The gramophone buzzed into a faint life after a long and dusty slumber. The recognizable notes fluttered wistfully through the long since forgotten halls which were once a far more grandiose sight to behold. They flickered around her, beckoning her to a distant corner of time and eventually quivered to the ground like dead leaves in the wind. The walls mimicked the cry of the music and the familiar glow of the chandelier sunk down onto the ballroom floor. Something seemed to tug at a nostalgic chord in her, enticing her onto the dancefloor. She found herself lost in an elegant flow of sweeping movements reminiscent of a time she was once intimate with. The light became brighter and warmer and as she spun alone in a desolate hall her eyelids grew heavy.
She danced through the hall like she had so many times before. Nobility, the rich and affluent all packed into the resplendent ballroom, golden ornamentation polished to a brilliant sheen and a profound light from the extravagant chandelier set the room ablaze with the glistening marble floor emulating its brilliance, enough to make you feel as though you’re floating above the clouds. She spiraled to the center of the room, all eyes fixed on her reliving these cherished moments, the ones of temporary eternal glory. A hand swiftly took up her waist and another one nestled in between her fingers. A face looked down on her, deep through her eyes and into her being. It was a familiar gaze brimming with sentiment and yearning. The room dissolved, it felt as though the crowds were put in slow motion and the music muffled, the way it does when it is played from a room next door. She was lost in that hypnotic gaze; who is this man I dance with? It felt as though she should know him. The music came to an alluring climax, as did their dance. He looked at her, more intensely now and leaned towards her. She closed her eyes in anticipation of a kiss. But instead, he gently whispered in her ear “welcome home, my love” in a soft, comforting voice. She was taken aback by this and the memories hit her all at once, remembering who she danced with. She opened her tear-filled eyes to find herself alone again in a dusty old forsaken ballroom, life fallen through the cracks of time as the antiquated record player echoed its last notes in the once magnificent hall. She uttered the words that were imprinted on her mind…“Find me when you wake up” and wondered who had put them there.
Through the warped door of the contorted cottage, she could be seen in the shade of a maple delicately fixated on her paints and patchwork canvas. And with her brush and paint, she became an architect designing an ostentatious chateau fit with turrets and towers and a lavish stone staircase with sophisticated banisters leading up to the sturdy front doors. It nestled itself comfortably in a forest clearing with an array of the most characteristic great oaks framing the prosperity of the abode. She was labeled as having a vivid imagination as many of her paintings were a construct of her own mind. As she added her scrawled signature 'Emiline Toussaint', the final hint of paint, to her now finished masterpiece a voice called from inside, “Emiline, shall we be off then?”. After gathering her portfolio into an organized clutter and slipping on her shoes she hesitated for a second. Her confidence didn’t usually let her take a newly finished painting to the market, instead, it would usually sit by the dining room table for weeks on end so it could be examined in every angle by every eye that entered the room. But a subtle, unreachable feeling told her that she’d find success in bringing it.
Strolling through a path in which they had never been through before Emiline’s uncle declared that “a man I met in the library suggested this route to me, he told me it was picturesque and not too far out of the way of town”. The man was right. The brilliant shades of ochre and olive coupled with the dappled sunlight and crepuscular rays amounted to breathtaking scenery. They approached an opening in the forest and Emiline felt a tang of nostalgia as she gazed across the forest lining and the distinctive twist of the oaks.
“This place…” she mumbled to herself, “wasn’t there - something - here?” she inquired. Her uncle frowned in both concern and confusion, that was enough of an answer for Emiline. She quickly dismissed the idea and they continued along down the path towards town.
The town square was bustling, most people had already set up their stand so that only the perimeters remained unoccupied. Artists of all ages and abilities arranged themselves along the river bank all trying desperately to mimic Picasso, Van Gogh, the greats, whilst Emiline focused on her own unique style. Her uncle helped her set the stand further along the river before making his way to work. She still wasn’t entirely convinced with her most recent piece, so she arranged it towards the back of her selection to ensure it wasn’t the first thing a customer saw. As time went by locals would pass Emiline’s booth and recognize their restaurant or boat in the painting and practically threw money at her to acquire it. The sun collided with the roofs of buildings now and content with having sold most of her paintings, Emiline was getting ready to go home to reveal to her uncle how much she had sold.
“Why that’s gorgeous!” exclaimed a voice emerging from the still lively crowd. There appeared a tall man completely enthralled by the painting at the back of the stand. “It’s enchanting!” he repeated, “where did you find the inspiration for that?”
Astonished, Emiline began to explain how it came to her in the form of a feeling as opposed to a vision, but embarrassed by her philosophical response she stopped herself and instead told him it was from a book she had read. His lips curled into a slight, concealed smile and his head tilted a little to the side before assuring her that “it must have been a very special book to you”, after a moment observing the silence he requested her to “name your price!”.
He clutched the painting and examined it attentively as he turned to leave.
“It really is a magnificent depiction of the chateau... I’d recognize it anywhere. I hope to cross paths with you again sometime. Thank you” he whispered clearly with a twinkle in his eyes. And with that, he disappeared back into the hoard of shoppers before she could say a word to stop him.
Still mystified by the man at the market she made her way home along the same path she came. The sun had sunk towards the horizon forming far-reaching shadows on the golden ground. Pleased with her earnings she made way with a slight skip as she did when she was a child. As she approached the forest clearing once more, she was eaten up again by a distant yet inundating feeling of what she could only describe as nostalgia. Looking up she found herself in the presence of an awe-inspiring seemingly deserted aristocratic mansion, as the day gave way for night. There must have been fifty rooms and at least two ballrooms. It was an architectural jewel overgrown with long since untended greenery and ensnared by impenetrable layers of poison ivy ruffling in the wind like an emerald ocean. Masterfully carved rock encapsulated the thousands of unspoken secrets hidden away under lock and key behind the grand double doors guarding the heart of the chateau. The grand slate roof poised tall, beaming above the elegant crumbling stone balcony railing. There was a strange sentimentality to the monument, almost as if she had lived there herself. Walking up the stone stairs, overrun by ivy and shrubbery, she felt the coldness of the grand banister, sweeping her hand over it as she climbed the stairs. A familiarity overwhelmed her, causing a yearning to swell in her chest. As she knocked on the ornate door knocker she realized the door was unlocked. An ache in her heart told her to enter and she naively listened. Something enchanting enveloped this place. Inside, the walls were covered floor to ceiling with magnificent yet peeling wallpaper and baroque gold leaf patterns. There was a network of convoluted staircases leading to desolate areas of the estate, many of which hadn’t been seen by human eyes in decades. She approached an intricately designed arching wooden door with sophisticated tangles of patterns, and on nudging the doors open the most astounding, boundless library was presented to her. Bookshelves stretched from the ground all the way up to the very top of the dome under which they were housed. Each leatherbound book exuded an heir of poise and prosperity as they contributed to the tremendous wisdom upheld in the hall. In the center of the room, highlighted by the light of an equally opulent chandelier lay a single mahogany desk, a chair, and a man tapping away at an antique typewriter. The tapping stopped and his eyes looked up to meet hers.
“I’m so sorry the door was open and I just feel a kind of-” she began explaining in the utmost sincerity, yet admittedly rather embarrassed by her explanation. However, she was interrupted by a growing smile on the man's face and a flicker in his eyes. For a moment she watched him in familiarity, as if there were something on the tip of her tongue wanting to get out. At last, the man broke the silence,
“Not at all!” he stated with a silky, comforting voice which she was almost shocked to hear. “Welcome”, he breathed full of sentiment without breaking his gaze. Again, silence grew but it wasn’t an uncomfortable one. “Feel free to look around if you like”. Frustratingly, her thought had fled by, as if it were ice that had melted in her hands. Perhaps what was most frustrating is that it felt as though she was observing her thought as if it were an object, an object that, if it were perceived, would evaporate from existence immediately. Perplexed, she began to inspect the tremendous array of literature from just a tiny section of the four walls of the room. As she scoured the names of books she realized his repertoire included all of her personal favorites, but one name in particular caught her eye straight away, 'La Famille Toussai-' the clock struck twelve, and immediately her attention was brought to the thought of heading back home as her parents were undoubtedly worried about her. But as she made for the door something stopped her in her tracks. Wistful notes gracefully quivered across the reverberant room, alluring her towards that subtle, fleeting thought. The dome-shaped room imitated the playful shiver of each rise and fall of the haunting melody. “I know this music” she whispered, following the hollow sound of the clock striking midnight. I know this place. The man approached her, and entwined in this elaborate, deep-rooted sentiment she couldn’t help but wipe a tear from her cheek. The feeling was getting closer, unraveling itself, as if it were about to shift in weight for the pendulum to tip. Entranced by the captivating aura, a quality that seeps into your being, there, reaching towards her through the thick mist of enchantment was his hand. His contemplative, glinting eyes gazed into hers. “Welcome home my love” he whispered softly, “would you like to dance?”. For an ephemeral moment in time, she was frozen, in the depths of that moment the unattainable feeling she searched for was brewing imminently inside of her. At last, she remembered the man with the twinkle in his eye. But… she couldn’t quite remember how she got there.