Every year without fail Erik made sure everything was perfect: Christine would have all she desired no expense would be spared and neither would he.
On the day Christine had her birthday and on the day she returned from her annual visit to Perros nothing mattered but her. Now if you were to tell Erik that this did not sound much different than any other day of his life, he would freely admit that you were right, but that these two days were simply more important.
On these days Christine needed comfort and care and many other things that he wanted to give her in spades. He made sure to cook what her father would have made, played traditional Swedish songs on his violin, sang any lullaby she wished to hear and had his delivery man make certain that her favourite Swedish confectionery was inn-plentiful supply.
Kanelbulle, Christine adored Kanelbulle and so Kanelbulle is what Erik made sure she had. The taste made her both happy and nostalgic she told him. And every year, as he presented her with them the day before her birthday or the morning she returned from Perros she would clap her hands in delight and smile at him and then she would wrap her arms around him and kiss him making Erik the happiest man on earth.
So imagine his horror when this year, the day before Christine’s birthday(!), the delivery man told him that he had not found any “Kanelbulle”. Erik had reeled in horror and then exploded with rage: how dare this man tell him that there were no Kanelbulle when he had brought them each year! But before his temper had made him harm his much needed deliverer he heard him say that the Swedish bakery was closed, he really could not help it. With a sigh Erik had relented, feeling so bad about scaring the poor man he paid him fifty Francs extra.
Christine had cried when he told her. His angel had cried!! Oh, she had tried to hide it from him, but he had noticed and taken his wife in his arms to sooth her.
“Don’t cry Christine, please,” he had whispered, “I will make it al-right. I can bake anything you like, I can cook anything you like, but please, please don’t cry my love!”
Christine had leaned against Erik and sobbed a little, feeling rather guilty and childish about her overreaction. A grown up, married, woman crying over confectionery? It was just that the Kanelbulle reminded her of the long evenings with her father in Sweden. When she ate them as Erik played his violin she could see him, would be transported back to their little house and the wild nature just for a while. It was something she looked forward to every year. From above her she heard Erik’s pleads and her heart broke: Poor Erik, her husband tried so hard for her every year, creating the most wonderful day she could ever imagine and here she was sobbing her eyes out over one missing detail? Surely he did not deserve this. Swiftly she took a deep breath and stopped her sobbing.
“It’s al-right Erik, I’m sorry for acting like this. I am certain the day will be just as wonderful without Kanelbulle.”
But even though Erik nodded his understanding Christine was worried to see something in his eyes that told her he did not believe her and it made Christine fear that her overreaction might come back to haunt her.
But there was no time to ponder on all of this: there were rehearsals in the world above and that was where Erik ordered her to go, which she did but rather unwillingly. A nagging feeling told her she should stay at home and stop Erik from whatever it was that he might be planning to make up for what he would wrongly assume a failure on his part.
When Christine returned she was sad to see her fears proved correct: everything was prepared for her birthday the next day and there was a dinner waiting for her, but Erik was gone.
There was, however, a note on the table, next to her plate.
My dearest, most beloved wife,
You only deserve the most perfect of birthdays and Erik will allow no less so he has gone out to assure just that.
Don’t worry my angel, I will be back soon.
Your devoted servant,
Upon reading those words Christine burst into tears again: she didn’t like Erik being out on his own as she knew it scared him and she didn’t like to hear him call himself her “servant” he was her husband for goodness-sake!! But most of all she worried something would happen to him, as so many superstitious folk feared a man in a mask!
That day Erik did not return and when she woke up the next day he still wasn’t there. That day Christine’s heart felt heavy with worry and she suffered through the worst birthday of her life.
What had happened to Erik, why was he not home? Had he been hurt? There was no way she could go look for him, as she did no where he had gone. Neither could she sent a search party as besides Madame Giry and Meg, no-one knew her husband existed.
For most of that day Christine sat quietly in the kitchen of the ballet mistress and her daughter, allowing Meg to try and take her mind of things. The poor ballerina failed miserably.
When it was seven Christine returned home, hoping Erik was back by now so she could give him a piece of her mind … or hug him, she had not decided yet. All she hoped, when her carriage drove to the Opera was that Erik would be home safe, as it was bitterly cold outside and it had been raining all day.
But Erik still was not home and there was no sign that he had ever been back. With a sigh Christine lit the fire and lamps in all the rooms to take the cold away from the empty house and settled on a chair with a book. Her heart yearned for her husband and she hoped he would return in time for her birthday kiss.
When the clock struck twelve Christine gave up her waiting: by now she was furious. How dare he leave her alone like that on her birthday of all days? Where he to return she would slap him and not talk to him for days!
With a huff she went to bed.
At three Christine woke up again from a nightmare: Erik had disappeared. Waking to an empty house she shivered to find that the nightmare was still ongoing.
Unhappily she returned to her book and took a chair by the fire, where she dozed off again about fifteen minutes later.
The thought of Christine’s joy at receiving her beloved Kanelbulle from him after all was what drove Erik to go onto a desperate quest round every bakery in Paris.
It was rare that he ventured away from the Opera and if he did it would only be with Christine: his fear of crowds and their judgement was instilled in every fibre of his being.
As he walked around the town his heart was pounding in his throat and the sensitive skin behind his mask was soon becoming irritated from the constant presence of the cold sweat of fear.
Searching all over Paris he had found nothing, it was as if no-one had ever heard of Kanelbulle, not even the shop that had always provided them. But they had to Erik thought in confusion, as he had received them every year.
Soon the last of the euphoria of doing this for Christine had faded. Erik was beginning to get worn out from tension: people were staring at him, he felt exposed, he was cold and all he wanted was to be back home.
But he would not be going home, not for quite a while. Because at the very last bakery he visited he was told that an elderly Swedish woman who ran a bakery in Meaux often had Kanelbulle for sale.
That was enough for Erik and even though he already felt worn out by then he quickly waved down a carriage and travelled to Meaux through the night.
All he needed to do was find the bakery, keep the carriage waiting and be home the next afternoon with his gift, he told himself. It was a shame he could not be with his beloved on her birthday morning, but seeing her joy in the afternoon would be worth it, he thought, trying to take his mind of the terror that pounded inside of him. Terror at being so far away from home on his own.
After an exhausting sleepless night Erik arrived in Meaux early the next morning, and that was where his misery truly begun. Stepping out of the carriage he walked to the front of the cart to ask the driver to wait for him to return. To his surprised the man looked at him in terror.
“Wait for you, you creep?” the man exclaimed. “Had I known what I was driving I would have thrown you out immediately!”
For a second Erik blinked in shocked surprise. Then he realised: It had already been dark when he had flagged down the carriage, so the driver had probably not noticed his mask. But now he did.
“My money is as good as everyone else’s. I have been in your carriage all night, what difference does it make to wait and take me back home?” Erik said, his anger rising.
“Just pay me and make sure I’ll never see you again!” the driver growled back as he spat at him.
Repressing the urge to explode and make a scene, or attack the man in a town he barely knew and draw unwanted attention to himself, Erik paid and then watched the carriage drive away as his stomach sank with dread. Now how was he going to get home?
But that would come later, he soon decided, he had to find the bakery first. If he could not find those Kanelbulle everything would have been for nothing.
After some time he found the most adorable looking bakery he had ever seen. Noticing the words “bageri” painted on the window Erik smiled, knowing, from the few Swedish words Christine had taught him, that this was the place.
Glad to be out of the cold Erik swiftly stepped inside, where he felt welcomed by warmth and several delicious smells. His stomach lurched hungrily, reminding him that he had not eaten for well over a day. But he wasn’t certain if he had brought enough money with him to buy himself something to eat: the long carriage ride had been unexpected and he was hoping to find a ride home. No, he best not buy anything other than what he had come for, he just hoped the lady in question truly had what he so desperately needed. It would not do to return to Christine empty handed after his promises and being away for so long.
“Yes Monsieur?” Erik suddenly heard behind him.
When he turned around Erik was met with the frightened eyes of a sweet old lady and it made his heart hurt. Why did people always look at him like that? Feeling frazzled and tired from everything that had happened he was overcome by a sudden urge to cry, but repressed it manfully.
Swallowing against the lump in his throat he suddenly remembered Christine, the excuses she would make for his mask when a shop keeper would stare at him in horror.
With a sigh Erik forced himself to stay calm and smile: “Förlåt mig fru ...” Erik tried in Swedish, then he repeated in his own language, to make certain he would not make a mistake: “Forgive me Madame, I know I must have startled you. I … have been in an accident … this mask is to protect my skin.” To his relief the fear faded from the old ladies eyes. “I … really should not be outside yet … But it is my wife’s birthday. My Christine … she … she is Swedish and she so dearly craves Kanelbulle.” Then suddenly Erik broke and to his horror he burst into tears after all. He just wanted to be back safely in Christine’s arms. It had all been so very much: leaving the Opera, the stares, the frantic searching, the journey through the night, the jeering of the driver. Now he was cold, tired and hungry, miles away from his home with no way of going back.
“I have searched all over Paris … and drove all night to come here ...” Erik sobbed, “please … please tell me you have them.”
All this time the old lady had said nothing, but seeing the strange man break down in front of her seemed to spur her into action.
“Din stackars man ...” the woman said kindly. “You poor man. You must love your wife so much to come out all this way when you are clearly not well. Of course I will get you Kanelbulle if your wife desires them so much. Sit down.”
Sobbing even more now he was treated so kindly Erik simply nodded and obeyed, setting himself into the small dining booth in the far corner of the shop.
“Thank you ...” he whispered in gratitude. Just then another delicious smell reached him from the kitchen and his stomach groaned.
”Är du hungrig?” the woman asked kindly.
Erik nodded shyly. “I … I am …” he muttered. “But … I … have to take a carriage back to Paris … I don’t have enough money...” he added regretfully.
“No, no, you will have tea and a sandwich!” the woman urged in an almost motherly way, much to Erik’s surprise. He protested at first, of course, but she insisted and soon Erik would be very grateful indeed for this.
After giving him tea and a sandwich the kind Swedish woman left to the kitchen to make Christine’s Kanelbulle much to Erik’s relief. For a while he had been worried the lady would watch him, meaning he could not eat. Now she was gone he could lift his mask a little to take bites from the bread. But he would not take it off, as someone could enter the shop at any moment.
Thankfully it was still very early and he could finish his meal in relative peace. Feeling slightly better after having some food he leaned back in his seat to wait for the old lady to return with his gift for Christine.
“They are finished Monsieur …”
Erik startled and blinked, shocked to find he had fallen asleep. My, he was getting old. In the past he would have never dropped his defences like that. Then again in the past he would never have wept in a bakery shop either.
“Thank you, thank you so much Madame …” Erik said warmly as he took the little bag containing the confectionery and put it in his travelling bag to keep it safe and dry. Then he stood up reluctantly to follow the lady to the counter and pay for his purchase. Even though he wanted to be back home desperately Erik was not looking forward to leaving the shop again to search for a carriage after feeling so safe where he was.
“I have added a few Vaniljhjärta as a gift.” The lady smiled, pulling him from his thoughts, laughing as she saw Erik’s confusion. “They are vanilla hearts, your wife will enjoy them I am certain.”
The twinkle in the old ladies eyes reminded Erik of Christine’s Mother Valerius who was just as kind and generous.
“That is so kind of you Madame, I thank you. My Christine will be so happy.” Erik smiled, once again feeling reluctant to go outside again. He sighed.
“Madame … do you know where I can get a carriage to go home … to Paris?” he then asked, his voice small. The woman looked at him with worry.
“You have no carriage of your own?” she asked. Erik shook his head, feeling anxious now.
“The man I came into town with left me behind once seeing my mask.” he admitted, feeling he could trust her.
“Such superstitious cruelty.” The woman sighed sympathetically. “There is a stop, a few miles from here, but please be careful as you go. You are a good man who loves his wife and people can be cruel.”
Erik nodded. “I know...” he whispered sadly.
After the lady showed him the directions to find a fiacre Erik went on his way just … when it started raining.
After atleast two hours of walking a soaked, shivering Erik found the fiacre station and tried to secure his ride home. There were only two waiting carriages and one was full and not going to Paris, he found out. Desperately he beseeched the driver of the other coach to please take him with him. The people inside the carriage gaped at him in horror.
“I don’t want that thing near me!!” A snobbish looking lady hissed loudly to her mousy husband. “He is wet and creepy!”
The driver smiled at him and beckoned Erik to come closer.
“Can you pay?”
Erik nodded hopefully.
“Show me in advance please. I have been cheated before.”
Too distressed to think properly Erik produced his wallet and within a flash it was snatched from his hands. Before a shocked Erik even had the time to respond the driver had cracked his whip and the carriage drove off, pelting a wave of freezing mud and water over him.
“Thanks, freak!!” the driver called out over his shoulder laughing, as did the people inside the carriage.
No, there would be no-more rides to Paris that day, the man in the information stall said. Not even trying to hide the look on his face that clearly revealed how appalled he was by the near hysterical dripping, mud stained, shivering masked man in front of him. And no, without money he could not get a carriage anyway. With that Erik was unceremoniously thrown out into the rain once more.
The kindness he had received in the bakery was rare, Erik knew. Not many people would help someone like him, especially now he was penniless. With a sigh a wretched Erik knew that there as only one thing he could do if he ever wanted to see his Christine again: he would walk.
The thought alone seemed like torture: he had already walked in the rain for so very long and he was not young and healthy any more. But there was no other option left.
It is not that far, he lied to himself, he could do this.
After some time Erik was certain of the route he had to take and begun the long, cold journey back home to his Christine.
Evening was falling again and still the rain was poring steadily. By now Erik barely noticed it any more, in fact he wasn’t noticing anything any more. The only thing he knew was that he had to keep walking, just keep walking. For a long time Erik had been cold and tired, then after a while, there had been endless pain but now all he felt was a weary numbness.
The road to Paris had been long and hard and had reminded Erik of why he had chosen to live like a mole in a burrow. The world was cruel to him.
Twice he had asked the party of a passing carriage if they would help him get to Paris. The first time the driver of the carriage hit him away with his whip, as the lady inside thought he was a highway man. The second time he had simply been pushed away roughly into a ditch, the fall injuring his ankle.
After that Erik had simply given up hoping that someone would ever help him. Telling himself he had suffered worse in the past he determinedly acquired a strong tree-branch to support him and limped onwards, to the Opera, to Christine.
Christine ... the thought of his lovely wife waiting for him all alone in his house beyond the lake was what drove him to keep moving. In fact were it not for his love for her he might have given up by now as the only other longing almost greater than the thought of being back in the arms of his wife was the longing for sleep. The yearning to close his eyes and collapse into slumber was the one thing disturbing his near zombie-like state. It made the road sway and spin in front of his eyes and turned things grey and black once in a while, causing him to trip and fall. But he would not allow it to overtake him, he had to go on. And he did, his slow, heavy legs kept moving onwards, ever onwards. Until finally he, somehow, reached Paris.
Now as good as sleeping on his burning feet Erik staggered blindly through the streets, unaware of the tears streaming from his eyes. He was home, he was almost home!
Still asleep in her chair at about five in the morning Christine awoke with a shock from the sound of painfully slow dragging steps walking towards the house and the noise of keys clattering and falling followed by a long silence. After a while the door was finally opened and the slow weary steps entered the hallway. Then there was a soft thud and then ... nothing. Christine’s eyebrows rose why did Erik not enter? A sudden fear replaced her anger: had something happened to him?
Immediately she forgot all about her plans of ignoring him upon his return and rushed to the hallway. There she found Erik leaning heavily into the coat rack, looking as if he’d stumbled into it and simply gone to sleep there. His head was resting on a hat while icy water and mud was dripping from him in streams.
Coming closer it appeared Erik was in fact asleep but also shaking severely. Something was wrong Christine sensed, it was as if he had used his final strength to make it through the door.
“Erik!!” Christine cried out in fright, causing the depleted man to stir slightly.
“C … C’stine ...” He droned through chattering teeth. “I … f … fou ... found them … for you ...” Then his eyes fell shut again.
Worry had by now completely erased all anger Christine had ever felt and she moved towards him.
“What did you find Erik?” she said, her voice betraying her worry.
“The … the … K … the Kanelbulle ...” Erik gasped. “I … f … found them …”
A shock went through Christine: he had been searching for her Kanelbulle all over Paris in the cold and the rain all this time? What was wrong with him? What had happened? Why was he clearly so terribly worn-out? It was as if the coat rack was all that prevented him from keeling over.
“Sorry … sorry I took so long … had to … to walk from … Meaux ...” Erik stammered apologetically, making no attempts to stand or even raise his head again.
“Meaux??!!” Christine cried out in horror, that was miles away! Now she didn’t care about the water or mud any more and she rushed to take him into her arms. “Oh, oh my love, my poor, poor love!!”
A gasp of joy came from the broken man when he sensed her embrace. “Oh … my … Christine … I … walked back … for you ...” he said, his voice barely audible. “I … love you.”
Biting back her tears at his words Christine simply held him for a moment, whispering soothing words of love.
But presently she became aware of how her dress soaked through from the water still poring from her husband and that he felt like a block of ice. Even more worrying was the fact that his lips were blue and that he seemed barely conscious. He needed to sit by the fire and quickly.
“Let me help you inside Erik.” Christine murmured lovingly to her shivering husband.
“No … no more walking ...” Erik moaned pleadingly. “Please ...”
“No, come on sweetie, you have to. You can sit by the fire and be warm. I will dry you and you can get blankets and your pyjama.” Christine insisted.
“Help me ...” Erik sighed weakly, still neither moving nor opening his eyes.
“I will,” Christine encouraged him gently. “Come on my love. Just collapse on me, it will be fine I promise.”
Uttering a groan of complete agony Erik let go of the coat rack and collapsed into Christine’s waiting arms. There he released a few heartbreaking sobs against her shoulder before he fell quiet and begun snoring with an exhausted desperation.
“Erik ...” Christine gasped tensely as she tried shaking him: she couldn’t keep her extremely tall husband upright for too long, but there was no way she would let him go to sleep on the floor of the freezing hallway.
“Erik, wake up please, just for a minute.” In her neck Erik muttered a few things in disagreement, mainly consisting of “no,” “please,” “pain” and “tired” before simply continuing to sleep on her.
“Erik, you’re cold and you’re hurting me!” Christine cried out sadly. That worked, if barely; bloodshot, unfocused, yellow eyes opened slightly to gaze at her through a blurry haze.
“Why zzz zEriks surting Cst‘Stine?” Erik slurred, before his head slumped back onto her chest. With a depleted sigh the eyes fell shut again and clearly unaware of his surroundings and the precarious position of his wife the beyond fatigued man simply snuggled against Christine as if she were a pillow and went back to his sleep.
“Oh no you don’t!” Christine exclaimed hopelessly as the sad snores begun again and her husband started sliding to the floor. “Erik come on now.” She shook him a little more, ignoring Erik’s painful wailing pleads and protests. A strange cycle of Erik waking up from her shaking him, crying from exhaustion and falling asleep again followed.
“Am I home?” Erik would plead violently. “Please tell me I’m home. Please tell me you’re Christine”
“It’s me Erik, I’m Christine. You’re home my darling!” she tried to sooth him, worried about what he could have been through to get him into this state.
Then he would beg her to let him sleep. Of course he could sleep, she promised profusely each time, but not like this. It took Christine a long time to get Erik at-least lucid enough to understand he was not in bed yet and cooperate with her as she all but dragged her sleepwalking husband to the living room, frowning as she noticed a distinct limp in his step.
Careful not to hurt him Christine helped Erik to a chair. Once he was seated she took to work: coat, jacket and all other clothing were swiftly removed, including his mud stained mask. To Christine’s horror Erik was deadly pale and drenched to the skin. The girl also noticed dark circles under his eyes and a lot of fresh bruising on his body including spots that looked like whip marks. Upon removing his soaking shoes she discovered yet another gruesome sight: his socks were stained with blood. Taking the socks of carefully she found his feet were blistered and bleeding and his ankle was slightly swollen. The fact that Erik had tied his handkerchief around it for support made Christine shudder in horror: how far had he walked like this?
No time to think, Erik had to be dry and warm first. So Christine dashed into the bathroom to get a big bath towel.
“What happened to you?” she whispered sadly as she kissed his cold cheek on her return.
A whimper was her answer. Clearly Erik was too exhausted to speak, too exhausted to do anything but sit limply in that chair with unseeing eyes as she worked on him. As gently as she could Christine rubbed Erik all over with the towel, hoping to get him warm and his circulation working again. Once he was dry enough she helped him into fresh underwear and his warmest most comfortable pyjamas. Then she wrapped a blanket around him and put him on the easy chair by the fire. There his eyes fell shut immediately, but he did not snore, making Christine worry whether he had passed out or fallen asleep.
Tense with worry about her broken husband Christine took to the kitchen to boil water to prepare a chamomile and Epson salt footbath and a pot of hot tea: Tea with lots of sugar is good for people who are cold, she knew.
With Erik still out of it upon her return, Christine knelt next to him and carefully placed his badly swollen, icy feet into the warm water. Poor Erik would probably be in pain for days, she noted sadly, hoping the ordeal would not make him ill. The long hours in the cold and rain could very well give him pneumonia and with his fragile health that could be dangerous.
A heavy sigh made her look up, Erik was stirring.
“Erik sweetie, how are you? Do you need anything …?” Christine asked kindly when she realised Erik had gained his consciousness a little.
“Drink ...” Erik muttered, his eyes still closed. “Please ...”
“Of course ...” Christine smiled, realising with dread that the poor man probably had nothing to eat or drink for over a day. “I have warm tea with sugar, would you like that?”
“Yes ...” Erik whispered hoarsely, his heavy lidded eyes now opened an inch and gazing at her pleadingly.
Christine gave Erik’s hand a loving squeeze and then rose to her feet to get him the much needed beverage. Not even trying to see if Erik was able to hold the cup by himself she placed it to his lips and helped him drink.
“More?” Erik asked hopefully, after gulping down the liquid in seconds. “Can I have more?”
“Of course, sweetie.” Christine smiled stroking his hair.
Rest and hot beverages helped Erik recover a little from the ordeal he had been through.
After a while he was more or less able to explain some of what had happened to him. Between him either falling asleep or bursting into tears several times mid story, Christine was able to assess that all her husband had wanted was to go into town and buy her the Kanelbulle she had desired for her birthday. But how could things go right for someone like him?
Christine’s heart broke upon hearing how cruelly he had been treated by so many and was grateful to hear about the kind Swedish woman. She was certain that had Erik not received some food and tea before his horrific walk home he might not have made it. It seemed that Erik had no memory of most of his journey, lost as he had been in a fog of pain, exhaustion and fear. How he had managed the stairs and the lake upon his return was a mystery. Though he was certain he had blacked out at some point, as the one memory he did have was of laying at the bottom of a stairway and trying to gather the strength to go on. Then he remembered crawling for a while as his legs were shaking too much to stand.
“You fell down the stairs?” Christine asked in horror.
A dazed look came her way. “I … guess I did … I must have ...” and heavy eyelids fell closed again.
Feeling utterly empty after Erik’s story Christine could only stand by his side and stroke his hair. “My poor darling ...” she sighed as his weary head fell against her stomach.
Knowing how long it had been since he ate Christine was determined Erik would have some food before taking him to bed. The moment he lay down would be the moment he would crash and as she looked at him she was certain he might sleep for days. He truly needed something to keep his strength up.
At first Christine had made him a sandwich, but soon realised that even chewing was too exerting for him at that moment. After the man fell asleep mid chew for the third time, she gave up. But he has to have something more nourishing than just tea with sugar, Christine thought sadly. Then an idea hit her: the soup!
Happy about her clever plan Christine reheated the tomato soup Erik had prepared for her birthday and mashed it. Then she sifted out the remaining chewy bits until it was a drinkable mixture that would at least provide him with some sort of sustenance.
“This tea tasted funny.” Erik muttered drowsily after finishing her concoction, his sluggish eyes gazing at her lovingly.
“That was soup, darling ...” Christine smiled indulgently.
“That’s nice ...” Erik sighed as his eyes drooped again. Christine wondered if he had even understood what it was she said. But it didn’t matter, he had drank it.
After the soup was finished Erik simply sat there by the fire for a while with his eyes closed. Christine was certain he was asleep until suddenly she noticed Erik trying to get up from his chair but falling back weakly with a gasp of pain.
“Erik, sweetie, what is it?” she asked as she rushed to him.
“Erik wants his bed ...” Erik said plaintively.
“Oh, of course, why didn’t you call me to help you?” Christine asked as her hand ran circles over his back.
For a second Erik looked at her dazedly, as if his tired brain had to work hard to make his reply reach his mouth.
“Erik doesn’t wish to bother you.” he then said in his hoarse, far too slow voice.
With a sigh Christine kissed the top of his head. “Erik can always bother me.” she stated lovingly.
A wheezy sigh came from Erik as he squinted his eyes as if trying to recall something and when he did it seemed to startle him.
“But … but ...” Erik suddenly gasped in horror as he tried to raise his head to look at his wife: “I missed your birthday … Or is it still your birthday?” Erik rambled in a hazy panic, making Christine worry he might have a fever. As he weakly tried to reach for her and Christine gently took his hands and knelt beside him. As she did Erik begun to pant and moan a little in his upset. “Christine, has Erik ruined your day? If he did, please don’t look after him, but punish him!”
Punish him?! Christine nearly choked with anger at those words. In his odd way Erik was suggesting that he deserved punishment for the terrible way he had been treated. While it was not his fault at all. Had people treated him as any other person Erik would have been home for her birthday early that afternoon needing nothing more than a nap and a meal to recover from his overnight journey. But no, people had abused him mentally and physically, refusing to help him get home and Erik thought that he was at fault here??!
“No-one is punishing Erik,” Christine said firmly fighting back her tears, “I think he has suffered quite enough already.”
But sadly Erik’s self hatred ran deep and he was not placified by her reply.
“I am so sorry Christine, Erik has failed you.” he insisted and this upset Christine even more. Carefully she tried to take hold of his chin to make him look at her which Erik valiantly tried to do, but was nearly impossible for someone who was barely awake.
“No, no you didn’t.” Christine urged.” Erik, you did not fail me, do you understand? You tried to do something nice for me and people treated you horrible. That is not your fault.”
Slowly Erik raised his hand to touch Christine’s face but seemed unclear in which direction he should be going. By now his eyes seemed to stare in several directions at once and not at all. To help him Christine simply took the wavering appendage and pressed a kiss onto it. Erik almost smiled at that.
“If you still want to celebrate … Erik … Erik … could try not to be tired.” he forced out sluggishly his head lolling precariously as his eyeballs rolled into the back of his head. “I … could play for you … read ...” Erik slurred dizzily just as his eyes closed and his head snapped forward onto Christine’s shoulder.
“Don’t be ridicules Erik, you’re shaking from exhaustion and can’t even keep your eyes open for more than a second.” Christine scoffed, taking her husband in her arms. “You are going to bed and take a long, long rest.” A soft sad groan came from Erik.
“Erik doesn’t deserve rest.” Erik near sobbed, his voice muffled by her shoulder. “And he does not deserve Christine.”
That sounded worryingly like the Erik she knew in the past, not her more confident husband and Christine did not like this regression.
“Stop that, please Erik.” Christine said in a choked voice, as she rubbed his back and rocked him. “I love you so much. Please remember that.” When would he realise that there was no need for him to think he was worthless? That to her he was perfect, he did not need to earn her love or prove himself worthy of her.
“How can you love a monster who can’t even shop for his wife?” Came Erik’s broken voice.
Monster …! Oh, he had not called himself that in a long time, but obviously the treatment he had received in the outside world had brought it all back. Her poor husband.
“I can and I do. Please Erik, don’t blame this on yourself. You are not a monster and you did nothing wrong!!”
No reply came from Erik, he just lay limply in Christine’s arms, talking like this had clearly exhausted him even more.
“Are you ready to go to bed now, Erik, dear?” Christine asked after some time and kneeling with him like that was beginning to hurt.
“Please, sleep ...” Erik muttered in affirmation from somewhere near her neck, but he made no attempt to sit up at all and Christine was beginning to feel certain that Erik really was running a fever.
“You have to let me go now, so I can prepare things for you.” she said as she nudged him gently.
“Too tired … everything .., hurts ...” Erik sighed after a feeble try.
“What hurts, sweetie?” Christine asked patiently.
“Everything …” came the apologetic reply. “I’m sorry my angel, I can’t move any-more ...” Then Erik just remained where he was and Christine almost had to laugh at her sweet, hopeless husband.
“My poor Erik, come I’ll help you.” With that Christine carefully eased him into a comfortable sitting position as she rose. “Now just stay put for a little while longer, I will let the bed warmer make our bed nice and toasty for you and get you a hot water bottle as well. Would you like that, sweetie?”
A vague smile on Erik’s pale face as he tried to nod but fell asleep again half way through. That poor man, Christine thought as she carefully tucked the blanket around him, she had often seen him exhausted, but never so utterly, terribly beyond fatigue as this.
“Everything will be al-right my love ...” she whispered gently as she stroked his cheek. “Please don’t ever go off alone again ...” Then she reluctantly left the room to prepare everything so Erik could go to bed in peace.
Soon the bed was warm, the warm water was ready to go into the bottle and there was warm milk with laudanum just waiting for Erik to calm his muscles. Now Christine was ready to help Erik to bed.
It was almost a shame to wake him up simply to bring him to bed again, fast asleep as he was in his chair. But his poor body needed to lay down.
Before she woke him up, Christine thought it best to treat some of his injuries first: his ankle needed support, and his feet needed padding and bandages. Having Erik asleep while doing this was preferable as Christine was in no mood to be dealing with the fussing and self loathing that would undoubtedly pore out of him at the thought of her on her knees taking care of his damaged feet. During her ministrations she could almost hear him sob about how worthless he was, that a goddess like her should not be doing this inside her mind.
Finishing her job Christine carefully slipped his feet into a pair of oversized slippers she had taken from Erik’s costume room. They were from a past production at the Opera and Erik had always liked him, unfortunately they had been too big even for him. Now though, they fit perfectly and she hoped the soft insides would help minimise the pain and pressure when walking and standing.
“Erik, sweetie, are you ready for bed now?” Christine said gently as she carefully shook his shoulder, unsure where she could touch him without hurting him.
A sad little gurgle escaped Erik’s throat before he managed to slowly blink at her.
“Yes … bed ...” Erik muttered, clearly forcing himself to not promptly fall asleep again.
For a second he attempted to rise by himself, which evidently hurt and exhausted him, then he helplessly turned to Christine.
“Do you need support Erik?” Christine asked kindly, happy Erik finally seemed to understand that it was al-right to ask for help. Erik nodded slowly.
“Come on my love, let’s get you to bed.” Christine said as she hunched a little and carefully lifted one of Erik’s arms and placed it around her neck. Then she took his other arm and placed it around her waist.
“Erik, I’m going to rise now, really slowly, and you have to come along, understood?” she then asked.
“Yes ...” Erik slurred, still struggling to remain awake.
Slowly and carefully Christine rose and to her relied Erik cooperated as good as he could. The cry of pain he released upon standing tore through her like a knife and almost made her return her husband to his chair immediately.
“Erik, are you really al-right to walk?” she asked, her voice shaking.
“Have to … have to lay down ...” Erik gasped. “Bed … please … just … quickly.”
But quickly was the one thing they could not manage as Erik’s overworked legs were only capable of the slowest of shuffling, shaky, steps.
The journey to bed was tough on Christine as her barely conscious husband was slumped completely over her and his fast breaths and mumbles of pain upset her to the point she wanted to cry.
It was a moment beyond relief for both of them when they finally reached the bedroom and Christine could help Erik to slowly sit upon the bed. Being able to look at him again made her worry even bigger: his face was twisted from pain and covered with a sheen of sweat while his eyes glistened rather feverishly.
Not saying anything she continued helping him settle: lifting his legs upon the bed and turning him as the effort seemed too big for him. Before she lay him down Christine forced him to drink the warm milk that contained the pain relief. This finished she could finally let Erik have his desperately needed rest. Carefully she lowered his body down, but he was asleep in her arms before she could even lay his head on the pillow.
For a while Christine sat by Erik’s bedside, making sure he was sleeping comfortably. She could not imagine the ordeal he had gone through just to buy her some … Her eyebrows raised: where were those damn Kanelbulle anyway?
Stepping into the hallway sometime later Christine found the pile of Erik’s wet, torn and stained clothing. Among them was his bag: They have to be in there, Christine deducted. And she was right: inside the bag were the Kanelbulle and the Vaniljhjärta. Somehow Erik had kept them dry and undamaged, despite all that had happened to him.
Seeing the innocent looking treats inside the bag finally broke Christine, her breathing hitched and a sob escaped her throat. Suddenly she felt herself sinking to her knees weeping as a terrible grief overtook her. Poor Erik, her sweet wonderful, poor Erik. All he had wanted was buy his wife a treat for her birthday just like any other husband would. But instead he had been robbed, beaten and abused and forced to walk endless miles through the cold and rain to return to her. Why was the world so cruel to this poor man?
It was her fault too, she thought after a while: if she had not been so insistent on her stupid traditions he never would have left. Why was her birthday still steeped into the past? Of course it was a good thing to honour her father and remember her Swedish roots, but when was she going to make new memories with Erik? Would her abiding memories of celebrating her birthday during the time she had with Erik really have to be that he worked himself to exhaustion to make her happy and do what her father did? Would it not be far better if he could simply be Erik and share the day with her as her husband? Then another pang of realisation hit her: she could have lost him today. She could have lost her Erik!! Someone could have killed him, he could have collapsed and died from the cold or exhaustion. She could still lose him if his fever grew worse.
An overwhelming feeling of awareness overtook her: It was time to grow up and be a wife, not a child. It was time to see Erik in his own right, not as an extension of her father. It was unfair to give him the idea that he had to live up to that.
With a sigh Christine decided that she had to end her moment of self-pity. There was no time to wallow: she had to clean up the remains of Erik’s horrific adventure and write a brief letter to Madame Giry to explain what had happened and to ask her for help with Erik’s injuries.
Soon the house was cleaned up. Much to Christine’s regret she had not been able to salvage any of Erik’s clothes nor his shoes. But maybe it was for the best, she couldn’t imagine Erik ever wanting to wear any of the items again.
Once the letter to Madame Giry had been placed on the desk of her office Christine decided that it might be best if she lay down and tried to sleep for a while. Things would get very exhausting with Erik needing lots of care and looking after in the coming days.
Carefully Christine tiptoed into the bedroom, finding Erik still fast asleep, as expected. Carefully she slipped into their bed beside him.
“I love you Erik …” she whispered as she crawled close to him, “so very much.”
She snuggled against him and wrapped her arms around him wishing she could protect him from the world. “I’ll never let you out of my sight again.” Christine thought as she drifted into a deep sleep.