Vincent gripped the cable for balance with one hand and steadied his knapsack with the other as he rode atop the elevator to the roof of Catherine’s building. He jumped off the car onto the roof, strode to the edge, and jumped down onto her balcony, landing cat-like, soundlessly. He slid the knapsack off his shoulder and lowered it to the concrete.
He raised his hand to tap on the glass of her French doors and lowered his eyes, trying not to look into her apartment, but he saw her. She was standing next to her record player, eyes closed, swaying a little, listening to the lovely strains of Debussy’s Clair de Lune. The notes were moonlight, beautiful but sad, the pianist gifted. His heart warmed and melted as he watched her, her brow alternately furrowing and relaxing with the dramatic tension and release of the phrases of the movement. He flattened his palm on the door frame to steady himself; he closed his eyes for a moment. She’s perfection-God help me, I love her so much! His throat tightened and his stomach sank; he was overwhelmed. He could feel the words to describe it, but they were mocking avians swooping just beyond his grasp, buzzing bits on gossamer wings soaring away.
As the movement concluded he came to himself and tapped on the glass. Her eyes snapped open; she smiled widely and ran to the doors. Swinging them open wide, she threw her arms around his shoulders and pressed her cheek to his chest. His breath caught, and his head tipped back just a bit before he stopped himself: holding her was like holding joy; she was a tender warmth that seeped into his great heart and then filled him, every inch, even to the tips of his fingers and toes. Slowly, softly, he circled his arms around her and placed his open palms on her back. It was a death, a sweet, holy death he suffered, to hold himself back, to reign in his desire to sweep her up and squeeze her close, but a death he suffered gladly. He worked hard to keep his breathing under control.
She released him and stepped back. “I’ll run in and put on a kettle for tea, get a coat, and be right back,” she said in that husky sotto voce of hers that made his head swim. He nodded and bent his head down. She left the doors open, and the music floated out and washed across the balcony. Suite Bergamasque sometimes evoked his melancholy, but tonight the tendrils of its mystery curled around him.
Catherine returned to the balcony, arms filled with blankets, comforters, and pillows. They arranged the pillows, then snuggled against each other under the comforters. Catherine was careful not to be obvious about enjoying his warmth, the tension of his strong muscles, the softness of his fur, or his intoxicating scent; to do so was a mistake. The first time they’d sat together this way, she’d gripped his vest in her fist, rubbed half her face and her upper body against him, and moaned involuntarily at the love she felt for him. Her heart warmed, held in the embrace of his adoration; she could feel him cherishing her. He tightened his grip on her then, and he bent his head down to her. She looked up, and their faces were so close, she thought he was finally going to kiss her. She felt his hand slide up her arm and cup her cheek, and then … nothing. He pulled his hands off her slowly, made an excuse about having to get up early in the morning, and he was gone. He stayed gone for weeks.
So tonight, she was careful. He laid his arm across her shoulders, and she stayed by his side, but she needed his warmth. It was cold enough that their breath made crispy white clouds in front of their faces. She looked up at the sky.
“It’s a beautiful night.”
“Yes,” he said, staring down at her. He closed his eyes for a moment, and sighed. Re-opening them, he spoke in his raspy whisper, “Catherine, I need your help. Usually the older children read Othello as independent study. But this year so many of them had so many questions that I think we need to read it in class. But ... it’s been quite awhile since I actually read the play, so I thought you and I might read it aloud together.”
“Othello?! Oh, yes, I’d love to, I love that play.”
Vincent fished books out of his bag, critical analysis of the play, essays about the play, the play. They made a quick review of the characters, their motivations, the plot. Catherine served tea. They began reading the play, Vincent taking the male parts, Catherine the female. Iago and Roderigo woke Brabantio, Othello was confronted, Cassio summoned Othello to see the Duke. Catherine asked Vincent if he wanted her to read some male parts for him, but he said he was alright. Othello was deployed to Cyprus, Brabantio accused Othello of winning Desdemona by witchcraft. But then came Othello’s lines
He could feel through their bond how those lines affected her, how she cherished him. He’d almost steeled himself for Desdemona’s lines …
That I did love the Moor to live with him,
His palms became sweaty as he recalled the conversation they’d had on the anniversary of her mother’s death. The words he’d said to her then …
Your mother’s memory reminds you of your aloneness, of the family you lost when she died, of all the friends you left behind when our paths crossed.Because that secret that you carry now – our secret – sets you apart from your past, your friends, even from the family you have yet to have, the children waiting to be born. Catherine, the burden you bear with that secret is your aloneness. Know that our bond, our dream, exists at the cost of all your other dreams. Know that, Catherine.
Yes, he remembered, and felt his gorge rise; he actually feared he was going to vomit.
How could I have said those words to her? Those cutting words, when she was already laid low, missing her mother? And, oh, dear God, how could I have been so utterly stupid as to have forgotten all the tragic similarities between
Othello and our very real situation? Should we continue reading? Can I? Can she? Should I say something?
And she was confused, torn. Should they continue reading? Could he? Could she? Should she say something? The words were still flowing on the strains of his soft voice. Was he okay? Could he be? If he had any feelings of love for her, how could he continue? For the hundredth, if not the thousandth time, she wondered if she was misreading his feelings for her. Maybe the love was all one-sided on her part, and he really loved her as no more than a very good friend. Oh, well, she decided wryly, perhaps a Casablanca moment is in order, ‘If he can stand it, I can ... ’
They read on. Until …
There they were! The words, the words he’d felt but couldn’t recall when he’d been watching her through the door. He stopped, wrapping his brain around the realization.
He cleared his throat. He coughed. He had to escape this situation.
“Catherine,” he blushing began “I am so sorry to have to ask you this, but …” and he couldn’t look at her.
She thought she was reading his mind. “Oh, sure, Vincent, all the tea……you know where it’s at, please make yourself at home.”
He stood, stretched his legs, cleared his throat, mustered the scraps of his dignity, and walked to her bathroom. He closed the door behind him, and leaned on it. His mind was spinning. He planted his palms on the vanity and leaned on his arms. He was obsessed with one realization: he was Othello. His appearance was exotic, he had no place in her society aside from protecting her, he was isolated, he felt his aloneness every moment—every moment he was away from her. He sometimes feared that she loved him for his differences, not in a good way, but like a unique toy of which she would eventually tire, and return her attention to the men of her world, men with the same skin, hair, culture, experience.
Like Othello, he had trust issues, major trust issues. He knew he trusted Father’s opinions too much, particularly as they pertained to Catherine. Even as he argued with Father about his relationship with her, he knew he would ultimately base his behavior on Father’s firmly held belief that an intimate relationship with her was not to be, should not and could not be. He knew he could trust Catherine with his life, he knew from their own history she could never be interested in any other man, he could feel it through their bond. So, he realized, I don’t even put my trust in our bond, our bond that’s as real and reliable to me as my own hands. What am I doing? he wondered. More to the point, Am I doing what I want to be doing? Is this what I want? Absent mindedly, he actually availed himself of the facility, then washed his hands.
Upon leaving the bathroom, he found her standing in front of her stereo. She’d put on Ravel, Sonatines I, II, and III.
“Ravel; a good choice,” said Vincent.
“It’s more complicated than the Debussy,” she answered.
“Very complicated,” he murmured.
“It got too cold outside without you,” she explained.
“It is cold outside,” he agreed. For the first time, he gave spontaneity a voice and said, “We should build a fire and finish reading inside.”
Her eyes popped open wide. Mastering herself quickly, she said, “Yes, that would be nice.”
“Go ahead and use the bathroom, Catherine. I’ll light the fire and bring in our things.”
She nodded, and turned. He knows when I need to pee, she mused. How should I feel about that? Hmm ...
When she came out, a cheery blaze was coming to life in the fireplace, and he was sitting on the couch, holding a book open in his lap, but staring into the flames. The orange glow cast a warm light on his mane, and a soft warmth glowed in his eyes as well. He had turned off the electric lights, and had lit several candles, enough to read by. She smiled; he smiled back.
“This feels so comfortable, Catherine. It’s not just that the couch is soft and the fire is warm, but it’s you, your presence, your dear heart that makes this room so very ... comfortable.”
She smiled and ducked her head shyly. How many years had it been since she was flustered? She absolutely did not know how to act. This was so unlike him, so unexpected. She sat down on the couch facing him.
He cocked his head, just a bit. “Will you sit beside me, Catherine?”
She almost jumped up. “Yes, Vincent, I wasn’t sure, I mean I wanted, no, I mean I didn’t want—“ She stopped talking and sat next to him, just as they had been outside. He draped his arm across her shoulders and picked up reading where he’d stopped.
The handkerchief, the seizure, the misdirection and misunderstandings. The slap, the recall to Venice, the swan song, willow, willow. Stabbing, stabbing, stabbing. And then, the smothering; poor, sick Othello killing the thing he loved best. Catherine cried. Vincent fished his own handkerchief out of a pocket, lifted her chin and dried her tears. He stared into the flames for a moment, composing himself.
And then, revelation, more stabbing, and suicide. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed when Othello died. She began to pull away from him, knowing that if she didn’t, she wouldn’t be able to stop herself from clutching him. The emotional lock she used to hold her feelings in check had failed, and the torrent of pent up love, hurt, frustration, longing, and denial swept her over and held her in its cold, dark depth. He felt it in her, and pulled her back. She sobbed from the very pit of her soul, and he held her tightly to himself, leaning into her embrace, stroking her hair, kissing her head, whispering reassurance; he finally pulled her onto his lap and rocked her, slowly and gently.
“Vincent ... I’m sorry …” she gasped and hiccupped, “ … it’s just … he was such a … wonderful ... person … so … strong, but really gentle … she could have had her pick of any man in Venice, but she wasn’t interested in any of them. She only loved him. She gave up everything for him, her family, her friends, her life.”
“And he tried to love her, to accept the love she offered. But in the end, he simply couldn’t believe that someone like her could love someone like him. She was everything beautiful, refined, intelligent, graceful. And he was a brute-“
“NO!” she yelled, and he pulled her closer to restrain her arms.
“-outwardly, what people saw when they looked at him was more animal than man. But inwardly, in his heart and mind, Catherine, he was a poet. It’s us. I know, it’s us, I know it. We are them.” They clung to each other for a very long time, until they calmed down.
He looked down, and she met his eyes. Vincent began. “I’m going to make this right, Catherine. I’ve been Othello, but I don’t want to be Othello any more. My greatest fear has been that my love for you would destroy you. But in not showing you my love, I break your heart. I will no longer be Othello.”
She nodded. “We need to stop trying to … to spare each other’s feelings. Not being open is exactly how we hurt each other.”
He nodded. “You’re right.”
She continued, “When did we start trying to shield each other? Was it when Jason Walker rode the subways, mauling criminals, and I was worried it was actually you?”
“No, because you came and asked me.” He chuffed. “You showed me your thought.” He paused. “But I remember the night you met Elliot Burch. I felt your excitement at meeting him, I knew you were attracted to him, but I did not tell you I knew. We were on your balcony, and I could hardly meet your eye, so sick was I with fear, afraid the flame of your affection for me would sputter and die, quenched by the deluge of Elliot’s charm. And I told you to follow your heart, hoping you would find happiness with him. I believed Father when he told me that my heart was longing for a life that could never be.”
“Does that put Father in the role of Iago? Persuading you to sacrifice your love?”
He considered. “Father is no Iago.”
“No, you’re right, Father is no Iago.” She shook her head. “But he plays the role. And you trust him blindly.” He looked at her, a little wounded. “I’m sorry, Vincent, I’ve said too much. I don’t mean to be harsh.”
“No,” he said quickly, and squeezed her shoulders a little. “No more secrecy, no more words left unspoken.” He looked deeply into her eyes. “Do you remember when you were offered a job in Providence? You told me you cared for me deeply, but that you were unhappy because our relationship was not progressing, not growing as it should have. Instead of encouraging you to take a job that would separate us, I should have taken you in my arms and held you, as I hold you now, and told you how I felt. I should have said, ‘I love you, Catherine.’” He kissed her, softly, slowly. “’I love you. Stay with me.’” He kissed her again, just as softly, but his soft lips lingered longer on hers. “I should have said, ‘Stay with me all the days of our lives, love me and let me love you.’ And I should have kissed you then, as I kiss you now.” He tightened his embrace, pulling her up, and he pressed his lips on hers, tenderly, gently, but deeply.
They stayed on the couch for hours, kissing, sighing, embracing, caressing; exploring faces, lips, necks, and discovering the thrill of touching and being touched by your lover. They murmured softly to each other before the soul-penetrating warmth they generated together lulled them to sleep. He woke after a bit and carried her to her bed. He slipped off her shoes and tucked her in; and then he pulled off his boots and slipped in behind her, wrapped his arms around her, buried his face in her neck, and sank down into sweet, contented sleep.