That night, she dreamed.
Lying next to a fitful Maxim, she became aware of the unmistakable briny smell of the ocean air. Moments later, she felt Mikhail sit beside her on the floating bed, and then, in an instant, she knew he was there. She felt his gaze on her like the heat of sunlight through their shabby window. She opened her eyes and smiled at him. He smiled back.
“Gorky?” he chuckled.
“Well…” she shrugged.
He looked so well: as vibrant and rosy-cheeked and healthy as he ever had in life. His skin had a lustrous glow, as if a lambent flame deep within him was radiating a brilliant light of serenity, warmth and comfort.
“So,” she asked, smirking a little, “How is it?” she was overwhelmed with joy in seeing him.
“It is everything you hope it is.” He paused and thought for a moment. “That is all I should say…” He inclined his head, smiling, surveying her face, regarding her with love.
“I delivered the document, Mikhail. I succeeded.”
“I know, my love” he nodded.
“The journey was so treacherous. Thank God Dmitri found me in that alleyway, I never would’ve survived.”
“Well,” he glimmered “he had some help…”
And then they sat there a while. She bathed in his light, basked in his luminous presence, while he appraised her with a compassionate distance that simultaneously discomfited and soothed her. He was changed. But the change suited him. The signature resolve, the fight and pluck that so accompanied Mikhail’s every gesture seemed quelled; as if his fight had not been extinguished in death, but won.
She had kept her promise, and here, in her dreams, he was keeping his. How she missed him. Sorrow and yearning began to well up within her, and she turned away for a moment, allowing tears to fall down her neck and onto the pillow. Then, as if he had read her mind, he placed his hand on hers, and she felt a sudden, quiet, serenity. Turning back to face him she recognized there was heat and energy, but no weight or pressure in his touch.
Suddenly she felt herself rising, her vision sharpening, a wakeful consciousness pushing away the foggy mists of sleep. She wanted to sit up, alert, to be with him in waking life. But when she tried to move her she was frozen still, her limbs locked to the mattress. She fought and struggled to rise.
“No, Shura…” he whispered.
But she willed it to be. She pressed on, pushing through delirium with a wild force of love. His hand still on hers, his eyes locked on her struggling frame, he spoke easily, but his voice echoed from a far away place, as if in a tunnel,
“Look for me, Shura…” he counseled.
“Wait! Mikhail!” and she shattered through her paralysis, breaking through the immobilized cloud with a great force and sat up, breathless, at last.
Strikingly sober, she blinked the moisture from her eyes as they swept the room, observing with a great, clean, waking clarity, every corner and shadow as the first light of dawn began to caress the horizon. The hand he had touched was gripped atop the pounding of her heart.
He was gone.
Slowly, deliberately, she placed her hand on the spot where he had been and and drowned in the ribbons of silence. Nothing remained save the cold of the dawn, the distinct scent of ocean air; and, fixed to the palm of her steady hand, a small collection of salt.