Lunch & Lessons
The blocking for Act One had improved by the end of the week, to the point where management approved the introduction of basic backdrops and sets. Though Chris was busy up in the flies raising and lowering the backdrops, he was greatly concerned for his friend. He’d replaced Larry yet again, but was worried it was more detrimental to the old man’s health than not. Buquet had placed the boy on one of the lines for the curtains, a job normally reserved for the strongest of the crew. The main curtains were made from more than 300 yards of heavy red velvet, and were difficult to raise and lower gracefully even with the advanced pulley system used by the Palais Garnier. A small boy like Chris would be unable to apply enough weight on the ropes to move the large curtain; whereas the elderly Larry would most likely injure himself trying to maintain control. It was distressing that, regardless of where he worked, Larry ran the risk of being injured or fired. Knowing how pleased Buquet would be with either outcome, the boy hoped he’d chosen the correct path. Catching the malicious grin of the Chief of the Flies, Chris shook his head at such petty cruelty. The promising little ballet rat Larry had saved from the man’s perverse lusts had given up her dreams of the stage, unable to sleep due to recurring nightmares of her attack and near rape. Having succeeded in destroying the future of the young girl, the drunkard was well on his way to doing the same to the elderly stagehand.
When the cast broke for lunch, Chris remained high up in the flies. He wouldn't be able to descend quickly enough to grab his lunch, eat, and leave the kitchens before Buquet entered with his cronies, and he didn't want to risk running into the spiteful man. Thankfully, he’d planned ahead. Reaching into a small bag he’d laid aside during rehearsal, the boy pulled out some cheese, bread, and a small flask of water. It wasn't as filling as the hearty stew from the kitchen but he considered it worth it not to have to deal with Buquet. Sourly, he wondered why the management old and new retained the man. The slightest breeze pulled him from his thoughts and alerted him that he was no longer alone on the catwalk. Without looking up from his meager fare, the boy called a greeting to the Opera Ghost. He was rewarded with an obvious pause before his greeting was returned. Chris grinned in triumph at surprising the Phantom.
“Why do you not eat with the crew, Monsieur Chris?”
“I’d rather run barefoot through a field of broken glass, Monsieur Le Fantôme.” The boy retorted dryly before he could truly consider to whom he spoke. Flushing slightly, he added in a more congenial tone, “My apologies, Monsieur, I shouldn't take my ill temper out on you. I simply have no wish to be in Buquet’s presence any more than is necessary.”
When the silence dragged on, Chris risked a glance behind him to learn he was alone in the flies once more. Shrugging, he supposed his petty problems were uninteresting even to a recluse like the Opera Ghost. He was, however, disappointed at missing a chance to speak to the fascinating gentleman. Their short conversations were quickly becoming one of the few highlights of his miserable days at the opera house. Finishing up his lunch, he checked the large clock and was amazed to find he still had nearly an hour before the cast would return. He was about to climb down to find Larry when the forbidding figure of the ghost reappeared. Chris stopped with a startled squeak which he desperately tried to cover with a cough.
“How do you do that?”
“Trade secret, Monsieur.” The ghost’s lips twitched into a hint of a smile. From under his cloak, he withdrew a bowl of stew and handed it over to the boy, who instinctively took it. When Chris looked up, he’d faded away once more.
“Merci, Monsieur Le Fantôme.” The boy spoke softly hoping the ghost would hear him. As he sat to eat, he pondered his strange friendship with the Opera Ghost. He’d not heard of the man interacting with anyone but the managers and Madame Giry, who delivered his salary. Did the ghost even have a name, and would he reveal it if he did? And how did he get around the opera house unseen? Turning, Chris stared at the wall near where the ghost had appeared. He wasn't even sure what he was looking for but maybe he could find a hint for one of the ghost’s many secrets. Approaching the wall cautiously, the boy ran his fingers all along the surface hoping to feel a crack or uneven panel; anything to lend evidence to a doorway. He sighed in disappointment at finding nothing though he realized that, if it was that easy, surely it would have been found by now by others more skilled than he. Still, he brooded with his back against the wall as he finished his lunch.
He left the bowl near the last place he’d seen the Phantom and returned to his work after lunch was over. The opera was slowly coming together and, barring another fit by their leading soprano, would be ready by opening night. He didn't see the ghost for the rest of the day, a fact that upset him more than he cared to admit. Chris left the bowl on the catwalk with a note explaining why he didn't return it to the kitchen himself. He could think of no explanation to give the kitchen workers of how the bowl had come into his possession other than the truth, and that was the last thing he was willing to say. Scrambling quickly down the ropes and ladders at the end of the day, the boy left the opera house in a decidedly morose mood and disappeared into the streets of Paris.
Down in the bowels of the Palais Garnier, a lone figure shuffled through a stack of music looking for the perfect song to test his pupil’s vocal range. Though a week had passed, he had yet to provide the girl with a song, as they were still working on the very basics of posture and breathing. An aria from the little-known opera Hannibal jumped out at him. Reading it over with a critical eye, Erik found the song to be at the very top of his angel’s range. That would do perfectly, as it would give the girl something to work towards. Putting the sheet into his violin case, a single perfect blood-red rose caught his eye and he hesitated. He’d bought it on a whim when he fetched his weekly supply of food he’d ordered, thinking he’d give it to the girl as a reward to progressing beyond scales. Picking it up carefully, he frowned at the sharp thorns that ran up the stem. He took the flower into the kitchen to find a knife and trim away the thorns. Looking it over in dismay, he realized it was now quite bare. Retreating into his room, Erik clipped a small strip of the black ribbon he used on some of his masks and tied it around the stem. Simple. Elegant. He felt it made a nice contrast. Sliding the rose into a pocket hidden inside his cloak, he picked up the violin case and began the trek to the chapel.
He was pleased to be the first to arrive, as this way he could remain hidden from his angel. The child had shown him more backbone than he’d expected from such a tiny thing but that didn't mean he wanted to terrify her by showing his hideous face, masked or not. No, best to stay hidden. Slipping through the grate, he placed first the sheet of music and then the rose on the altar near the portrait miniature. He’d barely returned to the comforting shadows of the passageway when the door opened. Once more covered in a large cloak with hood, his angel entered the chapel and stared at the rose and music for a long time before picking them both up. Was he imagining the tender way she handled the flower? Bah, of course it was his imagination! He’d known the girl for all of a week. He watched her look over the music and wondered what was going through her mind. As covered as she was, Erik had no way of knowing if she liked the music, hated it, or felt totally indifferent to it.
“Bonjour, Mon Ange.” His voice trickled from the angel statue like warm honey, and he could see the girl relax slightly. “I hope the music meets your approval?”
“Oui, Monsieur.” She hesitated slightly before adding in a softer voice, “as does the beautiful flower.”
“I’m glad you are pleased. Shall we being our warm ups with the scales?” The girl stood obediently and turned slightly away from the altar. She’d hoped to keep her face hidden as she assumed the proper stance but unknowingly turned more completely towards him. Erik frowned as the candles cast too many shadows for him to see her face. Perhaps next time he’d adjust the lighting before she arrived?
The rest of the night was uneventful. His pupil was progressing nicely with her breathing since their first meeting, as she was able to hold her notes much longer than before. He told her to adjust her posture a bit more and it took longer to explain than he would have liked. Damn this infernal grate! Hearing his irritation in the barely audible grumbling, the girl crossed her arms over her chest and waited for his muttering to cease.
“Are you quite finished, Monsieur?” Her tone was more snappish than she would have liked, but she felt he wasted time with such trivialities. What did such insignificant details matter?
“Yes, Mademoiselle. It appears in one short week you've managed to learn all I can teach you. Since my services are no longer required, I suppose we shall not need to meet again.” His glorious voice dripped sarcasm as potent as an asp’s poison, and the girl had the grace to hang her head in shame.
“Forgive me, Maestro. As you are well aware, I've had no formal training, and so see little point in what appears to be such a minor detail.”
“Child,” Erik took a steadying breath, silently repeating the mantra of “patience” over and over to himself. “Everything, be it a building, a composition, an opera, or a voice, must have a solid foundation. One so secure that not even the strongest wind could topple it. Breathing, posture, scales…all of these are the very foundation of a well-trained voice. To skip these simple steps would be like trying to run a race without ever learning to walk first.”
“I understand, Maestro. Forgive me my ignorance.” He could tell she did understand and was duly chastised. The girl’s ability to admit to her mistake endeared her greatly to her teacher, for many, himself included, were usually far too proud to admit such a thing.
“Of course, child. I shall endeavor to explain it better as well.” Erik was feeling charitable, therefore, and attempted to explain the stance once more. After only a few more corrections, she was finally in the proper stance. He advised her to remember it well, as he didn't want to have to go through this every lesson.
And so, back in harmony once more, they continued with the lesson. The girl retained the correct posture for the rest of the night and she could tell the difference already. Sensing her understanding, Erik gave praise when it was due. And, though they primarily worked on simple scales, he could tell that hers would be an incredible instrument in time. She still had many lessons to go before she could reach her full potential, of course, but reach it she would. Eager as he was to bathe in the purity of her voice, Erik called their lesson completed after an hour. He knew better than to push her voice too fast, else he risked ruining it altogether. With final thanks for the flower, his mysterious pupil slipped from the chapel and left him alone once more.