TRACES

by Ruby

 One month after the events of “The Outsiders”…

With a mechanical-like reflex, Vincent put another spoonful of the contents in the bowl in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed without tasting. It was chicken and white bean chili, one of William’s best, and it might as well have been ashes. The conversation levels in the dining hall had almost returned to normal – almost.

It had been one month. One month since Cullen had led a crew to dispose of the bodies in the Abyss. One month since the feral child had been spotted running towards an exit tunnel like the forces of Hell were after him and not looking back. One month since Randolph, and Matthew, and Simon had been laid to rest. One month since Frannie had not said a word as her mother wept over Matthew’s bier, and had simply held her mother as she watched her father be placed in the catacombs. One month since Frannie had stopped speaking. To anyone.

One month since the Council meeting where Father made a point of looking at the floor as he cleared his throat and talked about how they had all grown too dependent on Vincent and needed new security measures. One month since the ways changed. One month since he had told Catherine to go away.

She hadn’t, of course. After leaving him alone in his chamber, she returned Above to call the other Helpers to give the all clear to return the other groups of children and to lock her gun back in its safe. She’d come back down to bring him a tray of supper he hadn’t touched, gone to scrub  the food storage chamber walls, went to Ang’s to replace all the lost food, and spent the rest of the evening resettling Mary in her chamber. Mary crying hot tears of shame for being so foolish and Catherine biting her tongue and replacing the quilt on the bed.

She had stayed the night in Lena’s chamber, Lena too terrified to sleep lest the Outsiders somehow crawl back out of the Abyss to take her baby away. Catherine had soothed her into lying down to just try to close her eyes for a little bit, promising to watch over Cate, and exhaustion soon took Lena into slumber. Catherine was too tired and angry and everything to sleep so she watched Cate peacefully sleep in her crib. Oh, baby girl, I thought you had the luck in a million to be born in a world where things like this don’t happen, I’m so sorry, little one.

The next day she’d brought him a breakfast tray he wasn’t going to touch either but an instinctive urge to never waste food made him choke down a few bites of toast with tea. He looked at her then, exhausted, in rumpled clothes. He wanted to hold her, he wanted to hold her until the pain that bit and scratched and flicked and fluttered around in him like a trapped bird stopped.

He looked away. “When are they holding the ceremonies for Randolph, Matthew, and Simon?”

They had attended the ceremony in the catacombs, they had stood by the Mirror Pool and burned their letters in turn, Vincent noticing Simon’s widower Jason dropping in a photo that curled before he could see the image. Catherine and Vincent had talked stiffly of safe subjects like the children needing new boots, and he had seen her Below a few times since then. But he had not gone to her balcony.

He could still see the traces of the graffiti in the food storage chamber. Zach avoided the tunnels where he’d stumbled across Randolph, and was starting to carry his backpack with him everywhere. He was going to run away if they weren’t careful. If I can’t convince him something like that will never happen again. If I can’t lie to him that it will never happen again, that is. And the food in his mouth turned to glue and he pushed the bowl away.

His afternoon classes passed uneventfully. The children were still careful around him. He read June Jordan to his teenage poetry class and felt like there was a sheet of glass between him and one of his favorite poets. He talked to his composition class about narrative and how Brigit O’Donnell had used personal testimony to create a macro view of the situation in Northern Ireland in her latest essay that had been published in the magazine sent down by Peter. Brooke had asked several thoughtful questions and he had given answers, though as the class shuffled away he couldn’t remember a single word he had said.

The day dipped into evening and then night. Vincent sat at his desk to plan tomorrow’s classes and the pen felt like a snake in his hand. He dropped it and stood, throwing his cape on and striding towards Catherine’s basement.

Catherine heard the soft sigh of fabric against the balcony’s wall that meant Vincent. She carefully walked to the balcony doors and opened them. He stood there looking at her. She was in a peach silk robe over a slip of black satin, flowers all over the robe like laughter, and her feet bare. She watched him without reproach, without asking why he’d stayed away so long. The air between them was heavy like things are when they’re sorrowful. Or holy. He knelt at her feet; she did not move away. He wrapped his arms around her waist; she did not flinch. He pressed his face into her stomach and began to weep. She gently placed her hands on his hair and murmured words of comfort. And somewhere deep inside him he could feel the glass shattering into glitter, and a bird flying away until it was only a pinpoint of white against an endless black sky.

TRACES

One month after the events of “The Outsiders”…

With a mechanical-like reflex, Vincent put another spoonful of the contents in the bowl in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed without tasting. It was chicken and white bean chili, one of William’s best, and it might as well have been ashes. The conversation levels in the dining hall had almost returned to normal – almost.

It had been one month. One month since Cullen had led a crew to dispose of the bodies in the Abyss. One month since the feral child had been spotted running towards an exit tunnel like the forces of Hell were after him and not looking back. One month since Randolph, and Matthew, and Simon had been laid to rest. One month since Frannie had not said a word as her mother wept over Matthew’s bier, and had simply held her mother as she watched her father be placed in the catacombs. One month since Frannie had stopped speaking. To anyone.

One month since the Council meeting where Father made a point of looking at the floor as he cleared his throat and talked about how they had all grown too dependent on Vincent and needed new security measures. One month since the ways changed. One month since he had told Catherine to go away.

She hadn’t, of course. After leaving him alone in his chamber, she returned Above to call the other Helpers to give the all clear to return the other groups of children and to lock her gun back in its safe. She’d come back down to bring him a tray of supper he hadn’t touched, gone to scrub  the food storage chamber walls, went to Ang’s to replace all the lost food, and spent the rest of the evening resettling Mary in her chamber. Mary crying hot tears of shame for being so foolish and Catherine biting her tongue and replacing the quilt on the bed.

She had stayed the night in Lena’s chamber, Lena too terrified to sleep lest the Outsiders somehow crawl back out of the Abyss to take her baby away. Catherine had soothed her into lying down to just try to close her eyes for a little bit, promising to watch over Cate, and exhaustion soon took Lena into slumber. Catherine was too tired and angry and everything to sleep so she watched Cate peacefully sleep in her crib. Oh, baby girl, I thought you had the luck in a million to be born in a world where things like this don’t happen, I’m so sorry, little one.

The next day she’d brought him a breakfast tray he wasn’t going to touch either but an instinctive urge to never waste food made him choke down a few bites of toast with tea. He looked at her then, exhausted, in rumpled clothes. He wanted to hold her, he wanted to hold her until the pain that bit and scratched and flicked and fluttered around in him like a trapped bird stopped.

He looked away. “When are they holding the ceremonies for Randolph, Matthew, and Simon?”

They had attended the ceremony in the catacombs, they had stood by the Mirror Pool and burned their letters in turn, Vincent noticing Simon’s widower Jason dropping in a photo that curled before he could see the image. Catherine and Vincent had talked stiffly of safe subjects like the children needing new boots, and he had seen her Below a few times since then. But he had not gone to her balcony.

He could still see the traces of the graffiti in the food storage chamber. Zach avoided the tunnels where he’d stumbled across Randolph, and was starting to carry his backpack with him everywhere. He was going to run away if they weren’t careful. If I can’t convince him something like that will never happen again. If I can’t lie to him that it will never happen again, that is. And the food in his mouth turned to glue and he pushed the bowl away.

His afternoon classes passed uneventfully. The children were still careful around him. He read June Jordan to his teenage poetry class and felt like there was a sheet of glass between him and one of his favorite poets. He talked to his composition class about narrative and how Brigit O’Donnell had used personal testimony to create a macro view of the situation in Northern Ireland in her latest essay that had been published in the magazine sent down by Peter. Brooke had asked several thoughtful questions and he had given answers, though as the class shuffled away he couldn’t remember a single word he had said.

The day dipped into evening and then night. Vincent sat at his desk to plan tomorrow’s classes and the pen felt like a snake in his hand. He dropped it and stood, throwing his cape on and striding towards Catherine’s basement.

Catherine heard the soft sigh of fabric against the balcony’s wall that meant Vincent. She carefully walked to the balcony doors and opened them. He stood there looking at her. She was in a peach silk robe over a slip of black satin, flowers all over the robe like laughter, and her feet bare. She watched him without reproach, without asking why he’d stayed away so long. The air between them was heavy like things are when they’re sorrowful. Or holy. He knelt at her feet; she did not move away. He wrapped his arms around her waist; she did not flinch. He pressed his face into her stomach and began to weep. She gently placed her hands on his hair and murmured words of comfort. And somewhere deep inside him he could feel the glass shattering into glitter, and a bird flying away until it was only a pinpoint of white against an endless black sky.

3 Comments

  1. Wow, this was so beautifully written. There were so many little details of communal trauma and healing, from Zach taking his backpack everywhere to Jason’s burned photograph. Vincent finally finding his absolution with Catherine on her balcony was the perfect touch, like a moment plucked durectly from an episode.

    Reply
  2. I agree with this image after the battle with the outsiders, which every resident felt. During that time when this “people”wreaked havoc in the tunnel world, the whole community lost its sense of security. You perfectly showed everyone’s trauma…Catherine’s patient waiting, Vincent’s slow healing until the pivotal moment on her balcony.Beautifully written.Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Ruby, there is always this immediacy with your stories, even written in past tense, that is absolutely thrilling. I’m on the edge of my seat and I love it.

    I don’t know how I missed mentioning this when you first posted this, but thank you so much for writing this!

    Reply

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