At first, there was the sound of a train, crashing distantly on my thought like a wave. On it rode three tiny, white ships of sensation: the sound of birds singing, a breeze that cooled pleasantly on my skin, and the white-hot light of an unveiled sun. They drifted to me from far away, hovering ever closer to my congealing consciousness until suddenly, finally, they were real. The train was somewhere to my left, the birds closer and chattering all around my presence at a safe distance. The sun, when I finally opened my eyes, blinded me.
After several moments of blinking as my muscles lurched into remembered activity. I read out the shapes of boats swaying peaceably on the surface of a sheltered harbor. Their sails spread for the sun like the fins of contented reptiles. This was the World, a place of such light and such color; and a place that I was only able to glimpse through the window that opened so that a soul could leave it. I watched the boats sway, breathed the air slowly and deeply for a few moments of indulgence in sensation before I turned my attention inward and downward. I began to search for her.
I looked down at my hands; small, pale hands sculpted for calligraphy and flute, laying quietly among the varicolored silk that clothed me. From my vantage, I could see faintly the events that had added up to the sum of this moment. I turned my left hand over to stare at the dark, unyielding shape that rested coldly against my palm. It was a tiny, blue bottle of hemlock liqueur imported by the caravans that swarmed the town like a storm blown in from the east. Nonetheless, I found what was left of her curled tightly into the deepest places of her body. I began to push her, gently, and she struggled against me, clinging to the idea of living; I thought, for a moment, that I might be able to leave her. It had occurred, that I had come and sit a while with the dying before the slow understanding came between us that they could regain themselves, and I would go; it was too late for her, however.
The bright, morning light reflected off the water, making the white sails glow and sparkle. The image of the dead woman's ghost hardened on the air only slightly. She was naked and shivering, even in the warm light. With her back to where I sat, she hunched forward in a vain attempt to cover herself with her thin arms. I could see the chain of her spine pressing softly outward through the skin of her back.
"The worst is over." I said, as fascinated as I had always had been with the mechanism of human speech. She turned suddenly, startled at the sound; her mouth was small and soft, like her voice. I could see the boats faintly through the shape of her pronounced clavicle and small breasts.
"We'll move along very soon now." I said calmly to her without moving. I could see how she tried to work her ghostly mouth and tongue, but I still had her voice and she could not speak.
"Don't be afraid."
The sounds of the world were beginning to seem very far away again, receding like a dream half-remembered.
A man was running down a grassy incline some ways off. He was shouting and frightened; a scrap of white paper fluttered from his clenched fingers. It was a short, final letter of farewell, penned in the fine hand of these schooled fingers. I flexed them in my lap, smiling at the infinitesimally minute degree of motor control.
Now, he was floating, the sound of his voice twinning with the birdsong, becoming the sound of the water lapping at the boats. A cold and leaden sensation swam through my muscles, and they began to fall away from me, limb by limb.
I lifted myself from the bench and stood beside the ghost. Together, we watched the last light fade from her face as she sank into her brother's arms underneath the pink cloud tree where they had played as children. The slip of paper, released from his fingers, drifted on the idle wind and kept pace with the steady fall of pale flowers already littering the ground below.
They were all nothing more than slivers of light, brightening gently to erase their figures as the world grew more and more silent. When we could no longer see them, she took my hand, and I lead her away.