On darker nights, when the children have been safely tucked into their beds and Raoul lies sleeping beside me, I still think of Eric. Raoul is a good and decent husband. He loves me, and the children that I have bourn him. He is a kind friend to me, and our life together has never been stormy or acrimonious. Do not mistake me, my children are an endless source of joy to me, and it is only right that I sacrifice the public life of a soprano in favor of my role as mother. But when I lie awake at night, and my heart grieves for my music, I think of Eric.
He was not beautiful, though there was much of beauty in him. No written copies of his great works have survived, though every note still rings clearly in my mind. There is more beauty in those refrains than can ever be written upon the human face. It was not so hideous, truly, once I had looked upon him in understanding. I ponder his deformities often. Would the world have laid itself at his feet and sung the praises of his genius had he a striking countenance of limpid blue eyes and soft blonde curls? Is the world truly so shallow that imperfect flesh can negate the better qualities of a man? I know that his misshapen face was the poison that reduced him to his baser qualities, and yet I cannot help but wonder if that torment was also the source of his great talents. Would a pretty face have been enough? A wife, children, friends and associates jostling for his affections could have robbed him of the swirling passions bourn of his isolation and the derisions heaped upon him by life. Would he have traded it? Normalcy at the price of his music? Does he envy me my quiet and simple life, or look down upon me for abandoning the suffering and exultation that accompany any great artistic endeavor?
Is Eric still alive, writing hymns to make angels weep and mere mortals quake with breathless admiration? I flatter myself to think he watches me still, but there are times I can almost feel his eyes on me. Walking through plazas, perusing fruit in the market, passing the great cold mausoleums of the cemetery yard, there have been many times when I found myself turning as if to come upon an old friend and instead finding myself alone again. Those times, I think of him and yes, I will even admit that I secretly hope to turn one day and catch a glimpse of him following behind. I do not regret my choices, you see. I only wish to know if lives still and how he fares.
Late at night, when sleep has fled from me, and Raoul cannot be roused from slumber, I have entertained dark musings of returning to those velvet depths, to search for him. It would be lunacy to do so. I have a family now, responsibilities that are larger than my own fancies. And I have no assurance that he would be happy to see me. But sometimes I delude myself. I do not shun the catacombs because I fear he would be angered by my presence there. I have not returned because I could not bear finding his chambers empty. I have abandoned my music, and the thought of him entertaining his muse brings me a small measure of comfort. Music must be served, and I have proved myself unworthy. If Eric toils still, it is enough. It has to be.
When the long night surrenders its grip to the gentle fingers of dawn, the dark ponderings of my sleepless hours are banished by the soft voices of my children, and the steadying hand of my husband upon the small of my back. I can feel Raoul's hand stiffen and I catch myself humming one of Eric's forbidden melodies. He shakes his head and leaves me to my remembrances. He is not cruel, but I can understand his confusion. He has felt Eric's hands around his neck. So have I. His caresses always held a vague threat behind them. It is a wonder that he was able to caress, when he himself was never touched in kindness. Save once, perhaps. And then, he knew it was an act of desperation. But what he didn't know was the way my heart split in two as he pressed me back into Raoul's arms. The tears that shimmered in his eyes haunt me every night. He loved me with all the unwise and fervent passion of a damaged man. Did that reckless passion kill him, in the end? Did he die of a broken heart, thinking himself rebuffed? I like to think he was stronger than that. That he knew I loved him. And still do.
Some men exchange their happiness for greatness. Some men are never granted happiness, whether due to the cruel engines of finance, the capricious whims of fate, or even the feckless chance of being born with an unlovable face. Some men are never given any other chance. Above all things, even above the desire to create his music, Eric wished to be loved. He leveraged all his talents against this one, pitiable goal: To win the love of another human being. Where other men might give jewels or trinkets, Eric had only one thing to offer: a battered and imperfect soul. I gave him one kiss and he laid it at my feet. Such a small gesture, and he found an endless pool of selflessness welling up inside of him. He gave me the life he thought I wanted. The life I thought I wanted too.
When I sit in the garden with Raoul, and smile gently at his soft and tender kisses, I know he loves me with all the perfection of his content and faultless soul. But he has never known true despair. Eric loved me with his grand passion and his hate. His desolation and his self-loathing. He loved me with every fiber of his battered and imperfect soul. When it's dark and my children are in bed, when my husband slumbers peacefully beside me, when I shudder awake in the darkness and for one heartbreaking instant I think I can feel eyes upon me, then I wish I was still hidden deep in the catacombs, nursing that battered and imperfect soul, making it whole.