|Phantoms of the Past
Author: stefanie bean PM
Erik is dead, and Christine returns to bury him, but past secrets don't stay that way. Based on Leroux. Rated M for sexuality, violence, and intense images in later chapters. COMPLETE.Rated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Romance - Christine & Raoul - Chapters: 26 - Words: 220,628 - Reviews: 281 - Favs: 97 - Follows: 37 - Updated: 01-18-07 - Published: 10-19-05 - Status: Complete - id: 2625688
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From the personal papers of Christine de Chagny, nee Daae. Discovered after her death in 1934 in the attic of her Brussels home, they now reside in the restricted collections of the Paris Opera House library, along with the memoirs of her son, Dr. Philippe de Chagny.
The document is undated, but was probably written in the months after the 1913 death of her husband, Raoul de Chagny.
"Erik is Dead"
It's been almost four months since Raoul's death. The maids unpack my bags while I sit down with tea and pen in this dusty old house in a quiet Brussels street. Sheets still cover most of the furniture and black crepe covers the mirrors.
The mirrors are hidden to keep away the ghosts, but now the spirits of two men haunt me.
After the funeral, Martina and Jannecke bundled me into their carriage and carted me off to their house in Leuven like a wet, drooping parcel. Grief and grandmothering exhausted me, and I slept whole days through, even without the sticky-sweet syrup of laudanum.
One morning Martina came into my room and roused me from bed, saying, "Mother, you can't stay there the rest of your life. You have to get up now," as though I were the daughter instead of her, and I obeyed.
"Help me with the mending," she commanded, and we sorted through a mound of sheets and shifts, nightshirts and trousers, little girls' frocks and pinafores all stacked in piles almost as high as Martina's two little girls themselves.
Six weeks later, she handed me off to my eldest child Philippe in Grobbendonk, just outside of Antwerp. It was in his sprawling, noisy, child-filled farmhouse that I slowly came to life and could reminisce over thirty years with my husband, their grandfather.
"We can't leave you alone, Mother," Philippe and Anki said repeatedly. "Close up the house, come live with us, it's too much for you."
"I'll consider it," I said at the time. However, the breeze playing through this high-windowed room carries on it the memory of Philippe at the cello, accompanying me in song, while Raoul looks up in appreciation from his books or writing. This waft of harmony makes me loath to leave.
I'm a strong woman, fifty-three next year, and the decades stretch out ahead like a dry lake bed extending to the bleak, salt-crusted horizon. Here in this high-ceilinged house there is no husband to make a request or press a surprise kiss on my neck; no children to accompany to the park or confer with in a family council; no grandbabes to stuff my stamps or sealing wax into their mouths. Except for the maids who silently dust and pull down sheets, I am entirely alone with my papers, my pen, and my memories.
We didn't always live in this cool and spacious neo-Italianate splendor. After Raoul and I crept together out of the Opera's Rue Scribe passageway into the dreary Paris dawn, still scarcely believing we had gotten out alive, I went home to the little flat on the Rue-de-Notre-Dame-des-Victoires. Raoul went to his club until the complaints from his family, the frequent visits of the police detectives, and the clubmaster's demands for payment forced him into a rooming house.
After a few weeks, the police seemed to lose interest in Raoul, but he wasn't convinced. He came to the flat one evening, frightened, and certain he was being followed. "They're waiting to see what I do, to see if I leave Paris," he said in a trembling voice.
"Then don't leave Paris," I answered.
"The sooner we get out of this tomb the better. Let's go now, they can stop me at the station if they like. You aren't bound to some promise you made to a madman."
"I'll leave Paris when everything's finished," I told him. "No, don't protest, because I gave my word. Not one day sooner."
Turning on me, he cried, "You've done this before, you know. Do you remember when you took me to the roof of the Opera House, and I begged you to come with me that very night? You didn't listen to me then, and you won't listen to me now. 'Oh, it will kill him if I leave now,' you said. What is this perverse need you have to feel sorry for him?"
I stared out the window at the bleak, sunless day. "I don't blame you for hating me," I said quietly. "If I had listened to you, Philippe would still be alive."
He put his head in his hands. "If I had made you go, Philippe would have lived as well. You're a woman, and I don't blame you for the natural weakness that led you to yield to the stronger man. It was my failure of will that killed him."
Yielded, yes, I thought, to what strength you cannot imagine. "I failed you miserably," I said finally. "But I have no choice now."
His glance snapped down to my left hand. "And you still wear his ring. I hate it, it reminds me that you remain his slave."
"I said that I would wear it until he died."
"That could take years," he snorted sarcastically.
"I don't think so. He didn't seem to think it would be more than a few weeks."
"What man knows the hour of his death? We already know that suicide held no terrors for him. That's the only way a man could predict it, if he planned to kill himself at some appointed time."
"I don't think he plans to kill himself," I said, but without conviction. "When I … when we saw him last, he was very ill."
"I won't go back there," he said, voice fierce and stubborn.
"I don't expect you to."
"How will you do it? How will a girl like you bury a man, and a tall man at that? And what if he isn't really dead, but kidnaps you again? I've lost Philippe, and now I might lose you, too. Can't you see that? If you loved me you would see that."
This had occurred to me, and I had no answer.
He picked up his top hat and strode angrily toward the door, then turned to deliver one last salvo before leaving. "I don't believe you love me. No girl who loved a man would go back to the home of the rival who kidnapped her, threatened to kill her, her fiance, and one who would have been your brother, too. Not to mention all those hundreds in the auditorium. I pointed out that he may take you again, and you have no answer. Well, as they say, 'silence gives consent.'
"He's a dog, Christine, and he deserves to die like one. When a carriage runs over a dog, we don't give the dog a burial. We sweep it up with the rest of the refuse."
"I made an oath. I am going to keep it," I said quietly. "You want me to say I love you. What good would it do for me to tell you I love you, if you know that I break promises? You aren't bound to the promise I made. For that matter, you aren't bound to me."
He turned his flaming furious face toward me, saying, "Very well. Please yourself as you always have. Nevertheless, if you don't return, don't expect me to descend into that charnel house again to fetch you out. You want him, you can have him, and moulder right along with him. I wouldn't bury him, Christine. I would let him rot in hell like he rotted here on earth." He slammed on his top hat and banged the door behind him. Downstairs the concierge exclaimed angrily as he stalked by.
That night the dream didn't come, the one that left me sick and gagging on awakening. I fled Erik through a maze of stone corridors as his breath sounded behind me ever closer. By some dream magic he stood there ahead of me around a corner, waiting. His arms clasped me with terrible strength. Struggling into his grasp I fell, but then melted. The terror lay not in the pursuit, but in the surrender.
It was the first night without the dream since I had left the Opera through the Rue Scribe door.
The next day brought no mail from Raoul, nor the next. He's going to leave me after all, it seemed, and that thought brought sadness and relief. He doesn't need to suffer any more because of me.
But late afternoon of the next Saturday he knocked on my door. "I've just come back from confession," he said as he lingered in the hallway, afraid to come in.
I nodded, gesturing towards the parlor. While Mama Valerius slept and the maid washed dishes in the kitchen, he knelt at my feet.
"It was the old priest, the one whom they say can 'see your soul.' He gave me an odd penance. I had to read Antigone."
"What?" I said, astonished. "Please, sit up next to me."
He pressed my hands to his breast. Under his vest, his chest trembled, and the breath went noisily in and out as he struggled with his emotion. "You know, the play by Sophocles," he said. "It made no sense to me at first, either. But then I saw exactly what he meant."
I held him tenderly as he sobbed without tears, his head resting on my shoulder. "Please forgive me," he whispered.
Erik was strong but so terribly thin, while Raoul's strength hid under a light cushion of soft flesh. So different, yet both had the ways of men. This would be far easier if Raoul just left me. Then he wouldn't hear what I have to tell him. I should drive him away rather than bring him such terrible news, but I can't do it. Not while he's so tender under my hands. Maybe it's all premature worry on my part anyway. Maybe nothing will come of it, and I won't have to tell him anything at all.
"I do forgive you," I said softly. " But I'm not Antigone, nor are you Creon." Nor was Erik my brother, oh no, but that thought stayed unspoken. "What does Antigone have to do with any of this?"
"Polynieces was an enemy of the state, Christine, a traitor to crown and country," Raoul said intently. "In his rage for revenge, King Creon declared that no one should bury his body. He left Polynieces to rot on the field of battle, to become the prey of the crows. When Antigone was caught pouring dust three times over her brother, making the prayers for the dead, she said this,"
And should I seem to thee
To have done a foolish deed,
'Tis simply this:
I bear the charge of folly from a fool.
"I've been the fool. I'll go with you. Even a man's worst enemy deserves the respect due the dead. It freezes the blood in my body to think of returning, but I can't let you go back there alone."
A great wave of relief swept over me, not to have to go into that mausoleum by myself. Raoul, however, was being watched.
I shook my head. "Think, Raoul. You already know the police spied on you at your club, and now they have your lodgings under surveillance. They always say 'a murderer returns to the scene of the crime.' What do you think they'll do if they see you going with me back under the Paris Opera?"
He swallowed, hard. "You don't think the police will follow you? If they're trailing me, they know I visit you. They know you were with me the night Philippe was murdered. They'll track you like a rabbit."
"They might, but I know some of those tunnels. I don't have to go in through Rue Scribe, anyway. He showed me passages and trap doors all over the Opera. I can slip into a corridor and disappear entirely." I sat quietly and thought. "Anyway, does it really matter, once he's dead? He'll be beyond the reach of the law, at least of man's law. Let the police question me, after that. I'll tell them everything they want to know."
He wiped his hands wearily over his face. "I'll write the Persian, and ask him to help you."
"Do you trust him? You told me he already went to the police, and they didn't believe him. That detective, what was his name? Mifroid? He said he would keep an eye on the Persian, so you said. For all we know, Mifroid might suspect the Persian in Philippe's death as well. I don't think we can rely on the Persian."
"Christine, how will you do it?"
"How much strength does it take to lift three handfuls of earth?"
He looked away, stricken. Then the maid left for the afternoon after setting out the tea things. Since Mama Valerius slept on, we kissed for a long time on the sofa while the tea cooled and the sandwiches dried out. My hand crept under his vest and around the soft and malleable curve of his stomach. Into my breast went his hot face, murmuring that he loved me, he was sorry, he never meant to hurt me.
Then Mama Valerius woke and called for me from the bedroom. He left with his flushed face and the stiff, awkward walk every respectable maiden ignores. I swallowed my bitter pity for him. You love me now. What will you think next month, or the one after?
Each day after that, I scanned the personal columns of L'Epoque. On the next Saturday bitter with sleet, there appeared the shortest and strangest obituary ever to grace those pages.
It said, Erik is dead. Corporal work of mercy, or the foolishness of insanity, who could tell? It didn't matter. It was time to go.
I still dream of him, even after these long decades. It's a different dream now. The corridors are still the same, still long, still stony, and still cold. Instead of fleeing him, I search for him and turn every corner. I call his name, but he is never there.
Into that black necropolis I went, bringing with me all the horror I feared, and bringing out from that tomb reeking of death only sorrow and compassion. The horror I buried with Erik, after measuring his great heart on the golden scales of eternity, and finding it to want for nothing at all.