She knew she was dreaming. She had been having the same dream for six nights: she was walking along Place Vendôme, seeing candles and oil lamps in windows, hearing voices speaking in French, watching a carriage drive away from her and passing by a bistro where diners were engrossed in food and conversation.
Ahead she heard the music. She walked up the steps to a house and the door opened for her, and she went inside and the music was more present; it was directly ahead of her. She recognized it: Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu, one of her favorite pieces. She followed the music through the hall, candles in wall sconces flickering restlessly as she passed though ─ she was but a specter in this place. Her heart began to beat more quickly.
She opened French doors into a drawing room and the music surrounded her, filled her being. He was seated at the pianforte, playing with passion and strength that belied his look of delicacy. She stood against the wall, watching and listening, and when he finished he looked directly at her.
“You can see me,” she almost whispered, speaking in English.
“Certainement,” he replied in French. Only she heard it as “Of course.”
He stood and moved toward her. He was painfully thin, his body ravaged by the tuberculosis that was slowly killing him.
“You have been here every night for a week. At first I did not see you … but I sensed you. Then last night you became visible to me. But I was afraid to speak to you.”
He was standing directly in front of her. She could see the fine veins under the pale skin, the unnatural brilliance of his eyes. She could smell the rusty odor of blood on his breath.
“Es-tu la Mort?” he asked, using the familiar form of “you,” which surprised her. “I am ready if you have come for me.”
She embraced him, and felt bones under skin. How fragile he is, she thought.
“I am not Death. I am a dream,” she said. “I’m dreaming of you, but I don’t know why. I’ve dreamed of you for six nights. I’ve walked into this house each time and listened to you play and wanted to speak to you but you didn’t see me.”
He trembled in her arms. “Perhaps I am dead already. I know I have been dying for some time.”
“What year is this?”
“And the month?”
“September.” He stepped back to look at her. “Why do you not know this?”
“You will not be here much longer, Fryderyk,” she said, not even realizing she had used his birth name … his Polish name. “I live in another time … far in the future. I don’t know why I’ve come to you, but here I am. The piece you were just playing … it lives on. As does all your music. You live on. In my time you are remembered and loved because of your music.”
“What is this that is happening? How is it that you are here?” He grasped her shoulders and she felt the cold in his hands. “Are you a vision I have been given to ease my death?”
“I have no answers,” she said softly. “I think perhaps we have both been given a gift.”
“Que veux-tu dire?”
“I mean coming to you in my dream, hearing you play, has given me hope. I have been in despair, but seeing and hearing you has inspired me as nothing else ever could have.”
He was silent for a moment. “Es-tu malade?”
She swallowed hard. “Yes. A week ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I have to leave music school and go home for treatment. I may not recover.”
“Oui,” she replied. “Et compositrice.”
“And seeing me has given you hope?” He smiled faintly and touched her face.
“Oui, Frédéric,” she said, using the French form of his name. “Parce que votre musique brûle brillamment et sera toujours.” Because your music burns brightly and will forever do so.
“Thank you, spirit from the future. I believe you will be well. You will recover your health and write your own music that will burn brightly. Do not despair, my spirit. Be joyful.”
He kissed her, a lover’s kiss, and she responded in kind. “How much longer have I?” he asked.
“Seulement quelques semaines,” she replied. Only a few weeks.
He sighed. “I knew as much. But hearing what you have told me is a great comfort.”
She replied, feeling herself sliding away from him, “Tu me donnes de l’espoir.”
She woke to the darkness of her bedroom, feeling lighter of heart that she had for weeks. Fragments of her dream still drifted about her.
She whispered, “I gave you comfort. You gave me hope.”
Recommended listening: Murray Perahia playing Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu. You can find this and many other fine performances of Chopin's piano music on YouTube.
Copyright 2016 Susan Moore Jordan