Oh Sweetest Song

~ Carole W



There you are!” Catherine sat at the round table, its surface littered with notecards. “I was getting worried. There hasn’t been an update on the pipes in over an hour.”

Scrooonnnkk  Vincent sank to the edge of the bed. Reclined on his fists, he arched his back, stretched his legs. Scrrriiiinnnk

Ummmmmm,” he groaned, drawing upright. His hands behind his neck, he twisted his shoulders side to side to side. One sleeve was ripped along his bicep and the muscle flexed through. Scrrrroonk Scrrrroonk

A replica of the Empire State Building weighted the two dozen syllabuses she’d stapled together. Wreathed around its spire was her watch – her rude, chiding watch. If it truly had a hand, one finger would wag uh-uh-uh at her thoughts. She ordered her cards and tapped them, tapped them, tapped them to a neat stack. Over her work a green-shaded banker’s lamp goosenecked. As she groped for its rocker switch, her hand trembled a bit – with nerves, she insisted to herself. When she looked at him again, he’d rounded over his knees, his elbows to them. His head drooped above his clasped hands, his hair a dust-dry veil.

“You got them out, didn’t you? You must have.”

“We did,” he said. His shoulders rose and fell with laughter. scree-scree-scree “Though I’m not sure William was pleased by their release. Trapped in his pantry, alone with Rebecca for five hours? For him, the time passed far too quickly, his audience far too large and ... attuned.”

“I imagine soon enough it might be necessary ...”

Scree-scree “Rebecca did shoot from the room like a bottle rocket.”

“Any sign of the key? Is Arthur still your suspect, still at large?”

“He is. Last seen dashing through the dining hall wearing a shiny necklace, Brooke said. We’ve issued an alert for him, but it’s no matter now. We drilled out the lockset. Which inexplicably bent the hinges and jammed everything, which led to hours of chiseling. It took three of us to prise out the door and ... well, there was a pile-up when the lever slipped.” Scrrannnk  He lifted one booted foot, then the other for inspection. The sole flapped toe to arch. “I’ll need new shoes.”

“Are there any to fit you in the storeroom?” she asked, slipping the sheaf of papers into one pocket of an accordion file, the note cards into another. 

“I doubt it.” Scrriinnk 

She glanced at his feet, now only sock clad ... sccrrooonnk ... now bare. The latches of her case suddenly troublesome, she bent her head to them, and though she bit hard on her bottom lip – No, no, don’t say it. Don’t! – the words teased out. “What, umm, size shoe do you wear, Vincent?”

“I’m not sure. Mine must always be ... modified.” 

A fallen wing of hair concealed her heated cheeks. “Let me buy you a new pair. After my lecture tomorrow morning, I have an hour or so free before I’m expected in the office. There’s a specialty shop on Orchard for, uhhh, big and tall men.” She peeked at him, but intent on the tear in his shirt, he seemed oblivious to her blushed words.

“But how–” A perplexed frown creased his face as he traced the placket of his jerkin. “I ripped open three buttonholes,” he said. “And I’ve lost a pocket.”

“I missed something spectacular, didn’t I, stuck here working?” A sheet torn from a legal pad, after studying his foot, the page, his foot again, she ripped off a second. She fished in her bag for tape, affixed the two together. “Stand on this piece of paper,” she instructed. “I’ll draw around your foot. They’ll have one of those sliding measuring things ...”

“Do you mean a Brannock Device.”

She laughed. “I suppose I do. You are such a show-off. Hop up. If they don’t fit, I can take them back.” Crouched at his feet, she smoothed the paper flat and pointed at it. “Come on. Right here.” Scrreeeenk-scrrriiiiiiink

“That tickles, Catherine.”

“Does it?” Does this? she imagined. Does this? Before she folded the finished drawing into thirds, she glanced at him ... admired him. Heh heh heh, she thought. If she could, she’d high-five herself.

Sccrrrrooooonnnnnk  He flopped back across the mattress. “I should shower.” Nestled into the covers, his arm thrown over his eyes, he sighed with contentment. “But perhaps, for just a moment ...”

Scrriinnk scrriiink Scrriiinnnk  Catherine climbed onto the bed after him. “It’s late,” she murmured. “The shower can wait a few hours.”

“Are you ready for tomorrow?” His voice was muffled by the fabric of his shirt and by fatigue.

Scrrriiinnk  “I guess. I used to think I’d like to teach, but I’m petrified about this lecture.”

“I want to hear it.”

“You sure?” He nodded beneath his elbow. “All right then.” Settled against his shoulder, she focused on a crag of quartz-sparkled stone in the chamber’s roof. “Welcome to Law 6200,” she began. “The Art of Legal Persuasion. My name is Catherine Chandler. Today’s special topic is ‘Being Eloquent. The Classical Understanding of Eloquence.’ The reading is from Aristotle and Cicero’s Understanding of Rhetoric and Cicero’s In Defense of the Poet Aulua Licinius Archias. In the practicum, we’ll translate classical to modern eloquence using Shaughnessy v. United States ex rel. Mezei as our case study.” 1

Sccrrrooonnnk  He turned over on his side, his slowed breath stirring her hair and his, mingling the strands. “Excellent, Catherine,” he whispered. “A-plus.”



*****


“How do they feel?” 

Seated on the bench, he wove the stiff laces through the metal grommets and around the hooks, working the boot shafts close ... closer ... folding the supple tongue inside. The padded collar snugged about his ankle. He rose and took a tentative step and another, seating his heels. 

“Good,” he said. “Very good, in fact. I’m ... surprised.”

“The salesman said I should have measured you–” A small fit of coughing overtook her. “With socks,” she managed. “So I added a little width and length.” The coughing resumed.

He paraded before her, pivoting at the doorway and returning. “Shall I get you some water, Catherine?” squink squink 

“No, no. I’m fine.” Recovered, only a bit breathless, she snugged the last loop and button of his new leather vest. “This is handsome on you. I just couldn’t resist it.”

squink  His arms wide, he puffed out his chest. “Thank you ... for everything.” 

“Well, I should be going. I might have to work late.”

“As might I. Gideon will be in Foley Square should you need to send a message. Catherine ...” She’d turned to go, but one step closed their distance.  squiink  “I don’t have to ask. Your lecture went well. You’re relieved. Satisfied. But still ...” He took her hand, touched his lips to her knuckles. “Tell me. How did you fare?”

“I won’t be changing careers but, yes, it went well enough.” She smiled. “At least no one fell asleep.” 

*****

squink squiiiink  Vincent hoisted his end of the beam, Cullen and Mouse the other, and the hewn log balanced, they stepped onto the swinging bridge. squink 

Midway, Cullen turned a stricken face over his shoulder. “Hey! Do you hear that? Is it bridge? The ropes?” Panicked, he hurried their pace. Vincent lengthened his stride. squiiink squiink  Once across, they dropped the timber. 

“Heard it,” Mouse said, leaning over the rungs, his palms on the banister posts.  “Didn’t feel it.” 

“We reinforced this bridge only last month. Understudied the ropes with cables, drove in new anchor bolts. The steel makes a different sound. Don’t worry.” He clapped Cullen on the arm. squink 

“Again!” Mouse whirled for the corridor. “Not the bridge. Arthur maybe.” Cullen chased after him, calling him back to task.

squink Vincent knew he was the source of the noise, but there was no time to return to his chamber for a change of clothes, not with all that must be done, and, except to him, the sound was distinguishable only when silence fell, rare enough during construction. But more than that, he was protective of her gift, loyal to it, the leather’s chirp a gladdening sound. He lifted the hair from his neck, and the abyss-spun winds cooled his skin. The exertion of rescue the night before must have taken a toll, he mused.  squiinnk  He wasn’t at all tired, but all morning long he’d had notions of going  back to b–

He broke off his thought and smiled a small smile.  squink 

A half-dozen times during the afternoon, Mouse was sure he heard Arthur’s chatter. A half-dozen times, Cullen ran to retrieve Mouse, reorient and reassure him. 

“I hear it too,” Cullen exclaimed. “And it’s driving me nuts, but we gotta fix this, Mouse. And Pascal’s waiting on us to help him hook up that new line of pipe. Pay attention, okay?”

“Vincent! ” Mouse danced with nerves. “You hear everything. Why not Arthur?”

Feigning innocence, he raised his brows, set another nail and pounded it in, the hammering loud and prolonged. squink squiiinnk squiiinnnk  The small smile returned.

*****

Pascal drew a finger along the map. “We need to connect this chamber and this one to the main line. The branch feeding it finally rusted through. Can’t get a tidy message around that hole. Grab those pipe wrenches, will you, and follow me.”

squink squink squink squink  


Pascal’s robe floated behind him as he trotted to the work site. More than once he stopped to beat a tattoo on an outgoing pipe, then put his ear to it. Later he repeated the drum, whipping out his stethoscope, pressing the chest-piece to a run, to a joint. He frowned.

“What is it, Pascal? Is there a message?” Vincent leaned close to the conduit. squink squiiiiinnk

“No, not a message, not a tapping exactly. It’s a ... a rhythm ... and it’s ... following me, but every time I listen for it, it isn’t there anymore. I don’t know ...” Pascal squinted in concentration. “Do you hear anything?”

“No,” he said, careful to stand straight and still.

“Mouse thinks Arthur might have crawled into the broken pipe.” He snatched the tubes from his ears and glared up at him. “What’s funny? ”

Nothing. Nothing’s funny.” Once Pascal resumed his lope, he tucked the tools under his arm and strode after him. squink squink squink He smiled again. A rhythm, indeed. 

*****

Father’s library was evening-quiet. Jarred by the subway’s rumble, china cups stacked in their closet tinkled like wind chimes – a lovely sound crowded out by the busier day, the competition of classes and conversation. He swung down the short stairs. Squiiiiinnnk Squink squink

“Ah, Vincent. You’re home.” Father peered over the railing above. “Come up here, would you? There’s something I want to show you. Oh, and bring that stack of books on the left corner of my desk ... no, the other stack ... yes, that one. And there’s a package from Dr. Wong on the chess table. Bring that too, please.”

Squink squink squink squink Squinksquink squinksquinksquink squink squink Squiink Squink

Anxious to make his report and retire to their chamber, he crisscrossed the room at a clip, then attacked the spiral stairs. At the crest, Father met him with wide eyes. 

“What is that infernal noise? Did you hear it? That ... that animal is loose among my rare editions, I know it. If I find a nest of shreds of Wordsworth or ... or ... Coleridge. Even Melville!”

Melville! He might offer those volumes to Arthur himself. “What is it I should see, Father?” He leaned against the bookcase and folded his arms. squiiink

“I no longer remember! Hurry down again. Flush him out. Capture him. I’ll search behind these books ... perhaps send him your way.” Father scowled. “This truly isn’t funny, Vincent. How can you smile at a time like this?”

He thought better of clasping Father’s shoulder, of calming him with the truth. His daily tally-sheet might be postponed if he’d only slip quietly away. Well, as quietly as possible. With his every step down the winding stair, Father’s search grew more purposed, his brow, Vincent knew, more furrowed. squiiinksquiiink  He leapt the last treads.


*****



She’d not yet returned from Above; their chamber was empty. He opened the armoire, rummaged the floor of it, emerging with an older pair of boots, worn at the heels, thin at the toes, but wearable until he could condition the leather of the new ones. He need only warm them, rub them with mink oil. As the shoe leather stretched, its voice would fade. And the vest would soften with wear, go silent. 

But for now ... he waited for her.

Soon he knew her approach, swept on his cloak, hurried to meet her, took her in his arms. squinksquink squinksquink 

“Tighter,” she said. Squiiinnk

Even as she entered the room, she shed her jacket, passing her briefcase hand to hand to slip from the sleeves. She dropped onto the bed’s edge, then scooted back against the headboard. Scrrriiiink Scriiiinnnk

As he folded his cloak to the back of the chair, as he spread the carved, wooden screen across their entryway, she watched him. From one side of the room to the other, he paced, attending to many small tasks. He could feel the warmth of her gaze, hear the laughter bubbling up from her. scree-scree-scree

Vincent,” she squealed from her nest of pillows. “Your vest squeaks. And so do those boots! You hear it, don’t you?” 

scree-scree-scree  The bed shook, and bells pealed within his breast. Deny me bread, he thought, air, light, spring, but never your laughter, for I would die.2 “Oh, I hear it.”

“Did anyone mention it?” she strangled out. “The sound must have driven you crazy!”

He pressed down on the mattress with the fists of both hands. Scriiinnk scriiiiinnk Scriiinnk scriiiiinnnk “Crazy?” He tipped his head. “In a way. Apparently I smiled when others thought I shouldn’t.” He put one knee on the bed. Scrrrooonnnnk. “I hear something far different than did Father or Cullen or Mouse.”

Scrrroooonnnnnnkk

Her breath was shallow now and rapid. scree-scree-scree  “What Vincent? What do you hear?

“Music, Catherine. Our music.” He tipped his head again. “Dance with me?”


(title) Rainer Maria Rilke. Love Song.
1. Lecture topic totally lifted from Columbia Law School's Spring 2010 First Year Electives
2. Pablo Neruda. Your Laughter.






23 comments:

NYC Utopia September 16, 2010 at 11:07 PM  

A comical theme? Unexpected but welcome, as is its first variation!
What really "cracks me up" is that no one comments on Vincent's new garments as if... they didn't look new or out of the Tunnel ordinary.
I wonder what the others will have thought up.
(and of course, curiosity towards the new writer is nearly killing me)

Carole W September 17, 2010 at 3:44 AM  

Oh dear, I didn't think of that detail. I'm sure they would have ... :-o

But they are guys. They might not have noticed or thought to mention it. Or maybe they did and we just didn't hear it. I'm going on the theme of 'things that are not (likely) but should be (for my purposes here.)' LOL

Thanks for reading, Claire.

Carole

Carole W September 17, 2010 at 8:38 AM  

PS: LOL, when I visualized the vest - it wasn't a regulation one but one like this:

Paladin

or this:

Avatar

Granted, either would be unlikely at a standard Big and Tall shop, but this is NYC … Could there be big and tall Renn Faire-type shops?

SandyX September 17, 2010 at 9:37 AM  

I love all the smiles in this - Catherine's shoe size giggles and Vincent's little squeak induced grins ... very funny and sweet.

Krista September 17, 2010 at 11:04 AM  

LOL, Carole---I'm reading this again and still cracking up. This is just so, so sweet...and so them. (And Roguish Vincent? Be still my beating heart...:-D)

As far as the vests...there are a LOT of Ren Faire supply stores online (now, though there weren't back then.) They tend to have expanded size ranges, especially for the guys. So I don't think it's completely out of line that she'd find a vest that fits him. I'm just saying....:-D

Love this!

Carole W September 17, 2010 at 1:05 PM  

Thanks you two. I'm glad you enjoyed this one. It was fun letting V have some fun.

Roguish Vincent - wow, now that conjures an image. ;-) Swashbuckle!

Doing the research I read that the shoe-size relationship has been officially debunked as a myth. I choose to believe!

C

Ophelia September 17, 2010 at 4:51 PM  

Carole, I smiled and chuckled all through this piece. The sound effects are utterly endearing. You've added a completely new element yet managed to keep the sweetness and the smolder very much alive. And I think it's going to be a very long time before I can think of "Vincent" and "fashion" together without having to suppress a giggle.

Michelle K. September 17, 2010 at 6:53 PM  

I have a confession, Carole. Today, as I was walking through the office at work, I suddenly noticed that my boots (which are not leather, and do not lace up ... are not even new, to tell the truth) were squeaking something fierce! I nearly lost it!

I've decided I must carry the digital recorder next time I wear them, so I can send you the actual sound effect. I could not stop thinking of Vincent's vest and boots after that. I couldn't wait to return and read your perfect sound effects and all the irresistible reactions of the community. What a great chuckle you gave me, even as you wove a sweet, light hearted story for V and C. They do deserve the light moments. Well done.

Carole W September 17, 2010 at 6:53 PM  

Ophelia, Thanks for laughing!

V would be fun to, umm, dress - he looks so good in everything …

Carole W September 17, 2010 at 7:04 PM  

You're kidding! LOLOL. At least you didn't have on swishy pants too, right??? Yes to the recorder. This I have to hear.

Thanks for the kind words, Michelle. I'm glad this little bit of fluff made you smile.

You won't get rid of those squeakers will you?

RomanticOne September 19, 2010 at 10:06 PM  

Loved the whole funny, wonderful story - but I loved, loved, loved the very last line. Keeping it G rated was brilliant. It forces us all to use our vivid imaginations!

Carole W September 20, 2010 at 6:53 AM  

Thanks R-1! You know – for me anyway – humor is harder to write than angst - and I angsted over writing the humor! But the prompt just giggled 'light of heart'. It was fun to write V and C together enjoying life and each other. I love to imagine him with a smile on his face - rogue-ish, as Krista said.

I'm so glad you enjoyed this. Thank you again for reading.

Carole

Three Writers September 21, 2010 at 5:07 PM  

Oh, Carole, you do it so well time and again... be it humor or gauze or angst... you have THE touch. What a delightful bit of 'fluff', did you call it? Hmmmmm. :) Nancy

Cyndi D September 22, 2010 at 6:35 AM  

I didn't dare attempt to spell a squeak! You did it perfectly! I love that Vincent carried the memory of 'other' squeaks with him as he moved through his day.

Carole W September 22, 2010 at 6:48 AM  

Nancy, indeed, pure fluff and so much fun to toss about and bounce upon. Thank you so much for the support - you're always so generous.

Carole

Carole W September 22, 2010 at 6:50 AM  

Cyndi, thanks! I like imagining V with that smile on his face. But we all do, don't we. ;-)

Vicky September 22, 2010 at 7:12 AM  

Oh holy michi! I loved this, too funny! And, oooohhh... don't think for a moment you can get away with drawing "those images" without some minds going somewhere else... *siiigh* All that stretching, you know...
Excelent, Carole! Aplus!

Vicky September 22, 2010 at 7:18 AM  

And those smiles, all day... The whole thing is so sweet! How do you do it? You can write Everything, dear!

Carole W September 22, 2010 at 8:31 AM  

Vicky!!! Wheeee - it's great to hear your voice! But shouldn't you be in class???

Seriously, thank you so much. You're always so generous and supportive. I'm glad you liked the stretching and that your mind flew elsewhere. ;-)

I would like to know how the squeaks sounded through a screen reader!

Carole

OKGoode September 22, 2010 at 11:53 AM  

Carole, I thank you for the auditory input of all those hysterical sound effects, and having now read the comments, I must also thank you for the visual of Vincent in that Avatar Vest! Oooooooh, Baby! Turn on the AC cuz it just got hot in here! LOVE it!

Anonymous September 23, 2010 at 7:35 PM  

Hi Carole,

Another great story!

I loved the sound effects and their hearing of the music at the end...sigh.

Whenever I think of Vincent and Catherine on his bed...um, well, you know - I have a great imagination! Hee hee.

Lion hugs, Jodie xxoo

Carole W September 25, 2010 at 2:09 AM  

heh heh, Olivia. The Avatar vest is my very favorite too. Must admit to some dream-time over it! G-rated, of course!

C

Carole W September 25, 2010 at 2:16 AM  

Jodie! An imagination? You??? :-)

Thank you so much for reading. Writing a fluffy story was a lot of fun. I'm glad you liked it.

Carole

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