A/N: This was a hard chapter to write, and a harder chapter (for me) to read, but, you see, my own mother died about a year before I first started posting this fic. I felt compelled to write it, and I think I did a good job with it; but it's too painful for me. This is the real sticking-point; each time I tried to do something more with this, I'd get to this part, and that would be it.
It's "Chapter XX" not because it's Chapter 20; but because I use XX as a placeholder; they stand out when I'm scanning through. This lets me know that it's the start of a new chapter, but I wouldn't know which chapter until I had finished the intervening ones.
I had intended to have more happen between that last one and this; I believe Christine's the Prima Donna by now, or close to it. Certainly there would have been a lot more drama with Carlotta which, I will admit, I was quite looking forwards to when I started this expansion of the final two chapters. But-but.
Chapter XX: The Resurrection of Lazarus
We were lingering over our morning coffee when the Sunday quiet was shattered by a thunderous knocking at the door. "What in the world-?" I looked at Erik, then hastened to the front hall.
Opening the door, I found a ragged youngster on the stoop, blowing as though he had run all the way from town. "Telegram, Madame," he wheezed out, pressing the yellowy paper into my astonished hands. "Urgent!"
I automatically thanked and tipped him before opening the sheet. Scanning the few hasty lines before me, I swear I felt the ground tilt, even as icy fingers clutched at my heart. "Oh, no," I whispered, "No-! Erik," I called, dashing inside to don boots and my jacket as fast as possible; "Erik!"
He came at once. "It's Mama," I babbled, as he scooped the missive up and read it. "Oh, Erik! She's… I must go at once!"
"Of course you must," he murmured, and shouted through the door, "Find me a cab within five minutes and there's twenty sous in it for you!"
The poor urchin was still drooping on our porch; however, the twenty sous seemed to have an almost magical recuperative effect, for his cheery voice drifting back through the door assured us that he would be back in moments. Erik, meanwhile, quickly donned his own usual black mask, and also quickly prepared for our sad journey.
In truth, it could not have been much more than a handful of minutes before we heard hooves clopping to a standstill in the lane outside; I grabbed a last handful of handkerchiefs and dashed back to the front door, stuffing them into my already bulging reticule. The boy was grinning at us from his seat beside the driver; his smile faltered into uncertainty as he saw Erik's mask, but he brightened immediately when Erik paid him as promised. Erik handed me into the small cab, gave the driver directions to my old flat, and even as he swung up beside me, we were off.
The driver made all the haste he could, whipping the horse up to a fine speed, but still, the journey took too long—too long! Unconsciously I leant forwards, trying to urge the cab even faster. My pulse thundered in my ears, too soon! Too soon!
My own mother had died when I was barely six; I remembered very little of her. And losing my beloved Papa had almost killed me, quite literally. But there is a special bond between mother and daughter, and my Mama, poor Mama Valerius, had been a mother to me in all but fact for over a decade, for almost forever.
And now, she, too, was dying.
That was very likely the best time we ever made from our little cottage into Paris; it was the longest journey of my life. I flew up the stairs to the flat, not even waiting for Erik, who lingered only long enough to pay the driver. All was silent within. Hesitantly I raised my hand; what if we were too late? This might be the very last moment in which she was still alive, to me; the very last moment before I knew without a doubt that she was gone. Quietly, almost against my will, I knocked.
The door flew open almost at once; the housekeeper, for it was she, must have been very near to it. "Oh, thank Heaven you've come, Madame!" she breathed, ushering me inside. "No, you're in time; she's still here." The rush of relief I felt was almost drowned in a wave of sorrow: she was still dying. "Oh, Monsieur," she added, glancing in curiosity at his mask as Erik joined me.
"Madame," he nodded quietly.
The sitting room was like a tomb already; the windows were all heavily draped, shutting in both gloom and stuffiness. Softly, not wanting to disturb her if she was resting, I crept to the door of Mama's bedroom. "Mama?" I called softly.
She lay, frightfully frail and wan, upon her bed; her head turned to me, but her eyes remained unfocussed. "Christine," she replied, weakly, "Is that you?"
"She cannot see anymore, not since this morning," said the housekeeper quietly to me as I went in. "The doctor came, but he can do nothing; he says she hasn't long."
I could see that for myself. Her face, never plump, was sunken; her eyes were shadowed and drooped. She was but a ghost of her former self already; but as I sat on the bed beside her and took her hand, she brightened, and in the curve of her lips I found the echo of her former merry smile. "Christine! You've come…! I'm so… glad."
My heart broke to hear how she had to gasp for breath between words. Her breath came slowly, oh, so slowly! But she was still alive. For these few minutes more, I still had my Mama.
"I'm here, Mama," I said, and paused. I didn't know what to say to her. To ask after her health was absurd; to tell her I loved her was too profound, too final. I told her anyways.
"Oh, Christine, my dearest; I have always loved you too," she replied, her own eyes misting over. "You have always been my daughter, in every way that mattered." She paused for a long moment, but as I was just thinking that she had fallen asleep she stirred and asked, "Christine, dear… Is your good genius, your Angel, here with you?"
"He is, Mama."
"I should… very much like to… finally meet him."
She was weakening rapidly. Hurriedly I went to the door and beckoned Erik in. He came, brushing off what looked very much like a feather from the duster against his palm. "She wants to meet my Angel," I whispered.
"Of course," he murmured, and went to stand a little way from her bed.
She must have heard him. "Angel?" she called to him, "Is that you?"
"I am here, Madame Valerius," he said. His voice, which seemed to hover in the air above her bed, was low, but it was the Voice, the Voice of my Angel of Music, that spoke. The room seemed too small, somehow, to hold it; when I closed my eyes I could almost hear the beat of his wings.
"Angel… Angel," she called softly to him, reaching out a hesitant hand, "Have you come for me?"
The look on her face was that of a child hesitating to ask for a treat it desires, for fear the asking will lead to denial. He ignored her hand; of course, I thought, it will be too cold and thin for the hand of an Angel! but instead brushed the feather, the wing of an angel, lightly against her cheek. "I have," he murmured gently; "I am here for you."
She sighed, I thought in relief. "Will you… you will take good care of Christine for me, won't you?"
"That's good," she sighed again; "Oh, I am so tired!"
I sat down beside her and took her poor thin hand in my own again, pressing it to my lips as I fought back tears. "I love you, Mama!" I whispered again, as Erik began to quietly hum, then sing the Resurrection of Lazarus: "Come! And believe in me! Whoso believes in me shall live! Walk! Whoso believes in me shall never die…"
Mama closed her eyes, a smile of absolute rapture on her face. She took a slow breath, and another… and that was all.
Erik finished the song and fell silent. Hiding my face in my hands, at last I wept.
She was laid to rest beside her husband, the good Professor Valerius, in a tiny Parisian churchyard under a grey and drizzly sky. The weather matched my mood perfectly; had the Spring morning dawned bright and beautiful it would have broken my heart. I barely heard the words the priest spoke over her. Her face was peaceful as I bent down to press a final kiss to her cold forehead and murmur a last 'goodbye', but the click of the coffin closing echoed through my mind like the door of a tomb slamming to. It was too small a sound to mark something so very final.
Thank God for Erik! He came with me, and stood beside me, and ignored the curious glances of the other few mourners completely. Without his comforting arm around my shoulders I would have been utterly lost. He was my anchor, my one shelter from the storm of emotion that threatened to overwhelm me. One moment I was numb, watching almost as if it were someone else who shook the hands of those others, received their murmured words of sympathy; the next it would be all I could do to stand up, to remember to breathe.
Mama Valerius was dead.
"Come," Erik whispered to me at last; "It's time to go home."
Performing was out of the question. Opera is emotional by nature; had I simply been singing scales on stage it would have been too much for me; performing so many works about death and loss was utterly beyond me. My throat would close; choking, I would have to stop. Erik sent a quiet telegram to the managers, as my husband rather than as the Ghost, I believe, requesting that I be allowed some time to myself to mourn. A month's leave was granted.
"Only a month-!" I sighed, as he told me of the reply he'd received. "I cannot imagine that I will have forgotten her in only a month!"
"No, you will never forget her; nor should you! But with a month's time to work, I may be able to help you to channel your grief, to use it in your performance, rather than to allow it to overwhelm you."
"All right." I paused, then asked, "Erik, when will I ever stop missing her? Will it always hurt so much?"
"You'll stop missing her when she is no longer dead," he replied softly. "And yes, the grief will be easier to bear, with time."
"But it won't go away."
He seemed distant; I wondered. "Did… Did you ever lose someone, Erik?"
He came back to himself then, and smiled at me, a little sadly. "No; there has never been anyone but you whom I cared for. But I have seen what others go through, who lose someone they love. Sometimes, I wondered…"
He shook himself slightly and continued, rather briskly, "So we have one month to prepare. Come; finish your breakfast, and we will begin!"
A/N: I have seen other Mama Valerius's in other fics; sometimes they die too. She was, after all, an old woman, and in poor health. But, far too often, her death seems to me more the disposal of an encumbrance than the loss of a beloved relative. So, here, I drew upon my own experiences with the death and memorial of my own mother, who died in the early Spring of 2005. The deaths were similar in that they were both peaceful and at home; other than that, only the emotions involved were taken from life. But the death of any mother is not to be taken lightly by those whom she loved, and who loved her.
Afterword: ...And that was that. Christine was to go on to take the lead and become La Christine, the prima donna herself; there was to be the wedding in there. Erik's black vest would have been embroidered with silver thread, of course, and the only ones attending would have been Nadir, with a sub-altern or something as the second witness.
But soon after Mum died, I wrote that final scene, Christine's own flight back to Paris, her hesitation upon the threshold, a grim and, to me, heart-breaking echo of my own twelve-hour frantic drive home. We made it; my own mother was able to hold my newborn son, her first grandchild, twice before she died.
She would have made a great grandma.
I have been promising an expansion of "Through A Mirror, Darkly" (I still prefer "Pavhabati's Lesson" as a title) for what, eight years now? And each time I pulled it out again, intending to write more, to finally finish my promised expansion, I would hit that wall, that final scene, and be too overcome to be able to continue (even just rereading it last night cost me about five kleenexes). Eventually I simply stopped trying.
There was going to be lots more; reading this over now, I think I could wrap it up in perhaps one, maybe two more chapters. I have decided to share what I have already; I figure knowing it's already out here will force me to finally write that final bit. Hopefully it doesn't feel too out-of-place, whatever I end up coming up with; I still love these characters, and this version of them, but it's been almost a decade(!) since I wrote this. My style has changed; I have changed.
I am still writing POTO—I have a few chapters of a thoroughly indulgent piece of nonsense that I will likely start to share as soon as I can think of a better title than "Crackfic2" (I really am dreadful at titles). And I have another—well, several—I'm not quite done yet! But I have a full-time job now, plus a rather long commute—well, I will post again! But I can't say precisely when. If you want the notification of when the final chapter here is up do please follow this story; considering my schedule, I can pretty much guarantee it won't be this week and to be perfectly honest I would be shocked if it was even this month (that being September 2013 as I write this).
Thank you all so much for your patience, and your reviews, over the years! It is chiefly that which prompts me to finally share what I have.
-Oh, and how's this for the picture? Of the wedding dress, I mean. I don't remember researching anything in particular but I had this picture on my hard drive from a costuming project I was planning last year. I think it works well for Christine, even if it isn't made out of the silk I described. /oyjlc83
Oh, and hey! Here's something cool: an ad from the end of the Victorian period. See the woman on the left? That's Christine Nilsson, the Swedish Nightingale, and the woman it is believed Leroux based our Christine on. Neat. /p8j2gg2
Oh, and hey, have this too: /of73xy6
Thank you all for your reviews and support over the years. It has meant more to me than you'll ever know.
~Kryss LaBryn, Nova Scotia, Canada, September 2013.