Where sunless rivers weep
their waves into the deep,
she sleeps a charmed sleep;
awake her not.
Perhaps it was morning when hell stopped burning; Shelly found the flames that had worn her skin down to bone replaced by the sharp cool sting of dew on grass, the fires above turned to piercing diamonds on a black backdrop. She should have been relieved, but a new pain replaced the physical agony; where her heart should have been, seated deep beside her soul, she found only emptiness.
“Where am I?” she choked, slowly rising to her elbows. A nightingale sat on her knee, head cocked to one side, eyes wise and sad.
We’re moving on, a voice whispered in Shelly’s head. I’m sorry, my dear. He chooses to stay.
That was the emptiness, Shelly realized. That was the ache destroying her from the inside, the ache she would return to the fires to escape.
“Eric,” she choked out. “Where is he?”
You were given a choice at the river’s edge, the nightingale explained. You chose to stay with him, to cross those waters at his side. The bird lowered her face. He could not find peace. He chose to go back. He chose to avenge you rather than follow you into the boat.
“If he’s not here, then I’m not going anywhere,” Shelly protested. “What do you mean, avenge me? It’s over. There’s nothing left for us to do. The dead don’t come back.”
Sometimes they do.
A vision flooded Shelly’s brain, filling the space between her ears until she thought her consciousness would be torn apart:
Eric, his face painted in gruesome mimicry of the masks on their apartment walls, holding a knife to a man’s hand and slicing deep, slicing to the bone, slicing each finger away from the hand and then holding them to the man’s face.
“Where can I find them?” Eric demanded, using the severed fingers to draw figures in the blood pooling on a glass countertop. When the man didn’t answer, Eric shoved him back against the wall. “You answer me, you motherfucking piece of scum, or I will make you eat the hand that feeds you.”
“Won’t talk.” The man shook from the shock and drooped from the blood loss. “You think … think this is bad, this is nothing … what Top Dollar’s gonna do ta me …”
“Very well.” Eric threw the man aside as though he weighed nothing. “I suppose it’s time for dinner.”
Shelly recoiled. Eric--her Eric--never let her kill so much as a spider, and his eyes--she had never seen eyes so dark, eyes so cold. Eyes missing something:
Do you remember your final hours? the nightingale asked.
“They burned,” Shelly managed to whisper. “There were men--they broke down the door, they … they shot Eric. Oh God, they shot Eric.” The blood on the hardwood floors, the way his eyes tightened in horror, all drowned out the dark memories of her own body being taken from her control. Her mind shut down around the thought. “I burned,” she repeated.
The nightingale flapped a restless circle above Shelly’s prone body. You were beaten. You were raped. He saw it all before he died. He was offered the chance to make those who hurt you suffer. That is the choice he made.
The nightingale lighted on the grass. He is a man consumed by love, and humans are not meant to love so. When they do, they can become demons, and where we are going, there is no place for one with a soul so charred.
“Then send me back!” Shelly exclaimed. “Send me back with him, I’ll help, I’ll--” Feed a man his fingers, Shelly remembered. Find a monster in my eyes. But she would, because surely burning again wouldn’t hurt so badly if she could burn beside him.
Somehow the bird managed to look mournful. Dear, you would give up heaven? You would give up Elysium for him as he is giving it up for you?
Shelly stood, her legs shaking. “I’ll fucking give it all up, just take. Me. Back.”
That is not my realm. The nightingale came to land on Shelly’s shoulder. But if you can show me a part of him that is human--if you can show me that this love he manifests as violence is a pure love … Then perhaps I can make a deal with the Crow to bring your Eric to us.
Shelly frowned. “What do you mean?”
Start from the end, the nightingale advised, and tell me why you lived for this man, and why you would die again for him.
Palms rise to the universe
As we moonshine and molly
Feel the warmth
We’ll never die
We’re like diamonds in the sky
“We should write our own vows,” Shelly insisted, looking up from the papers she had scattered around herself on the scuffed hardwood floor of their loft. “You’re a musician, honey, surely you can come up with something pretty.”
Eric ducked out of the kitchenette long enough to shake his head and groan. “You’re going to kill me with this wedding stuff, aren’t you?”
Shelly wrinkled her nose at him. “Oh, c’mon, all you’ve done so far is ask the band to be your best men and decided we should get married in October. On Halloween.” She rolled her eyes at him and unfolded her legs, pushing herself to her feet and crossing the distance between them.
“Babe, I don’t know what to say,” he protested.
She pressed herself up against him and walked her fingers up his chest to his lips. “No,” she corrected. “You’re just scared to say it in public, up in front of everyone.”
His brow furrowed and he pulled her into his arms, resting his cheek on top of her head. “Maybe you’re right,” he whispered, his words muffled by her hair. He held her for a moment longer, swaying back and forth as though dancing to a music she couldn’t hear, then released her. He cupped her freckled cheeks in his big hands. “Okay. We’ll write them ourselves.”
Three days later, Shelly returned home from work to find Eric parading around the apartment, two sheets of paper held over his head.
“Finished my vows!” he announced gleefully, flourishing the papers in the air so Shelly could see the cramped handwriting that covered them.
Shelly made a grab for his arm, but he laughed and ducked away.
“Can’t hear them until the wedding!” he teased, waving them in front of her face and then snatching them away from her reaching fingers.
She rolled her eyes playfully. “I just want to make sure you’re not including anything inappropriate--”
Eric frowned and pretended to stare intently at his papers. “So I should cross out the part about you being an expert with your tongue and fingers, even in the most dubious environments?” He grinned wickedly. “Because the back of the van in the Trash parking lot was a pretty memorable part of our relationship, babe.”
Shelly shrieked in mock horror and threw herself at him again, but he sidestepped her charge and lifted her off the ground. They toppled onto the bed, tangled up in one another, laughing.
“Don’t worry,” he assured her, rolling over on his side and pushing a strand of hair out of her face. “I’m saving the parking lot reminiscences for the reception.” He laughed and rolled away before she could push him off the mattress and onto the floor.
Shelly stared at the blank papers scattered around her on the bed. With a frustrated grunt, she crumpled up one of the papers and threw it at the wall.
“Hey, what’s wrong, babe?” Eric meandered over from the kitchenette and sat down beside her on the comforter.
She shook her head. “It’s just … I made such a big deal about these vows. Now the wedding’s tomorrow, you’ve written yours, and I just … I haven’t written mine,” she confessed.
Eric tried to stifle a laugh and Shelly turned to glare reproachfully at him. “This is important to me, okay?” she snapped, pulling away from him.
Eric’s smile faded. “I’m sorry. I know.” He reached for her hand and watched as she traced her fingers over his knuckles. “But baby, it’s okay. You can just crib some song lyrics or a poem and no one will know.” He met her eyes. “And I won’t care, honey. I won’t care at all.”
Shelly shook her head. “Eric, that’s not the point.” She studied her fingers as they played with his. “The point is for me to tell everyone--me, not some anonymous lyricist or poet--how much I love you. But I don’t know how to say it.”
Eric put his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. “Then you know what you’re going to do?”
She raised an eyebrow.
“You’re going to play it by ear,” he said decisively. “We’ll get to the altar and you’ll be in your dress and it’ll be just me and you, forever, and you’re going to tell me why--why you’re standing there, why you chose to make me the luckiest man in the universe.”
Shelly balked. “I can’t--”
“--but you’re going to,” Eric said firmly. “No rehearsing, nothing but what’s in here.” He slid one hand down over her heart. “You wanted me to write my vows, so I did. I want you to improvise.”
Shelly smiled wanly. “Why do I let you talk me into these things?”
Eric winked. “Probably for the cheap wine and sex.” He waggled his eyebrows and stood, reaching for his leather jacket where it hung over the back of a chair.
“In fact,” he said, shrugging the jacket over his broad shoulders, “I think I’ll make a run down to Discount Spirits right now and get you some of that Andre you love.”
“Classy, baby.” Shelly made a face, then smiled. “I’ll run the bath.”
He leaned down to kiss her goodbye. “Don’t forget the candles.”
“I won’t,” she promised. He opened the door and she shook her head at his retreating back. “I love you, you know,” she called behind him.
When he turned around, his grin was so broad it filled his face. “I love you too--my Mrs. Draven.”
Another crumpled piece of paper hit the wall beside his head as he ducked out the doorway, laughing.
C’est la vie
C’est la mort
You and me
-- “C’est la mort,” The Civil Wars
Shelly stared dully at her hands. “That was the end,” she intoned, the emptiness in her throat nearly choking off her words.
No, the nightingale corrected. It was also the beginning.
It began to rain, a light mist turning the air around them into a kaleidoscope of damp greenery. Shelly looked up into the sky, idly noting the clouds now covering the stars. She plucked a clump of dirt from the ground and crushed it between her hands until it fell back to the earth in a soft rain of dust and grass.
One knife and the man is still breathing. One knife, one knife and he’s in pain.
Eric laughed and plunged another knife into the dark man he had pinned to a stack of crates in an alleyway. Two knives, he’s whimpering. Two knives, two knives and he knows what it is to be penetrated against his will.
Another knife, but not to kill: No, Eric needed the blood to flow, needed to leave a message in silhouette on the warehouse wall behind them. Needed them to know that he was the angel of death, that tonight they would all die.
The fourth knife hit a major artery, but Shelly’s pain--oh, Shelly had felt all of it, and so should her attacker. The man begged, he cried, he made promises he could never keep.
“Shelly begged,” Eric informed him, strangely calm. “Shelly begged you, Tin-Tin, and you kept cutting her. Shelly cried, and you kept piercing her.” He laughed bitterly. “Wasn’t your pleasure much more important than her discomfort?”
“Please, man, just end it it, kill me, I don’t care,” Tin-Tin rambled. “I was wrong, man, I shouldn’t’a done it, the bitch wasn’t worth it, just kill me, man!”
“Now why,” Eric posited, positioning another knife over his prey’s trembling body, “would I grant a hypocrite his dying wish?”
Shelly bent to her hands and knees on the grass and dry-heaved. The nightingale paced back and forth in front of her, waiting for the sickness to subside.
His task is death, the nightingale explained. He is rechristening your union with violence. He avenges it. You must prove its worth with something much less tangible.
A pause. Shelly knew her hair was frizzing into a strawberry blonde halo around her head.
Do you still love him? After what you’ve seen, can your memories save him?
Shelly gritted her teeth and met the bird’s eyes. “I never told him my vows,” she hissed. “I never told him.”
The nightingale tilted her head as though in understanding. What would you have me know next?
Shelly closed her eyes and tilted her head into the rain. “I didn’t think true love existed. I didn’t think I would find one person I couldn’t live or die without. I did.”
A smile because the nights are short!
And every morning brings such pleasure
Of sweet love-making, harmless sport:
Love, that makes and finds its treasure;
Love, treasure without measure.
-- “A Smile and a Sigh,” Christina Rossetti
Eric walked Shelly up the creaking steps of her apartment building and nodded at the door. Rain plastered his wavy hair to his face and he swayed a bit on his feet, the vodka shots he had knocked back with his bandmates after the show finally starting to show themselves in his bloodstream.
“Well,” he said, nodding at the door again. “Sorry Joey and Heather took off on you.”
“Yeah, Heather does that,” Shelly muttered. “She’ll go after anything with a drum kit.”
Eric chuckled. “In any case, you’re safe, you’re home, so …” He spread his hands. “See you at the club again sometime?”
She frowned. “You mean you’re not going to try and talk your way into my apartment?” She tried to figure out why she was so disappointed, then chalked it up to the way he had strutted around stage with the band that evening, his long fingers stroking his guitar as he purred against the microphone.
He shrugged and gave a half-smile. “Not that I don’t want to,” he assured her. “I just didn’t want you to think--” He blushed and didn’t finish his sentence.
Shelly watched him, thought of the lonely days she spent as a social worker, the depressing stories, the pain and trauma she saw on a daily basis. So different from this handsome, incongruously shy stranger, a stranger she very much wanted to get to know better. … Besides, Sarah was gone for the night, tomorrow was Saturday … She deserved to live a bit.
“Know what I think? I think you’re cold and wet and a little drunk.” She fumbled in her purse for her keys. “And you should come upstairs.” She held the door open for him.
“Really?” Shock was thick in his tone.
She nodded, already wondering how he had torn down her defenses so easily. “Really.”
She was kissing him even before she could fasten the deadbolts on her apartment door, savoring the bitter taste of alcohol in his mouth and the way their wet shirts clung together. Her hands slid slowly down his torso to rub his groin, to feel him stiffen, his jeans tighten, against her palm. God, it had been forever since she had done this, just let herself go, so she dug the fingers of one hand into his hair and gently worked his lower lip between her teeth.
He pressed his hands against the small of her back, under her shirt, and returned her eager kisses. In one smooth movement, he spun her around and pushed her back against the wall, reaching down for her hands and sliding them over her head. She moaned as he nipped her earlobe then continued to kiss down her neck, his nimble fingers leaving her hands momentarily to slide her shirt off over her head.
Shelly lost herself in his touch, trusting him with her body in a way she had grown wary of trusting anyone with anything. His mouth explored her neck, her breasts, her nipples until every nerve in her body begged for some sort of release. She pushed herself up against him, the hard heat of his erection sending a pulse of desire racing down her spine, and, oh, the bed was too far away, clear across the room, how would she stand this building pressure long enough to walk twenty paces ….
“Come on,” she whispered, and he clumsily worked her jeans and underwear down her hips while she reached for the zipper on his pants.
“Oh God, sweetheart,” he mumbled as she slid a hand beneath the waistband of his boxers and started to work him out of those as well. “I’ve got -- I’ve got a condom in my jacket --” He was suddenly fumbling with the many pockets on his cargo jacket like a man on fire, and when he found the condom Shelly grabbed it from his trembling hands and worked it open with a fervor of her own.
Eric choked on a moan when Shelly slid the condom into place, his eyes closing as she slid both hands up and down his length and let her anticipation build. Fuck, it had been so long since she’d been with someone, so long since she hadn’t spent a Saturday night alone …
She pressed herself close, inviting him in, and then all rational thought left her mind as he slid into her. God, he was hard and warm and the way he moved his hips against hers, even in this mental state that allowed only for instinct and pleasure, left her gasping his name.
“ Fuck ,” he gritted out against her ear, then nipped at her neck as he thrust inside her again. “God, Shelly, you’re fucking amazing --”
She tightened her legs around his waist, plunged her hands beneath his jacket so she could dig her fingernails into his shoulder blades beneath his tight t-shirt. Closer closer closer oh god closer , her mind iterated, and then the next movement of their hips brought him so deep inside her that she couldn’t breathe.
“There oh god there that’s -- that’s -- oh fuck it Eric that’s perfect,” and she hated saying it out loud, hated that she sounded so vulnerable, but then he started to move more slowly, paying more attention to the twist and sway of their tangled bodies now that he knew where to apply the most pressure --
And then she was gasping for breath, lost in such a sweet, warm wave of sensation that nothing else in the world registered but Eric’s body around and inside her. She bit down on his neck, hard, to keep from screaming, and the sting of her bite brought him over the edge with her, and then she buried her face in his long, sweaty hair, wondering how she had possibly gone her whole life without wild sex against the wall of her apartment in the arms of a small-time musician.
Shaking, Shelly unwound her legs from around his waist and let him set her back on the floor. He pressed his mouth to hers for another long, dizzying kiss, then pulled away and simply looked into her eyes with an incongruously bewildered expression.
He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. “You --”
Then the phone rang.
Shelly and Eric startled back to reality, their eyes meeting then widening as the reality of the situation set in.
“Oh God,” Shelly muttered, pushing him away and bending to retrieve her shirt from the floor. She pulled it on as she walked towards the phone. “I told Sarah to call if she had any problems with her mom tonight, God, I shouldn’t’ve gone out.” She grabbed the receiver.
“Shelly?” It was Sarah.
“Oh, hey, honey.” Shelly worked to catch her breath and turned apologetically to Eric. He was sitting on the bed now, elbows on his knees, face in his hands. Shelly was relieved to find that he had made himself decent, though she wished she had gotten a good look at him naked. She’d seen the highlights, but the more she thought about it, the more she definitely wanted to inspect the rest of him.
She frowned and tried to concentrate on what Sarah was saying. “No, hon, that’s fine. I’m free this weekend. I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning, I promise. Okay. Sleep tight. Good night.”
She hung up the phone and crossed her arms over her chest, suddenly unsure what to say to the man she had just been so close to.
“Your sister?” he finally asked, looking up.
“Girl I met through a women’s shelter,” Shelly corrected. “I’m not supposed to form connections with clients, but her mom’s a druggie who sells herself on the side and Sarah needs a place to stay.” She shrugged.
“That’s a good thing of you to do,” he murmured. “I was … I mean, I went through a lot of foster homes until the guys and I were old enough to move into the warehouse district, start the band. Could’ve used someone like you.” He stood suddenly. “Look, I’m sorry. I don’t usually do this, I don’t go home with women I meet at shows, I don’t do one night stands--”
“Neither do I,” she reassured him. “I’m not groupie material. I mean, not that I regret this--”
“Oh, fuck no,” he said, and Shelly blushed. “Sweetheart, I’m not saying I regret it, because God knows it was fucking amazing, but I don’t want you to think I’m just …” He lay back on the bed. “Do you mind if I stay the night?”
“I would love it if you stayed the night.” Shelly joined him on the bed and he rolled over to put his arms around her and pull her close. The intimacy of it, the smell of sweat and sex mixed with her light perfume and the musky scent of his jacket, sent a stab of longing through her; what if she could find someone like this to hold her and touch her and love her every night? What if this could be more than a one-time thing, what if she could get at least a few more nights out of this man who was staring at her as though he had never seen anything more beautiful?
He trailed one hand down her arm. “So, Shelly,” he said, placing a kiss on her nose, “so that neither of us feels like this is a sordid, mindless, one-time thing, I suggest a rapid-fire interview session before we crash.”
Shelly’s lips curved into a smile. “I think that’s a lovely idea,” she agreed, using their proximity as an excuse to run her fingers over his chest. Mmm, he was very well-defined, and she scolded herself again for not insisting on the whole picture.
“Favorite color?” Eric asked, kissing her forehead
“Amber,” Shelly replied. “Favorite band?”
Eric pressed a kiss to her lips. “Joy Division, no question. Favorite song?”
Shelly had to think about that. “Right now? Um, I’ve been listening to a lot of Bowie, so maybe Five Years?”
Eric grinned. “If I proposed to you right now, would it be too soon?”
Shelly laughed. “Maybe. But maybe we could continue to get to know each other through more conventional channels.”
Eric pulled her so close that she could hear his heart beating, feel his chin resting on the top of her head, and suddenly she was exhausted.
“Mmm, Shelly, I’m counting on it.”
Flushed with excitement, still wearing the fishnet tights and leather minidress from the night before, Heather fumbled with her keyring and let herself into Shelly's loft.
"I swear," she called, "that was the best fucking night of my life. Pity you didn't go home with Eric, Joey said he was eyeing you all niiiiiiight !" She swung her purse playfully as she crossed the threshold and closed the door. When she looked up from dropping her keys back in her purse, Shelly was standing in front of her, frowning, her bathrobe drawn tight around her.
"C'mon, Heather." Shelly ran a hand through rumpled hair. "It's not a good time, I need my sleep, I’ve gotta go get Sarah in an hour.” She looked back over her shoulder at the queen bed pressed up against one wall, but her blue eyes darted to the kitchenette long enough for Heather to get suspicious.
"You always make me coffee on Saturday mornings," Heather protested. "Then I tell you what a sexually progressive female I was the night before, you roll your eyes, and I fall asleep while you watch movies." She narrowed her eyes. "You okay?"
"Hey, babe, how do you like your eggs?"
Shelly and Heather turned to the archway leading to the kitchenette. A tall man with broad shoulders and long dark hair stood halfway in the kitchenette, wearing nothing but tight boxers. When he saw Heather he flinched and waved awkwardly, then made a hasty retreat back to his cooking before Shelly could even answer his question.
"Oh. Oh my god," Heather giggled, eyes wide. She grabbed Shelly's arm and pulled her close enough that they could speak in a whisper. "You went home with him?"
Shelly stared at the floor. "He walked me home, remember, because you and Joey took my car and this isn't a good neighborhood. Then he stayed because it was raining and, uh, he lives pretty far away and it was late ..."
Heather grinned widely. "Oh my god," she repeated. "Shelly, oh my god, I am so happy for you! Joey says Eric's a great guy, very sweet, he's making you breakfast ohmygod, how long has it been since you--"
Shelly closed her eyes against the onslaught of questions. "Look, it’s not any of your business--”
Heather raised an eyebrow. “Girl, you’re blushing like you just gave your first blowjob in the backseat of a Chevy.”
"Shhh!" Shelly hissed, jerking her head back towards the kitchen. "This isn't the time, okay? He’s staying a little longer, then we’re going to get Sarah and pick up his equipment from the club.”
Heather waggled her eyebrows. "So you didn't fake it?"
Shelly glared. "We’re. Not. Talking. About it." She tried to maintain her anger but deflated when Heather grinned and clapped her hands together. Heather pulled her friend out into the hallway, away from the object of their conversation.
"So?" she begged. "C'mon, Shelly, just tell me a bit, then I'll go away and leave you to your ... friend."
Shelly flushed and bit her lip. "Look, I just ... he didn't even make a move on me, so I thought, you know, maybe it's time to get back in the game, and we'd talked the whole time you and Joey were all over each other." Her blush deepened. "So I kissed him, and God, it was so good I didn't want to stop, but I just couldn’t ..." She hugged herself tightly and glanced up at the ceiling, a dreamy look in her eyes. "God, Heather, it's like you find someone who was just made to fit you, you know?”
Heather raised her eyebrows. "Well. I have never, and I mean never, seen you in this deep, so I'm glad it's Eric you latched onto, because he's the one the other guys bitch at for being too nice to take girls home." She winked. "So. I guess ... have a nice day?"
Shelly tried to bite back the smile forming on her face. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I will."
Heather started back down the hallway and Shelly went back into the apartment, only to find Eric setting out plates and utensils at the battered table in one corner of the loft.
"So, how much did you hear?" she asked, leaning back against the wall with her arms crossed over her chest. She had to admit that he was gorgeous, square-jawed and dark-eyed, his hair hanging in black curls to his shoulders and his mouth set in a crooked grin. It was obvious he worked out; his body was beautifully proportioned, and Shelly suddenly wished he wasn’t wearing anything at all. ... She bit her lip to block the thought and remembered that she should be embarrassed.
Eric shrugged. "Do you want the truth?" he asked sheepishly.
Shelly flinched and nodded.
“The truth is that I’d like to see you again,” he said seriously. “A real date. Dinner and a movie, or a gig and then an arcade, I don’t know. Haven’t been on a date in awhile.”
Shelly let out the breath she had been holding. “I’d like that.”
“Also,” he grinned proudly, “I made you pancakes and eggs!”
You who suffer because you love,
Love still more.
To die of love is to live by it.
-- “Les Miserables,” Victor Hugo
Shelly cried, the tears on her face indistinguishable from the misty rain.
He loved Sarah like a daughter. Wanted to adopt her. Didn’t care that her presence meant no sex for a few days; Sarah and Shelly were his girls, the presents the universe had handed him for no good reason. That’s what he wrote her in her birthday card.
There was a house out in the country he wanted to buy once they were married. It wasn’t much to look at, needed a lot of fixing up, but it wasn’t the inner city and the band was finally getting royalties from their latest single. Besides, he knew she wanted kids, and wouldn’t it be great for them to have a yard?
When they made love, he touched her slowly, with sensual purpose, building sensations into towers he could knock down. He loved the way she stayed quiet, loved that he had to watch her face for clues--the widening of her eyes, the parting of her lips, the deep intakes of breath that marked her pleasure. He loved the quiet gasps she tried to stifle when she came, loved that she would claw at his shoulders and kiss him hard to keep from screaming. That’s what he wrote her in her Valentine’s Day card.
I can’t live without you. That’s what he wrote on a note pinned to the refrigerator before she left for work. The note he wrote the day they died.
The nightingale absorbed these memories, sorted them into a chronology, and then flew off into the sky.
I’ll be back , she promised. I’ll leave you with one more memory. Be ready with your vows; I’ll show you his.
I will wait for you
I will wait for you
-- “Endlessly, She Said,” AFI
It rained on the day of the funeral. Attendance was small: Heather, Eric’s band, Sarah, a handful of Shelly’s coworkers. They stood around two plots, over which hovered two coffins and a priest.
“Today we celebrate the lives of Shelly Webster and Eric Draven,” he began solemnly. “They were taken from this world suddenly, on a day that should have been the happiest of their lives.” He cleared his throat. “This couple shared the deepest love and devotion for one another. It is only appropriate that they lie together in death as they loved together in life.”
He held in his hands two sheets of paper filled with cramped handwriting. “Shelly and Eric planned to write their own vows. Now I would like to read from Eric’s, so that we can all truly appreciate the beauty of their love.”
The rain splatting against the coffin sounded like a knock at a door.
“ ‘Shelly,’” the priest began to read, “ ‘you said I could say this in a pretty way, but I don’t know how to do that without making an idiot of myself. Shelly, I didn’t think I’d ever find someone to domesticate me. I didn’t think I could have this kind of life. It never even crossed my mind that I’d want to settle down, buy a house, get a cat, have a kid.
“ ‘You opened up another world for me. You gave me hope, just like you give hope to everyone you work with, everyone you help. I love you, Shelly. Forever.’”
The priest looked up from the papers. “And now, as we lay these two to rest, may the Lord watch over their souls and protect them as they enter the heavenly realm. Let us pray.”
The dirt on the coffins sounded like rain on the pavement.
Oh violets for the grave of youth,
And bay for those dead in their prime;
Give me the withered leaves I chose
Before in the old time.
-- “Song,” Christina Rosetti
Cold he lies, as cold as stone,
With his clotted curls about his face:
The comeliest corpse in all the world
And worthy of a queen’s embrace.
-- “Sister Maude,” Christina Rossetti
Come with me , said the nightingale.
“I’m not leaving here without him,” Shelly protested yet again.
No, the nightingale agreed. You’re not. She flew away again and landed beneath a tree, landed on something white and shining in the stars that were slowly reasserting themselves. You’re going to your wedding.
Shelly followed the nightingale to the tree and found her wedding dress waiting for her. She slid out of her clothes and pulled the dress over her cold bare skin, suddenly missing the walk down the aisle she never took. The wedding march played in her mind as the nightingale perched once more on her shoulder.
He has killed them , the nightingale warned her. He is broken, but he has forgiven himself. Wed him now, in the afterlife, and the Crow and I have agreed to give you a heaven together.
The meadow disappeared and Shelly found herself in the graveyard she recognized from her own funeral, and across the field of dead she saw the gravestones she recognized as hers and Eric’s. There, slumped against the hard granite engraved with her name, lay Eric, the white powder on his face washing away in the rain, his dark-lined lips and eyes hidden by his wet hair.
Shelly moved around the gravestones with a grace she couldn’t remember possessing in life. She wanted to run to him, to fall against him and weep, to tell him she forgave him for everything--for not being able to save her, for losing himself to vengeance for her. But she kept to the wedding march, to the staccato melody of sacred unification.
When she finally reached him she could only stare, then smile, then reach out one hand and run it along his jaw. He looked up at her, his eyes dark and tired wells. He was ready to sleep, she could tell, and he no longer cared where that sleep would take him.
“Eric,” she whispered. “Eric, I …”
She stood in the moonlight, in her wedding dress, at the altar of death, and knew why . She had always known, but now, after all this time, she knew how to say it.
She knelt before him. “I met you. I loved you. I died with you. I lie beside you. I take you to be mine. Forever, I do. Forever, Eric. I do.”
She kissed him then, tasting the blood on his cracked lips, and then all fires subsided, all emptiness fell away, and there was nothing but a vibrant field stretching to the horizon around them. The bright colors, the warm spring wind, the bright blue sky beckoned them both.
A crow and a nightingale watched from a tree. Violence and love, love and violence: One to cancel out the other, and in the end, love to conquer blood.
You and I shall go along the Milky Way
Along the trail of flowers
You and I shall go
Picking flowers on our way
-- Wintu Dream Song