charleygirl: (Phantom|RK|25th|Silhouette)
[personal profile] charleygirl
Title: The Garish Light of Day 56/?
Author: charleygirl
Word Count: 4793
Rating: G
Genre: General, Drama
Characters Involved: Erik the Phantom, Christine Daae, Madame Giry, Meg Giry
Disclaimer: The Phantom of the Opera is the creation of Gaston Leroux but probably these days copyright to Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Summary: An evening in.



DINNER EN FAMILIE



“I honestly don’t know what you’re worrying about,” Madame Giry said, taking the bowl of proffered vegetables from Christine. “The evening looks set to be the highlight of the season.”

“That’s what I keep telling him.” Christine shot Erik a pointed look. “He won’t believe me.”

Meg glanced up from her plate. “They’re right, Erik. We’ve all heard you rehearsing; your violin and Christine’s aria will bring the house down. We’ll have potential investors queuing round the block!”

“I thank you for your optimism, Little Meg.” Erik stared gloomily down at the casserole in front of him, prodding at a dumpling with his fork. Christine inwardly sighed; he hadn’t taken more than three bites, even though both Meg and Madame had assured him that they would be neither repulsed nor offended if he removed his mask in front of them. All of those close to him knew how difficult he found it to eat while wearing it, the motion of chewing pressing his cheek up against the inflexible porcelain and the curve of the lip making reaching his mouth more a matter of luck than judgement. “I can still hear too many things that are wrong, particularly with my own performance.”

“That is because you are a perfectionist,” Christine told him. “Eventually you have to let go and be guided by fate.”

“I do wish you had agreed to sing after all,” Meg added. “Your voice is beautiful, really it is; you could have shown up Signor Rossi any time you liked, you are so much better than him!”

Much to everyone’s relief, Antonio Rossi had not returned to the Populaire after the brief summer break, citing artistic differences as the reason for his request to be released early from his contract. Everyone knew from whence those differences stemmed: his refusal to accept any of Erik’s direction, something that was only made worse after his failure to discover the tunnel behind Christine’s mirror. Throughout the run of Die Fledermaus he had ignored every instruction, every criticism, much as his half-sister had done. It was quite obvious that he still suspected Erik of wrongdoing and insulting his family honour by conspiring to have Carlotta replaced with an ingénue, his own protégé, and he did his best to make the Phantom’s life difficult during rehearsals. His truculence had almost caused the production to founder, and the opera would have failed had Monsieur Marigny not intervened and told him in no uncertain terms to buckle down and do as he was told if he wished to continue receiving his (not inconsiderable) salary.

“Flattering as your assessment is, I don’t think I will be auditioning for the position of Primo Uomo in the near future,” Erik said now with a grimace. “Unless of course you can think of an opera whose hero is a man in a mask or looks like a walking cadaver.” He gestured sharply towards his face.

“You do not look like a cadaver, Erik,” Christine said wearily, offering round a basket of fresh-baked bread and deliberately sliding two slices onto his plate.

“Maybe you should write one,” Meg suggested around a mouthful of beef and carrots, making everyone look at her in surprise.

Erik raised an eyebrow. “Write what exactly?” he enquired.

“An opera about a man who wears a mask. I’m sure people would flock to see it; look how well your ballet has sold.”

“She has a point,” Madame remarked, and Christine nodded. “You used to complain that you wanted to be known for greater things than drawing room airs; now you have your chance.”

Abandoning his dinner, Erik leaned back in his chair, thoughtfully sipping at his glass of burgundy. “Perhaps I will consider it, when I have the time.”

Christine smiled sweetly at him. “Would you also consider eating some of the meal I slaved over for two hours this afternoon?” she asked. “If you continue to abstain from food you will resemble a skeleton and I don’t want a husband who wastes away to skin and bone; it reflects badly on me.”

“My apologies, mon ange,” he said with a sheepish smile, and picked up his fork. Relieved and surprised to have won the battle so easily, she returned to her own dinner, watching him from the corner of her eye; thankfully he seemed to have taken her words to heart and was cutting his food with a surgeon’s precision, eating in small, careful bites so as not to embarrass himself. Even without the mask his collapsed cheekbone and bloated lips caused difficulties of their own and he was terribly self-conscious about the spectacle he must present to others.

A companionable silence reigned for the rest of the main course, broken only by the sounds of chewing and the scraping of cutlery on china. Eventually Madame Giry dabbed at her lips with one of the napkins she had embroidered and smiled. “That was a delightful meal, Christine; thank you.”

“It was delicious; I had no idea you could cook!” Meg exclaimed brightly.

Christine laughed as she collected up the plates. “Well, Papa’s culinary repertoire was a little narrow so I had to learn. It’s just a shame I had so little room for entertaining in my flat; I would have invited you for dinner before.”

“Cooking is just one of Christine’s many talents,” Erik said fondly, stroking her arm as she leaned across him to reach the empty vegetable dish.

“You’re not exactly a novice in the kitchen yourself,” she reminded him, and turned back to the Girys. “The tarte aux pommes you are about to consume for dessert was made by the master of the house, as was the crème Anglais. It appears he can add chef pâttisier to his list of accomplishments.”

Meg’s eyes were wide. “Composer, singer, architect, couturier, chef... is there nothing you can’t do, Erik?”

He tapped his chin with one long finger, pondering the question. “Well, I was decidedly average at cricket the one time I tried to play...”

Christine smacked his shoulder. “Behave,” she scolded, smiling. “Would anyone like coffee with their dessert?”

Madame and Erik replied in the affirmative so she gathered the plates to her and carried them towards the kitchen. Immediately Erik was on his feet, reaching the door before her and plucking the crockery from her hands. Christine tried to grab it back but he held the pile out of her reach. “I will deal with it. Go and talk to our guests,” he ordered, and was gone from the room in a flash, leaving her no choice but to comply.

“You’re so lucky to have a man who helps around the house,” Meg said as the door shut behind him. “All of those who ever took me out made it clear that if we got married they would expect me to give up dancing and run around after them.”

“I am aware of how fortunate I am.” Christine slid back into her seat. “I think Erik is probably unique.”

“He had to fend for himself for a very long time,” Madame Giry sighed. “It is no wonder he has become so self-reliant.”

“He wants to look after me, and I want to look after him, which does create a little friction. To begin with he would barely let me lift a finger, which while very sweet was also rather frustrating,” said Christine, pulling a face as she recalled the first argument they had had as a married couple, over something so ridiculous and trivial as preparing breakfast. Erik had uncharacteristically slept late and been horrified to find her in the kitchen one morning during the week following the wedding, toasting some bread; there was shouting, slammed doors and flung insults before she finally convinced him that she was not a china doll to be put on a pedestal, that she wanted to be useful in their marriage and would not sit idly watching him do all the work. He was reluctant, but agreed; however it was not long before his involvement with the patrons’ gala consumed him so much that he forgot everything else around the house and Christine was sighing to herself at the irony. “We have reached a compromise now, thankfully, but planning this recital has... distracted him.”

“Has he spoken about finding you some help?” Madame enquired. “Things may be well enough now but in the long term you cannot cope with a house this size and a career at the same time; you will wear yourself out before you are twenty-five. Places like this were not intended for families without staff, Erik should know that.”

“We have discussed it, but you know how difficult it would be finding someone we can trust,” Christine told her. “It would be impossible to invite just anyone into our home. Erik would - ”

“This house needs modification,” Erik announced at that moment, re-entering the room bearing a tray. “The kitchen is on the wrong level entirely. I must take steps to rectify the matter; that dumb waiter is thoroughly inadequate for the task.”

“One would imagine that it was designed with servants in mind,” Madame pointed out, adding, “How are the two of you managing? It is a big house and I can’t believe you have much time for cooking and cleaning with so much happening at the Opera.”

With a magician’s flourish the apple tart and custard appeared on the table, followed by four bowls and two cups of coffee. “We are coping, thank you,” Erik said firmly as he cut into the dessert, doling out exactly equal portions for the three women and taking only a sliver for himself.

“Even though you are in charge of putting together this gala? I know that you have not been leaving the theatre until the early hours; Christine cannot run the household all by herself. Have you noticed how tired she looks?” the ballet mistress asked, and Christine shook her head.

“I am fine, Madame, really,” she said, but her old tutor clucked her tongue in disapproval.

“Nonsense, child, you are wan and have dark circles under your eyes. Are you getting a proper night’s sleep? I doubt it, not if there are chores that need to be done before you leave for work. You must be up before the sun.”

“We share any chores between us. Christine’s rest is of paramount importance,” Erik replied, his posture stiff and defensive as he resumed his seat at the table. “If there is anything that needs to be done which will affect her sleep I deal with it myself.”

His hand fisted the tablecloth and Christine gently laid her fingers over his, lacing them together. “He does, Madame,” she insisted. “He gets up early to light the fire in the range so that I can have a hot bath when I awake; I wish he would stay in bed and sleep more himself but I am grateful just the same.”

Madame’s mouth settled into a thin line. “And when there are children to consider..? What will you do then?”

Erik spluttered on his coffee and hurriedly fell to mopping at his waistcoat with a napkin. Christine tightened her grip on his hand. “We will cross that bridge when we come to it,” she said. “Surely it is too soon to be thinking of such things?”

“I conceived Meg within a fortnight of my marriage,” Madame Giry replied, causing her daughter to squeak with embarrassment. “Children can come along at any time; I suggest you have plans in place for every eventuality, as unless you are intending to retire from the stage you will not be able to deal with an infant without assistance. I am sure Erik will concede that, vast as his knowledge is, the rearing of a child is somewhat beyond the reach of his experience.”

“Thank you for your concern, Antoinette, but as Christine says we will deal with whatever happens when the time comes,” Erik said in a tone that effectively killed all further discussion of the matter.

Silence, the air quivering with tension, fell over the room again. Madame primly ate her dessert while Erik glowered into his coffee and Christine didn’t feel hungry any more. Only Meg finished the tarte aux pommes with gusto, even going so far as to timidly ask if she might have some more. With an affectionate smile Christine pushed the dish towards her friend, encouraging the little ballerina to take as much as she wished.

“Oh, dear, I think I might burst out of my costume!” Meg announced a few minutes later, setting her spoon down in the empty bowl. She patted her stomach which, even without the aid of a corset, constant dance practise had kept enviably flat. For the recital Reyer and Madame Giry had created a short piece between them on the theme of the Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Ugly Duckling; Meg was to dance the duckling while Justine Sorelli took the part of the swan. Christine wondered if Erik had realised the significance of the choice of story; if he had he was keeping his thoughts upon the subject to himself.

“You will have to waddle instead of dance,” she told Meg, and her friend laughed.

“If you keep inviting me here and Erik continues with his flair for desserts I shall be the heaviest ballerina in Paris!” Meg declared, her ebullience even managing to elicit a smile from the Phantom.

Glad that the atmosphere had been lightened, Christine pushed back her chair and stood. “Shall we go through to the parlour?” she asked. “The washing up can wait until later.”

“If you will excuse me, I shall join you in a moment,” Erik said, swiftly collecting the dishes and vanishing through the door once more.

“Maman, you have upset him!” Meg hissed to her mother as Christine led the way.

“Oh, my dear, if Erik became upset over everything I said to him we would not have remained friends for five minutes, let alone the better part of fifteen years,” Madame Giry replied, settling down in one of the armchairs and carefully arranging her black bombazine skirts. “He has spent so much of his life shut away from the world that he sometimes needs reminding of his responsibilities.”

“He has me now, Madame,” Christine said softly, and the older woman glanced at her in surprise before nodding, her expression fleetingly sad.

“Yes, of course he does,” she murmured.

The room became quiet, Madame deep in thought, while Meg exclaimed in delight over the pattern books full of wallpapers and carpets that Christine showed her and spent some considerable time looking at the wedding photograph that now took pride of place on the mantelpiece. At length Erik returned, his mask replaced and Bruno trotting at his heels; Meg was soon cooing to the spaniel and spoiling him with attention and treats she produced from her bag. Erik took his seat in the big wing-backed chair and though his tone was initially frosty when he asked Madame Giry about the plans for the upcoming production of Bellini’s Norma, which was to open the new season following the gala, it quickly thawed and the two were soon animatedly discussing the best use of the corps de ballet in a two act opera, Madame even going so far as to demonstrate a few graceful moves.

The evening having returned to a harmonious atmosphere it was therefore a surprise when Bruno suddenly lifted his head from where it rested in Meg’s lap and began to whine, his ears pricked forwards. Christine stroked his head reassuringly. “What is it, cheri? Is something the matter?” she asked, but the dog pulled away, jumping down to the floor and barking, the sound loud and jarringly sharp. When no one responded he padded quickly over to Erik and took the fabric of his master’s trouser-leg between his teeth, tugging on it. Annoyed, Erik leaned down to remove the spaniel’s jaws, but Bruno let go before he could be touched and barked again, more urgently.

“Bruno, what the devil is - ” Erik began, but a moment later the words stilled on his tongue and he sat in his chair like a statue, listening.

Concerned, Christine asked, “Erik? What is going - ”

He waved a hand for silence, and after a few seconds more said softly, “There is someone outside.”

As he spoke the clock on the mantelpiece struck ten. “Why would someone be outside now? It’s too late for anyone to come calling.”

“Precisely.” Erik got to his feet; Bruno jumped around him, yapping excitedly. “I’m going to find out what they want; don’t follow me. Bruno, stay,” he commanded, and the dog sat down again with a whine.

“What? Erik, it could be dangerous!” Christine cried, halfway across the room when the door shut. Reaching it she wrenched it open again, shouting, “Put a coat on, it’s pouring out there!”

“What should we do?” Meg asked as Christine leaned against the doorframe, desperate to go after Erik but not wanting to disobey his instructions. She felt something brushing at her skirts and realised Bruno had slipped past her into the hall; she tried calling the spaniel back but he paid her no heed. “Should we do as he says?”

“Of course not,” Madame Giry said, hurrying in the same direction as Bruno. When they caught up she was carrying a bundle of cloaks and had three umbrellas under her arm. “Men do not always admit when they need help, and I am sure that after what happened in June Christine would rather her husband was not out of her sight for long. Am I correct?”

Christine nodded, fastening her cloak with unsteady fingers and pulling the hood over her head. When she got to the back door, which was standing slightly ajar, she found that the rain was sheeting down outside, so heavily that it was difficult to see anything. There was a dark figure on the terrace and she could hear Bruno’s frenzied barking; was it friend or foe? Hefting the heavy granite bookend she had grabbed from the hall table she ventured outside and was soaked through almost immediately despite the umbrella Madame Giry tried to hold over her head.

“...Erik?” she called hesitantly. “Are... are you there?”

The figure came closer and she lifted her makeshift weapon; before she could strike a hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. She cried out in alarm but the hand did nothing more than lower the bookend to a safe level. Through the slanting rain she could just make out a familiar gaze in the shadows of a dripping hat brim. “Christine, what did I tell you?” Erik asked, his tone a mixture of affection and irritation.

“Was there anyone out here?” Meg enquired, clutching her coat collar closed, her golden curls drooping around her face in the damp.

“Yes, but they were away on their toes the moment they heard Bruno coming,” he replied with a grunt of frustration. “I chased and almost caught them but they were over the wall and gone in a flash. Had I been younger I would have followed but the rain is too heavy and the light too poor; I’d rather not end up in the Seine.”

“An admirable sentiment,” Madame agreed.

“What do you suppose they wanted?” Christine wondered as they allowed him to shepherd them all back indoors where their saturated clothing quickly created small puddles on the hall floor. Bruno brought up the rear and promptly shook himself, sending more water spraying over everyone before trotting over to his basket to lie down; Erik grabbed hold of his collar, dragging the dog away from the dry blankets, much to Bruno’s annoyance. “They didn’t break in; why would anyone be prowling around outside our house?”

“Another one of those damned journalists, perhaps. I’m going to make sure that all the doors and windows are locked. Blast it, Bruno; you are going nowhere near that basket until you have been thoroughly dried off!” Erik exclaimed, finally lifting the spaniel bodily off the ground; Bruno growled, fighting to get free, but Erik had him securely by the hindquarters and the front paws and bore him off down the stairs to the kitchen leaving a trail of water behind.

Christine carefully turned the key in the lock of the back door and slid home the bolts. “I’d better get a mop,” she said, ruefully surveying the state of the hall.

“Christine,” Meg said as she turned to follow Erik downstairs; Christine looked back over her shoulder to see that her friend had picked something up from the hessian mat that lay in front of the door. “Where did this come from? I don’t remember seeing it when you were showing us around earlier.”

“What is it?” Abandoning all thought of clearing up Christine crossed to where Meg was standing; the little ballerina put a strange ornament into her hand. Christine knew that she had never seen it before but it seemed vaguely familiar: made from a light, flexible metal, probably tin, the trinket was a square box topped with a tasselled cushion, upon which sat the figure of an oriental man wearing a turban, a peculiar pipe between his lips. In front of him was a basket of the kind she had seen in illustrations of Ali Baba, the lid beside it and a snake rising from within, apparently charmed by the man’s music. On the back was a tiny handle and she turned it; an eerie, tinny tune began to play and the snake swayed from side to side.

Madame Giry frowned. “What a strange object. Wherever did you get it, Christine?”

“I didn’t,” Christine said, staring at the musical box.

“Then Erik bought it on his travels? Yes, I can see why it would appeal to him.”

“Madame, I have never seen this box in my life.” Christine turned wide, worried eyes upon the ballet mistress. “I am willing to swear to you that it was not here before we went outside.”

Meg gasped and covered her mouth with a hand. “You mean there must have been two intruders..?”

“Such an idea is ludicrous,” Madame said. “Breaking into a house in order to leave behind an ornament? Erik must have dropped it there and you did not notice until now.” She reached out to take the snake charmer from Christine but Christine held onto it, now realising exactly what it reminded her of.

“Did you ever... did you ever see Erik’s monkey music box?” she asked. “The one in the Persian robes, with the cymbals?”

“I might have done, once.” Madame’s frown deepened.

“He told me that it had been a gift from his mother, bought before he was born; it was the only thing he took with him when he ran away from home. This one is very similar... in fact, it almost looks as though they might have been made by the same person.”

“Christine, are you saying that you think this musical box might have belonged to Erik’s mother?” Meg’s eyes were huge and round.

“I don’t know.” Christine passed a hand over her eyes. Her wet cloak was weighing her down; she felt as though she might like to sink to the floor and curl up into a ball, but then a thought occurred to her and she looked anxiously at the Girys. “Please don’t mention this to Erik; I don’t want to worry him unnecessarily.”

Madame looked uncertain. She opened her mouth to reply but was interrupted by the arrival of the man himself, minus his hat and coat and carrying a disgruntled Bruno wrapped in a towel. Christine hurriedly slipped the snake charmer into the pocket of her cloak and shed the soaked garment, hanging it up beside the front door to dry.

“You must stay the night, Annie,” Erik said, setting the spaniel down in his basket. “If anything the rain is getting heavier and you’ll never make it to the stop to catch the last omnibus home.”

“Nonsense,” Madame Giry replied, but he took her hat and coat from her, hanging them on the hat-stand beside Christine’s.

“I won’t hear of it, especially with a prowler on the loose,” he insisted. “We don’t know what they wanted but I’m taking no chances. I’ll make up the bed in the spare room.”

The three women watched him climb the steps to the first floor, and Meg waited until his tall frame had vanished around the bend in the staircase before she hissed, “Christine, you must tell him!”

“I will.” Christine gripped her hands together to stop them trembling. “When I find the right time.”

________________________________________

“Why did you leave your Persian monkey in the house by the lake?” she asked later when they were preparing for bed.

Erik looked surprised by the question. He shed his dressing gown and slid beneath the sheets, taking up the book that lay on the bedside table. “It is part of the past; I suppose it seemed right to leave it behind.”

“Even though it was your only connection to your family?”

“They are nothing to me, Christine, you know that. You, Annie and Meg are the only family I need or want.” He frowned, and held out a hand to her. “Why are you asking about my musical box suddenly? If you really wish to have it here I will go down and fetch it, but - ”

“No, no, it’s not important,” Christine said quickly, slipping in beside him. Shrugging off her wrap she laid it across the foot of the bed. “I just wondered, that’s all.”

He smiled and chucked her under the chin with a long finger. “What strange fancies you have sometimes.”

“Yes. My imagination is odd,” she agreed, forcing a smile in return. She laid down, watching him for a few minutes as he settled back against the pillows and immersed himself in Tolstoy. “Did... did your mother have any other Eastern trinkets?”

“I have no idea.” Erik glanced up. When he spoke again his tone dripped bitterness. “If she did I never saw them; I was never allowed in the salon without permission. I suppose she thought that my face might cause her precious ornaments to shatter.”

“Do you ever think about her?” Christine pressed, knowing that she was on dangerous ground. She did not want to make him angry but the sight of the snake charmer had rattled her so much that there were questions she just had to ask. “Do you ever wonder what she has done all these years?”

“I recall you asking me that once before, and the answer has not changed.” He turned a page of his book, fingers gripping the binding. “My mother is either mad or dead or both. Her whereabouts and exploits are of no interest to me.”

“Erik - ”

“I warned you then, Christine, did I not?” he demanded suddenly, his face inches from hers. His mismatched eyes glowed furiously in the lamplight. “I never want to speak of that woman or her connection to me. She abdicated her responsibilities almost from the moment of my birth, providing a womb in which I grew, nothing more. Her name will never be mentioned in this house, do you understand?”

Christine shuddered, but forced herself not to turn away lest he interpret any reluctance to look at him as a rejection. Silently she nodded and he sat back, his breath steadying, the anger dissipating as quickly as it had come. Almost before she realised it she was in his arms and he was embracing her tightly, his face buried in her hair.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, his voice muffled by her curls. “I don’t want to be angry with you. I know you mean well, but my parentage is a subject better left alone. Things are so different now... I don’t want to think of who and what I used to be; my life began again the moment we were wed and I never want to go back. You do understand, don’t you?”

“Oh, Erik.” Christine sighed. “Of course I understand. You know that I would never want to cause you any pain. It was silly of me... I won’t mention it again.”

He looked so pathetically grateful; the thought of the music box in the pocket of her cloak downstairs made her feel like a traitor. “Thank you,” he said and kissed her on the forehead before turning over and placing the book back on the nightstand. A moment later the candle was blown out. “Good night.”

Christine lay awake, staring into the darkness, for a long time.

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