Erik, or rather “The Angel of Music” was confused. For the last half hour he had been watching Christine at her dressing room boudoir, trying several hairdo’s and now he saw her wash of the make up she had painstakingly applied only seconds before.
After drying her face she stood up and walked to the big mirror where she took on a glamorous pose. Erik thought she looked gorgeous, even with some of the make up still smeared on her face.
Christine didn’t seem to think so. Her face fell as she looked at herself.
She moved closer to the mirror, pushing up the tip of her nose while making her eyes big. Then she groaned in frustration and puled the pins out of her hair, so the up-do she had just created fell out again.
Her lips wobbled and she closed her eyes. The poor girl was clearly close to tears.
Erik was confused. What was wrong with Christine? What was she doing? She seemed terribly sad. Should he say something comforting? But what could he say when he didn’t understand what was going on? In actual fact he really shouldn’t be there. He had arrived too early for the lessons and was now basically watching Christine go about her business as if he were watching an opera. It wasn’t his fault, he was always early for their lessons to make sure she wouldn’t hear him arrive. She had never once come in before him until today. No, it wasn’t his fault he was watching her, but it still made him uneasy. He had vowed he would never observe Christine in her dressing room unless he was teaching her, he was a gentleman, after all.
“Angel!” Erik suddenly heard her cry out in a croaked voice. The pitiful sound startling him out from his thoughts. Was she calling for him? Why? He would be there to teach her in less than twenty minutes.
“Angel, please!” Christine pleaded. “I need to talk. I want to know if it all still matters. If I am even worthy of our lessons. Who would want to hear an ugly thing like me sing?!”
A jolt went through Erik, he felt like he was both numb and electrocuted.
What … what as she saying?
“Who would want to hear an ugly thing like me sing?!”
Was he hallucinating and did he imagine his own thoughts coming from Christine’s mouth?
Breath …He told himself. First breath. Then talk to her like you normally would.
“Angel please Angel!!” The girl’s voice was nothing but a hoarse sob.
Erik swallowed. “Did … did you call for me my child?” He then forced out, trying to keep the trembling from his voice as well as he could. He watched as the soprano in the dressing room looked up at the sound of his voice. She seemed relieved to hear him speak.
“Oh Angel, thank you for answering my call.” Christine nervously wrung her hands as she spoke, who had upset her so?
“You seem upset my dear, please tell me what is wrong.”
He saw Christine take a few deep breaths. Then she closed her eyes and swallowed.
“Oh angel, everyone is so mean to me.”
Mean to my Christine? Tell me who they are and I’ll kill them!! Erik thought.
“Oh, I’m sure it can’t be that bad my child. Please tell me more. I will help you if I can.” Erik said.
“It’s Carlotta. I think she has turned everyone against me. Suddenly I’m too clumsy, too stupid, too blonde and too ...” her voice started to shake, “ugly ...” she choked out the last word.
Ugly …? Erik gasped. They truly called her ugly? His beautiful angel child? Oh, if anyone knew the pain of being called ugly it was him. And for it to happen to his precious Christine! It was tearing his heart to pieces.
“And the most terrible thing ...” Christine continued in a shaky voice between small sobs. “The most terrible thing … is … I think they are right. I started ballet too late, so I can never be as nimble as the other girls. My face isn’t as perfect as Meg’s or La Sorelli. They have faces like marble statues, perfectly proportioned. Mine just looks like a random blob of putty. I don’t have the grace a diva like Carlotta has. Maybe … maybe I am not meant to be a star. I probably can’t sing as well as I think I can either. Maybe … Maybe I should just leave the Opera and … and start selling flowers or something.” With that she put her hands to her face and started sobbing.
If ever there was a moment Erik wished he could do more than just watch her, it was now. Oh Christine, poor Christine! He would punish all who had made her feel this pain! How he wished he could hug her, look her in the eyes and make her feel just how brilliant he knew she was.
His heart breaking, he did the only thing he could think of that would come close to the soothing touches he wished he could give her.
Using his ventriloquism skills he threw his voice so that it would come as close to her ear as possible. He hoped it would somehow make her feel like he was near and comforting her.
“Christine. No. Please … don’t listen to other people my child.” The girl looked up in surprise and started looking around her. As he spoke Christine wrapped her arms around herself and closed her eyes.
“Especially don’t listen to people like Carlotta, when they feel threatened they try to make others feel small. It is nothing but jealousy, all they do is punish you for their own insecurities.
Do not ever think you are untalented or not good enough dear girl. Your voice is like honey, like the fairy bells of dawn, it surpasses the singing of the nightingale.
You Christine have more talent and grace than anyone alive today! Would an angel really come to teach someone unworthy? Your beauty my sweet child is pure and innocent. It shows from the outside as well as the inside. You are as beautiful as … the dawn on a meadow, the glow of a sunrise, the purest diamond. You are a butterfly inside a rainbow. Even the most perfect of music can not compare to you.”
A deep breath followed by a shaky sigh escaped Christine upon hearing her angel’s passionate rhapsody. Erik hoped he had said the right thing, he had pored out his heart and meant every word.
“Oh my dear Angel,” she said softly, as a blush struck her face, “I thank you for your kindness. But it is hard to believe this when they laugh at you and call you ugly all the time …”
You have no idea … Thought Erik, as he clenched his hands to stop himself from crying.
“These people have no idea of the pain they cause.” Erik suddenly blurted out. “They ...” He stopped, his voice shook too much now. Why was this happening? How did it come to this? Him having to reassure her about her face?!!
“But know this Christine, as I said: yes, you are beautiful …. but … don’t think about the outside too much. Focus on what truly matters: your voice, your music, your inner happiness. Beauty does not matter, it is not what makes a person … Beauty is just the surface it … is the heart that counts. Learn to see through the beauty Christine and see what is underneath. So many called beautiful can be ugly on the inside while even the ugliest, most horrific creature might … might have a heart that yearns to be loved …”
Silence as Christine sat herself on the floor, her back to the mirror, seemingly deep in thought.
Feeling utterly distraught Erik removed his mask so he could press his burning forehead to the cold glass. His ears were buzzing and it seemed as if a mist that had overtaken his brain. Erik closed his eyes and tried to calm down. Everything he had said he had meant and felt so deeply. If only he could believe his own words. If only … someone would have said them to him, just once.
“Angel ...” Christine said, suddenly. Her voice a lot calmer than it had been before. “Thank you for your wisdom, it is something my father could have said. I needed to be reminded that in art there is no place for vanity. I do think remembering that is a lot harder for humans, though, as every angel is naturally beautiful … Are angels aware of their outer beauty at all?”
Another stabbing pain went through Erik’s raw body, would it ever end? Angels are beautiful, you fool! She thinks you are beautiful, oh the irony. No-one would ever think him beautiful, certainly not someone as angelic as Christine.
“Angels … have … no concept of beauty, except on a spiritual level …” Erik forced himself to say, his voice strangled by the strain he felt under. He hoped it made sense. It seemed that Christine understood, or she might have just pretended she did to please her angel.
Another silence where Christine sat against the glass and Erik stood pressed against it. He was beyond exhausted from the onslaught to his psyche and silently begged the girl would ask no more as he did not think he could cope. After about a minute Christine turned round.
“Would you mind terribly if we had our lessons tomorrow, angel? I have been rather unkind to Meg and Little Jammes today and they did not deserve it at all. They will be starting their rehearsals in fifteen minutes and I would really like to apologise to them before.”
The man behind the mirror was grateful for her request, he was in no state to teach her today. Still leaning against the glass the utterly shattered Erik muttered something he hoped she would understand as permission and the confirmation he would be there the next day. The confusion in her eyes and the furrowing of her brow told him he might not have been as coherent as he’d like to have been had his brain been functioning properly. He watched her leave the room through a blurry haze. The moment she closed the door Erik sank to his knees and wept for more than an hour, until he fell asleep on the cold floor.
As Christine Daaé held the mask in her trembling hand and gazed at the tortured face in front of her, suddenly a long buried memory stirred.
“Learn to see through the beauty Christine and see what is underneath. (…) Even the ugliest, most horrific creature might … might have a heart that yearns to be loved …”
Slowly she forced herself to look, see the yellow skin, the hole where there should be a nose, the thin lips and … his eyes … Oh those eyes; the pain, the terrible, indescribable pain they betrayed. How many had rejected him, hurt him, abandoned him, or worse, far worse? This anger was not truly directed at her, it was him fearing she too would abandon him now that she had seen him, just like everyone else had done. It was an anger directed at himself, at his face, a face he could not help having.
As he cursed and raged until he could do nothing more but collapse from exhaustion and dissolve into a flood of tears, she recalled the day he had helped her see her inner beauty. She now understood why the angel had sounded so emotional; How her questions must have hurt him! How brave of him to say all these wonderful things to her when she was certain no-one had ever told them to him.
“Beauty is just the surface it … is the heart that counts.”
Still shaking, but suddenly less afraid, Christine worked herself to her knees and crawled to the crying heap that Erik had become. Softly she set herself next to him and lay her hand on his shoulder.
“Erik ...” she whispered. “Erik … don’t cry. I will not leave you, I promise. Your … your face does not matter to me. I have known you for so long ...”
The man shook under her touch and refused to look at her.
“You … knew … an … angel ...” Erik hiccuped between sobs. Christine’s tentative fingers begun to stroke his back gently. For a second her gentle graze clearly unsettled Erik even more, but then he hesitantly accepted it like a frightened dog shown kindness for the first time.
“But …” He muttered, confused and thrown by her kindness. “I … I am not an angel … I am a … I’m a …”
“Don’t, don’t ...” Christine shushed him, knowing the word he wanted to say and she refused to let him degrade himself. Softly she wrapped her arms around Erik’s shivering form and silently rocked him until he stopped crying. For a long time they just sat there, until Erik felt limp and tired in Christine’s arms. Keenly aware he still needed her comfort and reassurance she allowed the broken man to lay his head in her lap.
“I knew the voice of a kind man who taught me,” Christine said gently as she stroked his hair, “and that was the real you. Not your body, not your face. It was you … your heart and soul and … I think you are beautiful.”