CIRCLE OF LIFE
published in the 2013
Vincent lifted his head, aware for the first time in hours that the continuous tapping had dissipated; the only sound was the sentries checking in from their posts. Glancing at the clock, he confirmed his own internal sense of time.
The stack of journals piled on his desk and the accumulation of tattered pages loosely peeking from the journals drew his attention once more, causing him to frown. He had re-read those papers and, again, his emotions were stirred; he vividly remembered the angst and despair that had filled him when he first discovered those pages. The pages had begun to appear over the last two years in a steady cascade of paper.
Taking out his pen, he found paper and hastily wrote, then grabbed his cloak and headed toward the park. Silently, he moved across the grass, up the small grade into the area where the trees were thick and covering. His long strides were purposeful and soon he was within a small grove where the tangled undergrowth was thick, causing him to tread lightly. With years of practice, he unerringly found the tree, brushed aside the clinging vines and thrust the paper inside the now visible upper hole. His large hand covered the hole, holding it as if, somehow, the warmth from his hand could contain the pain that had poured from it over the years. “Be well, please be well.”
Two Years Previously
The lone figure slowly made her way to the exit, waited until the bus had halted and then carefully stepped down. She felt the catch in her knee, struggled to keep her balance as she hurriedly brought her right foot forward off the bus step. Momentarily, she felt the sharp pain slice upward, then recede, and she was able to take another step. Carefully, she began to walk, delicate pondering steps as she worked to overcome her badly abused knee. She stopped at the market, getting a few items and began the two block walk to the tiny rooms that were her home. Painstakingly, she climbed the steps, unlocked the door and closed it, locking out the world.
She heard the crisp nails on the bathroom floor then the soft mew of greeting as Muffin, her large Maine Coon cat, rubbed against her legs. She reached down to pet her, then straightened and walked to the kitchenette. Picking up the bowl from the floor, she filled it and returned it to the feeding mat. As Muffin ate, she put away her few groceries, looked at the contents of the refrigerator, shrugged and closed the door.
Entering the bathroom, she removed her clothing, stepped into the shower and when she was finished, slipped into her pajamas, as was her habit. She had long since given up changing into casual clothes after work as no one knocked at her door, nor ever called. Why should she dress when no one ever saw the clothing and her pjs were far more comfortable?
She flipped on the radio, which filled the oppressive silence, poured a glass of wine and withdrew several sheets of paper from the nearby stack and began to write.
Today was the same as yesterday and the day before. Nothing changes, so why do I continue? The greetings get brighter when there is a difficult report, when the impossible needs to be accomplished in an unreasonably short time. Whine to your supervisor and the difficult job gets removed from your desk and shifted to my competent shoulders. Plan a party but never invite me; my slow walk and brace spoil all the fun. No one wanted to be seen with a cripple, a gimp. I am only there, they all knew, because the union had threatened a strike if equal opportunity wasn’t given to the handicapped. I am the office token. Be kind and helpful, her parents said, then they will overlook your handicap. Smile and never show your pain or anger, for if you do, it will be how you are remembered. It will only give them ammunition to make further jokes about your handicap.
The music triggered her tears and she stopped writing to wipe them away. The words, so tender, touched that part of herself she kept hidden, fearful of allowing the depth of her emotions to find their freedom, to allow others to see how easily she was wounded by their callous remarks and her abject loneliness.
Who would ever love me? All the world sees is the exterior and they are repulsed at that vision, reducing me into that category of the unacceptable, to be pitied, perhaps, but never to be loved. I am the object of their ridicule and jokes, but never their kindness. I ache to be a part of what they have, what they carelessly throw away.
As long as I’m useful, they tolerate me. I smile. I bathe, I don’t stink. I wear nice clothing. I read, know the current topics of the news, and I don’t spread gossip. Why am I alone? Why? I am friendly but my phone never rings. No one ever thinks of me unless they want something from me. In all the years I’ve lived here, no one has ever asked me out for coffee, let alone for dinner. Do they pity me? Can’t they see I am just like them? Is my misshapened body so repulsive that I must be the butt of all their jokes and laughter?
She heard the sirens passing on the street below and she suddenly felt exhausted. She folded the paper, placed it in her purse, turned off the lights and got into bed, welcoming the warmth as Muffin curled at her feet.
In the morning, she left twenty minutes early, walked to the park, climbed the rise, and then, after checking over her shoulder, bent and dropped her missive into the hole in the tree. It and all the other missives were safe there from the prying eyes of her landlady. The earth would dissolve them in time and the pencil writing would fade to nothingness. Turning, she made her way back along the way she had come, reaching the bus stop with five minutes to spare. Painfully, she climbed abroad.
The day had been filled with work and the companionship of his friends, but now, the evening was here and, after dinner, Vincent found himself alone. There were times when he envied his friends, the going home to their families after work. There was always Father, but that wasn’t the same. He longed for what his friends had: a family of his own, a wife and children. In the years since Devin had left to make his way in the world Above, Vincent profoundly felt his aloneness.
Only since Catherine had come to his world had he finally admitted the deep secret he kept locked within his heart. That he, too, longed for all he witnessed his friends experiencing. He remembered all too clearly all of Father’s dire warning about the limitations of his life, the things which could not be his, but the warnings did not negate his dreams and envy for what Father stated would never to be his.
It was only with Devin and now, with Catherine, that he had dared dream of possibilities of things that were not, but could be. But Catherine was away and he felt the sharp loss of her presence deeply tonight. He had seen the bloom of love on Olivia’s face as she joyfully greeted Kanin as they returned from the work detail and he was momentarily envious. The simple act of touching the face of your love, the joyful look upon seeing their face; all those things, and more, he had witnessed as Olivia greeted Kanin. All the things he desperately wanted he had seen and he was consumed with jealousy and greed that they were not his. And he felt saddened that he could not rejoice over Olivia’s happiness, that his envy had usurped the former joy he had felt in seeing his friends together as a family.
Restless, and knowing sleep would not come easily tonight, he grabbed his cloak and quit his chamber. He walked the dark streets, slipping between the bright lights and found himself sliding onto Catherine’s balcony. There he relaxed on the cold concrete; being near her possessions calmed his feelings of restlessness and he mentally calculated how many more nights would pass until he could once again feel her arms holding him and hear the sigh of contentment she uttered as she pressed a kiss against his vest. His heart ached for Catherine and he longed to be within her arms, to feel her heart rapidly beating, see the joy lighting her eyes as she said his name. She was everything, his world and his heart.
In the distance, he saw the first faint streaks of pink and purple lighting the sky and he left the balcony, his feet taking him toward the Park and home. He stood on the rise, waiting for the car idling on the drive to leave. It stood in a direct path where he needed to cross from the copse to reach the drainage pipe. Quietly, he moved deeper into the trees as the driver exited the car.
He heard a soft crisp sound beneath his booted foot and he froze. Cautiously, he watched the driver, seeking to know if the sound had carried across the expanse. He watched as the man zipped his fly, entered his car and drove away.
Slowly, he shifted his foot and glanced down, curious as to what had caused the sound he had heard. Beneath his booted foot, he saw a partial sheet of paper; the rest of the paper seemed to be hidden within the depth of the tree. He reached down, lifted the paper and, as the first sheet cleared the ground, several more sheets were visible. He also picked up those and, shifting, tried to decipher the faint writing. Curious, he stuffed the sheets into his pocket, kicked the ground cover to disguise his footprints and loped toward the drainage pipe.
Lighting several candles, Vincent settled on his bed and began studying the sheets of paper. As he read the pages, he realized he had discovered someone’s secret thoughts that had apparently been buried in the old rotting tree, hidden in the vegetation. Repulsed by his actions, he was unable to keep himself from reading the passages. The despair, despondency, and the sadness of the words, tore at his heart. In many ways, these words echoed his aloneness, the deepest feelings within his heart, the summation of all that wasn’t his and which he longed to possess.
Tears pricked his eyes as the desolation and overwhelming anguish of the soul who had written the words swept over him. He could have written these words; in fact, he was positive there were similar, companion thoughts written within his own journals.
Why were the pages stuffed within the tree? Where in the vast city was this tormented soul? How long ago had they been written? The endless questions tortured his soul and he rose from his bed to pace the width of his chamber.
I’m so sick. My fever has reached 102° and nothing seems to be helping. It’s been a week and the only call was one wanting to know where a copy of a report could be found. Not a word of concern or an offer of help, just tell me where and then goodbye. They only care that I am not there to serve them, to do what they are too lazy to accomplish.
What’s wrong with me that no one cares if I live or die? Even the one person who gave me a birthday card apparently hasn’t missed my being at work. No one, not even the nosey landlady, has been here wishing to know why I’m home! She would be here if I failed to pay my rent!
They asked me out for drinks today. I was thrilled. I waited at the restaurant for an hour and no one showed up. I felt so alone in the crowd as I waited and then I left. I was embarrassed to have waited alone all that time.
Muffin is the only reason I don’t kill myself. The landlady would simply throw her into the street. She’s never been outside and she would surely die beneath the wheels of a car. Better I should kill her, too, peacefully, rather than letting her die in some horrible fashion on the streets.
I heard them laughing today, while I was in the stacks, wondering how long I had probably waited for them to show up. It was all some sick joke, designed to make me feel worse. I don’t care what Mommy said, I hate all those self-righteous, perfectly formed bodies, their superiority and their imperious attitude in needing to make themselves feel better by making fun of someone who has a disability. I HATE THEM AND WANT THEM TO DIE, DIE, DIE!!!!
I read about a pipe bomber in the Mid-East; the pictures show mangled bodies and bloody people on the ground. I wish a pipe bomber would destroy our building. I’d laugh to see them all bloodied and mangled, then they would know what it was like to be in constant pain and to struggle to do the least thing.
That man in 4G was in the laundry and again he spoke to me. It is the third time he has spoken but I don’t trust him. He is nice looking so why is he speaking to me? Only other ugly people or gimps willingly speak to me; we share a common pain.
Vincent was inconsolable when he finished the last of the crumbed sheets. He was enraged that people were treating this poor soul in such a despicable manner, abusing her with their petty games.
Quickly, he took a sheet of paper and began to write. He sealed the envelope then gathered fresh clothing and headed to the bathing pool. As he worked during his day, he continuously thought of the person who wrote the letters. Their despair haunted him throughout his labors. After dinner, he spoke with Father briefly, collected his cloak, slipped the envelope into his pocket and headed to the park.
His instincts alone directed him to the correct tree; there was no moonlight to guide him, as the night was thick with clouds of a passing storm. His finger closed over more sheets of paper and, carefully, he drew them from the hole. With great gentleness, he folded the fragile sheets that contained a tormented soul
His senses told him he was alone in this area of the park except for an owl in the distant trees. Silently, he wondered if the person came to the Park at night or did they sneak into the trees in broad daylight. He withdrew his letter, placing it on top of the stump near the upper hole of the tree. It was simply addressed “To you from a friend”. Quietly, he moved away from the tree, settling against a group of trees that were in the deepest shadows and waited. The winter morning light was still weak, casting more shadows than actual light, when he heard a slow halting crunch against the carpet of leaves.
He watched the woman’s torturous gait gain the rise and move toward the tree. Her face registered her shock in finding his letter. Her movements were furtive as she unsteadily shifted, searching the trees. Hesitating, she snatched his letter and shoved it into her pocket, moving away with quick choppy movements, as she struggled with the incline.
She opened the door just enough to allow for her entry and quickly closed it, throwing the dead bolt and stood listening. The footsteps continued up the stairs and she slowly let out her held breath.
Muffin came running, wrapping her body around her boots, clearly indicating her joy. She scooped up the cat, rubbing her ears as she went to the bedroom where she dropped Muffin onto the bed. After removing her coat and boots, she stretched out on the bed and removed the unopened letter from her purse. Just touching the thick envelope caused her to tremble. Could this truly be a letter to me, she wondered, as a lone finger traced the writing? Slowly, she opened the letter and gazed at the distinctive script.
Dear Lost One,
First, I must offer my apologies for reading what I am certain was never meant to be read by another. I’m at a complete loss to explain my actions. I value privacy more than most so I again offer my regrets for invading your privacy.
Your journal pages were found spilling out of the bottom of the tree where a second hole exists, of which I’m sure you are unaware. I stepped on a page and other pages came tumbling out.
Reading your private thoughts was like reading my own, for I have felt all you are feeling. The rejection, the cruelty of words and looks by those the world perceives as normal. I am shunned by many, abandoned as an infant because of my differences. People often react in fear upon meeting me. Fortunately, I was found and taken in by a loving person and I have an adopted father who sees me as unique.
If I may give you one thing by writing this, let it be that there are kind people in this world. They are the ones who see beyond the surface and who embrace our differences and love us whole- heartedly. Please, do not give up. Continue to try to find the special ones who will make your life bearable and who will help you to live it with joy.
The letter destroyed all rational thought, leaving in its wake a shattered mass of humanity. Her face was awash with tears as she read the letter for a third time and, slowly, her tears turned to sobs, gut wrenching deep sobs that shook her body with their intensity. Muffin rubbed against her as the sobs grew in volume, becoming a cacophony of soul-deep keening. Her weeping continued unabated and the bed shook as her body convulsed in pain.
There was suddenly a loud banging at her door. She tried to ignore it but it continued and she heard a deep voice. “If you don’t open the door, I am going to call the police.” Again the fist pounded against the door.
Leaning against the door, she shouted “Go away, leave me alone.”
“I heard you. I can’t go away until I know you are all right. Please open the door.”
She peered into the peek hole and saw the man from 4G. Leaving the chain in place she cracked the door. “Please, go away, just leave.”
“I’m sorry but I could hear you sobbing and I had to find out if you were all right. I thought you might be ill or had injured yourself.”
“I received a letter that upset me. I’m sorry I disturbed you. Please go.” She started to close the door but found his foot was stuck in it.
“Are you sure you are all right? May I help in anyway? I’m Sean Fitzgerald; I live above you in 4G.”
“Thank you, Mr. Fitzgerald, if you will excuse me.” The foot slid from the door and just as she closed the door, she noticed the sad expression in his eyes.
She tossed and turned all night, sleeping only in fits, to awaken with a start, then searching the bed until she again touched the letter. When the alarm rang, she hit it three times before she finally turned it off, rolled over and went back to sleep. She answered the phone at ten to a demanding voice wanting to know why she wasn’t at work. Carefully she replied that she was ill. Again the sharp voice demanded to know if she was coming in the next day reminding her of the legal contracts that were on her desk and due on Friday. “Perhaps you should give them to someone else to prepare as I doubt I’ll be able to get in tomorrow either.” She hung up as the voice raged on about the contracts.
Her head throbbed to the point where she thought it would fall off and roll across the floor. She took the prescribed pills and, as she swallowed them, she wondered if it wouldn’t be easier to just consume all of them. Mentally, she heard a voice within her head, “Be well, a friend”. Who was this strange person who wrote so sincerely words that tore at her heart? Why should that person care about what happened to her, care about the cruelty the world had shown her? Why?
She went to the table and took down some sheets of paper and began to write.
Why would you deem me important enough to even consider a reply to what others would have tossed away as trash? What sort of person reads another’s private thoughts, and then has the gall to prepare a written response? Some perverted sick soul who thinks it would be fun to help the gimp?
Because you invaded my privacy, I sit here with a throbbing migraine. I couldn’t get my head off the pillow, didn’t call work to say I was ill and then had to hear the whining about what they needed; why wasn’t I there to do their work? Who knows what dirty tricks they will plan while I’m home wishing I could die because the pain is so intense.
Because of you, that man beat on my door, demanding to know if I was all right. What business is it of his whether I am all right? Why can’t I even cry in the privacy of my own apartment? Why is he so nosey and invasive?
He scares me. There is something about his eyes I don’t like. Why can’t he be like all the rest and just ignore me?
Over the next year Vincent discovered a steady stream of missives left in the tree. Most of them broke his heart as he read of the consuming pain and a repeated wish to die. He was unable to prevent himself from returning time and time again to the tree; each time he resolved not to read the letters but upon reaching the tree and discovering new pages, he was powerless to prevent the reading. He struggled endlessly with his conscience but the desperation in the letters made it impossible for him to cease. Again he sat at his desk and began to write.
Enough time has passed and I now think of you not as a stranger but as a friend I have yet to meet. It is a strange paradox when one considers that a stranger, whom they have never met, is a friend, someone they care about and think of often.
Admittedly, I have no knowledge of the business sphere in which you operate but I can’t keep from wondering why you continue to stay in an environment where you are so abused. Is it money that keeps you in such a situation? Surely, in this vast city, there is another job where you will be valued and treated kindly. Please think about it. Your pain and despair over your job is poignantly clear, as I read of your heartbreak.
Again, I must reassure you that there are kind people in the world, ones who do not judge solely by outward appearances. It is my hope you will find such people and draw them into your life; you would not believe how my own life has changed because of such a person. Please be brave and try to find them.
It was very early in the morning when Vincent slipped back into the drainage entrance after leaving his message atop the rotten tree stump. Mentally, he was fatigued as he again saw the young woman limp up the grade and he ached with the pain that surrounded her.
They sat on the bench on Catherine’s balcony, silently enjoying the city’s lights. He was deep in thought, unconsciously rubbing and stroking Catherine’s hand.
“You seem far away this evening. Is something troubling you? Is there anything I may do?”
“Your awareness of my mood, your perception of my deeper feelings, as always, astonishes me.” His silence continued and then, haltingly, he began to speak. He told of this last year, the journal entries he had found and his own correspondence with the writer. “Her sadness and despondence grow darker and I feel powerless to help her. In spite of the overwhelming sadness in her letters, I feel such a depth of love coming from her as a person who, despite all the abuse she has suffered and the physical pain she endures, there is still a part of her that is untouched by all these things. That is the part that keeps her coming back to the tree and continuing to endure, the belief that one day those people she works with will realize her worth.”
Catherine’s look was contemplative as she listened. “Do you know where she lives?”
“No. She comes to the Park early in the morning when I believe she is going to work. I’ve only seen her then, never during the evening or at night.”
“Perhaps I could check with Joe to see what kinds of openings the Department might have and, if there are any, you could let her know and maybe she would apply. We have lots of physically challenged people working and all of them are certainly well treated and respected. She wouldn’t be a token employee because of affirmative action; she would simply be an employee.”
His voice was softer than normal, his emotions closer to the surface. “You would do that? If there was some way to get her into a job where she was respected, surely it would improve her outlook.”
They huddled together as Catherine spoke of another possibility and they worked out the details.
Four times he has knocked on my door and four times he has asked me if I was all right. Last night I yelled at him, telling him he was invading my privacy by beating on my door, demanding to know why I had been crying. It’s not my fault the walls are thin! If he continues I will have to move. I don’t beat on his door telling him not to watch those dreadful murder programs he watches where people are screaming. Why can’t I cry in my own apartment without his demanding to know why?
There was a large plate of food outside my door when I got home and a note from him saying he had overcooked and perhaps I would consider this as my evening meal. The food was hot so he is apparently aware of when I get home.
There was another letter from you I found this morning. Seeing them there, I am no longer fearful or frightened. Some mornings, I am actually disappointed when there is nothing there atop the stump and I am saddened.
Catherine arrived at the Park early and watched as Vincent stepped from the trees, giving her a clear indication as to where she needed to go. She disappeared into the thick growth, spoke briefly to him and then went down the grade toward the area from which the girl came. Dressed casually in running gear and a light jacket, she stretched and ran in place so she appeared just another person preparing to run in the Park. Roughly two hundred feet ahead of her, she saw a young woman slowly making her way along the path and she had a decided limp. Catherine could see that each step was painful as the woman determinedly moved forward. She turned away from the woman, hiding her face as she continued to flex.
After the woman passed her, Catherine glanced toward her and saw her begin to climb the rise toward the trees. Catherine moved, heading toward the direction from which the woman had come, sat down on a bench and began a form of sit-ups. Minutes later, the woman exited the trees and moved off, heading out of the Park.
Catherine allowed the woman to get well ahead of her then started to jog slowly. The woman crossed the street, standing at the bus stop and seconds later, Catherine crossed and stepped aboard the same bus. She followed the woman after she exited the bus until she entered a large building and Catherine also went inside. There, she watched as the woman stepped onto the escalator and saw her get off at the second floor.
Quickly, Catherine walked over to the reception area, waited while another person was being helped and casually slipped off one earring. “Could you help me? The lady who went up the escalator dropped this and I’d like to return it. Could you tell me where I could find her? Medium height, dressed in a stylish black rifer coat, and she had a limp.”
With hardly a glance toward Catherine, the person behind the desk said in a hard, nasty tone, “That’d be the gimp, Robyn Matthews. She’s in 215 in the library of Wilson, Kanter, and Dickinson.”
Catherine forced a smile and walked toward the escalator. When she got off, she casually strode around the floor until she found 215 and peeked in, saw the woman, and just as quickly left.
Later that evening, she saw Vincent and reported all she had learned. “The company she works for is an international shipping concern and has somewhat of a shaky reputation, as they have been involved in several union disagreements over the years. They are a multi-million dollar a year company who are known for paying minimum wage and few benefits. I wasn’t able to determine just what position Robyn Matthews holds within the company, other than that she works within the company library division. Tomorrow, I’ll try to find out further information as I have a few contacts at the local union hall. Maybe I can get a handle on what Ms. Matthews does within the company.” She paused and then pressed a note into Vincent’s hand. “This is her address and telephone number. As far as I was able to determine, the address puts her about two or three blocks from where she boarded the bus. If I remember correctly, that area has lots of medium-sized apartment buildings and several houses that have been converted into flats.”
“I can’t thank you enough for your kindness. Knowing where she lives means a great deal.”
That night, after leaving Catherine, Vincent detoured home via the street where Robyn lived, surveying the building and trying to determine which windows might be hers.
Now they want me to work overtime because they let two people go. I’m so exhausted when I get home now; I don’t know how I will manage working an additional two-three hours per day. They have no concept of how difficult it is to walk with a hunk of iron on your leg.
I tripped today at work, landed in a heap on the floor and it took me forever to be able to stand. My whole body ached so badly. All I heard was about how clumsy I was, tripping over my own feet! But I didn’t trip; I fell over something that was on the floor that shouldn’t have been there, something I didn’t see with the books in my arms.
I have soaked in a hot tub tonight hoping the heat will soothe my aching muscles. I dread the morning and the new pain.
Catherine checked the mailboxes, then started up the stairs. She knocked and waited; slow uneven footsteps made their way to the door. Aware that she was being viewed through the peep hole, Catherine patiently waited and, finally, the door opened a few inches. “Ms. Matthews, my name is Catherine Chandler and a friend asked me to give this to you.” She held a folded sheet of paper and pressed it into the narrow opening.
Robyn took the sheet, instantly recognizing the bold pen strokes.
Dear Friend, this is my friend Catherine and I asked her to help you. Please, I beg of you, allow her to talk with you. She comes to you because I cannot. She is worthy of your trust.
“I don’t understand. How did you know where I lived?”
“Miss Matthews, I will explain everything but I think it best if we don’t talk in the hall. If you would allow me to come inside, it will be easier. I don’t think it is good for you to stand, especially not after your recent fall. May I come in?”
Robyn’s face clearly registered her surprise at Catherine’s comment concerning her fall. Only one person knew of that. Wordlessly, the door closed and the sound of the chain being withdrawn was clear and the door opened only wide enough to allow Catherine to enter.
Robyn closed and bolted the door, then asked Catherine to have a seat.
“Miss Matthews, I’m sure you have dozens of questions and I will try to answer all of them. Recently, our mutual friend told me a little about you and his concern for your well-being. A few weeks ago, I waited in the park after you had retrieved a letter and I followed you to your place of employment. That’s how I found out your name.
“I work for the DA’s office and I was able to do some research about the company for whom you work. They have had several run-ins with the union offices as well as a few legal battles over their hiring practices.
“From what I was able to piece together, you work within what they call their library department doing legal research, coordinating international meetings, as well as assembling contracts. Is that correct?”
Seeing the answering nod, Catherine continued. “Our friend asked me to come to you because of his concern. He does not wish to interfere with your life, but we do wish to offer you an option.” Picking up her purse, Catherine withdrew two sheets of paper and handed them to Robyn. “There are currently two openings within the division where I work and management always gives due consideration to hiring the physically challenged. We don’t have token staff who are disabled; we have a full staff that encompasses people who are hearing-impaired, visually-challenged and who have physical limitations. Perhaps you might read over the qualifications and then consider putting in your application.
“Our friend thinks that a change of work environment might improve your outlook on life. I don’t know anything about you. I haven’t read your journal pages but, based solely upon what I have been told, if you care to use my name as a reference, you are more than welcome to do so. I’m certain you have a million questions and I will do my best give you as many answers as I can.”
Over the next two hours, Robyn asked the many questions that puzzled her; she especially wanted to know about Vincent. “There are many questions about our friend that I cannot answer because I promised never to reveal his name or where he lives. He is the most compassionate, caring, and loving person I have ever met. He epitomizes all that is good and honorable in mankind.”
“He told me that people were often fearful when they see him. Is he deformed?”
“No, I would not say he is deformed. I find him beautiful and unique among men.
“Miss Matthews, would it be agreeable to you if I pass your name along to my supervisor? That way, if you do decide to apply for a job, he will at least be aware that you are someone who is recommended.”
“But you don’t know me. Why would you be so kind as to do that?” Her eyes were bright and unshed tears clung to her lashes.
“Let’s just say that when I was broken in spirit and needed help, it was given to me by our friend. I’m simply trying to repay a kindness done to me, to pay it forward, so to speak. I’ve learned that kindness, compassion, and caring cost nothing to give, and the benefits come back many times over.
“But I’m a stranger, why would you be kind to me?”
“Perhaps the question isn’t why would I be kind to you, but why wouldn’t I be kind to you? Life is too challenging not to be kind; kindness and love are what makes life bearable and worth living.”
In the hours since her guest had left, Robyn sat reflecting on everything that had been said. She still found it incomprehensible to believe that strangers would be so kind to her. Her body ached as she stood and went to her table.
Dear Friend, it has been over a year since your messages began to appear and it is only now, after the visit from Miss Chandler, that I realize I have never called you friend, which you certainly are. It is a simple truth that, without your kind regard for a stranger, I would not be alive today. What was unbearable and consumed me, has been made easier by your thoughts and caring.
I remember when I was like you, filled with compassion and understanding for others, but over the years, the constant pain and cruelty wore away what goodness I possessed and replaced it with hate and bitterness. Surely, there must be a spark of what was still left inside of me. I can only pray I have the courage to find and nurture the spark into a brightly burning flame.
Your friend, Robyn
Vincent read the message and his heart beat wildly with joy, knowing and understanding the gift Robyn had given him. Silently, he prayed that she would find herself and return to the world of the living and to venture forth into life in all its glory.
The week had been a disaster and five more people had been fired. She heard the yelling as she entered the library department and put away her purse and hung her coat. She had been working for over an hour, trying to piece together the various paragraphs to complete a new contract. The inner door opened, her supervisor stood in the opening, “Get in here.”
As she closed the door, he started yelling. “From now on, you’re gonna be working from 8 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., six days a week, and any time you are out with one of your so-called migraines, you will be docked for the hours you miss. Your gravy days are over and you can just tow the mark like everyone else. You got that?”
Robyn slowly got to her feet and in a soft voice she replied, “Yes, I got that loud and clear.” She opened the door and went to her desk. Carefully, she opened the document she had been composing and gleefully hit the delete key. She then put on her coat and removed her purse and umbrella from the drawer. Fishing her keys from her purse, she deftly removed the two office keys from her ring and taped them to the blotter, grabbed a marker and added a message to the previously pristine blotter. I QUIT EFFECTIVE TODAY, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, GOT IT? Boldly, she signed her name and walked out the door.
She was supremely calm as she walked down the hall and she could hear the yelling coming from her former office. She crossed the street, went into the coffee shop and ordered. As she sipped her coffee, her body began to tremble and she shook. After a second cup of coffee, she left and hailed a cab.
Robyn sat in the reception area as panic began to overtake her. What had she done? As she pondered, she heard her name, “Ms. Matthews, if you will come with me, Ms. Chandler will see you in the conference room.”
Catherine smiled broadly as she offered her hand. “Miss Matthews. What a delightful surprise. How may I help you?”
“I apologize for disturbing you at work, but I didn’t know where else to turn.”
“A break from the deposition I’m working on is more than welcome. Why don’t you take a seat and then tell me how I may help.”
Robyn began haltingly to tell her story and, slowly, her voice got stronger, more sure of herself, as she told Catherine what she had done. By the time she finished saying what she had written on the blotter, Catherine was rocking with laughter. “What is that old saying, something about revenge is a dish best served cold? Well, I think you served up one heck of a dish! Served him right for treating you so badly.
“Would you wait here for just a moment?”
Robyn was smiling when Catherine returned and a young man followed her into the room. “Robyn Matthews, I’d like you to meet Joe Maxwell, the assistant District Attorney and my boss.” Joe extended his hand and then took a seat.
“Joe, Robyn is the young lady I spoke to you about. She’s come to tell me that she just quit her job and since you had some free time, I thought it might be nice if you two met, informally.”
“From what Cathy has told me, you have some qualifications that would be beneficial and a welcome addition to our staff. While this is in no way an official interview, since you haven’t submitted an application, would you mind telling me about yourself? Strictly informally, of course.”
As Robyn spoke of her qualifications, Joe continued his obsessive rubber band stretching. Catherine was positive he didn’t even realize he was still playing with it.
Purposefully Robyn stood and walked to the window and back again. “How much of a problem is this going to be to you?” Her deep brown eyes bored into him as she sought to confirm all that Catherine had told her about the department and employment of those with challenges.
“It’s only going to be a problem during the fire drills, but we have big burly guys who are assigned to assist each person who has a challenge, down the stairs. Otherwise, it’s not a problem. I’m hiring for brains, not as potential members of the Olympic track team. We’ll modify anything that needs modifying to accommodate you without question.
“As long as you’re here, why don’t you let me get you an application? You can fill it out here, and then I’ll escort you down to HR for your preliminary interview. We might as well get this boat launched ASAP.”
Minutes later, Joe was back with the application in his hand. Again, he offered his hand, saying he would see her in about twenty minutes and then he’d take her to HR.
I don’t quite know how to explain all that happened today. It seems like a dream and I keep thinking I will awaken to find it all untrue.
Today, I quit my job. I didn’t stop to analyze it, I just did it. That is so unlike me. I don’t recognize the person who did this rash thing. This morning I quit a job I had held for fifteen years and this afternoon, I have a new job, with shorter hours, benefits, and an increase in salary. And, what is more astounding, is that one of the other employees lives two blocks away and, beginning tomorrow, I will have a ride back and forth to work. No more walking to the bus stop in all kinds of weather!
There is no way I can thank you for sending Miss Chandler to me. Without her encouragement, I would never have had the courage to quit. I think I basically assumed all employers were like my former bosses. After my interview, I was shown where I would be seated; they even measured me for the correct height chair, and the people all around were so kind and friendly. I felt like I was reborn in heaven. I even met the two gentlemen who would be my fire drill assistants. I still can’t believe that people volunteer to assist people with challenges to get down the stairs in fire drills or in case of an actual fire.
Thank you, friend.
Your friend, Robyn
Vincent’s heart filled with pride as he read Robyn’s letter with all Catherine had been able to accomplish. Her quiet caring and willingness to go the distance for others and her selflessness were such a part of who she was. He had only thought to share his concerns about what was bothering him; he hadn’t expected her to resolve the problem. Yet, she had done that in her simple, caring way because what upset him, also upset her sense of justice and her sense of right would not allow a challenge to go unmet. Again, he realized Catherine felt as deeply as he did on so many levels and, in her own quiet way, she sought to ease the stress of life for others.
These first two weeks have flown by so quickly. While I am pleasantly tired when I get home, I am not exhausted, as I used to be, at the end of the day. The first day, two people asked me to lunch. That startled and surprised me completely as it surely wasn’t what I had expected.
Mr. Maxwell comes by every couple of days to see how I’m doing; he is very friendly even though I can see how very busy he is. He takes a few minutes to reassure me of what a welcome addition to his staff I am! Can you imagine that? He is always smiling and laughing. I never saw my old boss smile or laugh.
It’s difficult to say but it has been nearly four months now since I last cried. I no longer cry myself to sleep each night. I have to admit that, for the first month, I had my guard up, wondering if the people were just being nice because I was new. I’m so thankful that thought has been proved wrong.
It’s unreal how much I have in common with Catriona Stewart, whom I ride to work with each day. Several times, we have stopped to have a glass of wine or dinner and she regularly offers to swing by the grocery, so that I don’t have to walk carrying heavy sacks.
Gathering her laundry, Robyn slowly made her way down the flights of stairs to the basement. She made quick work of getting her wash started, thankful the laundry was empty and she didn’t have to wait for a machine. Since the stairs were a challenge for her, she always carried a book to read while she waited to complete this weekly chore. She was fully enmeshed in her book when the laundry room door opened and Sean Fitzgerald walked in toting his own basket of clothes.
He looked directly at her. “Since I seem to upset you each time we have met, would you prefer me to leave now?”
Robyn was aghast at his directness. It was true; each time she had previously seen him, she had been upset, either crying or about to start crying. How dreadfully she had treated him and yet he was always polite. “No, Mr. Fitzgerald, don’t leave. I owe you an apology for my past behavior. I can only humbly say I’m sorry I reacted as I did.”
He smiled as he walked toward her. “Of course I accept your apology. I realize we haven’t gotten off to a good start but, by way of an explanation, I can only say that you remind me of my sister, Mary Kate. For months before she died, I would hear her crying at night and, hearing you brought it all back. Mary Kate killed herself because she felt she was a burden because of her challenges and she was sick of people making fun of her. That’s why I beat so frantically on your door that first night; I was scared and had to be certain you were okay.”
Robyn could only stare at him with her mouth open. “I’m sorry about the passing of your sister. I’m certain you must still miss her very much.”
“It’s a hole in my heart that I think will never heal. I will always wonder about what I didn’t try, if there had been something I could have said or done to have prevented it.”
He moved on to the washers and began sorting his laundry, leaving Robyn to her book and her thoughts.
“Vincent, I have a question to ask. This afternoon I spent my break with Robyn Matthews, as she had left me a note saying she wished to talk. She asked me if it were possible for her to meet you. She stated she wanted to thank you, in person, for everything you had done over the last eighteen months and for saving her life. I explained that I couldn’t answer that question but that I would certainly make you aware of her request.”
“What I may have done is small. She did all the work and she saved her own life. Her pain was the same pain I have felt because of my differences.”
“Yes, her pain was your pain, but you showed her a way to endure the heartbreak and to rise above it. You helped guide her through it and come out whole on the other side.”
“You helped to get her a new job and that was certainly the turning point in her life.”
“It’s your decision, Vincent, whether to meet her or not. I will tell her tomorrow that I made her request known but that you are still thinking about the wisdom of such a meeting. How would that be?”
I am sorry you are reluctant to allow us to meet, but I am hopeful that in time you may reconsider. In another few months, I will again ask Cathy to speak with you about it.
Today, we had a fire drill; immediately after the alarm rang, Ben and David appeared at my desk. They are the two volunteers assigned to assist me during a drill. They were just so matter of fact about the whole thing, very calm and reassuring as we made our way down the stairs. We laughed and talked about different ways to assist me down the stairs; they even suggested an old fashion piggy back ride! I never thought I would be laughing about such a serious undertaking.
I’ve an appointment with a specialist to have my leg re-evaluated. I read about a new procedure that might impact my leg and I want to learn more about it, if it might be a viable option for me.
Another two months have passed and it feels normal to be going to the Park to leave these messages for you with the hope that there will be a letter from you. Remember how scared I was in the beginning? How I demanded to know why you dared to care about what happened to me? I was so filled with hate and bitterness and you never reacted to all the vile things I poured out in all those missives. How may I ever repay your steadfast kindness and caring?
I went out to dinner with Sean Fitzgerald, the man who lives in 4G. We have been chatting when we see each other in the laundry room and yesterday he asked if I would go to dinner with him. I’ve gotten very old to never have been out to dinner with a man. It was very strange, preparing for that event and I was more than scared, I assure you.
There is a possibility that, within the next couple of years, surgery may have advanced so that it might be possible to correct my leg problem. The specialist said it would be a long surgery – three hours or so – and that right now it was still in the experimental phase. Perhaps there is hope for me now, as I never had that option before. I still must wear my brace to support the leg.
He reached up, offering his supporting arms as Catherine descended the threshold ladder. With quick, practiced movements, she turned in his arms and hugged him, placing a kiss against his cheek as his arms circled her waist. “Are you well, Catherine?”
“Yes, I am, thank you. I’ve just returned from the hospital and I knew you would be eager to learn of the surgery. I spoke to Robyn’s doctors and the surgery, while long, went smoothly and they are very hopeful for a positive outcome. Robyn will be in the hospital for four or five days and then she will go to rehab for a couple of weeks before returning home.”
The breath he had been holding was expelled in a soft rush. “I am thankful she has successfully come through the surgery. It must have been difficult for you, waiting all that time alone for the surgery to be over.”
“I wasn’t alone.
Sean Fitzgerald came to the hospital and stayed until Robyn was
out of recovery and taken to her room.
He’s a very pleasant young man and he seems genuinely fond of
Robyn. It did take me a
couple of minutes to catch onto his speech.
Stress seems to deepen his brogue and he lapsed into Gaelic a
couple of times. He
mentioned that he had emigrated from
“Robyn has come a long way in these years. I’m truly pleased that she is now living a rich, full life.”
“Each day, she thanks you for saving her life and leading her from the darkness.”
“I did nothing but write a few words on paper.”
“You gave her a reason to live in those few words. And, more importantly, you gave her the light to push away her darkness.”
It doesn’t seem possible I have been out of rehab and home for nearly seven weeks. My leg continues to improve and gets stronger. The ongoing therapy is tough and my therapist shows no mercy, as this is what is necessary for a full recovery.
Thank you for the volume of poetry you left in our tree. Normally, I would say I don’t like poetry, but this was so simple in its beauty and, as far as I could tell, there were no deep hidden mysteries as to what the author was saying. I dislike analytical reading; I’d rather assume the author chose specific words to be just what they imply and not some mystical code that meant something entirely different.
Would you please consider meeting with me? I know you fear I would be frightened because of your appearance. I should very much like to thank you in person before I leave. You see, dear friend, I have the great pleasure in telling you that Sean and I are going to be married and we will be moving to Ireland. I never thought I would know such happiness or ever have someone to love or who loves me. You made this all possible and I should be blessed if you would agree to meet. I should like to say my goodbye in person, face to face. Won’t you please consider my request?
It was the dark of the moon and the streets had long since grown quiet. While Catherine mounted the front stairs, Vincent had entered the building through the seldom used back staircase.
“Oh, Cathy, what a wonderful surprise, I can’t believe it’s almost time to leave for the airport. It has been such a joy in knowing you and sharing my working days in such a warm, friendly atmosphere.”
“Robyn, we need to turn off some of these lights. Vincent is waiting at the door to the back stairs and his eyes are very sensitive to bright lights.” Catherine moved through the living area, turning off lights as she talked. “Vincent has come to say goodbye as he felt he would be less than honorable if he didn’t grant your request. If you will leave your door ajar, I’ll go out to tell him you are ready.”
The door slowly opened and he slipped into the room. Silently, he stood as she openly stared and, suddenly, she began to smile as she walked toward him. There had been no time lag, as he had anticipated, as she adjusted to his features. This was not the reaction he had expected, as he usually found it took several long minutes for people to accept what they were seeing.
Robyn ran the last few steps as Vincent opened his arms and she stepped into them. She hugged him hard and then stepped back. “Thank you for trusting me and coming. It will be easier to go now that I have actually met the man who saved my life.”
The soft melodious voice seemed to shimmer in the air. “Robyn, you owe me nothing. It was my pleasure to help. You did all the work; I simply stood beside you to provide support.”
“Cathy gave me her address. Would it be all right if I occasionally write to you to let you know how things are going? I don’t think I’ll need to find a rotting tree with a hole it for my future missives.”
“I would be pleased to hear from you should you feel the need.”
They talked for several minutes more and Vincent
was aware of the time. “I
should leave; you have a plane to catch.
Please allow me to wish you every joy in your new life.
If you do write, tell me about the colors of
He quietly closed the door, headed for the stairs, and disappeared into the darkness. His hood was pulled securely up hiding his features. He saw Catherine waiting and lengthened his stride. He took her hand and, together, they walked the blocks to the Park and home.
“The circle of life is now complete,” his voice held a trace of sadness. “And, somewhere, a new circle is just beginning.
Authors note: In some way, while the circumstances might be different, I feel this is the story of all fans of Vincent and Catherine. We each come from our different places, united by the vision of what we individually see within the tenets of Beauty and the Beast. We all saw the same program but our perception of what we saw varies widely. For some, the viewing opened a closed door. For others, it brought a renewal of spirit and hope. And for still others, it was the consummation of a long held secret dream of possibilities. Whatever brought you to this wonderful world, I am truly joyful in sharing it with you and I humbly thank you for allowing me to be a part of your Vincent and Catherine world.