All I Ask Of You
They still remember me. Legend has gone into song and story and young girls as innocent and lovely and cruel as my Christine still shed pearly tears over it.
The name of my most recent devotée is Helen. I no longer trouble to remember their names after they have cast me off. I cannot tell you the names of the ones who have loved me since Christine turned away from me to that rose-lipped, soft-handed little Vicomte.
It began as it always does. I watched her through her mirror, that eternal companion of women. I know as none other that it is not merely her physical aspect a woman contemplates when she gazes into her looking glass. She peers into it in search of her own soul. And she may find the vision of beauty for which she hopes, or like Snow White's stepmother, something less welcome. I have witnessed many such grave, introspective hours.
She watched her mirror with distress, I with patience, as she turned from a child to an ungainly pre-adolescent. I have seen enough girls bloom to recognize the seeds of beauty. But like all the others, she herself did not believe that she would grow into a swan.
And thanks to me, she grew into a swan more lovely than any other.
I watched her despair over her own developing guise, she not knowing as I did what would emerge from the chrysalis. I watched her dream of rescuing someone from glacial loneliness, of bestowing a love only she could give upon someone whose true worth had been overlooked by fools. The fantasy of every girl who has not yet discovered her own value to the world. Her parents may seem only too willing to hand her over to a Beast in a secluded castle, but that Beast will value her properly, will be grateful for her understanding, will see what no one else has seen in her. Yes, beautiful dreams with which every girl comforts herself while she is waiting for the puppy fat and blemishes to fall away and reveal the true woman inside. But having been the object of many such fantasies, and having seen the reality which follows, I no longer find them beautiful. Only intolerably conceited.
When I watched her weep over my own story, reading its various chronicles and listening to its many ballads, I waited for those words. I always wait for them. And every now and then, some girl is fanciful enough to actually say them. As she did, late one night.
"If only the Angel of Music would come to me!"
If only, indeed.
"And if he did," I answered at once, making my voice as smooth as silk and low as distant thunder, "what would you do, then?"
She looked stunned, but really, not as stunned as any sensible person would be if her mirror began to speak to her. After all, in her inmost heart, no girl truly doubts that she has a guardian angel, a fairy godmother just waiting in the wings to enter stage right, make her dreams come true and then disappear at the stroke of midnight.
She answered as they all do. "I would love him forever," she whispered. And she went on in the same vein, murmuring words as hackneyed as they were heart-wrenchingly sincere. The gist of it was nothing new, either. She would not go the way of Christine, abandoning her Angel of Music. Had Ichabod Crane loved her, Brom Van Brunt would have died a bachelor. Had Cyrano worshipped her, she would have been worthy of him, her head would never have been turned by a handsome face. Mr. Rochester would never have had a lonely moment had she come to Thornfield, her immortal soul be damned.
Really, so many girls say this, it's a wonder the handsome men don't just give up.
And so I invited her to pass through the looking glass like Alice. Do not ask how I do so. You could not replicate the feat. Surely you never truly believed that I was nothing but a man? I am a ghost. The laws of the physical universe are no obstacle to a ghost. Only the laws of the human heart can thwart us.
I gave her my music. For years, I was her only champion. No need to relate how many mountains I moved for her. I never fail to do so.
Do not misunderstand my bitterness. I do love her. I have loved all of them. It is my fate to love Fortune's Child. Again and again. (Do I love her, or merely envy her?) I have merely ceased to believe in her words.
Not that she ever knows how Fortune favors her. How could she? Years after she comes into her swan's birthright, she still cannot believe that the loveliness in the mirror is truly hers. Nor does she understand that the ceaseless stream of admirers that beat down her door do not bask in love as does she. The flame cannot understand the moth's dismay, knowing how many other moths vie for his place. The flame illuminates every room she enters, and so cannot know that her absence is chill and dark.
Above all, she cannot imagine how a hard word, falling from the height of the pedestal on which she rests, can slay those who await it below.
I drowned her in my gifts, as I always do. All that has changed is that now I know better than to expect what I am promised in return. When the princess's golden ball is returned to her, she forgets the frog who fetched it from the depths and denies him even a place at her table.
I spent years coaxing the music out of her voice, as I have with others. That music opened doors to her. I opened them to her. And she passed through them, and left me outside. While she was welcomed to the ball and surrounded with admirers. And when she had so many, what need had she of the first?
I lingered, for a time. I used to try to keep my place in my golden girl's heart. I used to try to hold on to the adoration she had once given me, when she found other recipients. I used to try to remind her, to appeal to her gratitude.
I do not try any longer.
Once I have given her the siren's voice and the glass slippers, they inspire new admirers to flock to her. And they offer her every gift imaginable. Wealth. Jewels. Fame. A castle in the clouds. And yes, love oceans of it. What can I offer her, but a hermitage where I will hide her from the sun and the world?
Someday, I will choose one to whom I will give nothing but my love. One whose wings I will clip rather than unbind. One whom I will not enable to thrive without me, so that I may keep her all to myself.
So I tell myself. I know that I lie.
I lingered in Helen's looking glass until the day I heard her laughing to her favored suitor of the moment. I have seen her in raptures and agonies over this man. I do not for a moment doubt the sincerity of her feelings for him. And long ago I stopped being wrathful or even surprised at the unworthiness of these chosen ones. They are usually somewhat handsome. Somewhat intelligent. And they do care for my golden girls, though of course never enough. Never one-tenth so much as I. But that is the way of it.
I still wonder why these favored ones are so seldom exceptional. My angels have every gift of womanhood; they are beautiful, wise, talented, compassionate for all their unwitting cruelty. Why do they never chose equals to give their hearts to? Why no artistic geniuses, no great statesmen, no paragons?
Perhaps even angels fear being outshone by too bright a light close to their pedestals.
And one day I hear my angel laughing to her favored worshipper. "Once I asked the Angel of Music to come to me," she confides.
"And did he?" he asks, indulgent, chuckling. I have never bothered to learn his name. Or his calling, or much of anything else. He adores her, to the depths of his shallow soul. He seems to please her. That is all I really need to know.
"Oh, yes." Her voice, which I trained, is a purr now. "You know, for years I think I really believed that he did."
"You have the most wonderful imagination," he answers, right on cue.
"Those daydreams got me through my Ugly Duckling years," she says.
I stop listening. I know what comes next. He will marvel over the wonder she has become, and she will accept his homage as her due, and my own Ugly Duckling years will never end.
But before I depart, to wander alone until another duckling needs hatching, I take note that the chronicle of my story is still on her shelf, a dog-eared volume that she has not opened in years but which she will never give up.
I could almost smile, or curse.
Because my beloved still loves her Angel of Music.
For all the good it does him.