Footfalls Echo

Joan Stephens


Persistently, she had come to the cement culvert for the last seven nights, waiting patiently throughout the long, cool September night in the hopes that she would see him again. She began to fear that he did not use the park entrance anymore as it appeared that it had been blown open at some time after her abduction and then had been repaired. Maybe it had been closed permanently. About to give up she heard the familiar grind of the large, heavy door as it moved to the side. Retreating into the shadows as the beloved cloaked figure stepped into the culvert, her heart quickened its beat as she beheld his beautiful face. He raised the cloakís hood to hide his unique leonine countenance, and she couldnít hold back the tremulous Vincent that issued by its own volition from her suddenly dry mouth.

With a start, he turned away from her. "Whoís there?" he asked, tensed to rush into the dark, moonless night away from this unexpected threat to his safety.

"Catherine," she whispered. Oh please, let him believe me, she prayed.

"Catherine is dead," he stated flatly. "Do not plague me with cruel jokes or malicious lies," he growled with outrage.

"No, itís me, Vincent. Truly. I didnít die; although, sometimes I wish I had."

Whirling around, he cried, "Show yourself or I swear I will not be responsible for my actions."

Boldly, she stepped into the faint light of the tunnel. She could feel him scrutinizing her, judging whether she was telling the truth or not. And she could feel his struggle not to hope turn into hot, blazing anger as his eyes swept over her face. "The only features that resemble Catherine are the strong jaw and the green eyes. Otherwise, there is a faint resemblance but that is all. You are not Catherine," he stated through clenched teeth. "Who has sent you to torment me this way? Who hates me that much?"

"No one. Please, Vincent, listen to my story, and if I canít convince you that I am Catherine, then I will leave you in peace, never to bother you again. Will you honor the memory of my . . . her love and hear me out?"

"Do not invoke her memory to convince me," he warned her, a dangerous tone in his voice.

"Then do it because I know you to be a fair and honest man who has never turned his back on one who needs him."

With a harsh laugh, he said, "And you claim that you need me."

"Yes, I need you to hear my story. Then judge me as you will. We have never lied to each other, and I will not lie to you now."

Vincent looked at her sharply as he heard the familiar words that Catherine had said to him when Lisa had returned to the tunnels. This piqued his curiosity and that more than anything prompted him to say, "All right, I will listen." Folding his arms, he leaned back against the culvert wall, planting a foot flat against the wall, and waited suspiciously for her to begin.

"Can we go somewhere and sit down? Iíve been coming here for the last week, hoping to see you. Iíve only been out of the hospital for two months and I tire easily." To Vincentís sensitive ears, she did sound drained and exhausted.

"Thereís a bench in a part of the park that is not often used. We can sit there."

She smiled up at him and his heart twisted. It was so like her smile. "Thank you," she murmured.

"Follow me," he said curtly. And careful not to touch her, he led her to an unused corner of the park. With a weary sigh, she sank gracefully onto the bench. It reminded him of the refined way Catherine would sit, but then other women did it as well as she.

"Thank you," she sighed again.

Keeping a safe distance between them, he settled beside her, then waited for her to begin the fantastic story he thought she would tell. Not only was it fantastic, but it was extremely heartbreaking, if it was true.

"I remember dying," she said so softly that if it was not for his superb hearing he would have thought it was a gust of wind sighing through the trees. Hunching over in pain, she rested her elbows on her knees, taking a deep gulp of air. Almost, he reached over to comfort her but rigidly controlled his feelings of compassion. She had yet to prove anything to him.

"Of course, I didnít remember this when I woke up in a convalescent hospital. My memory was a complete blank, but it slowly came back, and at that time I didnít know if Gabriel was still running his criminal empire; so I gave them a false name, Becky Sherman, when I recalled my own." She chuckled lightly. "She was a childhood friend of mine. Why her name popped into my mind is a mystery to me; I havenít thought of her in years." She smiled with fond memories of the little raven-haired girl who befriended her in fifth grade. The smile vanished as she returned to her story, "It was only later that I learned that somehow the paperwork had gotten all mixed up and nobody knew who I was. No one wanted to admit that there had been a mistake so they listed me as Jane Doe until I would remember my name. Anyway, when they thought I had remembered enough to live on my own, they released me early. They wanted to get rid of their worst mistake." With a bitterly sharp laugh, she asked, "Do you remember the bus crash two years ago that killed all but five passengers? "

His eyes took on a far away look as he thought back to what he had read. "Yes, I believe so. The bus skidded on an icy patch and plunged over a steep embankment."

She nodded. "I was on that bus . . . on my way back to New York, and I was one of the survivors. My injuries were extensive, and I was told that I should not have lived. But I couldnít die, I had a mission to complete."

To harass me? he wondered.

"Every bone in my face was either crushed or broken. The plastic surgeon reconstructed my face to the best of his ability, but every time I see myself in a mirror, I wonder who that stranger is. But the worst damage was to my memory. I didnít lose all of it, but there are great gaps that I canít fill with any recollections. They are completely blank. Itís very frustrating. I reach for a name, a memory, or a thought and I come up against a blank wall."

Uneasily, Vincent shifted on the bench reminded of his own amnesia, and how much he had hurt Catherine by forgetting her name.

"But I remembered you," she said.

She glanced up at him, and he could see the pride that confession brought to her. He remembered the shame he had felt when he had confessed that he couldnít recall Catherineís name. He lowered his eyes unable to look into her bright, pleased eyes. This woman was bringing back hurtful memories, memories that he had walled off long ago. Uncomfortably, he glanced away from her to stare into the night. Did he have the courage and stamina to listen to her? If he would admit it to himself, he really wanted to bolt away from her and never see her again.

"Iíve been back for two months. First, finding a job I could do, and then a place to live. I was afraid to get in touch with any of my friends: Jenny, Peter, and Joe."

He gasped silently at the mention of Catherineís dearest friends. He began to wonder. "What do you remember?" he asked.

"My father and my mother, where I grew up, some of my years in college, elements of working as an attorney in my fatherís office and then the DAís office, my apartment and the balcony, spending time on the balcony with someone I love . . . you I believe, a dark place with candles, a waterfall, I canít recall what all I remember right now." She sounded exhausted, but he was not ready to accept her words at face value. She could see in his eyes that he did not believe her, that he still thought she had been coached in her replies.

Whoever had trained her had done a good job. She knew all the right things to say, but he did not trust her. And he could not trust himself to accept what she said as the truth and what he would do if she proved false. The gaps in her memory were too convenient to ignore. "I donít believe you," he said. "Your answers are too glib and the holes in your memory are too pat."

Bowing her head into her hands, she seemed to wilt even more, to withdraw into herself. "What can I say to convince you that I am whom I say I am?"

"Nothing. I held Catherine in my arms as she died. I would have known if she hadnít died."

"But the bond was gone, there was no way you could have known," she cried.

"I would have known," he replied stubbornly. They had even taught her about the bond and its loss.

"Ask me something that only you and I would know," she begged.

He shook his head and rose to his feet, ready to leave this imposter of his beloved Catherine. As he stepped away from her, she grabbed his hand and held it tightly. And as she did, a door slammed opened in his heart and a bright silver cord sought the similar cord that flowed from her heart. He staggered as the realization of what had just happened crashed through his mind. The bond had been restored. Even with her imperfect memory, it was Catherine. Whirling around, he fell to his knees and swept her off the bench into his hungry arms. Startled at his sudden action, she let out a squeak of surprise then threw her arms around him as she realized that he was murmuring her name over and over again. He held her head close to his breast as he stroked her hair, and then placing his large hands on either side of her face, he pulled her head back so he could gaze into her love filled eyes. "Oh Catherine, I never thought I would ever hold you again in this life." He took her mouth in a fiercely tender kiss, shocking both of them. Then he pulled back again to gaze hungrily at her.

"I know . . . I know; I despaired often that I would ever find you again," she said as happy tears streamed down her face. "But I wasnít going to give up until I did." Stroking his whiskery cheek, she laughed through her tears and then sobered, giving him a grave look. "They told me in the convalescent hospital that I had had a baby. But I donít remember giving birth to a child. Do you know? Did I really have a baby?"

With a joyous smile, he thought that now he could give her some very good news. "Yes, my love, you gave birth to a beautiful boy."

She cut in breathlessly, "Is it your child, Vincent? Where did it happen?" Then an ugly thought crossed her mind. "Donít tell me I gave birth to that monsterís baby. I donít think I could stand it."

Closing his eyes in pain, he said, "I donít remember how we conceived him either, but you told me as you lay dying in my arms that we had loved and that a child had resulted from that love." He would tell her later of his bitter search for their child and of the woman who had helped him find their son.

In relief she rested her head on his vest over his heart, comforted by the strong beat she heard. "Oh thank god," she muttered. A sudden thought banked her joy, and she pulled back. "Does Gabriel have him?"

"No, love, heís below with his grandfather who happens to think he is the most wonderful child in the whole world." They laughed together at the thought of Father doting on his grandchild.

"I want to see him, Vincent. Will I be welcome in the tunnels after all this time and all the pain that I have caused you? Will they accept me as Catherine? Even you did not want to believe."

"My pain was living with the loss of you, endless day after endless day. No one will deny me the joy of your return, least of all Father. Once he has the chance to know you again, he will recognize your loving and caring spirit. He knows at last that our love was meant to be and will welcome you as his daughter and my love." Taking her hand, he raised her to her feet. "Come, letís go to our son and reacquaint him with his mother."

With a brilliant smile, she followed him into the drainage culvert and returned to the life she had thought that she had lost forever.

 

Fini

 

 

 

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened

Into the rose garden.

T. S. Eliot