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Match Game

A WOND’ROUS WOVEN MAGIC

by Carole W

He wanted to be there … at Winterfest.

He wanted to be somewhere … anywhere … else.

He’d struggled a little on the staircase, the buffet of wind stronger than he remembered. Refusing Father’s arm – I’m not unwell! – he’d pretended not to notice Winslow’s drafting as his partner in descent. Winslow … who knew better than to throw a custodial arm around his waist, instead, when he’d grate against the scraggy wall, gripping his shoulder in a steadying but festive-enough way. Down the steps, through the dark to his chair at the long table, leaving him to his own with a companionable thwack on the back. Surely no one would feel compelled to cater … to hovernot any more.

The candles flared; the Great Hall came to light and life. The thrill, its vibrancy, was at once exhilarating and overwhelming. Behind his necessarily closed eyes, the candles still danced and blazed. Music, the flurried ado, the elation of reunion, the fuss and stir … the looks of concern, of surprise, as he wandered through the crowd. Should he be here? he heard whispered more than once.

He hadn’t stopped to listen for the answers. Peter and Father had debated that very question for days, over his head at either side of his bed while he took his supper from a tray, behind him while he read in his chair. When his repeated entreaties – Please, let me decide – seemed to carry no weight, his growled I’m going! forced them back a step.

And so … there he was, dressed in his finest. Clothes that hung on him when before they’d fit, his vest boxy, his sleeves long over his wrist bones, his pleated waist sash wrapped tighter.

Through the dark, into the light. The irony wasn’t lost on him. A joyous reminder of belonging for everyone … Everyone but Lisa, her name so studiously avoided in conversation, he felt its silence reverberating off the vaulted ceiling. And as for him, he’d plummeted into a darkness no candle could reach, a barren from which he hadn’t fought to emerge; he just had, the how still a mystery, the why a torment of hard coal he carried still. Not in his mind or in his belly, but in his fist – a lump of anthracite squeezed tight, held against his stubbornly beating heart. As his gaze traveled the grand chamber, he could hear it now, the percussion, the push-pull of hope and resignation.

The light was suddenly too bright, the constant flicker disorienting. He’d filled his plate but had eaten nearly nothing, and now the hoppy beer being poured, the toasty fruity sparkle of champagne, the over-sweet smell of the too-red punch assaulted him. He couldn’t leave; he’d argued and won attendance. Besides, he was being watched. He could feel the cautious observance of some Helpers, his elders’ guarded attention. Father would send a posse of his friends after him if he didn’t follow himself, Mary and Peter and who knew who else in tow. He wouldn’t ruin the party for any of them.

He scanned the hall for an unpeopled place. The games niche was bustling; rowdy toasts spilled from the tavern corner. A reel, then a jig from the musicians and the dance floor vibrated, solid stone though it was. A laughing line wreathed the dessert table. Once, he might have crawled under its long, linen tablecloth to hide. Indeed, once he had. But that was another time … another life. A child’s life.

The Gallery of the Tapestries … empty of celebrants, the gathered light of the candelabras at either end allowing a quiet respite in its center, as shadowed a space as he could hope for.

But the way there was not without obstacles.

Having thought of his friends and family as obstacles added to the weight he carried.

He navigated the gathering, accepting the proffered handshakes and affections, inevitably lingering in conversation here and there, one eye on the still-deserted mezzanine, begging the universe to keep it so. A Helper’s child had been born. I want you to meet her, the mother said, shifting the infant in her arms, pushing back the hood he remembered Mary knitting. The baby’s first look at him bestirred a sunshiney smile, a coo, a wriggle within her bunting and a part of him responded, wonder welling up from the deep, an enchanted ache coursing his arms. But from a deeper place, a jeering chortle echoed. He slip-stepped back, merging with the wave of the meandering crowd before the baby could see the change of face he feared he couldn’t hide.

Almost there …

Olivia sat at a table ringed by friends from Above and Below. She met his gaze, beckoned with the arch of her brows, with a grin, then caught his hand as he passed too slowly by, pulled him in close. A perplexing energy radiated from the group, a laughing intensity difficult to decipher.

“Sit down, Vincent,” Olivia said, scooting to make half her chair available to him. “We’re talking about what we would say to our younger selves if we had a chance to. You know … giving our selves advice. What we know now that we wish we’d known then …”

“Yeah,” Rebecca chimed in. “Like … it really is okay to have curly hair, so don’t let Mitch calling you Sproi-oi-oing bother you.”

“Don’t worry,” Pascal put in, holding up his hand like a mirror in front of his face. “You won’t always be the shortest person in the room.”

The assemblage turned to him where he still stood tethered to Olivia. He could only imagine the color of his face – red, most likely, maybe pale, but possibly green. He felt sick. What could he say? Only one word came to mind, that one word repeating, repeating, etched into cleaving stones avalanching into the abyss …

Don’t.

Don’t believe, don’t hope.

Don’t dream.

When Olivia released his hand, he was gone.

 

Finally.

His breath was coming hard and fast, too fast. The gallery steps swam in his vision, undulated under his feet. Shunning the banister, he hugged the chiseled wall, managing a shuffling stumble to the center-most tapestry before sinking to the stone floor, before hitching himself closer, close enough to lean back against the drapery. With drawn-up knees and drawn-in spirit he made himself small … closed his eyes. His outcast state settled about him like the cloak he wore above, rendering him, he hoped, invisible, at least for a time.

 

“Hey.”

The single whispered word, the light tap-tap to his shoulder, woke him.

A child. A child alone. His tousled hair a nimbus backlit by the chamber’s massive chandeliers, a silvery-pearly sand-gold color he couldn’t name. He had no word for it.

“Hey,” the boy repeated.

He searched for his voice. “Hello,” he wheezed. “Are you … are you lost?”

The boy tipped his head, his face in enough shadow he couldn’t be sure of his expression, but he seemed to be smiling.

“No,” the child replied. “Are you?”

Am I?

He shook his head to rattle his thoughts into place. He felt a strange pull, something akin to the ache he’d experienced in the presence of the Helper’s newborn, an amalgam of joy and fear. But he didn’t recognize the boy. His clothes weren’t from Above, neither were they the fashion of Below. Even without being able to truly see him, he knew he’d have been … memorable.

“Where are your parents? Can you tell me their names?”

The child lifted his gaze to beam fixedly at the tapestry, shrugged and laughed. Laughed again. Delight sparkled the air.

He scrambled to his feet. A survey of the Grand Hall floor turned up no frantic mother or father in search of their son. He whirled back, the wall hanging so close he lost focus, but just before his vision sharpened again, he saw … He was sure he saw … He’d swear he saw movement in the threads. A horse flicked its ears; a banner fluttered in an inconceivable breeze.

The child reached for his hand.

His grip was strong, trusting, and yet somehow … insistent. Almost … impatient.

Say something.

“When I was a boy,” Vincent began, wondering as he spoke, Why this, of all subjects? “I imagined these tapestries were magic windows, believing if I stared at them long enough, if I wished and willed hard enough, they’d open up for me and I could pass through to another world.”

“You don’t think that anymore?”

He sighed. Was the boy too young for truth? Time after time he’d reached out to touch only cloth, to meet with a woolen reality backed by stone walls, until one year, he’d … just … stopped.

“No,” he said, as gently as he could.

The boy mirrored his sigh and studied the ground for a long moment before looking up, his eyes a clear sky blue.

“How did it feel, though. Believing?”

A neuron of his rational brain decreed this conversation impossible.

Nevertheless …

“It was … thrilling,” he murmured. “A time when I didn’t know what couldn’t happen.”

“And now you do?”

He nodded.

“But why?”

He spread his hands, palms up. “Because of … all that I am, all I am not. Because of … everything.”

“Do you really, truly believe that everything is everything?”

“I … I don’t want to.”

“Then … don’t.

Don’t. How could the word so quickly change its aspect? He might still experience its disheartening, its restraint, but now … now … uttered by this child … it was his unfettering.

The boy’s fingers tightened around his, tugged at his hand.

He knelt in response, on one knee nearly face to face with the child.

“Listen,” the boy whispered, going on without waiting for acknowledged compliance. “It’s true, you know. The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it. And Vincent …”

I never told him my name …

“You’re looking for something …”

Impossible, his rational brain reminded him. How could this child know a truth you’ve not admitted to yourself?

“ … but try not to hurry. Everything is waiting for you.”

Tears blurred his eyes, and in their prism an aura of blue and gold obscured the child.

“I have to go now,” the boy said.

“Is someone coming for you?” He rose and turned to look over his shoulder, spying Father at the first rung of the gallery stairs, who raised his cane in greeting.

When he turned back, the child was gone.

The heavy tapestry fluttered a bit, settled flat against the granite wall.

“Did you see, Father? There was a boy …”

“A boy? No, I saw only you, Vincent.”

“He was here. Right here, only a moment ago. But he …”

“What was his name?”

“I … I never asked.”

“How old, do you think? What does he look like?”

“Six, perhaps seven years old? With hair the color of light.”

Father’s eyes narrowed.

“He was small, but … articulate. He quoted J.M. Barrie. The moment you doubt whether you can fly …”

Ahhh, yes. Peter Pan. One of your favorites. As I recall, I read it to you more than once.”

He chuffed at the memory.  “He seemed …” Farseeing? Otherwordly? A figment of my imagination? “… unusually well-spoken for a child.”

“No more so than you at that age,” Father pointed out. “But I don’t recognize the child from your description, and I believe I would.”

He drew and released a long breath. “I came up here to rest. Perhaps I fell asleep … dreamed him …”

“You are looking better,” Father declared. “You have color in your cheeks you didn’t have this morning. You haven’t been served a dram of the, ummmm, adult’s punch, have you?”

He shook his head and smiled. It felt good to smile again.

* * *

Nearly the last to leave the Great Hall, he gauged he had time. A crew of three rounded the chamber snuffing the torches, but worked the far wall still. And while the gallery’s candelabras guttered, there was light enough yet.

In it, the tapestries seemed to glow with promise.

Years had passed since last he’d tried … hardly older than the boy he hadn’t dreamed …

Doubt forsworn, he reached out.

 

___________

Title: from the lyrics of Tapestry by Carole King

A bit of dialogue borrowed from the poem Everything is Waiting For You by David Whyte.

4 Comments

  1. Anguished, depressed, hopeless, resigned, looking for just a place where he can be alone, still with his pain…, isolated…different and just when it seems like it’s going to be like this, someone comes along to show the possibilities and pour hope into this beautiful and sensitive heart. I was moved by this story and it filled my heart with the wonders that can be.

    Reply
    • Paula, you are always so kind and encouraging. Thank you for finding all I hoped you would in this story. I was surprised by it – how it came to me all in a rush, how I felt writing it. I’m really glad you liked it!

      Reply
  2. Carole, another wonderful story! So full of pain and hope and possibility — the truth of what Vincent felt, the promise of what might lie ahead. Magical in all the best ways!

    Reply
    • Thank you, Linda! For so many things. Your support means so much. I’m really glad you liked this one!

      Reply

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