Father always adored A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and we performed a loose version of that once a year. My younger sister Caroline was always Puck, but being a trouble maker suited her fine.
When I told Elise of these stories, she could hardly believe me. I went to a small bookshop in Paris (I’m indebted to you for forcing me to learn French all those years ago), and I bought up all the Shakespeare they had.
Elise and I lay in bed. The room would still glow, the way it always seemed to afterwards. The sheets were satin, so soft and light they feel like nothing on my bare skin.
It was in those moments, when we were too drunk on love and too tired to move, I’d pull out a book. Elise lay next to me, her arm resting on my stomach, as I begin to read to her, telling her the tales that Sir William wrote long ago.
She stared at me with eyes so wide and bright, I always had to hide my laugh. She gazed at me with such wonder and adoration, it’s as if she thought I wrote the stories myself.
It’s because of this I insisted we go to the opera house. I’ve seen how much simply hearing the stories captivates her. Seeing something performed on stage would amaze her.
Elise can only speak a few words of French, despite my efforts to teach her. She loves hearing it spoken, but she claims her accent butchers it too much, so she refuses to learn. I think her Irish burr warms the language, but she won’t be convinced.
Even with that, I took her to the opera at Salle Le Peletier. It was a performance of Le prophète, and we had balcony seats. In the beginning, I tried to translate for her, but eventually she held up her hand to silence me.
“You don’t need to tell me,” Elise whispered, as not to disturb the other patrons. “I can see it on their faces.”
By the time the opening number had ended, Elise had begun to weep. I put my hand her arm, concerned that something was the matter, and she shook her head, dabbing at the tears on her cheeks.
“It’s so beautiful,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything so moving.”
After it had finished, Elise was still in high spirits. She sang the songs from the opera, and her pronunciation was a bit off but her tone was perfect. Her voice was like an angel. I took her hand, pulling her to me, and we danced along the streets of Paris. A large, slow waltz as she sang.
We met a couple, slightly drunk on wine and even more drunk on love, and they invited us up to their flat. Elise and I were having too much fun to decline, and we followed them up to a small artist’s loft. Paint and wine stained what little furniture they had, and the floor was littered with canvases.
The man, Luc, asked to paint Elise, and when I translated for her, she gladly accepted. She sprawled on a purple blanket, her ringlets coming loose from her hair. I understood why Luc had to paint. If ever there had been a muse, Elise must surely be one.
While Luc carefully tried to make his brush strokes match the perfection of my wife, I talked to Marie. She spoke some English, and she used as much as she could to keep Elise in the conversation.
Marie and Luc had just come back from a holiday in Prague. It wasn’t meant to be a holiday – Luc was supposed to be working. Marie explained that last month they’d barely eaten, and Luc had hardly painted from lack of inspiration.
So they’d travelled to Prague, where Luc had been hired to paint portraits for a wealthy family that lived there. Only as soon as they’d gotten there, Luc had enraged the mistress of the house, and they’d been sent packing without any pay.
That hadn’t stopped them from having a marvelous time, though. Marie told us of the architecture, the streets, the river, the people. She said we must go to Prague if we had the chance, and I realized that we certainly did.
We left before Luc could finish the painting, but I paid him for the half-finished canvas anyway. It only seemed fitting, since Elise and I had drank of them before we left. They tasted of purity and grapes, and Elise seemed a bit tipsy when she was done.
The next day, Elise and I packed our things and hopped on the train out of Paris. I know that’s not at all what I told you when I left. I said two weeks in Paris, then we’d come home.
But this is the only time Elise and I will be newlyweds. I implore you to forgive me, dear brother. I want so much to enjoy this time with my wife. I have this strange sense of urgency when I’m with her. Our time together feels so very precious, as if there is only a finite amount left.
I know that’s not true. That we have all eternity to see the world together. But right now, I feel this is something that I must do. I must give Elise the world while I have the chance.
As I write this, we are still on the train, on our way to Prague. The sun has only just begun to rise, the pink light spilling through the windows. Soon, I’ll have to pull down the shades, shrouding us in darkness, but for now, the light seems perfect.
Elise has her head on my shoulder, and she’s been sleeping for a while. She stirred a bit ago, watching me as I wrote this letter to you.
“Is that to Ezra?” Elise asked, stifling a yawn.
“Yes, it is,” I told her.
“Please tell him not to hate me,” she said.
“Why would he hate you?” I asked.
“For stealing you away from him. I would hate somebody that took you away from me.”
“Nothing can take me away from you, my love. You know that.” I brushed back a hair from her forehead and kissed her gently. “I am yours forever.”
“I know.” She smiled, lopsided because she was sleepy. “But I still stole you from him.”