by Mabelyn Arteaga
In 1892 I knew death. It was a slow death, a death filled with nightmares and pain. It descended upon me like a wounded bird fallen from the skies, reeling in agony. It was Death whom I saw that night reflected in his eyes. Muffled screams could not have pierced that blackened shroud which engulfed all of life's joys in an instant of terror. I was lost forever in that dark and sinister embrace, a slave to the shadows of fate which promptly slithered from my little hands. I tried in vain to remember who I was before that night, but my soul was dead, lost in a world of ghosts and vague recollections of a distant past. I recognized only the familiar nightmares that remained, which told a tale of a life not yet lived.
From the earliest I can remember, Tristan was father and I was his little girl.
Five years after my death, when we were still together, father told me of my past. I was born in Fontenay, a small town on the outskirts of Paris. My mother, a woman by the name of Jeanette Marie Claudelle, brought me to this world. My father, whose name I do not recall, nor care to remember, deserted mother the year I was born. Faced with shame and poverty, mother took to the streets. After months of abuse, illness and humiliation she died, or so I was told. Years later I discovered that it was Tristan, my own dear father, who killed mother.
I was taken to the local orphanage, and that's where my life, or should I say, my death, began. The orphanage was a dark place. The dilapidated walls and iron cribs, the steel hot water pipes, the low hanging candelabrums with the burnt out wicks, the nurses' bloated faces, the large roaches and spiders, the stale bread, and lastly, the loneliness was enough to procure insanity, if not cause it. All I learned from the orphanage was violence and fear. Every day I waited for mother. I couldn't understand why she had left me. I couldn't comprehend why she hadn't returned for me? Years later I found out that she had collapsed on her way home. She was found dead the morning the police came for me, her body void of blood, sucked dry.
One August evening, a year later, the nurse came for me. She pulled me by the ears and told me to behave. She said father had come for me. She gave me a good scrubbing, pinched my cheeks back to life, and combed my unruly hair. That night I met Tristan.
I must have been two or three at the time. I will never forget the way Tristan looked that evening. He was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. His skin glowed gloriously as if illuminated from above. His eyes, a deep blue-green, hidden beneath sharp brows, were compelling, almost hypnotic. His sultry blond, shoulder length hair, was neatly tied back with a black ribbon. Some strands falling about his face. He towered over me, his finery merely accentuating his strength. He had the beginnings of a beard, the blond stubble intensifying his full lips. My fear turned into awe. Was this really my father who had come to save me from a fate worse than death? Was he going to rescue me from this putrid place full of hate? Was he the one I had been waiting for? It all felt like a dream. Suddenly, the nurse became very hospitable, she offered me candy, patted my hair, and bid the gentleman, Monsignor Moulineaux, to take a seat. She spoke in a demure voice, "Will she do Monsieur?" Then suddenly, grabbing my hand and yanking it, she pushed me towards the gentleman so that I almost stumbled. From his seat he easily reached out and coddled my little face with one of his pale hands. He looked deep into my eyes, searching my soul, sending shivers down my spine. In that instant my knees trembled so violently I could no longer stand. I collapsed into a heap by his feet, trembling. Then with a slow, melodic voice he uttered, "I'll be back next week." He picked me up from the floor and carried me for what seemed a very long time. When I opened my eyes I was lying in the red-velvet interior of a moving carriage. In that moment I wished I was back at the orphanage. The fear was such that I did what any three year old child would do, I cried.
I should have died that night, but lady Fate is as unpredictable as the wind. She extended her arms and cradled me safely past the demon's jaws. So that the demon was made to feel love. His heavy heart of lead melted, revealing the truest kindness.
And the damon's mask was shattered at the hands of golden angels. He could not resist the goodness of heaven, the brightness of life. The demon had been given a second chance to live. And so the darkness fell, bringing with it dreams of happiness....
Life with Tristan was never boring. Paris was a big city, bustling with excitement. We frequented the opera, the ballet, the theaters, the art galleries, and restaurants. Some nights we would stay home, and in those quiet nights Tristan would read me fairy tales and poetry. Tristan would indulge all my tastes. There wasn't anything in the world I couldn't have according to Tristan. By the time I was seven I possessed more jewelry and finery than the Queen of England. I had a magnificent collection of porcelain dolls, a troop of performers and servants waiting on my every need, music teachers, arithmetic and literature instructors, and a large playground surrounded by expansive gardens. During the day, after my many lessons, I kept myself busy playing tag with the servants and carousing around the mansion. As I grew older, I began to question Tristan's absence during the day. I didn't quite believe the story about "work."
Sometimes Tristan would visit his "grown up friends," and every-time he would mention his "lady" friends I would get so jealous and mad I would pretend that I didn't like him anymore. Then he would play the part of the hero in one of my favorite fairy tales, and the ill feeling would be forgotten in a strong, breathtaking embrace. Sometimes he would even pretend to be Romeo, and recite sweet poetry. Tristan was incredibly charming, it was quite difficult to remain angry at him. I simply adored him...
And as the girl matured her heart reached for the demon. Her tiny hands straining to meet his as they twirled endlessly into the night, under the light of the moon- laughing, losing them-selves in the exhilaration of the moment. And the demon felt the stirrings of love, lust, and life, coursing through his dead veins. Then, cursing himself for this weakness, he let the tiny hands go, a deep grimace of pain crossing his brow. The young girl's angelic beauty haunting him, beckoning him, mocking him, her goodness piercing his tormented soul. But he loved her- this was his daughter; his lover, his one and only love, his porcelain doll. She was the goodness that lit his path on cold, weary nights. She was like the gentle breeze which stirred the leaves in autumn. She was like the sweetest wine- Jesus help him, she was Flesh and Blood!...
January 5, 1892.
I haven't seen father for weeks. I sure hope he isn't mad at me. I didn't mean what I said about Lady Rosalyn, honest I didn't. I don't think she likes me very much. I'm so tired of being in this house all alone, with no one to play with. I wish I could go to school like other girls. I envy them every time I see them talking to each other, Why can't I be more like them. I'm so tired of staying in, of not being able to go out. My dolls are the only ones keeping me company. Father and I don't talk anymore. I love him so much, and he's so handsome. Why, when we go out all the ladies look at him, I'm sure they all wish they were me. After all I'm the one who sits on his lap at the opera. But something's wrong, really. The servants are covering up for him. Perhaps he's ill and they don't want to worry me. I can't stand it. Where has he been? Tonight I'll find him wherever he is.
That evening the darkness fell upon the sky corroding its light, tainting the clouds a deep purple. The house was silent. After diner, as was usual, the servants gathered the silverware and hurried into the kitchen, where I could hear them gossiping. It must have been eight o' clock when I decided to go out.
The nocturnal city always amused me. Paris was never boring, and I effortlessly managed to persuade Jonas into taking me to the opera that evening. I wore my finest gown, the one Tristan had bought me just a few weeks before. It was the most portentous garment I had ever seen. Tristan said I looked like a doll in it-- he said I was perfect. The gown was of the richest azure velvet embroidered in gold. The intricate golden pattern of embroidered roses adorned the edges of the hem and the front partition of the skirt which opened to reveal the sapphire lining of the shift. The bodice was cut straight and low and was attached to the sleeves which were quite tight. The blue velvet complemented my skin and accentuated my eyes. I wore the golden hair pins and aqua-marine tear drop earrings father had given me on my twelfth birthday. Lastly, a crimson cloak draped my shoulders, and gold thread gloves adorned my tiny hands. I was quite pleased with myself, I couldn't have been happier. It had been so long since I'd gone out. I felt as giddy as a debutante on the day of her ball, nay, I felt as stately as a princess, but there was some-thing wrong; Tristan wasn't with me. The opera would never be the same without him....
The horses were spooked that night, but I wasn't superstitious back then. The ride to the opera house was bumpier than usual, and the stuffy hot air within the cabin made me quite dizzy. The lanterns' cast of shadows within the red velvet interior of the coach, compounded with the sound of the falling rain tormented me. For a brief moment I thought I heard the faintest of whispers. My head was spinning, and all I perceived then was just a blur of red shadows, a maelstrom of sounds; none of them pleasing. Just then I think I screamed. The coach stopped and Jonas opened the door, a look of bewilderment crossing his face. He suggested that we return home, but I refused, the fresh air filling my lungs revived me. Blaming my discomfort on the tight laces of my bodice, I vaguely managed to undo some of the sashes. I put out the lantern and opened the window a bit, and sure enough I felt better.
Half an hour later we arrived at the opera. I was always marveled by the grand play-house. Unlike many of the buildings in Paris, the opera was a relatively new addition. Construction for the Palais Garnier, began in 1861, and was completed in 1875. Charles Garnier, the architect, trained at the Ecole Des Beaux-Arts in Paris. My history teacher never ceased to talk of the opera house, and his architectural lessons were hardly boring. He rambled on as if in a fit, his cheeks would redden and his highly pitched voice rose to a crescendo. Just when you'd have thought he had said everything that was humanly possible in one breath, a multitude of hurried phrases he spat out as he exhaled. He would explain in these fits all about the arches and balustrades and gold leafed corinthian columns and vaulted ceilings and stained glass, the hindrance of gravity upon architectural supports and such. Like herself, her history teacher marveled at the building's statuesque beauty.
As was common on rainy days, the carriages circled around the large rotund driveway in single files so that the attendants could alight at the large brocaded doors of the opera, their garments relatively unharmed. Jonas patiently waited his turn, and when it was time, he briskly stepped out from the coach and escorted me with a large umbrella up the stairs to the main hall, whereupon he bowed and returned to the coach. Tristan's cubicle was located in the upper left side of the magnificent opera. I greeted the few people that I knew and promptly made my way up one of the many sets of lavish steps, leading away from the gigantic foyer. All eyes were on me that night. Even the finest gentlemen noticed me that evening. Everyone thought it strange that a girl as young as I could attend the opera virtually unattended. They were all expecting me to wear ivory or white frilly dresses like a six year-old, but instead I had wore a woman's gown, and besides, I was growing up. On my way to the theater box, a woman tapped me on the shoulder. Upon removing her veil, I recognized the glamorous visage of Lady Rosalyn. I couldn't stand it. I hated her. It seemed Tristan always paid more attention to her when she was near, but that evening I decided to be civil. Father hadn't talked to me after the day I spoke ill of her, calling her nothing but a cheap tramp. She inquired about Tristan's health. She said he hadn't visited her for almost two weeks. I calmly assured her that there was nothing at odds and excused myself. Slamming the door of the cubicle, I draped my cape on one of the ornate golden hooks in the ante-chamber, and took a seat. I had a magnificent view, and shortly, the performance began. Mozart's "The Magic Flute" was being performed by an Italian theater group known as "I Pifferi Verdi," meaning the green pipers.
In the final year of his short life, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed a singspiel, or a musical number connected by spoken dialogue-- the German equivalent of French opera comique, called "The Magic Flute." Mozart's masterpiece has ever since engrossed and sometimes mystified musicians and scholars as well as delighted audiences. It was first performed on September 30, 1791, in Vienna. The work is a musical play of marked directness and humor; but subsequent generations have uncovered many layers of meaning and, in more powerful scenes, a profundity that has never been surpassed.
Tamino, a prince, happens onto a wild landscape where he is rescued from a demon by Three Ladies-- servants of the Queen of the Night. The Queen, also called Flaming Star, has a daughter-- Pamina, and, as the Queen herself tells Tamino, the girl has been abducted by a cruel magician, Sarastro. If the prince can rescue Pamina, he may then marry her. During his adventures Tamino is joined by a youth of contrasting qualities: Papageno, a bird catcher, jovial and earthy. Fortified with a magic flute and a set of bells they set out in search of Pamina. They find that things are often not what they seem. In reality, the Queen is a destructive plotter; Sarastro, a spiritual leader, has abstracted the Queen's daughter to free the girl of a wicked influence. Gradually both the prince and Pamina, who meet, undergo rites of purification that enable them together to enter the temple of Sarastro as enlightened servants. Tamino plays the magic flute as he passes through the ordeals of fire and water. At the same time, Papageno achieves his heart's desire: a bride, Papagena, very much like his earthy self...
The operetta had made me laugh. The original Italian dialogue had been translated into French, and I had understood every word. With my spectacles I could see some people had fallen asleep in their cubicles, totally oblivious of their surroundings. As the curtain closed and the audience began their elaborate applause, I slipped out of the opera house to avoid the ensuing commotion. Once again my thought turned to Tristan. I needed him, I desperately needed him. At the time I had felt a longing normal to a child in need, but as I grew older, Tristan occupied a different place in my heart-- a place that I had always occupied in his from the very beginning.
The rain had ceased and slowed to a silent trickle. The lonely street lamps shed their somber light on the wet pavement of the avenues, accentuating the darkness. Jonas, who had been waiting, quickly recognized me and brought the coach around. It was approximately ten thirty when we departed. Again I kept the windows open, afraid that I would become dizzy. The breeze was crisp and damp, the sky clear.
Just then I felt very young; very frail. I was nothing but a speck of dust in a vast wilderness, I was alone, hopelessly alone, and unlike Tamino and Papagano I didn't possess a magic flute. The mist accompanied me home that night, and a deep chill penetrated my callow limbs. Perhaps if I had been wiser I would have paid heed to the premonitions of that night.
The mystical evening had come to an end, and I was back home, determined to find Tristan. I asked the servants of his whereabouts, but they only offered silence. I felt defeated, tired. A brief flashback of the orphanage sped through my mind like a hazy nightmare. Had I known such a place? I ran to my chamber and Josephine followed. She sensed my discomfort and suggested I take off my vestments and slip into a nightgown. I acquiesced. Minutes later, my fanciness lay strewn about my feet in blue heaps-- my hair pins discarded, my gloves thrown atop the mantle of the fireplace. Where could he be, my Tristan-- my father?
The demon cursed his existence. His love had turned to dust-- his quietude into hunger. He had not fed for days. He desired no one but his angel. His eyes had roamed the nights, searching for innocence, searching for beauty, but he had found nothing. He was ravenously hungry. He imagined his teeth clamping down on a fresh throat, churning the flesh between his jaws, tasting the hate trapped within the limp bodies. He was a killer, and he could deny this no longer. For twelve years he had loved her-- her beauty and charm teasing him. He had seen her that evening on her way to the opera, and needed her. He felt ashamed, and unworthy for the first time in years. To covet a child as he coveted her was a sin. But he was hungry, so terribly hungry for her.....
That night I searched everywhere before going to bed, but I did not find him. Little did I know that Tristan watched me from the shadows, calculating my every move, savoring the sound of my blood as it rushed through my veins on its way to my living heart. I called out for him, but he did not answer. He could not hear my words. He could only hear the thunder within my veins. It was a quarter to twelve when I died...
And from the shadows of the corridors there leaped a wolf, teeth flashing, eyes blazing.
A scream escaped my lips as the beast leaped forth from the darkness and sank its razor sharp incisors into the veins at my throat. I crumbled beneath the force of the attack as its strong hands gripped my arms tightly beneath me, causing me to arch in pain. I struggled in vain, beneath the blackness. I called Tristan. I couldn't breathe, and I felt my heart weakening, dying. I gasped for air, but I was drowning, falling through a bottomless abyss of pain, reeling in agony, crawling... Then suddenly, the walls of the orphanage became distinct, I could hear my mother's sweet voice somewhere in the distance, I relived the whispers, the disillusionment. My last memory was of Tristan, as we twirled into the twilight... For a brief moment my eyes opened, and I beheld the ceiling of the hall. Was I dead? Then I caught a glimpse of him. His eyes were no longer green, they were golden, like spiral staircases leading me to Death, but I had not the strength to look away. He held me with his gaze. Sharp fangs protruded from his lips as he hissed. Blood trickled down his chin, as he bent over me gloating, licking his lips. It was Tristan, my beloved, whom I saw that night. I lay cradled in his arms, gasping for air, struggling for life. Just then he spoke in a low guttural voice. His raspy words flowed like honey. "My sweet angel, Camille, forgive me. There is no one I love more." His words echoed within the silent hall, and then I think I heard him cry.
The demon grieved as he had never grieved before. His thirst was quenched, but his radiant love lay dying in his arms. His cold heart shattered like ice. His life would be meaningless without her. But he had already been too selfish. He could not bestow upon her the dark gift that had transformed him into a monster. He could not subject her to the pain, to the isolation, to the insanity. She would wither without the light of day. Her soul would not withstand the hunger, would she feed?
A moment or two transgressed before I felt my head being lifted. Tristan had cut a deep gash in his breast and bade me drink. I mustered all my remaining strength and drank from the bleeding wound in his chest. The blood gave me life. I fastened my tiny lips to his flesh and drank. He held me close as I sucked his potent blood. The ecstasy flowed through me, like the sweetest of nectars. I had never known such bliss, such peace. I gorged myself of his blood-- of our blood. My head swam, my heart pulsed, I inhaled deeply, sucking harder on the wound. Then Tristan screamed and pulled me away, causing me to stagger. We were both soiled in blood. My white gown clung to my body, drenched in sweat. All I could do was cry. I was so terribly frightened....