The hall is dark. A spotlight shines upon a single grand piano, resting in the middle of the glittering stage.
In the front row, beautiful, excited young women flutter their fans, wave perfumed handkerchiefs, and whisper into the tense air:
"It is he."
"He is coming."
"Oh, I have forgotten my smelling salts!"
"Someone shall faint. Perhaps the Countess."
Ten pairs of eyes turn to the glittering Countess in the front row of honour, the most beautiful and artistic woman among all. She is elegantly and pristinely covered in shining glory – fur, silks, jewels. The Countess sweeps a commanding glance across the room, clearly comfortable in her honoured position.
One of the girls does not speak. Instead, her eyes are on the piano, on the spotlight. Camilla's eyes yearn for one thing only.
The stage door opens. Instantly, the hall snaps into silence as the world shifts its gaze to him at the threshold. Tall, slim, gorgeous, long brown hair falls in waves to his shoulder. The virtuoso pianist is dressed in all black, dark like the blackness of the hall, sleek like the big beautiful piano, sophisticated as his name: Franz.
Three ladies in the audience simply swoon.
His eyes barely flitter over the audience, teasing them, till they fall on the Countess. The heels of his black boots echo on the stage as he pivots gracefully towards the piano, takes a bow of all bows, and settles on the bench. Franz lowers his head, adjusts the bench, rubs his lean-fingered hands – concentrates over the puzzle of black and white keys, works his mind for a way to unlock the monochromatic puzzle -
Bang! A rage of passion! A maelstrom of music! This sudden storm bursts forth in torrents and seizes the hall. His slight body trembles and moves in rhythm along as his fingers tear at the piano. He spins a web of virtuosic magic - roaring notes, clashing chords – and casts it over the enraptured audience.
"Franz," Camilla whispers that sophisticated yet stark name. "My Franz."
Every note is strong and clear, commanded from the piano and translated into music. How can the flimsy, sorry instrument sustain? Is it possible… for anything to sustain such fire, such passion? Can anything sustain a tempest from heaven or hell?
Camilla shakes her head. The world she dwells within is nothing enough to sustain what emotions burn within her every time she lifts her eyes to the stage. How, it seemed, heaven and hell swirled violent hurricanes in her heart.
She hadn't wanted to come tonight to see Franz's performance. She hadn't seen him for days and was nowhere ready to meet him. But tonight is the night, Camilla knows, the last night she will ever watch him perform.
And suddenly, the roaring tempest ends. The next song begins. Quiet, yearning, a stark contrast from the trendy music he usually played. Just a pulse of twilight stars dancing in a sleepy night.
Camilla checks her program to see the name of the song performing now: Rêve d'Amour – Dream of Love. You fool, she cries in her mind to the performer on the stage. Love is no dream. You don't know what love is! You don't care what love is!
Can he even see beyond his music and dreams the shallowness of the Countess?
Do you remember when we first met?
It had been a dull morning when Camilla heard the silvery notes float up to her bedroom. She hurried out, downstairs, towards the sound. To her surprise, a dark-haired, handsome stranger sat by her piano, clearly lost in his music. And what music! Under his virtuosic touch, the piano was alive, like a new butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Camilla closed her eyes and began to dance lightly – quietly – to the rhythm.
Camilla cried. She was sure, beneath her rose-leaf makeup, her cheeks blushed red as apples. The pianist stared, shocked, at her with his wide sea-green eyes, but quickly stooped down to gather the shards of a shattered vase.
"My apologies, Mademoiselle Pleyel," he stammered. "I did not mean to frighten you, nor borrow your piano in such a manner-"
"Non, Monsieur, my apologies indeed," Camilla dropped down beside him to help. Their hands met for a moment and shock zipped through her. "I enjoyed your playing – immensely, Monsieur-"
Camilla was cut short, because he bent over her hand and kissed it politely. "Then call me Franz, Mademoiselle. I am most enchanted to meet you."
She barely whispered, "Call me Camilla too."
And from that day on, there was a bond…
A waterfall of harmonic drops. A fluttering, an awakening of love. The music lifts into a higher key, a sweeter tone.
A time of wonderful, sweet delight; a bondage, a link, a communion…
Franz had tea with the Pleyels, and walked Camilla in the shimmering August twilight – chaperoned, of course. The two of them talked of anything and everything under the sun – from their favourite compositions to Madame LaFonde's teatime guests to the greater meaning of life. Sometimes they curled up in couches and read to each other.
Meanwhile, the pianist's fingers claw up the keyboard, higher, tenser – the notes faster, louder -
One day it was Camilla's birthday. He presented her a book with two lacy butterflies on the cover, a lovingly bound collection of his compositions.
"Play it," Franz urged her.
Camilla happily opened the book and began the first piece. To her shock, a freak gust of wind whipped from the open window and rustled the pages, one after another, releasing hundreds of fragrant dried leaves.
"A present – though slightly out of control," he laughed. "Happy birthday to you, Camilla. This book is all yours. When you play, I want you to be free – lovely and lively as leaves dancing in the wind!"
They played hide-and-seek or tag in the autumn gardens, free as silvery spirits in fairytale realms. Camilla ran like a deer, but he always caught her around the waist and they would tumble to the ground – always by accident – and laugh, and cry. All around, leaves scattered in the whirlwind of their wild joy.
"I love you!" he whispered fiercely to her, rustling her curly locks.
"I love you through heaven or hell!" Camilla said equally fiercely.
"I'll love you always through heaven or hell! Top that one!"
The real world ended, a new one blossomed – a new world filled with him, hand to hand, heart to heart, fate to fate. Camilla had her first real kiss that day, but she hadn't reckoned with her lipstick. It smeared over his lips and her face and even her white-laced gloves. The grass and mud stains on her dress wouldn't came off either: an omen, Camilla thought, that their love would never fade.
The music reaches its climax. Then – falls. A glittering tidal wave plunges into the air and ripples back to twilight slumber, now echoing with lost memories.
Alas! Love, like a tidal wave, can build slowly and innocently and suddenly sweep the soul into despair.
"The stars are against us, Camilla. We can never be together," Franz said as he stroked her hair, so many days later.
"Why?" Camilla asked.
He looked away into the distance, into the garden where phantom memories of their earlier joy still lingered. No answer. His unspoken response spoke millions for her.
Perhaps he never even loved her.
She saw him less and less; gone for days, weeks, months. Autumn leaves fell and shriveled into white snow, covering the icy world and Camilla's icy tears. She wrote letters on stationary paper with keyboard borders, and mailed them to his house weekly. But they kept disappearing and returning to sender. She soon learned that he visited the Countess, and somehow, he was hers.
Day in and day out, shadows danced around the walls; whether shadows cast by the sun, or phantoms of the past, Camilla didn't know. Empty notes and meaningless score sheets remembered her fragile memories.
Across the room, the Countess shifts in her chair. Her eyes are gleaming in a haughty sign of victory. She turns around and fixes Camilla and the other ladies an icy smile. I am his muse, his inspiration, his life. The hard glitter of her eyes punctuates the remark of sheer absolution.
Why the Countess, Camilla asks. Why her? She tears her eyes away from the stage and the Countess, yet she cannot force it out of her mind – the thought of the Countess receiving his kisses, his devotion, his love. She loathes the Countess and the pianist called Franz. Camilla digs her fan deeper into her own hands, willing all hate and hell to end this terrible world.
Dream of Love. For the Countess.
A Dream of Love for that damn Countess!
Each note slices scars into Camilla's heart – scars that run with the sweat or blood on her hands! Each note heaps victory and glory upon the proud Countess' head!
She endures the horrid torture, the glances from his new lover, the weed of jealousy choking her heart. How much can she stand? Why… why… why…?
Do you remember me, Franz? Do you love me?
And then the piece fades. The cadence, like a kiss, seals the love song. Franz remains in front of the piano, meditatively silent. His head is lowered and his hair falls over his face like a curtain.
The light of the bright world dies when love is done.
The pianist stirs, raises his passion-soaked eyes to the audience. They ride over the abyss of loss, over time and tide, resting on -
She lifts her eyes and they meet with his. He knows I'm here. He sees me!
The two of them stare at each other for what seems like an eternity, fierce sea-green eyes meeting with her pale blue ones.
The unspoken becomes spoken. "A Dream of Love for you, Camilla Pleyel."