THE ROSE

It fell from her fingertips into the snow, the petals slowly drifting apart from the cold stem once held dear to her heart. I remembered when she was a child, how she would cradle and cherish the roses I sent her. One on the pillow where she laid her tiny head; another in the costume room where she was kept hastening back and forth, fetching for the other girls. My voice quieted and soothed her, singing when she wept lonely tears in the chapel over her father, trembling hands lifting to light a candle in his memory. That voice had trained her, had educated her, had taught her to sing with the soul of a heavenly being, and now was as rejected as the rose slowly touched by the frost on the rooftop. Her skirts swept over it as she passed, her cloak rippling like a dark shadow over the virgin snow.

Christine.

I do not know if I spoke it aloud, or if my spirit merely cried out in anguish. My eyes drifted closed against the pain, turning aside my head in the shadows of the magnificent architecture over the theatre. My theatre; my opera house, where the occupants sang and danced for my pleasure; the box I claimed for my own; the voices I allowed to sing. They were mine, a formation of players upon a stage built for my joy. Christine was the central force from which all else spanned, the single jewel in the crown of my expectations. She was moving away from me in the snow, her hand clasped in that of the viscount. His hands were bare, warm and inviting to her innocent embrace, the face youthful and handsome. I longed for that face, for the innocence and purity it imbibed. Instead, I was granted the face of hell.

My gloved hand lifted to caress the cold, slick surface of the mask that protected me from the scorn and loathing of the others. It was not warm, like flesh, nor did it respond to a woman's caress. Like much of my life, it was empty, a facade concealing incomprehensible hideousness.

It was snowing again, dancing fragments of white drifting against the starless void of the sky, gleaming in the ornate glass windows of the opera house. I could not bear to observe their embrace, the gentleness of their caresses, the sight of his hands forming beneath her luscious locks as he caressed her face. He was touching something that I desperately longed for, the woman that stood between us, the angel I had borne into being through careful study and teaching, that now he wanted to take from me. Her fingers clung to his, her voice breaking forth into the coldness of the night in icy vapors, asking him to bring his fine horses to the gate. She wanted to leave, to forget all I had taught her, to turn aside from my instruction. Pain spiraled through my being as I approached my rose, fallen forgotten and abandoned in the snow. It meant nothing to her in the presence of the boy.

I bent to pick it up, examining the fallen petals, incredulous that she could treat my gift with so little respect. And amidst my sorrow, it began. From deep within it came, like a rushing tide: hatred. Hatred for the viscount and what he had taken from me; hatred that Christine could be so insensitive and cruel; hatred for the Opera House and what it stood for. This was not the end, as I crumpled the fragile rose and shed the crimson petals in the snow like fallen drops of blood. Oh, no.

This was but the beginning.