My wedding dress is whiter than the purest snow. Each stitch is measured perfectly, each line of lace even and decorated. The bows that adorn each sleeve are silky and smooth, and I touch every part of it with a sort of disgusted enchantment.
I want to hate it, but I cannot.
The dress fits me well, and I lace it up quietly, slow and steady in my work. The material feels cool and unfamiliar against my skin. I wonder absentmindedly what my dress would look like if I were to have married Raoul. I could not imagine that it would look finer than this.
I take my time preparing, re-applying my makeup and pretending that this is another game of make believe. How I love those games! The action is always fun, and the outcome always at your own discretion.
Eventually, we all must grow up.
I stare into my mirror for the longest time. I have hidden the slight bruising on my forehead with makeup. I have dabbed my lips with the tiniest trace of lip stick, but my face is so pale that my lips look rosy regardless. The shadows under my eyes are gone, my light curls are brushed. Inside my head, I refuse to ackowledge the insanity of the situation, but continue pretending this is simply another game that I can use to escape the truth.
Finally, with stress in my stomach, I go to the door and put my hand on the handle, but I do not turn it. If I were to stay in here, would he eventually come and fetch me? Or would he trust me enough to come back to him, like I promised? I have always returned to him. I always will.
When I feel I can hide in here no longer, I gather my skirts and exit. I walk as slowly as possible, as if I really were walking down an aisle. At the drawing room, I hesitate. Erik's back is to me; he is facing his piano.
I want to be bold and announce my presence. Yet my courage has not reached those heights yet. Every step I seem to make toward him brings me back until I realize I have not moved at all, still standing back in the doorway where I started.
He senses me.
The look in his eyes tells me that this has indeed been a much sought after fantasy. His whole body tenses visibly as his eyes run me down. I can feel emotions pouring off him, but I do not say a word. We both stand there in tangible silence, until he lowers his gaze and turn his back to me again.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, I experience a feeling of hurt. How dare he make me dress up like this, only to turn away? I was soon to be his wife, was I not? Hadn't he the right to look at me?
And yet he faces the opposite direction.
"I have composed a beautiful piece for us," he says, almost inaudibly. "It is so beautiful, it will make you cry, Christine, and I do not wish for you to spoil your pretty makeup." He looks up into my face, almost expectantly. "Take me to be your husband, Christine?"
I can only bring myself to nod.
That is enough for him. He brings his hand up to his hideous face and presses it over his eyes for a brief moment. He does not approach me, but only stares into my eyes. Then he holds out his hand.
He holds a simple gold band with a diamond resting in the middle. I take baby steps forward and take it with trembling fingers. His fingers are shaking too, I notice, as he slides the ring onto my fourth finger. I expect him to start crying again, but he does not.
"Erik is now your husband," he says wearily, as if this alone has been an exhausting gesture. "You are his wife now. He will do whatever pleases you."
The ring fits perfectly. It is not the gold band that he gave me previously, that I lost—or maybe it is, I cannot tell.
I stand silently as he seems to struggle with himself. His eyes are downcast again, and I reach out for him and give him my hands, willing him to take them. His eyes widen and he takes them carefully, unlike his iron grip earlier.
There is still a considerable amount of space between us and I have the strangest longing to move closer and step back at the same time. In the end, I simply hold his hands tighter and pray for strength for both of us. We are both confused and lost, both unsure of ourselves. Any other couple who had these insecurities should certainly not go through something such as marriage—but then again, Erik and I are not like other couples.
He suddenly brings my hands up to his mouth and begins to kiss them—they are almost severe and animalistic—but as he continues, they grow calmer and calmer until my hands are simply at his mouth and he is just holding them there.
"I love you so much," he moans, his voice slightly muffled by my own hands. "So much, Christine, that you cannot dream of it."
He looks up and for a moment, I wonder what it would be like to feel those lips upon my own.
It does not last long.
Here I am, his bride, and I am afraid to be kissed, really kissed! That is not fair to him. He deserves more than my hands, but I cannot bring myself to offer such a thing as intimate as my lips. Are my hands all I have to give?
I am seized with a sudden inspiration, and I take a step forward, putting out my forehead. He is confused, but I can see what he is thinking. He trembles.
I try to grant him permission with my eyes, and he hesitates for the briefest of seconds before he gently places his lips upon my forehead.
His lips are cold but soft, and he is so close, leaning into me, that I can almost lean against him, but I do not. He brings his lips back, but stays close. His hands have dropped mine, so I tentatively bring them up and put them on his chest. His hands drop to my waist and brush ever so softly over my dress.
But instantly, he leaps back as if he's been burned, and I am once again left with that empty feeling, as if something very great was just snatched away from me. The contact that his hands made seems to have frightened him, and he turn away, guiltily.
"You are a good girl," he murmurs. "And you are so soft."
I stand so close to Erik, realizing I still do not know where Raoul is. I am ashamed with myself, for I have forgotten Raoul. I want to ask, but I know that would be very bad.
"I will not play the piece I have written for you," Erik tells me. "So I will play the Mozart piece you like. Sit on the couch now, darling, but take care not to wrinkle your dress."
I smooth out the silk material and sit on the edge of the couch, as instructed. He looks at me wonderingly for quite a few minutes, until I blush and look down. I wonder if he can see how badly my hands are shaking.
All his hesitancy, all his fear vanishes as he turns to his beloved keyboard.
He sits at his piano and plays for me, the lightest piece he could have thought of, so beautifully strung together. The music is so sweet, and this moment so strange, that the music transports me to a different place, a place where this is not reality or dreams, but just a place. Just a place where we have become husband and wife under strange circumstances, and where music is more than feeling. Music is emotion, his and mine, together.
I almost wish he would have played something mournful, because this music is so happy, that I want to cry anyway. Why is he trying so hard to make me happy? I thought this was about what he wanted, for he must know that this was not something I was begging to do. But I accepted him. What message, what false impression did that give him? Did he truly believe that I could be anything other than miserable in this very moment?
I am frightened of what the next moment might bring, so I pray very hard that this song will last forever and ever, and I will never have to move from my precarious position on his couch.
I should have known that God had stopped answering my prayers a long time ago.
When he is done with his piece, he faces me. "This has been a very long day," he says. "For both of us. You may go to your room to sleep now, for it is very late."
I notice he is still not looking at me, but at a certain point just over my shoulder. I tell myself I will not move until my husband looks into my eyes, and he seems to read my mind as his gaze finally slides over mine. He runs his eyes over my form once again, and then back to my face. He closes his eyes and then turns to his music. I understand what that means.
I am being dismissed. I rise carefully and go to the door. We do not say good night. We do not kiss. We do not sing. My wedding is over.
I go to my room and cry.