(originally appeared in the 2012 conzine)
“Dad, I’m twenty-two years old. I’ll finish my master’s next year. I
just want this summer to study in
Vincent could not meet Jacob’s eyes as his son made his case for
spending the next three months in
Reluctantly, Vincent looked at his son. An adult. When did that happen? Jacob stood with feet apart, hands open and relaxed at his sides, though his face wore an assertive expression that Vincent had seen before. Jacob would not defy him, Vincent knew that, yet the child – the young man – would not stop until there was some sort of resolution.
Jacob picked up a leather tie from the bedside table and combed his long blonde locks straight back over his head with his fingers. He tied his hair back and squared his broad shoulders. Eyes as blue and a jaw as chiseled as his own met Vincent’s gaze as Jacob said, “I’m going to meet the twins, their swimming lesson is over. I’ll give you time to talk to Mother about this.” And he strode out of the chamber.
Talking to Catherine was exactly what Vincent had in mind, though he had a sinking feeling she was in favor of their son’s plan. He fetched his cloak and went to meet her at the tunnel entrance beneath her law office, sighing and feeling his age.
* * *
“Have a good weekend!” Catherine called to her office staff as the crew went out the front door.
“You, too!” they answered. Catherine got up to lock the door then gathered her things to go Below. Reconsidering, she left a thick packet of notes in her desk drawer. I won’t have time to review these she thought, knowing what she and her husband needed to discuss.
As Catherine descended the ladder to the Tunnel entrance, she felt Vincent’s presence before she actually saw him in the low light. “Ohhh, I missed you today!” she said as they embraced warmly.
“Catherine . . .” he murmured against her hair, and Catherine felt him leaning a little on her as if he was weary.
“What is it, my love?” she asked with concern, taking his face in her hands.
“Jacob . . .” he answered, “his plans . . . to travel . . .”
“Ah, yes . . .” Catherine replied gently, linking her arm in his and turning to walk back into Tunnels. This was different—now Vincent seemed to need her strength when, so often, it was she who needed him.
“He won’t be alone, you know . . .” she started, alert for changes in
Vincent’s breathing or muscle tension. There was no change so she
continued, “Omar has already made contact with the Paris Piano Program
and Connie has family in
Catherine was trying to be lighthearted, but she detected that Vincent
was not amused. In truth, Jacob’s dear friends were a bit unorthodox –
Omar was a flamboyant design major who also had a great talent for piano
and Connie was a gifted pianist who sported different hair colors and
styles by the week and dabbled in the occult. With Connie’s tattoos,
Omar’s shocking attire and Jacob’s classic beauty, the threesome
generally attracted quite a bit of attention when they were out and
about—and that was in
Catherine changed tactics. “Jacob received the project award to cover his expenses for the summer which includes housing, so that is taken care of . . .” she went on. “Vincent, it truly is a great opportunity!” she finished, watching her husband’s face to see how next to proceed.
“Let us talk again in the morning,” Vincent said with resignation, walking on ahead without Catherine.
Catherine looked after the man she loved, shaking her head and smiling wistfully. Separation was definitely a difficult thing.
* * *
Next morning was no better, with Vincent in a mood and Jacob tense and Catherine in the middle. Jenny and Joe, the most like Catherine of all the children with their glossy hair and green eyes, seemed to be balancing their family’s feelings between them, speaking softly and keeping watch. Only Estelle, the youngest at thirteen, with Vincent’s wild gilt mane and crystal blue eyes, seemed tuned in to the conflict and waiting her chance to intervene.
It was Estelle who went to Father.
“Granfer!” she gushed, as she entered his chamber and wrapped him in an enthusiastic hug.
“Estelle! How wonderful to see you!” the old doctor responded, returning the young girl’s embrace. “How is the dissection going?”
“Well, the worm, frog, and cat went well, but now I’m working on the cow’s eye and I want to do an aorta next, because I think I can start my notes on the connection to pain.”
Father pushed up on his bed pillows, glad to have some scientific conversation. He was mostly confined to quarters these days, due to his unsteady gait and forgetfulness. Unless someone could be with him, he tended to stay in his chamber.
Estelle indulged her grandfather in shop talk a little longer then drew the discussion around to the situation at hand.
“Granfer,” she inquired, “tell me about how you kept Dad safe all those years when he was young and living in Tunnels.”
“Well, my child,” old Jacob answered pensively, “I did keep him safe, but I came to regret my methods.”
Estelle waited patiently for him to continue. She had spent many hours with her grandfather, from her own earliest hours when she had cried for three days. Only in his arms was she able to calm and sleep. Their connection had been special and strong ever since.
After a beat, old Jacob continued: “I made it my goal to keep Vincent safe . . .” Estelle settled back against the floor cushions to listen; Granfer’s oldest memories were his clearest.
Jacob smiled wanly and his eyes misted a little. “I thought it was best . . . if Vincent didn’t go too far from home. I tried to show him the world in other ways.”
“You read to him,” Estelle filled in, knowing the story by heart.
“Yes. Until he could read to me!” Old Jacob slapped his knee and rocked back with a chuckle; his pride in his son was evident and Estelle laughed along with him.
Jacob’s brow wrinkled and his voice took on a deeper tone. “But Vincent liked to go Above . . . as he argued, other Tunnel folk did so . . .”
“What did you tell him, Granfer?”
“I told him it was more dangerous – for him. Even more dangerous for all of us, if he were found up there . . . I thought . . . I thought if he was afraid, he would stay where it was safe . . .”
“But Dad got over being afraid, didn’t he, Granfer?” asked Estelle as she moved over to lay her head on Jacob’s knee.
“Yes, my little Star, he did. And then I began to regret what I had done.”
“It’s OK, Granfer,” soothed Estelle, patting Jacob’s hand. “Dad knows you were trying to help him, that’s all.”
“Wise and beautiful! How did I get so lucky to have you for my granddaughter”
The smile was back on Jacob’s face as he reached down to hug the young girl.
“I’m the lucky one!” she responded generously, returning the hug.
Estelle got up to fetch the chessboard and as she began to set up the pieces, Jacob stroked his beard and studied her.
“What’s brought this conversation on today, my dear?” he asked her.
Her eyes on her task, Estelle replied, “Because I think Dad and Jacob are having the same situation right now.”
* * *
Catherine pushed back the tapestry over the entry to the music chamber. “Time for bed now,” she called gently, smiling even as she did so, as her children were 13, 17, and 22 years old now and did not need a reminder.
As if enacting a routine, the quartet responded, “Just a little longer, Mother!” then everyone enjoyed a good laugh.
Joe and Jenny tucked their violins into the cases as Estelle collected her song sheets. Jacob continued marking his music notes, erasing and re-marking. “How’s Dad?” he asked without looking up from his work.
“He’s struggling,” Catherine replied, kissing cheeks as the other three went out of the chamber to ready for bed.
Catherine went over to sit on the piano bench with Jacob. She drew her finger across the mahogany finish of the instrument and absent-mindedly tapped middle C. “I remember when Rolley used to sit here and play,” she said with emotion in her voice. “Your Dad loved him so much . . .”
“I’m not Rolley, Mother,” Jacob answered, turning to face her. “And I’m not Dad, either . . .”
Catherine detected some resentment in her son’s voice. “What do you mean?” she asked him, worrying a little.
Sorry to have offended her, Jacob softened his expression and took his mother’s hands. He looked down at her hands – so strong, soft and strong, like Mother herself, he thought. He traced the delicate wedding band with his thumb, strands of gold, braided like fabric, shining in the candlelight.
“I only meant that it’s not the same . . . risk . . . for me to go Above – or anywhere. I know Dad can’t – couldn’t ever – go about freely.”
Jacob got up and began to pace and Catherine saw a young Vincent in front of her.
“I’ve gone to the University up top!” he declared. “And nothing ever happened to me!”
“Jacob . . .” Catherine rose and tamped out the candles in the chamber. The light from the torch in the corridor framed her son in the entry way. She stepped up to smooth back his long hair with both hands and kiss his face. “Go to your father one more time,” she encouraged him. “He’s in the Library.”
Jacob returned her kiss and left the music chamber to find Vincent.
* * *
The tapestry was drawn over the Library entry and Jacob could see a perimeter of candlelight. He stepped to the entry, hesitated, then drew back the drape. At first he thought Vincent was asleep. His father sat in a wing-backed red brocade chair, his head down, a book in his hands.
Jacob took one step into the chamber. “Dad?” he called softly.
Vincent raised his head and for the first time he looked old to Jacob. Jacob was filled with remorse at their conflict and went to his father’s side, taking a seat on the ottoman.
“What y’reading?” Jacob inquired, reaching to tilt the book’s cover upward.
It was The Velveteen Rabbit. “Hey,” said Jacob, “one of our favorites!”
“It was the first one you read to me,” said Vincent fondly, relinquishing the book into his son’s hands.
Jacob began to read on the page that was opened.
When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept--
Jacob stopped reading and looked up to see Vincent’s eyes filled with tears. Simultaneously, the two spoke:
“Dad! I -- ”
“Son, I -- ”
They stood, face to face, and gripped each others’ arms. All their love, all their fears, all their hope, and all their possibilities rested unspoken and evident between them. The two embraced, thumping each other’s backs then stepped apart with smiling faces.
“Well, guess I’ll go finish packing!” Jacob enthused. “Going to bed?”
“No, son, I think I’ll read a while longer,” Vincent replied, taking his seat. “Then I’ll look in on Father.” Vincent cast a droll gaze upward to his grown child. “I’m feeling more like him every day,” he said drily.
“Ha ha! Well, g’night, Dad!” Jacob called over his shoulder, happy and full of energy.
“Good night!” Vincent called after him. He leaned over to retrieve the book and turned gently to the last page. He thought of the woman, and the child, who had first helped him to be Real.
“Nite-nite, Jacob . . .” he whispered.
* * *
The day Catherine went Above with Jacob to meet Connie and Omar and take them to the airport, Jenny, Joe and Estelle gathered around Vincent and bade him come to the music chamber with them.
“Not now, children,” he told them.
“C’mon, Daddy,” Estelle entreated, “Jacob left something for you there!”
Indulging them, Vincent allowed himself to be led along.
Once inside the chamber, the children lit candles and made Vincent comfortable in an armchair. He smiled fondly at them, reaching out to touch them, appreciating their support.
Joe and Jenny picked up their violins and began a series of tuning exercises, while Estelle shuffled her sheet music. She started her warm-ups by humming the middle range and progressing to a five-note scale.
Just at the edge of vocal maturity, her voice was as sweet and clear as the strings of the violins, and Vincent was now truly intrigued. He settled back in his chair, his fingers laced under his chin to listen.
“It’s titled “Composition for my Father,” Estelle said happily, “Jacob wrote it!”
Vincent had never felt so honored. He sat rapt with love as his children’s virtuosity flowed across the chamber.
Rainshadow, one home,
moonrise, one heart;
Circle of family,
one heart, one heart.
With love there are no limits,
With love there is no end,
With love our wings are open
We fly and soar and then,
We settle gently homeward,
Though humble it may seem,
To plan for Life’s adventures
And live another dream.
Rainshadow, one home,
moonrise, one heart;
Circle of family,
one heart, one heart ~
Applause alone would not do. Vincent stood with open arms and his children ran into his embrace, absorbing their father’s love and pride. This was the one heart of the Family Wells.