A tall man in black with a hand in his pocket stood facing away from him. It was inexplicable the strength with which he knew this man, though his face was hidden and his neck was the color of lavender.
He walked closer to the man, narrowing his gaze until some bits of it were blurry, and he could more easily make out the dirty door beyond the black-clad shoulder. It was a red door, once. Now it was the color of sin. And the blackness of that shoulder he gazed over began to radiate waves of lines, as though two photographs of the same scene were being flashed in rapid succession. A miraculously real and dangerously alluring zoetrope.
And a humming created from that vibration, a humming tune that belonged to him. To them… Was the man in black turning? Could he make out the curve… of a beloved cheek?
The sky was sparkling. Something had been ignited and lights were raining down over them like a million gold coins. They scattered over those broad shoulders, and illuminated the hair. His own hand parted the waterfall of sparks, as if to reach out and touch what might be…
And the humming… Stopping and starting, like a song for two with only one to remember how it goes.
Christophe slept with his chin tucked into the palm of his hand. His glasses, perched on the top of his head, were threatening to take a dive down the length of his nose if he snored one more time. His lashes fluttered with the roll of his eyes underneath the lids, and his lips seemed to move with discombobulated silence. And the shafts of light illuminated the blondest strands in his tawny hair, as well as the little fingernail which wrapped itself into a single one of his curls.
"Claudette, leave that man alone!"
That next snore broke loose, his elbow slipped upon the valise in his lap, and his glasses clattered to the floor. His eyes flew open and he blinked instinctively. After being in that soft and heavy state of sleep it took several moments to focus on the tiny child crossing her eyes mere inches from his face.
But her arm was knocked by a wood-bound book with marble papering. The sound lifted his shoulders to an alert, and the girl rolled back on her heels and landed on the seat opposite him in the train car with a tempered huff. He looked from her cherub cheeks to the mother, a plain woman averting her eyes.
"Please forgive her… She is near-sighted and likes to look at people quite closely."
Christophe smiled fondly at the little girl, who now sat with crossed arms and bitten lips. "I am nearsighted too," he replied softly, leaning forward and rubbing his nose. He absently fingered his dark blond locks, expecting to find wireframes there at the same moment he saw them shifting back and forth on the ground from the rhythm of the train. He bent down over the valise and instrument case in his lap, but the little girl snatched them up first.
"Claudette!" her mother started, but Christophe gave a wave of his hand.
"That's alright," he said, then to the girl, "You can try them on, miss Claudette."
They were too wide for her face, but she settled them on the bridge of her nose just the same and regarded him through the lenses. Curiously, it was only a moment before she took them off and folded them in her lap, and rubbed at the gold-plated frames with her thumbs.
"Why do you sound so funny? Like a bird is stuck in your throat!"
Her mother growled, but again Christophe replied warmly, "I am Swedish. Would you like something from my home country?"
She relaxed a little but picked up kicking her heels. She also gave a rather serious nod of the head.
Christophe spent a good few seconds locked with her small eyes, then unclasped the top of his valise. Reaching inside, he shifted through the three books he'd brought with him (that he finished on the first journey), his dark red scarf, his journal, his changes of clothes, his green cap, and his father's papers. His hand paused over the unfinished manuscript before he found his coin purse. Fishing two fingers inside, he pulled out a few of the coins and shifted them with his fingers. He plucked the silver five kronor and replaced the rest of the sous .
"Here," he held the coin between his thumb and forefinger and extended his other hand. "I'll trade you this for my glasses?"
Claudette sat forward and studied Oscar II's likeness on the face side of the silver, then blindly rested his glasses in his outstretched grasp. He pressed the currency into her palm just as the train was rolling to a stop. The conductor was calling from the corridor the name of the station, and from the corner of his eye, he saw the girl's mother shifting to a standing position.
"Keep this under your pillow" he leaned forward whispering, "and the Korrigans will visit you while you sleep."
"Who are they?" she gasped quietly, holding the coin with both hands as though it was a great secret.
"They are little fairies who dance in your hair and bring you dreams of the sea."
Her eyes got even wider then. The mother's plaid shawl grazed her cheek, and instinctively she reached up to take her hand. Claudette gripped the coin tightly to her chest and smiled at him.
Christophe attempted to stand, but his legs, strained so much from the long journey, locked up and he grimaced.
"Thank you," the mother said with a hand clutched to her buttoned collar. Just as she was leaving and Christophe was about to respond, he noticed her half kindly and half pitying face gazing at his left arm as she said, "I am sorry for your loss."
He was momentarily stunned because he couldn't remember any loss. But then, why was he here in the first place? Why had he spent money needlessly on two train trips, two boats to and from Sweden, and fare on a cart that carried him to that little Uppsalan village he thought he'd never see again?
The black band on his arm was like a mental tourniquet. He should be polite and thank her. Christophe opened his lips, but no sound came out. It was just as well, though, for they were already gone.
He dug his fingers frantically into his coat pocket and pulled out the gold watch, flicking it open and finding the time, and more melancholy things. It was still half an hour until the train reached Paris. Christophe's gaze returned to the window to watch the passengers on the platform, and he let out the breath he didn't know he'd been holding.
Somebody new entered the compartment, and he compressed himself tighter to the body of the train until his curls were flattened by the glass. He palmed the black band and tried to sink back into the abyss of his dreams.
But it was not to be done. He was awake now and was so helpless to his feelings that the heaviness returned without the comfort of sleep.
The train picked back up in about fifteen minutes time, but Christophe's eyes were fixed on the same spot even as they rolled away from the station. It was on a face still so clear to him he might have seen it smiling at him only that morning. But faces of loved ones don't float alongside a train car, and they don't prepare one to face the realities of home.
His fingers, still holding onto his folded spectacles, caressed the side of the violin case adjunct to his knees. His face was frozen and his throat was hollow.
But a large bird, perhaps a hawk, swooped down by his window and flapped its great wings mere inches from his face beyond the glass.
It startled him and he blinked rapidly. It had certainly unmoored his fixed thoughts. Busy… Perhaps he should keep himself busy. He returned his glasses to his golden hair and tucked them tightly lest they slip again, and entered his valise once more. He settled his journal against his re-clasped case and pulled his pen from his breast pocket.
On Christophe's left middle finger, there was a great small nub of flesh at the rightmost tip of his first knuckle*. He rested the pen against this familiar callous and flipped open the notebook to last he left off.
Thirty minutes or so until we reach Paris. I believe I was dreaming about you not long ago, but I can't be certain. I'm starting not to remember what your hair looked like. I am sorry.
He sighed, his pen pressed snuggly against the page. When he pulled it away the period was a dark black spot too large for his handwriting. He broke to the next line.
There was a little girl named Claudette who just got off at Beauvais. I gave her my last kronor. I don't want anything more of this awful visit to my homeland on my person apart from what was left to me. A few papers, including all our birth certificates (and some death…), an unfinished manuscript he was slaving over at the end, I'm told… And the violin.
There was no money. I didn't expect there to be. All he had was put toward the funeral, and my cousin Agatha took what was left as compensation for housing him through his illness. I could not say a negative word against that woman. She is a far better relative than I.
I looked over the manuscript at the outset of my voyage home. It's tonally incomprehensible and the melodies are derivative. Mostly of folk songs we used to sing with my mother, but I don't think he had a right to entangle them together so much. I don't know what he was trying to do. I'm told he had been forgetting things at the end.
Agatha gave me a lock of his hair as a memento. It was completely white if you can believe it. I'm thinking about burning it. What would you recommend?
Don't be daft, Antoine, I'm not saying I hated him… Can you really say you hated him? We all feel alone in the end… I left him alone… I couldn't leave you alone.
I see Paris in the distance. The Seine is stretching out before me. When we first arrived in this city, I believed in my purpose as his son, as his musical protegé. The city sang to me, as it does now. Only then it was a glittering madrigal.
Now it is a funeral march.
I want to silence it, as it silenced you.
Thank you for reading the first chapter of my genderbent AU! Please review and share if you liked it!