What Was Already There
"For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou, my rose; in it thou art my all."
Vincent's low voice trailed away, carrying the last of the sonnet off into the darkness of night.
They'd already stayed out longer than intended, he and his mate. The park was so beautiful though. Dried leaves surrounded them, more sprinkling down with every rustle of the tree at whose trunk they sat. Geese waddled and squawked to each other by the edge of the duck pond ... they were heading south, and trying to settle down for a New York City lay-over.
Fewer people were out and about, now that the weather was finally turning cold. Even the ground had that ever-present chill of winter's ominous approach. He and his mate were warm though -- Vincent had seen to that. A blanket spread beneath the safe cover of a tree ... his wife snuggled against his chest, warmed by his own body-heat on one side, his cloak on the other. It was so comfortable, in fact, that he wondered if she might be asleep.
His recitation having ended, he closed the book and laid it down, freeing his second arm to slip smoothly around her. She stirred in response.
"We can do another one, can't we?" she asked, proving she was awake after all.
"It's very late," he replied, pressing a kiss to her hair. "Do you not have to be at your office in the morning?"
Her answer was a sigh of frustration, prompting Vincent to hide his tell-tale smile from her sight. Naturally, he had assumed that with their new life below, she would coax him not to take so many nighttime strolls. On the contrary, as it turned out, it was often she who tried to stretch their curfew ... releasing sighs like this when real-life thwarted her plans. He found it quite endearing.
At last she sat up, looking out over this peaceful corner of the park. "You know, this actually reminds me a little of when I was in college. I loved to do my studying outside on the grass. I'd take a blanket just like this one, lie down and prepare for the next day's test." Pausing, she grinned at the memory of lazy, care-free school days, and a girl who wasn't always as studious as her description had just suggested. "Well, actually, if the course wasn't too hard, a lot of times I'd just fall asleep in the sun. But my intentions were good."
Catching her mate's eyes, she found the most wistful expression on his moonlit face ... imagining, as she was certain he was, the visual her words presented. Maybe even imagining himself right there beside her. It was a thought she couldn't resist either, and there was no reason to assume he didn't experience the same impulsive flights of fancy.
Unfortunately, however, some things could never have been. Falling asleep on a blanket in the sun -- even if in the middle of a sonnet ... ... how badly she wished such a thing could be his.
"I'm sorry, Vincent," she murmured, suspecting that even if he hadn't sensed the spike of melancholy through their bond, he could at least read it in her demeanor. "You know how much I wish ..."
"That this were the sun?" he finished affectionately, one finger pointing toward the moon on high ... the beacon of light that, like he, chose the night sky over the day.
He shifted thoughtfully, propping his arm on his leg and leaning his head to the tree. "The moon has its own magic. It can change in ways the sun could never imitate, receding away to nothing every single month, so that we appreciate it all the more upon its eventual return. It shines brightly enough to demonstrate that light will always find its way through the darkness ... but never so brightly that it denies us the beauty and wonder of the stars. It doesn't overpower, choosing to lead quietly through the night instead."
"The moon is a lonely companion though," she observed gently. As lovely a picture as his words painted, they didn't erase the more sorrowful knowledge. From conversations with him -- and especially conversations with others -- she knew how often he used to wander this park alone. Some of the images her brain insisted on conjuring were almost heartbreaking. "To follow its glow into the night ... can be a lonely path."
His eyes found hers, shining with an affection potent enough to cut right through the dimness. "I wouldn't remember those nights, love," he replied ... ... a small but obvious fib that clearly implied a much greater truth.
Catherine took a deep breath as his sentiment washed over her, then crept closer for a tender kiss. "Well, I'm glad I'm here now," she mused softly. "With you."
He embraced her closely, taking another kiss so sweetly offered. ... Wishing as well that they had no self-imposed curfew on such a beautiful, clear night.
... ... But they did. And Catherine was due for a busy day come sunrise.
"We should go home," he coaxed, gracefully climbing to his feet, then offering a hand of assistance toward his love. She resisted no more, rising to stand beside him.
"Look how big it is," she observed, stepping out from the tree for a better view of the sky's beacon. "Nearly full." Behind her, Vincent collected their book, cloak, and blanket.
"Full enough to see our old friend," he agreed, "the age-old Man in the Moon. Forever smiling down on us. Forever benevolent."
"Benevolent?" she laughed. "Never been around a prison at full moon, have you. The moon can bring out the absolute worst in people."
The look on Vincent's face suggested that he put no stock in such theories. A cynicism taught by Father, more than likely. "Nothing can be drawn out," he politely disagreed, "that was not already within the person to begin with, Catherine. Regardless of moon, sun, or any superstition."
For a moment she considered making a counter to his claim, even if just a playful joust. Before she could do so, however, they were interrupted by something crashing through the nearby bushes. Vincent grabbed her hand, tugging her quickly beneath their tree. In mere seconds he had whipped them both behind the camouflage of the trunk.
It was a drunken man, they soon discovered -- stumbling out onto the lawn about fifty feet away, frightening a couple of geese in the process.
Above her, Catherine heard Vincent's puff of relief, signaling that there was no danger. In fact, if anything, the drunken man was probably in more danger than they.
The obvious conclusion was that he was homeless ... or nearly so. His coat was stained and ripped in various places; his shoes showed the wear and tear of hard concrete pavement. And while there was no bottle in his hand, his fall to the ground was clearly in a cloud of intoxication.
Cautiously, Vincent pulled his cloak further around himself, then led his mate out from behind the tree.
"Poor man," Catherine said quietly. "He can't keep his balance. I bet he doesn't even know where he is."
Solemnly, Vincent agreed with her assessment. "How sad are the lives of so many. What sorrows and evils must have brought this man to such a state tonight."
It was a true statement, and Catherine couldn't help being reminded that for her husband, such encounters must have become a common fact of life. This park was a haven of solace for many ... not just those who dwelt in the tunnels beneath.
Again they took a step forward, after which the drunken man suddenly rolled to face them.
"I don't think we should go too much closer," Catherine whispered in warning.
Vincent's hand landed where her fingers curved around his elbow, and he gave her a look of gentle but firm resolve. "The temperatures will be dipping low tonight. He needs help."
"But he'll see you," came her obvious concern.
Sadly, Vincent shook his head. "I've done such things before, love. The same drunkenness that afflicts him, will also shield him from those fears. You stay here where it's safest."
If what he said was true, what more could she do? Her mate had lived with the need for concealment his entire life ... he knew the risks even more clearly than she. So Catherine remained behind, taking their book from his hands, then watching as he walked toward the poor soul lying on the grass.
The man sprawled onto his back as Vincent drew nearer. Maybe he sensed the couple's presence and was taking the first step toward an attempted escape. Or, maybe he was just entering a new level of incoherence. Either way, he got no further, now rocking back and forth as he groaned helplessly.
A shadow came over him -- the cloaked figure approaching from the distance -- and he tried unsuccessfully to sit up.
"Don't be afraid," comforted Vincent's low voice. "I mean you no harm."
Now the man actually did sit up ... or more accurately, wobble up, his body tipping to and fro as if on a wave-tossed ship. The figure that closed in on him was dark. Very dark. With the exception of a pale yellow swatch of cloth hanging over one arm.
"Don't ... come any closer," the man demanded in one long slur. At least, that's what it sounded like at Catherine's distance. The man's hand came up, trying to ward off the stranger.
"I won't hurt you," Vincent assured again, slowly gaining ground. "I'm a friend. I have something for you."
They all recognized that fateful moment -- -- when the inebriated man saw Vincent's face. His panicked exclamation was expected, as was the flailing of his hands, rushing up clumsily to ward off the mythic creature descending upon him.
Catherine winced. She always did so whenever this kind, most splendid man she loved was greeted with such a reaction. If only his heart could precede him, so people could see the truth from the beginning.
Vincent, however, remained unfazed -- far more intent on his goal. "Take this," he coaxed, extending the folded blanket toward the fallen man. "It will be cold tonight. Take this and be warm."
Then, suddenly, the man relaxed ... his frightened exclamations collapsing into drunken laughter. Again he looked at Vincent, only to laugh even harder.
"It's ok," Vincent soothed, finally close enough to lay the blanket on the man's legs. "Find some cover beneath the trees, and try to rest."
The man must have been cold, given the way he clutched the gift. He began opening it up, wrapping it around himself and smoothing his palm across the thick, flannel fabric. His laughter continued though, between little glances at the large, cloaked figure. Through his alcoholic haze, he clearly did not believe what he saw.
Vincent made his retreat hastily, grabbing Catherine's hand when he reached her, pulling her along as they made for the safe shadows of the trees. There, they stopped and turned, looking back at the poor, drunken soul.
He had begun to half-stumble, half-crawl, toward the bushes from whence he'd come. And in his hand was the blanket. Perhaps he would do as Vincent suggested, choose a spot and sleep off the alcohol in his veins.
"He thought he was seeing things, didn't he," Catherine exclaimed in surprise. "That's why he laughed. He thinks he imagined you!" In a way, she took just as much offense to that idea, as to the drunken man's initial reaction of fear. Her husband was most definitely real. Strong, kind, loving ... and most definitely real. Implications to the contrary were not easily welcomed.
"I have been called worse than an hallucination," Vincent replied, watching the crawling man cover the last few yards to safety. "Much worse."
She nodded solemnly, knowing it to be yet another painful truth. But when she looked up at her love again, that was when she finally realized what she had actually seen. What had actually transpired, far beyond any perceptions of her mate. -- --
A homeless, helpless soul had received comfort. Physical warmth against the autumn chill. From a stranger he barely even believed, and would probably never remember.
Minutes earlier, before the stranger had even appeared, she had been on full power ... insisting that the moon brought out the worst in people. And yet, that was the same moonlight that had shown down on the exchange between Vincent and the stranger. The same moonlight that illuminated her mate's face now, as he gave her a loving smile and turned them both to begin their journey below.
Vincent had been right. The moon brought out only what was already there. And in his case, it was truly a sight to behold.
"Do you know what you really are?" she asked impulsively, halting their progress for a moment. ... "What that man will see when morning comes, and he realizes you were no hallucination?"
Vincent tilted his head knowingly. "What the moon drew forth?" he teased lightly. Yes, he too remembered their earlier debate.
"What was already there to begin with," she corrected, quoting his own theory back to him. "What he'll see is what you are, Vincent. ... The best in people. ... The absolute best."
Footnote: Shakespeare, sonnet 109