A piece of writing based on the 'Phantom of the Opera'.
The legend of the Phantom of the Opera was originally brought to light by Gaston Leroux in his novel of the same name.  It is the tale of a hideously disfigured musician who lived deep beneath the Paris Opera House in the early 1880's and his obsessive love of a young singer named Christine Daae.  The story has inspired numerous films and books, and is the subject of a hit West End musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  The central character, the phantom (or Erik) has touched many individuals around the world, and is the subject of endless discussion on the net and has the slavish devotion of thousands of people.  (er...myself included). Which I'm sure he would have found highly amusing.

London
April 1915

My dearest Meg,
It was so good to hear from you after these years!  To think that you married the Baron - I can hardly comprehend it - he was always so reserved; he almost seemed scared of you!  You must forgive my lack of communication all these years - I have often thought of you, and wondered what became of you and your mother, but I had no idea of how I would find you.  Again, I am so pleased that you found me!

It is hard to know where to begin when I have such a story  to tell, such an explanation to give.  You deserve an explanation after my treatment of you; it is shameful that you should read of that most wretched of times in the pages of a lurid novel.  I am so glad that unlike you, M. Leroux was unable to find me - I can think of almost nothing worse than having that man question me on this matter - for is he said to be loud and vulgar, and I find it odd that he should have chosen to relate my story to the world.  Meg, you must remember that the decisions I made were those of a frightened, lonely girl, barely out of her childhood - that they would not be the decisions that I would make now is of no consequence; I cannot allow myself to regret.

As you know I began at the Opera two years after the death of my father, although I had been living in Paris for several months studying voice at the Conservatoire.  To say that I merely felt saddened at the loss of my father would be a gross understatement.  Two years after his death I still felt the slow ache of grief almost as keenly as the day he had died.  I felt as though my life was taking place in a drawing, everything was so colourless and flat.  It was as though I was observing the world through a window, never able to take part, to hear others or to make myself heard.  I would sit motionless in my room for hours, for to do anything at all required enormous effort.  I have no idea how I managed to make it to rehearsals, except that they provided a brief release from my glass prison, as I would step into the pretence of the show and forget.  I remember you teased me for being such a dreamer, but my dreams  - a least for a while - were my deliverance from death.

So it was in this state of mind when I had so little grip on anything apart from my own emptiness (and when was the last time you held onto a hole?), that I met an Angel.   I had been moved to a dressing room far away from the rest of you, and no-one knew why, not even the managers.  At first I was a little disappointed to move away from the rest of the girls and their wild talk, but I grew to relish to warm silence of that room; it was sanctuary from the whirl that seemed to engulf the rest of the Opera.  You would often come to that room and make sure I was all right - I know you were worried that I might do something strange...if only you had known the true extent of the strange things I got up to in there, you would have visited me far more often!  One evening after a performance, I was slumped in my chair wishing never to move again.  My eyes had closed, and I began, I believed, to slip into a dreaming sleep.  In my dream a soft voice spoke, Christine.  It spoke again, Christine and I opened my eyes, and called for my visitor to come in, for I thought he was outside.  The door did not move, so I went and looked out into the empty corridor.  I suddenly felt my back to be terribly exposed as I realised that the owner of the voice was inside my room.  Summoning all my courage I turned round, only to see my pale reflection in the mirror.  Had my reflection been talking to me? Had I finally slipped over the edge?  And then for the third time the voice - and what a voice! - spoke Christine, do not be afraid.  I am an angel sent by your father in heaven.  I sank to my knees in utter bewilderment as if the floor had disappeared from beneath my feet, and mumbled something about my father's well-being, while an angel informed me that he was sent to bring my voice to its 'full glory'.  He told me that I was to stand up, and that I was to take singing lessons from him every morning in my room.  And I agreed to everything he said.

Thus began three golden months of tuition from the 'Angel of Music'.  I never thought for one moment that to meet regularly with an unseen angel was a somewhat unusual thing to do, or that people would wonder what I did for so long in my room on my own.  The fullness and calm that I had held before my fathers death returned to me, and those hours that I spent with him were full of light and freedom.  The angels voice...I can only describe how I 'saw' it when I shut my eyes and listened.  It was a thick gold rope that twisted and turned of its own accord; caressing, encircling, kneading me.  It was a voice that I experienced with all my senses; it would become part of me, my thoughts and my mood.  And the angel took my own voice and transformed it into something that I did not know, that I did not possess, although it was my throat from which it came.  When I sang with him and for him it was as though I flew, so remarkable was the lightness that I felt within myself. It is strange to describe singing in this way, it is so natural and human a thing, but during those times to sing became the highest point of my life, the peak to which all my life I had been trying to climb. The angel was a strict teacher, but I found myself, in that false world that he and I  created, coming to love him.  Not a fresh, happy first love that girls experience, but a love that was intense, that frightened me, that exalted him; I became tied to him as if he were mine and I were his.  We would sing together words from the Song of  Songs 'I am my beloved and he is mine...'  The angel became my reason for being - there was so little else to tie me to this earth - I lived his voice, for his presence with me. In rare moments of lucidity, I did wonder about my sanity, but those thoughts feared me, and so I would shut them from my mind, as effectively as I did all other thoughts that I did not like.  I shut you out Meg, because I knew, deep within me, that you spoke sense - I knew you thought I was being terribly deluded, and I did not want anything to break my precious dream.

I dare say you were relieved when the handsome Raoul appeared on the scene.  And I was too, as for all my reverie, it was still a great delight to see an old childhood friend.  But it was his presence that proved to the knife which was to slash the cobweb of our dream, and destroyed all that might have been.  His intentions towards me were entirely unexpected - at first I simply enjoyed his boyish charm - it was for my angel that I lived, but gradually, as my friendship with Raoul rekindled, the angel became  increasingly strict, and, it seemed to me, jealous.  I grew to cherish Raoul's solidity and his good temper, while time  spent with the angel was hot and thick with his brooding possessiveness.  I, at twenty, did not want to be possessed! The angel made it clear that if I were to continue under his tuition I would have to stop seeing Raoul - so I would become a 'disciplined performer' - but I, naively, could not see any problem with our friendship, for it was he who still had me caught in his net, and his voice, his very presence gave me such completeness in the depth my being, Raoul, for all his beauty could never match.  As time passed the angel brought my voice to such an extraordinary state, that when, mysteriously, La Carlotta was unable to sing at the gala performance, I was asked to replace her.  Oh Meg, that night when I sang was like nothing I had ever known - not even when singing with the angel in my dressing-room.  It was as though I had ceased to be, and become the music, as though I disintegrated and became my song.  And because I sang for him, and I felt as though I had overcome the boundaries of myself, and burst into the flames of the music.  After that night I was infinitely changed; in singing, I felt I had both given him my soul and celebrated my own death.  The audience went wild.

How could Raoul, for all his sweetness, pull me away from someone who so inspired me, who brought me beyond myself? I was soon to find out.  One afternoon, a few weeks after the 'famous' gala performance, at the end of my voice lesson, I asked  my angel to show himself to me.  It was an innocent question fuelled by my girlish imagination; naturally, I expected the owner of that golden voice to be gold, and longed to 'behold his glory.'.  The reaction the angel gave shocked me as he told me that I was not to ask such rude and foolish things again.  And with that he left me alone in my room, without a word.  For several days I would arrive in my room expecting to resume my voice lessons, but the angel was not there, or if he was, he refused to make his presence known to me.  It was only then that I realised the full extent of my addiction to his voice and his music, and as each day past without my hearing him, I grew increasingly tense, and, I think, sad.  I missed my angel, Meg, I missed his company, the feeling I got when I was with him of being completely known.  Does that sound strange? For when I was with him I had no need to act the coquette, to flirt or to flatter him.  I simply was; it was like being with someone I had known for a very long time.  And he made me laugh - I believed I shared secret, delicious jokes with an angel!  He delighted me!  - and then he was gone. And I was left to spend to my afternoons looking at Raoul's strong jawline...Finally he asked me why I was so pale, why I was no longer his sweet little girl - and I told him of my angel and of his sudden disappearance - and he laughed and told me I was deluded and should rest, perhaps I would like to go to the country for a while? You and he, my only 'earthly' friends, who disbelieved my story!  I became frightened of myself, I began to think I had imagined it all, that - horror of horrors - I was indeed losing my mind.

But the lie was revealed by the one I person I knew to be true.  After a performance, I was collasped in my dressing room chair, again trying my old trick of not moving, and, it seemed, returning to that state of grim depression that had held me before I met that angel.  Without warning a voice - his voice - spoke, enlivening my cold silence.  Oh! to hear him again was like a long drink of pure water on a hot summer's day, life-giving and vital.  I stood up, "Angel!"
Tonight you shall know me, and he began to sing, his voice seeming to come from directly behind my mirror.  Instinctively I walked towards it, and suddenly - I cannot say how - the mirror flicked upwards and back and his voice became unmuffled and pure, and I perceived in the darkness the figure of a man, who took me by the hand and led me down a long passage.  Why did I not protest?  For it was from that man that the glorious voice came...I was held enraptured by it, and my only thought was to be where it was.  I paid no attention at the time to where he led me, but I can tell you now that he took me to his house, which was built in the fifth and lowest cellar beneath the Opera House and that we crossed a lake in a boat to arrive there.  We arrived in his house, and there I must have come to my senses for I found myself having followed an angel's voice into - it seemed - the very depths of the earth.  And instead of beholding a Golden Angel, I saw only a masked man.  I did not have long to wallow in my confusion for the masked man led me to a little bedroom, full of flowers (it's good thing I didn't suffer from hayfever!), and gave me a sweet drink, and sang me a soft lullaby while I fell asleep in the bed.

I awoke suddenly the next morning (there was no sunrise down there - the man had thoughtfully provided a clock for me), with the horrible sensation of not having a clue where I was.  I sat up in the bed and tried with all my might to remember how I got to this mysterious place, but to avail - it was quite disturbing.  I saw a door and decided that I would find where I was by going through it.  I opened it and saw the masked man sitting in a little drawing-room, who appeared to have been waiting for me, as if my presence there was the most normal thing in the world.  He stood up and gave a little bow, and I stared at him, opened mouthed, still unable to take anything in.  Eventually words came, and I asked him, where's my angel? I believe he smiled under his mask, for the light in his eyes changed; all of his face was covered by the mask, which meant I had to look in the slight movement of his eyes or body to detect those subtle changes of mood that one usually sees in the face.  He replied Christine, there is no angel; there is only me, Erik.  Before I had time to make into words my confusion, he put his forefinger to his mouth, and whispered shhhh, I will explain later, first you must eat, and with that he produced a meal of bread and rich coffee.  And so I found myself far below the Paris Opera with a masked man who said his name was Erik, and who was intent on looking after me, lavishing all his attention on what he perceived to be my every need.  And yet this strange man was the owner of that angelic voice with whom I'd spent so much time, but I could not believe what I was seeing; I could not make the connection between the angel that I'd thought I loved and this creature.  He was so different in appearance to what I'd imagined him to be!  Far from being golden, the man - Erik - was dressed entirely in black.  He was tall, almost imposing, and had broad shoulders which made me want to put my hands on them simply to enjoy their strength.  Despite his size, he made graceful, fluid movements, but the sense of disappointment at his not being an angel was crushing, and I think I must have looked very miserable sitting there on the couch.

When I had finished eating ( I was not very hungry at all), Erik got up announced that I was to dress and we were then to begin my lesson.  When he saw the surprise on my face, he told me patiently that my voice was the reason he had brought me here; to give it intensive training before I was finally to leave his guidance.  At the time that seemed a perfectly reasonable explanation, and when I was dressed I followed him into a darker room where, against one wall stood a huge organ.  The walls of the room were decorated with notes, and the words of the Dies Irae (M. Leroux was right about that) written beneath the staves.  He sat down at the organ, and instructed me to warm my voice up with the scales he played, just as normal, and soon we plunged into some aria or another. Unusually I did not find myself carried away with the music, but instead I contemplated the man who swayed before me in time with the rhythms.  Why did he choose to live here?  Was he all alone?  Memories of your wild stories of the 'Opera Ghost' surfaced in my mind.  Was this man the ghost?  He was obviously a very great musician - I had known that all along - why did he choose to teach me?  What was beneath the mask? As he played I watched his hands move across the keys.  He had long fingers that easily covered an octave and a half.  I saw his veins as they meandered over the back of his hand, the curve of the muscle between his thumb and forefinger, his waisted thumbs, the finger ligaments that rippled beneath his skin.  He soon perceived my lack of concentration, and turned and looked at me, and asked what I was thinking about. The mask, that hid so many of his expressions, did not hide his eyes; they were exceptionally pale, having hardly any colour in them at all, and had the curious effect of becoming the colour of his surroundings.  The room was lit by candlelight, and so his eyes appeared to burn orange or yellow.  I have never been looked at since the way he would look at me. It was as though he touched me, tasted me, warned me through his eyes, so intense was his gaze.  It seemed to me that his eyes were knives that would cut through me to my core.  But for the first time I noticed a hint of apprehension, of nervousness in his speech, as if he couldn't quite believe his audacity in bringing me down there.  I told him I thought of nothing but the music, an explanation that he half accepted, and we continued singing.  I looked at his neck, which betrayed nothing of what lay beneath his mask, the skin that dissolved into upward-growing hair at the nape.  I wanted to touch him right there, to dig my thumbs into the flesh of his shoulders, to soothe and comfort him by the warmth of my own hands.  But I did not reach out to bring comfort.  Instead I found myself reaching for that mask.

For many years I would hear in my dreams the terrible cry he let out when I pulled the mask from his face.  The action I made twisted his head round so I caught the full horror of that face, made more wild by his grief.  He stood up and came towards me howling silently, mouthing why why why?  I stumbled back away from him against the wall, unable to breathe for fear of what I'd done, what I was seeing.  He followed me and brought his chaotic, crumbling face very near to mine, so I could feel his breath against my cheek, screaming in whispers; what have you done Christine?  Know what I am! Drink in my beauty with your eyes!  Your glorious angel!  I saw in him that insane white rage one experiences as a child before such feelings are bound by the rational mind.  His musical hands slipped round my neck, those thumbs that I had admired beginning to push behind my throat.  I opened my eyes and mouth wide in utter fear, but mercifully he turned away from me cursing and groaning, holding his head with his hands.  When he had staggered to the centre of the room, he addressed me with his back to me, your lesson will continue tomorrow morning, and he left me standing there in the gloom, with only my huge confusion for company.  I stood for a long while, quite still, close against the wall, stunned by what I'd seen.  His face, Meg, was appalling, a parody of a face, as though someone had attempted to scribble it out.  I knew now why he chose to live down there, in the dark; it would have been impossible to lead a normal life looking like he did.   By pulling the mask from his face I had done the thing I presume he most feared  I had ripped apart his attempt to forget what he was, to be with me like any other man.   I had shown yet again that he was a thing to be feared, to run away from; that I could not see beyond the form of his skin to to the reality of his soul, that he could never be released from the prison of his body.  But as I stood there I realised that I did not fear his face, that my gasp on seeing him was a simple reaction to something that I had not expected.  Is it not true that the memory of the people whom you most love is not of their face, but of the feeling you experienced when with them, or their laugh, or they way they spoke?   I knew that when my father died it was his face that I first forgot, the essence of him lived on in me, unchanged. One does not look into the face of friends and notice the shape of their eyes or the mouth, but one sees them, which is so much more than the outline of their skin on their skull.  I knew that I had to convince Erik of these truisms, to undo a lifetime of hatred; the words I do not see your face, but you, became a mantra I was to repeat many times in the coming days.
 

How we were to bridge the cavern I knew he believed had opened up between us?  We met later that day in the little drawing room, our first words to each other in this new world of knowing spoken tentatively, and awareness of the fragility of our situation hung in the air.  When I apologized for my actions he said, try to forget what you saw, please forget that was me, the thought of my knowing his ugliness to much for him to bear, for it was a constant reminder of that repulsive thing that so continually denied hm what he needed most. For he had learnt by rote the cruellest and most sly of humanity's lessons; that the face is sum total of a person, that love is gained or lost by virtue of the shape of the eyes, the size of the nose.  Had I now most  savagely confirmed to him again that that lesson was correct? So he was no longer my angel, or my strange captor, but a man who raged beneath the mask of his face, buried alive, it seemed, by his own self loathing and the revulsion he inspired in others.  Had he trusted me to find him in his darkness?  But he was not a man to succumb easily to a waking death, and that radiance that I perceived when I knew him as an angel now flowed from him in the passion of his music, the power of his voice and most disturbingly of all, his palpable longing for me. (I may have been young and sweet, but I was not entirely innocent - I knew was held behind his eyes, in his gaze).   We spent that evening reading, our keenly felt tension thinly veiled by our determined attempt at tact; it was hard to say who was the more wary.  As the time passed our mutual disquiet mellowed and I discovered his talent for telling wild stories, and began to relax in his presence.   Although we both found our state of affairs extraordinarily strange, there still remained that friendship between us that had developed during the time when he was my angel, and quite simply, we enjoyed each other.

I stayed with him for a little over two weeks, and we spent that time engaged in my voice lessons, walking around 'his' lake or in the evening around the streets of Paris, the late-night absinthe drinkers seeing things far stranger than a masked man and his young lady.  Our walks around those majestic streets became to us both a glimpse of what perhaps could be between us.  I loved our gentle conversation, those patient words we spoke, slowly drawing each other out towards the light.   But I knew he walked on a knife edge between love and hate; the ease with which our relationship could descend into a blind inchoate madness was often shockingly apparent.  For despite his great regard for me, a pure unformed energy bubbled so close to his surface there were times when I could feel his want physically.  It was his rawness that so frightened me.  I remember once, I was reading in his little front room, when I became aware of him watching me intently.  I asked him what he was thinking, and he said that when he was with me he did not think, he simply was, as if I were, as if I would be, his completion.

I have heard it said that if you give a man a mask, he will tell you the truth; I certainly found that true regarding Erik, for he seemed to attempt to tell me his whole heart.   During our regular walks he would at first tell me the most fantastical stories, so vividly describing the characters that I often believed that if I turned around I would see a great colourful procession of them following along behind us.  We were more alike than I had imagined, both dreamers who could longed more than anything else to sail out to our little dream-island where the deep waters would protect us from harshness of the mainland. When he had discovered that I was an attentive listener he began to tell me the thoughts that had long lain silent in his mind, and I knew that it was a relief for him to be able to unwrap them with me.  As I listened, I became aware of the darkness of his soul, his bitter, corrosive regret for his entire life, and the abyss which he described within himself, that he found too foul to even contemplate.  At times his need to pour out himself to me went beyond his ability to express himself with language, and he would suddenly turn to his song.  I have always found it strange, since knowing Erik, that people associate singing with great joy, for the songs that came from him were black and harsh; hatred distilled into sound, misery the fragrance of the air, now so different from 'angels' song. I would listen, helpless and mute, appalled at my inability to provide any comfort or to soothe his wounds.  On the occasions when we sang together his voice was a river, at times clear and powerful, pulling me along in the undertow of its melodies, at times like a lava flow, hot, destructive and aimed straight at me.  The music he composed seemed that of a shaman, unafraid to plumb the depths and soar to the heights of my, indeed, of human experience.  Yet after several days of my coaxing I convinced him not to wear his mask around his house - at first we both found his nakedness a disconcerting - he because his mask was his only protection from the hate of the world, and I because, well, his face was quite honestly, disturbing.   It was a true measure of his trust in me that he would remove his mask voluntarily; just as he broke my trust, so I would break his.

But down there was a liquid darkness that flooded my eyes, and made me question the very existence of light; indeed Erik said that it was only because I had known light that I experienced darkness; he himself knew nothing of the darkness, but experienced the colours in the air, the music of the silence. He said that darkness was the place to compose music for only there is the mind and spirit closest to their origin, the womb, where the pure music of the unborn can be remembered and recaptured.  In that sightlessness, where I heard rather than saw, felt instead of watched, the horror of his face melted into the blackness, and just as I'd hoped, I ceased to see him but instead knew him.  There were times when he spoke to me that I knew his need, felt his ache so strongly within myself, that it would almost make me cry out in pain, but I could not reach out, I was so bound by my own smallness of heart.  And yet still I feared him because in him I saw the external manifestation of that aspect of myself that I most dread: the knowledge that I am truly alone and in a state of continual unknowingness of every other human being.  I saw his face and recoiled and yet at the same time I felt his pain, because I knew so deeply my own ache of aloneness. In his face I saw the most blatant expression of the captivity of within our bodies that we have felt since the moment of birth, when we were finally spewed from our mother's womb, and became entirely and forever separate from her.  I know the hindrance to true and pure communication that is often placed upon me by my body; my true self masked by crude flesh and bone, and in his face I see this frustration most clearly, and I do not like to be reminded of my eternal isolation.  But I embrace my humanness with all its weakness and am are always driven by some profound optimism towards others, to communicate, to attempt to know and to be fully known.  In him and his actiond I see the depth of that optimism, that essential source of life, and I can only wonder at him.

When I left Erik for the first time I promised that I would come back within ten days, and that he - Raoul - Erik could scarcely say his name without spitting, was not my lover.  We both believed my lies.  During my time with Erik I had discovered a world, a whole realm within myself that I no idea existed.  I discovered him, a living, vibrant man, who had until that time had all but disappeared from humanity, swallowed up and masked by his darkness, who, although immensely powerful, was shackled by the hate of his fellow humans.  How did he manage to exist down there in that black, earthy vacuum?  How he did remember who he was with no-one to remind him, what was it that kept him from disintegration?  The emotional strength that such solitude demanded would have been enormous. He was indeed a ghost-man, who had made himself to others, and perhaps to himself, a memory, a passing shadow -  but he was so alive!  He said to me that he was like Raskolnikov, who had by his actions tried to take himself above humanity, but had failed, and that I was his little Sonya, although he did not think he would find redemption through me, a dark premonition of the things to come. But despite this he said I had brought him life, had given him hope, simple things that most men never think about, but that he, throughout his whole life had been consistently denied.  He spoke to me quietly of his new-found ability to love, my love for you is stronger than the pull of the grave, as if to say such precious words loudly would shatter them or scare me.  Yet despite his tenderness my heart remained barred to him - even now I cannot say why - was it not enough to be loved like this? Oh, it was not his face, I grew used to that, but I was quite simply unable to return his love.  He was dangerous Meg, he burned; he would consume me.

I returned to the world to continue with my work at the Opera, but I found myself, to my shame, clinging to Raoul as a drowning swimmer who clings to anything that floats. To be with him was to climb onto a solid rock and gasp for air after being shipwrecked for days.  He had been frantic with worry during my time away, and had even commissioned the police to search for me.  I realised I loved Raoul for his uncomplicatedness - he demanded nothing of me, but that I was simply there with him - oh, it was a selfish love, but it was easy and enjoyable.  I managed to push Erik and his impenetrable sadness from my mind, and laugh and giggle with Raoul.  I was terribly shallow. I learnt of the murder of Joseph Buquet, and it was not hard to guess to whom the catgut rope belonged.  My angel.  One evening I ran with Raoul to the roof of the Opera house - it was there I believed that I could get as far away from Erik's darkness as possible - and revealed to him everything I had experienced.  Raoul convinced himself that Erik was sure to kill us both if he ever knew of our 'love', and that I must never go back to him.  I was weak and enjoyed the feeling of being so looked after, of escaping from the complexity of the situation before me and have someone else make all the decisions.  I was such a child.  And so we planned to leave Paris after my final performance that week and take a train to Sweden, and get married in the mountains.

But I spoke my betrayal directly to the one I betrayed, for only a few yards from us he must have stood, broken and crushed by every word that passed my lips.  I would not be allowed to leave like this, to slip from his overwhelming love like a sleeping death.  No, after my last performance, it was Erik, not Raoul who met me in the wings, in whose arms I was carried away.  I found myself once again being taken to his house, and as before I did not protest.  But this time there was no song to entice me, no sweet nothings whispered in my ear.  We arrived in his house and he began his own prayer of supplication addressed to me. Christine, Christine, you meant to leave me?  How could you do this to me?  You promised! You lied!  And he spoke and spoke of his love for me, of his great loneliness, of his waking death, of his pain.  And his words grew more angry and bitter until I was quite sure he had begun to hate me for what I'd done.  And who wouldn't have hated me?  I began to cry, for him but mainly for me at my own smallness of heart, and this only incensed him more so he began to shout and roar, fifty years of bitterness still directed at me.  His voice and words became unbearable, and I began run round and round his house, desperate for a way out.  Erik followed me, laughing, tormenting me, and so I screamed and wailed in a vain attempt to block that sound from my ears, the pair of us in a crazy mockery of our Great Duets that we had sung a few days earlier.  Suddenly I came across a door I had not seen before, which flung open at my frantic clawing and let me out onto the banks of the lake.  Without any other thought save from deafening myself to his voice, I plunged into the water, shattering its inky stillness.  I waded in, my skirts billowing around my waist hindering my descent, until mercifully the water started to flow into my mouth, my nose, my ears, and oh, I heard nothing but the loud silence of the water.  I floated there, still and peaceful, and thought, I've escaped!  But my deathly tranquility did not last for long, for I felt his hands grabbing my hair, forcing my chin upwards out of the water, our struggle a watery dance.  He dragged me back to the shore, where we found ourselves standing staring at each other, our irregular, rasping breathing echoing around that cavern.  His shirt clung to his skin and the water on his unmasked face ran in rivulets onto his chest and I had never imagined him so vulnerable, so human.  We stood facing each other, consuming each other in our gaze, suddenly aware of the fierce inequality of love  What were we in that moment? Lovers or haters? It was in that moment that I realised it was I who held the key, who possessed the power of life or death; it was he who was my prisoner.  In that moment I could have reached out and touched him, opened the door and released him, given him life, and we both knew it.  And yet, I did not!  In my terrible inactivity I chose, I sealed our fate, and killed him, before any decision was ever asked of me.  He turned and picked up the lantern and walked wearily back to his house.  It was strange as the light formed shadows on his back that made his shoulder blades look like two little wings.

He stood in the doorway, silhouetted by the light from his house.  Christine?, he called, are you going to come in or do you want me to bring a blanket out?  His sounded so normal, so kind then that I gasped.  I replied that I was coming in, and he disappeared inside.  When I arrived in the front room, Erik emerged having dried and changed his wet clothes.  He handed me a towel, and sat and watched me as rubbed my hair.  The balance of power had changed now, for a while I was his gaoler, but the moment did not last long.  From his seat he said quite calmly, Christine you must make a decision, you must choose now.  He got up and beckoned me to a small curtain set over a part of the wall.  It surprised me and I said I didn't know there were any windows here.  He smiled and drew it back, and there was a little window, through which I looked, and to my horror saw Raoul.

I turned to Erik, my eyes wide and my mouth open.  What have you done? I haven't done anything, he replied, he came of here of his own free will, to rescue you, my dear, from me.  What will happen to him? I demanded.  He replied, the room will grow so hot that he will die of thirst, or cause him to loose his mind and hang himself from that branch.  I began to beat with my fists on the window, until he caught my wrists and held them both high above my head.  He brought his face very close to mine, his breath hot on my skin and said he cannot hear you, Christine, you can only save him by staying with me.  I felt the blood drain from my face; this was too much! Condemn Raoul to death or loose my own life down here? You ask too much of me!, I gasped, and then, unexpectedly honest with him, said, to be with you would be to entomb myself, to surrender at twenty to the grave!  And he laughed, and held my wrists still higher until I had to stand on the tips of my toes.  You poor girl!  What sacrifice!  What eternal torment!  I felt my stomach clench, and said weakly, Erik, please let me go.  You're hurting me.  His eyes lost their malice, and he released me and sat down.  It was now my turn to crawl.  I fell on my knees before him.  For the first time in a long while I ceased to think of myself.  You must not harm Raoul, let him go, he does not deserve this!  As my entreaties became more impassioned, so Erik grew more contemptuous of me.  How can I ever trust what you say? You lie.  He spoke the full impossibility if his predicament; I cannot live without you, but you hate me and love another!  I don't love him, Erik, I don't - it's you I love.  At hearing this he spat.  You spoke your betrayal to me!  I was there, with you, when you proposed to him! I heard your of disgust of me!  I fell silent, stunned by what I'd done to him, the extent of my cruelty.  He did not deserve me and my pathetic lies.  All he wanted to was to be loved, to be treated with some scrap of humanity, and yet I, his beloved, could not even give him that.  And what could I do?  If he had released Raoul, he would have brought the whole National Guard back down here with him, Erik would not think of letting us both go, and oh God, I couldn't stay there with him.  Our situation was impossible. What could I do?  I bowed my head and whispered that I was sorry.  Erik sat down again, and said softly, almost sang, you're in me, Christine, an infection, you're like insects in my veins.  I moved away from him and sat in a cold huddle in a corner of the room, my dress still full of water.  Erik remained in his chair, his eyes shut, visibly bracing himself against the waves of misery that were crashing over him.
 
We remained locked into our lonely silences for a long time, but eventually I began  to perceive faint cries from Raoul and another man.  I got up and went to the window of that strange mirrored room, and saw Raoul and a Persian man, lying on the floor.  It seemed to me that they were indeed on the brink of death.  Again I felt my stomach thighten, and again I turned to Erik who was watching me.  They're dying! Please Erik! Don't let them die! What can I do?   He got up and stood directly opposite me.  What can you do?  He spoke very clearly, very deliberately.  You know, Christine, I have never been kissed.  Not even by my own mother.  I stared back at him, waiting for him to continue, but he did not, and only looked helplessly into my eyes, the river that had carried us both this far now rushing towards an immense and terrible waterfall, all choice removed, surrender the only option.  I knew he feared that if he spoke he would cry.  I replied quietly, is that what you want?  He didn't move, aghast at what I was offering, his eyes filled with huge apprehension.  I moved closer to him, my hands enfolding his, appalled at what I was doing, amazed at its tragic necessity.  I was to give all I could; my poor sacrifice for him.  I tilted my head up and placed my mouth gently over his, feeling the soft tingle as our lips touched, the warmth of his blood so close to mine.  And I kissed him.

I am my beloved's and he is mine.

We stood for a long time locked in an embrace, my head resting on his shoulder.  I could hear his heart beating and feel with my arms his laboured breathing.  I held him while he cried.  It was all I could do.  Nothing could be said to heal his sorrow, nothing I could say to blunt the knife of my incapability.  But Meg, even when he held two men's lived in such contempt, even then, I loved him.

When finally we let go of each other he gave me a long look of utter wonder and left the room.  There were no words to express the depth of that embrace, that kiss.  To me a kiss was such a commonplace thing; yet so simple a gesture was enough to change everything.  It would have been so easy for me to have redeemed him completely, to give the love he needed, but I did not.  Shortly he returned with the Persian and Raoul, supporting them on either arm.  Raoul staggered towards me murmuring some words of delight and the Persian stood unsteadily in the centre of the room.  From under Raoul's heavy embrace I could see Erik watching us.  When Raoul finally took hold enough of his senses he turned on Erik, in a vain attempt to protect me.  But as he lurched across the room he tripped and fell and remained there, groaning.  Erik said to me over him that he would release us both, now that he knew I had been his.  Oh!  Over Raoul's prone form he held out a ring and asked me softly if I would do him the great honour of wearing it, at least for a while.  I offered my left hand to him, and he took it and placed the ring on my fourth finger.  He grasped my hand for some time staring at his ring on my finger.  I in turn, stared at him, quite unable to take in the profundity of his action, of what he was doing to me, of what I had done to him.  I was numb, and remained silent. When at last Raoul was capable of standing he took us both out to the lake and gave us the boat and instructed Raoul how to get back.  I made no protest, no action to stop this.  Still I did not choose, and in my terrible inactivity I lied to them both.  I left the man who had opened every pore of my being to see to hear to feel and followed sweet, boring Raoul, back to the surface.  I left the man to whom I owed the world, and went with Raoul, who had taken me out to dinner.  Why?  Because I knew that with him I would die to everything I had known, and still I had no faith in him - I could see nothing of the splendour that lay beyond  - my wake from sleep - the sleep that is necessary to life.  'Whosoever finds his life shall lose it, and whosoever loses his life will find it.'  And in saving my own life, I killed him.  The were no long goodbyes, nothing to mark the enormity of this event in our lives, only the gentle plash of the oars in the water to sound out our parting.

I failed him totally and utterly.  I was not strong enough to bear him, and his sad attempt at self-resurrection.   I left him to be consumed by ravages of his mind and his infernal aloneness, to sink unheeded and forever unloved into the merciless slick of darkness.  I thought only of myself and of my own life.  What would have become of me down there?  I love light, I love colour, I love to see the sun.  I could not live down there with only his terrible face and his maddening music! Yet there was a lifetime of things left unsaid between us, and always, always when I think of him a hard lump of sorrow, like a smooth stone, rises deep within my chest, and I hear his voice singing "My love, my love. I am the one you seek. I am the one who completes you".  And I almost believe he is right.

I did not marry Raoul - we had scarcely left Paris before I realised my mistake in taking my dependence on him for love, and by the time we arrived at Calais I had ended our engagement and resolved to go England.  (M. Leroux, again seems to have Been unable to research his book adequately). That sounds so harsh, does it not, after all he had done for me?  But I had just left one man I had believed I felt no love for - I could hardly fall into in the arms of a man for whom I felt even less. Perhaps I would have gone back to Erik, had I not seen the promised announcement of his death in the newspaper.  I can only assume he died by his own hand.

I managed to rent a small flat in London, and found employment as a singing teacher to the bored daughters of the middle classes.  They found it terribly exotic to have a French singing teacher!  I never sang again on the public stage; all my previous ability seemed to have depended on Erik - now that he was gone, my voice lost its radiance and I lost my will.  How quickly I changed from a girl in love with wild stories of faeries and deluded by angels to a self-employed woman!  How modern I was!  Yet knowing Erik had taught me to see the invisible and the things that are not and to cherish them.  After knowing him I lived my life on a different level - in many ways I had 'died' to my old self.  But I loved the grey anonymity of London, and would often waste time wandering around its streets, making them my memory, trying forget to my sadness.  I missed him - each time I found myself in the dark, I expected to feel his warmth, or hear his voice.

After several years of relishing my spinster-life, I was asked to help organise a little Christmas concert by the parents of one of my pupils.  On the afternoon of the concert I was perched precariously up a ladder trying in vain to decorate a high door arch with a garland of holly.  Suddenly I became aware of a man standing beneath me looking up and laughing at my efforts.  This added to my frustration, and I tried even more furiously to get it to stay.  Which only resulted my dropping the whole thing on top of the man, at which he laughed even louder.  I stomped down the ladder prepared to berate him for not being in the slightest bit helpful, but before I had a chance to speak he introduced himself as Peter, a violinist playing in that evening's concert.  I have encountered Don Juan in all the men I have loved; in Raoul I saw his beauty and youth, in Erik his destructive passion, and in Peter his laugh  - a laugh that can overcome the world.

Peter and I were married the following June.  I invited Raoul, but apparently he was in Africa working for the French government, and I couldn't for the life of me discover where you had gone to.  I loved Peter precisely because he laughed at me, because he treated me as though I had a mind of my own (which by that time, fortunately I did), not as some precious doll to be admired from afar as Raoul had done, or as though I were a goddess to be worshipped like Erik.  He saw me as a woman and did not try to change me into an angel.  We have three children, although they're hardly children now.  John is an Officer in the army and is stationed near Ypres at the moment - and oh, I fear for him every at every breath.  Albert is in  Wandsworths prison for refusing to fight - I cannot say which of my boys is braver.  Rachel, my youngest, was a suffragette before the war, and took great delight in chaining herself to railings chanting slogans, but now works in a munitions factory and is subdued and yellowed by the war, and spends long nights writing letters to her husband who is away fighting.  This is a sad time - La Belle Epoch is well and truly over, but we have a good life together, Peter and I, and I try to block my regret for the choice I failed to make so long ago.  It is strange how we fear the consequences of our actions, but so often it is things that we do not do, that we do not act on, the world we missed, that we most mourn.  But I am a secret bigamist; in the bright rush of days I am Peter's, but in the eternal rhythms of night, in the release of dreams, I belong to Erik.

Meg, I hope that this has been an adequate explanation - forgive me if it was a little long; I do not speak of this to anyone, so you have done me a great service in allowing me to tell you.  We must meet up sometime soon after this awful war is over.  Keep well and send my regards to the Baron.

With much love,
Christine.



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                                                        Naomi Knuckey 1998 1