Angel of Music
Chapter 12 – Angel of Music
Erik rose to his feet, his temper flaring. "How can you say something like that!" he roared at Christine. "How can you pretend I have been an angel to you! Have you forgotten this?" He pointed to the right side of his face, which was safely hidden from her view by the wide brim of his hat. "I am not the butt of your jokes," he continued, "nobody would mistake me for an angel!"
Christine smiled happily. She felt all warm and fuzzy inside at seeing Erik lose his temper. "You are still the same," she whispered. "You have not changed a bit. It is so refreshing to know that you still get angry as easily as you used to." It was so good to know that the memory loss had not affected Erik's personality. Now Christine did not understand any longer how she ever could have been afraid of his temper. She comprehended now that it was a defense mechanism of sorts, that whenever he felt threatened because of his face, he lashed out. It had been that way every time she had pulled off his mask.
Christine rose to her feet as well and put her small hand on Erik's shoulder. "I apologize," she said, "I should have known that you might misunderstand. After all, I know how sensitive you are about your face. Please believe me that no disrespect was intended."
Erik slowly turned to her. He was confused. Her reaction to his outburst was the complete opposite of what he had expected. She did not run screaming, she actually apologized and she was smiling at him as if… At the sight of her beautiful smile Erik relaxed. How could he resist her when she looked at him like that?
"I apologize for my behavior," he finally managed to mumble and Christine's smile deepened. "Accepted," she said. "Now let's sit down again, so that I can explain to you, why I thought you were an angel."
Erik nodded and obediently sat down again. He was curious now. This Christine-girl sounded so sincere, as if she meant what she was saying. As if, at some point in her life, she had really thought him to be an angel. He was still at a total loss, though, how anybody could feel that way about him. An angel – with a face like that? Surely the idea was ridiculous.
"As I said, my dear father died, when I was only seven years old," Christine explained. "Since I had no living relatives who could have taken me in, my father had determined that I should live at the Opéra Populaire, in the ballet dormitories, and train to be a dancer one day."
Erik frowned. Something she had just said sounded familiar. "The Opera in Paris," he murmured, "Nadir once mentioned I worked there before my accident, and it was there that I got injured, during a fire."
Christine closed her eyes to hide her surprise. She almost laughed out loud. Worked there! Indeed, in a way one could probably call it that, and she had a feeling that then Erik had considered his manipulations to be "work". But she was glad she knew now what Nadir had told Erik about his time at the Opera.
Christine nodded. "Well, yes, I guess you worked there," she said cautiously, "You see, I did not meet you at once, I met the other girls and the ballet mistress," she side-glanced at Erik again, to see if this comment had jogged a memory, but could not detect any signs of recognition.
"It was all so new for me," Christine continued. "I was used to freedom, to traveling around with my papa, now I was forced into a strict routine. I had to exercise and work out, and I was so miserable. Losing my father was hard enough, having nobody anymore who cared for me, but having to adjust to this totally different lifestyle made things even harder for me."
She looked up at Erik. "Can you imagine how it feels to be totally alone? Nobody there who cares if you live or die, nobody who is interested in your problems, nobody who would be willing to help you, comfort you? It is hard enough for a grown-up," she continued with a sigh, "and I was only seven years old."
Erik looked at her uneasily. He was not sure why, but her story had touched him on a very deep level, as if he could somehow relate to the way she might have felt as a seven-year-old orphan, as if his childhood, too, had been a lonely and miserable one. As if he, too, had had to go on without a parent's love.
"I think I do," Erik finally admitted. "It must be like when you wish your mother would kiss you, and she never does…" Then he shook his head. He wondered why he had said that. Was that what his own childhood had been like? A mother denying him her love – because of his birth defect?
Christine smiled at him warmly. "Yes," she said, "you understand. That is, back then, you were the only one who understood." She considered for a moment inching a bit closer to him, then decided not to. He was finally starting to open up to her, she would not ruin this by rushing things.
"You see, there was this little chapel at the Opera," she continued. "Among others, there also was a small commemorative plaque for my father, nothing fancy, just his name and a picture. I therefore used to go to that chapel whenever I had a bit of time to myself, light a candle for my dear papa, look at his picture and talk to him."
Christine paused, waiting if her description of the chapel would trigger yet another memory from Erik. When he remained silent, Christine went on. "I usually told my father how much I missed him, how miserable I was in the ballet, and I begged him to come back to me, or to at least send me that angel he had promised me, the Angel of Music."
Erik nodded in understanding. "You needed somebody to comfort you," he stated flatly. "You were only seven years old and you could not cope with the situation alone."
Christine smiled. "Exactly. That's what you must have thought, when one day you overheard me in the chapel talking to my father, asking him why he had not sent the angel yet."
Erik began to see where this was leading. "You asked for your angel and then you saw me and mistook me for him?" he asked anxiously.
Christine laughed. "Not quite," she told him. "I still don't know where you were," she said a bit vaguely, "probably out in the corridor, or an adjacent room, but you must have heard me and you must have felt my need for comfort, for you talked to me – through the wall."
"Through the wall…" Erik whispered, his mouth agape. "You did not see me…"
Christine shook her head. "No, I could not see you. I only suddenly heard a voice talking to me. A disembodied voice, seemingly coming from nowhere. It was the most beautiful, melodious, soothing voice I had ever heard," she blushed a deep shade of crimson. Oh, how she loved her angel's voice, and how she longed to hear him talk to her like that again, so full of understanding, acceptance, love. "The voice of an angel," she whispered, embarrassed.
Erik was intrigued now. "You thought I was an angel because you could not see me?" he asked. "You thought it was some sort of miracle that you heard a voice when nobody was in the room with you?"
Christine nodded. "Yes. But keep in mind how young I was. When you talked to me like that, trying to comfort me, I thought that my father had truly sent me the Angel of Music, and I suddenly felt so safe. My father had not forgotten me after all, he had kept his promise, and now I had the angel to watch over me and protect me."
Erik frowned. "I did not contradict you and tell you the truth?" Christine shook her head. She remembered only too clearly that it had been Erik himself who had started this misunderstanding by introducing himself as the angel sent by her father. Yes, he had deceived her, but he had done it for both their sakes. Because of his face.
"No," she told Erik. "You probably sensed that I needed somebody, but you must have feared that I would not trust you because…" her voice trailed and she bit her lip. She really did not want to bring up his face right now. "What I mean is that you felt you might be better able to comfort me if I thought you were an angel," she continued, a bit awkwardly, but Erik nodded.
"That makes sense," he admitted. "A seven-year-old seeing my face would never have trusted me."
Christine heard the bitterness in his voice, and her heart went out to him. "Maybe, maybe not," she said evenly. "Be that as it may, you truly became my angel. From that day on we met regularly. That is, of course we did not really meet face to face," she added hastily, "we talked through walls. You were always there for me when I needed somebody, you listened to all my little everyday-problems, you gave me sound advice in more cases than one." She looked at Erik lovingly. "My angel was the most important person in my life then," she confessed. "And under his guidance, and encouraged by his own beautiful singing, I finally started to sing again myself."
Erik stared at her. "Did you just say that I… your angel… sang to you?" he asked incredulously.
Christine laughed. "Of course you did," she said, "how else would you have convinced me that you truly were the Angel of Music?" Then realization hit her. "You don't know…" she whispered. "Oh my God, Erik, has Nadir not told you that you are a most gifted musician? You play several instruments, you sing heavenly and you compose the most wonderful music!"
Erik sat there in shock. "Music," he gasped, while images of music scribbled down on staff paper, of a flute and violin, a huge pipe organ, assaulted his mind, mixed with wondrous sounds and melodies that all seemed somehow familiar. Just like he had known he could design buildings when Nadir had mentioned that fact to him three years ago, he knew now on an instinctive level that Christine was telling the truth, that indeed he was a musician as well as an architect, and that he mastered all these instruments, was a decent singer and knew enough about music theory to be able to compose impressive music.
"I can express myself easily through music," Erik stated flatly. Christine nodded, fighting back tears. To think that her angel had been without music for the past three years, had not even known how important it had always been to him!
"You spoke to me through songs," she confirmed. "You reminded me what a great comfort music can be, how it can sooth your troubled mind and bring you peace." She smiled through tears, looked at Erik and asked shyly, "I have not heard you sing in such a long time, would you… I mean… if you don't mind…"
Erik looked puzzled. He wanted to tell her that he did not remember any songs, that his voice was probably rusty, that she could not possibly expect him to sing to her like that, when his mouth opened almost automatically and a beautiful melody poured out.
Christine immediately recognized the song. It was a Swedish lullaby her father had taught her. It also was the first song she had been able to sing again, once she had gotten over the grief for her father with the help of her angel. She hesitantly joined in, well aware that her singing would not be up to Erik's standards after her long break, but too overwhelmed by her feelings to care. Their two voices seemed attuned to each other, they complemented each other, and once the song was finished, they looked at each other, faces flushed with excitement.
"That was beautiful," Christine breathed, "just like in the old days…" A tiny smile played across the visible part of Erik's face and caused Christine's heart to beat faster. How endearing he looked when he smiled!
"Your voice is truly magnificent," Erik finally said, "though your technique leaves a lot to be desired," and he began to tell her a few things that he thought needed improvement.
Far from being disappointed by Erik's criticism, Christine beamed. Her angel was teaching her again, giving her advice how to make her voice perfect again. And he had remembered the song.
"Oh Angel," she whispered, inadvertently reverting to the old name, "I have missed your teaching so much!"
"Teaching?" Erik was at a loss again. Had he taught her something?
Christine smiled at him. "Of course. Who else could have taught me how to sing if not the angel? My Angel of Music!"
Erik tried to make sense of what she had just told him. "Are you trying to tell me that I gave you singing lessons?" he asked. "Surely that was much later? A seven-year-old's voice is not sufficiently developed yet. Some basics, yes, breathing technique and such, but real singing?" He interrupted himself. "You do mean singing as in opera, don't you?" he added, uncertainly.
Christine nodded. "Yes, you gave me singing lessons, when I was old enough, and yes, we are talking about operatic singing. You were a wonderful teacher, you made me reach high notes that I did not know were possible to sing and you told me how to sing the most difficult pieces. But you told me much more than that, history of music, theory of music, a bit Italian, since many operas are written in that language.."
Erik listened to her, drinking in all the new information. Yes, it made sense that he would have taught her all these things. If she was planning to have a career as prima donna – and she definitely had the voice to succeed in that profession – she would need to know all that stuff.
"But surely by then you knew that I was not an angel?" Erik finally asked. Somehow it did not seem practical at all to conduct all these lessons through walls.
Christine shook her head. "Oh no, what do you think?" she exclaimed. "I didn't know the truth for about ten years." She blushed. "It may seem naïve, and I probably was a bit of an ingénue, but it never occurred to me that my angel might be a mere mortal."
Erik gave her a surprised look. "But surely with time you met everybody at the Opera Populaire. You must have run into me at one point or another. Wouldn't you have recognized my voice?"
Christine hesitated. She did not have the heart to tell Erik that he had not been an employee at the opera, but the mysterious entity who had haunted the theater and manipulated the managers by the means of threats ad blackmail. "I am not sure how," she finally said, "but I don't think we ever met, or if we did, you probably did not speak in my presence. I only ever talked to you through walls."
Erik seemed to accept her explanation. It seemed to him that it made sense that he would not have risked this apparently close and precious friendship with the aspiring young soprano by revealing himself to her in all his ugliness. He had probably done his best to stay out of her way. It was of course fortunate that she had been so naïve and not seen through the charade sooner, so he must have been able to cultivate this friendship for many years, a friendship which seemed to mean a lot to her as well. Then he remembered something.
"But you said that you have seen…," he pointed to the right side of his face. "This abomination," he added, his voice sounding raw with despair and hopelessness. "So at one point you must have known the truth. How? When?"
Christine was beginning to feel awkward. How could she tell Erik that he had taken her to his underground home? Surely he would realize that she - and Nadir as well - had left out a huge chunk of the story. How would he react to that revelation? Would the fragile trust that she had managed to establish between them suffer from it?
"I was beginning to sense… to hope… that my angel was not an angel," she confessed, blushing an even deeper shade of crimson. "I was wishing that he were not. That he were a man."
She looked away from Erik, hiding her embarrassment. Had she said too much? Had he guessed that she had longed for her angel to be a man who would love her and whom she could love in return? "I kept asking my angel to show himself to me," she whispered. "I wanted a real – friendship." She bit her lip. She had almost said "relationship". But Erik had not given her any indication yet that he still thought of her in that way, and she could not throw herself at him like that. That would be undignified and highly inappropriate. Especially for a divorced woman like her.
"Then I had my debut performance," Christine continued. "We were performing "Hannibal" by Chalumeau. I…" she hesitated again. She was not going to tell Erik that he had thrown a piece of scenery at the leading soprano so that Christine could take over. "The prima donna was indisposed," she explained, "and I was allowed to step in. So I sang the role of Elyssa that night." She smiled at the memory of the applause. "It was a huge success. For both of us. You had taught me well and I had made the most of your teachings."
Erik stared ahead. "Think of me," he whispered, "think of me fondly, when we've said good-bye…"
Christine nodded. "Yes, that was my big aria, and the applause afterwards was deafening."
Erik jumped up. The song had made him solve yet another puzzle. "Wait here," he said. "I have to show you something." Then he ran into the house, to his desk, where he had stored the drawing of her that he had made this morning. He had a feeling that he now knew when she had looked the way he had drawn her.
A little bit out of breath, Erik returned to the garden a few minutes later. He held his drawing out to Christine. "Elyssa?" he blurted out. "Is that what it is? Your debut performance?"
Christine looked at the picture, then at Erik. "Yes, that's definitely the way I had my hair done for Elyssa," she said slowly. "Where did you get this?"
Now it was Erik's time to blush. "I drew it," he stammered. "This morning. My subconscious mind must have guided my pencil, for when I was finished, I did not know.. I only realized now, when you mentioned your debut…"
Christine's face lit up in a radiant smile. "Your memories are coming back," she whispered. "The knowledge was buried deep within your mind, but now you remember it again."