A/N: This story is based on Rachmaninov's Prelude in D major, Op,23 No.4. It's a beautiful piece and there is no way that Rachmaninov did not have a painful memory in mind when writing it. I found that sitting down to imagine a story and the emotions that came with it helped me immerse into the piece as I played. Here it is! Where each scene matches to what part of the music is to your discretion.
The water was blue. Not the singed, polluted grey of the Thames, nor the brilliant turquoise of the Mediterranean; it was a clear, crystalline, calm blue that rippled through your soul and into your heart.
We rowed down this river every Sunday, a way of immersing ourselves into the beauty of the natural world, escaping the agitated noise of human society. Here, it was just us and our rickety little boat, drifting downstream.
A voice jolted me back to my senses. My gaze shifted from the water to Natalia's eyes- as clear a blue as the river. They crinkled in a smile, tilting up towards the sky.
"The birds," She nodded towards the sounds "They're singing."
I could hear soft harmony of bird voices blending together in gentle song, calling out to one another as they perched atop the trees framing the riverbank.
"It's a beautiful song," I agreed.
Natalia began to sing, matching the birdsong. She was forever the melodist, able to spin a tune from thin air. Her voice was that of an angel itself. It was almost imperative to listen whenever she sang.
The melody began low and long, smoothly and gradually rising, like a sunrise on a summer morning. As soon as it rose, it fell onto a bittersweet dissonance, clashing with the cheerful birdsong, then cut short. When she dropped her song and our eyes met, I knew we both had the same pang of realisation within our gut.
"Sergei," she began slowly.
"I know," I cut her off. "We've gone over this many times."
"I have to go." she was still trying to explain, to appeal to me, though by this time, I was more resigned than argumentative. "It's my aunt, she needs all the help she can get-"
"Why can't I go along with you?" I pleaded. "3 days is a long journey, and you don't know what might come up along the road."
"You know how my aunt feels about us." She said wryly. "She wouldn't let you step one foot into her house."
As I was about to protest, she laid a pacifying hand on my arm. "Vladimir is accompanying me. He will keep us safe. You know he will.'"
Letting out a sigh, I relented. "Alright. But send a telegram once you're there."
She laughed and rolled her eyes. "Of course."
The boat drifted off beyond the meander, and the memory dissolved.
I stared at the same ripples, once calming, now sent crashing waves of pain through me. The memory of that day was like a thorn jammed and twisted into the walls of my heart, creating a fissure that threatened to erupt into a crevasse.
Perhaps it was already a crevasse, since she was gone.
The telegram did arrive, that fateful day, but it was not the telegram I wanted. Just thirteen words, and it cut through my mind like ice.
NATALIA MISSING STOP PRESUMED DEAD STOP FOUND CAR IN DITCH ON ROADSIDE STOP PREPARE FOR A FUNERAL STOP
I remembered that day with a ghostly numbness. Nothing else mattered - just the fact that the one source of happiness in my life was wrenched from my grasp in a split second. Time stilled for a second, and I transformed into an empty shell.
Long, lonely existence dragged on, until I eventually mustered up the courage to face the world. My first travel was to this very place, with the river and the ripples and the birdsong and the trees lining the bank. It was a balm, to be here and relive my time with her. I came here the next day, and every day after that.
I lifted my head to listen to the birdsong, and began humming the same tune she sang in my last memory of her. My shaky baritone was nothing compared to hers, and it carried a sadness that turned the once carefree tune to one shrouded in shadow. As my emotions swelled, grief tumbled with rage and frustration and desperation, and I sang in dissonance, angrily clashing with nature's harmony. I hurled a stone into the river and screamed my pain.
"Why!" I cried out. "I told you not to go!"
The answer I was hopelessly trying to catch between my fingers fell into nothingness, and I was left in silence, just the rustling of leaves to accompany my dissipating anger.
All of a sudden, through the silence, a voice rang through, clear as ice, yet warm as the summer sun. I knew that voice anywhere - even from a mere millisecond.
The voice was the same, but the tune it sang foreign and distant. As I dashed into the forest, it came to the foreground, but just as I thought I'd found its source, it filtered away again. In my desperation, I stumbled through the bushes, ripping aside the thorns that cut into my skin and my clothes, trying to reach the sounds that called out to me. As the tune melted into major, my senses awoke and I knew -instinctively - where to turn. A shimmer from ahead, faint but still clearly ethereal, was my lighthouse. I broke into a full sprint, my heart pounding with every step for I knew- I desperately hoped- that this light would take me to where I wanted to be. As the light grew into a roaring flame, I broke into the clearing and stopped dead at the sight before me.
She was there- my heart seemed to burst out of my chest and my knees shook from a wave of dizziness, perhaps from the running, perhaps from the shock of seeing her after the crippling grief I felt from her disappearance, but that didn't matter. I rushed forward to embrace her, expecting warm skin and a veil of her favourite perfume - but my stomach dropped. There was something strange about our reunion; something strange about her.
THE LAST DUET
She was flickering, like an image in the pictures, somehow simultaneously present and absent. While I could hold her, she wasn't warm. She wasn't alive. I knew, but the realisation still dragged me under another swell of grief.
"Sergei..." she murmured my name, her voice echoing from a distant place. "I came to see you."
"See me?" I whispered hoarsely. "Forever?"
She shook her head sadly. "I can't stay, Sergei."
"Then...then, why are you here?" I asked, desperation breaking my voice.
Her hand reached up to caress my hair, and her ghostly blue eyes met mine. "Your grief, while it reminded me that I was loved, was upsetting to see," she smiled wryly. "I came for a last duet."
"A- a last duet?"
"Yes," She laughed at my bewilderment. "I'll sing for you. Then you can lay me to rest."
She began the song, her voice ringing like bells through my ears and my bones, numbing everything else. It was just us, in the clearing, singing the song that held our love, but also our pain. My emotions poured out against my will through a counter-melody; I was still trying to pull her back, though I knew, I knew, it was futile.
As my counter-melody grew impatient and tugged at her serene melody, she trailed off. A melancholy shadow fell across her face, and she loosened her grip on my arms.
"I have to go now, Sergei." Tears glittered in her eyes. "I'm sorry."
I could not speak. I could neither hold her back nor let her go; a tsunami of emotion crashing inside left me unable to move, to respond.
Natalia saw this, and tears streaked down her face. I wanted to brush it aside with my thumbs- like I always did - but I could not. She stepped back, and I felt a strange new weight in the palm of my curled fist.
"I love you, Sergei." She smiled, that beautiful, haunting smile, and vanished. Nothing more than a mirage in a forest clearing.
I felt my feet give way beneath me; my knees met dust and dirt as I sobbed so hard my chest burned with pain. All at once, the months of grief I had endured gushed out like blood from a fresh wound. I missed her desperately, so desperately, but she was never to return to my arms, and that fact tore me apart without restraint.
As I stood to a greying world, I glanced down at the weight in my hand. It was a necklace, with a charm. Lifting it to my eyes with shaky hands, I mustered a broken smile when I saw that it was a rickety, minature boat. Our boat. I clutched the charm tightly, so tightly my knuckles dusted with white and felt a strange warmth spreading through my fingers. It was as if she was there, in the charm, watching over me.
My eyes never left the minature boat as I stepped back out onto the riverside, the blue of the beautiful waterfront warming the cold grey. I heard the birdsong again, this time a gentle, soothing balm to my wounds.
Closing my eyes, I held the precious charm to my chest, let my tears fall, and finally laid her memory to rest.