Walking through the streets and thinking of someone else by the same name I go by. Emma Hartley has driven him wretched for those three minutes and twenty seconds. I am Emma Hartley. I am not the Emma Hartley. I have never met Dylan LeBlanc.
To me he is a stranger. To him I am (or might be if we did meet) a girl with an incidental name. It is a beautiful song, by the way. Maybe he felt wretched as he wrote it? But it sounds to me like a song for making peace with that wretchedness, perhaps. I’m not sure I could write a song to make peace with the wretchedness. When those things happened to me, I’m not sure I ever did make peace with it all. In January I finally threw the last of his things out. It sounds like Dylan LeBlanc wasn’t thinking about that shit. Maybe he’s a bigger person than I am? Or maybe his love was different? I guess he just really didn’t want her to go.
Names are silly things really. The more l listen to Pauper’s Fields the more I fall into that dusty southern drawl, those people I’ve never met, that man I don’t know. It isn’t out of vanity though; I know Emma Hartley isn’t me. Dylan LeBlanc isn’t even famous here. But the music just goes right through my bones. It throbs. It’s really something else.
I guess that’s why I was so thrilled when I heard track five on my record. I am not a hipster or anything, I just ordered vinyl by mistake from the internet, without realising. On Wednesdays I visit my grandma. She laughed at me like I had done something foolish, but then she gave me her record player. She’s too old now, and she can’t lay the needle down without scratching the vinyl. So I lugged it back to my ground floor flat, and I’ve been playing Dylan LeBlanc all week.
I kind of like listening to it on vinyl. I have to listen to it once through, rather than skipping songs, or playing them in my own order. No one needs to do that anymore. It’s a shame if you think how it get’s put together in it’s way. Well I listen to the album right through without interruption. One of the perks of living alone, I guess.
I haven’t made myself sick of it yet, then. Sometimes on long shifts, particularly the ones at funny hours of the night when you can’t tell what would be doing instead, I roll the ballad of The Death Of Outlaw Billy John like an old black and white movie in my head. That’s track eleven by the way. I like all the songs, but I love Emma Hartley. It was unsettling at first to imagine her, who she might be, someone wandering around with my name, walking away from a broken man. And him so broken he writes something beautiful to console himself.
And her never knowing there’s another one out there. So I wanted to see what she looked like. I needed to understand her. I guess I’m kind of a loner, and I wondered if she was too. Maybe that’s why she left her home? Maybe that’s why she burned his heart like that?
I tried to draw her one evening, but I couldn’t get the eyes right. I close my eyes. I don’t see her face. Nothing comes to me. Emma Hartley just looked like a crappy drawing, not like Emma Hartley. She didn’t look like a woman who walked away from a man that needed her more than she needed him. She looked like a flat sheet of paper with a face drawn on.
I wanted to play the song for my grandmother, but I couldn’t carry the record player all the way back to hers. So I loaded a live recording from YouTube on my phone, and played her the song as I sat with her. She stayed still, with her eyes softly closed. I wondered if she was dosing off, or letting it all in.
When the song was done, she opened her eyes again, and we didn’t say anything. But she looked at me like she knew why I needed her to hear it. Not just because he sings my name, but something else. Maybe she saw it haunt me a little bit? I think she could tell that it was lingering with me still.
When I got into bed that night, I took out my phone once more, and found a clip of him performing. On this video, he spoke first; it was poorly lit, he was sat in a bar, flanked on either side by an accompanying musician. He spoke like there were maybe only twelve people in the whole room. I don’t know, maybe there were? Something he said at the beginning struck me as he said it. He spoke only briefly, but I dragged the clip back to its start. “…called Emmahartley, itsa womansname Imadeup… I do like girls, thankgod. Sorryain’tgood at makingsmalltalk”
Emma Hartley, it’s a name I made up he had said. I’d watched his lips form the words. I took out some paper. I started writing all the things that I never got to say. Like I’m taking his advice after all, for me it’s the time to toss away my demons and lighten up.
When she’s done; her body sits with the looseness of a lifted burden, she writes something else. Her pencil knows what to do. These words slip out of her, gently, easily. In this moment, her hand conjures a brief letter, to a man she’s never met. And writing it was enough. But she sent it anyway -she couldn’t come this far and not post the damn thing- and she knew she was done.
‘Dear D.LeBlanc, the real one would never, E.Hartley.’
That’s all she could do, about anything, and that was enough. She walked back to her front door, and climbed gently into bed. She slept like she’d finally come home. She can breathe again, and she’s asleep.
In the morning I went down stairs to make a cup of tea. It was a Thursday; I had work at nine all this week. On my way to the kitchen I saw the front door was ajar; I suddenly worried someone had gotten into my flat. Then I remembered a half-dream, of cold grit on my feet, of leaving the door on the latch, of brushing small stones from the soles of my feet and from between my toes, as I climbed into bed. (I’d slept better last night than in months, better than since I last had the heat of a body beside me.) I lifted a foot up, the sole to face me, and sure, it was a little darker; I had gone.
I had sleep-walked as a teenager, when I was worried about my sister Jude leaving for college. Now I was alone again and wandering in my sleep. But I think, if in some unlikely way, Dylan LeBlanc reads that note, if he believes it’s from an Emma Hartley, if he knows that I mean those words, let it be a comfort to him, let him smile at it, and think I am silly if it helps, but let him not feel so alone, that day. Let him get softly to sleep, too.