When she finally slept, she dreamt of the lions again, just as he had willed her to do. Not willed in the traditional sense, but she had a way of speaking to the stories she loved, and hearing the voices behind the words, but mainly she heard his in particular.
“The lions are who I was and who I wanted to be again. To be brave is to be honest with death and there is no creature on earth as noble as the lion. A lion is what a man aspires to be: in life, and in death,” the old man spoke.
She spoke with him for hours without saying a word as the night swept by her window and the waves crashed upon the beach in her dreams. The lions stirred and his voice faded and soon she was awake in the full dark of the room and she wanted to go back to where she was but knew she could not.
When she spoke with the voices behind the words the characters were never present, only the author, and she wondered why. Before the waves swelled and stirred the man to life, bringing her back to the full dark, she had sat with the man on the beach and he had brought a bottle of Port and they sipped and spoke for what seemed like days.
“You are young,” he had told her. “And to be young is a beautiful, tragic thing. For you are not yet strong enough to hold on to these moments with all your might, and soon you will be old, like I am now.” He finished his glass and poured himself another and told her of his times growing up, the times she already knew about, but wanted to hear of again nonetheless.
“There was nothing finer than being young and in love in Paris. A young woman like you must experience something so beautiful. We ate when we were hungry and slept when we were tired, and at night we’d be drunk and merry and alive and then we’d make love, my wife and I. Every time was beautiful, and like the first time.”
“Do you miss her?” She had replied. And he did, she saw it on his face, and the waves began to grow as they crashed down upon the beach, causing the first lion to stir.
“I do, greatly, and now all I have are my words. Which is enough. But what good is enough when there is so much more?”
She thought of his books and how they sat on nearly every shelf in nearly every home, and she too thought that was enough, but she still noticed the pain behind his eyes.
“To be young and in love in Paris,” he muttered to himself while staring out across the sea, and the waves had grown again. “Tell me something, dear. Why do you dream of me?”
“I dream of you because you make me dream,” she had replied, and that made him smile.
“Well then that’s more than enough for an old man like me, isn’t it, dear?” And he laughed as the waves came crashing down and lions roared to life.
Back in the full dark of her room she stared at her ceiling and thought of Paris and the world outside her window and the lions on the beach. She had dreamed because he made her dream and she could think of nothing more valuable than that. She loved him for that, and knew that even now he was looking back at her and smiling from nearly every bookshelf in nearly every home. Nothing felt more tragic, and nothing felt more beautiful. He had spoke of being young and in love in Paris, when every time felt like the first time.