The Dream Girl
Coralie was a lovely girl who lived long ago. She had skin the color of calf’s milk, eyes as blue as the late spring sky, delicate hands with finely curved fingers, and hair that fell in long coils down her back. She was considered a remarkable beauty in her country town, and there was little to fault in her small-boned face or her gentle manner.
Thus it was only a matter of time before the young men came calling in droves. As Coralie entered the bloom of youth, suitors began lining up outside her door, bearing all kinds of gifts and romantic tokens. Coralie received each of her guests graciously, with a half-curtsy and polite conversation; she was never coarse or rude. But even the dimmest-witted of men could see that there was something distant in her manner, some part of her mind, or maybe her soul, that dwelled in another realm.
For Coralie was a girl much given to fantastic thoughts and spent long hours adrift in a sea of gossamer dreams. She was blessed (or cursed, as the case may be) with a crystalline vision of her one true love, and every night, upon going to bed, she dreamed of the man she would one day wed. She saw perfectly the cut of his chin, the color of his hair, the curl of his eyelashes. She heard his voice, ample and splendid, as he regaled her with stories of devotion and praise. And then, after waking, she thought of her beloved all day long.
So when the suitors came calling, Coralie knew precisely what she must do. She rejected each man who came, politely but firmly, on account of some mismatch he suffered with the man from her dreams.
She said to the farmer who brought her a basket of his finest wheat: “Oh, but your skin is much too tan. My one true love has the fairest, palest skin I’ve ever seen.”
To the bashful-looking boy who cantored at church: “I’m sorry, darling, but your voice is pitched so awfully high. My beloved speaks at least an octave lower than you.”
To the doctor’s apprentice, who asked her to accept his tin of ointments and creams: “Ah, but the man I will marry has hair of golden brown and it falls about in the most perfect curls. Therefore, I know you are not he.” And so on and so forth in this vein.
For many months and even years, Coralie turned away every man who came asking for her hand. She remained peacefully convinced that she must wait for the love of her dreams, and she went about her days in a haze, thinking of him, snatching at fragments—recalled sometimes in detail, sometimes in fog—of her nighttime fancies.
But as time passed, Coralie noticed a new pain in her chest. When she stopped at the market to buy bread, or walked to church to hear the Father’s homilies, she saw how the men who once came courting her were all wedded to other women now—less beautiful than Coralie, but plump and merry-looking women nonetheless. The husbands often clapped their wives’ shoulders with a joyful laugh and gave them playful winks. Coralie felt an ache of loneliness in these moments, and whispered: “Oh, dear heart, how I do wish you’d turn up soon!”
The loneliness of these uncompanioned days stuck in Coralie’s throat and made it hard to breathe. To escape the pangs, she began to sleep a little longer and then a little longer still, spending more time in the company of her beloved, who, like Psyche’s Cupid, seemed to visit her only after the sun had taken its sleep. In time, the roses faded from Coralie’s cheeks and her body grew weak and thin. There was still beauty in her face, but it was changed into something convalescent and vague, as if it were being seen through the veil of a long and constant sadness.
One day, the town doctor visited Coralie, touched with pity for the woman he had once admired. He entered her house, which was shabby and in need of repair, sat her down, and looked sadly into her face. In a grave voice, he said: “Coralie, you must stop carrying on like this, before your whole life is lost to phantoms and sleep. You had best wake from your dreams now, or they will end up being the death of you.” He handed her a draught, instructed her to take it before going to bed, and then he left.
Coralie did not know what the draught would do, but she was frightened enough by the doctor’s grave and serious words that she swallowed the medicine as she had been told. And so, that night, for the first time since she was thirteen, Coralie slept a pure and dreamless sleep. She saw no trace of her one true love; instead, the night was an endless refrain of darkness, stillness, silence, and hush.
The next morning, Coralie woke up terrified, desperate with loss. The feeling was strange and foreign, and all day she stirred with anxiety. Mid-morning, she passed by the mirror in the hall and was startled by the age and illness in her face, which she had not noticed before. After a moment, she reflected that her beloved had never aged even a day; the dreams revealed him to be as young and smooth-cheeked a boy as ever. The discovery was discomfiting and moved Coralie, in the course of the morning, to contemplate the utterly dreadful idea that her one true love might never come for her after all.
The day passed thus in great restlessness, and at night, Coralie tried to sleep without the doctor’s draught. But her sleep was fitful and full of terrors; she dreamed of long hallways of deserted rooms, cloaked in shadow and empty of life. The following night, the terrible dreams returned; and they came the night after, and the night after that.
Meanwhile, the loneliness of the days ran on. As you know, the suitors had stopped their visits long ago. Life had moved on for them, as it is meant to do, and Coralie was left without a friend to care for her. Even the doctor had failed to return for a follow-up call.
But there was one man—his name was Luc—who had never forgotten Coralie. In his youth, Luc had been among her suitors—turned away like all the rest—but his trade had taken him to distant lands, and only now, as life became slower and his hair turned gray, did he return to the town of his birth. His itinerant habits had kept him a bachelor, and he lived a quiet, mostly solitary life.
When Luc learned from the townspeople of Coralie’s fate, his heart was stirred. He found the way to the house of his old beloved and began paying it nightly visits. Every evening, he brought a rose and dropped it on the stoop outside the entry; and before going away, he said a prayer for the woman inside. Sometimes, he carried tools with him and made simple repairs to the house’s façade, or tidied the windswept garden. He neither saw nor spoke to Coralie, but the previous night’s rose always disappeared, so he continued his routine for a fortnight or more.
One morning, after waking from an especially lonely dream, Coralie opened the door and bent to pick up her rose. She carried it inside to the kitchen table, adding it to a collection of flowers (some dried-out by now, some still soft and fresh) that brimmed from a crystal vase. She stood looking at the flowers for a long time, and after a while, she pulled them from the vase one by one and began twisting them into a fragile crown. She knotted the stems and touched the petals; her fingers were still finely curved and delicate.
But Coralie looked so wan and unwell, she might have been a ghost, weaving a wreath to set over her grave. She hummed a lullaby and wore an odd expression on her face. All of a sudden, she hurried from the kitchen to the front hall, where she pulled on her overcoat and boots. Then, in the most reverent of gestures, Coralie placed the crown of roses on her head. You could see rushing back, in that instant, all the youth and enchantment of the girl with eyes as blue as the late spring sky whose hair fell in long coils down her back. A moment later, Coralie opened the door and stepped into the morning light, vanishing into the brightness as if in a dream.
(Illustration credit: Annie French.)