“Moonlight Part One – Catherine” first appeared in a special WFOL project on Carole W’s website several years ago. There was always meant to be a “Moonlight Part Two – Vincent”, and the anniversary celebration on “Catherine’s Balcony” seemed the right time for it to be written. 

 

 

Moonlight

Part One -- Catherine

By Linda S Barth

 

Late at night, unable to sleep, she sits alone on the balcony of her apartment, far above the city streets, lost in darkness but for the fragile light cast by one small candle.  She huddles on a hard wrought-iron bench, a worn patchwork quilt wrapped around her for a bit of warmth. But the welcome sensationsevoked by the timeworn softness of frayed velvet and threadbare wool, the phantom fragrance of wood smoke and candle wax, cannot shelter her from the chill within her heart. 

How could she have been so careless, so oblivious to the impact her thoughtless words would have?  She knows him, she knows his heart and she knows his pain.  She knows all too well how difficult it had been to gain his trust, and how incredible to have earned that rare gift, how precious to be allowed to sometimes see the world through his eyes.  And yet for those few brief seconds she had forgotten it all.

She closes her eyes, desperate to elude the memory even for a moment, but there is no escaping it.  She can see the glint of raindrops from an early evening storm still glistening on the dark leaves of the trees; she can hear the faint and faraway sounds of traffic and voices in a city that is never truly still even late at night, and the sound of their footsteps crunching softly on the gravel paths of the park.  She remembers the cool, clear night that had offered a rare opportunity for them to be Above and alone, away from the demands of his world and the disruptions of hers, a cherished moment that had merged those disparate worlds into a special place that was theirs alone, even if only for a little while.

And she had ruined it.

She opens her eyes, unable to resist the force that makes her tilt her head back to search out the light of the full moon glowing softly and indistinctly in the ambient light of the city. It had seemed so much brighter, so much clearer only the night before.  The eternal moon – such an ordinary thing really – so unremarkable that it might easily go unnoticed by most.  But not by all.

She forces herself to relive the moment, to relive the pain it left behind.  She remembers it all because she cannot allow herself to forget.

They had ventured off the path, their footsteps muffled in the soft wet grass. She had turned to say something – what had it been, what did it matter now – only to find herself alone.  Turning quickly, she found that he had stopped abruptly near a rose garden several paces behind her and now stood staring skyward, a look of wonder and enchantment on his unique face. 

She’d retraced her steps to stand beside him, but he hadn’t turned his gaze to her, his focus unbroken and serene, a slow smile curving the lines of his mouth.  She’d looked upwards and then back at him, secretly reveling in the sight of that rare expression on his face, yet uncertain as to what had inspired it.

“That’s a mysterious smile,” she had said, softly touching his arm in an effort to regain his attention. “What do you see?”

“Look – the moon,” he had replied, letting his gaze sweep from the heavens to the beloved sight of her face, drinking in the fond and quizzical smile she offered him. “Catherine, can you remember the first time you saw the moon?”

Tears fill the woman’s eyes, blurring her view of the moon still gleaming above her but not to the shame and pain in her heart.  She hears her thoughtless answer, made even more reprehensible by the careless laughter that accompanied it.

“Who would remember something like that?”

He had hesitated only a moment and then answered, “I would,” in that rapt and raspy voice that always stirred her to the soul.  “Someday I will tell you about it. For me it had been only a dream…a dream that somehow came true.”

In a heartbeat she had realized how foolish and unintentionally cruel her question had been, and she spoke quickly, desperate to push them past that appalling moment.

“And was it a beautiful dream?”

“Yes, at first,” he had murmured. “But not all dreams have happy endings.”

The memory does not fade as the woman shudders in her place of fragile sanctuary and pulls the quilt more tightly around her shoulders.  It is her dearest wish to always bring happiness to this beloved man, to offer him light and warmth, to replace his lifelong isolation with the understanding that he is loved and cherished and will never be alone again. But she knows that this time she has failed. With one thoughtless comment, she reminded him of his undeniable differences, of the lifelong chasm that stretched between his world and hers.

“I’m sorry, Vincent,” she whispers into the chilled night air. “I’m so sorry.”

She bows her head as tears trace a path along her face. He had dreamed of a chance to see the beauty of the moon, just one of so many fragmentary moments of ordinary life that she and countless others take for granted. Yet the chance to experience such moments is a priceless gift to someone who has never had any reason to believe they would be within his reach.  She sees again the rapturous look on his face as he gazed at the moon and knows without a doubt that she will do anything to help him to feel that way again. 

She feels an unexpected sense of hope struggling to suppress the sadness and shame in her heart.  She will make it right. Never again will she be so unthinking as to remind him of all the things he believes he will never see or do or be. She will find a way to give him a reason to dream, to replace endless darkness with the promise of light. Yet she sighs, unwilling and unable to fool herself into believing she can provide little more than moments. But maybe that will be enough to begin offering the world to a man who had never asked for anything at all.

What will she offer him? There is so much he’d been denied, so many experiences he might gather to himself like unexpected miracles if given the chance.  Her mind whirls with chaotic ideas and half-formed thoughts of how and what, where and when.  Endless possibilities she wishes to bring to him, and equally endless barriers to each and every one. And yet…and yet…

She remembers an evening not long ago in his candlelit chamber Below as he’d read to her from a favorite volume of Blake’s poetry.  Even now she hears his voice. 

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.

They were such beautifully evocative words that spoke of moments, brief and ephemeral, yet rich with depth and meaning for those whose hearts are open, for those whose eyes can truly see.  And those moments, linked together, one after another, could fill a lifetime for him, for them.

A damp breeze swirls across the terrace, making the flame of the single candle flicker and dim before glistening once again. Light, even such a small uncertain flame, she thinks, can be a beacon in the darkness, can chase away fear and loneliness and pain. She watches its dancing light and remembers a time when her childhood fears were banished by a tiny candle’s glow, forcing suffocating darkness to surrender to light and love. 

At last the woman smiles, reliving that first time a candle had chased away the darkness around her. It had been on a stormy night at their country home when she’d awakened from a nightmare to find her mother smiling down at her and telling her that the light of a candle would chase those night terrors away.  And it had.  They had vanished into the peace of a summer night in Connecticut, just as her mother had promised.

The woman gazes at the little candle shimmering in its glass globe on the table before her. She sees in its steady flame another image within her heart, a sensation of light that once seemed too fragile to survive.  Would he ever realize how much light his love had brought into her life, she wondered. Would she ever be able to make him understand that it, that he, was all she’d ever wanted?

Her smile grows brighter and her heart lifts.  She needs to offer tangible proof, no matter how impossible it seems or how many obstacles they will have to overcome.  Through her love, she will give him the literal gift of light, not only the moon on a clear and beautiful country night, but the sun at dawn gleaming on the springtime beauty of new leaves and budding flowers, the brilliance of noonday summer light that he has never seen, the crimson and golden rays of sunset gilding the surface of the lake.  This time their dream will not be surrendered to the shadows of his world or hers.

She will give him fragments of her world, and she will banish the darkness in every way possible. But far beyond that, and far more precious, they will always give each other the love in their hearts, the love that will never dim or fade.

They will share the light.


 

Moonlight

Part Two – Vincent

By Linda S Barth

 

Late at night, unable to sleep, he walks alone far beneath the city streets, through tunnels carved from bedrock, his way illuminated by flickering torches, the silence broken only by the measured muffled sound of his footsteps on the worn stone pathways. His ever-present cloak glides over his body, and he thinks he can sense emanating from its folds the secret scent of rain and roses. The sensation sends shivers through him, and as they recede, he longs to call them back, to revel just once more in everything they represent, everything he wishes to remember always.

He reaches his destination and gazes down into the water of the Mirror Pool, miraculously full of shimmering reflections of the moon and stars that light the night sky somewhere far from his home. He knows that for all their splendor they are merely phantoms.  And he knows, too, that their beautiful light cannot begin to compare with the very real and precious glow that lives forever in his heart. That she loves him, cherishes him, has pledged her heart to him is the true miracle, the light that guides him always.

He smiles, unaware of the way the curving of his mouth transforms his fierce beauty into an image suffused with contentment and joy.  He closes his eyes, eager to recall a recent memory, one he will never tire of, never lose. He can still see the rain-wet leaves gleaming in the light of the streetlamps; he can hear the distant sounds of the city humming relentlessly and the gravel shifting under their feet as they stroll along the pathways of the park. But far more intensely, he can still see her lovely face as she smiled up at him; he can hear the melodious tone of her voice; he can feel her hand gently touching his arm.

It was perfect.

He opens his eyes, but still sees only his beloved, a more miraculous sight surely than even the remembered wonder of a full moon suspended in the urban darkness far above them. How he’d marveled at his first sight of it so many years ago, how it amazes him still. And how grateful he is to have been able to share it with her.

He eagerly relives the moment, savoring the wonder and joy it has left behind, another memory to be taken out and blissfully relived time and time again.  He will never allow himself to forget.

They had wandered from the path, treading softly on the rain-dampened grass near a garden of early summer roses.  For just a moment, his attention wandered from her as he looked up to find his gaze captured by a different array of luminous beauty. He’d stopped and stared skyward, lost in the sight of something that to him was still precious and rare.

She had walked on, then quickly returned to his side.  Reaching out to rest her hand on his arm, she had sought to turn his attention back to her. “That’s a mysterious smile,” she had said. “What did you see?”

“Look – the moon,” he had replied, as he smiled down at her, willingly let his gaze turn from one miraculous sight to another.  Although he knew it was impossible in the clouded light of the city, it seemed to him as if moonlight touched her face, lovingly gilding it with light.

As he’d savored the fond and quizzical smile she gave him, he had known at once that he wanted to share a precious childhood memory with her. “Catherine, can you remember the first time you saw the moon?”

She’d laughed easily and asked, “Who would remember something like that?”

Even now in the darkened reaches of the tunnel world, he hears the sound of her laughter and again it flows over him, warming him like the rays of the summer sun.  She had been surprised and amused by his question, and that response means the world to him.

Most others would have carefully chosen the words to answer to his question, cloaking their replies in half-truths, afraid to hurt his feelings.  But to her, he is not some otherworldly being who needs to be protected or pitied, someone who should never be expected to reach beyond the limits of his unique existence. To her, he is simply and truly a man -- a cherished friend to whom she can say almost anything without having to rehearse her words before speaking, an affable companion with whom she can enjoy sharing even the simplest of moments in unselfconscious pleasure, a man she trusts and cherishes above all others -- the man she loves.

How he treasures the times when her smiling voice, a certain expression in her eyes, the throb of emotions through their bond, have offered this undeniable proof to him, even though he is still learning to embrace it fully.  He finds himself smiling again, his heart throbbing with pleasure, as he recalls other such moments – when they’d laughed and played together in the rain below the bandshell in the park; when she’d excitedly suggested a trip to her summer house in Connecticut; at Winterfest, when in front of Father and the others, she had asked if he danced.  So many moments in the past when he has known without a doubt that he is just a man, her man. And he dreams and hopes for so many more moments yet to be.

His thoughts return to the night in the park. He'd hesitated before answering her question. “I would. And someday I will tell you about it. For me it had been only a dream…a dream that somehow came true.”

A shivering of dismay had flickered in her eyes for only a moment. Then she’d asked, “And was it a beautiful dream?”

He’d assumed her look of concern had been one of sympathetic understanding of the restrictions that filled his life.  Wishing to move past those sentiments and regain the easy warmth of their camaraderie, he had been quick to reassure her, whispering “Yes, at first.” Yet then he’d added, “But not all dreams have happy endings.”

He sighs with regret as he recalls his final words, wishing he’d never uttered them. He knows he should have explained further so that she would realize he hadn’t been referring to their own cherished dream, but rather to a lost fantasy once shared by two little boys. His mouth tightens as he shakes his head. How thoughtless he had been to leave her yet again with images of limits and disappointments and despair, especially when she’d been so relaxed and open and loving with him. Especially on a night when they’d been free to be just two people in love, finding joy in learning more about the little moments that had shaped their lives, sharing a simple walk through the park in the gentle light of the full moon.

He reexamines the beloved memories still echoing in his heart.  He’d made mistakes then, too – not kissing her glorious upturned mouth when she’d thrown herself upon him in the rain, not taking the risk to experience the joy of a trip to her childhood paradise, not sweeping her into his arms to dance with her in front of everyone…

But, he reminds himself, their experience in the moonlit park does not have to be simply a moment of thwarted opportunity. It can guide them forward in another step toward the light.

He feels an invincible sense of hope begin to erode the dismay and regret in his heart. He knows he can make things right. They will have other moments, moments that can turn into hours, into days, into a lifetime. For once in his life, a dream will come true, and this time it will be the most precious dream of all. His smile grows brighter and his heart lifts. He is not entirely certain how he will make it so, only that he will.  

He looks down once more into the shimmering depths of the star-filled Mirror Pool.  The image is lovely and entrancing, yet he understands that it is only a distorted reflection of reality. And that sometimes the things that can’t be seen are the ones that are truly real. The thought makes him recall lines from a poem by Santayana he’d read aloud to Catherine as they rested in each other’s arms on her balcony.

O World, thou choosest not the better part!

It is not wisdom to be only wise,

And on the inward vision close the eyes,

But it is wisdom to believe the heart.

He knows the wisdom in his heart and in hers and he embraces it, fully and forever. They will never have a typical life, he muses, one that others in love hope for and anticipate and so often take for granted. But that doesn’t matter anymore. They will have the life that’s meant to be for them, the life that’s filled with moment after moment, all the glorious possibilities waiting just for them. They will follow their hearts.

They will share the light.