Heart to Heart Conversation
Summary: Erik talks about his childhood and how he became the man he is now. His childhood wasn't happy. (Trigger Warning!) Leroux-based, but most of it is my own imagination and very hard research work. Has not much to do with the book by Susan Kay.
Before I start writing this fanfic I want to thank some people for the inspiration and their many reviews to my other stories.
Igenlode Wordsmith: This is the story I told you about in a reply to one of your reviews. The most important inspiration I got from you! THANK YOU! :-D
emeraldphan: Thank you for the many reviews.
Not a Ghost3: Thank you!
Gaby1964: Thank you!
Greenfire87: Thanks for some background information! If you read this you'll know what I'm talking about.
angelofnight: I hope you read this - and your reviews are most welcome.
Louise-Anne and Phantom Night Owl: I got some inspiration from your stories. ;-)
gravity01: I hope you read this, for the style was inspired by one of your fanfics.
and all the other readers who bothered to review my stories: Thanks, I get much inspiration from reviews and some chat via PM!
HEART TO HEART CONVERSATION
Good evening, my friend. Sorry for visiting seldom, I've been very busy of late. Well, never mind. May I have a seat? Thank you. Maybe you wonder why I came today. Well... we have known each other for some time now, but I never told you what it is like to be a child when you are a freak of nature, did I?
I was born in France, a small village near Rouen, the name of the village is irrelevant, it could have been any of them. My parents had a nice home, a house in the outskirts, with a well and a hand operated pump for water, a small horse stable behind the house and a shack for the firewood. There was, of course, no indoor toilet, we had a privy in the backyard.
My father was a master mason who had his own little construction company. He was always complaining that business was bad, but I don't know if this was true or not. He was a tall man and very strong. My mother was tall too and beautiful, really beautiful, with her green eyes and her black hair. My brothers...
Hey, why do you give me that look? Did you think I was unable to have siblings? I guess if I had been the first born child, my parents wouldn't have tried for another one but I wasn't.
My oldest brother Etennie was born seven months after my parents got married. What? Do you think they had been enemies before their marriage? It must have been quite a scandal, my father often adressed reproaches to mother for forcing him into that marriage when she was just from a poor family. Never mind, at least THAT was not my fault.
A bit more than one year after his birth, my second brother Robert was born. And only ten months after his birth they had my sister Yvette.
And then, 13 month after Yvette was born, me. I must have been a severe disappointement, a freak, a monstrosity. I do not know why they didn't kill me, certainly I would never hold that against them. But here I was, alive and an annoyance to everyone. While my siblings had only one name, I had many. Father called me "bastard" and to mother I was "changeling", to my siblings I was simply "ugly". Yes, I thought these were my names, you see, the dog was called "sunshine" and the horse "buttercup". Sometimes I think I was an extremely stupid child, but then, I was about two years old.
I first realized that something was wrong with me was when my father hurt mother. I do not know why, but my siblings were all visiting grandparents I never met. I was sitting at the cottage piano.
We had a cottage piano because father thought it was nice for a woman to play. Music was something women made to please their husbands. Boys didn't play music, boys engaged in useful activities – whatever that was. I have no idea. But I was allowed to play because he thought I was useless anyway, so he never bothered to teach me anything, while mother liked music and that I played for her while she was cleaning the house, washing the clothes or cooking.
Father was at home, I have no idea why, and he was angry with mother. He accused her of adultery, called her vile names, any vulgar word for "whore", if you understand what I mean. She vowed to be faithful and he said I could never be a spawn of his loins. She told him that I had brown hair and amber eyes like himself, but he became even more furious. He beat her, forced her to the floor and hurt her, he was lying on top of her, crushing her with his weight. I took cover behind the piano stool, trying to hide myself and stayed as quiet as possible. Father yelled at her that he would impregnate her and if that other child would be normal he would know for sure that she was a whore and I wasn't his.
When he left to go to work, she was lying on the floor, crying. I crawled to her, but I do not know if I wanted to comfort her or was in desperate need for her comfort, but she slapped me and yelled at me that this was all my fault. If I wasn't there, her husband would still love her.
And then my sister Cloe was born. She was not beautiful, but she was normal. I was… I guess it must have been after my fourth birthday, yes, because then I already lived in the stable.
You didn't know? Really? I never told you? Well, I was a bad child, a fithy one and I had the bad habit to wet the bed. I do not know why, it happened almost every night and mother was fed up with cleaning my sheets each morning. "If you want to sleep in your pee like a pig you can do so, but never in the house. If you insist on behaving like an animal, you sleep in the stable," she said and I moved to the stable. The stable had three boxes, but only Buttercup lived there. Now father put up a wooden casket and filled it with straw. That was to be my bed from now on. I cried because I felt so ashamed and was afraid of being alone. But it helped. I do not know why, but when I was sleeping in the straw with our mixed-breed dog Sunshine in my arms, hearing the noises from Buttercup, I rarely woke in wet straw and if I did, I could clean it out and no one would ever know.
Cleaning the stable was something I liked. The first thing I did every morning was brushing Buttercup. I had to climb on the grid to reach her back, but I didn't mind. I loved brushing the mare. Then I cleaned the stable, so father could just ride off when he came out oft he house after breakfast.
I got my breakfast when my siblings left for school. I would sit on the kitchen table and eat while mother cleaned the dishes. Then I played the piano. I was happy to be allowed to play.
At noon my siblings and my father returned for lunch. I wasn't allowed to eat with them, they said I was too disgusting, they would vomit when they saw me, so I had to eat in the kitchen. I was well-fed, I can't complain about that. And I was never cold or neglected, no, it would be unfair to lie about that.
My siblings hated school. It wasn't so much school itself, it was more the other children. Etennie got beaten almost every day. He told me that this was my fault, they hurt him because they hated me. And he pummeled me.
Robert wasn't beaten. His classmates believed that I was a binger of bad luck and living so close to me had "infected" him and he was "infecting" everything he touched. So they clapped their hands three times to "disinfect" things or themselves. It must have been hard to see his classmates shun him like that and clap their hands every time he touched them or some things that weren't his. He was angry and he took it out on me, telling me it was all my fault.
Yvette was a very shy and quiet girl. They shunned her too, she was lonely. No one would speak to her, no one would play with her, they treated her as if she wasn't there and she learned to avoid them for they would kick her away any time she tried to come closer to anyone or run her over when she didn't stay out of their way. And, of course, this too was my fault.
I did not do it deliberately and I have no idea what I could have done to prevent these things but I surely caused them. My mere existence was an offence to humanity and therefor they punished my family. As you might have guessed, my fathers bad luck with his business was my fault too.
But then Etennie found that I learned everything very fast. You see, if I want to memorize something, you have to tell me only once and I remember it forever. So he taught me reading, writing and the basics of math so I could do his homework. He had a slate and a slate pencil. He would wipe out what he had written in school, hand me the book and told me to do his homework. If I did his homework, he wouldn't beat me. I rather liked that deal and asked Robert and Yvette if we could make similar deals. They agreed.
My parents must have found out you say? Actually no. After lunch I was to go to my box in the stable. I had a table, a chair and an oil lamp. No one saw me. As long as my siblings didn't disturb mother in her housework or caring for little Cloe, no one cared. The oil lamp? Yes, I was about five years old, I think. None of my siblings was allowed to have matches and I had an oil lamp. Sometimes I wonder if my parents hoped I would set the stable on fire and die or if they just didn't care. But I was proud that they trusted me with the lamp and was very careful with it.
I was never allowed to go to school, and after what I heard from my brothers, I didn't even want to. But I wanted to go to church.
What's so funny? I do not look like the religious type? Ha! Of course not. All I knew about religion was that there was a God who was like a father and disliked sinners. And I was a sinner, at least if I count the punishment I got.
No, it wasn't unfair. I have to admit that I was no good boy. Since I hated my brothers, I sometimes sneaked into their room and deliberately pissed on their beds, or I would use horse dung to fertilise the flowers on the carpet. Haha. I was a wicked child. At least until mother found out what I was doing. They immediately held a "family court". It was staged like a court trial and it was always in the shack with the firewood. No, it wasn't unfair, my siblings were punished in the same way. It was just that I was punished more often but I have to admit that I do not know if I really was more disobedient than the others or if my parents just were strict when I was concerned.
Mother would stand in front of the chopping block, a whip in her hand. The others had to stand at her side, the sinner had to kneel down and confess his sin and beg for a condign punishment. Then he had to take off his shirt, pull down his pants and lie belly down on the chopping block. Mother would tell him how many strokes he would get and he would receive the lashes to his back or butt.
I shouldn't use that language? Hell, I use whatever I think fitting! Stop interrupting me!
I remember when I was very young I was so afraid of the punishment, I would pee myself. That was three extra lashes. Or two extra lashes for tears or one stroke for each cry. Believe me, you learn to bite back tears or hold in cries very soon. I learned to keep silent and move around without noise very early in my life, for I found out, the less I made my presence known to my parents or my siblings the less beatings I got. Yes, I know. I am not telling this really chronological but my memory of that time is indistinct.
After one got his lashes, he had to get dressed, go down on one knee and say: "Thank you for the most lenient chastisment. I know I deserve severe punishment." and kiss mother's right hand that had dealt the punishment while she was still holding the whip. All, except me.
I was never allowed to kiss mothers hand. I would have gladly endured every chastisement if I had been revarded with a kiss. But no, this wasn't for me. Mother told me that I was so horrible, so disgusting, so filthy and vile, I must never ever touch a woman, not her, not my sisters, no women. If I touched them they could die from sheer horror. Of course I didn't want to kill anyone, so I didn't ask again. I really believed I risked killing a woman if I ever touched her, but I knew for sure, that not every physical contact killed or my mother and my sisters would be dead by that time.
I just had to say that cursed sentence in self-abasement.
Why did I never refuse to do this? Good question. Severe sins were punished by my father, not my mother, and being disrespectful to our parents was a severe sin. Father was much stronger than mother, when he flogged us he drew blood with each lash. Sometimes he would break the rod, then we would have to do some work to pay for the broken rod.
Cruel? No, that wasn't cruel. You see, they had to discipline us somehow. And it wasn't as if other children weren't treated like that. All lived like that, so I can't really blame them. They thought it was in our best interest, for if they didn't punish us, we would never stop committing sins and we would become the worst sort of criminal and end up in hell. So better receive a few lashes now than risk eternal punishment in hell, don't you agree?
Of course we also received rewards for being good or making them happy. They never told any of their children that they loved them, seldom kissed them, never stroked or embraced them for fear they would pamper us. But if we had done something good and made them happy they would give us a sun. Mother cut small suns from yellow paper and we children collected them. Yvette had most of them, then Robert, then Etennie and I... well, I had none until I was... I don't know, I guess around four and a half or five.
Yes, I am going to tell you, please, show some patience, will you?
Every Saturday evening all of us would take a bath. Since preparing the bath was such hard work, we had only one bath a week, and that was Saturday evening so we would be "nice and clean" for Sunday. Mother would put up a metal bath tub in the kitchen, chop wood, fire the wood-burning stove to heat water in a large pot. She had to fetch many buckets from the hand-operated pump and she mixed the cold water with boiling hot until there was a steaming bath. Father always took his bath first, so he had the cleanest water. Then mother took her bath, then my sisters, after them my brothers and I was always the last one because I was filthy, dirty, disgusting so no one could be asked to use the water after me. I always got the dirtiest water and it wasn't really warm any more. Sometimes my brothery would taunt me that they had pissed in the tub. I never knew if they just said so or really did this to me.
Sorry, I am rambling on...
Well, each Sunday my family would dress in their finest clothing and go to church. I was never allowed to accompany them, I didn't even have Sunday-clothing. We children didn't wear shoes except on Sunday or when it was winter. Shoes would be passed on from the eldest brother to us younger children and we had to be careful with them for Little Cloe would need them too. But on Sunday my siblings were allowed to wear shoes. But not me, I had to stay at home. Of course mother worried about my soul, so she gave me a Bible to read. As if a four or five year old boy would read the Bible when he was alone at home! I enjoyed being at home and exploring all rooms I wasn't allowed to enter. Sometimes I would just lie on mothers bed, sometimes I was up to mischief ans played pranks, taking the risk of being caught and punished.
Yes, I'm back on topic, don't fret! Sometimes you are an impatient listener.
Well, since they went through so much trouble to prepare for church and it was forbidden to me I thought it must be something great. Going to church must be great fun, why else would everyone make such a fuss about it? And since it was forbidden to me, it must be something really good. So I started whining and begging that they should pleeeeeeeeease allow me to accompany them. Even punishment for being disrespectful didn't stop me from asking again and again, until my mother was weeping and went to my father to plead with him for me.
Father was displeased. He accused her again being a shameless whore who wanted to celebrate her disgrace in public. But mother insisted that I had a soul - I didn't know what this would be, but it must be something precious - and they couldn't deny me if I wanted it so badly. Father decided that if I would accomplish a task he would give me, I would be allowed to go to church with them. I eagerly accepted. He gave me the task to copy some of his blueprints. I got paper, a pair of compasses, triangle ruler, lineal and pencil. He showed me how to use these instruments and then left me alone in the stable. It took me three weeks of trial and error until I finally was able to present the copy of the blueprint to my father. During these three weeks I rarely got to see my family and I didn't get beaten. Stay out of everyones way, be invisible and noiseless and you don't get beaten. A bitter lecture, but a necessary one for my survival.
But when I presented my copy to my father I watched his face change, his jaw drop and his eyes widen. I didn't know then but he had given me a task for a technical draftsman, thinking a child my age could never do this, silencing me for years. Then he laughed out as he noticed that I even had copied the architect's signature. I didn't know this was the signature and I wasn't allowed to copy that - I had made a good copy and for the first time in my life father smiled at me. "Maybe you are my son after all," he said. It was the greatest praise I ever heard from his lips, I bowed to him deeply and thanked him.
The next Saturday mother gave me my first paper sun. I hid it in the stable for I was afraid my brothers would steal it. Father gave me a shirt, a tie and a suit. It was a dark brown suit, he had bought it second-hand and it was a bit too large, but I was a child, I would grow. Mother gave me a new mask.
I never mentioned the mask? Well, maybe because it was so normal to wear it. You see, my most private parts - that's my face. Everyone covers what he has between his legs, but I was ashamed of my face far more than of any other part of my body. I'd rather go without my pants than without my mask for I knew my face. I had to look at it in a mirror each day when I was combing my hair and I knew just how ugly I was. It wasn't half as bad as it is now, but I was hideous and sickened by the sight of it.
Well, that Sunday I dressed in my new clothes, made sure my hair was neatly tied back with a ribbon - o yes, I had long brown hair that time - and stood patiently before the door and waited for my family to come out of the house. Father took the hands of my brothers, mother held the hands of my sisters. My eldest brother complained he was old enough to walk alone but mother told him she would have none of it for she was afraid one of us might get lost. I got no hand to hold onto. Maybe it was their way to tell me to get lost but I was too clingy and stayed close to them.
We were being stared at and I could hear the whisper among the other people. They asked how my parents could have the audacity to bring that filthy beast to church, they should be ashamed, they should drive me off. I often heard the word "changeling". I learned later that they believed that sometimes fairies would have a child. A child from the netherworld would be easily recognizeable for it would be most ugly. The fairies would kidnap the true child and replace it with their ugly one, leaving it to the unhappy parents to raise the changeling who would bring them nothing but bad luck, but killing the changeling would result in angering the fearies so they would take revenge in the most cruel ways. The only chance was to raise the child and treat it badly to drive it away, which was difficult, for all changelings were very clingy and persistent. But when the changeling finally had enough and ran away, the true child would magically return and all would live happily ever after.
Not one of these tales told about the fate of the changeling.
The people discussed if the priest was going to reject me and not allow me to enter church, but he didn't. I did not understand why we had to wait at the door when everyone else went inside. Then the door was closed, only to be opened again soon. The priest stood there and asked my parents what they wanted and they pushed me to stand in front of the priest and told him they wanted me baptised. I did not know that time that it was unusual to have a child my age not christened, most babies were baptised days after being born. But since I was old enough to speak for my own the priest asked me if I wanted to become a church member. I didn't understand much, so I just looked at my parents if they allowed me to speak, when mother nodded, I answered it was my greatest wish. It was no lie in that moment, I was really excited to be allowed to go to church, I thought this must be something really great.
The priest just nodded and gently took my hand to lead me to the baptismal font. When we stood there, the priest asked for my name and father said he wanted me to have the name of the patron saint of that day. It was the 18th of May. Therefor I got the name Erik. Had I finished the copy of the blueprint one week earlier I guess my name would have been Joachim, one week later and I would be Urban. I didn't care much, I was just happy that I finally got a real name and not just "bastard" "changeling" or "ugly". The priest said something in Latin and sprinkled me with holy water. I do not know why but everyone let out the breath they had been holding. What had they expected to happen to me? Maybe the holy water would kill me, or cure my defacement, or hurt me? I have no idea. But nothing happened. I was allowed to sit with my family in one bench. Everyone kept distance to us as if we were suffering from some vicious disease.
Mass itself was a disappointement to me. It was in Latin and I did not understand anything. The parish's singing was terrible. But the one thing that saved my day was the organ. I listened to an organ for the first time in my life and immediately was taken by its sound. I was crying when we left the church, I begged my father to allow me to stay and was about to throw a temper trantrum when the priest came to my rescue and comforted me and told me of course I could come back next week. I begged him to let me stay, I didn't want to go home, I wanted to live in the church and promised to be a good boy and clean the stable, brush the horses and do every work they told me to do. The priest refused, I was too young, but if that was really my wish I should come back when I was at least 14. The priest berated my parents for withholding the comfort of religion from me for such a long time and that they should be grateful that I was such a devout boy. Obviously he had mistaken my reluctance to leave for devoutness when I was only thinking of the organ and the glorious music. I simply hoped I would be allowed to learn how to play it, if I stayed and worked hard enough.
"There are no such things as fearies and changelings," he said, "that is paganic superstition. Erik is your child and his deformity is a punishment for YOUR sins, not his. He's an innocent boy." My father eyed mother with a fiery glare and I knew he would hurt her that day. She was already crying in fear. And again, it was my fault and I cried too. The priest bent down and smiled at me. "No, my son, you don't need to cry. You can come back next week."
From that day on I was allowed to go to church each Sunday. I learned to sing the hymns and I listened to the organ. Sometimes I studied the images of the saints with great interest. The priest loved to see me kneel before the great oil painting for hours. Little did he know that I wasn't praying, I was admiring the artwork, studying each brushstroke. One day he presented me a small commemorative coin and told me to keep it. If I needed help, I should ask the Saint Drogo to pray for me. He told me that Saint Drogo was so badly disfigured, he had himself walled in for many long years to protect people from his terrible sight. And now he was a saint. He told me not to give up for there was hope for me, if I endured patiently in this life I would be rewarded after death. I guess I had a very, very twisted view of religion and church that time. Tee-hee.
Everyone in our family had his or her personal duties. Mine were to brush Buttercup, clean the stable, play the piano for mother, do the homework for my brothers and my sister, and copy blueprints for my father, sometimes altering the scale of the blueprint. I was basically doing the work of a technical draftsman, well, at least sort of.
What? Did you think I was born an architect or a master mason? I was lucky to be able to draft like an adult and to get an education doing the homework for my siblings. Sometimes I had my own ideas but since everyone kept telling me that children were stupid and never allowed to question their elders I never told anyone. I mistrusted my own abilities and trusted my father to lead me.
Years passed in that way and life became more and more difficult. Father's business was slack and we didn't have much money. My mother had two more babies but one of them died, Little Fabienne survived, but she was a crippled child, she was beautiful but unable to use her legs. There were days when we were not able to eat our fill but I always got my share. In that, my parents were very stringent. They would never tolerate injustice. I can't really say that they were bad parents, I only wished that they would allow me to kiss them and embrace them like my siblings were allowed to. I knew that they didn't love me and that I indeed was a bringer of bad luck, I saw my brothers and sisters suffer each day mistreatment at the hands of the other children, my parents being shunned and mocked by the adults.
And then there was that fateful day in autumn when I was nearly eight years old. Father and I had been attending to mass, the others not. I don't know why, maybe they had been ill, I do not remember. On our way home some men interjected us and told my father to hand me over, they would know how to drive off the changeling, they would know how to "handle" the freak. Father refused and fought to protect me, but they snatched away my mask and finally we were forced to run home, but father warned me to stay at home from now on, my mere existence put all of us in danger.
The next day Etennie was found brutally battered, his right arm and several ribs broken, Robert had been thrown into the cesspit of the pig farmer and Yvette came home crying with her hair wet - her classmates had forced her to lie down on the street and a boy had pissed in her face, telling her she should be grateful for that was the best any man would ever do to someone such as her. Cloe had been forced to eat horse dropping and was sick, only Fabienne had not suffered that day for she was not able to leave the house.
Father came home drunk - he was no drunkard, certainly not, it was the first time I ever saw him drunk - and in a terrible mood. He again accused mother of adultery and me being a bastard who brought nothing but bad luck to all of them. Well, we children all fled to the stable to hide there while he took it out on mother. I guess he raped her brutally, she lost the sight of one eye that day. And it was all my fault - my existence brought all that suffering to them. I could take no more. I got dressed in my Sunday suit, which was a bit small that time, and placed my shoes next to Cloe's bed. She would need them next and I didn't want to take anything with me that wasn't mine.
Yes, I know. Later I would become a thief. But I wasn't at that young age, I was not even eight years old.
I went to my mother, who was bed-ridden then, and handed her my most valuable possesions: the one yellow paper sun and my commemorative coin. She looked up at me with her swollen face. "I wish I could have been your true son," I whispered and she just nodded. I think she knew I was saying goodby but she did nothing to discourage me from running away. I went to the stable to brush Buttercup and Sunshine one last time, then I left and headed for the street that lead away from the village with nothing but the clothes on my body, barefooted despite the coldness.
Author's note: Since English is not my first language, I beg your indulgence for the mistakes in grammar and spelling. I am constantly working to practice my English, but it is a foreign language and difficult to learn.
This is only the first chapter. I do not know when I can finish the next chapters, so please be patient and in the meantime - I would love to get a review from you. Thank you very much.
Growing up in a upper-working-class family wasn't easy that time. I've done some research, even talked to old people about their childhood, to get a realistic view of that time. What happens to Erik's siblings in this story wasn't hard to imagine - it happened in all schools all the time and no, no one of the adults would help the victims. I know what being a mobbing victim first-Hand is like, so pease do not tell me this chapter is not suitable for minors when children actually live through similar ordeals every day. Okay, that was a very personal note, I hope you are not offended by this very personal Statement.
Thank you for reading.