The music section of the old, decrepit library was poorly lit, musty, and in dire need of a new roof. Closest to the heavens, I had always felt it to be strangely appropriate. The darkness and almost subliminal smell of decay hardly seemed to me to be something to worry about. There were leather armchairs that had lasted for at least fifty years if not more, and I felt that antiquity made the most companionable, and incidentally quiet friend to share the ancient texts with. That was the great benefit of an old library, of course. There were some librettos here worth several times the annual salary of the head librarian. And yet she, poor woman, was so understaffed and harried that she had not even programmed most of these colossal tomes into her newfangled database. While I understood the hassles that the newly discovered filing system would vanquish, I still appreciated the knowledge that these books were the reward only of those who looked for them.
The air of this library, founded three centuries ago by some industrious Puritan or other, was mirrored throughout this sleepy, cobwebbed New England town. Its charm was too dusty to be featured on a picture postcard, and the inhabitants too extraverted to look around them and notice by what beauty they were surrounded, but I, who had first looked upon the place with tired, jaded, European eyes, appreciated the age that mirrored my homeland, but was still in possession of that renewing American spirit. However, as in nearly all of New England, the energy of outward looking and forward thinking America was somewhat overpowering to one such as myself. If their children read at all, it was some new novel by some celebrity or other, who lived a life of such glittering extravagance that his ability to write simple phrases had been irrevocably curtailed. I had attempted one, once. It left such a bitter taste in my mouth that I might have forsworn the library forever. However, the librarian was one of the few women (or indeed, people) whom I had felt the slightest stirrings of friendship for since my move here, and it was her influence that led me to return. And I still wanted, desperately, insanely, to feel as if I could be a member of the human race. She, however, was the only person whom I had ever met, who could tolerate without questions the mask upon my face.
When I first saw her, the one whom my life soon came to revolve around, it was only with a passing curiosity, once I got over my mild shock. She had moved more quietly than anyone I had ever come across. Everything about her seemed to breathe a quiet atmosphere of peace. I, who have made it my business never to be caught of guard by anyone or anything, was literally stunned when I looked up and she was there. I shall never forget that day, if I live another thirty-seven years in this wretched world.
Her back was towards me, when I heard her make her first discernable noise. She was murmuring under her breath, and I thought I heard her say "Tosca." This immediately caught my interest, and, sure enough, when I looked, there was a recording of Tosca wrapped in her delicate hand. And, what's more, she seemed to be looking for a copy of the libretto.
Finding an American who was interested in opera was startling in itself. But what truly made me sit up and pay attention (figuratively, of course) was her age. She was a teenager.
It was fairly obvious to me, though, that she was an outcast. No one single group of people is as adroit at singling out those who are not of their kind as the standard American child. They are, I have come to notice, like sharks, smelling strange blood and new ideas from miles away.
She wore glasses, I saw, and they were well enough worn to suggest that she wore them every day by necessity. Her expression, delicately winsome and not a little irritated, was made all the more charming by a wide, lilting mouth and the most beautifully expressive pair of eyes that I had ever had the blessing to see. It was not that she was beautiful, by any means. In fact, by modern standards, she might appear quite homely. But I have long held myself separate from modern standards, and it was the sum of all her little graces that recommended her so strongly to me.
Her head tilted, and her body sagged with the air of disappointment. She flipped the recording of Tosca over in her hand, and squatted down upon her heels, trying, once again, to locate the elusive libretto. The grace of her movements instantly suggested a dancer to me. The gym bag that she had slung over her shoulder reinforced my estimation, and I watched appreciatively as she bounced once, twice on her heels along the shelves, sighing softly each time she could not locate the volume for which she searched.
I might not have wished to believe in Fate, or God, but one or another of them always seemed to call me and pull in me in the way that I was, apparently, needed. I examined the spine of my book. Treasury of Opera Librettos.
"Excuse me, sir?"
Damn, but she was quiet! I suppressed my shock and looked up at her.
There was no surprise in her eyes, and nor did she give anything but a customary flick across the white leather mask that hid my mockery of a face from view.
"Is there another music section? I can't seem to find a copy of the libretto I'm looking for, and I was wondering if you knew where the opera section might be."
She did not fidget as she stood, her carriage was light and graceful. Had I met her in Europe, I might have hazarded a guess and said that she had royalty in her blood. But her looks held nothing in them but good old American mutt. She waited patiently, not staring, and not uneasily, for my response.
I smiled as I replied. "I am afraid that I must have stolen the book you were searching for. Please, take it; I have read it more often than I care to remember."
She held her hand up in an expression of denial. "Oh, sir, please don't bother! I wouldn't want you to think that I came to you in order to steal the book out of your hand."
Polite little thing. Her objection had every ring of sincerity. "I would not have made the offer if I had not been serious: this is nothing that I do not have at home, take it."
The volume was heavy, but she took it with grace and ease. She smiled, openly. "Thank you sir. I apologize again, I seem to have left you with nothing to read."
My smiled quirked, this time with a more sarcastic bent. "I shall consider it to be my good deed for the day."
Her smiled quirked in much the same fashion. "Then I don't feel sorry anymore. Thanks."
She backed up several steps before turning her back on me. I wondered how she must have been raised, since such politeness was falling out of favor in the young even in my native land. Had she been taught the rules of etiquette? Or did the natural grace and delicacy that seemed to float around her tell her that it was rude to turn one's back directly to one's benefactor, however insignificant that benefactor seems to be?
The darkness of the library, with its lowering ceiling and high shelves, enveloped me once again, but this time I was conscious of the light that drifted in through the small warping window. Something about that girl had lifted the shadows for me, and I felt myself reluctant to return to them. Standing quite abruptly, hearing the old leather sigh and squeak in both alarm and gratitude, I stood by the window, having to bend to see through it properly. Until she left, I was not certain that I was waiting for her.
Her dark curls blew wildly in the freshening spring wind, and she hastily tucked her book and her recording into one of the side pockets of her bag, almost as if afraid they would be damaged by the air. Then, tossing her hair and opening her arms to the breeze, she sauntered (there could be no other word to describe it) down the quiet, tree-shaded lane and turned right, heading towards the town's Main Street.
That was how I first met Christine Day.
Even after her first abrupt and yet somehow natural interruption in my life, I did not think of her as much as I might give the impression. She was young, graceful, and oddly attracted to things that spoke to me. Yet I had no idea what her character was, what truly moved her, or how she behaved with others of her kind. No, I knew too little to be obsessed with Christine. In fact, I made little to no effort to discover either her name or her place in the town. She had been a curiosity, no more. But I did keep an eye on the CDs that were borrowed from week to week. The library's CD section was terribly deficient in the realm of classical music, but I watched with amusement as one by one, Tosca, Rigoletto, Hansel and Gretel, Madame Butterfly, and Don Giovanni were all checked out. Christine seemed to have liked opera quite a bit. I often found myself wondering what her specific operatic tastes were. Though the section was deficient, it represented quite a varied range of styles. Each one of them must have made some kind of impression on her. But again, I was only vaguely interested, in a mentor-like fashion.
It was not until she left one of her own books in the library that I even discovered what her name was. One Thursday evening (Thursday was her library day) I found The Victor Book of Operas sitting squarely on the weathered desk in my section of the library. It had no bar code or card pocket, and as I flipped to the dedication page, I noticed a girl's square, bold cursive.
"Property of Christine Day"
Well, if it was property of Christine Day, then it should be returned to her. The book was well worn, but evidently well cared for. An old volume, it was printed on expensive, glossy paper, which no publisher in his right mind would have used anymore. As I left the library that evening, I turned it into the librarian.
The woman brushed back a strand of dark amber hair and sighed. "Christine Day. She leaves things here constantly. Thank you for telling me, Mr. Troche. One day, that girl will forget something and it will be stolen from her, and serve her right!"
Somehow, I knew from her vague references that the girl in question must be the little, dreamy dancer who had waltzed into my music section in the weeks before.
Christine. I thought the name to myself as I left the building and got into my car. Christine. I thought it to myself in my own accent. In French, it sounded untrue, and false to her nature. I decided to keep with the American pronunciation.
I was at the library next Thursday, carefully gauging my arrival to hers, so that I might ensure that the librarian returned her book to her. The girl seemed quite relieved, assuring the disapproving woman that she had been looking for it since the previous Thursday, and thanking her for keeping it safe. After several brief harangues, largely superfluous, I thought, the woman let her off, having received a half serious promise to be more attentive in the future. I found the muscles in my jaw working oddly, as a smile of true enjoyment came to my lips. I had not smiled in a way that signified happiness for a long while. And even then, Christine Day was nothing more than a moment of brightness in the perpetual gloom that, I admit, I allowed to surround my existence.
I saw her dance, merely three weeks ago. Her feet, I had observed before, were too large to allow her to be a ballerina (a disappointment to me) but the fact that she did not attend one of the schools that taught only the wildly gyrating style of hip-hop was still an encouragement. The size of her feet had been something of great amusement for me, considering her otherwise petit stature, but it had just been another endearing quirk that pulled me inexorably closer to my terrible resolve.
The Smith School of Dance met in the several wide halls of the town hall. It taught Vaudeville style tap dancing, as well as the more classical style of jazz. It was woefully under funded though, and each class usurped a portion of the building. Upon passing through the foyer to find out what movie would be playing in the small, dark, subterranean theatre, a flash of dark curls caught my eye. Christine was standing off one side of a laughing group of girls and tying back her hair. The grace of her neck halted me in my steps for one moment, but the flood of shame that caught me at almost the same time hurried me along in my steps. I do not remember what the movie playing was, even though I must have stared at the sign and the summary for a good three minutes while I waited for her class to begin dancing, that I might make my escape with her attention distracted.
The music was soft, yet lilting, modern, yet strangely reminiscent of the classical style. I could not place it, even though I wanted to listen. There were overlays of violin chords and cello baseline, even as the vocalist practiced that modern style of bel canto which I usually abhorred. And still, something about the style of the music, mixing with the soft footfalls of dancers, was captivating. I felt drawn, no, enthralled, and I had to turn around.
There were several superb dancers in her group, and though I might have picked them out as technically superior to her, she shone above the others as the Great Star might have shone above Bethlehem. Her motions were graceful, her arms extended when the others clutched them self-consciously to their sides. She rose on her toes and swirled around the floor, giving rhythmical structure to the poorer dancers who watched her for their cues.
I realized I was staring. I might not have felt shame for that, but the feelings that accompanied my staring were such as to make even my cheeks burn with the remembered feeling of shame. I left before the dance was over, and thankfully noticed me outside the building as I leaned my head into my hands, panting slightly, as alien feelings and suppressed impulses rose and washed over me like suffocating waves. She could not be more than seventeen, I reminded myself. She was a child, nothing more.
When the agony of lust passed me, I felt anger such as threatened to overwhelm my senses. How could I? What kind of disgusting creature was I?
The car door slammed so violently that I was afraid I would break the window. But I was so riled up that I hardly noticed. My palms, bleeding from my fingernails, left blood smears along the wheel. I vowed never to return to the town hall or the library on Thursday afternoons. Christine Day would never know of me, or of my disgusting (and growing) obsession.
I was surprised at what effort it took to hold myself to my resolve. I told myself that I was nothing more than curious, that I would never possibly care for her in any way. I told myself the most ridiculous of lies. Once, I even remember thinking that I needed to be there in case she forgot something. When all of the lies were quenched, I avoided the library on Thursday entirely, to evade the ever-mounting wall of temptation.
I went, instead, on Friday morning. I refused to seem desperate, so I did not go until midmorning had passed. I walked slowly and deliberately up to the music section, punishing myself with every second I waited to reach the third floor, reminding myself that I had come to read, and nothing more. Yet hope stirred within me, hope that was at once pathetic and incredible. Would she have left something, something for me to ensure was returned to her? Something for me?
My heart leaped at the sight of the purple cover. Spiral-bound, the journal was well used, but also well cared for. I stood stock-still in the center of the room before I reached for it, reminding myself of how rude it was to pry into the personal belongings of another.
The blank page in front bore the same bold inscription. "Property of Christine Day" The girl had probably lost many books before she had taken to meticulously labeling anything of value to her. I fought a desperate, loosing battle with my conscience before I allowed my fingers to flip through the pages. Her neat, square cursive filled over half the book. I caught a word here or there, nothing at all to indicate what she was writing about, but already the shame, which I had not felt for years before, was making me feel so badly that I had to set the book down.
I knew why I was feeling this way. Duping or deceiving any of the people with whom I had had even a marginally friendly rapport was repugnant to me, even though I had managed anyway. Antoinette Giry, Nadir, and the little librarian here were the three people, from the various epics of my life, that I could think of who would fit this description. The former two I had managed to deceive even through my shame. The latter I had never had a reason to. And now, little Christine Day was superseding all of my carefully constructed defenses. The fact that she was doing this completely unconsciously was what both amazed and shamed me. Already, and for no reason, I did not want to hurt her or invade her privacy.
But she would never know. And the purple cover, lying so docilely against the dark wood of the desk, where I had laid it, was so tempting that in another moment it was open, and I dealt with the shame that followed. As I read from the pages, I could almost hear her voice speaking each line, so ardently and perfectly was her essence captured in every line.
This is an epic of myself, of a girl who doesn't really understand where she belongs yet. I believe I am an author, a writer, a poet of prose, and that I am a dancer, someone who is not fully complete without motion of some kind, but what I wish to be has not yet been in any other person.
Surely, I told myself, now I must stop. This was far too personal for my prying eyes. These were her memoirs, of a sort, yet even more precious than those dusty old recollections from famous personages. These were more because they were both a reflection and a prediction.
But my traitorous mind whispered that I could learn everything about her from a book like this. She would be both brutally honest and thorough in her analysis. I would know her weaknesses, her strengths, and her dreams. I had held people ensnared, captive to my every whim, on less than the information in this book. I had to read more.
What I believe I love more than anything else is music. And since I am beginning to attempt to explain who I am, I might as well begin with that.
There was the little quirk on the corner of her mouth! There was the little touch of sarcastic humor that I had noticed in her demeanor. She recognized herself and her silly little attempt, but she was brave, and she had to go through with it anyway.
I cannot compose. I cannot even sing. But I love to write lyrics, and in private, I will belt out any melody than I can remember. It shames me, the damage that I do the music, but I know that the spirit is still inside me, even though I cannot, no matter what I do, cause it to manifest.
I could not breathe. Her sentiments echoed my own so well that for a moment, I saw her as a much younger reflection of myself, doggedly pounding away at a piano, trying desperately to find that tune that would open the floodgates to the music of my heart. I had found my skill in both composing and singing. She was waiting for the key.
The book lay open in my hand, but my mind was so confused that I could hardly focus on the words of the page. Before I knew it, the book was closed and hidden in one of my coat pockets. I was outside the building before I realized what course I had just set myself to.
I knew I should leave. Just pick up and move, before I could grow any more attached or any more desperate. I had more than enough money, and being constantly uprooted was not a feeling that troubled me. My resentment stopped me. My resentment, and my anger. I was older than she, true, but I deserved a chance of happiness, as much as the next man. Though the term 'man', I had always felt, should be loosely applied to me, the meaning was the same. I knew I was deceiving myself when I told myself that there was nothing wrong with my attraction to Christine. I had also gone beyond caring.