DO NOT PRETEND THAT THIS IS LOVE
Title: “Dream Girl”
Artist: Toby Marsh
Medium: sheet music
Location: on loan from the Pershing family
Description: This piece of original sheet music, signed by singer/songwriter Toby Marsh, captures the beginnings of the song “Dream Girl” and was auctioned off as part of the Music Notes annual gala to fund public school arts programs in New York City. While some of the lyrics differ from the final song, the most famous lines—“I’m so afraid, afraid that I’ll forget/Her, even though I’ve only met her in my dreams”—are clearly legible in the center of the page.
Background: This is largely considered to be the song that launched Marsh’s career. The musician has only added to the mythology surrounding the subject by claiming the song came to him over the course of several dreams. “I would wake up with bars of music in my head,” he said in a 2016 interview with Paper Magazine. “I’d find lyrics scribbled on notepads and receipts, but I had no memory of writing them. It was like sleepwalking. Sleep-making. The whole thing was a dream.”
Marsh denies being under the influence of any drugs at the time.
Estimated Value: $15,000
July 29, 1914
It is pouring in Villon.
The Sarthe swells against its banks, and the rain turns footpaths into muddy rivers. It spills over doorways, fills her ears with the steady white noise of rushing water, and when Addie closes her eyes, the years dissolve, and she is ten again, she is fifteen, she is twenty, her skirts wet and hair flying behind her as she races barefoot through a countryside washed clean.
But then she opens her eyes again, and it has been two hundred years, and she cannot deny that the little village of Villon has changed. She recognizes less and less, finds more and more strange. Here and there she can still make out the place that she once knew, but her memories are threadbare, those years before her deal left to weather and fade.
And yet, some things are constant.
The stretch of road that runs through the town.
The small church sitting in the center.
The low wall of the graveyard, immune to the slow procession of change.
Addie lingers in the chapel doorway, watching the storm. She had an umbrella when she started out, but a sharp gust of wind bent the frame, and she knows she should wait for the rain to ease, that she has only the one dress. But as she stands there, one hand held out to cup the falling water, she thinks of Estele, who used to stand beneath the storms, arms wide and welcoming.
Addie abandons her shelter and heads for the cemetery gate.
In moments, she is soaked, but the rain is warm, and she will hardly melt. She passes a few new headstones, and many old, sets a wild rose on each of her parents’ graves, and goes to find Estele.
She has missed the old woman these many years, missed her comfort, and her counsel, missed the strength of her grip, and her woody laugh, and the way she believed in Addie when she was Adeline, when she was still here, still human. And even though she holds on to what she can, Estele’s voice has all but vanished with the passing years. This is the only place she can still conjure it, her presence felt in the old stones, the weedy earth, the weathered tree over her head.
But the tree is not there.
The grave slumps, weary, in its plot, the stone moldering and cracked, but the beautiful tree, with its wide limbs and its deep roots, is gone.
Nothing but a jagged stump remains.
Addie lets out an audible gasp, sinking to her knees, runs her hands over the dead and splintered wood. No. No, not this. She has lost so much, and mourned it all before, but for the first time in years, she is struck with a loss so sharp it steals her breath, her strength, her will.
Grief, deep as a well, opens inside her.
What is the point in planting seeds?
Why tend them? Why help them grow?
Everything crumbles in the end.
And she is all that’s left, a solitary ghost hosting a vigil for forgotten things. She squeezes her eyes shut and tries to conjure Estele, tries to summon the old woman’s voice, so she can tell her it will be all right, that it’s just wood—but the voice is gone, lost beneath the raging storm.
Addie is still sitting there at dusk.
The rain has slowed to a drizzle, the occasional tap of water against stone. She is soaked through, but she cannot feel it anymore, cannot feel much of anything—until she feels the shifting air, and the arrival of the shadow at her back.
“I’m sorry,” he says, and it is the first time she has ever heard those words in that silken voice, the only time they will ever sound honest.
“Did you do this?” she whispers without looking up.
And to her surprise, Luc kneels beside her on the sodden earth. His own clothes do not seem to dampen.
“You cannot blame me for every loss,” he says.
She doesn’t realize she is shivering until his arm folds around her shoulders, until she feels her limbs trembling against the steady weight of his.
“I know I can be cruel,” he says. “But nature can be crueler.”
It is obvious, now, the charred line along the center of the stump. The swift, hot shear of lightning. It doesn’t ease the loss.
She cannot stand to look upon the tree.
She cannot bear to linger here any longer.
“Come,” he says, drawing her to her feet, and she does not know where they are going, and she does not care, so long as it is somewhere else. Addie turns her back on the ruined stump, the tombstone worn to nothing. Even rocks, she thinks as she follows Luc away from the graveyard, and the village, and the past.
She will never go back.
* * *
Paris, of course, has changed far more than Villon.
Over the years, she has seen it polished to a shine, white stone buildings capped with charcoal roofs. Long windows and iron balconies and wide avenues lined with flower shops and cafés beneath red awnings.
They sit on a patio, her dress drying in the summer breeze, a bottle of port open between them. Addie drinks deeply, trying to wash away the image of the tree, knowing no amount of wine will cleanse her memories.
It doesn’t stop her from trying.
Somewhere along the Seine, a violin begins to play. Under the high notes, she hears the tremor of a car’s engine. The stubborn clop of a horse. The strange music of Paris.
Luc lifts his glass. “Happy anniversary, my Adeline.”
She looks at him, lips parting with their usual retort, but then stops short. If she is his—then by now he must be hers as well.
“Happy anniversary, my Luc,” she answers, just to see the face he’ll make.
She is rewarded with a raised brow, the crooked upturn of his mouth, the green of his eyes shifting in surprise.
Then Luc looks down, turns the glass of port between his fingers.
“You told me once that we were alike,” he says, almost to himself. “Both of us … lonely. I loathed you for saying it. But I suppose in some ways you were right. I suppose,” he goes on slowly, “there is something to the idea of company.”
It is the closest he has ever come to sounding human.