Desolation Dreamed Of
Of Angels and Arias
Fingers on stone. Four fingertips raking slowly across porous cinder. Sharp right turn with the wall and more stone. First wooden door frame: props. Paneled door, and more stone. Small dent in stone, from a fight apparently. Second door frame: The House. Correction, the workshop. Stop, drag fingers down to metal door knob. Grasp, turn, and open. Mumblings from Isabelle and Cecile. Two elderly spinsters who will likely die in this room, in this place we call home.
The machines rumbled as Christine entered the workshop, eyes dead ahead and unmoving. Isabelle and Cecile greeted her with a warm, "Good morning, child," and her eyes darted momentarily in their direction as she offered a warm smile in return. It was a darkened room, an unmasked gaslight hung carefully above each work station. They offered only faint glows, and to Christine's eyes little more than blurred pinpricks of light. Christine navigated deftly through the maze of wooden tables to her own in a far corner. Four shelves, nine intricately carved bowls, ten sets of thread spools, one wooden table, six silver needles in one plush pin cushion, one wooden bench. Across the wooden table a bolt of maroon fabric lay with resolute perfection. These and nothing else inhabited her small workplace.
"First snow this morning," Cecile offered brightly, perhaps a bit too cheerfully for the hour.
"I thought so—I could feel the chill," Christine remarked.
Three small steps from the turn. Index finger drags across the width of the bench. Knees bend slightly. Sit. Confidently. Confidently sit. Bring left hand carefully to the small pin cushion, and draw it closer. Retrieve the threaded needle—black. It's black. I threaded it yesterday.
The trio worked in silence for a few moments longer before Isabelle chuckled to herself.
"Madame Giudicelli had a visit yesterday. I only just remembered."
"Oh did she? From our little fantôme?"
The two old women laughed at the prospect, and Christine's head turned to them briefly. Le fantôme de l'opéra. It was all they talked about, and who could blame them? A little fiction was certainly needed to spice up the dull lives of the seamstresses.
"What did he do this time?" Cecile asked in an amused tone, barely raising her eyes from her sewing.
"Stole her wig," the gray-haired seamstress smiled. "The white one with the fake roses in the curls."
"What would he want that for?" Christine asked from her corner.
"Oh don't you know my dear? The Opera Ghost has no hair," Cecile responded knowingly, a hint of mischief lacing her voice.
Third shelf. Tin cup of glass beads. Retrieve, place on table. Steady now. Sift through beads. Take just one. Thread. And begin.
The Opera Ghost. I'm interested now.
"No hair? Surely you jest," Christine mused as she reached for her second bead. She had heard this before, but the two of them always enjoyed their gossip and she was glad to oblige.
"Never!" Cecile exclaimed, abandoning her fabric as she brought a hand to her chest in defense. With a shake of her head, she looked to Isabelle for assent.
"It's true, dear. He has no nose either." Isabelle noted matter-of-factly with a firm nod.
"And yellow eyes!"
"And his skin!"
"Oh his skin!"
They've gone to the skin already. No bantering to precede. Right into his features. Door opening. Cough. Olivie enters. She has a cold. She will not indulge in their gossip. She is shy. Fourth bead.
"What does he wear?" Christine asked, pushing them along with a small smile.
"A fedora—black, and unmistakable!" she gushed.
"And his cape. Goodness child, it's quite a sight!" They were nearly overlapping the ends of their sentences and they hurriedly spat out the bits of knowledge they had acquired over the years.
"Have you seen him?" Christine questioned, trying to keep the smile out of her voice.
"Only last week! I was scared half to death." Isabelle exclaimed in horror as she returned with difficulty back to her sewing.
"What a lie Isabelle! You've never seen him," Cecile snapped in return.
"Yes I have! In the catwalks!"
"Oh, of course. The catwalks."
"Don't use that tone with me!"
Arguing. Of course. They will forgive each other before lunch. Seventh bead.
"Ladies! I can hear you across the hall!"
Enter Geneviève, supposed Queen of the House.
"And I'm sure you'll say you've seen his mask as well!" Cecile mocked.
"Oh but I have!"
"Not the opera ghost again. What would he think of your shameful gossip!" Geneviève snapped as she marched to her workplace, sitting down with a muffled thump.
Superstitious, as per usual.
"Just like Giry," Cecile whispered to her counterpart with a giggle, all anger forgotten. Isabelle responded with a muffled laugh, before stopped by Geneviève's harsh voice.
"I heard that."
What a lie.
The first snow had chilled the air inside the opera house, and Christine walked. Others rushed past her frantically at the prospect of another visit from the famed Carlotta Giudicelli, but she kept her pace measured, her hand outstretched, her mind's eye carefully reviewing the stitching she had completed that day. She had laid the dress crisply across the wooden table as she had found it that morning, the needle threaded black, no bead left out of place. She knew her destination, and it was near. It was an old dressing room, abandoned before she had even arrived at the Opera Garnier due to some wild threat made by the supposed opera ghost. Perhaps she would have believed in such things back in Sweden, but not now. Angels, she could believe in for that was God's doing, but phantoms were a thing of children's literature.
Once her fingers came in contact with the wall at the end of the hallway, she turned to her left and felt for the cold door knob she knew to be there. Turning the knob gently, she entered the room and closed it again with a click. For a moment, she simply stood there, staring into the haze of the dark room in silence. He was there—she could feel him. She was in the presence of her Angel of Music, the divine creature sent by her father, and she could sense it.
"Christine." The omnipotent voice spoke just behind her left ear, but she didn't turn. He wouldn't be there. He couldn't be seen, you see, for he was everywhere.
"Angel," was her soft reply, and that was all that was needed to commence their lesson.
The sound of the violin echoed gracefully through the room—her father's violin, she was sure—and without any question, she began to warm her voice. An hour, maybe two, passed without much notice from either party. Notes soared and vibrato rang out, echoing through the room and surrounding her being in a blanket of sound. And then, just as her voice began to tire, her Angel finally ceased.
"That's enough for today, my dear," he said gently, and she couldn't keep a smile from forming on her lips.
A pause before she spoke again.
"Yes?" he responded after a moment of silence.
"Have you ever seen the ghost that haunts the opera house?"
Silence that thickened the air.
"Is he as they say?" she asked hesitantly.
"What do they say?" His voice was emotionless.
"Isabelle and Cecile tell me that he has yellow eyes and no nose. That he wears a fedora and a cape. And a mask, a white porcelain mask, across half of his face."
"They say he is just like a corpse."
The silence that enveloped the scene felt longer than any other, until Christine began to think her teacher had left altogether.
"Angel?" she called tentatively.
"It is not my place to reveal other's secrets, my dear."
And that was the end. He had left without a word, and she could feel it in the air. It softened and became easier to breathe suddenly, and that was the end. She would come again tomorrow and she would not mention the opera ghost and neither would he, and things would continue on as they always had. And that was the end.