That night, I fell asleep to the sound of gunfire. The barrage was steady. Still, I slept. Deep enough to dream to the unrelenting hum of chaos. Edwin’s letters were tucked beneath my pillow. I touched the pages softly, tracing the indentation of every line and curl. For ten long months, our correspondences were all that I saw of my husband. The sight of his looping penmanship replaced his handsome face. The noiseless presence of his words stole away my memory of his voice. Everything was changing. The more essential, the greater the change. Even peace itself had undergone a drastic metamorphosis. Peace was suspicious now. The shots ringing in the distance were trustworthy- traceable, just like Edwin’s promises and words of love. I followed them both and in a matter of minutes, escaped into darkness.
All that I was conscious of at first was a soft rocking motion. It felt like full submersion in a warm current. This sensation was followed by an almost primal call to break free and push towards something else. But what else? Why would I ever leave the safety of this womb and fall prey to the elements ever again? On the other side of my sleeping eyes, if you could even call them eyes, a light was glowing. Not a pretty light like the spritely flame that dances on a candle’s wick or the comforting fire that crackles on the hearth. It was faint and tinted a hazy shade of green. The nearer I drew, the greener it became until at last I was consumed by a blast of humid air and a flash of white.
As my senses returned to me, I realized that I was floating on my back, staring upwards into a clear, midday sky. It was deep in the winter back home. Here, the world was steeped in the sights and sounds of summer. Frogs and crickets gossiped in the shade. Mosquitos and dragonflies whirred overhead, suspended by their iridescent wings. Looking up, my vision was framed by a ring of ivory spikes. Looking out, I saw sunlight reflected on the mirrored surface of a lake. The water was adorned with lily pads and other rings of spiked petals- tiny fortresses, just like my own.
A wooden bridge without a railing arched above me. I heard it creak and moan. Then came the pattering of footfalls. They sounded cautious, fearful of awakening the sleeping earth. They were also alarmingly familiar. I had heard them before, moving over the floorboards in our home almost every night and morning. Edwin walked that way when he thought I was asleep. His efforts failed every time, but I never told him. The love that warmed my heart was always enough to guide me back into a restful slumber.
I saw the glint of a brass chain hanging from his grasp. The ticking of the pocket watch was muffled as Edwin held his hand over its face. His boots aligned with me. He removed his eyes from the drawing that the watch held and looked out across the lake. He seemed older. The weight that he carried was not limited to the passage of time, but the lives that he had taken with the rifle on his back, the sand and blood in the fibers of his uniform and something else, an unnamed sorrow that grew clearer as I watched him.
“Oh, my dear Lillian,” Edwin softly mused. “For two years now, I’ve searched for your ghost. I’ve looked for you in every lovely place that remains in this barren, burning land. If you are anywhere to be found, anywhere at all, I hope that you are here.” A smile, faint and lovely as the first sunbeam of spring touched his lips. “Here with other lilies, just like you.”
I tried to speak, knowing that I couldn’t. All that I could do was revel in the closeness of his shadow until he turned to walk away. His reflection departed from the water, leaving in its wake a horrifying image. They were hiding in the canopy of the trees, ready to attack. I tried to move, but the only motion that came was that of the water lapping against my inanimate form. I never knew, but always speculated that a flower could do more than bud and bloom and die. I was kind to the flowers in our garden and felt a pang of guilt whenever I picked one in its prime. I believed that they could feel pain, in one way or another. Now I knew without a doubt that they could. Furthermore, their pain was potent enough to touch the wound of another hurting soul. Hearing my call, Edwin looked and found the place where I was floating, growing, screaming in silence. He also saw the reflection beside me, and that was all he needed to know to alert his men.
It was a terrible place for an ambush. The waters were shallow, murky and unaccommodating. Some redcoats fired from above while others jumped, believing too firmly in their own miscalculations. Stumbling and splashing, they bought the masses of rebels time to arrive and for that, I am grateful. But the instant that first shot was fired, my dream descended into a nightmare. I was now in the middle of an affair that used to seem so distant. I was there not only as an observer, but as a participant. The survivors of this conflict will remember it as a clash of two forces on a lake. There was a third, always a third. Perhaps I had to be a lily to see it, but nature fought as well, in its own unforthcoming way.
I saw the splintered branches of fallen cypress trees draw blood. I saw boots ensnared just long enough for their wearers to be gunned down. I saw disorientating movement in the reeds and around every corner, decisions were made in the name of coldblooded deceit. I saw death, yes. But also life and death intermingled. I waited for any sign of Edwin and as I waited, I wondered. How different is a human from a lily on the lake? He was drawn to this place because it was peaceful, but that peace was only an illusion. I chose this place to germinate and begin my daring climb towards the sun. In a few short years, I will be born again and live a secret story of my own. We only see the flower, never its plight. What if the lake was a battlefield long before the soldiers arrived? Every flower, vine and patch of moss fights daily for survival. The lake was a mirror, then, and a mirror unto itself. It shattered and was laced in blood, but still reflected with clarity two opposing forces and the brutal world that birthed them.
The tide softened. The birds returned and the cicadas resumed their chorus. I heard footsteps on the bridge just like before, followed by the comfort of his shadow. He looked from flower to flower, stopping when he found me. I know him better than anyone, so his next move didn’t surprise me and I wouldn’t have fought against it even if I could. Edwin has the sweetest habit of saving flowers and preserving them in the pages of his many books. The shimmering knife in his hand sealed my fate. It tore into my stem, severing me, freeing me from those red waters forever. The parchment was warm and inviting, it folded over me and drowned out the light of day. I caught a glimpse of the two letters that I was placed between, both were signed “Lillian”, my worldly name. I lived a while longer, tucked away in his breast pocket. It was not a painful death. In fact, it felt like falling asleep to the sound of his beating heart again.
I continued to dream in my own bed until morning. Light from the rising sun bounced off of the drifts and snow banks outside. I blinked as my eyes adjusted to the brightness. In the distance, the rattle of muskets continued, but they were fewer now and farther away. He was out there, too, fighting for his life in the cold. It seemed so unfair that I would be the one living in comfort while he lived in constant peril. But he lived another night, another day. I looked up at the ceiling where the shadows and sunbeams performed their mesmerizing dance. A weight lifted from my heart and for the first time in months, I felt truly happy. While the war would continue for two more years at least, he would persevere. He would live longer still and I, a tiny lily on the lake, would be the one to save him.