One of My Favorite Scenes from ‘Disfigured’ – When Sylvie and Erik Meet for the First Time
I thought it would be fun to share with readers one of my favorite scenes from ‘Disfigured‘ – the scene where Sylvie confronts the “O.G.” for the first time. I worked on this important and pivotal scene quite a bit, rewriting it several times. It is the scene that introduces Erik to readers for the first time, and I wanted to get him right. I thought a lot about how he would behave, upon discovering this young woman waiting there for him.
Having delivered his nightly dinner (she is his cook), brave but impetuous Sylvie lies in wait for him, her insatiable curiosity making it impossible to resist trying to make his acquaintance. This goes expressly against his orders (for the Phantom is fond of giving orders), and she knows this perfectly well, but she does it anyway. Things do not go quite as she hopes they will! I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
‘It was difficult for me to reconcile the client of my imagination with this misanthropic individual who wanted to be thought of as a phantom. He was most certainly real, if his enjoyment of my dinners was any indication. Finally I formed a plan. After I made my evening delivery, I would simply retreat to a corner of the marble room and wait for him. When O.G. appeared, I would step forward and introduce myself as his cook. I would of course apologize for intruding on his privacy. The fact was I longed to make friends with him as I had with my patients at the hospital. There could be no difficulty about this, surely. I was, after all, perfectly harmless and had the best of intentions toward him. He need not fear me. And besides, he had made a point of seeing me in the flesh, why should I not do the same? If all else failed, I had my food itself to fall back on as a conversation starter. It would offer an excuse for me to linger and talk. Celestine need not know anything about it until the deed was done. It certainly seemed like a good plan, a perfectly reasonable plan, at the time.
It only remained to decide when to put my plan into action. There was nothing to be gained by delay, so I decided to do it that very evening. I made the O.G. a lovely tomato and courgette tart and arranged the dinner tray with cheese and fruit for dessert. It was high summer, after all, even though the poor old soul seldom saw the sun. As I busied myself preparing the tray and dressing to go out, I felt excited and eager. In a short time I would be face to face with my mysterious client. We would soon be on the way to becoming friends. Did I even spare a thought for the agreement I had made, did I even consider, by so deliberately and willfully violating my instructions, that I might lose this lucrative contract that very night? No, I did not. I can only say in my defense that anyone can behave foolishly on occasion, even a sensible person like myself.
The room was, as always, empty when I arrived. I deposited my burden on the ledge and after a moment’s deliberation decided against lighting a candle. The days were long, and there was a rectangle of pale light falling obliquely on the floor from the casement window. It illuminated the middle of the room adequately for my purposes, so I retreated to a shadowed corner near the tapestry to wait for my O.G. Perhaps, I mused as I waited, I would learn his real name at last. He could hardly avoid telling me his name once I had told him mine.
Anxious and agitated at the same time, I engaged in a whispered rehearsal of what I would say to him when we met. Excuse me, s’il vous plaît…no, no, that sounded as if I were about to ask him directions to the gare. Hmm. Ought I to offer him my hand? My foot tapped impatiently on the stone floor. Soon, very soon, I would see the tapestry lift and he would be here. How long would I have to wait?
The answer was: not long. My ears, straining to hear a sound in the pervasive silence that would herald his approach, suddenly picked up the staccato rhythm of rapid, bounding footsteps. I was expecting to hear a slower, more sedate tread, so I was caught off guard by the rapidity of his approach. I felt my pulse speed up as though to match those rapid steps. I held my breath and turned, my eyes riveted on the hanging that so effectively concealed the dark opening behind it. The sound of approaching steps grew louder, and louder still. The tapestry was abruptly flung aside. My breath caught as an enormous black shadow suddenly materialized in the room!
For an instant I thought I really was seeing a Ghost, an actual ghost I mean, so large, black and amorphous did the shadow appear. But then it moved purposefully into the square of dim light, crossing the room toward the ledge. As it moved, the huge shadow resolved itself before my staring eyes into the form of a tall, broad shouldered man, enveloped in a long black cape. It was the swirling movement of the full cape that had made him appear even bigger in the darkness. I saw that he carried no lamp or candle; he came and went in the dark. He must have eyes like a cat. I caught a glimpse of a long-nosed, imposing profile. The hands that were now resting an empty dinner tray on the ledge were sheathed in black leather gloves. I was suddenly petrified; I saw now that there was no possibility that he would be intimidated by me – it was actually the other way around.
I found myself frozen in fear, with nowhere to hide, rooted to the floor where I stood. I hadn’t realized he would be so tall, so dark, so dangerous looking. His broad-shouldered form seemed to radiate danger, from the top of his dark head to his booted feet. Danger, and something else…my pulse stuttered as the beat of my heart reacted to his dark presence. I longed to somehow hide myself, to disappear from this spot before it was too late. But it was already too late. In a few seconds he would turn and see me standing there wide-eyed in fear. I would have to face what I had started.
At that moment he lifted the cover from his dinner tray and studied it closely, and I heard him make a little vocal sound of satisfaction. It was that small human gesture that gave me the courage I needed. I drew my right hand out of my cloak and stepped forward to join the Phantom in the dim rectangle of light.
“Bonsoir,” I said softly.
The man known as the Opera Ghost whirled around to face me so quickly his cape flared out and swirled around him. He instantly started toward me with hands extended and then froze, staring, utterly speechless, while a look of severe consternation appeared in his eyes. It was obvious that I was not whatever enemy he was expecting to find, and as for me, I was rendered speechless also. I stared back at him in amazement while the frail, older client of my imagination dissolved like smoke in the wind.
In his place stood a different creature altogether. I was prepared to see a mask covering his face, for Celestine had told me more than once about it, but it was startlingly white against his skin and hair. His eyes were grey or blue, it was difficult to tell in the faint light, but in spite of the stark white mask covering one side of his face, I could see they were cold eyes, glittering with anger. His hair was dark, brushed straight back from a high forehead. I hadn’t expected he would be handsome, but he was. He was dressed like a gentleman, in finely tailored waistcoat, black trousers and an impeccably tied black silk cravat. I found this somehow reassuring, but I ought to have known that just because a man has an outward appearance of being civilized doesn’t mean he really is. In my current state of innocence, however, I took one slow step toward him, and held out my hand. It only trembled a little.
“My name is Sylvie Bessette,” I said. “I am your cook.”
The O.G.’s glance flew rapidly to the covered tray and then back to me again, understanding appearing on his face. At last he spoke.
“I know who you are,” he said coldly. “I thought it was agreed you were not to linger here. You were to leave, at once.” He did not look at my extended hand, or move to take it; awkwardly I dropped it back to my side, embarrassment and burgeoning fear warring in my breast. Fear was beginning to win.
“I am sorry,” I said hesitantly, “but Celestine…Madame Giry I mean, who is my friend, has told me a little about you, and I…I wanted to…” I was babbling like a brook, which abruptly went dry. I could feel sweat forming under my clothing. This was a really stupid, foolish thing I had done – what was I doing here? Why, why had I thought this was such a clever idea? How I wished I could take it all back! My heart was thumping in my chest and breathing was a bit challenging, but I took a long, almost gasping breath and forged ahead.
“I only wanted to meet you. To see if you are happy with the food.” It was necessary to clear my throat before I could finish speaking.
Those hard eyes seemed to grow harder still, and a calculating glint came into them. He smiled a little, a sneer really. He seemed to be looking down his prominent nose at me. I couldn’t understand it, until he spoke again.
“I see. I begin to comprehend. You want more money, is that it?” His voice was filled with scorn.
It was the sneer that did it. What was wrong with the man? A hot wave of anger swept my fear away, and without realizing it, I took another step toward him. We were facing each other now only feet apart, and I had to look up to see into his forbidding countenance.
“Mais non!” I said crisply. “I am perfectly content with the terms of our arrangement – they are most generous. I wanted only to…to see you, and talk to you, that is all.”
“And now you have seen me. I hope you are satisfied. Allow me to apologize, if I misunderstood. You should leave now,” he said, pausing to fix me with a menacing stare, “while you still can.”
I was so irritated by his inexplicably rude behavior that I completely overlooked the threat implicit in his voice and words. Resentfully, I said, “May I remind you, Monsieur, that you have already seen me. You spied on me, in fact, when I thought I was merely receiving a tour of the theatre.”
Not bothering to deny it, he made an impatient gesture with his hand. “That is completely different. I cannot afford to take chances on being seen or discovered. I must safeguard my privacy at all costs…a privacy which you have now willfully violated.” His eyes narrowed as he studied me. “How did you know I was there that day? I took pains to ensure you would not see me.”
I frowned, remembering the way the hairs on my nape had prickled as I stood upon the empty stage that morning. “I felt your eyes on me,” I answered reluctantly. “And yes, you are right, it is different. You were hiding in the dark, spying on me while I was unaware. But I have come here and introduced myself to you directly, because I wished to make your acquaintance.” I cannot even now say where I found the nerve to speak so to this dangerous stranger.
He did not appear the least bit chastened by my effort to put him on the defense. “I must be slipping, if I allowed you to actually catch a glimpse of me that morning,” he muttered crossly. “But as for you, you nosy little shrew,” he suddenly took a menacing step toward me, closing the distance between us, and I found myself taking a small step back. “I don’t care to meet you. You exhibit a great lack of respect for my privacy. Understand this and mark it well: I prefer to be left alone.” The last word emerged as a menacing whisper. “You knew my terms…I will overlook this one transgression, but as from now you have no excuse. You are showing intolerable disrespect for me and my orders, which I never allow. Do not linger here again. I warned you – you really ought to listen to me. You know,” he paused, glowering down at me, his gloved hands clenching into fists. “You are lucky to still be alive, Madame. I could easily have killed you for this transgression.”
I supposed he could have, but he had not. In fact, he had not even touched me. Emboldened by this realization, I put my hands on my hips and returned his glare with interest.
” I wonder, Monsieur, at your finding anyone willing to work for you if you threaten to murder them whenever you chance to meet. It wouldn’t be easy to replace me, you know.”
The O.G. stared at me. His mouth opened and closed twice, and then he sputtered a little and unclenched his hands. I had apparently rendered him speechless. Was that a brief flash of amusement I saw in his eyes? The crackling energy in the room seemed to recede a bit, and I began to consider that I ought to acknowledge I had been in the wrong and make what amends I could.
But before I could speak and offer an apology, however insincere, he abruptly turned away toward the tapestry, saying to me over his shoulder, “You have been warned, Madame Bessette. There should not be a next time.”
He was about to depart as he had come, down the long flight of stairs into darkness. I moved toward him again without thinking what I did.
“Wait! Please.” I said urgently. “You must know that you can trust me…not to say anything, not to give you away. I mean you no harm, Monsieur le Fantôme.” I felt a little thrill of fear and excitement course through me as I pronounced that strange sobriquet. “I will forgive you for spying on me that morning if you will forgive me for this. I promise you I will not do it again.” Once more I extended my hand toward him.
“Will you not shake hands with me?”
His wary eyes moved from my face down to my hand, and he stared at it for a long moment while I held my breath. His mouth suddenly twisted into a grimace, as though my gloved hand were a dead rat he had stepped on in the street. Then he whirled away without another word, and vanished into the darkness below.
I stood rooted to the spot, listening to the staccato sound of his retreating steps until I could no longer hear them. After the footsteps had faded away there was only silence, and the loud beating of my heart. It took several seconds for me to recover from my astonishment, but when I looked around, I was dismayed to see that he had left his dinner on the shelf. It was a good thing I had made something that could be enjoyed cold, I thought ruefully. Thoroughly ashamed and despondent, I picked up the empty tray and walked to the window.’