Summary: Erik is a contractor and as such obliged to attend to some social events around Christmas. He does not like it at all. But maybe he finds a little joy when it seems impossible... Told from Erik's point of view.
Sometimes I like winter for I can cover myself and no one even notices that I am different because everyone is covered because of the cold. But sometimes I hate winter, especially now that the Opera is under construction and the weather makes it impossible to work. As if the long days and nights without proper occupation wasn't bad enough, I have to attend to so called "Christmas celebrations".
I'd rather be alone and do something else. I don't know what, but almost everything is better than a social event where people are chatting about nothing at all and eating and drinking - everything would be better than that and if it was a boring thing like doing the laundry. Yes. I'd really prefer doing laundry or even cleaning the toilet to attending to any party!
But Garnier insists. Why does Garnier insist upon my presence at this damned party? No one wants to see me, no one wants to talk to me and certainly no one wants to be in the same room as I. Not that I blame them. If I had a choice I wouldn't want to be in the same room with myself, but then, what can I do? Even properly covered I am ugly. I am wearing a false nose, which is held in place by glasses and a false beard. This makes my face more or less endurable, but I'm still so ugly people either stare or back away in shock when they first see me.
Even those who know me like Garnier and his team and the workers at the building site do not want to be in my presence any longer than absolutely necessary. Officially I am one of Garnier's team, but as always I am the outcast.
So I stand here in a lavishly decorated parlor, in a dark corner next to some cupboard, and do nothing. Everyone is eating and drinking, which I cannot do. With the false nose and false beard it is absolutely impossible to eat or drink. Everyone must assume that I am not hungry, but that is not true. I am hungry and thirsty but if I wanted to eat and drink I would have to take the food with me to the restroom, lock myself in and eat there for it is the only room in the house providing enough privacy so I can take off my masquerade. But I refuse to endure that humiliation so I rather endure the boredom, hunger and thirst while watching everyone having fun and enjoying to delicious morsel and fine drinks.
I want to leave the party but Garnier insisted I stay at least three hours. Three hours! I check my pocket watch. Five minutes. What? Did my watch stop? I'm standing here only five minutes and it feels like an eternity. If I only had a newspaper or a book to read or something like that to hide behind.
It gets worse. Someone feels obliged to approach me and talk to me, obviously feeling very charitable and silently congratulates himself for doing a good deed in talking to me. As if he was giving a coin to a beggar and was expecting eternal gratitude for that meager gift. He asks me if I enjoyed the party and somehow I manage to smile and say yes. Why do I say yes? A, well, I guess because it is expected. I feel like an actor playing a role. My role today is the normal distinguished contractor.
Not a role I enjoy. But then, well, what can I do? I am still trying to figure out who that man before me is. I seldom remember names or faces because people are of no interest to me. But right now it would be good to know if that man before me is important for the Opera house so I need to be polite or if it would be okay to excuse myself and try to sneak away.
He is happily telling me about something I find utterly boring. His adventures travelling the world. Obviously this is something that usually wins him everyone's respect - but not me. I've traveled the world myself and I did it alone without bodyguards, servants and a caravan of luxury goods to secure my well-being. I did it alone, fighting each day for survival. He is shamelessly lying. He never met the Shah of Persia - if he had done, he would have met me at the Shah's court which he certainly would have remembered. He does not know anyone of the Shah's court and his descriptions are completely wrong. They sound more like some oil paintings than what it is really like. I guess he has never been to Persia or he would know that it is not just a desert. Mazenderan has a similar climate to Europe.
I stand there, clasping my hands before me, trying not to show too much of my thoughts. Eventually he gets bored and walks away and I still wonder if I made an error not pretending excitement at his story. Who is he?
I check my watch, counting the minutes I have to endure this party before I can leave without offending anyone. I decide to go looking for Garnier, if he insisted upon my presence he can as well endure it. He's standing there with his wife and talking about the newest scandals in society. Some aristocrat impregnating a ballet rat from some cabaret. The usual. Rich man of high social standing sleeping with a poor girl from the working class promising to raise her in status only to abandon her as soon as she asks for something more than being his whore. The typical fate of a grisette. And those hypocrites blame the girl and get into a fret about the girl's despicable sin. I'm sure many of them have their mistresses themselves, they just know better how to avoid the scandal. If any girl or woman would ever have me, I surely would marry her on spot before she has time to reconsider.
Garnier changes the topic to the Opera and soon I find that I have to cut in. He does not like me speaking up because if it is about Architecture I start a lengthy lecture that bores everyone who does not share this passion. Never mind. It helps me to survive another twenty minutes of this blasted party and if I manage to bore Garnier's guests enough he won't invite me again. Hopefully. Or does he intend to use me as scarecrow to scare people away because he hates these parties as much as I do?
I notice that people do not like me engaging in conversation with them. They prefer me being where I belong to be in their eyes - standing aside like a slave waiting to be summoned.
I decide that I had enough and leave, wondering why I bothered to be there at all. Everyone saw me, I even talked to some people, so no one can accuse me of being rude. I leave without telling anyone good-by, I just sneak away like a thief.
It was a rather long was home. I did not have a flat in any of the better areas of the city, I lived in a house I had bought in one of the overcrowded quarters of the working class. Unfortunately. I would again endure the constant noise. Sometimes I wonder why people who cannot earn enough to survive themselves recklessly sire children. Can't they stop breeding like rabbits when they cannot even support themselves?
Of course I encounter street children and beggars, but knowing how to pick pockets myself I know how to send them running before they are close enough to even try. Some may call this heartless, but when I was a child no one showed mercy, no one showed compassion to me - why should I care about them?
The noise becomes worse. Men are drunk and beating up their families. A normal celebration, I guess. This happens regularly, far too often I see women and children with bad bruises in their faces on the streets. Just great. I have to go home and get drunk too, only that I do not have anyone I could beat up or force to clean up the mess I'm going to make. Well, I guess I have to get drunk enough to survive the holiday. After that I can at least do something that suits me more like bossing around my bookkeeper. He's a good man, but I just love to give him cryptic orders and then complain that he did the wrong thing.
I go home and change into casual clothing. My flat is cold for the fire in the stove is down. Swearing I build a fire to heat up some water. I'm going to make coffee. Special coffee like the sailors in the German sea drink: half a mug filled with rum, then a tiny layer of coffee, much whipped cream on top. Some add sugar. I don't have whipped cream. Never mind, I do not need to mask the smell of the rum to pretend it was coffee, there is no one there berating me now.
I wake on a hard cot in a dark room. No idea where I am, it is certainly not my room. It is smaller and I guess it might be in some basement. There is a covered bucket in the corner. What? Where am I? God, this looks like one of the holding cells in the usual police offices. Did I do something weird last night? I want to get up, but I only manage to sit up and sink back with a groan. My head is spinning and this room is so cold!
The door opens and an old policeman enters with a tray. "You missed breakfast, but I think you wouldn't want to eat something anyways," he informes me.
"Where am I and why?" I ask confused.
"You aren't the first drunkard to end up in the sobering up cell - we weren't sure if you had any disease so we put you in solitary confinement."
Well, there is something to say about being ugly... at least I didn't wake up to a overcrowded cell of men in various states of hangover or withdrawal.
"And you are the poor guard on duty at Christmas," I reply and ask myself why I insist on making this worse, "What did you do? Cheat with the cards?"
He put down the tray. "Ginger tea against the sickness and a soup against the cold. You ought to be thankful for such a feast, but it is Christmas..."
"Thank you." My answer could be less mocking, but right now I don't manage. "Why I am here?"
"Isn't that obvious? Drunken brawl, what else? But I haven't seen you here before, are you new in town? Your face is not one I would ever forget."
His statement is calm and not really offending, but I would have killed him had I been able to focus on him. I'm still seeing double. Just how much did I drink last night to get so intoxicated I left my flat without even realizing what I was doing? I have a pounding headache and my stomach is on fire but obviously there's nothing I can through up right now. I must have done this when I was unconscious. Wait - someone must have cleaned up then for this cell is not as filthy as it would be...
"Drink this and sleep it off. I'll come looking for you tomorrow."
Obviously I have no choice for I can barely push myself up enough to nip on the cup. I need it, I am clearly dehydrated. But all I can do is wet my dry mouth before I have to lie down again, closing my eyes against the spinning of the room.
When I wake up again it is to a sunlit room and now I can see that there actually is a window. It is a basement room and the window is far too small for me to crawl through and all I can see is shoes and feet on the sidewalk. And feet wrapped in rags against the cold. Not everyone can afford shoes nowadays. Then I see a dog dressed in satin, velvet and a collar with much jewelry.
"Merry Christmas!" the old policeman greets, "Your identity has been confirmed, Monsieur." He is polite and cheerful, obviously they did an investigation who I am and found out I am no homeless drunkard but one of Garnier's contractors. I cringe with shame at the thought of how many people know of this shameful blunder now.
"May I go?" As if going would be easy in this sunny winter day. I don't have my false nose, I don't have a mask, all I have is a rather dirty scarf. Problem is, I cannot use this to cover my face. Normal people don't even think of this, they cover their face with a scarf and tie it behind their neck and it stays in place. I don't have this luxury because in a normal face the nose holds the scarf in place and I have none.
"No. The magistrate said you have to stay here until tomorrow and spending Christmas in prison might cure you from getting that drunk."
It already has. I will never ever drink any drop of alcohol again. Never. No wine, nothing. I smile at myself for I know that I never keep my promises, not even the ones I make to myself. I guess I cannot change this habit, this is just how I am. But it does not matter if I spend this day here in a prison cell or at home. Somehow being here seems to be easier for it is astonishing quite.
"You prefer the cell to your home?" the old policeman asks.
Did I say something? Well, quite possible. I cannot stop this habit of talking to myself every so often. Never mind. "Here I do not have to listen to the terrible noise of families celebrating." A sad statement, but a true one.
He shakes his head and leaves me alone. Finally. If I am lying in this cold cell or on my own bed is not much different.
In the evening the policeman opens my door again, a tray in his hands. It is a wonderful bûche de Noël, a traditional French dessert at Christmas. "Merry Christmas," he says.
"Thank you." I am really grateful for this. It is not about the food, I could buy thousands of bûche de Noël if I wanted to, it is the gesture that makes me wonder why he does this. I'm just another prisoner to be released the next day and maybe someone he will add to his list of rich men who can't hold their liquor. Why is he being kind to me?
When he closes the door I can hear him talking to someone else. "Poor guy. Despite all his wealth I've never seen anyone so pitiful. I think he needs that piece of cake my wife made for me more than I do. I am so happy that I have a wife and children to come home to when my duty is done."
I am not sure if I should be thankful or strangle that guy. He is being genuinely kind to me, but on the other hand I loathe being pitied. I don't want to be like a stray dog, I want to be accepted as the man that I actually am even if I do not look the part. It is degrading to receive only pity.
I should show him that I do not need anyone's pity. I ought to find out his name and then send him a gift that will put him to shame. I wonder what this could be - what does an old policeman need? Money is always good, but this would be so unimaginative. He has a wife, I guess I will have a beautiful collier fit for a queen regent send to him. If he needs money, he can always sell it. Yes. That is what I am going to do. Just to shame him. I do not have any other reasons to do this.
Thank you for reading!
Merry Christmas to you all!
h+t++t+p+s : / / en . wikipedia wiki/Grisette _ ( person)
h+t+t+p+s+ : / / e n . wikipedia wiki/Yule_log_(cake)