A Bittersweet Dream

He walks along the gravel path, and sensing his destination is near, he slows down. He begins to listen to the indistinct murmur of his memories. The voices become louder as each struggles to be heard and claim the coveted prize of most important memory. The dull clatter of hoofs becomes clearer as he is transported back to that day he left the city with Anya. Vast expanses of lush green fields and rolling hills appear before his tired eyes. He feels the gentle breeze tickle his moustached face. Opening his eyes he realised he has arrived at the front gate.

It starts to rain, he feels the raindrops run down his wrinkled skin. A longing gaze at the closed door, the flickering fireplace; but he makes no move to knock. Run. An avalanche of memories overcome him. It’s hard to breathe. There is no shelter to be found in the unforgiving planes of his aged mind. All of a sudden he finds himself on the edge of a sunny meadow, his younger self running through the woods towards him, rustling leaves in his wake and catching specks of sunshine on his bronzed arms. Her sweet melodious laughter fills the golden air. He stops to catch his breathe. She turns towards him with a bemused smile as if to ask why he had stop running. A smile forms slowly, touching the quiet corners of his tired eyes. He remembers this day. They reach the meadow and she lays down to make a snow angel in the grass. He reaches a rain drenched bench and sits down stiffly.

It had been a beautifully elegant courtship. Entire nights spent dancing together, serendipitous glazes across the dining table, pages upon pages of painstakingly penned correspondences. The wedding had been an exquisite affair and they had happily embarked on their honeymoon to that country estate, their summer home. His smile fades as he recalls the later years which followed. It had began blissfully. They host ball after ball, inviting over friends and family to envy their idyllic marriage. Their first daughter is born, soon after another daughter follows. Before long their perfect marriage is nothing more than a facade. Disappointments borne of unspoken expectations amass causing frequent arguments, growing distance and resentment. Each morning they wake up with backs turned in the same bed, wishing they could be anywhere else but this miserably expansive house. A tear trickles down the haggard crevices of his weary face.

An unexpected letter had arrived in the post one dreary autumn morning – a request to visit. Arrangements were made. He hears the heavy thud of hooves trot into the estate. The guests had arrived. He hesitantly looks out the window of his study –
My breathe catches in the back of my throat and I feel hot tears well up in my eyes. I see the charming smile I had been so enamoured with in my younger years. I recall the features of the handsome face which has haunted my dreams all these years and compare my hazy memory to the figure just outside my window. Though slightly worn by the passage of time, Stepan was still just as handsome as the day he left to join the navy. He had been devastated upon hearing of my engagement. The tear-stained note he handed me that night remains behind the wedding portrait above the desk in my study. Now after years out at sea, he has returned as a decorated navy captain. My reverie is broken by the shrill voice beckoning me to the parlour. I gather myself and join my wife in welcoming our guests, being careful to affect the carefully practiced illusion of a blissful couple. I shake his hand and greet his wife. Their affection is clear, making obvious what we have is little more than strained civility. I search his eyes for any possible remaining regard but find nothing. With bittersweet regret, I resign myself to a winter of self-inflicted misery. I had agreed to host the happy couple until the spring.

The storm clears and a passerby finds an old man slumped over a wooden bench. The man is completely soaked and appears to have spent the night out in the rain. His eyes are closed and there is an anguished expression upon his face. The passerby attempts to rouse the man but finds no pulse. He was dead.

Inspired by Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.6 and a night spent at Hamer Hall earlier this year for the MSO’s beautiful performance, Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique. Music holds stories and emotions, I truly believed this after hearing this concert.

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