This idea came on a freezing, freezing, freezing cold night several years ago. I've finally decided to post it after polishing it up a bit. It really wasn't meant to be this long. It just…sort of…grew. I hope you enjoy, and don't hesitate to review!
In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed
But a waking dream of life and light
Hath left me broken-hearted.
My days as a girl had been spent outside, roaming the country, frolicking under the hot sun and the leafy green trees. The days were full of warmth and laughter, and light would come from my Papa's smiling face and from my own inner peace and happiness. I remember those days with an aching longing, wishing that my Papa had never left me. Sometimes I imagine him appearing on a street, violin in hand, beckoning me to come and rejoin him on his countryside wanderings. I imagine hugging him tightly and kissing his cheek, then taking his hand and allowing him to lead me wherever the sun is warmest and brightest.
However, it is becoming difficult to do such things. It exhausts me to try to remember what the sun on my skin feels like. I can hear the echo of a warm breeze, but I cannot feel it against my face. Whatever warmth I have is now superficial. It warms me for the briefest of moments, but then I fall back into the biting chill that clings to my skin and clothes.
It is a most terrible feeling. After spending so many years in the sun, my being kept from it is making me melancholy and depressed. I feel ill and frail from the constant cold.
The dreadful winter above has crept into the bowels of the earth, into the underground where I now reside, and I constantly shiver against the snowstorms and frost that I cannot see, but I can feel it. It is the coldest winter I have ever known, yet I haven't seen a single snowflake.
I curl up in my dress with a large, heavy shawl wrapped around me and stare at fire in front of me, feeling my face flush from the fire but unable to feel completely warm. I want the overwhelming feeling of pure, unadulterated heat and light inside and out.
Even that voice seems cold. I shiver a little and blow hot air onto my fingers.
A tall, lean man walks in front of me, blocking the directed heat from the fire. He wears black from head to toe, save his waistcoat, which is a dark gray and beautifully brocaded with black thread. His hair is a dark, brilliant black, and he wears a mask of black leather, which covers everything except his lips and chin.
But none of that catches my interest. I have seen him too many times to be fascinated by his clothing or frame. Only his eyes hold interest, and those moments are seldom—when intense emotion crosses them, and then I stare, intrigued.
"Christine," Erik repeats. His voice, however ethereal, seems eternally frosted over.
His eyes linger on my face. I have the decency to blush and drop my gaze, as if he is not there if I cannot see him before me.
"Your supper is ready," he says at length. "It will be cold if you do not hurry."
I take his carefully-placed suggestion and hasten over to the table, wanting to consume the heat, to feel it slide into me. I don't care about flavor or texture. I only want to feel something warm in my stomach. Sometimes my utensil slips between my fingers, which are almost numb with cold. I glance at Erik's gloves with some jealousy. He wears them constantly, and even if they are only to hide his bony, thin hands, they at least keep his fingers warm. He is also wearing a waistcoat and jacket, while I am in a dress with flimsy sleeves and a collar that exposes flesh—not too much, but enough that I wish that I had put on some sort of muffler or worn a high-necked dress.
I pick up my glass, feeling the water cling to the sides and then to my fingers, and I glance at him while I drink. He is eating calmly, his eyes focused on his plate. There is an air of formality and stiffness whenever he sits down at the table to eat, and I suspect that he is still a little uncomfortable eating in front of me, no matter what had or would transpire between us. It is also obvious that it is a little awkward for him to manage around his mask, and he never eats much because of this.
"Is it…?" I hear myself suddenly stutter out. I blush once again—I had not intended to speak at all.
Slowly, he sets his utensils down and looks up at me expectantly.
"I mean, outside," I say, putting my hands on my lap. "Is it bad?"
When he hears the question and realizes it is nothing serious, he returns his attention to his plate. "Particularly so," he says. "This past week has been nothing but storms."
I am silent, bowing my head back to my plate, but I sense his gaze returning to my face.
"Why do you ask?" he says. "I will not agree if you ask to go out. It is terrible weather, and I don't want you catching a chill."
Quickly, I resist retorting that I am more likely to catch a chill from living underneath the Opera House. I instead drink more ice cold water and announce that I am finished. Instantly, he is up and clearing my plate. I hastily return to the settee in front of the fire and pull my shawl around my shoulders, rubbing my arms, trying not to let my teeth chatter.
I have not been outside in so many weeks. In the beginning, I was able to beg and whine and pester him so much that he would take me out at dusk, though now my excursions are short walks around the dreadful lake…yet even those are rare. I am to be trapped in this horrid house until I wither away and perish.
Sometime later, he enters, picks up a book, and sits down in his large, wing-backed chair. He reads quietly for a very, very long time. I fidget, trying not to let any part of my flesh be exposed to the frigid air. I tuck my feet up underneath me and breathe on my fingers once more.
As soon as the clock chimes nine, I announce my plans to retire, and I go to my bedroom, shaking insanely as I pull off my dress and shoes. I consider for a moment keeping on all of my undergarments and sleeping in every single nightgown I own, but in the end I dress in my usual sleeping attire and slip between the freezing sheets, my body literally shaking. I am sure that I will catch pneumonia and die. Perhaps that will not be too terrible. As fast as I can I bring my hands out from underneath the sheets and breathe on them once more.
The lamplight glints off the ring. I look at it for a moment, plain and shining dully under the light. It looks unassuming, and it looks as if it belongs on my left hand. It has been on there for many, many months now, and I have given up trying to take it off. There is nothing to be done for it. The ring is to remain on my finger.
I stow my hands under the blankets quickly and bring them to my chest, curling into a tight ball to conserve any warmth that I had. The sheets and blankets around me warm up just a little from my body, but I dare not move in case I touch a cold part of the bed. After a few more minutes of shaking, I feel my body slowly calm itself, enough for me to close my eyes and drift asleep.
Many hours later, I wake, though I am still and silent. As I blink the fogginess of sleep from my brain, I feel solid pressure on my back, and there is soft breathing in my ear. A long arm has secured itself around my waist, and a hand is loosely wrapped around my hip. I feel him on every inch of me, feel his unbearably-thin frame molding itself against mine, and I feel the chill that radiates from him. His very skin is cold—literally. He cannot explain it or make it go away. I have borne it with as much patience as I can, but underneath the sheets, the cold is terrible. I tremble a little against him. He is much too cold to share a bed with.
A few moments later, I feel him shift slightly, and his breathing changes slightly.
"What is it?" His voice is low, a murmur, and his breath is hot against my ear.
I want to tell him—tell him that I cannot sleep because his skin is painful against mine. But I merely say softly, "It's nothing. I had a bad dream. I'm fine now."
He moans a low sigh and pulls me closer before settling himself and drifting back off to sleep. It no longer makes me uncomfortable that he sleeps next to me. His intimately-close physical presence is not discomforting. I do not even care about his face anymore—I cannot seem to build up enough emotion to care about it. It would have bothered me if he woke up and pulled off my nightgown, but only because it is so cold.
There have been only two nights of that—two nights in which our marital duties were explored. It had embarrassed me, and, surprisingly, he had felt similar. It had been…I had agreed to it. I had encouraged him! I had thought—like a foolish, stupid girl—that doing…that would change him. One act—one thing that was apparently vital to marriage—one thing that I had always been too afraid to even think of—, and he would have everything he wanted. He would be a new man, a better man, the husband I thought I deserved.
It shames me to remember it. There had been no beauty in it. There had been no tender touches or kisses—no murmured words of devotion and love, such as I had always been led to believe. There had only been his harsh breathing in my ear, pain, and darkness. No lamps or candles had been lit for the occasion. Even so, I kept my eyes shut the entire time.
He had sobbed over all of the blood on the sheets, and I had attempted to explain it to him.
"I have heard that that is…natural…for the first time," I whimpered, clutching at any unsoiled covering I could find. I was trying very hard to control my tears. I felt dishonored, and I ached badly.
He had nodded quickly, almost thoughtlessly, and continued to stare at the red spots. It began to make me feel most uncomfortable. He said nothing else, merely left the room, and I thought on his behavior for several long moments until the realization struck me—he had not believed in my maidenhood, but the blood had proven him wrong. It was an insult beyond compare, and I sobbed and seethed for the remainder of the night. However, like the child I am, I have never confronted him about it.
After the first terrible experience, he tried once more some weeks later, apparently under several incorrect impressions. Now that my maidenhood had been claimed by him and not by the Vicomte, he attempted to be gentle and…loving. He whispered horrible things to me with his angel's voice in the pitch-black darkness—that I was a beautiful, faithful wife; that he was very pleased with me; that I was a good girl to allow him to touch me; that he had long been denied physical affection and that I was the most wonderful wife to show him love. Again, I kept my eyes closed, horrified when I recognized that he pressed a trembling kiss to my cheek.
However, the second attempt quickly became as disastrous as the first, and he pulled away with a shuddering sob. He had cowered and covered his masked face with his hands, moaning terrible things. He made me dress, and he then left the room. He has not tried since.
But the thought of the wedding ring on my finger has seemingly driven his feelings into some sort of defiance. Some change must be made now that we are married! We cannot go on as before. If we did, then there would be no point at all in my wearing his ring. So he has made a decision. Normal men sleep in the same bed as their wives. If he won't have me intimately, then he will at least have the normalcy of sleeping beside me. Like the weak girl I am, I cannot drag up the effort to object. I quietly accept his presence every night, and even when his hands became a bit more daring, I still said nothing. He now simply wraps his arms around me and falls asleep.
When I wake a second time, he is gone, and I feel my inner clock tell me that it is time to arise. The chill of his skin is still on me, and I fully intend to wash it off in an extremely long, extremely hot bath, which I set up in my nightgown, shivering a little. I watch the large tub fill up, grateful that Erik has somehow managed to erect plumbing in his house. I have never had such a luxury before. I have always been much too poor to afford a house with fancy pipes and hot water at my demand.
The steam is filling up the washroom, and I make sure that the tap for the hot water is completely turned. With the temperature of the rest of the house being as it is, I am sure that the water will cool quickly, and I want to soak up as much of the heat as I can.
There is a sudden gust of cold air, and I squeak a little before turning. Erik is in the room, watching me. I suddenly feel very self-conscious in my nightgown, my bare feet planted on the floor, staring at him and feeling my curly hair react to the steam in the room.
"You bathed yesterday," he says flatly.
I nod. "I know." Yesterday's bath had warmed me considerably for a few precious hours.
"You will exhaust the heater that warms the water. It will break, and I will have to fix it." He takes a step closer and looks at the tub. "Besides, you are going to scald yourself in that."
I am not going to argue with him. The only thing I want is a hot bath. "I'm sorry," I say humbly. "I didn't realize that it is an inconvenience. I will use this water wisely, and I promise this will not happen again."
He looks at me for a moment, as if trying to detect some kind of lie, but he eventually says, "Very well. Allow the water time to cool before you get in."
I nod fervently, and he leaves the room, shutting the door and trapping in the steam and heat. Without wasting another moment, I pull off my nightgown, toss it aside, and step into the bath water. It feels as if my skin is burning. The sudden heat to my cold skin is painful, but I slip into the water all the way, sinking into the tub so the water is just above my shoulders. My skin flushes a deep pink, and I revel in the hot water, soaking it in.
When the steam has subsided slightly and I am starting to feel slightly cold whenever wet skin meets the air, I know I have to get out to properly savor the warmth. Reluctantly, I climb out, dry myself, and dress. Then I face the terrible task of leaving my warm little cocoon in the washroom and venturing into the frigid air of the rest of the house. Erik once explained cocoons to me—an ugly caterpillar encases itself and then emerges to be a beautiful butterfly. I did not wish to speak about it after I heard that part.
He is playing when I emerge, and he does not acknowledge me as I eat the presented meal. As I do, I watch him, caught up in terrible thoughts. Is he as unhappy as I am? Does he wish for something more? How do I not please him? Why is he still so terribly angry? I have given him everything. Everything. I have done every single thing he has asked of me. And still we sit in silence, uncomfortable, both unwilling to admit that there is something dreadfully wrong.
After I finish, he beckons me over to the organ, and I begin a voice lesson. There is no more joy in music now. It is only something to pass the time, something to lose myself in for a few precious hours of the day. However, my lesson only lasts a few minutes before he stops, frowning up at me.
"You are not focused," he says. "What troubles you?"
"N-nothing," I say. My entire jaw is trembling from the cold. It hurts, and it makes my whole mouth tense. I cannot open it wide enough to let the sound out.
"Your posture is terrible," he comments further, eyeing me, displeased. I am hunched over just a little, trying to conserve body heat. He stands and circles me, still frowning deeply. "Are you ill?"
I shake my head quickly. "I'm fine."
"Then straighten up," he says coolly. "I taught you posture years ago. It should be engrained in you."
Yes, it is engrained in me, but I am shivering and cannot help but try to warm myself. He returns to the organ, beginning the music again. However, I do not manage to get an entire line in before he stops, lifting his hands from the keys in a defeated manner. Sighing haggardly, he runs his hands through his black hair before looking at me once again.
"Why are you not in good voice today? These behaviors you are exhibiting will have deleterious influences on your voice."
"I…" I cannot form a reply to something I do not understand, and I look at him in confusion.
"Deleterious means harmful or injurious," he says, and I avoid his gaze and blush at my own stupidity. "Now answer my question."
"I—I simply do not feel like singing today," I say. When I look up to see his eyes, I add quickly, "I'm sorry."
There is an expression in his gaze that makes me even more ashamed and afraid, and I revert to staring at his shoes—something that has rather become a habit. Erik has recognized this gesture as my pathetic way of pleading with him to not be angry at me.
"Very well," he says softly, coldly. "What does my wife wish to do with her time since she refuses to sing correctly?"
I fidget childishly with the tassels of my shawl. It is very beautiful. Erik presented it to me the day before we married. He was constantly besieging me with gifts, as if all of the pretty trinkets would make up for a forced marriage and a life stolen from me. After the second and final night of intimacy, the gifts stopped.
"Perhaps…" I glance at him quickly and then continue, my voice as quiet as I can make it. "Perhaps an opera…"
"Do not mumble so, Christine. It is unbecoming in a woman."
I feel nerves build as I clarify, "Perhaps an opera…sometime…"
"An opera? Why should I wish to see an opera? I have no reason anymore. You are not in them. You are here, with me, though you refuse to sing…No. No operas. That drivel beats into my head and creates the most insufferable of migraines. Perhaps if the Opera House was blessed with talent…But it is not." He tidies up the organ and then stands. "I suppose I will venture out for supplies, since you will not sing today. I will not be long. Behave while I am out."
He leaves, and I do not have the courage to ask him to light a fire before he departs. I sit in front of the empty hearth, tempted to try it myself, though I know that with my luck, I would burn down his house. He would be most upset if that happened.
I pull out some bread and cold cheese for my supper, and I manage to brew tea. I have not made tea for him since we married. Once…when he had first brought me down here for those awful two weeks, I had done so. He had choked on the tea I presented and had then told me that he despised all kinds of tea save for a Russian flavor with lemon. I do not know how to make it. I have never asked him to show me.
I do not want to greet him when he returns, and so I retire to bed early after cleaning up my supper. I manage to warm a little cocoon of the bedclothes, and for a glorious moment, my shivering subsides.
Sometime later, I hear him enter. There are the usual sounds of him putting away the supplies and groceries he picked up, and I close my eyes tightly, willing myself to fall asleep before he enters. It is very early. Perhaps he will read before coming to bed.
However, several minutes later, the door opens and closes. I can never pretend to be asleep with him. He always knows. And so I watch him as he approaches.
"Are you well, my wife?" he says, pressing a freezing hand to my forehead. I nod instantly, hoping he will withdraw his touch.
"I am tired," I murmur.
"Of course." He slides in behind me, reaching for me as he always does. He is cold, and he has been outside. My warm cocoon is quickly broken, and my body violently protests the temperature. His frame shapes itself to mine, and as the night continues, I close my eyes and wish that I was in heaven with Papa.