EXCERPTS FROM A DIARY
I can't believe what I heard tonight. I can't believe that Edna would abandon me after all these years, after all I've done for her and her family. I know her husband's death was a blow to her, but really--isn't it a bit drastic to run off to Florida, of all places, even if her son and his family are there? It isn't like she can't visit whenever she wants to. She could stay as long as she likes, as long as she comes back to me. I've sheltered and protected her for so long...
Oh well, I suppose I'm not being realistic. Her kind are like that...flighty, undependable, always moving around. From what my neighbors tell me, I'm lucky to have been with the same family for so long. If I'd gone to one of her brothers I'd probably be chopped up into apartments by now, like so many of the other houses on the street. I suppose I should be grateful she's keeping me intact and selling me to someone we know. At least she's spared me the indignity of being put on the open market. Oh, I've heard horror stories about that! Unctuous real estate agents, total strangers wandering through you, asking rude questions, pawing your woodwork, peering into your closets--even flushing your toilets! How hideous.
At least Catherine is a nice young woman, and I know she appreciates me. I can remember her visiting with her grandmother when she was just a little girl. I suppose it's hard on Edna, outliving most of her old friends as well as her husband...well, enough of that. Catherine always thought I was beautiful, and knew how to treat me properly, at least. Maybe it won't be so bad. At least she won't make an apartment house of me; it's clear that she's eager to live here herself. Since her father died--I was sad to hear that, I heard from his duplex on Gramercy Park that he was a man who knew how to treat a home properly--she certainly seems to have plenty of money. Not to put myself forward, but she'd have to, to afford me. And she doesn't seem to have turned into one of those greedy real estate speculators. If she were that interested in making money, she wouldn't have left Charles's firm for the District Attorney's Office, now would she? So perhaps it will be all right.
I do worry, though. There's a great deal that's distinctly odd about this whole transaction. Edna seemed to imply that Catherine was in need of my unique features, although I can't imagine where she got that idea. As the daughter of generations of outwardly stolid Dutchmen, I can't imagine that Edna has any psychic sensitivity to speak of. She probably hasn't any idea there's a ghost in the basement, although it's admittedly a rather shy one. Nonetheless, she was hinting all over the place that Catherine had something to hide, and if I do say so myself, I am ideally suited to anyone with something to hide.
The look on Catherine's face when she saw the hidden staircase and all the space inside the walls was a treat...and especially when she saw that wine cellar in the basement. She spent an unusually long time in there. It's not as if the vintages are that impressive, after all. I wonder why she spent so much time looking at the back wall? She even tapped on it, for heaven's sake. It's not as if there's anything behind that wall expect some old tunnels...Hmm. Maybe Edna's sensed something after all. I hope Catherine's not up to anything dangerous or illegal; I had quite enough of that with Edna's family. I know I owe them a great deal--my very life--but I've always had very mixed feelings about the uses to which they put me. Smuggling and bootlegging and all that skullduggery... It was exciting, I admit, but I've always felt rather embarassed about it. The neighbors were quite cool at first, although they've come around over the years. The stories I could tell about them! (Being a row house, it's impossible to avoid knowing a great deal about one's neighbors. I certainly do not snoop.) When Edna showed the secret passage to Catherine, she mentioned how terrified her mother was during Prohibition, when all that illegal liquor was hidden in my walls. How does she think I felt, with a fire hazard like that? I was greatly relieved when alcoholic beverages were made legal again.
But I'm digressing, aren't I? Good grief, you'd think I were some ancient Greek pile; I'm not that much over a hundred, for heaven's sake. With my rather interesting life, it seems longer. I hope life with Catherine won't be too dull. I'm sure Edna is over-reacting, after all. I'm sure all Catherine wants is privacy, after the notoriety she endured a few years ago. She did seem very appreciative of my security system, which, if I do say so myself, is state-of-the-art. That's it, of course. Yes it may be rather boring for a while. I'd rather gotten used to Richard's interesting theatrical friends flitting in and out. I miss him too, Edna. Those were good days, with Richard and Edna, and their dear children, and all their friends. Catherine is a young woman still; perhaps we'll have a chance to raise a family again. And Catherine has friends. I remember she brought along a very nice young lady named Jenny when she was in college. So perhaps it won't be too bad. Only time will tell.
What a snowy February so far. Not quite as bad as last year, perhaps...good heavens, I just realized it's been a whole year since Catherine moved in. Was I really worried that life with her would be dull? It's been so hectic I've barely had time to refle reflect on it. Well, I'm empty now, except for the cat, so this would be a good time, I suppose. Let me think...
I'd barely gotten over Edna's departure when I realized strangers were messing about with my basement--the indignity--and from outside! Well, I was frantic, I can tell you. My security system was hardly designed for such an invasion. I couldn't think what to do. I suddenly regretted paying so little attention to those tunnels on the other side, but they always seemed rather standoffish, and as I mentioned, I'm not one to put myself forward. Of course, I now realize they were merely being discreet, an admirable quality. We get along quite well now, but then...
Fortunately, before I could figure out just how to collapse part of my basement wall on top of the strangers, I realized they were talking about Catherine. Clearly they were doing this at her request, but I couldn't imagine why. Then I heard that name for the first time. Vincent. Something about a surprise for Vincent. I began to suspect that Catherine and I wouldn't be quite as alone as I had surmised. That didn't explain why this Vincent person needed a concealed entrance (very cleverly constructed, I might add) in the subbasement. I confess I began to worry that Catherine had taken up with some unsuitable young man. Having my walls full of drugs wouldn't be quite as unsafe as all that high-proof alcohol, but I hated the thought of being used to hide such things. I've listened to the radio, seen the television. I know the sort of damage these substances cause. I've also seen what law enforcement persons can do to a house they suspect of harboring such contraband. Battering rams, crowbars, sledgehammers--it pained me just to think about it.
Surely Edna wouldn't have condoned my use for such a purpose, I consoled myself. But that consolation was short-lived. Edna suspected that Catherine had a secret, but never really knew what it was. Edna's own romantic rebellion--marrying a poor young actor--had turned out spectacularly well. Richard Davies was a fine gentleman, an excellent husband and father. He was also marvelously talented, and that talent didn't take too long to be recognized. He won many awards, and eventually brought in more money than Edna's trust funds, much to the chagrin of Edna's brothers. Yes, we were all certainly well taken care of; one of the reasons I'm in such excellent condition today, despite the vagaries of fortune the West Seventies have endured over the years.
Dear me, I'm digressing again. The point is, I was afraid that Edna's own good fortune, and good judgement, romantically speaking, had caused her to view Catherine's situation through rose-colored glasses. This is a different time, I told myself. Surely any reason that Catherine has to be so secretive about her young man must be serious indeed. Men of the caliber of Richard Davies were rare in his own time, but now--gentlemen of integrity are few and far between. And what possible reason could a man of quality have to hide himself?
Then I met Vincent.
What can I say? I thought life with the smuggling Van Der Meers and the Davies theatrical milieu had prepared me for anything, but I was wrong. What possibly could have prepared me for Vincent? When I first saw him I was so astonished I almost blew a fuse. Let me be honest, I almost blew my entire fuse box. No wonder those tunnels have had to be so discreet. No wonder Catherine needed a hidden entrance. By the time I got over my initial shock and could understand what Catherine and Vincent were saying, it soon became clear that despite his rather, ah--unconventional appearance, Vincent had the potential to be another Richard Davies. I wasn't about to make snap judgments on such short acqaintance, but I haven't been continuously inhabited for over a hundred years without learning something about human behavior. Or--whatever.
One thing did take me back to the early days of Edna and Richard's marriage, however, as soon as Catherine showed Vincent the master bedroom. The only piece of my furniture that Edna took with her was the bed that she and Richard had shared. Catherine bought a new one--a quite attractive Stickley reproduction--and it seems that she and Vincent couldn't wait to "christen" it.
One thing you must understand: a house never really sleeps. Even when all its inhabitants are deep in slumber, a good house must be constantly alert to the weather outside, to its own inner workings, to the earth beneath its foundation. Its duty is to provide shelter and protection, and this requires constant vigilance. So you understand, I am not a voyeur. It's just not possible for me, it's against my very nature, to be unaware of what goes on within my walls--especially when it goes on so--ahem--vigorously. I confess I was a bit taken aback at just how vigorously. Richard and Edna were quite an energetic and healthy young couple when they married, but they were nothing like--
I must point out that at this time, Catherine and Vincent were not indeed married. At first I was a bit judgemental at this--I was born a nineteenth-century house, after all, and can never quite escape that--until I reminded myself that they could hardly ride down to City Hall (quite a pleasant building for a City property, or so I hear) and apply for their marriage license without causing a riot. But they did indeed marry not long after, "Below," as they call it, and the Tunnels assured me that it was a very nice wedding indeed.
Which reminds me of an incident which showed me what a fine gentleman Vincent is. They had only been living with me a short while when they had an interesting conversation in my Library. It soon became clear that the reason they had not yet spoken of marriage was Vincent's reluctance to" tie" Catherine to such a being as himself. Vincent is really an intelligent lad in most things, but...I believe he has quite a self-esteem problem. Humans! Or whatever. Catherine was dropping hints the size of wrecking balls and pointing out--hypothetically (they discussed a lot of things hypothetically when the dimmest garden shed could have seen they were really talking about themselves)--how some hypothetical woman married to a man she couldn't acknowledge would be so happy to have him as her husband that nothing else would matter...
It was the word "husband," that did it, I think. Vincent was facing the fireplace then, holding the mantle (afraid to look Catherine in the eye, no doubt)--and when he heard that word, he gripped my mantle so hard I thought he'd dented the wood. Up until then, I'd had no idea he was so strong. Vigorous, definitely, but always gentle with Catherine. I began to realize then just what a remarkable gentleman he was. Having such strength, yet able to exert such control...quite remarkable.
Oh, I know he isn't always able to control it. The Tunnels told me stories, once they got to know me. Well, to my mind, Vincent is quite within his rights to do what he must to protect those he loves. I was ready to collapse a whole wall of bricks on top of Cullen and Mouse when I thought they were invaders, so who am I to criticize Vincent for doing what he must? I only wish I could tell him. One of the great frustrations of my kind is being unable to communicate with those who inhabit us, except in the most indirect way. Dropping a wall on someone is not exactly indirect, you say? The point is, no one ever assumes it's me. Even those humans who are at least a little sensitive tend to assume I'm haunted, which is not the same thing at all. A ghost is just another inhabitant, after all, and most of them are frankly quite boring. They tend to have one-track minds and are not good conversationalists at all. Although I've heard there's a bookstore that...oh dear, I'm digressing again.
From what the Tunnels tell me, Vincent's view of himself is much better now than when he first met Catherine, if you can believe it. I shudder to think what he must have been like then, poor boy. Apparently his self-esteem improved makedly when he and Catherine first, uh, became vigorous. I can see that it would, since it's clear that Catherine is very enthusiastic and appreciative. I know the signs. Not only have I had many years of observation, but Edna's cleaning woman always listened to Dr. Ruth on the radio. I wonder what Dr. Ruth would make of Vincent? She seems like the sort who would take him in stride, although she might embarass him by asking for details of his vigorousness.
Vincent's attitude concerned me, because I saw it was hurting Catherine. She's quite good at hiding things from him that might hurt him, quite remarkable when you know that they have some special bond that makes him aware of her emotional state. (Would that it it worked with houses.) Of course, he didn't see what I saw. He didn't see how often she went into that room upstairs, the one that used to be a nursery for the Davies children. He didn't even know it used to be a nursery, but Catherine did. I knew she wanted it to be one again, but Vincent, poor, dense, boy, didn't want them to risk having a child that would be like him. Why not, I never could understand. Some drivel about the restricted life he'd have to lead. I like that. The Tunnels may not be houses, precisely, but the ones I know are assuredly dwellings, and--even more important--they are homes. Which is more than I can say for some very expensive modern apartments. I could tell him stories...
On top of that , he gets to spend most of his evenings (including many vigorous nights) and not a few weekends in a truly excellent brownstone of impressive pedigree and an exceptional record of maintenance. You'd think I was a tenement, from the way he talked sometimes. Ah, well, I told myself, I must remember his upbringing and try to be more charitable. (I'd met Father by then, you see.)
Who knows how long that sad state of affairs might have gone on if it hadn't been for Bulwer. Bulwer (short for Bulwer-Lytton) joined our household one very nasty, stormy night last November. I had all I could do to keep my shingles attached, and the rain...Well, Bulwer showed up cold and dripping on the doorstep and Catherine, kind-hearted soul that she is, took him in. Now many of my fellow domiciles have mixed feelings about sheltering cats. The give you a certain enhanced hominess, and do keep you company when you have people who leave for the day. On the other hand, they scratch your woodwork. I rather like cats myself. Most of them know you for what you are and appreciate the shelter you give them. Cats like comfort, after all, and I am very comfortable if I do say so myself. Given his life before we took him in, Bulwer is more appreciative than most of my shelter, and he's turned out to be an excellent mouser. Those little pests in the basement were getting out of hand; I began to fear for my wiring and insulation. No more.
Besides, Bulwer has gained my everlasting gratitude for precipitating the end of Vincent's ridiculous attitude about having children. Seeing how loving and maternal Catherine was with a little kitten seems to have been the last straw for Vincent. He finally realized how unhappy she was, for one thing--it certainly took him long enough--and the truth is he just can't bear to do anything that makes Catherine unhappy. I can tell he still has his doubts, but he's willing to try. His change of heart made Catherine even more vigorous, although I wouldn't have believed that were possible. It's good thing the bedroom has a good sturdy floor. And the solarium. And the living room. And the library. And....anyway, at this rate we should be hearing the patter of little feet before long. Besides Bulwer's.
Another year gone by. I can't believe it. It's been a fairly quiet year as these things go. No baby yet, though not for lack of trying. I suppose these things take a while. Catherine and Vincent are older than Edna and Richard were when they began their family; perhaps that makes a difference. We had quite a nice Christmas this year. I just realized I forgot to mention that last year, didn't I? Well, you can imagine what Catherine and Vincent's first Christmas in me was like. I can be quite Dickensian during Christmastime, given the proper accouterments, even though I'm not quite the right period. Catherine really "pulled out all the stops" for Vincent's first Christmas in their own home, and I have so many decorations the attic can barely hold all the boxes.
Well, this year was similar. I was decorated to the nines, and Catherine had a tree worthy of my tall ceilings, brought from her house in Connecticut. Now there's a building I'd like to have a chat with. They spent their honeymoon there, you know. It must be a remarkably sturdy edifice.
We had lots of company. Jenny and her whole family came to visit at Hanukkah. She really is charming, more about her later. Devin and Charles visited for several weeks; they spent some of the time here although they mostly stayed Below. Catherine's boss Joe dropped by with another of his rather colorful girlfriends and some other people from Catherine's office. A nice man, but terribly confused by Catherine. Some romantic feeling in the past, I suspect, which has been firmly redirected into brotherly concern. Another gentleman, though something of a "diamond in the rough." He suspects all is not what it seems with Catherine, but has no idea what's going on. I hope Catherine tells him someday. I think he can be trusted, and I'm quite a good judge of character. I feel sorry for the poor fellow.
I believe Catherine is doing some matchmaking. She's such a happily married woman, she seems to think it her duty to find the perfect mate for all her friends. Vincent finds her determination rather amusing, but I can tell he's also flattered. Good for Catherine; any boost to his self-esteem is a good thing. She invited Jenny for dinner a little while ago. She didn't tell her (or even Vincent until the last minute) that she'd also invited Ben Goldman, one of the Helpers. The Tunnels told me he's been away for some time in Florida (where Edna seems to be flourishing, by the way) taking care of his dying father. They think quite highly of him, so perhaps he's worthy of Jenny. I hope so.
I'm very fond of Jenny. She has a sweet and generous nature, and apparently was quite taken with Vincent from their first meeting. Another good judge of character, it appears. Of all Catherine's friends, she's the one who's closest to knowing me for what I am. She has a gift, no doubt about it. She knows about the ghost in the basement, although she hasn't mentioned it to Catherine. She can sense it's quite benign. I see her looking around sometimes when she's here, as if she can almost sense my presence, but not quite. It's frustrating. I'd love to talk with her. Bulwer's a good conversationalist but doesn't have the knowledge of Catherine's past that Jenny does. It would be so interesting to hear about her college years...
Catherine has been so good to me this past year. Miyoko, the Tunnels' chief gardener, has done wonders with my back yard. It was always pleasant, but now it's quite beautiful. She managed to design things in such a way that in summer, when everything is in leaf, Vincent can go out there and not be seen. Catherine planted a rosebush that used to be on the balcony of her old apartment. I was quite moved by that. It has great sentimental value to her; when she planted it in the ground it was like a symbol of the permanence of our relationship. I'm so glad she likes it here.
Miyoko's even put in a roof garden! I was quite overwhelmed. I'm the envy of the neighborhood. I confess I'm so proud of being so well cared for I can can barely contain myself. The garden will provide a lot of produce for those Below--the herbs smell wonderful--and it makes me look so elegant.
I even have a housekeeper now. Her name is Margaret Maloney, and an excellent woman she is. Knows how to treat a house properly. Another one of those ubiquitous Helpers, she used to work in one of those snooty buildings on Park Avenue. Her face became terribly scarred from a fire, and her employers didn't want her to work for them anymore. Can you imagine? Sometimes I just don't understand people. I would have nothing but admiration for a house that had survived a fire well enough to be rebuilt, even if it weren't quite the structure it used to be.
Well, their loss is our gain. Margaret comes here every day, Monday through Friday. Catherine's trying to convince her to live in, so far without success. I think she doesn't want people to think she's hiding. She's a very proud woman, but I hope she changes her mind. I have so much room. At least it's nice to have company when Catherine's at work and Vincent's below. I have Bulwer, of course, but any cat out of kittenhood seems to spend a great deal of time sleeping. Various people from Below pop in and out during the day of course, to get a book from our extensive library, or even watch television (educational, of course). Catherine has a computer, too, and some of the children come up to use it, especially Eric. He's becoming quite the little scientist.
Speaking of computers, Catherine told Ben at dinner that she wants to convert one of my unused rooms into a science and computer lab for the children. At first I wasn't sure what to make of that, but now I'm getting quite excited about it. First the gardens, now a computer lab (which will no doubt require upgraded wiring). To think I was unhappy when Edna sold me to Catherine! I thought it was such a tragedy, and in retrospect it was the best thing that ever happened to me. At this rate, I'm going to be the finest house on the block.
Quite an interesting year--although I imagine that's redundant, considering who lives in me now. We had quite a scare early last year. One of Catherine's clients, a battered wife, was shot at by her husband right there in the DA's office. Catherine was with her at the time, and apparently the bullet came awfully close to Catherine. I had to piece all this together, of course, from what was said in my presence and what the Tunnels told me. Catherine managed to get the woman--Moira was her name, as I recall--into the upper Tunnels. With Vincent's help, they brought her to a Helper's. Fortunately it was too dark to see Vincent properly down there, even if Moira, the poor thing weren't practically unconscious by then. It all seems to have turned out all right in the end, but it caused a lot of emotional turmoil around here.
Vincent was upset because it reminded him of "the bad old days" when he and Catherine were beset by that sort of thing all the time. It seems quite unbelievable to me, what their life was like then. If I hadn't heard it directly from the Tunnels I wouldn't have believed it. He still worries about what he did in those days to protect Catherine, though I still can't quite understand why. I'd do anything to protect her, and wouldn't feel the least bit guilty about it afterwards. Let someone try to hurt her within my walls, and they'd have the biggest chunk of plaster you can imagine fall on their heads. Or my stairs would get very slippery. If they came near a light switch--well, I believe you get the point.
Catherine got upset because Vincent was upset, and even talked about quitting her job, which then made Vincent feel guilty--humans do make their lives so unneccesarily complicated.That's what's convinced me that Vincent is human, or mostly. At least they're never boring. I'd love Catherine home all day (although she'd spend part of it with the Tunnels, of course, musn't be selfish). But like Vincent, I want whatever makes her happy. It makes her happy to help other people, and she feels that at least for now, she can best do that where she is.
The ironic thing is that just before all this happened, Catherine was afraid she was getting too boring and predictable, so she gave Vincent a little surprise for Valentine's day. It involved a chocolate chess set and the most amazingly revealing dress I've ever seen her wear. Or anybody wear, for that matter. I was built in the days when women had more fabric in their hats than Catherine had in that dress, and it was a floor-length dress, so you can imagine....it was the shortest chess game ever played in this house.
Now, a house of my age has experienced plenty of romantic activity, but usually at one remove, in a bed. If it's done right, one gets a rather interesting sensation in the floor underneath. Despite having a comfortable and sturdy bed upstairs, Catherine and Vincent seem to have an unusual affinity for the floor in front of the library fireplace. They celebrated their engagement there, as a matter of fact. They've also celebrated the Spring Equinox, Groundhog Day, Millard Fillmore's birthday and Architect knows what else. But last Valentine's Day--when there's nothing but a Persian rug (antique, quite an attractive pattern) and an afghan between your floorboards and all that vigor---exceptional vigor, on this occasion--it's quite a sensation, I can tell you. It made me feel newly built again.
Things calmed down by the summer, and Catherine convinced Vincent that dangerous incident was only a fluke. I hope so. Those two deserve a peaceful life after what they've been through. If it were up to me and the Home Tunnels, they would, but they do insist on gadding about. Catherine actually goes outside, and I can hardly protect her there. Even Vincent insists on going into all sorts of deep and distant tunnels, some of which are quite uncivilized and would just as soon collapse on you as look at you. Or so my adjacent Tunnels tell me.
If only they had a child they'd be at home more, but alas, no sign of that. It breaks my heart to see Catherine try to pretend it doesn't matter, and watch Vincent pretend to believe her. She never goes into the nursery now, and she's taken those baby books she bought two years ago and put them down in the bottom corner of the bookcase, behind the table, where you can't see them in the shadows. It breaks my heart.
It's not that the house isn't filled with children, I just wish they could include Vincent and Catherine's children. Catherine made good on her promise, and I now have a very up-to-date computer and science laboratory on my premises. With my new heavy-duty wiring I feel quite modern, but with the charm and craftsmanship of an older generation. I must be careful or I'll get quite above myself.
"Chandler Labs," as everyone jokingly calls it, is used every day by Eric and Mouse, although Mouse is strictly forbidden to touch some of the equipment without Ben's supervision. Ben spends a lot of his spare time teaching the Tunnel children, and even more of it with Jenny. They both seem very happy, and Catherine has been quite smug about that particular matchmaking success. The garden looks more beautiful all the time. Not a bad year, all in all.
Architect, I can't believe it! Catherine just told Vincent she's pregnant!
I can barely talk about this past year without my pipes dripping, it's been so moving and so wonderful. I haven't had a child born in me since Edna, and that was over eighty years ago. I'm so grateful that Vincent's rather unusual appearance precluded Catherine going to a hospital, like everyone seems to do these days. Ridiculous place to have a baby if you ask me. People should be born at home and die at home. I don't suppose I'm completely objective, but really--why would anyone want to take their first breath or breathe their last in some vast, anonymous place that doesn't really know you. Hospitals try, I know, but you just can't establish a relationship with hundreds of people you only meet for a little while.
I am not unaware of the advantages of modern medical care, especially after all the medical conversations that have gone on in here this past year. Father fussed a great deal about not knowing what to expect with Catherine's pregnancy, even before he found out she was going to have twins. I dearly wish she'd delivered that bit of information up here, but alas, I had to hear it second-hand from the Tunnels.
Actually, twins turned out to be quite an advantage, both for Catherine and for me. Father absolutely insisted that Catherine remain Above as much as possible for the rest of her pregnancy, since it seems that one of the problems with twins is keeping them from being born too early. I'd been rather concerned about Catherine having a difficult time, since she's quite a little thing, and Vincent is quite a large fellow. (In many ways, if what Catherine tells him in bed is true.) But having two at once means that neither one is likely to be that big, so I was quite relieved. And Father won this argument for once, so I got to have Catherine here at home almost every day for six months. It was glorious. She was unhappy about not seeing all her friends and family in the Tunnels often enough, so they took turns visiting her. I haven't been so crowded since the height of Richard's fame; I loved it! I met someone new as a result of all this, Dr. Helen Robinson. Very nice young woman, a new Helper--something of a protegé of Peter Alcott, I believe. She's a resident in emergency medicine, so we were prepared for anything.
Poor Vincent went through quite a difficult time--much more so than the usual expectant father. Incipient parenthood dragged up a lot of his old fears and doubts about himself, and about inflicting his heritage on an innocent child. I swear, it takes a great deal of self-control on my part not to drop something on his head at times like these. It amazes me that Catherine has so far refrained from something similar. Seeing him waver between joy and anxiety has been quite trying for all of us. As the due date got closer, he seemed happier, but that probably just means he's stuffed it down into that commodious depth where he hides all his prodigious worries. Patience, I tell myself. Only time will erode those doubts of his.
It was a little less than three weeks before her time when Catherine told Vincent in the middle of the night that her time was now. My, what a night that was! Phone calls at four a. m., much banging of pipes, doctors and other friends gathering. At one point we had, in addition to the parents, Father, Peter, Mary, Helen, Jenny, and Jamie. I think Catherine and Vincent were the calmest ones in the group, curiously enough. They were so wrapped up in each other that at times I'm not sure they remembered there was anyone else here.
When the moment finally came, Catherine seemed more triumphant and elated than anything else. She'd wanted this so much for so long, after all. I shall never, as long as I stand, forget the look on Vincent's face when he helped usher his children into the world, or the look on Catherine's when she saw it. It was the most tender, most moving...
Where was I? Oh yes, they had a girl, Caroline, born first. The spitting image of her mother at that age, according to Peter, although he was quite awash in sentiment at the time so I'm not sure how accurate that is. Then about ten minutes later came Jacob--his father's child and no mistake. Father was quite overcome at that point, remembering Vincent as a baby. Quite a moment, with copious hugs, kisses, tears, and exclamations all around. Catherine looked exhausted but ecstatic; Vincent looked not unlike I would expect him to look had I carried out my threat to drop that plaster on his head.
After Catherine recuperated a bit they went Below. How empty I felt! At times like these I find the double life Catherine and Vincent must lead a sore trial. I wish they could just live here all the time, with no need for a hidden refuge. It's selfish, I know, but I got so used to having them here every day, and watching the children's birth was so wonderful--and now I'm suddenly empty. I feel bereft.
My, I certainly was feeling sorry for myself at this time last year, wasn't I? It was rather lonely at first. Catherine and Vincent weren't the only ones who waited a long time for those children, it seems; every one of their friends Above and Below seem to have hoped and prayed with them. Now they just can't get enough of little Caroline and Jacob. Their parents don't dare remove the children from their adoring public for too long. However, sometimes the attention gets overwhelming and they escape to me, just for some quiet time together. I'm also large enough that they can resume their vigorous behavior without worrying about waking the children. Catherine seems to have recovered remarkably quickly.
Catherine is determined to breast-feed as long as possible, which takes some effort with twins. So far she's been successful. I heartily approve. Call me old-fashioned, but if it was good enough for Edna and her mother before her--besides, I love to watch Vincent when Catherine does it. Jacob usually takes longer to finish than his sister--quite a healthy appetite on that boy--and Vincent holds Caroline while he watches Catherine feed Jacob. The look on his face is hard to describe, but I've seen it on the faces of those who've come home at last after a long, perilous journey.
My nursery is a nursery again at last. Right now it gets used more as a playroom, since Catherine and Vincent want to keep the babies in their room (except when they're being vigorous too loudly). It feels wonderful to hear the sound of children's laughter in there after so many years. Catherine is determined that her children will be aware of both Above and Below, even if Jacob will never be able to live openly Above. Perhaps the world will change that much in his lifetime, but I doubt it. Human progress--true progress, in the heart--seems to move along a slow and erratic path.
Which is why Nancy Tucker, Joe Maxwell, and other friends of Catherine's who don't know her secret, think Catherine has only one child. The nursery is arranged so that Jacob's crib can be sceened off, just in case a persistent visitor should want to see it, although Catherine never volunteers to show them. Catherine's friends are unlikely to be so persistent, anyway. They are much too polite for that. Jenny knows everything, of course, but she's not just an Above friend any more, she's been a Helper for years. Joe knows that there's a Vincent around whom Catherine loves, and that he's the father of her child. Catherine had to tell him something when she asked for her leave. He's accepted Catherine's assertions that Vincent remains in the background for a reason. He seems to have gotten the impression that Vincent has some disfiguring condition that he's very sensitive about, and Catherine has avoided correcting that useful misconception. I'd love to see the look on his face if he saw Vincent in the flesh.
It was interesting enough seeing the look on his face when Catherine told him she had decided to resign before her leave was up. He looked rather like a very large shoe had finally dropped, right on his foot. He was upset, but not totally surprised. He told Catherine he was lucky to have her around as long as he had, and that ever since he'd first seen her with Caroline he'd been expecting this. He could tell that being a mother, especially after waiting so long, was too important to her to go back to the kind of hours she'd put in at the DA's before. He went on about having people lined up around the block to take the job, so she shouldn't worry about that, but no one could ever really replace her.
They got rather teary for a while, and then nostalgic. They went on for a long time, talking about "the old days," and by the time they were through I was about to have fits. No wonder Vincent had needed to protect Catherine so much in the early days. I had no idea being an attorney could be so dangerous, unless one worked for the Cosa Nostra. (I know a very elegant mansion with quite a few Mafia attorneys enjoying their eternal rest under the basement floor, but that was back in the 1930s.) It's a good thing I didn't know Catherine well in those days, or I'd be tempted to make all my doors and windows stick so she couldn't get out.
When Catherine was pregnant, she kept up doing legal research on those computer databases, pro bono, for various Helpers and their friends. Dr. Helen's husband is a Legal Aid attorney, and he and Catherine have been talking about her doing that sort of thing on a regular basis. I'm all for it of course, since she'd have to do it here. Despite Mouse's schemes, computers have not made it Below, nor do I think it likely thet will anytime soon. It's nice to know I still have something unique to offer.
Well, I got my wish after all. I saw Joe Maxwell's face the first time he saw Vincent. Just as I expected, it was a treat.
Catherine seems to have settled into a fairly good balance between Above and Below in the last few years. She spent a lot of time with the children the first couple of years, all too much of it Below. I think she rather enjoyed being a Tunnel woman for awhile, learning all the basic survival skills she never really needed before. She's become a much better cook, according to Devin (so you can take that with a grain of salt). Lucky for him he lives in the Adirondacks and only visits, or Catherine might have done him an injury by now. He's mellowed a bit, what with a successful writing career, and marriage, and fatherhood, but he'll never be quite respectable.
Catherine has become quite a skilled candlemaker, and was a great help to Rebecca when she had her first baby. She's also been teaching the older children, things like history, economics, and law. I've never seen her so happy, mostly because Vincent is happier than anyone can ever remember. Fatherhood seems to have finally gotten it through his thick skull that he deserves to be happy.
Unconditional love will do that to a person. Now, in addition to Catherine, there's Caroline and Jacob, who seem to be convinced the sun rises and sets in Daddy. Not that Jacob gets to see the sun much, although he does get to go into the back yard in summer. Catherine and Jenny even took them and Jenny's little girl out to Catherine's house in Connecticut. Vincent didn't go--something about not wanting to push his luck--but a good time apparently was had by all.
I certainly can't imagine anyone being frightened by Jacob. At fortysomething, Vincent's looks can certainly be considered intimidating, but at three and four they're nothing short of charming. Jacob has his Father's face, and hair, but his mother's green eyes. That combination is likely to be quite devastating to women when he's older. Heaven knows it's devastating enough now, considering the effect he has on Jenny and Helen (and every woman Below, the Tunnels assure me). He may look like his parents, but in some ways he's the spiritual offspring of Mouse. Even at his tender age, he's fascinated by how things are put together. Unfortuntely he is even more fascinated by how they come apart, as I have learned the hard way. My downstairs bathroom may never be the same.
Vincent was so worried about the pain a child like him might suffer, but so far Jay-Jay (that's what his sister calls him) is a relentlessly happy child. No doubt pain will come, but I don't think it will affect him quite the way it has his father. He's old enough to notice that his sister gets to go places he doesn't, but Vincent makes sure it works both ways. He gets to go to his "special places" in the lower tunnels with Daddy.
Caroline has both Daddy's eyes and hair but her mother's face. She's quieter than her brother (most people are) and quite aware of being the "big sister," if only by ten minutes. She and Mommy have their special times going to the Park, or somewhere else Above, but she always insists on bringing back something for Jay-Jay. Of course, she's been known to forget that later and the two of them have had many a knock-down-drag-out over whatever it is until various adult supervisors rush in to pry them apart. The first time it happened, Vincent was terrified that Jacob would hurt Caroline, but that's never happened.
Perhaps it's because, whatever Vincent is, Jacob's only half that. He's certainly large and strong for his age, but he may never have the remarkable strength of his father. Perhaps it's because Caroline and Jacob have some version of the bond their parents share. Vincent has had a bond with his children from the moment they were born, although at first it told him little but hungry/sleepy/full/wet. Catherine and Vincent have had many a late-night conversation within my walls about just what kinds of bonds this remarkable little family shares. Catherine seems to be more attuned to Vincent's feelings every year, but she can't tell if it's their bond becoming more of a two-way street, or just the familiarity that comes with time and intimacy. She certainly has a bond with her children, but more than any other mother? It's hard to tell.
In my humble opinion, based on over a century's observance of human behavior, those two children have a bond between them at least as remarkable as that between their parents. And unlike them, they've never known a life without that; it's as natural a condition to them as breathing. What must it be like, to have never been alone, even in your mother's womb? No, Jacob will never hurt Caroline. Jacob will never wonder who his parents were, and why he was abandoned. Jacob and Caroline will grow up, Architect willing, with two loving parents, and an extended family the like of which we seldom see these days. They will be very different people from their parents. I can hardly wait to see what they become.
Among other things, they'll grow up with their Uncle Joe around. Catherine has agonized for years about telling Joe the full story. More than once she's come very close, but always held back from giving him that burden. Even before he became Bureau Chief, Catherine was always worried about dividing his loyalties between the letter of the law and its spirit. From past conversations between Catherine and Vincent, it seems clear that there are a number of ticking time bombs in the form of unsolved cases reposing in the files of the NYPD--cases that Joe would no doubt solve instantly the moment Joe saw Vincent. I don't think Catherine really wondered what Joe would choose, given a choice between his friendship for her and his oath to uphold the law--but she never could bring herself to put him into a position that would require him to make that choice.
As it turned out, Joe put himself in that position. After years of wondering, and never asking Catherine questions she wouldn't answer, and driving himself crazy, the poor man finally cracked. Catherine had been visiting her old haunts at the DA's office to get some background on a case she was researching for the legal aid cooperative. Joe was about to approach her to ask her out to lunch, when suddenly she grabbed her throat, got a panicked look on her face, and ran from the room. Without thinking, Joe followed. He kept following when she ducked into the building across the alley, and ran through the basement and into the subbasement, and into the Tunnels.
Catherine is usually scrupulous about Tunnel entrances, but she was so frantic with worry about Vincent that she didn't close it properly behind her. I got this part of it from the Tunnels later. The sentries were quite chagrined that Joe got through as far as he did, but everyone was so concerned about Vincent they weren't as alert as they should have been. I think some people thought he had been killed, at least at first. He was helping to close off a section of the Tunnels that had become unstable when the ground just fell away from under him. When Vincent landed at the bottom of the hole, he wasn't moving and no one could tell for sure if he was even breathing, until Mouse scrabbled down after him (it took some doing to get him to wait for the rope).
By this time I suspect that even if Joe was having second thoughts, he didn't dare lose sight of Catherine for fear he'd be lost Below forever. Catherine knows those Tunnels now like a native, but a stranger would become disoriented quickly. The sentries spotted Joe just after Catherine reached Vincent--soon enough to keep him from getting a good look, but much too late for easy explanations. By this time, Eric had figured out that Vincent's only injury was a broken arm. He hadn't hit his head, but there was a pocket of carbon dioxide at the bottom of the hole concentrated enough for Vincent to lose consciousness. Catherine was really angry at Joe, and told him so in no uncertain terms. She must have been rather frightening (of course she was still worried about Vincent) because he promised to allow himself to be escorted out by the sentries and wait until she called him.
Well, the great revelation came in my living room. Catherine reminded Joe that he'd once told her that whatever it was, he could get her out of it, and that he was about to find out what "it" was...but she had no intention of getting out of it. If he felt he couldn't keep her secret, that would be the last he, or anyone, ever saw of her. I quailed at that. I couldn't bear the thought of losing them all forever, but I know Catherine. She'd go away to the deepest, darkest Tunnel to keep her family safe. The ways would change, and change again, and no one would ever find them, even if the Tunnel community were destroyed. I know that would break her heart, after trying so hard to make a normal life for Vincent and their children. And it would break mine, because I would never see them again.
First she told him that Caroline had a brother. That surprised him well enough, since she'd kept that from him for over four years. Then she introduced Jacob. Joe was taken aback, to put it mildly, but he loves children and didn't let his astonishment show too much in front of the boy. After a little conversation, Catherine announced it was time for him to meet Caroline and Jacob's father.
When Vincent stepped into the room holding Caroline's hand, the look on Joe's face was almost comical. It all would have been quite amusing if this man didn't have the power to destroy our future. Everyone stood around like statues. Sometimes I think they'd all be standing there yetif Caroline hadn't run over to give her "Uncle Joe" a hug. That broke the ice, although the tension in the room was so thick I could feel it.
I saw Joe stare at Vincent's hands for a moment, and his face told all. I'm sure he was mentally reviewing all those files with the odd forensic evidence; all those files that had never quite added up, that remained unsolved. Suddenly, in Joe's mind at least, they were solved. The children sensed that something was strange. They gathered around their father on the sofa, clambering on top of him despite his broken arm. Not yet four, and they clearly gave Joe the message, "if you want to hurt our Daddy you'll have to go through us first." Joe kept looking from Vincent's clawed hands; to the gentle way he treated the children, even when they jostled his arm; to Catherine.
Catherine sent the children upstairs, where Brooke was waiting to read them a story and otherwise distract them. Then Catherine and Vincent proceeded to tell Joe everything. I had no idea...all this happened before our time together. I'd guessed some of it, over the years, from things said within my walls or heard from the Tunnels. But I'd never heard it all, in order, in such relentless detail. Neither Catherine nor Vincent dwell much on the time before I knew them, and now I understand why. I'd had no idea how much they had suffered to reach their present happiness. Happiness which now could be destroyed in an instant.
When they finished, you could hear a pin drop. Joe stared into the fire, digesting what he had learned, making what had to be one of the hardest decisions of his life. Then he turned to Catherine and said, "Well, I never really wanted to be Mayor anyway. It'll be our secret, Kiddo."
Having the rather unconventional family we do does present problems at times. The big issue this year was whether or not to send Caroline to school Above. She certainly would get an excellent education from her parents, and Father, and Jenny's husband Ben, and the other Helpers and teachers Below. Unfortunately, the Tunnels are not recognized as an educational institution by the State of New York. More's the pity. I think Catherine is reluctant to separate Caroline and Jacob at such an early age, although Vincent reminds her that reality must be faced eventually. Even more, Catherine is concerned at what Caroline might say. Many children have imaginary friends--I remember the Davies children certainly did--but Topsiders might wonder at a child with an entire imaginary community, not to mention a rather unusual imaginary brother and father.
Caroline is quite mature for her age, but she's still only five. It's not easy to explain to a five-year-old why the most important part of her life has to be a secret from the world at large. At least it's not easy to explain without frightening the child; making her suspicious and wary before her time--destroying her precious innocence.
So Catherine and Vincent finally decided that, at least until she was older, Caroline would be taught at home. (If I could have cheered at this point, I would have. I settled for making the radiator whistle.) That left the problem of finding a teacher. New York is rather strict about homeschooling; it has to be done by a qualified teacher. Ben would have liked to, but he teaches at the high school level. Besides, between his full-time job teaching Above, and teaching the Tunnel children science, and wanting to spend time with Jenny and little Rachel, he just doesn't have time.
Then Catherine thought of Paul Hancock. He is a qualified elementary school teacher and loves the work, although he hardly needs the money. He's of the same social stratum as Catherine, and enjoys the fruits of some very impressive trust funds. Back in the days when Catherine was working full-time and had to deal with obligatory social functions, Paul was her regular "date." All he knew was that she was secretely married. He never asked her why it had to be such a secret, but has been a good friend for years. His own domestic situation, while not precisely a secret, was not one he was particularly interested in announcing to the school board, so he and Catherine have had a mutually beneficial arrangement of long standing. Since he's blond and blue-eyed, I suspect there are acquaintances of Catherine's who are quite sure he's Caroline's father.
Now you might think a house of my vintage would disapprove of what one might call unconventional domestic arrangements, but you would be wrong. Remember, I was inhabited by a theatrical family for many years. Among Edna and Richard's friends I observed a variety of human relationships that would astound you. Quite clearly, the quality of those relationships had little to do with the age, sex, color, religion, nationality, political affiliation, or whatever of the participants. It seemed to have more to do with the individual personalities involved. Besides, I have never judged people by any of those rather superficial characteristics. Would you judge a house by the color of its paint rather than the soundness of its structure? Preposterous. There is only one criterion by which people should be judged--how well do they take care of their house?
By that criterion Paul, and his "domestic partner" Carl--excellent phrase, that, with impressive linguistic derivation--are persons of the highest quality. They have restored a neglected brownstone in the Village to pristine condition. There is no more admirable task a human can undertake. On one visit they showed Catherine a scrapbook of the restoration project, and I was deeply moved. But I digress.
Paul was happy to teach Caroline, no questions asked. Vincent was ready to tell him the whole story, but Catherine convinced him to "play it by ear." She's afraid the shock would be too great for Father, so soon after that incident with Joe. Although that has worked out quite nicely. I think Joe is so happy to know Catherine's secret at last, he's not too concerned about what it actually turned out to be. He's been sharing his mother's Italian recipes with William, and the Tunnels tell me the community is delighted with the results. Personally, I think Father is tough as a granite doorstep. He's only in his seventies, after all, and not mellowing a great deal that I can tell.
What a lovely wedding it was. Or I should say, weddings. I'm so glad Caroline decided to hold one here as well as Below. It was an interesting example of the differences between generations that Catherine and Vincent were fussing about not being able to have a wedding that included everybody, when Caroline shrugged and said, "so we'll have two." Pretty much all of Catherine's old friends have been let into the secret over the years, but John's parents don't know. Since they live in Seattle John didn't think it was necessary at this point. He has every confidence in their discretion, but Father still worries about these things. One doesn't wish to agitate an old man who's almost 100, after all. Father's quite pleased with himself at being around to see his granddaughter married. Peter said for years that Jacob (Jacob the Elder, that is) was just too ornery to die.
Alas, Peter wasn't quite ornery enough. Catherine still misses him. In many ways he stepped into her father's shoes. Edna's gone now too, although she lived to a ripe old age. Catherine often talks to Edna's children and grandchildren. I was thrilled when we got the videophone, and now the holo, so I could see them again. To think when I was built the telephone was a new invention!
Another reason an Above wedding was necessary, of course, was to accomodate Caroline's and John's friends. Between medical school and the hospital there's quite a few, and John's colleagues from the university and all. I'm still not sure what a nanotech engineer is, but John seems to be a good one. Mouse had a wonderful time talking to all those engineers, although I wonder what they made of him? It's still hard for me to think of Mouse as a grown man with children of his own. Fortunately for him, Jamie had no trouble imagining it.
So Caroline's father gave her away Below, and her mother did the honors Above. What a wonderful feeling it was, to be filled with people celebrating such a joyous occasion. John and young Jacob and Mouse even rigged up a holo projector so Vincent and Jacob could see the Above ceremony. It must be very strange for Jacob, living apart from his sister for the first time. He's promised Caroline he won't "listen in" on her honeymoon. She promised to practice surgery on him, sans anesthesia, if he tried. Fortunately, she seems to have no desire to live anywhere but New York. What with holophones and the Net and all, people don't seem to travel as much as they used to. Of course when they do, they're just as likely to go to Tokyo as New Jersey, or even Luna Prime. Caroline laughs when Catherine worries about her lack of wanderlust, and says she doesn't anticipate New York running out of sick people anytime soon, so why travel? Why indeed, when the world you grew up in is as exotic as any you might find in the world outside. I've spent almost 120 years rooted to this spot, and I defy anyone to say they've had a more interesting life than mine.
I'll miss having Caroline here all the time, but I look forward to seeing her children some day. Catherine and Vincent as grandparents--it seems like only yesterday that extremely vigorous young couple spent their first night under my roof. Now Vincent has as much silver hair as gold, and more and deeper lines on his remarkable face. Catherine's hair is pure white, but those eyes are as green as ever, and that chin as determined. And thet both remain extremely vigorous for their age. For a couple quite a bit younger, if the truth be told. That bed Catherine bought almost thirty years ago must be extremely well made.
As I watched and listened to all the guests milling around--laughing, talking, eating, dancing, filling all my rooms with happiness--I got quite emotional about the last few decades. I thought how I had been well and truly blessed to have sheltered such people all these years. Those of my kind toil ceaselessly to give shelter and protection to humankind, and seldom are appreciated for our efforts. Ignored at best, maltreated at worst. Rare are those who see us for what we are. That day I felt that all I had done had all been worth it, even if I toiled unknown to those within in me.
Then gradually all the revelers went away except the family. Carolyn and John changed into their traveling clothes, ready to leave for their honeymoon. Jacob and Vincent emerged to say their final goodbyes to their sister and daughter as she left to start a new life. Then Jacob and Vincent went into my inner rooms while John took their bags to the taxi. Catherine gave her daughter one last tearful hug. And then--and then--even now I am so moved I barely think it--Caroline stopped on my front steps and looked back at my facade, at my sturdy stones and gleaming windows. Smiling, she placed her hand tenderly upon the polished wood of my front door.
"Thank you," she said.
First published in CABB's Sanctuary 2 (Spring, 1997)