Ben Bitterbrak hates the dream.
It’s too cosy, too beautiful and too near the truth…
The landscape is always the same: lush green meadows, a burbling brook, some flowers and a little camp fire. The fold-up table hosts two chairs, a fresh oven-baked, home-made bread, and a little posy of flowers. Blue chequered tablecloth keeps rhythm with the soft breeze. A bottle of wine and two glasses. And music. Always music. Something by Mozart, he imagines, although he can never place it with certainty. Music left him, you see, one morning on the train…
There was a time when music played a major role in his life. At the conservatory they predicted a bright future for him. His professor said he had never heard the violin played with more sensitivity, more passion, than Ben did. Given a few years to hone his skills, the world would be his stage and he’d be a celebrity.
That’s when he met Lori Lampbrecht, the pretty girl with glasses and fingers that conjured impossibly-fast tunes from her electronic keyboard. She could make a melody fly – but when the mood took her, she’d slow down and make the same piece morose and dark. She reckoned tempo was the key to everything. Fast and furious made people sit up, tap feet, and smile. The same notes at a much reduced tempo will create frowns and sighs, down-cast eyes and melancholy.
Lori had this thing about life: live too slow, and the darkness will come hunting for you. And sometimes, sometimes, living too fast will make you fly over the brink to crash down in the abyss of irresponsible negligence. She was a deeply philosophical girl, despite the permanent smile and the wide-eyed look of mirth and happiness. When they were alone in her little flat, she’d often stare at the wall for long periods of time, her fingers tapping out a sluggish beat on the armrest.
She said she couldn’t help it. No matter how fast she ran, the emptiness threatened to overtake her from time to time. Especially, she said, when she was alone. About six months after they met, Ben moved in with her. All above board, with lots of care and compassion, but no physical relationship. They spent long hours practising, encouraging each other along with smiles and good wishes.
“Sex,” she said, “has a way of messing things up. When I am on my own, music takes over and the melody is pure. But once I start a serious relationship, I feel empty. The music stops. It’s as if my music needs to be cordoned off, see? It needs quarantine to blossom. And, Ben, music is my life. Without it, I have nothing.”
Ben didn’t understand. Surely love is the fulfilment of life? A loveless life can’t be a happy one, can it? Should belonging and caring not encourage music? It certainly did so for him, he said. Look, he said, I’m in love and you can hear it in my violin! I’ve never played better in my life.
She smiled and said he’s a man. He wouldn’t understand.
Of course the inevitable happened. Some wine and the urgency of denied male ambition combined one evening into a tempo of cadences so wild, so free and so hypnotic that both of them woke up the next morning in a haze of uncertainty. Did that really happen? Was it really so good? Or was it simply a shared hallucination?
The next day she tried to practice on her keyboard. It sounded terrible – the notes wouldn’t coalesce into melody, the tempo was erratic and without rhythm. Ben, on the other hand, produced magic with his violin. It was as if he developed another level of understanding of the great composers’ original intent with their work. Both of them ended their practice session aghast – for completely different reasons.
Ben said he’s sorry. Sure, he knew she told him, but how was he to know it would be so profound? He loved her, and is it not natural for love to explore the depths of the relationship? Was it not normal for a young man to yearn for the unbearable nearness of his beloved?
“But music, Ben! Music is my love. Music is my life. And if I share my love with music, the melody disappears. My music is jealous, Ben. It demands everything I’ve got – and if I overstep the line, music turns away from me like a jilted lover.”
That night they slept apart, like they used to. He on the couch, she in the bedroom of the little flat. All night Ben struggled with the problem. Would he, for the sake of his own happiness, sacrifice the talent and the future of the girl of his dreams?
She woke up the next morning to say she loved him. Yes, it’d be s struggle, she thought, but she didn’t want to lose him. Surely there must be a compromise hidden in the situation: like the left hand filling in the music the right hand was playing?
She found his note and the neatly folded blankets on the couch. It was a kind letter, wishing her well and encouraging her to follow her dream. Don’t be sad, my love. I’ll be there, in every standing ovation, cheering you on. When you return to your hotel room afterwards, we’ll share a good wine and a fresh bread, just like we did here that evening. That’s when you’ll know how much I love you.
Ben hates these dreams because they are so real, so sad. Sometimes he can see himself sitting at that little table. Sometimes the chairs are empty. Lori, however, is never there. Just her music – the haunting melody so craftily played – remains as a reminder of the joy they shared in that little flat.
Maybe he would have felt better if he stayed on in a bigger city – where he would be able to tune in to the major TV stations or read the rave reviews in the newspapers. At least he would have realised his dreams coincided with the sold-out performances she was so famous for.
And maybe then he’d take the old violin from the locked cupboard to play again.
Or even worse still; maybe then the biggest mistake would follow: he’d welcome the dreams and decide to go looking for the melody, the rhythm, he lost that morning when he took the early train to return to the silent Kalahari. After all:sacrifice is the score sheet Love uses to compose the music for dreams.
Sometimes it means letting go of yours….