Grief – sorrow – deep sadness or distress; painful affliction, often of the heart
Dahlia was born at the wailing meeting of the River Ophelia and the ocean. Her skin was the color of mountains meeting sandy shores and her eyes the blue of sky and sea, and she washed upon the shore fully grown. Her hair was as dark as her mother’s, but rarely did she wear it as low as she had the day she was born.
When she woke and stepped into the world, she was met with swooning and sighs and soft touches, and she adored them. She adored the stores that fawned over her, and she adored the birds that sang to her, and always she had a woman at her side. And though she fell in love easily, and her home was large and full of comfort, she knew the sea would always be that which she loved most. When the city became too much and she could not bear the touch of anyone, the sea would comfort her as none could.
For within the sea was Corliss.
When Dahlia was young and favored ships, riding them and bringing them wind and fortune, she had traveled all the seas of all the worlds and found, far to the West past even her home, an island full of women and women alone. There were fruits and flowers and beautiful stone, and the sea brought in good weather and always it seemed a haven. She tripped onto the island and waved to the residents there, and they rejoiced in her presence (for she brought color to a once too-bright world).
She would travel to and fro from her home on the coast to the island, keeping all who she knew company and spreading love and bittersweet flavors through the world, and it seemed she would be content like that. But one day she was walking about the island and she peered up at the tower that rose in the middle of the island – a masterpiece of stone and art and flowers – and saw a bundle of fine yellow hair tumble down from the window.
“Who lives up there?” she asked one of her companions. The woman tipped her hat up to better see the tower and sighed.
“A woman who is never happy – Corliss.”
Dahlia asked all the women on the island why Corliss was unhappy, but they did not know. Some said that she had lost a great love; others said she was born from the bottom of the sea, a place where only sadness dwelt; still others sniffed and tilted their noses and refused to speak of Corliss at all. Each answer left Dahlia wanting, and so she found the entrance of the tower and knocked for admittance.
The voice that spoke was like the waves on a rocky shore, and Dahlia felt her back shiver. She opened the door, and there sat Corliss – her hair falling like a waterfall out the window, her eyes on the sea, and all about her strewn books and letters and ink.
Her voice was soft and rough and slow when she spoke, but Dahlia at that moment loved her like she loved the sun against the waves and the creatures of the sea. She asked to stay, to be allowed to live for a short time with Corliss, and the girl agreed, her voice still that quiet sound.
It was many days and many weeks, and Corliss sometimes spoke so softly Dahlia could not hear her, but she came to know that Corliss was not sad or woeful. She stared often at the sea and sighed many times a day, but one only had to sit with the woman and listen or ask a question to learn that she was content.
Corliss, in time, as the moon rose and set again and again, came to love Dahlia as the woman loved her, and there came a day when she spent as often watching Dahlia as she did the sea, and she thought the two of them the same indeed.
They had a year together, a summer where the sun was especially hot against the stone, and then Dahlia felt a sharp tug in her gut. Her house on the coast had been neglected too long, and she feared what may have happened, and so she kissed Corliss and fled along the winds of the sea to where her house lay – safe, content, but full of more children than before.
Her time away had cause some upset, but her return soothed the pain and the house flourished even more. She spent days with the children and weeks with her lovers and months trimming the trees and tending the gardens, and by the end of the year there were shooting ranges and bustling kitchens and toddling toddlers and all was well.
But she thought of Corliss, her eyes ever on the sea, and she was full of longing, and she bid her house again goodbye with promises to return.
When she stepped to the ocean that day, the winds stirred roughly and she had ill grasp as she ran across the waves, but still she arrived to the island. She was met not with the clockwork efforts of the residents, though, but with mournful sobs, and as her feet touched the land she felt a great shudder overtake her.
“Why do you cry?” she asked, going to each woman, but none could speak through the wailing. She felt her chest tighten and her eyes sting, and she raced across the island for someone who could speak, and it was then that she found Corliss.
Corliss, surrounded by more sobbing, her body submerged in the water with only her head above, eyes closed in peace and death. Dahlia could not, for a moment, move, her eyes fixed upon the body of her lover as it floated in the sea. Corliss was pale and thin and dulled, and Dahlia sobbed as she fell into the water beside her and lifted Corliss’ head onto her lap.
Yet with that Corliss sighed out a great breath and opened her eyes, and her hands came about Dahlia’s hands. Dahlia wept harder, though for joy or sorrow she did not know. She begged for the story of what had happened.
“Without you I withered,” Corliss said, her voice even quieter than before. “I wanted so much of you, so much that you could not give, and I wasted away without you.”
Dahlia sobbed harder and held to Corliss, but already the girl was fading again.
“I was a fool,” Corliss said, as if to the sea. “I know now if only I had asked, you would have given what I wanted. If only I had asked, you would have taken me away.” Her paper thin hands brushed against Dahlia’s, as if to comfort.
“I am sorry for not knowing,” Dahlia said.
“I am sorry for not asking,” Corliss said, and then her eyes did close in death and her body turned slowly to foam, bleeding away into the ocean and turning it sweet and soft while the tears of all the women – of Dahlia especially – turned it salty.
The grief was strong and painful, but it faded in time, and life moved on, and Dahlia’s household was strong and blessed. But still sometimes she felt an ache and would go to the ocean and sit or stand upon the waves, and she would feel Corliss and could hold her in her arms again.