I dedicate this to my sister, Shadowylvia. Because you asked.
I lay on my bed at home, trying to think. I had let Christine and Raoul go, and I knew that they were going to be married, I could accept that, but what I could not accept was spending the rest of my life alone. Why? Why?
I had thought that I had found someone with whom I could spend the rest of my life. I had lived a solitary existence before then, but after experiencing love for someone else, I couldn't go back. It was impossible. It was as if a wall had sprung up behind me, closing off that lonely portion of my life as if it had never happened. The courage that I could garner from all those years alone was no longer available to me, and I was left alone, a vulnerable wreck of a human being whose heart ached with each moment.
Alone. Lonely. Sad. These were feelings that I had known all my life but had never dared to admit to myself before. Now that I had admitted them, there was no way to close them back into the dark areas of my consciousness to which I had kept them confined. They had reached the lighter parts of my mind, and once there they found enough light and nourishment to help them grow into a veritable jungle of pain and grief.
Thoughts that I had not considered since I was a child crowded into my mind, and they yammered and chattered and afforded me no peace. At last, desperate for a little quiet, I took a draught of herbs that would help me sleep.
I dreamed a very strange dream. I was standing on a grassy hillside that was covered with wildflowers. To my left, down the hill, lay the sea, and beyond, to my right, was the open countryside. It was summertime, bees droned nearby, and the breeze carried the scents of the myriad flowers to me. I had not experienced such things in a very long time. Not since I was very small, certainly. As I stood there, I became aware that I was wearing a summer suit, not at all my usual color of black, but of a light blue-gray. In one hand I held a straw boater (the sort of hat that went with the suit, but the kind I would never be caught dead in) and in my other hand, a small bouquet of wildflowers and, of all things, a doll. A child's doll. Nearby I could hear singing, but it wasn't Christine's voice that I was hearing. No, this was a clear, bell-like child's voice, singing about the bridge in Avignon.
That was where I woke up. I couldn't understand the dream, and I couldn't understand why I had dreamed such a thing. I had no way of knowing that dreams, even dreams that you think you don't want, have a habit of coming true.
I couldn't stay locked away in the cellars forever. I'd have to get something to eat eventually, so late one afternoon I put on a walking outfit, a cape, my mask, and my hat and set out to go shopping. Letting myself out the gate in the Rue Scribe, I set out for the Champs-Elysees, the tree-lined boulevard where some of the best shops could be found. I stopped at a greengrocer's for vegetables and herbs, a butcher's for ham, beef, chicken and lamb, a baker's for bread and breakfast pastries, a dairy for eggs, milk, butter, and cheese, and a confectionary shop for some chocolate that I intended to leave for some of the ballet rats. At a stationer's I bought manuscript paper, ink, and my usual stationery. All of the men who ran those shops knew better than to be impertinent about my mask or to give me inferior products. Now loaded down with packages, I began my return home.
I heard the screaming when I was a block from the Opera. Surprised, I followed it to its source: a ruffian was slinking down an alleyway, and he had a screaming banshee flung over his shoulder. Without thinking, I placed my packages on a handy stoop and rushed after him, intending only to see what he was doing. As I reached them, the man turned, and a blow from my fist was sufficient to send him sprawling. Dropping what he carried, he fell to the ground, but he got up after a moment and raised his fists. I could tell right away that he was drunk, but I was going to feel no compunction about laying him low. I could not stand drunkenness in any way.
Before I could approach him, the man suddenly burped, went cross-eyed, and fell flat on his face. Obviously, he'd had too much cheap wine.
The little bundle that he had been carrying remained where it had fallen; whimpering and shaking with sobs. I knelt down next to it and tried to see what it was. Before I could move away, it had lifted its head and looked me right in the face.
The little angel that was revealed did not flinch at the sight of the mask. She stared up at me as a judged man would a sudden savior. I could tell that under the dirt, matted hair, and rags she was a beautiful child—gray eyes with all the intensity of the sea looked into mine, a soft rosebud mouth opened in surprise, and in the next moment she had wrapped her skinny arms around my neck and burst into noisy tears. Of their own accord, my arms went around her and held her.
"It's all right, now," I heard myself saying. "He won't hurt you. I'm here."
I knew I couldn't leave her there, but I also couldn't leave her in the streets on her own. What to do?
"Where do you live, ma chere?" I asked her, smoothing her hair in an attempt to calm her.
"With Maman," she said, sniffling. "But she went to sleep, and she wouldn't wake up, and the landlord said that she was dead. He had people come and take her, and he wouldn't let me back in the house after she was buried."
I understood then. This child had lived with her mother in one of the tenements of Paris, and after her mother's death, the landlord had refused to allow her to live there any longer. I cursed that brute of a man. How could he turn a child out into the world?
That settled it. "I'll help you," I said, rising and setting her on her feet while keeping her hand in mine. "You can live with me." Now, why had I promised that? I lived in the Paris Opera cellars, not some charming home on the Place de la Concorde! What was I thinking?
My words earned another hug from the child. "Are you real, Monsieur?"
I surprised myself by chuckling. "Yes, I'm real."
We retrieved my packages, and she gasped at the sight of all the food. Apparently, it had been quite some time since she had eaten. I gave her some milk from one of the bottles and told her that once we got where we were going, I would prepare some nice hot soup for her. That won the first real smile that I saw from her.
As I led her past the gate in the Rue Scribe and down underground, she did not ask where we were going or why we going beneath the streets of Paris. She followed me, holding my hand, and trusting me totally. We reached the house, and I led her inside, praying she would not become frightened, bolt, and become lost in the cellars of the Opera.
She did not. She followed me inside, and watched my every movement as I prepared the soup and put things away. Once it was finished, I gave her a small bowl of it, and once it was finished, she fell asleep in her chair. Once I was certain that she was really asleep, I picked her up and settled her in Christine's bedroom, tucking her into the large Louis-Phillippe bed. I sat by her bedside and watched her sleep, but my mind was far from still. All through the night, I made plans.