All I Ask of You
Christine, for crying out loud, turn that music down!
Wha-a-t? Christine pulled the plug out of her ear then pushed a button several times on the small player in her hand. Did I have it too loud, Ethel? You know I have to take my hearing aid out to put this plug in my ear.
Ethel shook her head. I know, Christine, but I can hear it over here and I can’t hear what Andy is saying.
Christine smiled and looked at the television. She hardly ever paid attention to it since Ethel wanted to watch old TV shows all the time. Why don’t you watch something more . . . educational? Christine asked.
Like what you’re listening to? Ethel replied, then softened her voice when she saw the hurt in Christine’s eyes. It’s just that you keep thinking that grandson of yours is coming back to take you to that stupid play. Christine, he has a life. He doesn’t have time to fulfill an old lady’s fantasy.
Christine sat real still for a minute, looking down, her hands folded as if she was struggling for an answer. He knows what it means to me, she said softly, picking up his picture from her dresser. His Pops and me. Pops. That’s what he called my Vincent.
I guess Vincent liked that? Ethel already knew the answer but she also knew that steering Ethel to a conversation about Vincent would cheer her up. The man had been dead for 20 years but Christine acted like he was still around sometimes. Worse than that she acted like that grandson of hers was Vincent reincarnated! Kept waiting for him to come and take her to that stupid play. Heck, she doubted if anybody even did that play anymore. Phantom of the Opera? Christine was enamored with the music, the lyrics, all of it. Oh, it was a classic all right. She’d even seen it once herself but personally her tastes leaned more toward the Oklahoma types. March a singing, dancing cowboy in this room and that would be worth getting up for. Not much was these days.
Christine was deep into a Vincent story when Ethel refocused on what she was saying. Something about how they had re-done their vows and how they’d used the music from Phantom to set the mood. Everything was done in red roses, the guests were seated to the haunting music and Vincent and his best man had entered the room to the strains of “All I ask of You.”
Our grandson Vincent was just eight. He looked up at me and said, Grandma, someday you and I will go see the Phantom of the Opera.
Ethel reached over to Christine and laid her hand over the other woman’s thin bony fingers. Christine, he was eight years old. You can’t hold him to a promise he made back then.
Oh, I know, she said. But we talked about it many times after that. He brought me the music. Told me every time he heard it he thought of me. He told me about seeing a production when he visited Europe. I asked him if he remembered his promise to me and he said he did. He’ll find a way. After all his grandparents weren’t named Christine and Vincent for nothing. He knows it’s important to me.
Christine lowered her head and her voice. My Vincent always said we’d go see it someday. Then he got real sick and we couldn’t travel but my life won’t be complete until I see it. It’ll be just like our life on that stage. Only for us, our life wasn’t about music. For us it was about light. My Vincent could make the most beautiful lamps. . .from anything really. He was a master at it. People from miles around came to him. He was the only one they’d trust with something like that.
Christine, how does that tie in to “the music of the night?” The phantom is about darkness and tragedy. It sounds like you and Vincent were always in the light. Ethel didn’t know why she bothered. She had tried to convince Christine before. Convince her to give up this crazy idea that she was going to an opera at the age of 87. An opera her 40-year old grandson was never going to take her to. He was too busy running around looking for his fifth wife. And her son was off playing golf somewhere. He hardly came to see his mother either. In fact, Ethel couldn’t remember the last time Christine had had a visitor. Thanksgiving maybe? That had been months ago. Truth was Ethel was about the only one that would even talk to Christine here because most of the people at Healthway to Heaven had never heard of the Phantom let alone want to sit down and carry on a conversation about it.
Christine was consumed with it and Ethel guessed she’d have to wait until Christine passed away to get any relief from the subject. Not only did Christine listen to the music but every Saturday night she got dressed up as if Vincey Boy (as Ethel had come to think of him) was going to show up in a tux and escort her like Cinderella in some kind of royal coach or something. Talk about a Masquerade? That would be something to see.
But Ethel was a realist. She knew that most of the time when people were put into these places, that was it, as far as the family was concerned. They didn’t think about including grandma in family outings or taking her to social functions. You were lucky to get a 30-minute visit ever now and then.
Ethel turned back to the TV Land re-runs of her once favorite show but she couldn’t get into it. She looked over at her roommate and watched her nod off then jerk her head up. Finally she lay the music player and earplugs on the nightstand and slowly, agonizingly almost, moved to the bed. She lay down on top of the covers and stared at the ceiling. No doubt, watching Vincent gallop across the sky on a white horse, Ethel thought then turned her attention to getting her own body to bed. There should be something she could do about Christine’s dilemma, but what?
Ethel fell asleep to the sound of her own footsteps racing down a stone staircase into the dungeons of the opera house where the phantom was surely waiting to kill her. When she finally saw him, he wasn’t scarred but looked suspiciously like the picture on Christine’s dresser of her grandson Vincent.
Spring bloomed with a sudden burst of color and Christine’s cheeks grew pale as the dogwood blossoms outside the Healthway to Heaven windows. Sonny boy and Miss-perfect-hair-do-daughter-in-law came by sometime around Easter but Vincey didn’t even send his grandmother a card.
In May, the night before Christine’s birthday was Saturday and like all her other Saturdays, she put on her best dress and fussed with her hair and makeup but she didn’t go to the lunchroom to eat with Ethel like she usually did. She wrapped a black shawl around her shoulders and sat down to wait on Vincent to arrive. Poor fool, Ethel thought then went to the cafeteria to eat, thinking she’d take a sandwich back to Christine later.
When Ethel arrived, she noticed the staff had put fancy tablecloths on all the tables and placed lighted candles on top of little mirrors in the center of each one. There was a buzz in the air and everyone was asking what was going on. The staff had big smiles but they weren’t talking. Ethel noticed a black curtain drawn across one end of the room. She figured they were in for some type of entertainment. She needed to go get Christine. She always enjoyed the bands and anyone who stopped by to entertain them. But as Ethel headed toward the door, a beaming Christine was escorted into the room, black shawl draped around her frail shoulders and a big smile filled her whole face. Escorting her into the room was Vincey Boy looking like the Cheshire cat who’d swallowed the last rat on earth. He wore a dark gray suit and a fine imported tie. Very handsome, Ethel thought, smiling. His dad and mom and several family members came in behind Vincent and Christine.
Vince nodded to Ethel but seated his grandma directly in front of the black curtain. He took a seat and Ethel made her way toward them and managed to squeeze into a chair just behind Christine.
Christine’s quick glance to Ethel said I told you so but before they could speak Vincent stood and turned to face everyone. I hope you will all forgive the short notice but tomorrow is my grandmother’s birthday and I thought it was about time I fulfilled a promise I made many years ago. My grandmother’s name is Christine and my grandfather’s name was Vincent, which is my name, too. Fate somehow gave them the names of the lead roles in the Phantom of the Opera. Over the years it became their favorite music and movie, although neither of them got to see an actual stage production. Because my grandparents shared the love of that music with me, I too came to love it and later I saw productions in both London and Moscow.
It just so happens that a very special troupe from the London production was in between performances and they have graciously agreed to perform a shortened version for us here at Healthway to Heaven tonight. Since we obviously can’t get the 50-piece orchestra that would normally accompany the production into this room, the cast will use pre-recorded music. The curtain behind him began to open and he blew his grandmother a kiss. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Phantom of the Opera! Happy Birthday, Grandma!.
The residents and staff of Healthway to Heaven applauded as the overture began and the lights were turned low. Christine’s younger, more beautiful counterpart walked onto the stage and bowed low before her audience. Vincent leaned close to his grandma and squeezed her hand.
Ethel smiled to herself and sat back to enjoy her friend’s special birthday. If only Grandfather could see all of this. But then again, maybe he was looking down on them. Maybe it was he who finally got his stubborn grandson to open the last anonymous letter she’d sent. If so, he was surely proud that tonight, Vincey Boy, uh, Vincent was finally living up to his name.
Patricia Hope has won awards in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction and appeared in numerous publications including the 2008 poetry anthology Rubber Side Down, Mature Living, The Writer, and Blue Ridge Country. Other magazine credits include Ford Times, The Tennessee Conservationist, Upper Room, Home Life, and many area newspapers.