Anna pulled on her gloves, covering as much exposed skin as possible. It was too cold for New York; Anna was struck by this fact as soon as she left the shelter of the tunnel entrance. This kind of still, frigid weather was more fitting in the extreme regions of the planet, those closer to the poles.
Anna She knew this because sheíd been to those regions. Sheíd been everywhere. Not recently, but in the early days of her marriage. John had been given a research grant to study climate control. He had a brilliant future ahead of him then, everyone said so.
Anna was very surprised when he sought her out for special attention. Sheíd been a lackluster pupil at best, and many of the more talented and intellectually gifted female students had been smitten with the idea of marrying a man who was expected to do great things.
Heíd chosen Anna, however, and sheíd been extremely grateful. Sheíd loved him from a distance, from the moment sheíd set eyes on him in a crowded lecture hall. She never would have believed this kind of good fortune could smile upon her.
She tried desperately hard to be a good wife to him.
His work was cutting edge and very important. Success might mean the difference between life and death for generations of human beings to come. If mankind could find a way to impact the weather - think of the benefits. Famines could be averted. More of the earthís surface might be made hospitable for human habitation. Droughts would become a thing of the past, not unlike so many diseases that had once threatened humankind and had now been isolated and eradicated by the magic of science.
But then, that was before she really knew John, before she had discovered his fatal flaw. Whatever secrets John had uncovered about the natural world would never be brought back to the University. All Johnís notes were encrypted. All his data was obsessively hoarded and guarded for his own use. This was the flaw, the thing that set John apart, that divided him from his companions and set his colleagues against him, causing them to withdraw all financial and academic support.
John did not like to share.
The streets were deserted. Nothing stirred. Snow was in the forecast but it held itself high in the frozen air, unable to penetrate the deep layer of cold that settled on the sidewalks and buildings of Manhattan.
She found herself walking down 7th Avenue. Anna had chosen the tunnel egress in the Village tonight. She loved the old structures that stood among the new, the eclectic mix of architectures that graced a city that was not planned, not laid out from the outset, but had evolved slowly. At first the new settlers had replicated the dwellings of their homelands. Eventually however, they abandoned the old ways in search of other means of architectural expression, especially if the new methods proved more cost effective, more streamlined.
Head down, her body hunched against the cold, Anna wrapped her arms tightly around her torso as she skirted past the construction area on 11th Street and turned down that street. As much as she needed her nightly sojourn, needed to walk under the night sky and breath fresh air, Anna was beginning to think it foolhardy to venture out in such weather as this. She paused and raised her face to the unmoving firmament. Still no sign of snow, the air itself was ice like, a frozen block of precipitation that could not break or fall.
St. Vincentís hospital had continued to grow and spread since it first bloomed on 13th Street a hundred years before. Ascetically Aesthetically speaking, the newer buildings couldnít compare with the older structures, and Anna raised her eyes to the old stone cross surrounded by ornate carvings as she passed the doorway that had once been the main entrance to the hospital, and was now a rarely used side door. There was access to the underground not too far ahead and Anna had decided sheíd turn her steps in that direction.
What was that? Anna stopped moving. Did she hear something? She looked around her. Nothing. Just profound quiet.
She forged ahead. No. Sheíd heard it again. She stopped again, sure of it this time. What hapless creature was caught out in the grip of this biting cold? A dog or cat, perhaps. Anna turned and surveyed her surroundings. She walked back to the stone facade. Had some poor, disenfranchised soul sought sanctuary in its sheltering doorway? As she approached Anna found no huddled figure trying to warm itself there as she half expected, instead she heard that faint wail again. She stepped closer but could only see a pile of tattered cloth.
It moved. Anna knelt down. An injured animal? She reached for the edge of the torn and soiled blanket. Her hand stopped mid action. Something was happening here. Something different. Anna felt it in the pit of her stomach; everything in her world was about to change.The bundle moved again and a small arm appeared, reaching out into the cold and darkness. Anna caught the tiny hand, surprised by the feel of it. But there wasnít time to wonder, this was a human child left to freeze on the cold stone door slip. Why not go the few extra feet and bring the child in to the warmth of the hospital? What could possess anyone to abandon a baby outside on a night such as this?
Annaís fingers, stiff and frozen, struggled with the buttons of her overcoat. Finally succeeding in prying the top ones open, she scooped up the animate parcel and tucked it against her bosom. The child instinctively rooted for her breast, for nourishment, but Anna couldnít worry about that now. Pulling her coat closed as far as she could Anna stumbled to her feet. Half walking, half running, she hastened toward the safety of the tunnels.
They were having yet another discussion. Thatís what they had been initially anyway - discussions. Yet more and more of late, thetÍte-ŗ-tÍtes between Jacob and John could not be characterized by that word. What had once been a frank and friendly exchange of ideas had become a verbal battleground, with both sides determined to give no quarter.
Jacob shook his head wearily, tired of arguing. He sighed and looked around the common room and library that he and John shared. Johnís opinions were taking what Jacob could only see as a dangerous turn. The democracy theyíd first envisioned, that Jacob had envisioned in any case, would soon become a dictatorship if John was allowed to turn things his way.
John dismissed the idea of each personís opinions being worth exactly what each other personís were. He insisted the less educated among them should have less of a say, that age and sex should be a factor in voting privileges.
Jacob could no longer ignore the obvious: John wanted power. He wanted dominion over the other tunnel dwellers. He didnít want compatriots, he wanted subjects.
John was fast losing popularity amongst the others. Jacob had tried gently suggesting this was the case to John, but in return he received only contemptuous diatribes against those who dared to question Johnís authority. It was useless. He could not, or would not, listen.
They both were listening now. A sentry was tapping out a message to the community. News that Anna had just arrived below carrying a new born babe. Jacob and John rose to their feet, each with his own feelings about these unexpected tidings.
Anna was soon standing in the archway clutching the ragged blanket to her. John and Jacob moved toward her simultaneously. Anna however, did not move.
"I found a baby on 11th Street. Heís cold and weak. He needs our help."
Jacob made a move to uncover the foundling but Anna pulled him tighter against her breast. Jacob stared at her, confounded.
"HeísÖ he isÖ different. I think, I think they left him out in that cold because he is different," Anna rambled.
"Okay, Anna. Weíll do what we can for him. May I see the child?" Jacob asked.
Anna continued to hesitate. She looked at her husband; what would his reaction be? She had found John had a cruel streak that could be quite shocking. What would he advise? Drowning the baby? Smothering him?
She bent and held her head to the shaking, whimpering childís before unwrapping the blood soaked blanket that covered him.
Jacob gasped. John only stared.
They all stood in silence for a moment. Finally Anna spoke, "What shall we do for him, Jacob?"
Jacob turned his gaze toward John who still had not moved or spoken. Seeing no help would come from him, Jacob held out his arms. With much reluctance Anna placed the baby in Jacobís hands.
Jacob carried him to the hearth where a fire blazed high. He knelt down and set the child there. Drawing back the rough blanket he examined him. Finally he turned.
"Anna, is Hannah still nursing Pascal?"
"Yes, she is just beginning to wean him."
"Send a message, ask her to come. And William, tell William to boil some water. Also, weíll need clean linens and a fresh blanket."
Anna scurried away to ring out a message on the pipes. John finally spoke. "Is that amnions in the blanket he is wrapped in?"
"It is," Jacob murmured. "I doubt heís many hours old."
"Heís extraordinary, donít you think? Note the flexibility in his limbs, the muscularity."
Jacob continued to stare at the baby. "The face. Look at the face. Itís almostÖ almostÖ"
John regarded the baby slowly, running his fingers over the face and neck. "Feline?" he offered.
Jacob nodded, suppressed a shudder. John continued to examine the baby with great interest. "His skin seemed to be coated with some kind of down. Thatís a good thing, perhaps he would not have survived the cold otherwise. How long do you think he was exposed?"
"Not too long, the temperature tonight is below zero, I would think only a few minutes would have done for him. He doesnít seem to have suffered frost bite, except here, a couple of his toes."
Anna returned, breathless and excited. "So he is going to live, Jacob? He is going to be okay?"
Jacob hesitated. "I donít want us to get ahead of ourselves, Anna."
"Heís going to be all right, I know it. May I hold him again?"
"May I have a turn, Anna?" John asked. His voice was low, compassionate. Anna started she was so surprised, but she acquiesced, dropping her arms and allowing Jacob to place the baby in Johnís instead.
Hannah and Lilly arrived carrying a large basket between them.
Lilly told the gathering. "We collected as much as we could: bottles, receiving blankets, diapers, pacifiers."
Hannah turned to Anna. "Tell us how it happened, Anna, where did you find him?"
"Behind St. Vincentís hospital, he was just a bundle on the doorstep."
John looked up. "St. Vincentís?" He turned his attention back to the baby. "Vincent," he repeated. "The name means prevailing, or to conquer. Itís a good name, a strong oneÖ Vincent!"
For the first time in a long time, Anna smiled at her husband. "Yes. Itís a lovely name."
Hannah moved closer and let out a small scream.
"Whatís the matter with him?"
Anna was quick to defend. "Heís different, thatís all. Heís alive and he needs us."
Lilly moved in next to Hannah and stared at the baby. "You think youíre gonna nurse that, Hannah, look, it already has teeth."
Hannah crinkled her face and moved back.
Anna grew angry, a luxury she rarely afforded herself.
"Heís a he, not an It. And you donít have to suckle him if you donít want to, Hannah, you can express the milk and Iíll give it to him in a bottle."
Hannah nodded slowly, not taking her eyes off the strange looking child. "Okay, if you say so."
Lilly set the basket down and began unpacking the items. "And Iíd a sworn my Winslow was the funniest looking baby I ever saw." She threw a glance back at the baby. "This oneís got him beat by miles."
Slightly mollified by Lillyís humorous tone,
Anna joined her and began examining the contents of the basket.
William arrived carrying water and a basin. Together Jacob and John bathed the child while Hannah and the other women moved to the side of the room so Hannah could fill a bottle for him.
To everyoneís disappointment the baby would not take the bottle. Freshly clean and wrapped in warm blankets, he wailed piteously and flailed his arms but would not take the bottle.
Hannah gave in and tried nursing him but to no avail.
Anna was in despair. "Canít you do something, Jacob, feed him intravenously?"
Jacob shook his head in uncertainty. "I donít know, Anna, he is already dehydrated, his veins, they donít look good and theyíre oddly placed. I donít thinkÖ"
John raised his head. "This is not a time to be thinking, Jacob, this is a time for doing. If you donít attempt an I.V., I will."
Jacob looked at John and then asked for time to consider. He excused himself and climbed to his room above the common one. There was no doubt in his mind, John would attempt what he would not.
Wouldnít it perhaps be more merciful to allow the child to die? He was deformed, more so than the others seemed to acknowledge. If he lived, what kind of life would he be able to enjoy? What were the possible deformities they couldnít see? Was his brain affected? What if the child was never capable of speech, of normal human functions?
Jacob listened to the babyís low wail. It sounded more animal than human. Yet John was determined, and Anna had her heart set. Caring for a baby might bring them back together, might give John some other purpose to his life and make him less apt to want to Lord lord over his neighbors.
Whatever the consequences, Jacob would assist in saving the child if he could. He had his doubts in that direction anyway. With a child as unusual as this one, making a mistake was highly possible, and any mistake they made might prove fatal.
But the child did live. The first few days were precarious. With Anna and Johnís coaxing he eventually took the bottle, began to thrive.
Anna was delirious with happiness.. A child of her own. And John, John was a changed man, or so he seemed. He was kinder to Anna than heíd been in years. They attended to Vincent, for so they called him, together they nursed and bathed and coddled this most unusual baby.
Unfortunately, their domestic bliss did not last long. Anna was initially convinced that this is what had been needed, that Johnís bitterness and anti- social behavior had stemmed from his disappointment in discovering they would be unable to conceive a child of their own.
But slowly it began to dawn on Anna that his interest in the child was not love, but rather something akin to obsession. He gloried in each early milestone Vincent achieved. When Vincent sat up, walked, spoke his first word John was delighted out of all proportion. He was determined that Vincent should be an exceptional child, that he should excel in all things, particularly in all things physical. Vincentís superiority in this area was undeniable, and John gloried in it.
The neighbors noticed. Johnís peculiar desire to get the better of his fellow tunnel dwellers in every conceivable way became increasingly disturbing to all around him.
Finally Jacob drew Anna aside and told her that John was going to be asked to leave. His disregard for the tunnel rules, his refusal to take part in what he considered mundane tasks, his insistence that others pay tribute to his intelligence and general superiority was creating an unease that was radiating throughout the community.
Anna could not argue. His contempt for her own self and his disregard for her feelings had at times made her feel almost paralyzed. She understood the psychological malaise that her husband was capable of spreading, she herself had been almost undone at times by the contagion.
There was a decision to be made and Anna made it. Anna and Vincent would stay where they belonged, among their tunnel family, and John would have to find another place to be.
Anna knew he had not left, that he had stayed below, on the outside of their society. She felt pity for him, hoped he would find peace with
himself some day.
She filled her own days and nights with her son. These were the happiest moments sheíd ever experienced, so she almost wasnít surprised when she learned that her life was slowly being taken from her. It started with fatigue that turned to aching that turned to pain. Jacob sent her above, to Peter, to confirm what Anna already knew - time no longer belonged to her. Her full moon was on the wane, the cycle almost complete.
Still, she had the thing she had longed for most, a child of her own. She had married the man she loved. She had seen the world.
She would very much have liked to see Vincent grow to be a man, but she knew she left him in safe and caring hands. That was the important thing, what mattered most - Vincent - his well being.
She was confined to her bed most days now, Mary staunchly by her side. Vincentís small, quilt piled bed stood in the corner of the room; he had recently outgrown his crib.
Anna gazed at the semi-circular, stained glass window which the other tunnel dwellers had presented her with soon after she had become ill. A mansion on the lower west side had been dismantled, this beautiful window left and forgotten amidst the debris.
Alone for the time being, she heard a sound from above and turned her attention to the rock shelf above her chamber. Leaning on the iron ladder that linked her room to the alcove above was her husband.
Sheíd not seen him in almost a year.
Her smile was wan but sincere. "Youíve come at last, John. Iíve been hoping to see you again."
"I was told you sent word." His voice was cold.
"Yes." Anna motioned to him. "Come, sit by my side."
John climbed slowly down the ladder and dropped to the stone floor.
"Youíve taken your time about it," she teased, "Iíve been asking for you for some time now." She looked up at him with conciliatory eyes.
"Iím aware," John responded. "I have no real desire to see you, Anna, but I understand before too many days I will never again have the opportunity, so I decided to comply with your request."
Anna stared at John as he approached her bedside.
"Youíve not changed, John, not softened in the least?"
"Hardly. What made you think that I would? You think the punishment meted out by your friends would make me malleable? I assure you, the opposite is true. That which does not killÖ"
Anna almost laughed. "Yes, I know, it makes you stronger. Iíve always felt you misunderstood Nietzsche, you know. When he talked of overcoming, he did not mean to overcome those around him, but our need to over come our own worst selves, our destructive emotions. "
John did not sit but instead stood over her, making a dismissive gesture. "Is that why you summoned me, Anna? To discuss German philosophers? I shouldnít like to think so. You never were capable of a truly informed discussion."
Anna sighed, leaning back into the bed clothes.
"Please, John, letís not argue. I only wanted to make peace with you, that is all." With an effort, Anna leaned forward again. "We loved each other once, donít you remember that, even a little?"
"Iíd hardly call what I felt for you love. You were an attractive woman, I felt what any animal feels for his gender opposite. You took far too many liberties of interpretation in that."
"Youíre not being truthful, John, you loved me, I know that."
"I did not. However, I will not argue the point now, I see no merit in it."
"Yes, but I do. I wanted to tell you that despite all thatís happened, despite how circumstances pulled us asunder, I love you still. For everything we were to each other once, for the early days when we would talk all night, or just lie in each otherís embrace until dawn, I wanted you to know that I remembered and would take that with me."
"Remember what you like. I will not forgive you, Anna, you or Jacob or any of you. You forced me out, you stole my son."
"Our son. Iím not asking for your forgiveness, John, thatís not why I wanted to see you." Anna shook her head. "You have so great an intellect, yet so little understanding. I wonít make excuses for what I and the community chose, I know it was right. I know Vincent is right where he should be."
"How comforting for you," John sneered. "Heís not reached his second birthday yet, has he? You are already as good as dead, you will soon leave him, yet you lie here so calmly and console yourself, pretending a life you never had."
"No matter, there are many others who love him and will care for all his needs."
"What of it? You didnít give birth to him, Anna. You donít know what it is to carry a child, suckle him, raise him. You never got any of the things you longed for. Why bother solicit my love now? Because you cannot face what you know to be true?"
An ironic note slipped into AnnaĎs voice. "And that is?"
"You are dying without having ever really lived."
"Without having lived?" Anna attempted to sit up. "Wonít you see? Death isnít lifeís enemy. Bitterness is. Regret. Pettiness.
You are so intent on storing up all the wrongs that you believe fate has handed you. Instead, why canít see the beauty of the world that you were privileged, for however long, to being a member of. In a hundred years, we will both of us be under the earth.
Iíve been content with my lot, my home, the good people of this community. I thought I would never have the joy of being a mother, then I found Vincent. Iím grateful for all Iíve received. Canít you try and understand that, John. Canít you try and love the world a little more?"
He stepped back, shaking his head in contempt. "You never cease to amaze me. Iíd of sworn no woman could be as foolish as you were, and Iíd have sworn you couldnít become any more of one. I was mistaken."
John turned toward the ladder, but then turned back.
"He wonít remember you, Anna. Do you understand that at least? All you will ever be to Vincent is a sad story; another mother that abandoned him. All you will represent to the child - is Loss. And for this, youíre grateful? You are a fool, but I was a bigger one still, for ever marrying you."
John shook his head in disgust and disappeared up the ladder, leaving Anna to stare into the darkness that swallowed him. What a reconciliation this had been! She closed her eyes and turned her head to her pillow, the words with which he burdened her swimming in her head.
Anna was in a light slumber, only half cognizant of the arrival of Mary. She struggled awake as Mary approached her bed, little Vincent clinging to her skirts.
He clamored up beside her, tucking himself against her side. Anna stroked his golden hair which grew so quickly they found it difficult to keep it properly trimmed.
"Have you had your lunch, my little man?" she asked him.
Vincent smiled up at her. "I had oatmeal. I liked it," he lisped, snuggling under her arm and settling himself for a nap. Anna smiled and continued to stroke his hair until she was sure he was fully asleep.
"I had a visitor last night," she told Mary.
"I heard; he was seen," Mary said.
"John hasnít changed at all."
"Iím sorry to hear that," Mary responded.
"I know. I was sorry too. Heís very bitter."
"Donít worry your head about him, Anna, heís not your responsibly."
"No, but still, it makes me sad for him."
The two women were silent for a while. Finally Anna smoothed the covers over little Vincent and shifted herself straighter up in the bed.
"Mary, I have a favor to ask of you. Itís very important to me."
"Anything, you know that."
When this is all over," she signaled the nightstand, crowded with remedies, a tissue box, a water glass and other necessities of the infirm, "When Iím gone, and Vincent begins to forget me, do not remind him."
Mary bent toward her. "What do you mean?"
"I mean I donít want you to ever tell him about me. Donít ever even bring up my name - ever."
Mary was incredulous. "Anna, why?"
Anna slumped back among the pillows. "BecauseÖ because if you do, he will feel sad. He will feel as if he has suffered a loss." Anna sat up again.
"I donít want that for him. I donít want him to feel as if he has been deprived. Mary, listen to me. Vincent feels loved, deeply loved, donĎt you agree."
"And as long as you all keep caring for him, keep nurturing and protecting and teaching him, he wonít miss anything. He doesnít have to know the name of the woman who cherished him above all others, he has only to have felt what it was she was able to give him. Vincent will carry every caress, every kind word, every bit of my regard for him for the rest of his life. It will always be inside of him, that knowledge, that security of being sincerely, dearly, unconditionally wanted and loved, itís my gift to him."
Anna reached out for Maryís hand and Mary caught it in her own.
"Do that for me, Mary. Please, promise me."
"Youíre sure, thatís what you really want?"
"Very, very sure. The way I love him doesnít have to have a name, it just has to be a part of him."
"I think I understand, Anna, and I promise."
Anna dropped back. "Thank youÖ thank you, Mary." She looked down at the toddler lying by her side. "Heís beautiful, isnít he?"
"He certainly is," Mary smiled. She tucked the quilted covers around the two of them. "Rest now, go to sleep. Iíll be here when you wake, Iíll be here for both of you."
Mary held her friendís hand as she drifted off to sleep. Finally she rose and began straightening up the chamber. Vincent stirred. Mary returned to the bed and lifted him in her arms. It wouldnít be long now, a matter of days probably. When Jacob came in to check on Anna, Mary gave Vincent over to him.
She resumed her watch over Anna, tears in her eyes, but peace in her soul. The long night of death ahead isnít nearly as ominous when you believe in something, especially if that something is love.
For Vincent - the beginning