Chapter 26: The Freedom of the Moon 
Catherine returned Above after Vincent left for his work—routine maintenance and inspection of the security gates---the next morning. She had missed Dara's telephone call the day before and now that Matthew's estimate was in hand, she wanted to make sure Dara received her copy. As she closed the door behind her, she realized how empty the apartment seemed now. It had been her haven, her refuge in the dark days after Stephen Bass, but now it was just a place, and a strangely sterile one at that without Vincent, without the life they were building together.
Her answering machine blinked insistently. It's Saturday, for crying out loud. Even Vincent's working a half-day. Do I have to pay attention to you? Catherine thought, mildly annoyed, remembering the seven messages she'd cleared off it the day before. She glared at the machine but when it didn't stop blinking, she shook her head and thumbed the “play” switch. The first message was from her dry cleaner, the second from Jenny, wanting to set up a lunch date, though Catherine knew from long experience it would be at least a week or two before they could make connections. The third, surprisingly, was from her Aunt Jane, announcing her plans to visit New York City the following year for a conference. Catherine chuckled a bit at that, knowing it might take a year to get ready for her aunt's visit. Just what I need. A week of Aunt Jane's not-so-tactful remarks about how I should settle down and why I haven't found the perfect man. If only you knew...
Her good humor died at the sound of the two hangups on the tape. Heavy breathing, no words, then the dial tone. Catherine sank to the couch, irritation forgotten. That makes three, in the last week. Coincidence? Something else?
The phone rang and Catherine bolted upright, startled. “Hello?” she answered.
“Hey Catherine, it's Dara, how are you doing?”
Catherine blew out her breath in relief. “Well, thanks. How are you?”
“Tired. Neil's studying for the bar this weekend,” Dara replied. “So I'm working by myself at the office today. Have you and Vincent come to a decision on the house?”
“Yes, we have. We saw a contractor---”
“Matthew and Annie?” Dara asked. “They're the best. I've seen them take on homes that were weeks away from being condemned and rehabilitate them. You have the estimate?”
“Sure do,” Catherine answered. “You want me to bring it by today?”
“Sounds good to me. I have to warn you; I don't know how far the seller will budge on the price. He knows what the buildings are worth---or rather, what they were worth before the fire.”
“From what Matthew said, they were pretty much uninhabitable before the fire, regardless his great-aunt had tenants living there. He may not like the offer, but the reality is, he'd have to make these repairs to resell them to anyone else. He might as well sell the buildings at the price we're asking for,” Catherine said.
“I've said much the same thing to him. Here's hoping he sees the light when he gets that estimate.”
Dara's office, it turned out, was in the East Village, not far from Renata's shop and the tunnels' co-op. After finalizing the offer on the brownstone, Catherine walked to the co-op, intrigued to see this place she'd only heard about. As she'd expected, there was nothing to indicate the storefront was anything unusual, that its vendors made their homes far below the city streets. It was a small rectangular space with a green and white striped awning over the display window, and gold stenciled lettering proclaiming the name: Emma's Attic.
The wind blew a wicked winter gust and Catherine hastily stepped inside. She was somehow unsurprised to find Marisol there, dressed in the least tunnelish of clothing---a sweater with only one or two small patches, jeans---and looking for all the worlds like any other clerk. “Why, hello there,” Marisol said. “I didn't expect to see you here today.”
Catherine laughed. “I didn't expect to be here today. I had to run some paperwork to our realtor and her office is---”
“--just around the corner?” Marisol finished. “Dara comes in here on her lunch breaks all the time. Go browse if you want.”
It had been a long time since she'd done any browsing, since she'd had either the time or the inclination. Memories of window-shopping with Jenny, of cheap street lunches with Nancy in their college days, rose before her mind's eye. How much had changed since then, and how much the important things---like their friendships---hadn't. “I think I'll do that,” Catherine said.
Marisol bent over a tall honey-gold candle almost the color of Vincent's hair. “If you don't mind, I'll light this; it brings a bit of warmth in here.”
Catherine sensed she wasn't talking about physical warmth, and smiled. “Please do.” The candle was one of many lined up on repurposed display shelves. Catherine thought she recognized Rebecca's work in the candles and in the herbal soaps and Cullen's in the small carved animals on another shelf. Tapestries which clearly came from Marisol's loom hung on the walls, and against the far wall, two large paintings bore Elizabeth's distinctive style.
There were other goods whose origins were more mysterious: old books propped inside trunks, nestled with lace doilies, wicker baskets filled with knitted blankets and scarves that could be Mary's handiwork but an instinct, a hunch, insisted they were not. And then she saw the small oil paintings propped up against an apple crate full of votive candles.
They were almost entirely done in shadow, the shadings obscuring the exact outlines of the figures. Though much of the detail was hidden, enough remained that Catherine was able to recognize the scenes. “Who painted these?” she managed, astonishment and fear clenching in her throat.
Marisol looked over at the display. “Oh, those. Well, it's sort of a mystery. They appear every few months or so in the shipments I've taken here. I don't know who the artist is.”
“You don't know? How?” Catherine asked.
Marisol shrugged. “I assumed, the first time I found them, that they were created by someone in the community who wanted to remain anonymous. Do you recognize the artist?”
The paintings weren't done in his usual style, it was true, but something about them whispered Kristopher. They were scenes no one else could have painted: candles on her balcony on their first anniversary, Vincent's outline entirely in shadow and her own features obscured, as she looked up into his face with utter love and trust; the arcing of the rainbows in the Chamber of the Falls as they appeared when viewed from the hidden chamber (and who else knew about that?); the naked, ragged outlines of the ship at Masthead Point. “I think I do,” Catherine said slowly. “I knew him once.”
“Really?” Marisol asked. “That's astonishing.”
“Isn't it,” Catherine said, thinking You have no idea. She lifted the small oil of herself and Vincent, a scene from what seemed a lifetime before. “Did you recognize this?”
Marisol pressed one hand to her mouth. “Well, now that I see you, I do. That's...you and Vincent, isn't it? I never realized before---how could I not see it?”
“I don't think anyone would,” Catherine said. “The artist clearly didn't mean for us to be identified. But that is my balcony and that is---” she pulled out the pendant from underneath her sweater--- “my crystal.”
“It's a lovely picture,” Marisol replied, examining the oil---which was, Catherine noticed, quite dry. “He has a tremendous gift.”
“He does,” Catherine said, only then realizing that she hadn't spoken in the past tense. There was no doubt in her mind; Kristopher was dead, but alive, in some form too. And it no longer mattered how. It just...was.
“There's a story you're not telling me,” Marisol said dryly. “And it's a slow day here.”
Catherine smiled, recognizing the invitation. “I'm not sure I believe it myself, but since you asked...”
When she finished, Marisol glanced at her over her cup of now-cold coffee. “So, there's a ghost of an artist, painting pictures which he then...arranges to have sold here? Wow.”
“Yes,” Catherine said. “That's my best guess, though I'd have to ask him to be sure.”
“Do you...talk to him often?”
Catherine shook her head. “No, not much at all, actually. Vincent's seen him a couple of times, though.”
“Amazing,” Marisol replied. “I knew there were strange happenings Below, but this...”
“I know. I had cappuccino with him once.”
Marisol laughed. “Seriously? If that doesn’t beat all…”
“Tell me about it,” Catherine said. “For a while I thought he was running a scam---you know, artist fakes his death, that sort of thing.”
“But you don’t now, do you,” Marisol replied. It wasn’t a question.
“No, I don’t,” Catherine glanced around the store, seeing it as it was---another outgrowth of the tunnels, self-sufficiency and hard work mingling to create something beautiful. “So who is Emma?”
Marisol handed her a cup of coffee from the pot, the warmth comforting. “Emma was Father’s mother; she ran a curiosity shop in London before the war. Not that he was enthused about the idea of the shop at first. Father doesn’t want us depending on top-siders, but we can’t do everything ourselves either. This place…makes a nice middle-ground.”
“It does,” Catherine agreed, and thought of the other middle-grounds: their balcony, the brownstone that might, with luck and time and hard work, one day be theirs, and all the places between. “And Father just volunteered the information about his mother?”
Marisol’s gaze was wise and knowing; understanding, Catherine felt, what she didn’t say. Father had hid his origins from one son for over thirty years, had denied the truth of his paternity from the other. What had prompted that notoriously closed-mouth man to mention that tidbit? “I know, it hardly sounds like him, does it?” Marisol said. “And don’t think we all didn’t wonder once he’d let it slip. But he shut down all further discussion about it after the store was named. I doubt he’d talk about it even now, and it’s been years since we set this place up.”
The chime rang and the door opened to admit a well-preserved older woman---all the plastic surgery money can buy, just don’t get too close to the candles, Catherine though irreverently. Marisol palmed Catherine’s empty cup of coffee and began wrapping up the small oil. “Thank you so much for coming by,” she said, her voice professional even as her eyes were twinkling.
“Thank you,” Catherine replied in the same tone, taking the package from her. “It’s a lovely place you have here.”
When she returned Below, it was to a cacophony of conversation on the pipes: Mouse being summoned to some task at Auxiliary Gate 9, Vincent’s request---polite, but with a decided edge---that he not forget the tunnels’ solitary cordless drill again and their extra set of wrenches, and so on. It was well past lunch but Catherine sensed that Vincent would not be returning home for some time, if the amount of contained irritation and frustration in their bond was anything to go by. She stopped by the Commons on the way back for the last of William’s lunch leftovers and returned to their chamber, determined to ask Kristopher---as much as one could ask a ghost---what he was up to now.
It really was a lovely painting, she thought, drawing it out of the bag. Sepia-toned and shadowed, it might have been some abstract couple on a nameless balcony, were it not for the love in the woman’s eyes, the dawning joy in the man’s. This is how we looked that night…and yet we waited so long. There had been so many “ifs” and “maybes” and “shouldn’ts” until Vincent’s near-fatal illness had brought home that time was not unlimited, that one day, they would run out of chances and opportunities.
Catherine finished her sandwich and walked over to the large bookshelf where Vincent kept his oldest and most precious books—his first copy of Shakespeare, dog-eared and well-read; the copy of Great Expectations she’d brought back to him when she’d moved Below; books and cherished novels in a splendor of different languages, and at the very end of one shelf, the copy of Idylls of the King that had started their encounter with Kristopher Gentian in the first place.
Feeling somewhat foolish---she was no conjurer, she was an attorney, what was she doing anyway?--- Catherine opened the book and called out, “Kristopher? Are you there?”
Catherine felt the sudden chill as Vincent had once described it, a frisson of something…other…in the bare instant before he appeared. “Hiya, Cath,” Kristopher said, a roguish, unrepentant grin on his face. “You called?”
He looked much the same as he had the last time she’d seen him---but then, she thought wryly, it wasn’t like ghosts needed to change clothes. “Hi, Kristopher, I did.”
Kristopher leaned up against the statue of the Grecian lady and folded his arms. “What can I do for you?”
She held up the little oil painting. “You want to explain this?”
“Oh, you found me out,” he replied, sounding utterly unsurprised. “Yeah, I painted that.”
Catherine felt her face warm. If he had seen that moment…“How…how long have you been watching us?”
“Relax, Cath,” Kristopher said, as if divining her thoughts. “I’m not a voyeur. But you two do make quite an inspiration. Can you blame me for wanting to paint you both?”
That was the thing about Kristopher, she reflected; he always left her feeling ridiculously flat-footed. If he were alive, she’d have mentioned what an invasion of privacy this all was. But arguing with a ghost, and one for whom the laws of time and space didn’t seem to quite apply…? She opened her mouth, then closed it. “No…I guess not. But Kristopher, painting this is one thing, but having it sold at the co-op? That’s….”
“I live in the tunnels now, did you know? Well, as much as a ghost lives anywhere.”
She shook her head, stunned. “I like these people, Cathy,” Kristopher continued. “They’ve been good to me. If I’d known them when…” He trailed off. “You ever think how much life hinges on a single choice?”
Catherine thought of an April night long ago and nodded. “Yes, yes I do.”
“If I’d known them then, maybe I’d be alive now,” he went on. “Or maybe not. But these are good people—if a painting of mine helps them keep going, so much the better.”
“I don’t know what to say,” she said.
She glanced down at the book she still held in her hands, its blue leather cover reflecting candlelight. “What is this, Kristopher?”
“Think of it as a door,” he said. “Which doesn’t mean I’m a genie or anything---I may not always be able to come when you want me to. But if you open that book, I’ll know it.”
“I see,” Catherine replied.
“No, you don’t, not really,” Kristopher said, amused, “and that’s okay. Just trust what I’m saying.”
“I do,” she answered, then something else he’d said caught up to her. “They’ve been good to me.” “Kristopher,” she began, then stopped as his wry grin surfaced.
“Narcissa---the stories she tells, talk about inspiration. Elizabeth, in the Painted Tunnels---she leaves me paint and canvas sometimes.”
“But they know…?”
“That I’m a ghost? I'm not sure about Elizabeth, but Narcissa definitely does.” He touched the brim of his cap. “It’s time for me to be off.”
Catherine sat down hard on the couch after he’d faded away, struggling to reconcile her common sense with what she’d just seen. Somehow, the boundaries between what was real and what was not seemed more fluid and the thought gave her no unease. “'Greater things in heaven and earth,’” she murmured, and placed Idylls of the King firmly on its shelf.
“You seem…pensive,” Vincent said several hours later. He had returned too late for lunch and had nearly missed dinner, but the gate was fixed, and thanks to William’s penchant for leftovers, he had been able to eat before returning home. He stared at the bed, debating whether he had enough energy to completely dry off before climbing in next to his wife, or whether he could deal with a little bit of dampness in the interests of finally sitting down somewhere.
Catherine looked up from the book she was reading. “Is it that obvious?”
He smiled. “You’ve turned in an offer on what we hope will be our house, discovered Kristopher is still painting and lives Below. And you’ve also found that his book is a door of some kind. If you weren’t thoughtful, I’d be surprised.”
She laughed, that sound that banished all his shadows. “I guess that would be odd, wouldn’t it? No, I was thinking of something Kristopher said.”
“Just one thing?” Vincent teased, and was rewarded by her gamin smile. “Not the whole conversation?”
“No,” Catherine replied. “He said life hinges on a single choice, which is what made me start thinking.” Her eyes were a lighter green in the gilded candlelight. “Vincent, what were you doing out in the park that night?”
She didn’t have to specify which night, of course. Vincent sat down on the bed and cast his memory back to something that seemed to have both happened yesterday and long ago, to people---that other Vincent, that other Catherine---who had both been forever changed by the events of that April night. “Would you believe me if I told you Father and I had been arguing?”
“Imagine that,” Catherine replied dryly, nestling under his arm. “What about?”
“I was…restless,” he continued, drawing in the warm scent of her with each breath he took. “Spring has always made me so, but that week, the days before that night, I had difficulty settling down to concentrate on anything. Father was upset at what he saw as my inattention during a council meeting.”
She looked up at him impishly. “And were you inattentive?”
“Quite,” he admitted, unrepentant even now. “There were a lot of maintenance issues that spring---you’ll remember it was a particularly wet one—and it seemed we had an unending supply of leaking pipes. I didn’t see why my presence was required at a meeting to decide whether we had the necessary supplies to white-wash another section of the Painted Tunnels, but Father insisted. I attended and…fell asleep. Afterwards, we argued about my responsibilities, about the leadership role he felt I should be ready to assume in the community one day.” He shrugged. “Looking back, I think my restlessness concerned him far more than he wanted to admit, that he worried about the chances I took in my nightly walks.”
“But why that section of the park? Was there a reason behind it?” Catherine asked.
“No,” Vincent said. “Only…there was an instinct I felt, directing me towards that area of the park. I’ve never felt its like before or since…but I couldn’t disregard it, any more than I could stop breathing.” He kissed the top of her head. “You have been in my heart since before I met you.”
Catherine's gentle touch on his face brought back the memory of her first touch: her hands at the edging of his hood, his panicked fear that she would look at him and react in terror. “I don't regret anything about that night, Vincent. Well,” and her fingers brushed aside his bangs to reveal the thin pale line of a scar on his forehead, “except for this. But other than that....all the pain was worth it, if it brought us together.”
“Yes,” he replied, and gathered her close to his heart, where she had always been.
Click here for Chapter 27...
 Robert Frost, “The Freedom of the Moon”