As Lillian came to, she felt heavy. She opened her eyes to find herself in her living room, inexplicably dry and finally warm. Her wedding ring was miraculously safe on the table beside her.
She sensed movement to her left as her chest tensed with fear and dread.
Lillian could barely understand the sight of the figure in front of her, a grotesque vision of color and bone.
Her eyes rested finally on the corpse's chest
where a stone necklace hung.
Lillian began to recognize the proportions of his frame; his wide and once strong shoulders and long arms that she used to fall into were unmistakably familiar. Everything else though felt horribly, horribly wrong.
She couldn't make sense of his decaying body; where skin and tissue used to be there was moss and sea growth. His once dense limbs were worn down to their bones. A walking human shell stood before her, hollowed out and fragile. His torso however, a horrid a mass of spine, rib bone and nature, was filled with color and texture.
Looking closer Lillian began to discern and make sense of what she was seeing.
Grey Willow Seeds
Red Dulse Sea Algae
Douglass once had a delightful habit of gifting red algae to Lillian after his long fishing expeditions because she loved its rich, deep color.
Red Bog Moss
Every spring Lillian looked forward to going out into the country to pick Bilberries; her favorite flavor. She would make endless amounts of jam from their efforts, leading to many happy breakfasts and lots of stained teeth.
Peonies were Lillian's favorite flower. Their wedding day had felt like a Renoir painting to her; her memories of it were impressionistic blurs of peonies and dancing.
Lillian would always delight on their walks at the sight of grey willow seeds. The bizarre little pods had always gave her the feeling of real world whimsy. Douglass used to collect them and secretly hide them in her pockets when she wasn't looking.
In winter, Lillian could count on the red bog moss to bring spots of color to the white landscape. It was something she looked forward to once the world grew cold and gray. Douglass made sure to point it out amongst the snow in order to get a smile out of her. It was a beautiful reminder that the earth was still alive despite the cold and darkness.
"You never responded to me," Lillian said.
Douglass stepped forward and mimed his difficulty speaking while reaching for his throat, a look of devastation appeared to contort what was left of his face.
'Oh', she whispered. Her vision of him became a blur as cried, thinking back to the rocks along the beach. She realized he had been trying to communicate with her in the only way he currently could.
As Douglass looked at her he wanted to tell her that he loved her, and he wanted to tell
her there were scarier and more painful things than Death in this world. That staying around too long was painful. That seeing her in that moment had made it better, for a short while. That the only thing he regretted was her sadness. He needed her to be happy, to be ok. The only thing he could think to do was reach out to her.
"Can't you stay here with me?" Lillian asked. Douglass looked at her, his eyes hollow and sad. She knew what his silence meant.
"You'll have to leave me again?"
He nodded. Lillian felt out of breath, desperate.
"Will you ever be able to come back to me?"
Douglass shook his head gravely. No.
Reaching over his head he pulled off the stone necklace she had made for him. He held it out to her gently, as if asking for her to take it. She understood that to take it would be to release him from this world, and it felt like the hardest moment of her life.
She took a deep breath before accepting it from him. The stone glowed softly before dimming completely as it landed in her hands. It felt cold, and impossibly heavy.
Douglass motioned to the couch and sat down, his features softening in the dim glow of the candle light. He looked up and seemed to smile sweetly at her. It stirred something in her, ripping through the devastating numbness weighing down her spirit.
She caught a glimpse in that moment of the expression he always made at the end of a long day, when he seemed tired yet content. She hadn't even realized she had forgotten that smile until that very moment. As her eyes welled, she promised herself to never forget it again.
She used to love the way he would look at her; like there was no other place he would rather be and no other person he would rather be with. She felt it in that moment with him now. He had crossed the ocean to see her and say a proper goodbye because she needed him to.
Lillian stared at Douglass' necklace for a moment before laying down to rest beside him. As they
laid together, still and wrapped up in each other's arms Lillian felt Douglass' spirit envelop her
as her consciousness receded. Like water smoothing over rough stones, his love pooled
around her and warmed her cold, tired body. Slipping into a deep sleep she whispered to him softly,
"I love you."