|By Gary Bembridge|
Edith sat in the box, gazing down at the stage. A young woman in taffeta stood near the footlights, her throat straining as she sought the higher notes of the piece. Edith searched her memory for the singer's name, but the amnesia of the passing years robbed her of the answer.
She folded her hands in her lap and risked a wan smile, although she knew no one could see her in the shadows of box five. The Phantom's box. Even after all these years, she could still appreciate irony. Henry kept the box free as a gimmick, but she knew it was because he still considered it to be "her" box, the place she'd sit to watch any performances in which she had no role.
Her mind flitted away from the empassioned singer on the stage, and skipped across thirty years. Her last performance on those very boards, her soul wrapped up in the tender arms of Mozart, her voice occupied by Voi che sapete. Henry, then just the son of the theatre's manager, watched from the wings. The success of Marriage of Figaro seemed to herald their own impending wedding.
Edith frowned at the memory - only days later, the illness had set in. Weeks later, a white-faced young woman with black hair and eyes of midnight arrived with promises of a better tomorrow, but Edith refused to leave. She returned to the theatre, reliving her romance as Henry mourned. Months turned into years, and even the rumour the theatre was haunted couldn't improve its fortunes. Henry became the manager, and took the difficult decision to forsake opera in favour of musicals.
"We need to bring in patrons, Edie. No one wants opera any more," Henry had told her as they sat in her box. The Phantom of the Opera was his compromise with the owners.
A high C several shades too flat brought Edith back to the present. The young singer continued to strangle the life out of the song, and Edith shook her head. She would have given her eye teeth for such a role, but instead the managers now cast teenage television stars instead of seasoned singers. Henry called them "attention seeking brats".
Edith looked down into the stalls, watching the audience below. Most were wrapped up in the drama unfolding onstage, but some hunched over their strange glowing tablets that they operated with their fingers. So rude, she thought.
The song ended to rapturous applause. Edith rose, allowing her outline to flicker in the shadows of box five. Several heads in the grand circle swivelled in her direction, and furious whispers broke out among the patrons, with fingers jabbed towards her.
Edith smiled; the rumours would live a little longer yet. She passed through the door and drifted down the stairs. The Phantom of the Opera would find her Henry, her maestro.