who said, All these are yoursto keep.
"Oh, I couldn't," Catherine stammered, forgetting to sign thewords as well. Laura read the expression in her face; she quicklyplaced one hand over Catherine's, raised the other in a silencinggesture. Your lips say 'No,' but your eyes are not straight. You willlove and cherish this more than I ever could...especially those two.It isn't safe to keep these here anyway. Take them; they areyours.
Another shocked moment went by before Catherine blushed withhappiness and said, "Thank you." She reached out to hug the youngerwoman in gratitude. Then a new thought came to her. She stared at thepaintings for a moment: "Laura, have you ever thought of selling someof these?"
Now it was Laura's turn to be stunned. Finally, she replied, Whowould want to buy these? They're not that good.
"Yes, they are! Why do you keep putting them down? You may not besome old Italian master, but you're not a kid with a crayon either.And you said you were needing some money. I know someone that mightbe interested in looking.... Why don't you think about it, talk withJerry?"
You really think I have a chance?
"I do. It's up to the gallery owner, but I know a man Vincent andI found some other pictures for one time." Catherine smiledmysteriously, recalling just how she and Vincent discovered thosepaintings. "He asked me to watch for anything else."
A few seconds more passed until Laura nodded with decision. Yes.I'll talk with Jerry tonight. But I want to try! She chuckled audiblythen, and continued, It might even clean the apartment out some.
Laura told Jerry when he came home about her afternoon withCatherine, what their friend thought of her art, and the idea ofselling it. I really want to find out if I can do this, she finished.I want to find out just how good I am, if all this is worth anythingor just a hobby.... And it's exciting!
"I'd be excited, too, if I were you," Jerry said with a smile."Sure, why not? It's really your decision anyway, you know. Shall Icall up Cathy?"
Chuckling to himself at Laura's eagerness, Jerry dialedCatherine's number and translated for Laura as she "told" Catherineher choice.
"That's great! I'll call up Scott on Monday and set up theappointment, OK?"
Fine. Thanks again, Catherine.
"My pleasure, Laura."
Laura kept busy during her free moments for the next week decidingand re-deciding which paintings she would show to the art dealer.Being her own worst critic, she constantly found fault with herchoices; she almost drove Jerry up the wall as she continuallyshuffled canvasses. He finally took her aside early Thursday nightand said, "Laura, why don't you ask someone to help you choose beforeyou run out of time, or we both go crazy, or both of the above? Whynot Cathy; she got you started on this."
Laura saw the sense of his idea quickly; she was too close tothese pieces to think straight about them. So a call went out toCatherine, who waffled a moment staring at the case files on hercoffee table. But Lord, she was tired of briefs and citations. Sheneeded a rest! "To hell with the law, Jerry; I'm coming over." Thirtyminutes later, she was in their apartment with a fresh eye and noemotional ax to grind. She and Laura spent that evening, and Fridaynight as well, carefully considering until they narrowed the fielddown to eight paintings they felt were the best of the lot.
On Saturday afternoon Laura, Jerry and Catherine loaded the groupinto the back of Catherine's car and drove down to the Eccles Galleryin Greenwich Village. The owner, Scott Eccles, was the dealer JennyAronson suggested to Catherine when she "discovered" the work ofKristopher Gentian; he had dealt well and fairly then, and Catherineknew he would do the same with Laura.
Scott greeted them warmly, ushered them into his office and passedthe time in talk for a few minutes. Catherine had informed Eccles ofLaura's deafness; she was now glad to see that he treated Laura withrespect, including her in the conversation and addressing herdirectly as Jerry interpreted. This courtesy helped put Laura atease, unwinding some of the tension she felt.
Eventually, Eccles said, "So, what do you have to show me?" Laurasigned These, and handed over the borrowed portfolio cases. Thedealer opened them up and spread out the paintings in chairs orleaning against the furniture.
Laura watched Eccles with renewed apprehension as he fell tostudying her work. Why did she let Catherine talk her into this? Shewas a hobby artist, someone who drew and painted to relax; she wasn'tanything serious. She felt nowhere near as skilled as the people whodid the wonderful work out in the gallery rooms. This man wouldprobably thank her politely and encourage her to keep on trying,while inside he'd be annoyed or laughing at her feeble attempts.
She did not realize she had sighed, wrapped up as she was ingloomy thought, until Catherine looked up at the sound. She readLaura's emotions in a glance, whispered to Jerry, then signedsilently to Laura, Let's you and me walk out there for a bit.
They passed out to the gallery floor. When the door closed, Laurafinally vented her frustration. Why is he taking so long? Why doesn'the just say yes or no??
"Hey, easy, you lost me!" Catherine grabbed Laura's hands, haltingthe rapid flow of her eloquence. "You know I can't read thatfast."
Yes, Laura replied. I'm sorry; I'm just --
Catherine stopped her again, finished her sentence for her."You're nervous. I know; I would be too if my blood and sweat weresitting in there. Come on, let's look at some of this stuff." Keepingup a flow of "talk," Catherine led the way around the walls.
Fifteen minutes later they were discussing something that lookedlike a batch of tomato heels slung at the canvas when the office dooropened and Jerry came over. He said to Laura, "He's made up his mind.Come on back in." Laura stared at the door for a second; then, takinga breath and mentally bracing herself, she led the way back.
Eccles motioned them to empty chairs as they reentered. FacingLaura, he asked, "Do you have any more paintings at home for me tolook at?"
Laura glanced at Catherine after the question was interpreted;Catherine merely shrugged and nodded. So she answered, Yes, and somepastels, too. Do you want to look at more?
"I'd like to if I may," Eccles replied, his face brightening in asmile. "I'd like to see how much I can make for us overall -- and Ithink it will be a very nice amount."
It took a few seconds before his words sunk in. Laura finallyfumbled out, You mean...? Eccles merely smiled more broadly as Jerryspoke her words, and nodded. She spun around; Catherine was beamingat her. Then Jerry seized her in a bear hug, saying something. It didnot matter; she could not focus on it anyway. She suddenly felt readyto burst with pride and happiness; everything swirling around herjust made it more so.
When the good wishes finally died down, Laura said to Scott, Thankyou so very much. Can you guess what this means to me?
Eccles replied, "I can; I used to paint myself. You have a talent,Laura, and you're probably going to make quite a mark in thistown."
Laura, Jerry and Catherine discussed with Eccles the basics of howhe would handle Laura's work, and made an appointment for him to comeby the apartment after the gallery closed. Then they said goodbye fornow, Laura again thanking the dealer deeply.
Once they reached the street, Laura could not hold it in anylonger; she jumped as high as she could, slapping the air andshouting "YEH!!" She grabbed Jerry around the neck, completely takinghim by surprise; before he knew what was happening, she was crushingher lips to his in a kiss, while Catherine stood by, laughing forLaura's sheer joy and craziness.
Jerry finally managed to put his wits together and pry his faceaway from Laura's. He gasped out, "Maybe you should sell somepaintings more often!" Laura, reading his lips, laughed and pulledhim back for a softer, less sudden kiss.
When they finally broke off, Catherine cleared her throat slightlyto catch their attention; Jerry turned at the sound, Laura followinghim, to see their friend standing there with dancing eyes. She saidto them, "I was thinking of inviting you two to celebrate alittle...but I'd say you've started without me."
Laura smiled sheepishly at the jest, then turned to Jerry: Do youhave the time to?
Jerry shook his head. "I wish I did, but I gotta get in to thestation soon. The captain wasn't happy about my trading shifts." Hebent down for one more kiss of farewell, signed "You did good, lady,"and waved goodbye to both women.
As Jerry walked off, Laura asked Catherine, Where would you liketo go?
"Do you like champagne?"
I don't know. Let's find out!
"Okay, let's go pick up a few bottles, and then you have someother friends to tell."
Eccles accepted three more paintings of the five Laura had left tooffer that night. He bought one for himself for $150, and took theremaining ten to deal on commission. The money for the one piece wasas much as she could make in a week and a half at the newsstand, andcame in very handy. Scott told Laura and Jerry that he wouldgradually introduce the paintings, raising the price on each to seehow much acceptance she would find with the buying public.
In a month, they had an answer. Three paintings sold in that time,the most expensive for $350. The odds looked good, so Eccles chose topush their luck and set the next painting's price at $750. It, too,sold within a few weeks of being hung. Even after the gallerycommission was deducted, Laura had cleared as much as she was paid atthe newsstand in the same time.
The cash was important, and made things more comfortable, but thesales also gave Laura's self-confidence a needed boost. Shedownplayed it; still, those who knew her well saw that there was anew assurance about her. Questions had been answered for her at last,and the answers were very satisfying.
Shortly after this, Eccles called to see if Laura would come in totalk about an idea he had. Jerry could not come with her tointerpret, so Laura arranged with the Outreach Center to find someonefor a Saturday morning.
Once they were seated comfortably, Scott said, "Laura, you've beendoing well so far. People have been willing to pay whatever I ask,and a few have come back to see when your next painting will be out."Laura glowed at that comment. Eccles went on, "It feels like the timemay be right for a big step."
"A full gallery show."
Her eyes shot wide open. What???
"It's logical. People are buying your work; you have a reputationnow that's growing. I've even had a few other gallery owners ask meabout this fantastic new artist I'm handling; I think they want tohorn in on the action." Laura laughed fiendishly at that, and Scottjoined her, then: "Anyway, I'd like to really get the momentum going,give you a coming-out party to let the world know you're here. Theway the New York art world moves...well, if you don't establishyourself in people's minds fast, you're forgotten in less than ayear, when the next trend comes along."
Laura had hoped for a good response for her work, but this wasbeyond her wildest dreams. This man believed in her enough to riskthe time and expense of a gallery show on her. That was quite atestimony to his confidence in her abilities. She finally asked, Whatwould you need to do it? Shouldn't I have more pieces for you tohang? There's only a few left of what you bought.
Eccles nodded in agreement. "I only have five left besides the onehanging now, and someone's been eyeing that one. Unless myjudgement's gone bad, they'll buy it soon. So you don't have anythingelse on hand, huh?"
Laura shook her head no, then turned thoughtful for a bit.Suddenly, she signed out, How about my pastels? I showed you themwhen you visited. You could exhibit some of those along with thepaintings.
Scott's face rose at her suggestion. "That would do it! It makesfor a good selection, and shows your versatility as well. Let's takeanother look at them, okay?"
Yes. Let's go for it! And she took his hand to shake on thedeal.
She convinced her interpreter to stay with her for a few hours,and they returned to the gallery with a portfolio full of unmattedpastel drawings, which she did when paints were outside the budget.Eccles went through them with her, selecting the strongest in thebatch for exhibit. Laura still wanted, though, to show more acrylics,her preferred medium; she was determined to come up with a group thatwould knock their socks off. She set to work that same afternoon.
The trick was to create more good work without turning into anassembly-line artist. Her perceived need to produce must be temperedwith the desire to create, and Laura's concentration focusedincreasingly on maintaining the balance. Her evenings and Saturdayafternoons filled more with painting as time closed in on the show,and she started staying up late more frequently. It was no worse onher physically than making her a little bleary in the mornings moreoften. However, she was guilty enough about deserting Jerry that sheasked him how he felt about it after a few weeks. Jerry assured herthat he was fine and to go ahead. Laura smiled then and kissed himand went back to her palette. She did not notice the slight darkeningin his eyes as she turned away.
Finally, the new work was finished and framed, the pastels matted.The night of the opening had arrived. In Queens, Laura sat in frontof her dresser mirror, fighting a last-minute bout of nerves. Shewore a simple black dress Catherine had helped her choose, and a pairof plain cherrywood cuff bracelets and matching oval earrings madefor her by Cullen for the occasion. Catherine was there also, helpingLaura with her makeup. Jerry, meanwhile, was stalking back and forthin the living room. He checked his watch for the fifth time in asmany minutes and glared at the bedroom door. Why do women take solong getting ready for something? he groused in his head.
Finally, he could take it no longer; he strode over and knocked onthe door. Catherine's head poked out a few seconds later, a cool lookon her face but a twinkle in her eye. "Yes?"
"C'mon, Cathy, will you two hurry up?"
"If you want perfection, don't rush it," she retorted sweetly, andclosed the door. She giggled as she turned to Laura: "He's morenervous than you. You'd think he was the one opening tonight!"
I half-wish he was, Laura replied. She shrugged her shoulders. Iguess I'm stuck now, aren't I?
"Afraid so. You'll just have to get used to being famous." Laurashot her a look of amused scorn in reply, to which she only smiledand said, "You'll see. Now, let's finish you up before Jerry breaksdown the door."
Five minutes later, Jerry turned around as the door opened. Hebegan, "It's about -- " and froze when his eyes focused on the womencoming out.
Catherine looked stylish as always, in a midnight-blue dress thatcomplemented her green eyes and honey-brown hair. Jerry, however, sawmainly Laura, completely different from the woman he was used to. Thedress that gracefully revealed her form, the light touches ofeyeshadow and blush which she normally did not wear, the hair moussedand restyled in a fashionable tangle -- all these things gave Laura anew sophistication she had never shown before.
He gazed at Laura for a few long moments, until his hand slowlyrose and passed in a circle before his face and folded shut.Catherine smiled at them both, for she knew that sign well; it wasthe first she had learned from Laura: Beautiful. And she was.
Three hours later, Catherine decided for herself that the nightwas an unalloyed success for Laura. The gallery was filled withpeople interested in the new artist who was breaking into the field.Laura spoke a few words about herself and her gratitude to the partyafter Eccles introduced her; her former teacher at the OutreachCenter, Newel Andrews, served as her interpreter. After that, she wasthe center of the room wherever she went. Someone was constantlycoming up to complement her on a piece, or ask her questions abouther style or training.
She was kept so busy that, though she tried, she spent almost notime during the evening with Jerry. He would have normallyinterpreted for her; but he was unfamiliar with most of the"technical" dialect signs that Laura was using, and fingerspellingbecame cumbersome after awhile. So Andrews remained with her for mostof the evening.
Later, Catherine saw Jerry sitting off in a corner with a glass ofbeer, looking alone and forlorn. A little puzzled, she wandered overto ask facetiously, "What's wrong, Jerry? Not feeling sociable?"
Jerry glanced up, then back to the party, shrugging his shoulders.He said, "I'm doing okay. Just not interested in talking much."
"Mmhmm. That's why you look so lonely, right?"
Jerry looked back up at her remark. "I'm that obvious, huh?" hesaid ruefully. His eyes turned away for a few moments while Catherinesat down beside him. Then he quietly admitted, "I don't feelcomfortable around these people, Cathy. They all do things I've neverdone...they talk about things I don't know about.... I can't tune into them."
"They're just people, Jerry, like you and me," she said winningly."Give them a chance. Why don't you try talking about the Mets' gamelast Sunday, or something like that?"
"I tried once. The guy hung in for a few minutes; then he changedthe subject when he got a chance. We just don't have anything incommon." His eyes focused on one spot, and he added, "But she seemsto have plenty in common with them."
Catherine followed Jerry's gaze over to Laura. She stood withAndrews and three other people, apparently having a spirited,enjoyable discussion. Andrews' hands and fingers flew to keep up withthe conversation. Laura would read the signs, occasionally glancingat the speaker; her answers were crisp and prompt, only a few secondsdelay for thought. She was completely at ease in this world.
Jerry was still staring at Laura when Catherine turned back. Shetook the time, while he was unaware of her, to study him. Her trainedeye saw loneliness, uncertainty -- and was there resentment there aswell? Whatever it was, it left her uneasy. She quickly looked away ashe glanced up and sipped her champagne to cover her expression.
Catherine was at her desk a few days later checking her notes foran upcoming trial when she heard someone walking toward her. As shefocused on Joe standing there, her eyes bugged out; he lookedabsolutely stunned, as if he were trying to cope with some incrediblenotion. She said, "Joe, what's wrong? Are you feeling all right?"
Joe shook his head yes, but she had her doubts. He asked, "Wouldyou come on in, Radcliffe?"
Concerned, Catherine followed him into his office and closed thedoor. Joe sat down behind his desk, still struggling with whateverthis was. Catherine said, "What's on your mind?"
Not looking at her, but at some point on the wall, Joe quietlyanswered. "I just came out of Moreno's.... He wanted to tell mesomething." He finally focused on her face. "Cathy, John isretiring."
"Yeah, I know. It hit me the same way. But it's nothing sudden forJohn; he's been working toward this for a few months -- clearing hiscalendar, discussing with the mayor. He has a deal set up with anuptown firm. He'll get a nice salary, and partnership offers in a fewyears, and they'll get the former District Attorney of Manhattan as arainmaker and prestige partner."
"It is hard to believe," Catherine said. "I thought John thrivedon the work."
Joe said, "He does; he told me so. But he finally got tired of thepolitical battles, so he's handing it off to someone else.
"Cathy, that's what the meeting was about. He told me that he putmy name at the top of his list of recommendations to the mayor tofill out his term. And his friends inside the selection committee sayI'll probably get it!"
"Joe, that's wonderful! When will you hear for sure?"
"It should be tomorrow afternoon the announcement is made. Morenotold me to be ready for a press conference on Friday."
Catherine smiled warmly. "Well, it'll be a shame to see John go,but I can't think of a better person for the job. Good luck!"
"Thanks," Joe said, eyeing her speculatively. "You know, if thishappens, I'll have to think about some changes."
"I can think of one right away...you'll have to find someplaceelse to hang your dartboard!"
Joe gave her a long-suffering look: "Very funny, Radcliffe. Don'tyou have some work to do instead of gabbing with me?"
Catherine could not help but laugh at his tone. "Yes, sir! Yousound like the boss already."
"Just getting practice, Radcliffe."
Catherine's good wishes for Joe paid off. The entire office wasglued to the television set as John Moreno held his press conferenceannouncing his retirement and appointing Joe to replace him. Then theother shoe fell on Monday.
Vincent was with Father inspecting Mouse's plans for his latestscheme. Mouse proposed a waterwheel along the banks of the GreatUnderground River to turn a motor and supplement the power carefullystolen from the Con Ed lines. Vincent was trying to think of a placewhere the Tunnels could scrounge the needed wood and cable when hesuddenly went rigid, staring into space.
"Vincent? Vincent!" Father called him back to the here and now."What is it?"
Vincent forced himself to focus on forming words instead of on thebond-sensation he felt. "It's Catherine," he whispered. "Somethinghas...thrown her into turmoil...into doubt."
"But is she safe?" Father asked, silently whispering a prayer.Catherine tried to insulate herself from dangerous situations sincethe days of Vincent's madness; still, the monsters of her world mightseek revenge upon her someday....
But Vincent nodded. "She is well, merely confused." He sighedheartily; their bond was such a miracle, yet at times like this itwas hard not to rush to her and discover what troubled her.
Fortunately, Father understood this. "And you wish to... allay herconfusion." Vincent remained silent, but the longing in his eyes ashe looked up was answer enough. "Well, you can do nothing now, butyou can tonight...or even this afternoon. Why not write a note to herand simply invite her down when she finishes for the day. Then youcan discuss it with her."
In a few minutes, Jeremy was on his way with Vincent's request.When he returned, he carried a reply: "The Park at 6:00. I want totalk about something. Love, Catherine."
Prompt as always, he was waiting with an embrace and kiss when shetripped open the curtain door in the Storm Drain. Greetings wereexchanged and small talk made as they walked together; nothing wassaid about what bothered her. But, instead of heading for the HomeChambers, Catherine turned aside to the path leading to the TripleFalls. Vincent was not surprised; she knew of his fondness forthinking and talking there. Perhaps she sought comfort from thatplace herself.
They seated themselves on the Far Perch to watch the distantcascades. After a time in silence together, Catherine spoke up. "Youknow that something happened today. Remember that I told you Joe hasbeen promoted? Today, he asked me to consider taking over asassistant D.A."
Now he understood. "And you are having trouble deciding."Catherine nodded, and Vincent went on: "It's a wonderfulopportunity."
"I know," she moaned. "It would give me chances I can't find whereI am now. I would have more say in what direction we move, who we goafter...."
"Then you should accept if this much good may come of it."
"There's a cost, Vincent," Catherine said darkly.
Vincent took her shoulder in a gentle squeeze. "I know.... Therewill be less time together for us if you accept."
She nodded, her eyes misting over at his touch and the knowledgeof his sympathy. "I'm torn, Vincent, torn between duty and friendshipto Joe, and my love for you! I want justice, but I want a privatelife, too. Is that too much to ask?" She kicked at a loose stone infrustration, watching the chunk of granite fly off the ledge and plopinto the water below their seat.
Vincent sighed silently. He had long ago vowed that he wouldpersonally slay any dragon that crossed her path; but these wyrmswere particularly nasty, and fate had chosen not to make his job aneasy one. Still, he would do what he could. "Would you like someadvice?" he offered, still holding her shoulder.
"You want the truth?" Catherine replied, turning back to face himwith moist green eyes that threatened to spill over. "I'd like you totell me, 'No, Catherine; I cannot stand the thought of more time lostfor us, and you should just plain quit.'" She gave him a waterysmile, trying to make light of her words. But he could tell theseriousness she truly felt underneath. Part of her really did wanthim to say that.
Once again he sighed, audibly this time, and smiled quietly ather. "Sometimes I want to say that to you.... We share something noother pair knows, yet it is not enough. I want you beside me as wellas within me so often, yet it is not always possible.
"But I understand and accept this...and I don't let it interferewith the time we do have together. It rather makes what time we shareall the more precious.
"I don't ask you to refuse an opportunity, or demand that youleave your job. To do so would interfere with your lifeunjustly...and if you gave in to such a demand, it would lessen you.Your work, your desire for justice, is a part of why I love you. Ifyou set your work aside on a whim, without thinking carefully, youwould regret it in the end."
"Then you're saying I should take the offer?"
"All I say is that it is your choice in the end. I'm glad youwished to discuss it with me...that you felt it affected me too, asit does. And I will advise you, if you wish.... But the finaldecision must be made by you, nobody else."
Catherine reached up to clasp his hand, still resting gently onher shoulder. Staring off to the falls, she said, "I guess life wasnever meant to be easy, was it? Our life especially."
"Perhaps.... But please know this, Catherine. Whatever yourchoice, to accept or not, I will support you...and love you."
As she faced him again, she could see the devotion burning in hiseyes, and knew what he said was the simple truth: he would be therefor her, unconditionally. She smiled for the first time thatafternoon. "Have I told you lately just how much I love you?" shesaid.
"Yes," he replied, smiling in return, "but I wouldn't mind hearingit again." She finally laughed then, and leaned over for a hug and along kiss. Afterwards, Vincent asked, "Would you like to talk moreabout it?"
Catherine considered for a moment, but shook her head. "No; you'reright. This is my decision to make, and I think I can do it now. Ijust...needed my balance restored a little.... I'd like to be bymyself for a while, if you don't mind."
Vincent nodded, rising instantly. "We will save some supper foryou." He passed his hand through her hair, kissed its top anddeparted, leaving her to stare across the water and think.
That Friday, Vincent and Father found themselves standing in theWhispering Gallery. Vincent prowled up and down the bridge as Fatherchecked his watch and said, "It's almost time." Suddenly, Vincentstopped at one point, cocked his head to listen. Nodding, he said,"Here, Father." Jacob hobbled over and stood beside his son; theyspoke no further, but concentrated on the sounds from the WorldAbove, borne on the winds.
"Are you ready to take the oath of office?"
"Yes, I am."
"Then please place your left hand on the Bible and raise yourright, and repeat after me.... Do you solemnly swear...."
"I, Catherine Julia Chandler, do solemnly swear...."
"That you will uphold the Constitutions of the United States andthe State of New York...."
"That I will uphold the Constitutions of the United States and theState of New York...."
"And the Charter of the City of New York...."
"And the Charter of the City of New York...."
Catherine had asked for this one favor when she accepted Joe's joboffer: to be sworn in on the porch of Gracie Mansion, so that Vincentcould "be" with her as much as possible. Now he stood here in theGallery with Father, staring into the stone of the chamber, listeningwith his ears as Catherine spoke, listening with his heart to thedetermination that sang in hers. He knew what this cost her; but healso knew that she had come to terms with the cost, and accepted itas a part of her life.
"So help me God."
"Congratulations, Ms. Chandler."
The confused sound of applause rose then. Vincent glanced down atFather, smiling quietly, then back at the vision within him. And he,too, whispered, "Congratulations, Ms. Chandler."
Catherine's workload almost doubled, as she feared, yet skillfuluse of her new privileges allowed her to keep her head above thesurface. Her time with Vincent suffered, but she compromised byfrequently bringing work Below with her to finish, often withVincent's help. His sharp intelligence and logic made him a greatasset, and Catherine privately believed that he would have been afantastic trial attorney if fate had allowed otherwise.
Laura, too, was busier than she had ever been -- and enjoyingalmost every minute of it.
Scott Eccles' show launched her career like a space shuttle risingfrom the pad. Half of the displayed pieces sold that night, atgreatly higher prices than before. And the news of a breaking artistspread quickly; Eccles never told Laura before the show, lest shebecome so nervous that she stayed away, that a newspaper critic wouldbe attending. That critic left impressed, and his review of Laura inhis next column was most flattering.
Within a few days, a steady flow of clients came into the gallery,looking for the work of Laura Williams. Her reputation wasestablished, and she set out to fulfill it, quitting her job with Samat the newsstand. It was not without regret, for he had been a goodfriend and a help to her in the bad days. Sam, though, understood herdrive, and wished her the best of luck.
The area she traveled in to find subjects expanded as she soughtinspiration; instead of only Queens, she now went into Manhattan andBrooklyn, Staten Island and the Village -- from the Battery almost tothe Cloisters. The size of her activities grew as well, until she hadoutgrown the corner in their apartment. So she asked Newel Andrewsfor advice; he suggested another young woman, Michael Rubens, who wasalso looking for a larger place to work.
Michael was a hearing woman who, like Jerry, was a child of deafparents, and signed as well as spoke. The two women hit it off fromthe start, and quickly found a studio in an artists' co-op that theycould split the rent on. They not only worked well together, butMichael served as Laura's intermediary; she interpreted in person andover the studio phone, and delivered messages from the answeringmachine when any were left for Laura.
Her income kept growing until she and Jerry could afford to moveto a new apartment in a better neighborhood. And along with moremoney came invitations to parties and openings, which she frequentlyaccepted. She always asked Jerry to accompany her, and he came alongwillingly the first few times. But he would leave feelinguncomfortable, while Laura blended in easily with her new friends. Sohe began begging off as much as possible for various reasons, mainlywork. He never mentioned to her his real feelings, for he did notwish to hurt her with a blatant refusal.
Laura usually understood his absence; she had lived with Jerrylong enough to know that a police detective's schedule was oftenirregular. Yet, as the frequency of Jerry's turndowns increased, itbegan to sting. The demands and enjoyment of her new career cut intotheir time together; she often missed his companionship. Now, whenshe came home, he would often be long asleep or not in the mood forlovemaking. But she said nothing about it, for she, too, did not wantto hurt his feelings.
And then, as time passed by, she noticed it less and less. It wasnot intentional, and it had nothing to do with Jerry; Laura wassimply focusing more and more on the world she was creating forherself. She frequently worked past suppertime, until there was nomore natural light. Even on Sundays, which she tried to reserve forherself, she found it hard to resist popping up to the studio for anhour or two. The growing distance between them drifted gradually fromher thoughts as her independent life enlarged.
Except for one night which happened to be restless for her. Jerrywas working late and had not returned home when she went to bed. Butsleep eluded her; she could not stop thinking about an importantmeeting coming up the next day at the gallery. So she was awake tosee the glow of the living room lights come on, reflected in thevanity mirror from under the doorjamb. They flickered at first inJerry's signal, stayed on for a few minutes, then snapped off. Amoment later Jerry's shape appeared in the mirror as he came in; hebegan to undress near the closet. A shaft of light from the windowrevealed his face, and the thoughts written there.
Laura tingled with excitement and desire. It had been weeks sincethey made love! Tonight would make up for that. Indeed, she could seethe same need in his eyes within the reflection as he made his way tothe bed. The mattress grumbled as he lowered himself onto it. Theshadow of his arm stretched out toward her; she closed her eyes then,anticipating the sweet sensation within her body of his touch.
But it never came. Laura finally opened her eyes, puzzled, and shegazed once more into the mirror for her lover. Jerry washalf-reclining now, holding himself up on his arms. His face wasagain lit from the street, but now the desire was overlaid withlonging, disappointment... bitterness??
She reached out to snap on the nightstand lamp, wincing andgroaning at the shock of the light on her eyes. She turned over toJerry to ask, Is anything wrong?
In the time it had taken her to accustom her eyes, Jerry's facehad become carefully neutral. He answered, "No, nothing's wrong. Ihope I didn't wake you up."
Laura shook her head. I couldn't sleep, been lying here awhile.I've been thinking of what we could do when you got home, she addedtemptingly.
"Not tonight, I think. It was a long night, and I'm tired."
She raised her hand to continue the conversation, then hesitated amoment and nodded. Good night, she said, giving him a light kiss onthe cheek, and she turned out the light again. However, while Jerryquickly dropped off to sleep, Laura was still restless...now fordifferent reasons. And as he lay there, with his back turned to her,her hand crept toward him, hesitated to touch, and finally drewback.
There's a wall growing between us; why? she thought. Shesearched within herself, but found no answers, so she resolved totalk to Jerry in the morning, one way or another.
The next morning Michael called to remind Laura of theappointment. All thought of talking over problems fled from her mindas she rushed to get ready.
If Laura and Jerry had spoken to each other then of their growingdistance, their life together might have been different. Instead,they held their silence, and so the pressure grew until somethingreleased it.
The beginning of the end came in the late part of the next year.Laura returned home to the apartment one Friday, excited about herconversation with Scott Eccles that afternoon. She shut the door,hung up her bag and went to tell him the news.
He was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and readingover a case file. He looked up as she came in. Seeing the glow in hereyes, he said, "Hey, something good must have happened."
Laura's grin widened further as she sat down. She said, I wastalking with Scott. He says he's ready to do another show with me,and we scheduled it.
She was so excited that she did not notice Jerry's face close atfirst. But, as she finished, she distinctly caught the new tensenessin him; his mouth was flat, and he averted his eyes. "No, thanks," hereplied, "I don't think I can make it."
Jerry's lack of enthusiasm brought Laura up short. She frowned inperplexity. In the meantime, he had turned back to his file; sheshook his arm to get his attention. Why, Jerry? I haven't even toldyou the date yet.
"I just don't know if I can make it. Something might come up; younever can tell. They could suddenly call me in."
And how often do they call you in? They don't need you so muchthat you don't dare plan in advance.
"I don't want to figure on that, Laura. I'm sorry; maybe it'll bedifferent when the show comes around." He started returning hisattention to the file, but was stopped by her hand clutching hiswrist -- hard. He looked back up, into brown eyes now flashing withanger, something Jerry rarely saw in Laura. Her signs turned abruptand choppy as she demanded, Why are you doing this? Why are youshutting me out??
"What are you talking about? I'm not shutting you out!"
Then why aren't you telling me the truth? But he remained silent,struggling with his thoughts. Laura refused to drop the subject;WHY!
Jerry's temper finally snapped at that. "Because I don't want togo!!" he shouted back, whipping his hands viciously. "I don't knowhow to get along with this crowd of yours, and I can't adjust tothem."
She stared, stunned, at him. But you got along fine before --
"Did I? Do you ever see me talking with anyone at these things? Orwere you too busy getting on with your new friends to notice me?"
What do you mean? Just because I'm having a good time and talkingwith other people doesn't mean I'm ignoring you!
"How about time after time? You're ignoring me, shutting meout...out of your life."
I try to take you with me every time. I can't help it if you don'tlike to come!
"Yeah," Jerry said sarcastically, "to your parties andget-togethers. You don't have time for any of our old friends,either."
Laura tried to explain: I have other things to do, commitments tocomplete --
"And you keep at them so long that I hardly see you anymore!Laura, since your art took off, you hardly have time for anythingelse. When it was a hobby it was all right, but it's an obsessionnow!"
That shot hit too close to a vital spot. Any thoughts ofconciliation were given up. No, it's not -- it's a career! It's mycareer!! It's something I've needed for a long time, and if you thinkI'll set it aside, you're mistaken. I love you, Jerry, but not somuch that I'll stifle my life for your sake!
It was Jerry's turn to be rocked by his partner's anger. "I don'twant you to stop completely," he said, "I just want it to be like itwas before."
Right, she said with a derisive glare. You only want me to cutback on something that gives me individuality, a life outside you andyour caring arms. Well, I don't need you to care for me like that,thank you! I can take care of myself now.
"How??? You even need Michael to answer the phone at the studio!You'll always need someone to help you out, just like my parentsdid."
Not in the smothering way you're thinking of. The times havechanged on that from the days of your parents. You learn to cope, andI've learned!! I may need some help, but I'm not a china doll to bekept on a shelf.
Jerry stared at Laura for a few moments, then he said, "Fine! Youwant to take care of yourself? Be my guest. You can start now -- I'mgone!" He pushed past her and strode out of the kitchen, leaving astartled Laura in his wake.
It took a second before her mind kicked in and made her rush tothe kitchen doorway. She saw Jerry pulling his jacket on savagely andthrow open the front door. In her desperation to stop him, she calledout, "Jeh-y!" But he either ignored her or was too angry to listen.The door slammed shut hard enough for her to feel the shock wave ofdisturbed air.
Catherine groaned in relief as she lay on Vincent's bed. It hadbeen a long week, leaving her wound up tight. Then again, it wasoften like that lately; ah, the joys of Fighting Evil! Vincent,caring as ever, was now gently massaging the tension from her backand neck, careful not to scratch her or snag her blouse with hisclaws. The backrub, usually followed by both of them swimming in thethermal pools, was turning into a weekend tradition forthem...indeed, the beginning of a most pleasant tradition.
"I'm meeting some interesting people on this case I'm workingon...." Catherine said as she relaxed under Vincent's fingers."Including the special detective who is investigating for the police.Her name is Diana Bennett, and she's...extraordinary. There's a lookin her eyes every time I meet her...."
"What is it?" Vincent paused, curious as she faded off.
She shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know for sure. I was going tosay that they remind me of you at times, but your eyes are sopeaceful. Hers are deeply sad. She's very private; I've never beenable to ask her about it."
"I'm sure you will find a way to eventually. You have a way ofmaking people release their pain."
"I'll admit that, right now, I only have one person's pain on mymind...and the pain is right through the shoulder blades."
She heard Vincent chuckle as he gently worked strong thumbs overher muscles. Then he said, "There is an easier way to do this,Catherine."
"Take off your blouse."
She smiled to herself with both humor and joy. If he had said thatto her a few years ago, her jaw would have dropped through the stonefloor of the chamber. That he was at ease now with seeing her nakedwas one of the miracles of their new life together. Of course -- andthis was the funny part -- he only had the backrub on his mind rightnow. Even today, comfortable as he was now with flirting, there wasrarely a double meaning to his words. In desire and love, as in allelse in Vincent's life with her, he was completely above theboard.
Ah, well.... There was always later.
Out in the corridor, a pipe rang with Vincent's identity code. Hefroze again to concentrate on the message. Catherine listened too,catching some of it, but even now not adept at all the complexintricacies of pipecode. She became more puzzled when she sawVincent's eyes darken in concern. She said, "All I heard wassomeone's coming down. What was the rest?"
"It's Laura who is coming. Pascal said that her hand soundeddifferent as she was sending the message. She is coming to see me."He crossed the room to scoop his cloak out of the wardrobe. "I'mgoing to meet her; something may be wrong."
"Wait," Catherine cried out as he started away, "I'm coming too!"She quickly pulled on her sweater while Vincent tapped anacknowledgement to Pascal.
It did not take them long to find Laura. Within ten minutes theyturned a corner and saw her walking across the Bridge of Souls in theWhispering Gallery. One look at the pain in her face brought themhurrying up to her.
Laura grabbed Catherine as soon as she came close enough, almostcrushed her in a hug that Catherine returned automatically. She didnot need to turn to Vincent to show her concern. The women stoodthere in that embrace for a few minutes, until Catherine tapped Lauraon the back to get her attention and released her. "Tell us what'shappened."
"What do you mean; where has he gone?"
He's left me! Laura flung back, wanting to scream at her; didn'tthe whole world know? Couldn't they understand her pain just bylooking?
"Laura," Vincent said, stepping in, "come down with us. Perhaps itwill be easier below for you to speak."
Laura nodded yes; she let Catherine put an arm around hershoulders and fell into step behind Vincent. The three went toFather's chamber and sat at the Council table, where they graduallycoaxed the story of the fight with Jerry out. When Laura finished,she asked, What's happened to us? Why are we so bitter with eachother now?
"Because your lives are not adjusting to each other's," Vincentsaid after a moment's silence. "There is a part of you that is socaught up in your new world...that it has blinded you to Jerry'sneeds. But it is not just you...part of him is afraid that he'll loseyou completely...because you now have a life beyond him."
What am I to do, then? I do love him, but I want to be myself aswell.
Catherine glanced at Vincent, shook her head and sighed: "If thetwo of you can...find a middle ground, where you're both happy, thenmaybe it can be as it was before. You'll have to think hard aboutwhat you really want...and then talk with Jerry."
"He will listen if he truly loves you," Vincent added. "You havetold us often of his love; perhaps this is the test of it."
Vincent and Catherine led the way to a spare chamber for thenight, for Laura turned down Catherine's offer of using herapartment, preferring to stay with "family" for now. They left hercurled up on the bed in a borrowed nightgown from the Tunnel "guestchest," and returned to Vincent's chamber, lost in thought until theywere nestled together on his bed. Then Vincent asked, "Which is moreimportant, Catherine.... To be true to yourself, or to yourlove?"
Catherine gave him a wry smile. "Are you talking about Laura, youand me, the world at large, or just women in general?" At Vincent'sbewildered stare, she went on. "I'm sure you know that each person isa different case; when they must choose what to give priority intheir life, their decision will be each for their own reasons. Butwomen are in a worse position in my world. Life Above is so complexfor a woman...whether to have a career or children, to work or stayhome...that many feel guilty or torn even after they choose.
"You and I went through this on the day I was offered thepromotion, remember? I thank God you were so supportive of methen.... You made it much easier for me to accept the job, and thecompromises that came with it."
"How could I do otherwise? Your happiness is mine." He hugged hercloser to his chest in demonstration. "And Laura?"
She remained quiet, but the intensity of her troubled thoughtsincreased within his mind.
Catherine went back Above the next morning to call Jerry. Thephone at their apartment was picked up on the first ring: "Hello! IsLaura there???"
"Jerry, this is Cathy. Laura's all right; she's been with me at afriend's all night."
"Thank God! I've been worried sick all this time. I triedeverywhere I could think of."
"She wanted some time to get over the fight -- "
Jerry interrupted sheepishly, "She told you about it all?"
"Yes, she did," Catherine said, "and she wanted to do somethinking about things...about her and you."
Silence at the other end before tenseness and fear crept intoJerry's voice. "And what's she decided?"
"She wants to talk with you about it. Can you meet us in the Parkin front of Hans Christian Andersen at three?"
"I'll be there."
"And, Jerry.... Between now and then, you need to think sometoo...about where you want your relationship to go, and how muchyou're willing to work for it."
There was another silence before she heard a quiet "Okay.Good-bye, Cathy," and the click as he hung up.
The statue of Andersen, the Danish storyteller, was a favoriteamong children who played in Central Park. The sitting figure's broadlap made a wonderful perch to climb into and look over the worldduring the spring and summer. Mid-November, though, was usually tooblustery for such antics -- at least the parents said so. This day,however, was only chilly, not windy, and just a light touch of snowcoated Andersen's lap, easily brushed aside with a gloved hand.
Laura did so now and pulled herself up into the bronze seat. Itappeared to Catherine that Laura's face and eyes were as neutral andlifeless seeming, as she sat there looking around her, as the baretrees and patches of brown grass of the landscape. Then, gradually,her expression softened as something came to her. Eventually shesigned, I used to come up to the Park to play when I was little. Thiswas one of my favorite places. I used to get up here and pretendsigning to him, and he'd understand me. I'd imagine him telling allhis stories to me...speaking to me, and I'd hear every word! It wasfun...no worries, no problems, Father and Vincent Below waiting forme...and a friend here Above who understood everything in me.
But you have to grow up, don't you? And things are never simpleagain.... Especially once you fall in love. Desperately, she asked,How do you and Vincent do it, Catherine? How do you keeptogether?
Catherine shrugged. "It hasn't been easy; you know that. We almostgave up a hundred times. It took courage and pain, and a lot ofluck...and love that wouldn't die. We never thought we'd share a bed,or make love physically... and here we are! In the end, we learned tosimply let our live exist."
The click of heels came to Catherine's ears; she turned and sawJerry approaching up the sidewalk. Laura had followed her gaze andwas now stiff with tension. She slid down from her seat, came overbeside Catherine as Jerry stopped in front of them. Catherine noddedhello to him, said, "I'll leave you alone," and walked down the patha distance.
Uncomfortable silence hung behind for a moment as they stared ateach other, until Laura finally sketched a Hello to Jerry. "Hi," hereplied, then, hesitantly, "You doing okay?" She nodded yes; You?
"Yeah.... Laura.... I'm sorry if I hurt you yesterday. I loveyou... I don't want to lose you, ever. I was acting like a damnedfool; please forgive me."
You had cause to.
"Not that much. If you'll...if you'll have me back, I think Icould learn to live with your career."
A shudder passed through her, and she closed her eyes andswallowed hard before replying, No.
To Jerry, it seemed as if something exploded in his head at thatone word. "No??" He reached out for her, but she stopped his handsand drew back. Finally, he fumbled out, "Why?"
Because it would not be fair to you. Jerry, beyond the pain andthe hurt, there was truth in what we both said last night. You wereright -- I've spent more time in my artwork than I did with you. Ishut you out of my life more and more as I went deeper into thecareer. And it hurt you, badly.
What I said was right, too. The way you've loved me until now hasbeen a choking way. You wanted to keep me safe, to make sure nobodyhurt me or made me cry. You preferred me to never do anything formyself, earn any money unless I had to -- I'd be dependent on you.And I rebelled against that.
"Yes," Jerry said, "and we can see that now. We can learn to workwith each other so our life is balanced."
No! Laura insisted. You can -- maybe. But I've been searchingmyself. I can find love for you; I can find a need for you; yet thisnew life I've also found is just as important.... She drew a deepbreath before adding, Maybe more so.
Jerry turned away, trying to control the pounding in his head andache in his chest. It was some time before he could face her again,and only with an effort. "Please...won't you at least try? There arepeople out there with careers who have made it work! Why are you sodifferent from them?"
Laura trembled, but not from the cold. Because I know me.... I putall of myself into my art, and it's at your expense. I could handleboth you and the career equally for a while. Eventually, though, I'dlose control, lose perspective again...at your expense. I need you,Jerry, but I need my art and my freedom more right now. We shouldleave before we truly hurt each other.
Jerry made to say more; Laura caught his hands again, shaking herhead. She took him into her arms and hugged him tightly. Then, beforeher determination broke, she let go and strode quickly away, towardthe waiting Catherine. As she came up, Catherine said, "Are you allright?"
No, Laura responded, then quickly added, Let's get back Belowbefore I start crying in public, and rushed off. Catherine lookedback to Jerry; he was staring after Laura as she hurried down thepath. It may have been only sun-gleam from a shiny face, butCatherine thought she saw a sparkling point on his cheek.
"My heart was breaking for them both, Vincent," she said to himthat night, curled up in his arms on his bed as she finished thestory. "I tried not to read their signing, but I couldn't help it;and I could see their faces as well. I couldn't stay to talk toJerry; Laura was moving so quickly that I had to run to keep up withher. I did catch a look at him.... I think he was devastated."
"His world had crumbled about him," Vincent said moodily. "I canimagine how he must have felt...the pain...the emptiness."
"I know that...and what you're thinking of," and she held him moretightly. The years of their "courtship" had been rocky, and neithercould deny that their occasional separations seemed like smalldeaths. "We always came back together, though," she went on. "But Iwonder if Laura and Jerry ever will?"
They stared into the candle flames flickering on Vincent's desk,until he suddenly recalled something. "Someone once said that youcannot make love work...you must let it work. We are proof ofthat."
Catherine slowly nodded. Some of their worst times had been whenthey fought against the bounds of the relationship. Vincent's doubtsover his worthiness for her, clashing with his normal desire,especially created pain. Only when he gave up struggling with himselfand simply let his love be did they move past the final barriers,into full intimacy.
That was what Laura meant in the Park. She saw that trying to maketheir love work by a forced compromise would tear them farther apartin the end. Better to end the pain now than worsen it in the future,making them forget what happiness they had known. Catherine finallysaid, "We are so lucky to have figured that out, aren't we?"
A knock sounded from the doorway; Laura stood there, wrapped in anafghan shawl. In the golden candlelight the lovers saw her puffycheeks and red eyes; she had been crying for some time afterreturning Below. Am I interrupting? she signed. Vincent shook hishead no and waved her over to a chair.
I just wanted to ask a few things, she said, settling in. I wouldlike to stay for a little while longer, until Jerry has a chance tomove out of the apartment. I'd be willing to let him have it, but hecan't afford to live there by himself.
"You're welcome to stay for as long as you wish," Vincent said,speaking gently as he signed; "...but are you trying to avoidJerry?"
Laura shrugged slightly as she replied, Maybe in part.... But itis really less painful for us both. She faced Catherine. Would youmind calling him to tell him he can take his time moving?
"Of course. I'll do it tomorrow," Catherine said. Laura nodded,said Thank you, and started rising to go; but Catherine checked herwith a touch on the wrist. "How are you doing now?"
Confusion was uppermost on Laura's face as she thought about it.Hesitantly, she said, I don't...I don't really know. It's all ajumble, what I'm feeling...sadness, pain.... But there ismore...things that I am afraid of.
Like release...and excitement! Why is this?
"Perhaps because your problem is solved, hard as it was to do,"Vincent said. "This has plagued you for a long time. Now that it isover, it no longer troubles you."
Maybe, Laura said thoughtfully, but she set consideration asidefor later; other things came to mind. I wonder if either of us wasreally more to blame for this.
Catherine looked at her in puzzlement. "I guess this may soundcruel, but does it really matter?"
Probably not. Maybe I'm just wanting someone to say I am not atfault. I keep going over it, looking for an answer. And it bothers methat perhaps we could have found it again if I gave it a chance.
"You seemed to understand it this afternoon. What you said toJerry was true and honest."
It was. The things we did made us feel as if we were in eachother's shadow. But was it enough to break up over? She sighed andshook her head. Perhaps I'll understand one day. Then she smiledwryly and added, You know, I have you to blame in a way.
Vincent was shocked by Laura's words; then he was even moresurprised when he felt not anger through the bond, but a small lacingof sadness and guilt, mirrored in Catherine's face. She said, "Iknow. If I hadn't suggested that you sell your paintings, you andJerry might still be together."
Hold it! I was joking; I don't blame you at all. It was not a veryfunny joke, I guess. But you could grin a little; please? shemock-pleaded.
It was impossible to resist. Catherine slowly grinned, then shechuckled. Laura nodded in relief, then frowned slightly and signed,Jerry and I were starting to drift apart even before this. I thinkthe career simply speeded it up. I have been searching for somethingever since I moved Above; I might have found it by myself eventually.She shrugged. Anyway, 'might have been' doesn't matter. We are apartnow. I hurt now. Yet I must go on now; if I let the hurt stop me, itwill have been useless...in vain.
Vincent smiled proudly at her. "Father was once afraid that theWorld Above would batter and break you. But I think you have justproved that fear groundless. It has made you stronger. I wish it wasnot this way...but you will endure."
Laura smiled sadly, nodding her head in thanks. Embracing themboth, she left for her own chamber.
Laura did endure the pain of leaving Jerry. Her next show, the onethat caused the fight, was even more successful than her first, andher reputation as one of the finest artists in the City was cemented.As the years passed, her pieces became the pride of many collectionsand competitions. And she continued as a Helper, supplying theTunnels with both goods and teaching; she possessed the gift ofimparting Elizabeth's skills as well as using them, and many Tunnelchildren benefited from her instructions.
It took time, and Laura passed through a few affairs first, butshe eventually found love again. He was a man who understood andrespected her complexity: a woman, a deaf person, and a gifted artistwith a driving need to grow and challenge herself. But, until thisman came to her, she kept a custom; she insisted that the name ofGerald Burowski be placed on the guest list at the door of her shows.And a part of her always hoped that, someday, her interpreter wouldsay that he was calling on the phone for her. In a sense, Laura wasstill in his shadow, and would probably always be.