ELDERBERRY ELOCUTIONS


By ChicagoTunnelKid

 

Within any community, legends are born around actual events. This is just such a legend. How much is truth and how much embellishment is up to the reader.

William began experimenting with wine. He had mastered ale and looked for new challenges. Wine it was. It so happened that a helper had a bumper crop of elderberries one season, and brought much of it Below. A person can only eat so much elderberry jam, so William looked for other uses.

Elderberry wine! It had come to him from a long-ago memory of the story of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Those sisters had a supply of elderberry wine and seemed to enjoy it. Why not? And he also had on hand a bit of cordial that someone had once brought down, so he started with that as a base and built the elderberry wine around it.

To say that the wine turned out a success would be an understatement, as the tale you are about to hear will make clear. Be advised that no disparagement is intended; indeed, my years spent in the community were the best of my life. But this is a tale that should be told before it is forgotten completely. Especially because it involves Vincent.

Vincent was and is beloved by all. There is no other like him, and it is the community’s good fortune that he lived with them. Fortune smiled upon Father when baby Vincent was brought to him.

Vincent represented all that was good. He was handsome in his own way; strong and fast; brave and courageous; kind and compassionate; a true leader among the community. One could almost consider that he was perfect. But he, too, had feet of clay, and he would be the first to disavow the label of perfection.

One other thing to know about Vincent is that he loved Catherine, a woman from Above, Catherine was and is beautiful, sophisticated, smart, tenacious, kind, compassionate and loved Vincent deeply. It is a miracle that those two found each other. But that’s another story.

For a long time, Vincent and Catherine thought that they could never be a true couple. Vincent, as you know, is different. Part Beast. And he thought a Beast should never be with a woman like Catherine. He never expected to find love at all. But Catherine was patient. Extremely patient! And she knew differently, or at least had faith.

The reason that I digress to tell you all this is because elderberry wine played an important part in finally bringing them together. Tsk, tsk! Not in the way you are probably imagining! Patience, friend! I will now begin the tale.

It was late in the evening after a rather grueling day. Tunnels require a lot of upkeep, you know. And Vincent, because of his size and strength, was always called upon to help. The work group trudged back, and stopped in the dining room to see what they could scramble up to eat.

William had the wine sitting out on the counter, and one of the men, Cullen, I believe, saw it and thought it an excellent accompaniment to their meal and the end of the day. None of the men had tasted elderberry wine before, but found it quite pleasant; indeed, it barely tasted like alcohol at all! Unfortunately, this made it much easier to drink much more of it. It took some time for the alcohol to catch up, but once it did, my, oh my, what a sight! Drunkenness takes many forms. In some people, it brings out their better parts - in others, their worse. In still other cases, shy people become extraverted, and quiet people become loquacious. Vincent fit into this latter group, especially because he had never been drunk before. It was a whole new experience for him. One, I will say, he never repeated. He did learn from his mistake! Raucous singing could be heard, along with copious laughter. Before you knew it, bragging started, and morphed into challenges. Kanin challenged Vincent to go see Catherine and finally proclaim his love. The men had been getting on his case, you see, because Vincent was so cautious in his courtship. Well, never let it be said that Vincent refused a dare. Pulling himself up to his full height, and hanging on to the edge of the table, he proclaimed, “I shall!"

Unsteadily, he grabbed the opened bottle to sustain him on his way, and waved adieu to his companions, nearly toppling over in the process. But with cat-like grace, he found his footing, and weaved out of the dining hall.

On the way, he ran through various scenes from literature where the swain told his lady about his love for her. After all, he wanted to do this right, if he was to do it at all. As a lover of literature, he had many to choose from, so he ran through them one by one, punctuating each with another swallow of wine.

It took a little longer to get to Catherine’s basement due to a minor detour from seeing four tunnel entrances rather than two; he was having some issues with double vision. So a short bypass gave him more time to think about his approach, and just time enough to finish the bottle of elderberry wine.

He ascended up the elevator shaft, hugging the wires a little longer as he blessed them for being the lifeline to his ladylove. He finally let go and, by the grace of God, landed onto her balcony. With a definite thud.

A pile of Vincent lay on the balcony, deciding how best to regain his feet.

He pulled over a patio chair, and climbed up to sit on it for a bit of a rest.

In the meantime, Catherine, having heard the thud, came out to investigate. She was not expecting to see Vincent tonight because of the work detail.

She opened the balcony doors, and there sat, or perhaps laid, draped over the chair, a softly snoring Vincent. She came over to gently wake him and was nearly overpowered by the alcohol aroma emanating from him.

“Good heavens, Vincent!” she exclaimed. “Just what have you been up to?” She yanked and tugged, finally getting him erect or, should I say, standing, and partially aroused, um, awake.

“Ish that you, Cathy baby?” She was wearing her robin egg blue satin pajama set, the one he really liked. She was a vision. All three of her.

Catherine looked at him in amazement. “Cathy baby” wasn’t something Vincent had ever said before. He was clearly inebriated.

“Come inside, Vincent, and we’ll get you sobered up."

“I’d offer you shome wine, but I drank it all! Not very nishe of me. Bad, Vincent!"

She led him haltingly to one of her dinky couches, and commanded, “Sit before you fall down!"

Sat he did. Blinking, he looked all around. “Nishe plashe you got!"

His head fell back against the couch. Where did she go? He couldn’t see her anymore. “Cathy baby? Where’d you go? Come sshhit with me.” He patted the couch next to him. He looked puzzled. Something didn’t sound right. He shook his head. Oh, well.

Finally, she came into view, carrying a cup with some strong coffee in it.

“Here, Vincent, drink this.” She set the cup down on the coffee table just slightly before Vincent grabbed her wrist and tugged her down next to him. He wrapped his arms around her, and burrowed his face into her neck. He sniffed loudly.

“You schmell so lovely, Cathy baby."

“Thank you. Wish I could say the same.” This evening was turning out to be surreal. “Drink some coffee, Vincent."

“No. Don’t wanna. I have schomething to tell you, Verrrrry important."

“Oh, what’s that?” she asked cautiously.

Now was the time. His dare would be won. But he couldn’t remember what passage of literature he had selected! Oh, no. Ruined. His entire journey was for naught! “Damn. I forgot what I wash going to shay. I thought about it scho much, you’d think I’d remember. But, noooooo!"

“Maybe you’ll think of it after some coffee!"

“A fella hash to think it through when he tells a lady he loves her."

That got Catherine’s attention, for Vincent had never said those words to her. She knew he loved her, for his actions bespoke his love. But she still wanted the words. But not really like this, she thought.

Vincent decided the manly thing to do would be to tell Catherine of his love while standing before her. He let go of her, and pushed against the couch, or Catherine, or both, and wavered…before falling back down on the couch. More determined, and with Catherine’s help pushing, he finally made it up. He motioned for her to stay seated.

“Catherine…” Why were there two of her? He squeezed his eyes and reopened them. Ah, back to one. “Catherine Chandler, I love you."

With this pronouncement, he bowed as if a Musketeer, with a flourish, his arm crossed in front, and one foot pointed forward of the other. He straightened, slowly and with careful balance, to continue. “No man will ever love you as much as I love you. Not Schteven, not Ellitott. Nobody."

He wagged his finger at her in emphasis. “You were meant for me, and I wash meant for you.” Belch! “Opsie! Did I do that?"

And with that, he keeled over on top of her. She tried hard not to laugh. It was so ironic. Waiting for him to put into words what she knew he felt, and he does it when drunk! Suddenly, he lifted his head up to look at her. “Whatta think of them apples, babe?!"

“Well, Vincent, no woman has had a lovelier declaration of love. I love you, too.” She smiled as warmly as the wafting alcohol aroma would permit. “Now, what do you say we get you into bed so you can sleep this off?"

“Whatzat? You want to get me into bed? Thatsh a fine idea. I don’t think Father would approve,” lifting his head up again, he looked at her, “but he’s not here, is he?!"

“No, he’s not.” She rolled him off her to the side so she could stand up.

Next, she took his hands in hers and pulled. “Vincent, you have to help me."

After some minutes of tug of war, he wanting her in his arms on the couch, and she wanting him standing up, he stood. She put one of his arms around her shoulders and her arms around his middle. Together they made it into her bedroom.

“Nicesh,” he said. “I’m really in your bedroom.” He blinked, looking around. Sure, he had seen it before, but never in these circumstances.

“Yes, you are. Can you stand right here a moment?” She questioned whether he could but he waved as if saying “No problem."

She went to the bed and pulled back the covers from where she had been sleeping so he could get in. She looked back to find him seated at the foot, taking off his boots; next came the vest, and two shirts.

He sat there, chest exposed, and she nearly lost her breath. His chest was sculpted muscle covered in whirls of fine reddish hair. She swallowed.

He was reaching for his pants button when she stopped him.

Remember this, Chandler, she thought. Here’s your chance and you are turning it down! She knew he would never forgive himself if he made love to her drunk enough to barely remember, if at all.

She tugged him up the bed, got him to lie down, and pulled the covers over him. He was all hands, trying to pull her down with him. But she was faster, given that his reaction time was impaired by alcohol. Then, in an instant, he was asleep.

She grabbed an extra blanket from her armoire and went back to the living room. She went to the dinky couch, spread out her blanket, and laid down. It wasn’t long before she heard him snoring. And with that, she, too, fell asleep.

Now, I suppose a few of you are thinking that this could not be true, that Vincent would not get drunk. But you would be wrong. It’s the elderberries, you see. They tasted so good, and the wine seemed like juice. Plus, Vincent was thirsty from the work he had done, and he downed a few too many glasses too quickly. It can happen to the best of us. So try not to judge him too harshly.

But my tale is not over yet.

The next morning, Catherine busied herself with grinding the coffee so that Vincent could have a good strong cup or two, along with some toast. She didn’t think it wise to try much more than that.

Vincent had somehow turned around and was now lying feet to head on her bed. He awoke with a groan and held his head. Good lord, who was making that racket?! Didn’t they know not to drill in the tunnels until people awoke?! Just then, he realized he was not in his bed, and not in the tunnels. And he was naked in Catherine’s bed! Sometime during the wee morning hours, he had gotten up and taken off his pants.

Catherine walked in with his breakfast to find his head peeking out of the covers at the foot of the bed. “Good morning, Sunshine!"

“What’s so good about it?” he groaned.

“I have coffee for you, toast, and a couple of aspirin, which I hope you can take."

He carefully sat up, keeping the covers around his waist, and trying to keep the room from spinning. He gently reached for the coffee like it was a lifeline to normalcy. It was then it registered that she was in her pajamas, he was naked, and it was her bed and bedroom.

“Catherine, I didn’t – I mean – we didn’t ..."

She leaned in close and gave him a quick kiss. Although lessened, he still reeked of alcohol. “A girl never kisses and tells."

The look on his face, well, Vincent was never one to show much emotion, and his face was not the most expressive face, but a patron in the back row of a theater could have seen the expression on this face! “There’s a set of towels in the bathroom, and my father’s robe. Put your clothes outside the bathroom door and get cleaned up after your breakfast, and I’ll wash your clothes."

With that, she walked out of the bedroom, closing her louvered doors, all the while exhibiting a Cheshire Cat grin. After what she went through with him last night, he deserved a little back! At long last, the doors opened, and a fresh and clean Vincent made it purposely out of her bedroom. He walked slowly and carefully, obviously still feeling the effects of the hangover. “I think I need a couple more of your aspirins, if I may."

She got up, got the aspirin, and brought them over with a glass of water.

He sat down at the dining room table, as she had been sitting there sipping her coffee. “Would you like some more coffee?” she offered.

He started to shake his head ‘yes,’ then thought the better of it. “No, thank you. Please, Catherine, tell me what happened. Tell me the truth. Did I force myself on you, or hurt you?” His eyes held the fear of finding out.

No more pretenses. He’d paid enough.

“No, Vincent, you did not. You showed up drunk, declared your love for me, and passed out on my bed. And, if it escapes your notice, let me remind you that, even dead drunk, you didn’t hurt me in any way. In fact, you were as tender as a drunk could be."

He winced. To act in such a way, and with Catherine! And telling her he loved her! What was he thinking? Vincent had held back those words, thinking it spared tying her to him, leaving open her options for a better life Above.

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come here or said what I said."

Crestfallen, she asked, “You don’t mean it?"

He felt her sudden burst of hurt, magnified by the hangover. Serves you right. “Yes, I love you. But I had not planned on telling you until I was certain I could offer you a life you deserved. And certainly, not like that."

“Vincent, you have it fixed in your head that there is something I need Above that I can’t get Below.” She reached out, lifted his head beneath his chin until their eyes met. “All I need or want is you."

They looked at one another for a long moment, until Vincent dropped his eyes, suddenly embarrassed. It was one thing to say those words when your inhibitions were gone, and quite another to do it soberly and with a hangover.

“Catherine?” He took her hand from his chin, found her other one, and raised each up for a kiss. “I love you. I have loved you since the day we met, because I believe you were meant for me, and I was meant for you.

You are my heart. Everything I am or hope to be, and all that I have, are yours."

Catherine smiled, with tears about to fall. Sure enough, they started a trail down her lovely cheek. He reached over to catch one with his finger.

“I love you, too, Vincent."

He stood, pulling her up into an embrace, and because he felt he now could, he kissed her. They stood embraced, each enjoying the other’s warmth, love swirling around them.

“You can’t go back until dark, and you were out all night. What are we going to tell Father?” Catherine asked.

Vincent sighed. “Let’s give him some elderberry wine first."

And that, friends, is the story of Vincent’s one and only night of drunken debauchery. Some good did come of it. The couple cleared a hurdle that had stood in their way for too long, and were married shortly after. I believe it is customary to end such tales with the phrase: “They lived happily ever after."