Any performer could tell you the difference between a good show and a good show is how well the performers are treated. Freak shows, so often collections of medical conditions as much as exhibitions of training and talent, were no different.
“Christine! Oh god, Christine!”
Squelch and Gangles fanned out and within minutes one of Phantasma’s doctors was bent over Christine, still cradled in his arms. There were many doctors at Coney Island, but those on staff at Phantasma catered to his beloved freaks, and had the gift of discretion. He would call it a priceless gift, except he paid handsomely for it, both for himself and the rest of Phantasma’s oddities. However much they displayed to passing gawkers, they were still entitled to their privacy.
“Sir, lean her this way! I must see!”
His hand was wet. Sticky. He couldn’t breathe. No. He’d only just gotten her back.
The doctor’s shears slid cleanly through the beautiful dress. Dark blue like the night sky over the island. Dark, but never black, never blind. Never blind again, not like in his lair under the earth, like the past. Perhaps that was why he lit up his world with lights in every color he’d ever seen or dreamt.
“I see the wound-- it is shallow! Sir, help me loosen her stays! She must breathe!”
A beat, then madness. He scrambled to turn her, and the doctor cut the corset laces and pulled the halves away. With a hard slap to her back, the doctor had Christine drawing a sharp breath. In an act half recalled and entirely unwelcome, he dropped his coat and wrapped Christine in it, guarding her from the cold and all the eyes that had suddenly appeared.
She coughed, and Gustave cried louder, lurching to reach her arms. “Mother! Mother!”
The doctor barked orders and a flurry of activity blurred around them. “On the stretcher, now! Take her to my surgery and I will tend that wound.”
“Mother, Mother!” Gustave clung fiercely as an orderly attempted to pull him from Christine's arms. “No!”
“Gustave,” she said weakly, her hand grasping, finding nothing.
How well he knew the feeling.
“Erik?” She reached for him, clutching her side as her body shifted on the lurching stretcher.
His name. He had not heard it in years. How strange to hear it now, from the one person left who knew.
He took Gustave’s hand but did not try to dislodge him. “Gustave, I swear to you, we will follow wherever she goes. You will not leave your mother’s side, do you understand?”
Sniffling, the boy-- his boy-- released his hold and Christine was whisked away.
A bellow from deep in the harbor sounded, and The Atlantic Queen chugged away to the dark sea.
An hour later, they were allowed into the sickroom. Christine was asleep, huddled under his coat. Too young still for the shadows under her eyes. Gustave immediately snuggled by her legs.
The doctor came out smelling of disinfectant. Released in days, rest and no excitements. “When she can, ah, that is, when she is well enough to leave, I’ll come round to check the healing.”
Erik rolled his stiff shoulders. He’d sat as still as he could while Gustave had clung to him. How strange, but then children would take whatever they could for comfort. Erik was all too familiar. Dolls, bankets… music.
“Christine will come home with me.”
“Of course, sir.”
Christine awoke an hour later, groggy and weak. “Gustave?”
He was a little hurt that she did not call for him first, but then he had little experience with mothers. He’d had one, which was the extent of his expertise.
The doctor hurried in and checked Christine’s pupils, her heart. A heart that still beat. At the doctor’s meaningful glance, Erik pulled a trinket from his pocket and bent over to Gustave.
“Look at this, my friend,” he said, and Gustave reluctantly looked away from his mother. “Do you know what it is?” Christine made a tiny yelp, but did not cry out.
“Those are gears. And a spring! Is it a pocketwatch? But, where are the hands and face?”
The doctor patted Christine’s hand and she smiled tiredly. “Look again, at the edges. Then look at the shape of the gears.”
“Oh, I see! Is it… fifteen minutes after eleven?”
“Well done. See if you can find how it winds, the doctor will be done in a moment.”
The boy, his boy, sat and held up the watch, a little thing Erik built in a mania. As the boy turned it this way and that, Erik edged closer to the bed to listen. It was much the same bland report as the doctor had given him earlier.
It did not diminish the wonder.
“Christine?” He sounded so small.
The doctor glanced between them. “I’ll have that broth sent round, then. And water. Sir, if you’ll--” the doctor gestured to the bed frame and they each lifted a side and set the support in place, then made to leave. “Now, you can sit up for an hour or so, but then I want you lying down again. The nurse will help.” The doctor turned and looked back. What a the strange tableau they must make. “Well then, I’ll see you in the morning. Good night sir, ma’am.” He left the room. Silence, broken by the tics from Erik’s watch.
Christine looked up. Erik knelt down. “Oh, Christine,” his throat convulsed over a sob. “I am so, so sorry.”
“Shhh. It is a scratch.”
“A very deep scratch.” He recalled the way her flesh had opened, red and angry, as the doctor cut her corset and chemise away. “I saw.”
She reached for him. Erik slid forward on his knees, a posture he often took with her, and cradled her hands. She drew him close. “We must tell Gustave it is a scratch. Nothing more.”
His mind replayed the haunted scene: The sound of the big steamer ship as it left, the hundreds of eyes in the crowd staring, and Christine’s blood wetting his hands.
“Of course. Yes.” He swallowed hard. There had been enough madness. “A scratch.”
Her hand shook as it traced his chin, then the corner of his mouth, her eyes following the path of her fingertips. His lower lip. Had it only been hours since she sang, since they kissed? Which was the greater triumph?
Would a second kiss help to clarify, he wondered as Christine’s touch began to draw him closer.
“It does not need winding!” Gustave shouted as he leapt from his chair. “Mr. Y, the watch winds itself!”
Christine gave the tiniest smile and lowered her hand. That smile, like a little secret. Erik liked secrets, and would add this one to his collection.
Erik stood and adjusted his sleeves. “Well done, well done, young man. Now, tell me how you found that?”
Broth was delivered and Erik helped Gustave feed Christine. She finished half the bowl and insisted Gustave have the rest.
“But, Christine, you need--”
“I am too tired. I don’t want more. Not now.”
He sighed. She had sung, so surely she would be thirsty. “Water then?”
She drank and rested her head back. Erik and the nurse laid the bed flat while Gustave ate, half falling asleep by the bowl. It was well after midnight after a far from ordinary day. He could feel the ache of weariness settling in. He found paper and set about writing a few lines. The papers would need a certain amount of guidance on how to communicate the days’ doings after all.
Gustave and Christine cuddled and spoke softly to each other. A giggle, then a laugh made of music and light. A few tears. It looked so easy, so natural. It was extraordinary. Soon enough, Gustave was still and Christine kept a hand on him, her eyes drooping.
“I’m so tired.”
“Sleep. I won’t be far.”
Her hand tightened on Gustave’s shoulder.
What had he thought would happen? Did he think he would simply step into the Viscount’s place? Believed that once he won his bet, that sickening wager that he’d known the idiot could not resist, that he could fill the space left in Christine's heart? In her bed?
He was rather taller than the Viscount.
When her breathing was deep and regular, Erik went into the hall. Gangles, Squelch, and Fleck were there, assembled. Squelch clutched a bag.
Erik nodded tiredly, then lowered his eyes. “Fleck, give my lawyer these notes for the Times and have him meet me here tomorrow morning. Gangles, make sure to spread some extra appreciation to everyone who kept this quiet tonight. Squelch, make sure they stay quiet. I won’t have her in the headlines.”
Fleck flourished a wave and took the letter. Gangles bowed. Squelch held out the bag to Erik.
“Sandwich. Lad will be hungry.”
His beloved freaks. “Thank you. I’ll tell him who brought it. He’ll love that.”
Squelch grinned. “You think?”
“I do. Now go rest. And thank you.”
Erik took the bag and returned to the room. Mother and son were tragically beautiful, with Christine’s arm cradling her young like a pieta, loving care in the face of her own suffering. Such perfection, such innocence, and yet so terribly, terribly wrong.
The room was chilly, so he found a blanket and was about to lay it over them when he paused.
Though Christine had certainly outgrown the girlish pink of youth, what had replaced it was the glow of womanhood. She was fuller, too, as mothers were. Fields that gave harvests did not look the same as untamed meadows. Her neck was not so slim, but after today he knew, oh how well he knew, that the outward roundness only hinted at the richness and depth she was capable of.
He had laid those foundations, and she had thrived in spite of him, the Viscount, and everything else.
Gustave snuffled and scooted closer. Erik shook his head and laid the blanket over them, then took residence in the nearby chair. The sandwich would keep until morning.
Erik hated standing over Christine. Her wheeled chair, hastily acquired that morning (the owner did not need it anymore, such was the way of the inevitable) forced him move chairs about constantly during her tour so he did not loom. It was bad enough to look like a gargoyle. He preferred to end the resemblance there.
It was mid morning when the tour ended in his best guest suites, a fine sitting room with a piano with two rooms adjoining it. The rooms were freshly aired and appointed, and were nothing less than a confection of curving nouveau grace. Until today he’d always thought the main room unfinished, and had been drafting plans for it.
Christine smiled and tapped a loose melody on the piano as she was wheeled by.
Now he would change nothing.
“Madame de Chagny, if you’ll just place your weight on my arm, we’ll get you to the sofa.”
Except the nurse. He’ll toss her off the pier at the soonest convenience.
Erik cleared his throat. It kept him from throttling hers. “There are two bedrooms with en suites.” He glared at the nurse. “There is another, smaller room just that way. Perhaps you would care to inspect it to see if it suits you?”
Christine smiled wider.
Papers arrived from Paris for Christine. The courier stood by as she sighed and took them to a desk. The nurse looked on disapprovingly.
When she finished reading and signing the stack of papers she sat back and bundled it all back together with ribbon. Her last service to the Viscount would be as careful and devoutly attentive as the entirety of the marriage itself. She was everything the world had failed to provide her.
Erik vowed to end that.
When the courier had left, Christine laughed bitterly. “I am disinherited, annulled, and struck from the Chagny family bible.”
Erik stayed at the edge of the room. “That was rather quick. I thought it took time for the Church to act.”
She shook her head. “Not for Raoul. He may be penniless but the name still stands for something.” Christine leaned her head to the side. “I rather suspect he’s got a reason to rush the formalities. Those steamers are loaded with rich girls looking for husbands. How embarrassing.”
Erik shrugged. “Not for you. Certainly not in our circles. On the scale of scandals I place us substantially below the likes of Wagner.”
How tired of it all she looked. Ten years of acting must have eaten a hole through her. “I would prefer no scandal. For Gustave’s sake if not ours.” She folded her hands in her lap. How subdued she was. Not at all the passionate flame he knew.
“Think of it this way-- should Gustave turn out as brilliant as he deserves, history will find him far more interesting if he is the child of a little intrigue, no? Nothing launches a career quite like a bit of depravity.”
Christine laughed in earnest, but paled and held her side tightly. “I suppose,” she said through heavy breaths, “there are worse things. Besides, I never liked his family anyway.”
Despite her light words, she remained quiet and still for some minutes. Erik sat at the piano and played as beautifully as he could, soothing and comforting, until Christine needed to rest and have her dressings changed. Even the nurse had nodded her approval.
He’d only toss her off the pier at the shallow end, perhaps.
Christine was the worst invalid. Erik’s attempts to coddle her were met with laughter and he was allowed to bring her little more than a footstool and tea. She wore her laces looser for the bandages, and after another week the doctor declared her well enough to be up and about. The sour faced nurse left with him.
A maid moved in.
“Christine?” He was still nervous. Magic he’d not performed was at work, and she might yet disappear. Ten years of imagined voices and empty arms were not easy to dispel. The ghosts of her had haunted him for so long. Would she be haunted by her own? Whose shape did they take in her bed at night?
She turned gingerly and gave a soft smile. “You’re welcome to join us. We were just drawing.” She took a cloth and wiped her hands. “I’m afraid I get more on me than the paper. Gustave is much better.”
He really wanted to talk to her alone, but perhaps he could navigate this. He joined them and at the table, moving a vase of lilies to the end of the table to sit with them. “What are you drawing?”
Gustave looked up from his paper. “The lillies.”
Perhaps he could not. “Forgive me,” he said, and slid the vase back precisely where it had been. His face warmed as his improbable companions sat motionless.
Christine giggled first, and then Gustave before they both broke into peals of laughter. Erik carefully swallowed his annoyance. A lifetime of sharp retorts and fury stood at the ready to be unpacked like an overstuffed trunk. But, no, Christine came close and clung to his arm while clutching her side.
These laughs were of just that, laughter. Teasing. A clever jape from a little boy. Gustave looked up proudly. “Look, Mr. Y! Mother is laughing! Isn’t her red face pretty?”
With a gasp of mock horror, Christine lunged and tickled the boy, who dashed from the room. Pencils and charcoals scattered across the table at his hasty exit, leaving graphite smudges in an arc across a still life.
A still life had still been a life. And now...
Erik watched in no small state of astonishment. This playfulness. Free joy of each other. He’d watched them from behind mirror doors and balconies before, but had never before this seen unfiltered frolic. Was Christine unique? Or was this normal? A family? His own mother…
Dismissing the errant thought with a wave, he reached for the drawing. It was in need of perspective, but there was a certain attention to the tiny wavelet edges of the petals that caught the eye. The curving stems. A fine effort, really, and he looked up, about to tell Christine so.
His breath caught.
There was something about this light. At another time, Erik might have described the the way the angle of the arched windows bent mid morning light through the top panels, or how he’d situated the house upon the hill over the island just so. Maybe he’d mention the composition of the glass and how it assured the perfect spectral composition for her favorite shade of blue. The way the hedges outside dappled the sun, creating a sense of movement, even when all was still. Still life is still life.
Maybe it wasn’t the light. Maybe it was Christine’s curving arms. Her sweeping profile. The dip at her side. Whatever it was, he could not speak.
“I love this view,” she said from the long window seat. “I think I can see the whole island from here.”
For the first time since she’d come to his house, they were alone. “Have you looked at night?”
She shook her head. “No, the nurse insisted I go to bed quite early, and Gustave has been unwilling to sleep alone.” Christine did not elaborate. There was no need.
“Would you like to look tonight?”
Christine looked away from the window. “I don’t think I’m quite ready for a nighttime tour of the park,” she said, eyes sparkling, crinkling at the edges. Erik liked those crinkles. Whatever the Viscount had done wrong, he’d at least made her smile more than cry. He may let the idiot live a natural life.
Erik carefully settled himself into the window seat, some feet from her. “As it so happens, from this window you can see nearly three quarters of the island. The other quarter you cannot see, but it is no loss. No one wanted to look at it anyway.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what anything is,” Christine said very softly.
The airy room felt suddenly close. “I could serve as a kind of… aerial tour guide.”
“Of course. I am a kind of ringmaster, you know.”
Gustave was delighted by the set of little mechanical beasts that afternoon. Each one could be wound with a tiny crank and follow a wire track, and the pieces all interacted through magnets, altering each other’s course and powering their movements. A second set of wires would play sounds if you passed a current through a nearby wand, adjusting pitch by waving your hands in the air. Gustave begged for it, but Erik held up a hand.
“Tomorrow, Gustave. You can play with it first thing in the morning, to let your mother sleep.” Within an hour, Gustave had built tracks that followed the walls and made swirls around his bedroom suite. The menagerie climbed the walls and played energetic games with physics in a spinning haze, like a tot’s mobile grown wild.
Erik slipped an extra box of magnets in the boy’s room, for good measure.
Erik straightened his tie and left his wardrobe. He felt ridiculous, nervous, and victorious all at once. It was a visit to a window seat, nothing more.
The memories of their first kisses, their first loving, had fueled a decade of manic work. He could manage. But what if he couldn’t? A few snatches of memory had built this whole place. She’d stolen his heart ten years ago, would she steal his soul this time?
Impossible. She’d had it all along.
Christine’s maid packed Gustave to bed with considerably less fuss than previous days. The delicate mesh of wires he’d constructed were impressive even by Erik’s standards and, at sundown, the boy was engrossed in discovering precisely how many or few machines he had to wind in order to power the entire thing.
Erik backed away from Gustave’s room to give mother and child a moment. From the parlor window seat, dusk was softening the edges of the park below. He hoped Christine would hurry, for he had a little trick up his sleeve. The rides and amusements were darkening, and the whole park was preparing for the switch from day to night time fun. Less beach toys, sand, and family games, more drinks, spectacle, and dizzy enchantment. On the ground, it was an unreal mirage. From above, the park moved as orderly as the gears in his self-winding watch.
The brush of skirts and a low humming, the last bars of a sweet lullaby she sang to Gustave. She paused at his side. “Good evening, Erik.”
“Good evening, Christine,” he said, and gestured to the park below. “What do you think?”
“It’s quite pretty in the sunset. I had no idea. Oh, Gustav loves the menagerie. I’ve never seen him so occupied.”
Erik nodded. “He’s going to need an excellent education. I’m sure I can engage tutors for him. That is,” he hesitated, his chest tightening.
“What?” Her eyes were still fixed, unseeing, on the park.
“If you want to stay.”
“With me.” His words were short and halting. He could not draw breath for more. “Stay with me. Do you want to?”
Christine was quiet, and sat at the window seat, looking out, and left a place at her side. Plucking his sleeves and adjusting his collars, Erik sat at her side.
She took a breath, loud against the sudden silence. “We cannot move time, Erik. We cannot go back.”
He lowered his forehead against the base of her neck. It was not that other time. They had made their choices and must live with them.
A touch on his face. His face. It was jarring, and it had been so long. So long to be alone, hidden away in his towers and dark offices, no different from being below an opera house. He leaned into the touch, had cried for it, starved for it. For Christine, his beautiful angel, always. Delicate and rare, these touches. Vanishingly rare. Ten years.
Lips by his ear. “We cannot go back. We can only go forward.”
Tears darkened a blotch by her shoulder. Far below, shadows were fading and darkness cast its spell on the park. Erik saw what he’d been waiting for: a lantern bobbing lazily along the pavement to the main control house.
With tears streaking under his mask, Erik took Christine’s hand from his cheek and held it out to the window, flattening her palm to the glass. He curled around her, barely touching at all, yet he could feel her warmth through the air.
“Christine, will you stay?”
Perhaps he could bend time, for reality paused and stretched as her fingers opened to allow his to lace between them. Their eyes locked on the window, as if their hands were compelling, unbearably intimate.
The lantern had arrived at the control house and disappeared within.
“Yes,” she whispered. “I’ll stay.”
Erik shuddered out a breath. “Make a wish.”
Within seconds, the park below burst into life, glittering like jewels of every color, spinning and twirling in a frenzy. A sharp intake of breath pressed Christine against him.
“My God, it’s beautiful.”
“A trick. An illusion. I sell what’s already sold.”
The light from below sparkled in her eyes. Had they always been so bright? Or were they just so because she looked at him? “No, you make beauty from nothing. That is not illusion, it’s magic”
The treasure in his arms turned. She demanded immediacy, his diva, and she pushed him back to the wall on the window seat. Her lips, the slide and wet of them against his. She had not stolen his heart. It was pounding far too hard in his chest.
“Oh, Christine,” he gasped between kisses. She was everywhere, in his eyes, his mouth, his heart. Not the girl he’d stolen on the cusp of marriage, but a woman. The only woman. “My Christine, I never dreamt. Didn’t dare.” He’d once thought this profane, for an angel to cavort with a demon. But now he was a man, and she a woman, snagging on the corners of time to recapture what had been possible and was again.
Not the same time. That was gone and they were different now. Thank god.
Her hands. Oh, that touch again. The very breath that moved her brought them closer. Now she touched skin.
His own breath had caught, frozen to the moment that echoed in darkness from a decade prior and had received no reinforcements. He’d forgot how.
Christine drew up to her knees and loosened her bodice. “Erik, don’t think.” The thick linen fell away and the lights played over her face and neck, dancing gold in the almost familiar hills and hollows of her. Recollections illuminated by carousels; dreams of love.
“Don’t think,” she repeated, and reached for his hand. “Just touch me.”
His insides twisted at this tenderness as she guided his hands. Over her face, down that powerful, blessed neck. She hummed and the vibration in his fingertips radiated through him. With one hand tracing the rest of her, soft and sweet, she held the other to her neck and softly sang his song.
He did not let her finish. Flesh and bone. Not in darkness, never blind again. Here, in the glow of his world, love was reborn. Damn false piety and the cheap dreams of youth. The buds of spring knew nothing.
“Oh Christine. You bloom.” She was a garden. She pulled away the mask and kissed him deeply.
Their kisses roamed, dragging lips over places where skin had gained character, hardened from scars or softened with time. Visited places that needed attention, urgent and hot. Ten years could not be satisfied but it could be fed.
They cared nothing for the window. Any eyes below were focused on the fairy land of low delights, not skirts that bunched and fell away, nor the flutter of rumpled linen. Passers-by merely pass by, and do not hear the choir in his ears, nor freshly spilled words of love.
Coney Island was dark when a blanket of bay mist cloaked the park. High above, on a picturesque hill, music played on.
He’d never awoken with another person before. He should have once, but he didn’t. There was no point in continued regrets. There were better things to spend his energy on.
The musical wires were either Erik’s best or worst idea ever. In the days following showing Gustave to use them, the sounds emitted from the boy’s room varied from charming trills to discordant screeching.
Christine sighed and rubbed her temples, but Erik immediately recognized the possibilities. They became more apparent as the boy learned to pluck single tones, and then melodies, in sounds that he manipulated from haunting to growling and back.
Unearthly. Neither heaven sent nor hell bound. New.
At one particular combination, Erik sprang from the piano. “Gustave! Play that again!”
Lights began flashing from under Gustave’s door. It was then that Erik thought it wise to move his boy’s project to one of his workshops.
Christine was nearly asleep, half drifting, when he came to her bed. She was warm and loose, and lazily ran her fingers through his hair when he rested his head against her side.
“You’re late,” she said.
“We were composing.”
He wrapped his arms around her and buried his face into the wedge between the mattress and her side. “He is talented.”
“He is a boy. He needs rest.”
“I put a blanket on him. He’ll be fine.”
Christine shot upright. “You left him in the workroom?”
“No?” Erik tried to tug her back down, but she held fast. His angel was not to be disobeyed. Of course, she was also correct.
He reluctantly hauled himself up. “I’ll tuck him in.”
Bless her, she made it worth the effort.
The weather cooled and the opera season began. Christine debuted to a packed house, stuffed full by the virtue of her voice and, quite obviously, the delightful whiff of artistic cause celebre. Erik insisted she wear as stunning a gown as she could find and then sent her on stage dripping with sapphires.
She sparkled under the lights, and then the Met trembled at her voice. She filled the space, breathed life into the dark, and shredded the last remaining rumors that she was more hyperbole than skill, or past her prime. Utter rot from overbred tits who refused to drink whiskey less than thirty years old. Christine was only twenty-eight.
It meant nothing. She happily took their money and gave them the smiles they expected, then climbed into his carriage and bed.
Windows rattled with an autumn storm and Erik played Beethoven. Christine paced in her nightgown.
“Explain again what you and Gustave are doing?”
“Gustave used the wire toys to make music, and then he nearly burned down the house when he added lights. At the workshop we’ve learned how to better control it all, and,” he launched into an allegro, “the rest is a surprise.”
A flash of lightning split the sky and the blast of thunder actually made him miss a note. Christine had the cheek to raise an eyebrow.
“So, you can be distracted?”
Erik sniffed. “Hardly. The piano vibrated.”
“Did it, now.”
The notes were smooth, more so than necessary, as he switched to an opus. It was a soothing answer to the slashing rain, like defying nature. Standing in the face of fury and offering serenity and peace. He was calm, like a pond, and smooth as...silk?
Warm silk over his arm; her robe. Her perfume wafted.
He played on.
Her touch at his shoulders, over his arms, tracing the lines of wiry muscle. He was economical and elegant as his technique at the keyboard. She could not shake him. Not even with her hands on his chest, his throat.
On his buttons, letting in cool slivers of night air. The opus. The ninth, a sweet, brief meditation. A Chopin prelude now. A simple piece, really. Perfect. Like her soft hands.
Preludes came before other works, didn’t they?
When she reached between his legs he gave up and dropped one hand with a messy splatter of notes. Surrender hardly meant a loss, in his opinion, so he spun on the bench and buried his face in her chest, soft, warm and fragrant with tuberose and linden, and breathed deep.
“You make a convincing argument,” he muttered, drawing aside her nightgown.
Lightning was a fine companion, etching their edges with liquid silver as they moved. A moment of dizzy blindness before thunder shook the windows and made their grips tighten on the sheets, each other. Bruising pressure soothed by kisses and the sound of rain.
Light and sound. A passionate symphony of crash and fire. As the storm moved on, it left a gentle coda in its wake. Ripples of residual energy trembled through them both, curling them together until their boundaries blurred.
Cradled, hidden away, Erik stroked Christine’s hair away from her face and kissed her reddened lips. It was curious, this mixture of wonder, gratitude, and possibly an unhealthy degree of devotion he felt. What a wonderful thing that he’d found an outlet for his obsessions.
Christine shifted beneath him and held his ruins in her hands. If she kept this up, he’d become distracted again. That was fine. Only the stingiest performers failed to offer an encore.
He propped up on his elbows again. Proper positioning was crucial. “Hmmm?”
Her lips on his ear. “What are you and Gustave working on?”
“Something new,” was all he would tell her. His angel was persistent. Erik rolled and managed to put that thought out of her head.
The Met Opera management was not interested. Their patrons were happy enough to collect his patronage and their interest from their investments in Coney Island, but they tittered politely and declined to host his spectacle.
Their words were pretty, but their faces whispered disgust. Christine was welcome, but her luggage needed to stay outside. As such, his show, their show, was not going to be seen at the Met.
Erik immediately made plans to buy every lot on Broadway. He’d pack every inch of the street with his shows. New music, new styles. He’d show society what art could be. Yes.
Gustave looked out the window thoughtfully, unaware of the depth of Erik’s gloomy brooding.
Christ, what was the point of all that money if they were only going to do the same things over and over. Puccini this week, followed by Mozart, Rossini, and Wagner. If they were feeling adventurous, there might be a guest conductor. The cycle would begin again. All that glittered was really pig iron underneath.
“Mr. Y, why not have it here?”
Erik looked up from the schematics, about to crush the plans and all the staging designs until it was pulp. His ideas, nothing but kindling for a fire that would never catch.
“What did you ask, Gustave?” he asked tiredly.
“I said, why not here? At Coney Island and Phantasma? It would be so much easier.”
Erik heard little else. Just like that, Gustave reframed it all, just as his very existence did. The plans went into the fire, not out of disappointment, but because they could do so much better.
Not a stage, theater, or opera house. An entire park. The whole island.
It took a month. It took three weeks to integrate all the elements and the last week…
Glory. It ran through his veins. With his son by his side, he lived again. Not just content, not only alive but this energy, this spirit… his soul rose to places he’d never imagined. These hours with Gustave, the discovery and breakthroughs, was less playful than how Christine mothered him, but then, he was his father.
He was his father. And what beauty they made!
The crowd was positively massive. Every square foot of Coney Island was standing room only, and Phantasma was the center of the madness. His family, all of them, were assembled, breathless with anticipation.
The accumulations of people were silent. As the last streaks of sunlight died to orange, red, and violet, the crowd became restless, curious.
“Mr. Y, when shall we begin?”
Erik surveyed his domain. The raised platform provided an excellent view of the park while keeping their work out of sight. It was crucial to let the crowd only see the magic, not how it was done.
“Very soon, Gustave.” He looked back at Christine, seated in her comfortable chair. Her dresses had become tight in the last two months and he’d cried for two days, kissing the hem of her dress, when he realized why. She smiled gently and blew him a kiss.
Even a glimmer is bright on a moonless night. What had begun as a tattered shred of hope was going to set the sky on fire.
His son raised his arms into the electromagnetic field and a delicate, pure tone was matched by a single white light at the top of the tallest tower.
Gangles took his cue. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Y welcomes you to his island! Tonight he presents the most wondrous sight ever seen! A feast for all the senses, a delight for the eyes and ears, his greatest creation yet! Tonight we present, The Symphony of Lights!”
Erik plunged into the field and launched into sound, became the music, banishing darkness with scorching invention. The crowd gasped and Christine laughed with delight as they were joined by the orchestra in a shower of brass and strings. Lights danced in time with sound; the unearthly, untamable music born of he and Christine.
The past was blind, but the future was so very, very bright.