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What though that light, thro' storm and night,
So trembled from afar—
What could there be more purely bright
In Truth's day-star?
—Edgar Allen Poe, The Dream
When I pause to listen, I hear that the water from the broken pipe has stopped, but Erik still does not come out. He is, presumably, repairing the spout and cleaning up the water damage. I cannot fathom the depths of his genius. He is a complete virtuoso in countless aspects, and yet he is condemned to live out his life underneath an opera house—with a miserable, sickly little girl for a wife. Erik deserves monuments and awards. He should have married a beautiful, intelligent, sophisticated, elegant woman. He should be renowned for everything he does, and yet he is repairing a broken pipe in his hateful wife's washroom instead. His face…his unfortunate, horrible face…
As I think of Erik, a complete, inexplicable rush of care overwhelms me. It is the feeling that calmed me during my first two-week stay with him, the feeling that told me that I could not hate him. The feeling has always been there, but it has been buried deeply, hidden away, and yet now it is back.
This poor, broken creature, who has never known love, never been taught right or wrong, never been touched out of affection, is trying to give me whatever tatters of his heart he can in the only ways he knows how. He does not know how to treat a woman, much less a wife, and I am cruelly making his unintentional shortcomings his own faults and flaws.
I touch the crucifix around my neck once again, and I know what to do.
Glancing at myself once more, pleased with the renewed look of vigor and purpose in my eyes, I rise from the vanity stool and walk into the front room, my blankets trailing behind me still. I am pleased to see that Erik must have lit a fire before attempting to retire. It has burned low, almost to embers, and I move the guard quickly and place more logs onto the small little flames, making sure that they catch fire. There is a strip of water left from when I was dragged in, and I take a dry cloth from the kitchen and mop it up as best I am able.
I work quickly, anxious to be finished before he is out of my washroom. And as I work, I realize that I am smiling. It is a small smile, true, but a real smile!—a smile that has not touched my lips in what feels like years. It is wonderful, and I allow my lips to stretch a little more as I hurry back and forth from my room, my arms full. I remind myself to pray later in gratitude for what has been revealed to me. I am so busy with motion and excitement that I do not notice the chilly air of the house or the darkness lingering in the corners.
After everything in the front room is set and I have the necessities from his room, I go back to my room and examine myself in the mirror once again. I apply soothing lotion to my dry hands and brush my tangled hair, fixing it as best I can. With some dismay, I realize that I have not taken care of myself very well, and I feel ashamed of my terrible state. But when I remember that I have many, many weeks to remedy this, my spirits lift once again.
When I can think of nothing else to do, I wait outside the washroom door, practically dancing with my nerves, listening to the silence from within. I do not know how he will react, but I wish to show him that I am ready to change, to move on, and…to forgive and forget. I must forgive him. He will know. He will see the lie if I attempt it. I can only hope that he will feel the same.
Finally, the handle turns, and I feel a swoop in my stomach that sometimes came just before I walked onstage. He looks supremely surprised to find me right outside the door, shifting my weight in my dressing gown and slippers.
"It is fixed," he says, his voice smooth though slightly suspicious.
"Thank you," I say.
There is a moment of silence. I am not sure how to proceed. He does not wish to linger in it, for he says hollowly, "I shall leave you for the evening, then. I am sorry my presence is so disgusting."
"No!" I say, darting in front of him. "Erik, I…" I swallow a little in nervous excitement and say shakily, "I have a surprise for you."
Amazement flashes over his glowing eyes but is quickly beaten back.
"I do not like surprises," he says.
"You will like this one," I promise. "Please, let me show you!"
He stares at me, blank disbelief evident. "Are you ill?" he asks abruptly. "Did you hit your head in the lake? Did you drink too much of the water? Tell me what the problem is."
I force an anxious smile. "The problem is that you are not letting me show you."
He sighs exasperatedly and rubs the back of his head. "Christine, I am very tired. I would prefer to go straight to my room. Perhaps tomorrow…"
"No, it must be tonight!" I insist. "It will only take a minute, and then I promise you may go to sleep."
"Fine," he snaps irritably. "Allow me to change out of my wet clothing, and then you may show me."
I seize a pile of dry clothing from the top of my vanity and hold them out to him. "I brought fresh clothes for you," I say, blushing just a little. "The surprise is in the front room."
To my relief, he does not mention anything about me entering his room uninvited. He merely snatches the clothes out of my hand, and I leave the room for a moment so he can change in privacy. I chew my lip and make some last-minute adjustments to the surprise before hurrying back to the door.
What if he does not like it? What if he becomes so terribly angry once again? It is not fancy or elegant…it is the best I could do, a meager offering that seems pitiful compared to being a true, loving wife. If he becomes upset by this, I will not know what to do. I will simply break down into tears, I am sure, for they are my well-trod path of turbulent emotions when I am dealing with Erik.
The handle turns, and the door opens, revealing Erik.
"You brought me my sleeping clothes," he says, annoyed.
"Yes," I say, unable to hide the anxious tremor in my voice. He glances at me and then brushes past before stopping suddenly when he sees the surprise.
There is a moment of palpable silence, and I come to stand next to him, looking to gauge his reaction. His eyes are narrowed, his hands clenched.
"What is this?" he says.
I step closer to the fireplace. "Our bed," I say uncertainly.
Every blanket I could find has been arranged neatly on the floor in front of the fireplace. I have pushed the front table away, with difficulty, and into a corner, and the fireplace is burning merrily with the logs I placed in it. The pillows from my own bed are positioned at the top. I could never dream of shifting the large, bulky mattress into the front room. It is still in its frame, bare.
"You do not mind sleeping on the floor, do you?" I ask, somewhat fretfully. "The rug makes it very comfortable, but if it bothers you too much, then…I understand."
He is staring at it, as if unable to believe. He then turns to look at me.
"You are mocking me," he says slowly, painfully.
"No!" I say. I rush to him and look, but do not touch. He gazes down at me, his glowing eyes full of hurt. "No. I…I must apologize for my behavior earlier this evening. I was…inconsiderate and childish. I shouldn't have said the things I did."
"You are apologizing for speaking the truth?" he breathes. "You are apologizing to me after I threw you into a filthy lake and practically drowned you in your own bathtub?"
I swallow and nod. He continues to stare, now angered and bewildered.
"I want you to be angry with me," he suddenly says. His eyes are burning. "I want you to hate me and never forgive me. I do not want your apologies, and I do not want that." He points to the bed of blankets.
When I quiver under his gaze, I remember my conviction and realize that I mustn't lose this battle. If I do, I do not know if I will have the courage to try again, and so I say pleadingly,
"I know that that is not true. Please. Let me forgive you. Know that I am not angry and sleep beside me."
"I will keep you awake, as you have already said." His voice is short and impatient. "I am cold—too cold."
"Which is why the bed is by the fireplace," I say. I take a few steps toward it, hoping he will follow. He does not. I feel desperation in me. I am still afraid, still unsure, but this attempt at love and understanding is the only way I have not taken. If this pathway does not lead to happiness, then I know that nothing will. "Please, ange," I bid softly. "You do not have to forgive me, but at least let me sleep beside you."
I can see the effect of calling him 'angel.' I have not called him angel in so many months. He takes a few jerky steps toward the bed. I slip off my dressing gown and lie down, surprised at the warmth that lingers in the blankets. Slowly, Erik shrugs off his dark robe as well, looking odd in his sleepwear. He is always dressed so immaculately, and I have never seen him in sleeping clothes. Stiffly, he lays beside me, rigid, staring at the ceiling. He will not touch me. I roll over to face him and make myself smile.
"Thank you," I say softly.
He turns his head away, his mask dully reflecting light. It is still chilly, so I nestle between the many layers of sheets and blankets, curling for warmth. I gaze up at him, so silent and still, and I venture to say:
"What happened…I…I am sorry. I should not have denied you your right to—"
"Be silent," he interrupts coldly. "Do not say things you do not understand."
I swallow harshly and close my eyes, pushing away the sting that comes with his curt command. It is strange to think that the day is ending like this. But I find myself feeling glad that it is as it is, instead of us sleeping in different rooms with hurt feelings and terrible tempers. I take one last look at him and fall deeply asleep.
This odd game continues for many, many nights. He seemed to think that it was only meant for one, because the night after when he saw me dragging the blankets back into the front room, he had demanded to know what I was doing. And when I told him, he was dumbfounded.
After a few weeks, however, he is accustomed to it. He even helps me. When the time for bed comes, he pushes away the table and stokes the fire as I carry blankets and pillows. It is a small, cautious step toward our happiness, and I am willing to wait for him. Erik is guarded and wary, and he is still reluctant to accept this good thing.
We change into our sleepwear and enter the front room. Whenever I see him standing in front of the fire in his dressing gown, I realize that I have never fully appreciated what a striking figure he cuts. He is very tall and looks nearly regal in his black robe, with his black hair shining in the firelight. He turns and, to my immense surprise, manages to smile cautiously at me. It is small, and it is not exactly true, but the smile is there. I smile back. Although there is still some tension between us, it is no longer thick. A month ago it felt almost tangible, but now it is growing smaller with each passing night.
Quietly, we slide under the blankets. I strike up a conversation about the current opera, and I watch as he speaks quietly. We have never spoken in bed like this before. It is comfortable, and I find myself smiling as he talks to me. It stretches my lips. For a while, there is nothing but his soft tone and the occasional pop from the fireplace, and I lean into my pillow, feeling that I could sink into a blissful sleep.
"Am I boring you?"
I realize my eyes are shut and open them quickly.
"Of course not!" I say, yawning. "Your voice is just so lovely…like a lullaby...And I'm simply tired."
To my surprise, he chuckles warmly. "Then I am boring you. Go to sleep, chérie."
The term of affection nearly brings tears to my eyes. The last time he had called me something other than a cruel, sarcastic 'my wife' had been the morning of our wedding. I had been trying to control my tears, and he had attempted to soothe me by saying timidly, "I love you very much, ma chere." After that, the soft words stopped. They have returned, and they mean more to me than I had realized.
One evening, to my delight, he takes me outside. It is a cold evening. Snow blankets the available surfaces, and the hem of my dress becomes wet. I shiver at Erik's side, and my breath spirals up. The night is perfectly clear, and it is bright. I breathe in the cold air, feeling my lungs expand with the delicious night breeze. We do not stay out long because of the temperature, but I still enjoy myself, even with my ever-silent companion. When we enter the house by the lake, I go to my room to clean up a little for dinner. I look into the mirror, and I am rather pleased to note that my skin is flushed pink from the outing and that the dryness and thinness are disappearing. My hair looks better, and I do not have deep shadows under my eyes anymore. I allow myself a rather nervous smile. It looks more natural—still anxious, but not forced.
At dinner, I feel his flickering gaze on me occasionally, though neither of us speaks. I focus on my meal. I have found that my appetite has returned. I am gaining back the weight that was lost after I married Erik. The food tastes good to me now.
"You used to smile often."
I pause and look at him. He is now watching me openly, his cutlery abandoned on the table. He continues:
"When you were in the opera…You smiled. It was always exquisitely beautiful."
I resist the urge to fidget in my seat. Instead I put my utensils down and say, "I still smiled after I left."
"No. You stopped after our wedding." He pauses, almost thoughtfully. "Now, however…sometimes I see you smile. They are not the same, but that is…understandable. Perhaps one day they will be the same." He looks at me, as if wanting me to tell him that.
"Perhaps they will," I say, and I smile at him. His mouth twitches as if wishing to smile as well, but his glowing eyes more than make up for his lips' lack of movement.
The music is slowly coming back as well. I am less averse to singing or listening to him play. He will not play me pieces he has composed—not yet—but he plays Mozart so beautifully that I am willing to wait.
There are timid touches now. He never touched me out of the bedroom, but now he gives very tentative, brief touches—caresses, sometimes. They are never inappropriate. He always looks at me, watching to see if I will disapprove or pull away, but I never do. He is trying. He is trying to love me in a different way.
I am trying to love him, too. One afternoon, I ask him if he would like tea. He looks at me in surprise but declines—he does not like the tea that I make, and I know this. I then ask him if he will show me how to prepare the tea he enjoys. He obliges, and his voice is soft, gentle, as he teaches me. The next day, I bring him his Russian tea, and he carefully strokes the back of my hand with his fingers as he takes the cup. There is a cautious hesitancy we are afraid of breaking. I do not want to push him into anger or pressure him into discomfort. He is doing so well.
"Are you still very sad here?" he asks. I look at him. His teacup is set to the side, and he is watching me carefully. He continues: "Do you still hate me very much?"
"No," I say to both questions, completely truthful. He looks surprised at the answer and spends the rest of the evening in contemplative silence.
Several nights later, I wake during the middle of the night. I blink sleepily and yawn. After a moment, I realize that it is quite impossible to move, for I am curled up in Erik's embrace. He is deeply asleep, his breathing relaxed and steady. I am being held close to his heart, and I can hear it beat.
I stare into his chest. His sleeping shirt has been pulled somewhat, and I see an expanse of his chest, so thin and white. Did he pull me closer after I fell asleep? Surely not, for he has not reached for me once since we started this strange habit. Did I roll into his awaiting arms? Did we find each other in our dreams? When we used to sleep in the bed in my room, I would sometimes wake simply because of the coldness of his skin. However, it feels as though we have been in this position for many long hours now. And…to my further surprise…I find it extremely comfortable. The fire is a dull, hot glow around the room, and it casts a shadow over Erik's masked face. Shaking just a little, I reach up and lightly touch his lips, realizing that I have never really felt them. They are thin, too thin to be considered soft. His warm breath flutters around my fingers. My fingers pull down to his chin and then onto his neck. I find a line and follow it to his collarbone, which is deep and sharp. Then my wandering fingers take me down to his somewhat-exposed chest, and I feel the hard bone of his sternum beneath my fingers. It is odd…to think of Erik having many of the exact same qualities as any other man. I have always viewed him as something…not human. He is too smart and capable to be a normal man. Before I go any further, I feel him move slightly, and I instantly pull my hand away and shut my eyes.
A moment later, I hear a change in his breathing. I do not move.
"Christine…?" My name is whispered sleepily. I expect him to pull away when he realizes that his arms are around me. To my surprise, however, he does not. He simply lies there in silence, knowing that I am awake, waiting for me to dictate the outcome of this night. To answer his question, I give a tired yawn and pull the blankets up to my chin, though I do not move away from him. I can feel the shock radiating off of him, but I am still sleepy, and so I merely shift into a comfortable position in his arms and fall asleep once again.
After that night, I have no further misgivings about sleeping in his arms again. I know he does not reach for me greedily. He does not take advantage of this journey we are on. There is now something oddly comforting about it. I feel very…protected, and though we never speak about it, I know that he is enjoying this new discovery as well. Every few evenings we become a little closer, a little more comfortable. It is a delicious learning experience, for I am discovering more about Erik than I could have ever dreamed.
He admits to liking the smell of summer rain, to which I eagerly agree, as well as having a strange affinity for pocket watches.
"I shall show you my collection," he says, lightly touching a curl of mine. "I have dozens of beautiful watches. I really cannot tell you why they so appeal to me. It isn't as if time matters down here."
I also lower the high, cruel wall I have built. One evening, he is watching me quietly, and I am tracing the patterns of the blanket with my fingers. To my surprise, his hand reaches out, and he touches my cross necklace.
"I have never asked you about this piece," he says softly, and he holds the cross between his fingers. "I do not recall ever giving it to you."
"I forgot to take it off before I came out," I say absently, for I do not sleep with jewelry on, save my wedding ring. "It was…it was a present from my father, actually, right before he died."
His glowing eyes flicker up to mine before returning to the necklace, and he examines it more closely, though there really is nothing to see. It is simply a little cross necklace that means a great deal to me.
"Religion was very important to him, I assume," Erik says, and when he adjusts the necklace in his hands, the back of his fingers brush my skin. I try to fight a small blush.
"Yes, of course. He was a very good man, and though we were never wealthy, he always said that God had blessed us with more than we could ever need."
Erik is silent, and he allows the cross to fall back on my skin. However, his hands reach out again, and they go around my neck. Carefully, he feels for the clasps of the necklace, and he unhooks them, pulling it off of me and then holding it out.
"You wouldn't want to break it by sleeping with it on," he says, his voice still soft.
I take it with a thank you and carefully set it aside, where I will be sure to remember it in the morning. We both fall asleep, and I feel that our silence is a reflective one.
He is so very gentle, and I feel just a little happier every day. I must feel happier. I look forward to the time to retire. All pretenses are dropped. He is no longer a strict tutor, and I am no longer an obedient pupil. We are simply man and woman, husband and wife. It is nice with the fire blazing behind him and his eyes glowing gently at me. I do not feel troubled by him or his mask or his long hands. And when I think of those weeks ago, when I was cowering from him, when he was cold and aloof and distant, I know that I cannot return to that—not after I have seen and tasted the bond we share. It had been there when he was an Angel, but it had disappeared after I learned of his deception. Now it is coming back, slowly, patiently, and I am thankful for it.
One late night, I am feeling particularly awake, and I wriggle about, unable to fall asleep.
"Something troubles you?" comes the quiet inquiry.
I say, "I cannot sleep."
He opens his eyes and rolls on his side to look at me.
"Are you cold?" he asks. There is a tint of fear behind his words.
"No," I say quickly. "I am very warm. I just am not tired at all." I watch him for a moment. "Will you talk with me?" I ask hesitantly.
"Of course," he says.
I blush a little. "If you are tired, please sleep. I wouldn't want to—"
"Christine, I am fine. Please, say whatever you would like."
I smile at him, thanking him silently, and his eyes glow affectionately.
"What shall we discuss?" I say.
"Whatever you desire," he replies.
I push myself up and lean my head against my hand, watching him from my elbow.
"Will you tell me a story, ange? Maybe it will help me sleep."
I can tell how much it pleases him when I call him Angel. Perhaps I have grown too much to use that word, but it is something I feel I need.
Erik obliges to my childish request. "Of course. Which one would you like to hear?"
I think for a moment and cast my eyes over the books that line the walls. They can barely be seen in the dull light, but my eyes are caught by one with beautiful silver lettering on the spine. I recognize it.
"A fairytale," I say, looking back at him.
His eyes move in such a way that I can tell he has cocked an eyebrow. "A fairytale?"
I nod. "Tell me the one my father used to tell me—with the terrible witch and the beautiful princess."
He laughs a little. "I am afraid that there is a terrible witch and a beautiful princess in almost all fairytales, ma chere. You shall have to be more specific."
"It has a spinning wheel in it," I clarify.
"One of Perrault's dreadful tales?" he says distastefully. He then realizes what he has said and rectifies hastily, "Of course I shall tell it to you."
I lean back onto my pillow expectantly, watching as he begins.
It is the fairytale Papa loved best. His Swedish stories were always wonderful, and he told them beautifully. But I dearly loved the tale of the beautiful princess cursed to sleep for one hundred years. Erik tells it magically, and I smile at him as he speaks. He is a wonderful story-teller. I find it such a pity that I am one of the few people on earth who know this. It is terrible that all of his magnificent talent is hidden away under the earth.
But, wondrously, he seems content to tell me a simple fairytale. During the course of it, he has propped himself up on his elbow, exactly like I was. He watches me intently as he speaks. It is very intimidating, and I gaze at his eyes, entranced.
However, I reach up to try touch his face, and the moment is broken. There is fear in his eyes—anger and hurt—and he leans away and lies down quickly, leaving the story unfinished. I am ashamed and embarrassed.
I turn to look at him. He is watching the stone ceiling, his mouth set in a straight line. I shift closer and feel him flinch when I touch him lightly. We have never spoken of our nighttime embraces.
When I push myself to look at his eyes, he turns his face away.
"Are you going to finish the story?" I ask softly.
He is silent, staring in the opposite direction. I bite my lip for a moment, wondering if I should pursue this issue. Erik is a volatile man. No amount of love can completely change him. I know this. And though it somewhat frightens me to think that he will still fall victim to his insufferable tempers, I must learn to be strong. If I am to be here, with him, I must learn to weather the storms as they come. If I am damaged too frequently, too intensely, then I will die.
"You stopped at my favorite part," I say at length. "The prince went to the tower and found the princess sleeping. She was very beautiful—the most beautiful woman that he had ever seen. He kissed her sleeping lips, she woke, and they married and were happy until their death."
"Do you not like that story?" I ask.
"I care nothing for it," he says instantly. "I have no opinion."
"I love it," I say. "It is magical to think that a simple kiss can wake her."
"It is foolish," he says, at last looking at me. "A kiss cannot solve anything."
"Perhaps you have never experienced it," I say. His eyes widen behind the mask. I continue, trying hard not to betray myself and my courage. "Perhaps you have never had a kiss that makes you believe that anything is possible."
"You're right," he says, his voice ugly. "I have not. But you have had your fair share, haven't you?"
I refuse to let him be the victor of this. This is merely another step in our journey, and I must pull him along with me. Slowly, hesitantly, I move closer to him, leaning against him as I lower my head slightly. I expect him to move away from me, but he merely watches, as if seeing if I will do it.
His breath against my lips is trembling. I can feel his heart beat wildly against my chest. I allow us those few moments of trepidation, and then I press my lips against his.
We have never kissed before. Even during those terrible, intimate moments, he never kissed my mouth. Now I feel his thin lips touching mine. They are still, and I lean in a bit more, hoping he will respond. He is immobile under me, and I bring my hand up to find the visible portion of his chest, stroking it with trembling, unsure fingers. I gently tug on his upper lip, urging him to answer to my touch.
When he finally does, it is heartrending. He is so very cautious, so very unsure, as if expecting me to stop him at any moment. It is a tender, sweet, slow kiss. A shaking hand comes to run through my curls. He is afraid, and he is inexperienced. I have only kissed Raoul before this, and though I do not count myself as an 'experienced' woman, I draw on that knowledge to teach. When I tilt my head to deepen it, I feel my lips brush his mask.
This final barrier between us—the thing that has been the cause of all of this—is now building another wall. The piece of shaped leather that separates us has pushed us apart too many times. I do not want it blocking yet another aspect. I reach for the ties, willing myself to be strong, to control the shaking in my hand, and hoping he will neither notice nor care.
When my fingers touch the ties, he shifts under me instantly and grabs my wrist. We pause.
"No," he says against my lips.
"Please, ange," I whisper. "Trust me."
There is a tense moment of silence, and he does not release my hand.
"Not yet," he pleads. "Not yet." He sounds rather close to tears.
I pause and then acquiesce, though reluctantly. There is time, I tell myself…time for everything down here. There is time for his love, time for his face…time for my love, time for our marriage bed, time for our happiness.
A soft, shuddering cry comes from his lips, and I brush them with my own once again. He slips his hand around to the back of my neck and pulls me even closer.
"I love you," he gasps against me. "Oh, how I love you…"
He has not said that to me in months, and the words warm me more than anything. I smile and know that perhaps soon I will be able to say those words back. It will take more nights of this—this gentleness and tenderness. And when I do…I will be ready to try once again. I will welcome him back as my husband and encourage him when he is afraid. I will not shirk from his touch or turn my face from him when he loves me. We will be happy and content.
I let him kiss me for a while longer, until he is sobbing against me. He pulls me to him, clutching at me tightly and pressing his masked face into my neck. I put an unsteady hand on his hair and stroke it carefully, feeling his frame shudder with his wracking sobs.
"Ange, please do not cry," I bid softly.
He begs for forgiveness—he pleads with me not to abhor him. He continues to cry how much he loves me, how much he adores me, and though Erik has done so many unforgiveable things…I feel resentment and bitterness slipping away.
His weeping slows, yet he holds me still, clasping tightly, and he shudders and trembles with the effects of his tears. Slowly, his breathing evens and then deepens, and he falls asleep, no doubt exhausted. I look at him—at this damaged man who has been shunned at every turn—and I do not have the familiar feelings of fear and anger. Instead, I feel the weight of care—now that I am his wife—and a semblance of peace and hope.
Carefully, I kiss his sleeping lips and then the space above his heart. And with the warmth of my new discovery filling me, I settle into his arms and sleep.