The final chapter! Thank you to everyone who has read, reviewed and followed this story, especially EriksTrueAngel who was so helpful and inspiring when I was unsure of whether to continue with it. I feel emotionally drained :) but I have really enjoyed writing this and hope that this chapter provides a satisfactory ending.
Also, I have posted a short companion piece called No Longer Denied over on the Love Never Dies board, in which part of the story is told from Erik's point of view.
Time heals what reason cannot. - Seneca
It's been several weeks since I wrote anything in this journal. I've been spending time with my son, having the conversations we should have had long ago. He's still the same, with his obstinate nature and his forthright opinions on politics and the world in general, but I love him regardless of all that. His wife and children – my other grandchildren -came to join him here in New York for the last few days of the summer vacation and it has been wonderful getting to know them properly. We will be spending Christmas with them in Boston, and all of us are looking forward to that.
The present has been occupying my time, in many ways, but now I find myself thinking about all I've written here. "Memory is such a strange thing" – these were the first words I wrote at the start of this account and they are still true. How much of this story is my own interpretation and how much is objective and real? Those early, precious years with my mother feel like a dream now, and even the Phantasma years seem so far off. But in my heart I know it all happened.
Christine is accompanying her husband on some business trip to Philadelphia so the children are staying with us for the weekend. I went to say goodnight to them earlier and it warmed my heart to see Laura, the youngest and my little angel, snuggled up to my old stuffed bear, now known as Teddy. And twelve year old Stephen had his nose in a book as usual and will probably still be reading it long after he should be asleep. He reminds me so much of myself at that age, with his love of learning and his insatiable curiosity. I'm already introducing him gradually to some of my darker books, like Edgar Allen Poe, and he is fascinated by them. Yes, Papa is alive and well in this child. Maybe we can plan his Halloween costume together this year? Pity I'm too old to go trick-or-treating myself….
But earlier today he was telling me a story that I can't get out of my mind.
It all began with the tension between him and his mother when she dropped the two of them off. She informed me that he'd torn the nice sweater Helen and I gave him for his birthday, on the first day he'd worn it and she hadn't had a chance to sew up the tear before leaving on her trip.
"Sweetheart, if that's the worst thing he gets up to when he becomes a teenager, you'll have nothing to worry about," I told her wryly, and she had to agree.
After Christine left, Helen took Laura into the kitchen to bake cookies and I chastised my grandson playfully as we enjoyed a mug of hot chocolate, something else we both like.
"Looks like you're in the doghouse, Steve. But don't worry; it'll all blow over soon enough. I know your mother well, remember."
"It's not fair! She keeps going on about it and I was only trying to help someone," he complained.
"Now I didn't know this part. Why don't you start at the beginning?" I asked him gently.
He relaxed a little at my words. I like being a grandfather; you become the ally, instead of the disciplinarian.
"There's this girl in my class, she moved to the neighbourhood during the summer. Anyway, I was walking home from school yesterday and I could see her up ahead of me, being bullied by some boys from our school. They wouldn't give her back her scarf and they were laughing at her. So I went to tell them to leave her alone."
"That was brave of you - I think," I remarked warily, "What happened next?"
"Well, just as I got there they threw Anna's scarf up into a tree and it got tangled in the higher branches. Then the two of them just walked off laughing. She was a bit upset about it so I climbed the tree, untied the scarf and threw it down to her. Then when I started to climb down again my sweater got caught on a branch, but I didn't realise that at first… and that's how it got torn," he added sheepishly.
"Your grandma must have dragged me around a hundred shops trying to find the right one! Still, it could have been a lot worse. I hope this Anna was grateful, after all that?"
"Oh yes, she was. You see, her grandma knitted the scarf for her a few years ago, just before she died, so it was really important to her. I just wanted to rescue it for her and there was no-one else around."
A silly thought occurred to me then, and I tried to dismiss it. But I couldn't resist…
"It wasn't a red scarf by any chance?"
"Yes… How did you know?"
"Maybe I'll tell you that story another time… That was kind of you, going out of your way to help her like that. You should tell her to go to a teacher if that business continues, the bullying I mean."
"I will, don't worry. The bullies are both idiots anyway. They were even teasing her accent."
"Yeah, she's from Sweden you see. She moved to America a few months ago, because of her dad's job."
I had to put my mug down.
"She's Swedish?" I asked in surprise.
"Yes, from Stockholm. It's so stupid to jeer someone over a thing like that." He paused. "I was thinking afterwards – wasn't great-Grandma born in Sweden?"
"Yes... yes, she was... Well done for remembering, lad!"
I was silent for a moment, just thinking about the red scarf… "Sounds like this young lady has got one good friend, anyway! Is she a nice girl?"
"Yes, really nice, and she's pretty-."
He blushed, realising his mistake, but I smirked and raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, is she now? Hmm, sounds like I should order my wedding suit perhaps, and book the church?"
"Grandpa! She's just a friend!"
I raised my hands in mock surrender, but his blush only deepened.
"Oh all right then, just something for your engagement party-"
A cushion was fired at me, and the two of us laughed as I threw it back at him.
They're only twelve and I could be reading too much into this, but still, life has a funny way of coming full circle sometimes.
It's getting late now and I'm alone in the sitting room, thinking about all I've written in this journal up to now. I've even been browsing through the diaries I kept when I was a boy, all stored in a safe place. How much of this story will I share with my family and how much will I edit or leave out? Will I hide all the unpleasant things, just as Mother did when I was a child? Does my daughter need to know everything about the Opera House years, when she remembers her grandfather chasing her and allowing her to brush his wig with her dolls hairbrush? I haven't decided yet. Does everyone re-interpret the past to suit themselves, or to spare the feelings of others?
But one thing is clear about this account. So many of the people on these pages are dead – and I am not. I am a husband, a father, a grandfather, a composer, a retired music tutor; I am all of those things and more. And I live.
I glance at the clock, the clock I received as a retirement present from the college after a long and happy career. Time is passing as always, but I have so much to live for in this moment, in this time. And yet the world is still the same as it was when I started writing. No doubt George and I will have plenty to complain about when we next meet, but was there ever truly a golden age? Are the old not always looking back, thinking everything was better "in our day"?
This is the world I live in, for better or for worse. It is 1967, not 1907 or 1919 or any other of the years described in this journal. I have so much to be thankful for: my wonderful wife, my family – all my family now, my music… The past may be another country but the all the fundamental things remain, like friendship, family, and most of all love… I hope my grandchildren will always know those three things, no matter what the world is like when they are my age.
I am looking through the book I read to Laura earlier – Hans Christian Anderson's Fairy Tales. The book that Mother packed for me at the last minute as a surprise has become a much loved family heirloom, despite being a little musty these days. Stephen sometimes claims he's too old for fairy tales, yet this evening I saw him listening attentively out of the corner of my eye. All the stories I loved are here, all the pictures I used to look at with Mother during those early years in the chateau - and here is the picture of the Snow Queen, her dark beauty immortalised on the page.
Sometimes when my grandchildren get tired of TV I tell them stories of Little Lotte and the goblins of the North, or tales of Phantasma and the Trio, or the little boy playing on the sloping lawn of a French country estate, or even the story of the two children listening to the violin in a house by the sea, all those years ago. Tales they both enjoy still and which I look forward to telling to Charles' two children. I hope these stories will go on forever, like a thread running through my line of descendants, merging with all the stories yet to come.
That little boy, the innocent little brown haired boy who stepped off a ship dreaming of Phantasma… He seems so far away from me now when I look in the mirror. But he is me. He is a part of me, deep inside. I have been many Gustaves and they are all a part of me. All of them are different pieces that form a complete picture.
No doubt there will come a day when I am older; when I am ill and frail and tired of life. A day when I will want nothing more than to finally join Mother and all my loved ones in heaven, where there will be no more partings.
But that day is not here yet.
When I began writing, I saw myself as a character at the end of a very long story, left behind to take the final bow. But it's not the end. It's only the beginning.
Tonight a new generation sleeps under my roof, and I want to see them grow up and start to take their place in the world, especially now. When Papa was alone in his mother's attic or cold and hungry in that cage, did he ever think he would found a dynasty, a line of descendants that would go on long after he was gone?
In a little while, just before I go to bed, I will look at that old photograph on top of the piano, the picture of a beautiful chestnut haired young woman with a smile that would melt the hardest heart. A woman who is no longer a living angel but a human being who made mistakes, just as I have done, and I will look at her in fondness, not in sorrow.
I will hold all those I have loved and lost in my heart. I will treasure the memories of both my parents, always, for they have both made me what I am. But I cannot continue to live in the past, not when I am loved and needed so much in the present. There are so many things I still want to do, so much music still to be created, so much I want to teach the next generation.
Life is not finished with me yet.