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Essays & Reviews

Phantom Phragments

After "Beauty and the Opéra or the Phantom Beast" I found that I still had some stray Phantom ideas floating around in my mind. These turned into the little scenes below.

The first is a joke, really, deriving from some wicked thoughts about the “Angel of Music” stage scene in Christine's dressing room. The others came out of idle musings on how else the story might have turned out -- that is, what if Christine stayed with the Phantom on the terms he originally laid out in Leroux's novel: that they should both go live above ground like a normal married couple?

Alternatively, if Christine did marry Raoul, how might that have turned out?

I. Mirror, Mirror

"Come to me, my Angel of music —" But as the pale hands reached as if through the glass toward Christine, suddenly there came a sharp, creaking sound and a startled grunt.

The singing stopped.

"Uff," panted the shadowy figure, kicking at something out of sight behind the wall. "The cursed thing's stuck. What —"

Another mighty thump; the mirror shivered, throwing Christine's reflection into shimmering movement as if she were seeing herself in a sheet of disturbed water. A dank draft wafted from the gap between the mirror's frame and the wall. The prospect of slipping into that dark and chilly void with a person of unknown qualities — sure an Angel would not have mechanical problems? — became less attractive by the moment.

Yet Christine, ever mindful that she owed the evening's triumph entirely to her mysterious tutor, inquired hesitantly whether she might help.

"No, of course not," gasped the cloaked figure. "I built the damned thing, I don't need any help with it!"

Catching hold of her hand in a tense, bony grip, he drew her into the gap with surprising, not to say alarming, strength. "Look, do you think you can squeeze through here? Try turning sideways, that's right."

As she struggled uncertaintly to comply, she heard someone approaching in the corridor outside her door, singing (rather flat) a bit of an aria from Faust.

Oh no — it was Raoul!

"Hurry!" urged her tutor, tugging painfully at her hand. "That idiot's coming back!"

"Ow," she gasped, "I'm sorry, I can't —-"

"Too much goose-liver paté," he muttered darkly. "Of course a singer must keep up her strength, but this overindulgence of yours — try pressing your back really hard against the frame of the opening, here, and then slide toward me — almost — try harder — if only you didn't have those two —"

A cheerful tattoo of blows rained upon the dressing room door. "Come along, my darling, it's time to celebrate!" caroled Raoul, and the brass knob turned.

"Merde!" With one final, painful tug at her imprisoned hand, her mentor released her fingers, planted his foot against Christine's hip, and with a tremendous heave dislodged her from the gap. She reeled backward into the dressing room, tumbling into the arms of the Vicomte de Chagny, who burst out with a delighted laugh.

"What are you doing, dancing in here all by yourself?" he cried, boisterously smacking a kiss onto her cheek. "With balance like that, you definitely need a partner, my dove! You couldn't wait five minutes for me to join you? We will go dancing, my darling, if you wish — but first we'll eat. Singing is hard work, I know, and a man wants a woman with a bit of heft to her, not some bony wraith out of a ghost story! I've booked a table for us for a late supper at Maxim's; what do you think of that?"

She had to admit that she was very hungry.

Christine risked a glance back over her shoulder as the Vicomte whisked her out the door, but the mirror sat flush against the wall again as if it had never moved — had it, really?

It must have; a scraped place on her shoulder stung, and she was sure that she had torn her dress somewhere, in the failed struggle to join her Angel (or whoever her tutor could be, with his cloak and his mask and his secret panel) behind the mirror.

Perhaps she had learned all she could from him. Certainly the prospect of further comments upon her appetite and her figure from that supremely critical source made her squirm inwardly. Wasn't tonight's success a sign that she was capable of advancing on her own, without her Angel's patronizing attitude and peculiar habits? All singing teachers were odd, in her experience, but this one, really — !

On the whole, she thought, hurrying down the corridor with Raoul (toward a dinner at which she was determined not to eat very much), on the whole it might be a good idea to request a different dressing room . . .

II. Possessions

Rain was pouring down and the grey afternoon light might have been that of evening. Christine shut the drapes and turned back to the warmth of the music room. She finished her scales and warm-ups and went on to practice the "Jewel Song", with which Erik, from a gilt chair in the corner, continued to pronounce himself dissatisfied.

"That," he kept saying impatiently, "is not he way I hear it in my mind; again!"

When at last she refused to continue, he donned his hat and mask, flung his coat around his shoulders, and slammed the front door behind him. His footsteps drummed a rapid diminuendo down the cavernous stairwell of the apartment house.

Not again, thought Christine dismally; where does he go when he gets like this?

She had her suspicions. Determined to set doubt at rest, she put on her rain-cape and bonnet, both still damp from an earlier excursion for the groceries, and hurried downstairs herself. The concierge merely glanced up from mopping the third floor landing as Christine flew past.

With everyone huddled round their hearthside on such a damp winter day, a cab was easy to find. In short order, Christine alighted at the Rue Scribe and let herself in through the little iron gate.

The air was prison-cold in the secret tunnel, holding no trace of human passage — no sound, no faint warmth or scent — but Erik had been there. He had of course taken the boat across the underground lake; she could see the little vessel drawn up on his side of that dark water.

The high stair along the wall, invisible from below, was dangerously slippery with damp, but it allowed her to manage without the boat, by circumventing the lake. Luckily, Erik had left a lamp burning at the boat's prow. He had lost his acute night vision from living in the gas-lit aboveground world; otherwise, she would have had to negotiate her approach in total darkness, for the matches she had brought lay limp and useless in her rain-dampened pocket.

As she pressed the panel that opened the hidden entrance to Erik's lair, she heard music keening through the musty, neglected rooms. Untrimmed lamp wicks were smoking dismally in the drawing room and dust dulled everything except the gleaming pipes of the organ, which he must have wiped clean before sitting down to play.

He did not turn as she slipped into the room, being absorbed in his music — a slow, dark-toned lament — and she hesitated, wondering whether to advance or to withdraw quietly and pretend that she had never come.

Then she noticed the bride-doll, that horrible mannequin he had always kept seated on a throne-like chair near the fireplace. The doll now wore not a lacy wedding dress, as before, but a violet gown of Christine's which Erik was to have taken to be cleaned only last week.

"My dress!" she cried, darting forward.

Erik turned sharply from the keyboard. "What are you doing here? Can't I have even a few moments of solitude?"

Christine stopped and faced him, taking a deep breath. "You have as much solitude as you like, Erik, when I'm away on errands or gone to rehearsals and fittings at the Opéra."

"That damned apartment house is full of other people," he growled, "and the Cotille boy upstairs practices his flute until I am nearly mad with it."

"I thought you would like having other musicians as neighbors."

"Musicians!" he sneered. "If you mean those cabaret singers on the second floor, their taste is vulgar and their notes are flat; and the composer in the garret can talk and think of nothing but Wagner."

"I didn't know you'd spoken to him," Christine said, encouraged to hear that he had made a social overture to someone on his own.

But he went right on without acknowledging her comment: "The cabs and carriages clop and rattle ceaselessly in the street, and Madame O'Halloran's dogs bark every time someone walks up or down the stairs, which is all the time. Why anyone would let an apartment to an Englishwoman with not one but three hysterical little lap dogs I will never understand. And that cursed concierge watches me all the time, and gossips about me with her compeers over coffee. I've seen them with their busy old heads together at The Dancing Flea!"

"I told you we needed a house of our own," Christine said with a sigh.

"If you wanted a mansion on the grandes boulevardes, you should have married de Chagny," he snapped. "With his wealth and connections, he could have easily obtained one for you."

"I meant a place in one of the quieter suburbs," she said.

"We've been over all that. You would have to travel too far to your work, and I — I would have that much more exposure to endure in my own efforts to get into town and back, with children pointing out my mask to their mothers — who otherwise would never notice it, of course."

Recoiling from his sarcastic self-pity, Christine looked around the neglected rooms and shivered. "It's so cold. Why do you come back here, Erik, and on such a bleak day?"

"I like it cold," he said. "You keep the apartment too warm. It gets stuffy."

"You tell me yourself that I need to avoid catching a chill!" she objected.

"Ha, yes; and you heed me by running out in the rain without even a scarf round your throat!" He pointed an accusing finger.

"I was following you," she countered. "I had no time — "

"Well, no one asked you to follow me."

A beat of silence fell between them like the toll of a muffled bell.

"Erik," she said, "I want my dress back. It will go all moldy down here."

He got up abruptly and crossed to the hearth in a few angry strides. Pulling the doll roughly forward so that it sat bent double, he began undoing the back of the dress.

"I thought you had closed this place up for good," she said.

"It's my refuge," he answered curtly. "Oh, here, you do it — there are so many buttons!"

With cold fingers she stripped the gown from the doll and folded the garment over her arm. She looked about her, then went to the divan and began slapping one of its many cushions against the back of a nearby chair to get the dust out.

"What are you doing now?" Erik demanded.

"I'll need the cushion cover to carry my dress in," she said, "to protect the fabric from the rain."

"You're choking me with all that dust!"

She looked at him. He had seated himself in the big armchair with the naked doll on his lap, hugging it defensively in his arms.

Christine sat on the divan and began extracting the pillow from its cover. "You love that doll better than you do me, I think."

No answer.

"Maybe you always did. I think you were happier in this draped and carpeted cellar with a stuffed figure than you are in a fine, big, city apartment with a live woman. Perhaps a doll suits you better."

"She has her qualities," he answered drily.

"Well, then, you're welcome to her, Erik." Christine fitted the folded gown into the cushion cover and refastened the seam. "And to your secret passages, and your lake, and your sulks and your tempers. I'm going home. You have a key. You can come and get your things any time you want to."

Erik buried his twisted cheek in the doll's dusty hair. 'These are my things," he said. "All my things are here."

Stumbling a little because tears blurred her vision, Christine left him there. Strains of organ music floated after her, ringing faintly down the stone passage that led back out to the rainy street.

III. Dutch Courage

Someone was sitting by the lake, plunking pebbles into the water. Erik let the thin cord of the lasso slide down under his sleeve and approached silently, his muscles tensed, his mind racing ahead to thoughts of what lay easy to hand to weight a dead body down.

The seated figure looked up as he loomed silently closer: Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, blinked blearily at him.

"Ha! Thought you might still be around, 'n' here you are. Sneaking up on a fellow, eh?" He winked, tilting his head toward the water. "Saw your reflection; see it? You’re not so smart, for a genius. Genius, genius, genius, oh yes, I know that's what you are; it's all she ever talks about. Genius, genius, genius," he chanted.

Erik sank slowly onto his haunches beside the disheveled young man, his heartbeat subsiding to something like its normal rate. Just tip him forward and hold him under; nothing to it. The smell of brandy on the Vicomte's breath suggested a quick finish, hardly any struggle at all.

"Genius," Raoul finished, on a maudlin sigh. "Know what it's like, marry a girl who does nothing but talk about another man? She's made a li'l altar to you, thinks I don't know about it — a mask she bought for a party, a dried-up flower, something else, I can't remember . . . "

"Well, think, stupid boy," Erik hissed. "Tell me what else there is, I want to know."

But the Vicomte just stared at him, clearly at a loss.

I can kill him any time, why rush things? Why not find out a little first, have some questions answered, work up to a really satisfying rage and do it then, when the creature has sobered up a bit and can appreciate what's happening to him?

Erik sat back on his heels. "Look here, you can't camp on the shore all night. My boat is over there — come along, I'll take you across and we'll talk it all over like gentlemen, a host and his guest."

That sounded rather good to him, but Raoul, drunk or not, was — surprisingly — not persuaded. He caught at Erik's sleeve and leaned redolently close, speaking in a confidential tone.

"Shove me overside and bang me on the head with an oar, right? Who'd ever know? She wouldn't know, 'less I come back to haunt her, dripping all over the floor — not too horrible, though. Wouldn' want to scare her, not really, just enough to make her a li'l bit sorry. Can't be a genius, might make a fairish ghost, you think?

“Your field, right?" he added a little anxiously, as if nervous of having unintentionally given offense.

"Oh, get up!" Erik said in exasperation. "Be careful or I'll have to fish you out. This water's none too clean."

Once out on the lake, the Vicomte began to sing a song about missing his mother — sentimental trash more suitable to a cab driver than a nobleman — in a mournful howl. Erik considered bashing him over the head just to shut him up, but soon the song was lost in hiccups, and the hiccups in retching. On the far bank, with Erik holding him roughly back from toppling to a watery grave, Raoul contributed a little more contamination to the lake before being hustled into the Phantom's lair and unceremoniously pushed into an armchair beside the drawing room fireplace.

"How long were you waiting for me there?" Erik asked as he got the fire glowing again. Had anyone seen the boy hanging about the Opéra, or marked his descent into the cellars?

"Months," groaned Raoul. "Years, seems like. Got anything to eat?"

"No. What are you doing here?"

More blinking. "Waiting for you. Didn' you just ask me how long — ?"

"Yes, yes." Erik leaned on the mantle and stared down at him, regretting having allowed this drunken fool into his secret home in the first place.

"You look terrible," he snapped, "and you smell worse. Did you really have to get drunk in order to work up the courage to come here?"

Swaying where he sat, Raoul nodded vigorously. "Oh, yes, yes. Genius, after all; and mad at me, too. Course I was scared. Nothing to drink either? 'S cold."

"Pull your chair closer to the fire, then; do something for yourself for a change. You’ll get no sympathy from me. I don't have the luxury of getting myself drunk and being rescued from my own folly by helpful hands."

"Heh, heh," Raoul chuckled faintly, giving him an attempt at a shrewd glance. "But you mus' keep something around for medic'nal purposes, right?"

"Yes. It's not for you, though. You've obviously had more than enough."

At this, Raoul bent forward and took his own hair in his fists, a picture of despair. "I have. I have, you're right. But you won't take advantage, will you? She thinks you're a saint, d'you know that? Erik this, Erik that; 'Erik would never take me to endless parties full of dreary, stupid rich people,' 'Erik didn't bite his fingernails and he had much more reason than you do,' 'Erik knew how to live within his means — ' "

The Vicomte hiccupped, raised his head, and stared blearily around the room.

"Nothing to spend money on, living down here; don't go out gambling with friends, say you don't drink, and I doubt the grisettes line up for a turn with you — sorry, sorry — but you have none of my temptations, d'you see?"

Erik stared at him, feeling the beat of his own heart slow with revelation.

"You're not happy," he said. "Together, I mean — you and her. Christine." The name he had promised himself never to speak aloud again.

"Not happy, no, not happy," groaned Raoul. Suddenly, horrifyingly, he slipped down out of the chair and onto his knees, in a sloppy approximation of an attitude of prayer. Clearly, if he'd been a bit closer he'd be clutching Erik's knees in supplication.

"You un'erstand; you do, don't you? I can't talk to anyone, cer'nly not to her; embarrassing, feel such a fool — nobody else knows. But you do. She wants a genius. And I'm not."

"No, you're not, and collapsing on my floor won't make you one," Erik snarled. "If you vomit on my Turkish carpet, I will take you back outside and drown you after all."

"Good," mourned Raoul. "She'd be sorry then. I do love her, you know. Not like you, not like genius, however that is. No mysterious mask, no — no — love her, though. Really hurts."

"Yes," Erik said after a moment. "I suppose it really does."

Raoul sat down heavily on the floor in front of the chair. "See, if I told my brother that, he'd hit me. He thinks I'm 'n idiot, and he sneers at her of course, I can't make him stop it. Can't tell mother, she only wants to hear good things, and father —"

More vehement shakes of his head. Then he looked up at Erik, his eyes swimming with more than drink.

"Why couldn't you be my father, 'stead of him? You're old enough, and you know what I'm talking about, I can see that; he doesn't, never loved anybody in his life, but you did. You know. If you were my father, I might even be li'l bit of a genius too, 'stead of just 'n ordinary fellow. Regular people don't trust you if you're too smart, you know that? Well, course you know, course you do. Makes them green with envy if you have chateaux and vineyards and brains too, and anyway then you might be some kind of secret revolutionary, like so many bright fellows. But if you were my father I wouldn't have any chateaux, would I? Just a bit of real brains, maybe. Might even be worth it if I had to be a little bit ugly, too."

Erik reached down and raised the young man by the lapels of his stained but very expensive cloth coat.

"Be careful, M'sieur le Vicomte," he said through gritted teeth. "You are in my house now, where neither your family status nor wealth protects you."

Raoul reached up and pulled off the mask.

Erik froze, his blood roaring in his ears.

"Not any better," Raoul observed sadly. "Jus' how I remember. Too bad, really. Even genius can only take you so far if you look like a nightmare."

Frowning with concentration he reaffixed the mask, sticking his thumb in Erik's ear in the process.

"Now, I look good, right?" he went on earnestly. "Handsome, even, no need to hide my mug. Ladies like me, always have. Family fortune doesn' hurt either. But she wants to see you, not me. Looks at me, goes sort of dim, you know; disappointment. Looks at me, but wants to see you."

With that, he flung his arms around Erik's neck and hung there, weeping wetly, until he was peeled away and deposited firmly in the chair again. With a last whimper, he curled up and fell asleep.


In the morning Erik shook him awake, directed him to the loo, and upon his shuffling return handed him a cocktail of juice and raw egg.

"Sorry," Raoul said after downing this concoction manfully in one gulp. "I behaved very badly last night, didn't I?"

"You did," Erik said, sitting down across the small dining table from him. "Now that you're yourself again, tell me what you want from me, Vicomte."

Raoul fixed him with a bloodshot stare and said simply, "Take her back."

"What?" Erik croaked.

"She wants to come, but she's afraid you're angry with her; she doesn't say so, but I know it. If I send her, will you accept her?"

Erik shut his eyes. "Good God, boy, she's not a parcel, to be mailed back and forth!"

"I mean, will you let her in, will you welcome her warmly? I just want her to be happy."

Erik gripped the edge of the table with white-knuckled hands. By Heaven, I'll kill him after all. "Are you suggesting, Vicomte, that I might treat her badly in order to take some sort of petty revenge on her for choosing you?"

Raoul began to shake his head, winced, and stopped. "She didn't. I mean, she did, but it was a mistake. She's so kind," he added wretchedly, rubbing at his face with his palms.

"Sweet, patient — she tries to hide how she feels, to make me feel better, but — well, I can't sing or play an instrument, and I fall asleep at concerts. Music all sounds pretty much the same to me, actually, except for a good, rousing march; and marches all sound the same too, don't they? I like music, but I'm not the least bit musical, if you see what I mean. And that's just not good enough. I try, she tries, but honestly I don't think she likes me very much any more."

"You miserable puppy!" Erik shouted, his chest all but bursting with a chaos of emotions. "I should have drowned you last night! You had the gall to take her from me and then to make her unhappy? I should have struck you down when you first set foot in her dressing room!"

Raoul clasped his hands in his lap and lowered his head. "You can hit me now, if you like."

After an instant of silence taut with wild potentialities, Erik stood.

"I'm not going to hit you, you cretin." He went quickly to his writing desk, opened the inkwell, and selected a pen. "I'm going to give you a message for her, and then see you off my property. For good, do you understand?"

"So you'll send for her, then?" Raoul said, rising unsteadily to his feet. "Otherwise, I'm afraid she'll be all alone. She hasn't made many friends in my circle — they're awful snobs, really, most of them. I'm going on an expedition soon, and others after that. I don't expect to spend much time here from now on. I'm good at expeditions, but not very good at Paris."

"A wise assessment," Erik said drily. "Travel, and I am an authority on this, does indeed broaden the mind. Perhaps it will do even you some good. Go fast and far, with my blessing."

He looked hard at Raoul, who now restlessly paced the room. "Where to, exactly? Africa?"

"No, Persia and points east. We're looking for —"

"Never mind what you're looking for, I don't care a fig what you're looking for. Here, take paper and pencil; list for me all the places that your expedition plans to visit. Perhaps I can furnish you with a useful letter of introduction or two. Even if the men I knew are dead now, their families will respond."

Raoul gazed at him wonderingly. "You'd do that for me?"

"Gladly, if it will assure me that I won't ever have to see your foolish face again," Erik said. "Sit down and write, boy. There's an atlas on the shelf, there, if your memory needs prompting."

Then, to the scratching of Raoul's pen, the ticking of the room's many clocks, and the triumphant thunder of his own heartbeat, Erik wrote out his message: "Christine. I love you. Come."

Copyright Suzy McKee Charnas, 2005

 

(Earlier versions of these vignettes first appeared in the anthology RHAPSODY ON LEROUX, published by its editor, Carrie Hernandez, in 1997.)