There is a great story that starts, "In the beginning, there was only darkness." And if love be light, my beginning was dark indeed. Do not blame my mother. That would be wrong. Instead, put yourself in her place; young, in love, full of hope, and pregnant with your first child. And then you bear that child, and instead of a delightful squalling infant, you find yourself facing a miniature version of The Thing Under the Bed. I do not question why she did what she did, though I hated her for long years.
Unlike that first darkness, which reputedly was dispelled in just a day, my darkness lasted decades, and the blackness only deepened from year to year. I was born a monster in form. Over time I became a monster in fact; a thing of great and abiding horror. I was no more than a junkyard dog, abused and degraded into viciousness - then aged into uselessness. I could, and would, have remained such until I met some quaintly horrific fate.
But that is not the story you came to hear, and I will not bore (or disgust) you with the details of my vile history. Only know that when light first glinted at the corners of my life, I was a miserable thing crawling about the dank holes of the great edifice I'd designed, wallowing in self-loathing and regret; a waste of bones and gristle, waiting for death. My only pleasures lay in drawing upon the power I once wielded to frighten simple-minded hirelings and in listening to the music.
This story begins not only in darkness, but in silence. It was late in the night, creeping slowly towards morning. My theatre was empty and lifeless, though I could still feel the vibrations of the music that had rung here only hours before. That is why I emerged from my depths – I had to feel the music and breathe the air so recently consecrated by the sublime performance of my orchestra. Mercifully, there was no opera that evening, only a symphony celebrating Mozart's death and the Requiem he left uncompleted. The singers were guests, true talents from overseas; they did not offend my ears in the least.
In this late hour, the musicians were gone and the house deserted. I was perched high in the catwalks, just breathing, when the door cracked open and spilled the faint yellow light of the hallway down the aisle. A dreadful din interrupted my meditations – I reflected that the janitor was forcing his way through the door with much less facility than usual. Looking down, I was surprised to see a woman struggling with the cleaning cart. She was of medium height and build, with thick mouse-colored hair neatly pinioned beneath a kerchief.
Now, understand that I am a creature of custom. Frank had been cleaning my theatre for a decade; I'd grown used to him. He was biddable. One or two scares followed by explicit instructions had always been sufficient to bring him about to my way of doing things. He never spoke, never questioned my orders; he just cleaned and left. His sudden disappearance, followed by the equally sudden appearance of this woman shook my treasured calm.
She flicked on the lights and looked about slowly, as though uncertain as to where she should begin. Frank had had the same look when he first entered the enormous space. Heaving a sigh, she began systematically sweeping the rows from end to end. She took great care in her work; I was pleased. Then she came to the orchestra pit and my pleasure quickly melted into unease. She had shoved her cart into the aisle behind her and stood eying the Bosendorfer grand piano with a desire I could see even from my seat nearly 25 feet above.
I watched her come close to the precious instrument and reach for it. She paused, wiped her hands on the pleated khaki pants that made up half her uniform, and then lifted the fall-board. Heresy! I nearly descended upon her in a fury. Had I been any closer to the ground, she might not have lived out the hour. Fortunately for both of us, I was in no position to do anything but stare in outrage. She gave herself only one note – A above middle C – and gently closed the fall-board.
She returned to her cart and her cleaning, but now she was singing to herself. The tune was a contemporary adaptation of a Shakespearean passage; simple, but undeniably beautiful.
"Under the greenwood tree, who loves to lie with me," she sang, sliding her polishing rag along the proscenium stage's edge, "and tune his merry note unto the sweet bird's throat…"
Do not misunderstand; her voice then was not nearly what it is now. It was a shadow, a whisper, a mere dream of what it was to become. But even in its raw, untutored state, it called to me. I heard its promise and I knew that I must be the one to draw it out.
"Come hither, come hither, come hither!" I took these words as an invitation, and the next as a promise, "Here shall he see no enemy, but for winter and rough weather…"
She was done cleaning. Completely innocent of my presence, she pushed her cart up the aisle and wrestled it out the door with little fanfare. I watched her go, fighting an urge to run after her. What a disaster that would have been! As though any woman alone in this huge, shadowy, echoing place would appreciate a masked man coming upon her unawares!
Again, my inconvenient seat saved us. I had to make a plan, I realized. That such an instrument should come attached to a woman was a cruel joke. I could not buy it; it had to become mine by other means. She would have to come to trust me, sight unseen, enough to let me guide her and teach her. She had to become mine so that I could possess that voice.
At the time, it was only her voice that possessed me.