Almost Lover

By: Anni Re

The morning after, Erik returned to what remained of his lair, what remained of his life. He returned to it the way he left it, plodding back through the damp and dank sewers, up the unlit incline following the smell of water that was the underground lake until he reached the vacant wall that concealed his emergency exit behind the now shattered mirror. Erik heard the sharpness of his breath with his excellent ears tearing at the silence of the place as he placed the side of his face against the rough stone, his pristine white mask tainted with the splotches from the layer of sludge. He quieted himself and listened through the wall and after several minutes he deemed it safe to enter. All the same, his keyed up muscles touched the trigger to the door cautiously and slowly the wall gave way to the room. Like a shadow the phantom stole into the shadowed room, concealed save for his amber eyes which, like a panther's, seemed to cut themselves away from the night as they flashed back and forth in surveillance. Erik's hand snuck out from the folds of his cloak and scuttled spiderlike across the wall until it touched the brass knob that controlled the oil lamps. He turned up the lamps, gingerly for fear of unknown mistreatment that would set fire until the hues of orange revealed what it was meant to.

They were quite through, he had to commend them for that, through and vicious, just the way he would have searched a room with righteous fury. His bookshelf was thrown away from the wall, its tomes' spines bent, his fine clothing thrown out of his wardrobe, dampening on the wet ground. His desk and workspace took the most damage though; his model of the opera and their productions smashed to splinters, his sketches scattered about some buried under desk drawers torn asunder. His masks clearly passed though one set of dirty fingers after another before cast to random corners of his domain. The slight downward turn of his lips was the only indication of his anger, both because of his firm control over his deadly temper and the fact that a portion of his face was shielded by an emotionless piece of tooled leather. Erik made a step into the room only to hear the high-pitched shriek of breaking glass. He instinctively stepped back and looked down at his feet to see jagged fragments of his face staring up at him. Erik noted his lack of decorum, the ragged edges of his suit coat sleeves, the dark shadow of stubble on his wholesome cheek. Yet his calculating eyes zeroed in on the black and grey smears across the white of his mask.

It was his mask above all others that solidified to Erik that his world was forever undone. The Phantom took great care in the maintenance of his masks believing is some part of his brain that their sharp intimidating perfection somehow compensated for the warped flesh they concealed. Erik looked up sharply and took a firm step over the slivers of the mirror strewn on the floor. As he stepped into the grotto that once was his lair the wreckage revealed a corner of his world that remained unchanged despite what devastating force had swept through it. Erik concluded that it was because a large proportion of the mob that conducted the raid were the performers and staff of the Opera Populaire, music lovers. Reverence to their craft, that alone spared Erik's magnificent instrument that dominated the farthest wall from the water.

Like a pilgrim, Erik crusaded to the seat of sweet music's throne. Music, the only deity that Erik ever served, he was made an angel in its name, when the rest of the world cried monster. An Angel of Music. Erik collapsed violently upon the seat in front of the alter of his life for his legs would no longer support him when the memory of his angel of music weighed on his mind. His Christine, even when he gave her willingly way to his rival, she would always be his Christine. Erik mindlessly stroked the keys of the organ with the care and compassion of a lover as if he expected the keys to eventually return it to him. Like he always imagine Christine doing to him one day. But his love for his music, as with Christine, was as always one sided.

Erik lowered his head, staring at the keys still idly tending to each of them. Then out of the corner of his eye he saw one of his sketches wedged underneath the bench. He reached down and with his long nimble fingers gently tugged it away. IT was a portrait done in pastels of Christine, the pearl colored sheet dampened by the water. She was ringed with the colors of fire wearing the costume of Don Juan Triumphant. She had red roses in her hair, joyously clashing with the brown of her locks. She had a fiery blush reaching up all the way to her over-bright eyes, darkened by desire and the sultriness of the scene. Her lips were parted as if in a small sigh and it was as if two rose petals had slipped from her hair to form her lips they were so red, and so perfect. Erik held Christine's image up to the light of the candelabra that rested on the top of the organ and the fire behind the leaf gave her life. Erik, with the tip of his finger, touched the curls of her hair, the contours of her face, the crimson of her lips. Her withdrew his shaking hand and brought it to his own lips, recalling the kiss that those lips gave. Christine became his bride then, if only for a moment, a brief, bright, brilliant moment. When Erik returned his finger to her painted lips he saw the water from the floor ran ribbons down her face from her eyes. It looked like she was weeping for him, along with him.

Erik placed the portrait on the edge of the keys and his fingers drifted away from it curled unconsciously, as if they were constantly prepped for playing and were still, unnaturally still as if his body was incapable of movement, golden eyes staring at Christine. In a gentle swell, like the ebb of an ocean wave, Erik pressed down on the organ keys teasing from it a slow sad melody. He played a few measures of the music that without thought fell from his head creating perfection with a streamlined flow of passion and will all the while not looking at the keys or the sheet-less music stand but locked onto the face of his love lost in the memories his music conveyed. The Phantom breathed in, filling his body, and breathed out song.

Your fingertips across my skin

His weak exhausted voice faulted slightly at the thought and one hand while the other compensated on the keys one hand impulsively reached up and stroked the unhidden half of his face before fluttering down to join its brother. Erik once again regained the power over his voice.

The palm trees swaying in the wind

Images

He closed his eyes and his fingers fell more strongly into the rhythm while Erik fell farther and farther into his past. He remembered when he sat on the red upholstered throne of his kingdom in the shadowed seclusion of Box Five and he watched with rapt attention as his student ensnared the heartstrings of Paris, including his own, from the stage that he watched from above like the Angel he was to her.

Your sang me Spanish lullabies

As he sang the cynical side of his persona supplied him with the images of when he fell in her eyes of when he fell in her eyes from angel to man, that very same night, and then further devolved into a monster. His mind supplied him with another time Christine sang on his stage, he not above, but beside her. He honed in on the details of her face.

The sweetest sadness in your eyes

Erik chuckled condescendingly

Clever trick

Erik played a crescendo up the keys had a tongue of flame into both his passion and his anger a touch of sarcasm laced his voice

Well I never want to see you unhappy

His voice wilted a little his sadness once again dominating the mood of the piece.

I thought you'd want the same for me

Erik played a rich cord and his tenor voice boomed like bell tones through the basement and above.

Goodbye my almost lover

Goodbye my hopeless dream

I'm trying not to think about you

Can't you just let me be

So long my luckless romance

My back is turned on you

Should've known you'd bring me heartache

Almost lovers always do

Erik was emotionally exhausted from the power of the words of the chorus as well as the way he brought them into being through his voice that it was almost a physical exhaustion. But still he sat as if he was forcibly tethered to the organ by the part of his that truly was the Angel of Music, playing out its troubles through the only available tools. Erik closed his shining eyes his head tilted back slightly his strapping chest sharply rising and falling. Erik allowed himself to treat his imagination to the idea of Christine staying with him, forgoing all the young and dashing viconte could offer her in favor of him, a true fairy tale ending. He would have loved her, more than he had ever loved anything in the whole of his life. He would have taken her on midnight strolls along the Seine in expensive petticoats, dining in exclusive restaurants, gone to garden parties in the bright and shining countryside, and vacations by the Scandinavian seas, been her wealthy and powerful patron in the opera universe plowing the way for her to be the Prima Donna of Paris, Europe, the entire world. He would have gloried in her delights, consoled her in her fears, been anything and done anything for her.

We walked along a crowed street

You took my hand and danced with me

Images

Erik snapped back to reality when he realized bitterly that he had done that for Christine: been anything and done anything for her. She did not want him and her to be anything, and he had done what she wanted of him, to walk out of her life and let her run off to her happily ever after. A single tear slipped from his eyes at the cruel irony and he stiffly turned his head and helplessly looked at the drawing of his diva, speaking directly to it as if she could hear him.

And when you left you kissed my lips

Erik unconsciously shuddered at the painful ecstasy of that recollection, the zenith of his life when he knew that she did love him, and also the nadir, when he knew that he would lose her. His voice blossomed from his pain.

You told me you would never never forget these images

No

Erik hoped that Christine would not forget him. The possessive angry side of his brain said that she owed it to him for giving everything he had to make her what she became and then spurn him his payment. He knew that Christine and her new husband would never speak to each other about the monster that tried to tear them away from each other, but the small spark of hope and belief that Christine still cared for him in some way hope that when her hair had long spun itself silver she would tell bedtime stories to her wide-eyed grandchildren about the mysterious and magical Phantom of the Opera and Angel of Music.

More tears slipped through Erik's eyes as he continued playing his sadness and anger taking turns in their roles in his music.

I never want to see you unhappy

I thought you'd want the same for me

Yes, he wanted her to be happy, but it was tearing him apart to do so. Erik hit the keys so hard it was almost breaking them, straining the interior with the force of the notes he was yanking violently from it. Singing out so that it even more echoed through the burnt out husk of the opera house.

Goodbye my almost lover

Goodbye my hopeless dream

I'm trying not to think about you

Can't you just let me be

I'm trying not to think about you

Can't you just let me be

So long my luckless romance

My back is turned on you

Should've known you'd bring me heartache

Almost lovers always do

Erik forcefully pushed himself away from the organ as if the organ as if the keys had given him a shock and in a flurry he stormed thorough the grotto adding more damage in his wake, nothing within his path escaping, all the while his song pounding itself out in his head. Only with Christine now gone did he realize how heavily she influenced his life, even without him knowing it. Her traces left, laid thickly on every escape route from her presence Erik conceived. The Phantom screamed his words to the uneven ceiling his voice cracking as he wandered about drunk with despair, destructive hands flying everywhere.

I cannot go to the ocean

For Christine's early childhood was written by the sea and also the end of his story before it had even begun, with a red scarf and an aristocratic whelp eager to retrieve it.

I cannot drive the streets at night

For the last time he drove the streets he bore Christine to the grave of her father and at long last clipped the wings of Gustave Daae's dying present to his daughter.

I cannot wake up in the morning

Without you on my mind

Solely, simply because every conscious thought he had was somehow related to Christine. Erik's mind hinged on the edge of madness. His movements became slower less volatile and the music quieted in his head from the thunderous chorus but still picked itself out. Erik's voice was quiet now, his eyes wide, not really seeing.

So your gone and I'm haunted

And I'll bet that you are just fine

Yes, Christine would be happy, he could rest his weary body on that. Raoul would always care for her, never have any want, and be all that she deserved. He would not have let her go if he had thought otherwise. But his mind turned on itself, would she still have left, somehow, someway, even if he fought her tooth and nail? The lyrics he was writing in his head asked he himself with his own lips and tongue.

Did I make it that

Easy to walk in and out

Of my life

The Phantom's mind, returning to earth out of the haze of his sorrow lingered on that word. His voice died on it, breathing it out in a long raspy sigh. Erik sat down with an undignified flop into the chair that lay in front of his demolished desk staring blankly at the center of it. His stationary was scattered about in front of him. Erik numbly reached out and fumbled through the ivory envelopes and leaves of paper, rolling aside the intimidating golden skull of the Red Death that was his seal until he found was he realized he was looking for. His letter opener. Erik picked it up in the same motion he lifted himself from his seat. As he walked slowly and smoothly back over to the bench of his organ he rolled the slender item betwixt his fingers. It wasn't elaborate like most of his other possessions, bought by extravagant wealth, or brought from the farthest reaches of the world. It had a plain brass handle that fit nicely in his palm with a silver blade fused to the top. Erik's eyes lingered on the tip his thumb sliding over the sharp edges. Erik sat back down with as much grace as he had lacked when he sat down in his desk chair. He sat there for a long time, it was as if the music had paused and did not allow his to continue. The last word he had uttered still lingered in his head and he weighed the weight of the word over and over in his mind as he turned the letter opener over and over in his hands. The quite suddenly they both stopped and Erik sighed. His fingers tightened over the smooth brass handle, and his forearms in turn turned over. And with the small silver blade, he dug out the veins in his wrists.

Red blood ran strongly from the deep holes, soaking his shirt, dripping steadily in between the keys. He turned them over and pressed his fingers hard into the keys, pumping more blood out of himself. He gasped from the pain, and out of that gasp came more words to his last song, softly struggling to breathe them out.

Goodbye my almost lover

Goodbye my hopeless dream

The keys were stained crimson.

I'm trying not to think about you

Can't you just let me be

Erik blinked rapidly both because of his tears and because darkness began encircling his vision.

So long my luckless romance

My back is turned on you

Erik began heaving out his words on his weakening stuttering voice.

Should've know you'd bring me heartache

Erik's shaking fingers could no longer force themselves to move.

Almost lovers always do

Erik sighed a long sigh, and closed his amber eyes. In a slow gracefully arc, The Phantom of the Opera fell onto his organ. His head resting on the keys red with his blood, his posed fingers going slack. The vibrations of the notes held for a moment, and then, they too, fell silent.

Finis