Chapter 4 – Depression
Erik groaned. "The Opera," he whispered. He closed his eyes while a shiver cursed through his body. It was as if an ice-cold hand were gripping for his heart, squeezing it, stopping it from beating. For a brief moment he once again felt as if he were that close to remembering something important, while a strong feeling of betrayal, loss and longing washed through him. Then it was gone and Erik once again shook his head in frustration. He knew he had been on to something major, that one of his buried memories had almost broken through the thick fog which clouded his mind.
Erik's uninjured left hand formed a fist and he hit the nightstand, hard. "Blasted memories," he screamed. "They keep eluding me. Will they never resurface? How can I function properly if I can't remember anything at all!"
Nadir tried to calm him, but Erik just yelled at him. "What do you know about my situation?" he howled. "As if this utterly repulsive face of mine were not bad enough, I do not even know who I am and where I come from. My amnesia has turned me into a laughing-stock, when I already had the face of a scarecrow."
Nadir winced. As much as he wanted to make Erik relax, he had to admit that his friend's concerns were not unfounded. If anybody got wind of the fearsome Opera Ghost's current condition, Erik would be ridiculed by all of Paris.
"Erik, stop this," Nadir pleaded with his friend. "You are agitated, this was too much for you. Try to relax. Once you have calmed down, you will be able to see things differently, not quite as gloomy."
Erik stared at the older man. "Leave me alone," he roared. "I can't face you, I can't stand having people stare at me, I don't need your pity, just leave me, go!"
Erik got more and more worked up about the situation he found himself in. He was not able to think rationally and just kept screaming and yelling. Nadir was getting really worried. He knew that Erik would not be able to relax until he was alone and had had time to get used to the problems caused by his unusual appearance, but Nadir did not dare leave Erik alone, for fear that the latter might do something drastic out of desperation.
"Promise me that you will try to relax," Nadir begged Erik, but the younger man just roared like a wounded animal and bellowed, "Go! Now!"
Nadir finally nodded at Erik, not daring to risk upsetting him even more by saying one more word and left the room. The moment he had closed the door behind him, Erik broke down completely. He fell back into his pillows, his body shaking convulsively.
"How can I go on living," he sobbed. "My face makes it impossible for me to live a normal life. Why, oh why did my mother not strangle me the moment I was born? How could she force a freak like me to live on? Did she not feel any pity with the miserable creature she had given birth to?"
Erik went from self-loathing to self-pity to anger at the rest of the world then back to self-loathing and despair. He cursed his mother for having let him live despite his serious handicap, complained to God for having created him the way he was, raged at the unfairness of his fate, that had just gotten immensely worse by being amnesiac on top of being disfigured.
Erik screamed and yelled and sobbed until his voice was hoarse and, too exhausted to continue his raging anymore, he fell into a fitful sleep.
Nadir had been standing just outside the door the whole time of Erik's outburst, praying to Allah to help his young friend and at the same time ready to act, should Erik hurt himself. When the screaming finally died down, Nadir cautiously opened the door and peeked in. He saw Erik turning and tossing on the bed, just as agitated in sleep as he had been while still awake.
"Allah," he mumbled, "he has been through so much already. Give him the strength to accept his fate and to make the best of his situation. He is so gifted, and despite all the atrocities he has committed he has a kind and compassionate heart. There must be a way for him to overcome his handicap, there must be a place in this world for him, some purpose for his existence. Please, let him find that purpose."
Erik's anger was gone the next day, but his despair remained. He lay in his bed, facing the wall, and was completely unresponsive. He did not eat or drink for an entire day, and as a result he got weaker again. Nadir was worried. At first he had thought the best thing to do was leave Erik alone for a while, give him a chance to think his situation over and get accustomed to the idea that life might not be too easy for him, but when Erik remained apathetic and continued to refuse food, he knew that his friend needed help.
Nadir sat down at Erik's bedside and began to talk to him. "I know I can probably not even begin to imagine how you feel," he murmured, "but Erik, you must believe me, I do care for you. You need to eat and drink, you need to get strong again, so that you can master your destiny."
Erik inched a bit closer to the wall. "You should have let me die," he whimpered. "What was the point of treating my wounds and bringing me back to life, when I had this accident? It would have been so much more merciful to let me die! I would have been out of my misery then."
Nadir put his hand on Erik' shaking shoulder. "Erik, I could not have done that," he said soothingly. "I felt responsible for your survival. I could not let you die when there was a chance that you could make a full recovery. I know," he interrupted himself," I know about your amnesia. I did not foresee that, I have to admit. But there is a chance that it will not be permanent. And even though you cannot remember people or places or incidents, you remember everything you ever learned, like reading, writing, the Persian language. And there are times when you feel close to remembering something. I am confident that this will get better with time. There may be a few things that you will never remember, but it is more than likely that one by one, single memories will resurface. Once you are stronger. And more relaxed," he added, putting emphasis on his last words.
"How can I relax," Erik groaned, "knowing that I am an amnesiac monster that nobody will want to employ! Being disfigured is bad enough, but disfigured and amnesiac? I am destitute, Nadir, unable to earn my living!"
Nadir sighed. He knew only too well that there was absolutely no chance for Erik to find a job anywhere in Paris, or France for that matter. But considering how Erik had reacted to the revelation of his disfigurement, there was no way he could tell him of his criminal past. At least not anytime soon, unless he wanted to put Erik in a suicidal state of mind.
"Maybe," he thought aloud, "maybe you have to start a new life then."
Erik froze, then quietly asked. "A new life? What do you mean?"
Nadir smiled. He had just had an ingenious idea. "We could leave the city," he explained, "and go someplace new, where nobody knows you. There we start our own company, an architect's office."
Erik slowly turned around and faced his friend for the first time since he had found out about his face. "An architect's office?" he asked surprised, then nodded. The moment Nadir had mentioned architecture, all sorts of geometric figures and forms had assaulted his mind, and he had known beyond any doubt, that just like reading and writing, designing buildings was something he would always be able to do, even though he had forgotten everything else from his previous life.
"But how?" he asked. "No customer would want to have me design anything for them, once they've seen my face."
Nadir smiled. "That's where I come in," he explained. "You do the designing, I do the office work and meet with the prospective customers. They do not need to ever meet you in person, and since we go to a different place, nobody will recognize your name and therefore nobody will suspect that you look any different from other people. Once we've landed the first assignment your talent will be guarantee that we get more. You are a very good architect," he told Erik.
Erik nodded slowly. "That might work," he admitted. "But where do we go?" Nadir sighed with relief. Erik was finally getting out of his brooding. "I have been thinking about London," he suggested. "It's just across the Channel, and it's a nice, big city, where one can remain anonymous. If we got ourselves a little cottage at the outskirts of town, where we can live and you can work, and where you might be able to go for a ride in the early morning or late afternoon, and we rented a little one-room office in the city center, we should be fine."
Erik looked up surprised. "Ride?" he asked. "Can I ride? And will we have a horse?" Nadir laughed. "You don't want to leave César behind, now do you?" he retorted.
"César?" Erik looked dubious. He had a feeling as if the name should mean something to him, but he could not quite remember what. "Your stallion," Nadir explained. "Right now he is in a stable two blocks away from here, but I think we should take him with us."
Erik nodded. César. A stallion. His horse. Of course. Why hadn't he known about him before Nadir mentioned the animal? "I would love to take him with me," he finally said weakly.
Nadir grinned. "Good. That's settled then. I'll look into time tables and such and make travel arrangements for the three of us plus the horse. And you try to get better in the meantime."
Christine de Chagny walked through the beautiful garden that surrounded her husband's mansion. She was seriously bored. Raoul rarely had any time for her, he was constantly attending to various business matters, anything from managing his estate to meetings about the rebuilding of the Opéra Populaire, and in the evening, they very often had to attend official functions or host boring dinners themselves. Christine hated these social events. It was one thing to go to an opening night reception once in a while and celebrate together with your colleagues, but the gatherings of the nobility were much stiffer and more formal, and happened much more often. A party every now and then could be fun, even a formal one, but this was beyond tolerable. She had to get dressed up, wearing uncomfortable, slightly revealing dresses and pin up her unruly curls into what passed for an "acceptable" hairstyle, then once arrived at the location of the event, she had to stiffly greet the host and hostess, walk around stiffly, smile as if she were enjoying herself, and talk as little as possible. Raoul had made it clear that he would want society to forget as quickly as possible that his wife had been a performer. She therefore should avoid mentioning anything from her past, never give any opinion on music or art. But what else could she talk about if not her past and her art? She did not know the noble families about who the other ladies gossiped, she had not been to all the fancy places the other ladies had visited, she had no noble relatives she could mention in passing to impress the others. So all she could basically do at such functions was to smile and look lovely.
Christine sighed. Tonight would be another extremely boring evening. They were invited to a soirée at the Duc de Camourelle's palais. She knew that the Duc's daughter would be playing the piano and possibly singing as well and she once again felt frustrated. The young lady was only a mediocre piano player at best and her voice was even worse. Listening to her performance would be utter torture. Afterwards she would have to politely applaud, hiding her disappointment in the poor interpretation of the wonderful music the young duchess would have been butchering. To think that such dilettantish performances were allowed in society, and she could not sing at such an occasion!
Christine fought back tears. She had not sung one single note since the day Raoul had come home and surprised her practicing. She had kept her word so far, but every day it became harder to do so. Every day that passed she missed music more. Only now that it was absent from her life did she understand the true importance music had had for her.
Christine and Raoul had been married only for a few weeks, but she began already to fear that her marriage had been one big mistake. She did love Raoul, sure, but – was that enough? Raoul barely had any time for her between his business obligations and the social functions. All she saw of him most of the time was when they went to bed together and performed their marital duties. Christine had no objections to these activities, after all, she had known what would be expected of her once she was married, but she had to admit to herself that she had hoped for her marriage to be quite different. She had hoped for love and understanding and caring, for moral support from her husband. If at least he allowed her to sing at home. Christine sort of understood why she could not perform in public, but surely, she could do as she pleased in her own house?
Or if at least those marital activities were leading to the desired result. If at least she were becoming pregnant. Christine knew that Raoul was expecting her to bear him an heir fairly soon, and she, too, was hoping for a baby. Surely once she was a mother she would have something to do, she would have a highly gratifying task, she would have somebody she could love unconditionally and who would love her back, somebody to help her through the loneliness of her days. Maybe then she would not miss music that much any more.
Music! How wonderful it had always been to be on stage of the Opéra Populaire, to have music surround her and tell a story for the audience. How easily music could convey every single emotion, every state of mind! She had enjoyed performing, even when she had only been one of many girls in the ballet and Carlotta's screeching voice had ruined many emotional moments of the plays they had been performing. But she had enjoyed it even more being able to bring those heroines to life herself, to become one with them and make the audience understand how they felt and why they acted the way they did. Her angel had taught her not only to produce the perfect notes, but also to make the audience relive the heroine's fate, to make them identify with her and feel with her.
Her angel. Christine's heart ached. At one time he had meant so much to her. He had been the only one who seemed to understand her, when her father had died and she had felt so alone. He had comforted her then and helped her deal with her loss. His singing had calmed her and soothed her during the darkest period of her life, and later, he had started to teach her, to groom her voice to become equal to his own. Oh how wonderful it had been when they had sung together!
She blushed inwardly. She had not known the truth about him then, had him believed to be a true supernatural being sent to her by her father. She had been so naïve! And yet... deep down she had dreamed he was a real human being, somebody who cared about her and about whom she could care. At some subconscious level she probably had been in love with him then. But that had been before... she shuddered. Before she had discovered that he was not only a disfigured man with quite a violent temper, but also the Opera Ghost, who kept harassing the managers, and then he had done such an evil thing and killed Buquet!
Christine shook her head. She still could not understand why he had done that. To her he had always been kind and loving, and while his antics as the Ghost had certainly been anything but benevolent, at least his pranks had been more or less harmless. Nobody had ever got seriously hurt in all the years she had been at the Opéra Populaire and known her angel. Not even Carlotta, when the piece of scenery had dropped on top of her during the rehearsal for "Hannibal". Nobody, not in ten years, and then he suddenly went and killed someone? It did not quite fit. For the first time since that terrible evening Christine wondered what her angel's motive had been in killing that man. What had made him turn into a monster that night? Or... had she misjudged him? Had it been an accident of some kind? Had Buquet committed suicide after all? Had her angel acted in self-defense?
"I never asked him," she suddenly realized. "I never gave him a chance to justify himself, to explain what happened. What if he was not as guilty as I thought? What if I condemned him when he had only protected himself?"
The young Vicomtesse fought back tears again. She had a feeling as if she had destroyed something wonderful and important, as if she had thrown away a chance. She was not quite sure why it suddenly hurt so much to think that maybe she had been unfair towards her teacher, had judged him without knowing every detail. But she knew that she would never forgive herself for losing trust in him so quickly that night. "And now it is too late," she wailed. "Now I can never ask his forgiveness, now he is dead, and it is all my fault."