The tousle-haired boy peered up at her, eyes squinting under the brim of his cap. He lifted his hand, and she saw the envelope he held in it.
“For you. Madame.” He gave a stiff, awkward bow.
“Thank you.” she said. She slipped him some money, and he was off before her husband came into the room.
“Who was that?” It was hardly a question, blunt as it was. The distance in his eyes burned her like the scent of strong liquor burned her nostrils. He was drinking again this morning.
“A messenger came with a letter for me.” she replied, curt.
She watched as he gulped deeply from the bottle. “An old friend, from years ago.”
“Ach, the past is past! Why waste your time?” He coughed, spitting foamy beer onto the wooden floor.
She didn’t say anything to that. She just watched as he walked out, still drinking. With a sigh, she went to the desk and sat down. The corners of her mouth curved upward as she opened the envelope.
From the moment her eyes glimpsed the letter’s salutation, she slipped into a calm state of mind. There was so much excitement in the written words that, as she read them, she could almost see the writer’s smiling face. He was on the last measures of his sonata, and already he had made arrangements to have it dropped off at the publisher’s on the last day of the week. The piece would be complete by then. To celebrate, he would enjoy a hearty dinner with friends, as long as his stubborn lack-wit of a cook cooperated enough to help him plan a suitable menu.
“You are more than welcome to attend.” he said. “More than welcome, the most welcome! If you haven’t any obstructing errand upon that night, I sincerely hope that you will be present to eat and partake in the occasion with me. Bring your husband, should he wish to accompany you. Write to me, tell me if you will be able to come! I wait with bated breath for your reply.”
With the words “Your own true friend, Ludwig van Beethoven” the letter ended.
She laid the letter down, folding it up carefully before she again slipped it into the envelope. Then she put it away for safekeeping. She tapped on the surface of the desk; it was an aimless action that required no thought. She breathed. And breathed again.
A dull ache throbbed in her chest. How she wanted to go, to see Ludwig again and to celebrate with him. Though she knew there was no chance of enjoying herself if her husband were present, she also knew that it was likely the best course of action to attend with him. It would appear odd to Ludwig’s other guests if she attended alone. She was still a married woman, no matter how close the day of their separation seemed. Before that time arrived, she supposed she should do everything in her power to appear as a dutiful wife.
Duty. Was that what her life would be until then? Her heart yearned for something more. Her heart yearned for someone more. And she knew very well who that someone was.
But no, no! That was impossible, a fool’s dream. He didn’t have those feelings for her. He’d practically spelled it out for her in his letter, spelled it out in two painful words. She was married, and even if there came a time that she wasn’t, she’d still have to marry someone else. It was her class, her birthright. “To push away those honored institutions could send the whole of civilization toppling to the gritty dust”, her father had always said. Unfettered love, too, would rip and tear through all of man’s greatest achievements. So he’d once said to her as he sat before the fire, gazing with boredom and loathing at his wife’s back as she strode past him. Maybe he was right. Maybe her giving way to these feelings would lead to not only her self-destruction, but to the destruction of all that her family had worked for. All those centuries of her ancestors cultivating an image and a reputation would come to naught. The gossip would blaze through Vienna’s high society for ages, to say nothing of worse consequences to follow.
That…that honestly was alright. She didn’t care. Let the towers crumble, let the trees be shaken off their roots, let the earth crack itself in two. Let her inheritance rot. Her heart wanted, her heart needed, and inside of her there would be a gaping hole until her heart was filled. There was no other way.
She shed a tear of anger, and another of resolve. With the tears still falling she picked up her pen. She began to write the words that she hoped would change everything.
I would say that I hope this letter finds you well, but I need not. Judging by your last letter, I gather that you are indeed well. I am happy for you. As I have promised, once your sonata is complete, I shall buy a copy straightaway. Your music speaks to me, as it speaks to many others. Since seeing you again, I find myself looking back on the early days of our friendship and wishing that we could still be so carefree. What wonderful days those were, and how fortunate that you remain one of my dearest friends! But Ludwig, I confess
She lifted her quill from the paper. I confess…what? Her head ached at the question. Then the words began to flow, words she knew came from her heart. Her breathing grew shallow and shallower still. She could swear she heard someone speaking. It was her own voice, and yet it wasn’t. What it said chilled her blood and made her pulse race. I confess that I wish for something deeper. Something dangerous. I confess that I detest my husband, I am lonely, and I am desperate. I confess that your smile haunts my thoughts always and that I can still feel your arms around me. I confess that I cannot attend your dinner, I cannot smile and nod at you from across the table with others sitting between us, and I cannot think of my husband being in the same room as you without being sick. Ludwig, I love you. Ludwig, I need you.
Her breathing was so quiet now. The emptiness of the room settled onto her shoulders. Such a suffocating stillness, such an aching heaviness. There was a pressing pain in her forehead.
Ludwig… As if she were in a dream, that name rang out in her ears. Ludwig. A man destined for greatness, and a friend like no other. If only he could be more to her. If only there could be a glimmer of happiness in her dismal world.
She would finish writing the letter later, she decided. Later, when her head was clear, her thoughts were focused, and those words echoing in her mind wouldn’t spill themselves out onto the paper.
Later, when her soul did not feel so empty.