Alcohol. A strange substance. It can have so many different effects on people. Today I shall describe to you just two. Two effects that I have witnessed; two reactions from two very different people wishing they were happy; trying to be happy; pretending they were happy. Two people that most would say were succeeding with that wish, that effort, that pretence - for no one else realised that was what it was, merely a pretence – that’s all.
It was their anniversary, not their first, not their last; in fact not an anniversary of any particular merit other than celebrating another year. Another year of managing to play their roles; fooling the world for three hundred and sixty five more days.
It began simply. A meal; a candlelit dinner; smiles on their faces; joy in their heart. And real joy I am sure it was. They had got so good at pretending they almost believed they were actually in love and that this night was special, for it celebrated their union years ago. A necessary union if not a pleasant one. They had wanted it then, they had both wanted it then - it is funny how feelings change.
With their meal they had their first glass of the finest wine. He could afford the best, of course he could. And didn’t she deserve the best? Yes, yes she did.
The meal passed slowly with course after course and so another glass of wine ensued. Then after desert another and another. The alcohol spread through them elating them; filling them with happiness; releasing their inhibitions. And so they decided to sit up after dinner, like they used to long ago, telling each other dark stories by the fire where they would be warm.
He began. A short story, nothing special, the kind of story that is always told. She listened attentively, her eyes wide. She acted scared, shocked and he believed her reactions. It’s easy to believe anything if one really wants to and you must remember they had finished one bottle by then and started on the next without even realising it. And so began her story, another simple, ordinary tale but he enjoyed it. Her story was longer and they had found by the end of it that the second bottle was finished. Raoul went down to the cellar to fetch another bottle. When he returned he tripped on the edge of the carpet and fell into her lap, they both giggled uncontrollably for minutes on end. Eventually he found the power to right himself and pour them both another glass. After they had drunk that, he began his next tale.
She was beginning to feel tired and a little faint but she listened to his story. The names were unfamiliar and yet something about the tale aroused a sensation of memory within her. She listened more carefully. And then she realised, this was no tale. This was a part of their life. A part of their life they never talked of. A part of their life that they kept secret from everyone else. A part of their life they pretended had never existed. A part of their life they had masked by other words, other actions. A part of their life they hid away like the man who the story contained. And yet although they pretended Christine had always known it was real. She didn’t want to hide it but she knew they must. But she had never realised the extent to which Raoul had gone, blocking that whole passage out; believing what he wanted to believe and fooling not only the world completely but also himself.
She could not let it pass.
“Raoul, this is not a story you have been told. That was our life. You have changed our names. That is all.”
“Christine, don’t be stupid! A monster living in the caverns under the Opera. That would be ridiculous! Do you not think other people would have known about him?”
“But they did know about him. Madame Giry knew all about him. She told you, remember?”
“I think the alcohol has gone to your head my dear. To actually believe such nonsense.”
“But it is not nonsense Raoul. It was our life, how can you forget. The day we met, I disappeared. You were going to take me out to dinner but then the Phantom came for me and I left. How can you forget this? I know we pretend. Sometimes I can almost believe the lies we tell, but this, this I always remember.”
“Christine, my dear, I think you had better lie down. You cannot even remember the happiest day of my life. Apart from my wedding day of course, but that day - the day we met as adults. I did take you out and we fell deeply in love once again, which led of course to out engagement, wedding and then to now - our sixth wedding anniversary.”
Their sixth, of course, now I remember.
“Raoul. You’re not thinking straight. Our pretending – it has gone to your head. You really believe what you say. Do you not?”
“Of course I do. For it is the truth. Christine if I had fought a monster in a mask for your love, I think I would remember. But in truth you love me, and me alone and we both love each other and are happy in our life. If anyone is not thinking straight it is you, for ever doubting these facts!”
“Raoul, you are wrong.” Christine spoke quietly but intensely and tipped back another glass. “All you say is wrong. I am not happy. You are not happy. We never have been happy. Our whole married life is pretence. We pretend that everything is fine, but it is not. We pretend. But it seems the pretence has taken over your very memory. I know, I know in my heart of hearts that I pretend, but I can cope because I am a good pretender. I can fool the world. I can fool myself if needs be – but when I go to sleep I remember. I dream of reality. We cannot hide behind this mask forever.”
I personally cannot see a problem with hiding behind a mask, but as it is Christine speaking I shall not rebuke her.
Raoul could not take her seriously, he pointed at her and then the ceiling, his hand wavering. “Christine. You are drunk! You are talking nonsense. Go to bed woman!”
Anger arose inside her chest and she could not keep it in.
“I shall then! But when you wake in the morning you will not find me here. I will be gone. See how you can pretend that one away. Woman, indeed? Woman I am, and I woman I shall be. I shall live by my emotions as you think a woman should. I will be gone. I will be gone! I shall return to the man that loved me true. And he will take me for he does love me. And we shall be happy. We shall. We shall not have to pretend. Goodnight Raoul de Chagny. Goodnight!”
She stormed from the room, flew up the stairs and threw herself down on her bed. She lay there for a few minutes and slowly sleep overcame her. Raoul sat downstairs for an hour or so but after a while he could no longer remember what he had been doing and so he also decided to retire to their bedroom.
The next morning they both woke with extraordinary headaches but no recollection of what had occurred the night before. In the lounge area they found 10 empty wine bottles and marvelled how they had managed to drink so much and yet still found their way to their bedrooms safely.
“What a night it must have been,” Christine exclaimed gaily.
“Indeed! If only we could remember it” Raoul replied laughing gently.
Christine looked up at him. “I do love you Raoul,” she lent her head against his shoulder.
“And I love you,” he kissed her hair and looked at her with adoration in his eyes.
But they were only pretending, as they always do.
They fool the world; they fool themselves but they never fool me.
Of course you may also wonder how I know all this seeing as Christine never returned to me as she said she would. I know because I was there. I am there now and I always will be there. For I am real no matter what they may pretend. I am real and wherever they go, whatever they do, for always and eternity, I will be there.
This one is from quite a while ago now :o)