Tides of the Heart-Part Four : Sostenuto
It is the witching hour, but the witch is dead, and my hands flash over the ivory and ebony keys in affirmation, as I play the "Danse Macabre" with its waves of taunting, mocking crescendos, as I spin her bitter memory away from me in a tornado of sound.
"Midnight....The claws of Death raps a gruesome cadence on the tomb at midnight....white skeletons skip and dance through the shadows....the bones of the dancers clatter as they dance..."
The poem was by Henri Cazalis, I have forgotten who wrote this grisly symphonic accompaniment, that makes the walls of the holodec shudder as I wrest the screaming laments from the piano keys. Camille Saint-Saens, I think, but I'm not sure.
It's been many years since my fingers first learnt to dance to this particular descant. I learnt the tune as an exercise in musical complexity. Its haunting melody only serving to teach my hands the dexterity that would eventually cause a Starship to waltz under the guidance of my fingers.
Never did I imagine that thirty odd years later I would use its cadence to try to lay a real ghost.
I never reach the last movement. I ride the last crescendo of the music to the four bars of twelve identical chords that demand that the whole weight of my body crashes down behind each thundering repetition, and the resultant scream from the instrument that I am abusing sounds like the howl of Death himself . Then I collapse over the keyboard, so much perspiration running from my forehead that, for a moment, it manages to drown my tears.
In the sudden, deafening silence I find, perhaps, a little peace.
Charis visited me again today.
Strange, after all these years, that I finally understand the power of those two words "my son".
He has always been a mystery to me. How to deal with him, I mean.
I didn't want him. I never wanted him. For the first two years of his life I hated him as much as I hated his mother. I saw him as no more than a thief. No more than a cancerous growth that had been nurtured at the breast of a viper for the sole purpose of destroying my life.
I saw him as a human cuckoo, an interloper with no rights, yet it was *I* who had been pushed out of the nest to make room for him.
He was invisible to me. It was the only way I stopped myself from using his tiny fragile body as a punching bag for my fury. I couldn't have really done it, of course. I am not capable of hurting a child. Even a child of Seven. But, I admit, that I thought about it a lot.
I hoped he would simply die.
So, you see now that I am a wicked man, don't you? I deserve my pain, my torture, my loneliness. I once prayed that my own son would die so that my husband would, in his grief, turn back to me once more.
I was a little mad, I think, but still, it is unforgivable.
Then one day, when Charis was two, and still unsteady on his feet, I walked into the observation lounge, too wrapped up in my own miserable self-pity to realise that Seven and her monster were inside.
I froze, in horror, as the creature began tottering towards me with a happy, sunny smile on his face. His arms were outstretched in blind trust that I would move towards him and swing him up in my arms. I remember starting to back away, my stomach churning, as this tiny Borg attempted to assimilate me.
God, it's impossible to explain how I felt. It was Charis, an innocent toddler who I knew was really my son, and yet, for me, he was the embodiment of everything that had destroyed my life. I had to get away from him.
Yet, before I could complete my intention of spinning on my heels and racing from the room, he stumbled, forced by my retreat to walk further than his tiny legs could stagger, and his face screwed into terror as he began to fall towards the deck.
And then I was on my knees, catching him, my arms full of child, not monster, my nose pressed into the softness of his hair, so that my nostrils filled with the sweet scent of shampoo, and milk, and something indefinable that was simply the smell of Charis himself.
I remember trembling a little, shaking as I finally accepted that he was real, he was a person not a monster, and I knew, in that moment, that I would never, ever, let any harm come to him. It was the moment that I also realised that Chakotay would never come back to me.
How could I, Tom Paris, ever compete with someone as beautiful and innocent and *worthy* of love as my own infant son?
After that time, although I made little effort to involve myself in his life, I at least put away my hatred for the boy and instead directed it where it belonged, at his parents.
It was hard to hate Chakotay though. Hating him was like hating myself. But then again, I *did* hate myself too, so I simply got used to simply hating everyone.
I blamed them all for allowing it to happen. I hated Kathryn, god rest her soul, for defending Seven's actions as "understandable" once she had gotten over her initial fury. I even hated my best and only friend Harry for having a spouse who could bear him his *own* child so that he would never leave Jenny, as Chakotay had left me.
Then, before I could make my peace with them, before I could ask forgiveness for my complete self-indulgent bitterness, we were attacked by the Borg, and Kathryn, Harry and Jenny were all dead.
What little was left of my heart died with them.
Samantha took tiny Menily into her life, and brought her up with the same calm and tolerant love that she bestowed on her own daughter Naomi, who was about nine by then.
Despite the many desertions of Voyager that followed in the wake of Kathryn's death, the corridors of the ship soon rang with the voices of many children, and I was forced to retreat constantly into my own, lonely quarters to escape the pain of hearing their joyous laughter.
I began to believe that *I* was the monster on Voyager. I seemed to be the only person that didn't feel the urge to procreate. I felt guilty, unnatural, and my shame finally forced me to at least start to pretend a little interest in Charis.
Neelix did the negotiation for me, acted as the intermediary between Chakotay, Seven and I.
I think Chakotay agreed that I could occasionally "baby sit" because he hoped that if I learned to love Charis, I would find a way to forgive Chakotay for loving him too.
I suppose it worked to an extent. Charis turned out to be surprisingly interesting and over the years we seem to have become genuinely fond of each other. I became his "Uncle" Tom, and although he knows now of my biological connection to him, he still addresses me as Uncle. We both prefer it that way.
Even so, he *is* my son.
No matter that I never wanted a son, still I have an obligation to him. It is not *his* fault, after all.
I don't think I love him. I think I lost the capacity for that emotion years ago. Seven *did* assimilate me into her collective, after all. I am a drone. I eat, I sleep, I work, I talk (if I absolutely have to) and that is all.
My only emotional outlet is in the privacy of the holodec when I run my program with the baby grand, and I let ivory and ebony do my crying for me.
I *like* Charis though. I really like him, and I like Menily too, so even though I know that tomorrow will be a walk through hell itself, I will agree to attend after all.
For Harry, perhaps.
The idea that he will live on through his grand-daughter touches me in a place I had forgotten existed. Perhaps *this* is the real reason for children, after all.
A requiem for the dead and a celebration for the living, both wrapped up in the promise of one tiny girl child who will be known as Harriet.
I like the idea.
Perhaps I will even take the opportunity to play my Danse Macabre for the crew and finally, publicly, lay all of my ghosts before I leave these Voyagers behind to travel on without me.
Sostenuto. It is a musical term. It means to sustain longer than a note's natural length.
I have suffered here long enough. No matter how selfish and wicked I once was in dreaming that my own happiness was more important than the life of a child. I have no more tears. I have no blood left to bleed. I have stayed long enough that my son is now a man and now has his own child to protect. He does not need me any more.
Perhaps he never needed me at all. No more than Chakotay needed me.
Perhaps it has always really been about what I needed, after all.
The last crescendo has been played, there is no necessity for me to play the tune to the bitter end. The drama is over. The danger averted. The witch is dead. What is left is only aftermath.
It is time for me to move on.