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The Care and Keeping of an Opera Ghost's Baby

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Christine often told stories about the Korrigans, the little gnome-like creatures that she had been told roamed the moors of Brittany up on the scraggly highlands above the village of Perros-Guirec. She claimed she had met them, once, when she was a teenager and had fallen down an old mine shaft while she and…that boy…that Raoul… had been out at midnight, trying to find the truth in the legends they had been told by old life-weary farmwives and craggy old fishermen. She had, as she told it, fallen down the shaft, broken her arm, hit her head, and while the boy had run back into Perros to find her father, she lay in the putrid water at the bottom of the shaft looking up at the full moon, high above. She wasn’t wearing her glasses- the better to see the creatures of The Other World with, she claimed- but could see light and shadow moving above her, and then the tiny, chipper voices that seemed to want her to come with them.

 

“You have to get me out!” She called up to them, though she wasn’t sure if she was actually making any noise at all. “I can’t get out on my own!”

 

She dreamed this memory quite often, and always, it ended the same with her father and Professor Valerius, and Raoul always coming to her rescue.

 

That night, though, the voices continued beyond their usual chatter, and after a time the chatter turned to another sound. A crying sound. The wailing of a baby. The wailing of her baby!

 

She sat bolt upright in bed and reached for Erik at the same time she reached for her glasses.

 

“Please light a lamp, love.” She begged , trying to get her bearings while, at the same time realizing her husband wasn’t in the bed beside her. She lit the lamp herself, following the sound of the wailing babe as her breasts ached with the need to nurse the crying little boy. She followed the sound down the stairs and into the music room where she found her husband in his nightshirt and bare feet, no mask on his face, at the edge of tears trying to get the baby to quiet.

 

“This is my fault! All my fault!” He insisted as he almost manically rocked the baby, his eyes bloodshot and his skin unusually pale.

 

Christine walked to him and set the lamp on the back of the piano, casting a wonderful array of shadows about the room as the light caught the music stand and Erik’s violin, and the piles of scores stacked on the piano’s lid.

 

“Zana is fine, my love.” Christine tried to sooth, taking the baby from his arms so she could sit with him to nurse. “He just needed something you are unable to provide.”

 

Christine sighed as Zana latched and began to drink his fill, immediately quieting to only making the occasional burbling sound as he swallowed and sought air. Christine closed her eyes and savored the sensation that sent a warm rush through her body and she smiled, easing into the embrace of the armchair next to the fire.

 

“I wish I was more of a help.” Erik lamented, slumping down onto the piano bench, resting his head in his hands. “My mother always told me what a horrible baby I was; how fussy and awake at all hours. I’m afraid I’ve done the same to you and our son by passing on whatever causes that.”

 

“Oh, Erik…my sweet love! Zana is perfect! He’s only three weeks old and it is well known that new babies fuss in the night and, often, their maman is the only one who can satisfy what they need.”

 

“But there must be something…”

 

“Come here.” Christine said with a gentle smile, getting to her feet. “Sit here.”

 

He did as he was told and she sat back down on his lap, resuming the nursing as Erik held her close, supporting her and the baby.

 

“This is how you can help me, tonight.” She said, nuzzling into the spot below his ear where his jaw came to its apex. She kissed him, there, and that lovely, familiar tingle coursed through him. “Just hold us, and when Zana has gone back to sleep, we both shall as well.” She paused. “At least, we will go back to our bed and enjoy each other’s company until sleep claims us.”

 

 

 

***

“You rotten little toad!” It was Erik’s mother and she stood over him in his little cot in the attic where he cried for the nightmare he had just awakened from. “If you can’t control yourself and your damnable crying, I will have to have Pere Manon back to purge the devil from you again!”

 

“No, Maman! Please no!” Erik begged. He couldn’t have been any older than three or four years old, but he recalled the scene with the same vividness as if it happened just that very moment. He could feel the sting of every blow she had lit upon him, felt the choking sensation of trying not to cry but being given every reason to. He heard his own crying, the begging for some sort of love or compassion, but was only met with more aching bite of more strikes, more cruel words. Finally, he would wrap himself tight in his blankets and bury his face in his pillow and his mother would pray he would just suffocate when she finally walked away, locking the door to the little attic room behind her.

 

***

 

Zana’s cries woke him, once more. He might have slept for thirty minutes, but he knew it was too soon for him to be hungry, again, and he didn’t want Christine to wake up; didn’t want his sweet, gentle wife to be pushed to the brink of becoming his mother and Zana becoming him. This time, though, when he got to the nursery, he found his adopted father, Rahim, holding and shushing the little boy like it was the most natural thing in the world. Tears streamed Erik’s cheeks as he took in the scene, unsure if it was because he was exhausted, felt guilty for not getting there sooner, because the crying had wakened his Baba, or because now another person would judge him for passing on this cursed fussiness. It may also have been because the scene, itself, was so tender and beautiful and he was saddened at the realization that he never experienced that level of gentle love until Rahim had rescued him from the sideshow at ten years old.

 

“Baba, I don’t know what to do!” Erik cried, now sounding fussier than Zana, falling to the ground in a cross-legged heap. “I’m afraid that I have ruined him! How do I make it so that Christine doesn’t become angry with him or with me? She is so patient; seems to know what to do, but can she be expected to endure that forever?!”

 

“When did you last sleep a full night?” Rahim asked softly, the baby quiet and sleeping against his shoulder as he bounced him.

 

“Since before Zana was born. I found myself too anxious too sleep as Christine’s due date approached. I might have been a bit vigilant about ensuring she was all right.”

 

“Well, that is certainly not unexpected of you.” Rahim chuckled. “But you do remember that we have been down this path before. Where you try to live everyone else’s life while neglecting the needs of your own.” Rahim stepped towards him and handed him the baby. “He had a dirty diaper. You would be fussy, too. I took the liberty of changing him and he should be settled for a bit. Why don’t you go get some sleep. If he cries, someone else with get up with him, but you need to rest.”

 

“All right, Baba…I’ll just put him down then go to sleep.” Erik lied, and as soon as Rahim left the room, he sat in the rocking chair and just held Zana to his chest, rocking and singing and showing him that love he had never known. “Why would I ever want to put you down, sweetling?” He cooed. “You and your Maman are the two most precious things in the world to me and I swear you will never, ever have to question that.”

 

That was how Christine found and Erik and Zana three hours later when the sun had begun to rise, and she woke up realizing she hadn’t nursed in several hours. When she rushed into the nursery, she found Erik still rocking and singing to Zana, though he looked a fright with dark circles under his eyes and his skin the most sallow she had ever seen.

 

“I think I saw the Korrigans.” He said, matter of factly, hardly registering any surprise at Christine’s presence. “One was named Antoine and he wore a red hat. Come to think of it, they all wore red hats. I had to chase them off with the fire poker, though, because they wanted to take Zana away. I said “No, Korrigans, you will not have my son and I insist you leave!” and now here you are. Did they come and wake you?”

 

Christine looked at him with concern.

 

“Erik, will you give me the baby so I can nurse him? Please?”

 

“Are you going to give him to the Korrigans? Because I won’t if you are going to give him to the Korrigans. They said they don’t mind that he is fussy, but I wonder why my mother never sent me to live with the Korrigans, then? Unless, of course, Baba is actually a Korrigan! Baba! Baba, can you come in here?!”

 

By now, Zana had been awakened by Erik’s senseless prattle and was crying for Christine. Rahim, who had still been asleep, stumbled into the room and took in the manic expression of Erik’s face, now trying to piece together his life with Christine’s stories and his own sleep-deprive hallucinations.

 

“Baba, are you a Korrigan?” Erik was rocking wildly in the chair.

 

“A what?!”

 

“Just. Say. Yes.” Christine whispered from the side of her mouth. “Tell him we’re korrigans. That we are all korrigans, even him.”

 

Rahim’s dark eyes darted between Christine, his son, and his crying grandson, wondering if he really should run off with the baby.

 

“Yes, Erik…I am a karrigan…

 

“Korrigan…” Christine corrected.

 

“Korrigan, and…” He paused, looking at Christine. “And what?”

 

“And you rescued Erik as a child from the evil people who hurt him.”

 

“Ah, yes, of course.”

 

“But why don’t you wear a red hat, Baba? They all had red hats.”

 

Rahim was terribly confused by all that was happening around him, but he did know how to solve this particular problem. For a quick moment, he slipped back into his room, careful not to wake his sleeping wife, Louisa, and pulled out a red felt sleeping cap Christine had made him for Christmas. This, he slipped on then went back to the nursery.

 

“See!” He exclaimed. “I just don’t wear it in the day because I don’t want to be found out!.”

 

“Christine made you that. I watched her…” Erik’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.

“Because she knew I needed a new one and she knew I was Korrigan because she could recognize my true form with her glasses off.”

 

Christine smiled at him, despite the oddness of the situation, because he was proving so adept at adding to the story.

 

Erik seemed to be on the path of believing them, but then a thought struck him.

 

“So if you are korrigans, why have I never heard you speak the Korrigan language? I’ve caught you in a bit of a fib, now haven’t I?”

 

Some well executed gibberish combined with some surprisingly attuned improvisational skills suddenly had Erik stilled in his seat. He couldn’t figure out what it was, but there was a very clear syntax to what they were saying, and his eyes darted back and forth between them until he could take it no longer.

 

“You’re not taking my baby away!” He shouted, and everyone grew silent, including Zana who seemed to look up at him as though he recognized his father was clearly insane.

 

“My love, I am not trying to take Zana; I only wish to nurse him. You can sit with me the whole time if it would make you feel better.”

 

He blinked rapidly until he finally shook his head and looked at her and Rahim with a bit more clarity.

 

“Wait…what…what just happened. Why am I here and I why did I dream you were korrigans trying to steal Zana.”

 

Christine took the baby from him and once more sat on his lap as he rested his chin on her shoulder and started rocking them gently, once more as Christine nursed. By the time Zana was done, the rocking had stopped, and Erik snored softly against her ear. When Rahim came back a little while later to check on them, that is how he found the three of them, sound asleep, his perfect little family.