These I Have Loved

by Linda Mooney

It had been a full day, but a pleasant one. The week after the heyday of entering the new year, when the frantic pace that had begun right before the Thanksgiving holidays and continued at a mile-a-minute run through Christmas and the first of January, was a slow, breath-catching, relaxing time for Vincent and Catherine

At the office the inexorable tide of atrocities had trickled down to a manageable level. Everyone was so mellowed by the relaxed atmosphere that the threat of forthcoming heavy snow and impending blizzard conditions caused only minor concern for those who commuted from the suburbs. In fact, if it had been at all possible, the entire city of New York would have rolled itself over in its blanket of electric warmth and hibernated until the end of March.

Down in the tunnel world, where hibernation was more likely, many had retreated to their separate chambers to huddle beneath quilts and lose themselves between the pages of a book, only surfacing for the necessary essentials, including cups of warm tea or cocoa. Meals were even quieter than usual, as if the cold pressing from Above muted all talk.  Indeed, breath was often seen as a soft cloud emerging from lips, shoulders would bundle under an extra layer or two of clothing, and cuddling between couples which began as a defense against the weather often developed into something more.

Vincent had ascended to the apartment earlier that afternoon. Because of the semi-darkness caused by the snow storm and the nearly deserted streets, he had no trouble making his way to the balcony where Catherine waited inside to help him remove his cloak and hand him a steaming mug of apple cider.

There, they watched several old movies Catherine had rented, and snacked on cheese popcorn and homebaked chocolate chip cookies.

Talking was minimal.... a comment here and there about something observed during the show. But the real conversation was deeper - within themselves - between hearts and souls that bathed in the warm comfort of their love.

There were times Catherine still marveled at the depth of feeling they had for each other, the incredible rightnessof it, and the ability they had to be with each other and say nothing, yet speak volumes. Their marriage went beyond comfortable and relaxing... the power of their bond made them two separate entities, whole only when they came together, were together. It manifested itself in a sense of power, of surety, in an almost visible aura which surrounded them wherever they were, alone or in the presence of others.

And now, as it had in the past, the mere act of looking into each other's eyes, the touch of a hand, or the pressure of leaning against the other, sang symphonies in their minds.

As true evening laid her cloth of stars on the sky, Catherine switched on the terrace light and she and Vincent watched as snowflakes danced outside. Already, the brick balcony wall was outlined in white, and little drifts were backing up in the corners and piling in mounds over the patio furniture.

Vincent circled his arms about her shoulders and nuzzled the back of her head.

"Vincent?" she whispered, not wanting to disturb the hushed quiet of the snowfall.  His arms tightened slightly. Strength and warmth was a soothing presence at her back.

"What, Catherine?"

"When was... "  She bit her lip, smiling. "How long has it been since you built a snowman?" She could almost feel his amused surprise.

"Do you wish to build one?" Looking out at the gathering layer, he added. "Do you think there's enough to build one?"

She gave a little shrug. "I think there's enough for a little one. Game? Glancing over her shoulder, she could see the delighted expression on his face. He nodded and helped her with her jacket before donning his cloak. They switched off the terrace light and used the illumination from inside the apartment to see by.

As Vincent scooped accumulated snow from the far ends of the balcony, Catherine patted and worked at building the base of the snowman near the wall between the dining room and bedroom. The winter winds had calmed quite a bit, so the air was biting but not unbearable.

As they worked, Catherine could feel her fingers grow cold and stiff as the snow melted and soaked through her gloves, and realized his hands must be nearly frozen, also.

"Looks like you need a good pair of gloves," she murmured through lips quickly turning numb in the cold.

Vincent smiled at her and reached up to brush snowflakes from her hair, smiling at how the cherry-red tip of her nose lent her face a younger, more innocent appeal. "I have my suede ones for dress," he reminded her. "But, yes, I could use some heavier ones for working."

She nodded. "Done. I'll get you a pair next time I'm shopping. Well, what do you think?" Catherine stood a little stiffly and brushed off herr lap. The snowman was small but complete, standing almost two feet high.

"I believe it's lacking, Catherine," Vincent grinned, blowing into the palms of his hand. "Aren't snowmen supposed to wear a hat or muffler?"

"Oh, yesl Just a moment!"

She ducked back inside the apartment, and Vincent leaned toward the warmth that poured through the open door.  Looking back down at their creation, he admitted to himself that it wasn't a half-bad attempt. Catherine soon emerged with an armload of materials: a scarf, a faded felt beret, an empty cardboard toilet  tissue tube and several colored candle stubs. The tube became the nose, two blue stubs were ground into the "head" for eyes, and the remaining bits of melted candles were used as makeshift buttons.

"Someday," Vincent said, "we'll teach Jacob the wonder of making a snowman." He placed the scarf and beret on their creation.  Just as a sudden gust of frigid air blew over the parapet. Shivering, they beat a hasty retreat into the warmth of the apartment, laughing and pulling off their sodden garments.

"Oh, I could use a hot shower," Catherine announced, tossing her gloves onto the dining room table.

"Go ahead. I'll tend to the fire and add some more logs." Vincent shook out his cloak and spread it over the back of a chair as Catherine nodded and disappeared into the bedroom.

Vincent had made hot chocolate by the time she walked back into the living room, wearing her terrycloth robe over a pair of flannel pajamas. A towel was still wrapped around her head and she camed a big-toothed comb. Squatting on the rug beside him. she gave him a loving smile as she accepted her mug.

"I thought I'd dry my hair by the fire," she commented,  "I hate going to bed with a wet head."

"May I?"

Surprised, Catherine looked at him for a moment before handing him the comb. Then she scooted in front of him and sat cross-legged. Vincent toweled her hair before starting to comb the tangles from her damp tresses.

Catherine had worn her hair short when they had first met, and allowed it to grow until it now fell almost to her shoulder blades. Wet, it was the color of moist earth and smelled wonderfully of rosemary, mint and other herbs he couldn't quite fathom. Slowly drawing the comb through the hair, letting the heat of the fire dry each strand, Vincent savored its almost gossamer texture.

Closing her eyes, Catherine sighed, tilting her head back slightly.  In a contented voice she said, "In my college dorm, the girls would get together and style each other's hair.  I loved how it felt. I thought that going to salons would make me feel the same, but it doesn't.  Nothing beats having someone just play with your hair."   A pause. "Has anyone ever played with your hair, Vincent?"

By now, Vincent had abandoned the comb and was using his fingers to spread the rapidly drying locks. 'When I was younger, Mary used to fuss with my hair.  But it tends to have a mind of its own. And, early on, the other boys learned not to pull or jerk on it... unless they wanted a fight on their hands."

Catherine chuckled and luxuriated in his gentle touch.  Burying his fingers deeper, Vincent was careful of his claws as he massaged her scalp, noticing how her body relaxed even further, almost melting against him. He took a drink from his mug before announcing, "I believe it's dry enough now."



She shifted slightly, moving more against him. "Mmmm?"

"Teach me to braid your hair."

A simple request, but a surprising one.  Catherine half-turned and gave him a look of astonishment.  She started to ask him why he wanted to learn such a skill, but decided against it.  Everything he ever asked of her, for her, from her, was out of love and the desire to make her happy.  He had learned that working with her hair was a well-enjoyed caress; he simply wished to extend her pleasure and happiness.  It would never have occurred to her that he actually enjoyed the feel of running his hands through her hair, smelling its warmed fragrance in his face, and reveling in its texture.

"It takes a bit of practice," she told him, "so I'll begin by just showing you the basics."  Reaching back to guide his hands, and enjoying the tender stroking of her fingers against his, Catherine parted her hair into three sections and guided him through the procedure until he felt confident enough to take over.

The next few minutes passed as Vincent carefully drew the strands into a ponytail, enioying the way the firelight reflected the hidden reds and golds in her hair.  As he neared the end, he tenderly combed out his creation and started over again sensing she was close to falling asleep.

"Vincent... I'll always remember this as one of the things that brought me happiness," Catherine whispered.

"In what way?"  Her contentment was such a wonderful echo inside of him.

"Little things... little individual scenes that tend to stick in my memory, so I can call on them again and again when I need to feel good.  Like building a snowman in the dark.  Being able to take a nice hot shower when I'm cold.  Sitting in front of the fireplace with the man I love as he braids my hair.  Marshmallows in my hot cocoa.  Things like that."

Vincent nodded with understanding.

"These I have loved:
White plates and cups, clean-gleaming.
Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon 
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss
Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is 
Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen.
Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;
The benison of hot water; furs to touch;
The good smell of old clothes..."

"That's beautful, Vincent.  Who said it?"

"Rupert Brooke.  It's an excerpt from his poem 'The Great Lover'.  In it, he mentions several things that recall fond memories."

Catherine shook her head slightly. "I've never read it, but I'd like to."

"I'll find the book for you," Vincent promised. Taking her shoulders, he turned her to face him.  "Meanwhile, it's growing very late.  The storm is nearly spent, and the snow should melt enough to allow you to go to work tomorrow."

Giving him a sleepy smile in agreement. Catherine brought her arms up around his shoulders and burrowed her face in his neck as Vincent lifted her effortlessly into his arms and carried her back into the bedroom, closing the folding door behind them with a nudge of his foot.