The sun went black when the doctor uttered those fateful words: “Mrs. Ellerbee? I’m sorry, we did everything we could…”
All through winter, Constance remained cocooned in despair.
“What am I supposed to do without you?” she’d say, crushing Cornell’s well-worn coat to her chest. “I didn’t sign up for this--to be a young widow with an empty nursery.”
Sometimes, she’d stare at the oil painting her husband commissioned after their wedding and whisper the same question for hours: “What’s the point?”
Then one mid-spring morning, she felt a sudden longing to stroll through Cardinal Park--to revisit the massive oak where Cornell dropped to one knee and said, “Constance, my love, will you make me the happiest man alive and wear this ring?”
She heard jays cawing from fat elms. Watched squirrels scurrying up lanky pines, chittering
like curmudgeons. Rested her gaze upon dragonflies brandishing iridescent purple wings as they floated over wildflowers. Inhaled cedar and magnolia. Hoping (how she hoped!) to feel something other than sadness.
She turned that sharp bend in the pine-needle path… and paused mid-step.
heir tree appeared smothered in cotton candy. Top to bottom, strings of candyfloss pink dangled from its branches. Her heart fluttered. The sight was so ridiculously whimsical, she momentarily forgot everything. Looking that oak down and up, she wondered how it was possible to do such a thing to a fifty-foot behemoth. As she drew within a few yards of the trunk, however, she realized it wasn’t cotton candy at all.
It was the Spanish moss.
That strange-colored moss absorbed her thoughts for days. And why was it only on their tree? Everything else appeared as nature dictated it should. Running her finger over Cornell’s portrait, she wondered: “What do you think caused the change? Fungus? Some sort of poison? Or… (Don’t laugh at me, darling.) Is this a message? Is this your way of letting me know that you’re watching over me?”
Constance never cared for red. Lightening it up with white was hardly an improvement. But when she recalled that moss she felt lighter. She even dreamed she was walking along an abandoned road, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. Except… instead of yellow, the bricks were pink. And their tree was the Emerald City.
Inspired, she carried a picnic basket to the park. Acorns crunched underfoot as she pulled
handfuls of velvety lichen from the oak’s lowest branches, filling the basket until it was spilling over.
At home, she unpacked the vases used as centerpieces for their wedding and placed them in different rooms--the kitchen, the lanai, even the bathroom.
Those pink tendrils, sparkling within the crystal, really did chase away the grey…
Then the opening notes to “Green Eyes” slow-danced through the radio.
Emily Dickinson slipped from Constance’s hands. All at once, she slipped backward in time--felt Cornell’s arms around her, his lips to her forehead, as they swayed to the mellow saxophone.
His death struck her again, a knife-sharp pain stabbing her in the chest.
Grabbing the decanter, she poured Cornell’s cognac into a tumbler. Tossed it back. Poured. Swallowed. Poured more.
Until none of the spirit remained.
Morning heralded puffiness and a pounding head. When Constance sat at the vanity to comb her hair, her vision blurred. Carrying a pocket mirror outside, she rechecked her eyes in the sunlight.
Her irises no longer held that soft green Cornell adored. They were pink. The same candyfloss pink as that moss.
“Maybe I’ll phone Dr. Campbell,” she murmured. “But I’m sure… I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Convinced the pink was a temporary aberration, she slipped on a pair of dark-tinted sunglasses when she left the house to run errands.
Next morning, as the sunlight coaxed her awake, she watched shadow-branches pirouetting on the ceiling--then realized she was viewing this through closed eyelids and bolted upright in panic.
“What’s happening to me, Cornell?” she whispered. “What am I turning into?”
She collected all of the moss and burned it.
She’d never paid much attention to the lizards that surfaced after dark. The geckos. But after the moss-burning, she suddenly couldn’t not notice them.
Reclining by the bay window, she’d locate their pale bodies on the panes. They’d cling with their frog-like suction pads. When they scuttled in just-the-right spot, to where the lights shined on them, she could see their insides. At first, their alienness intrigued her. But that was before. Before she traced Cornell’s portrait and noticed her hands.
Her skin was pinkening.
Hugging herself, Constance focused on their wedding painting--hung above the piano--until her eyes glazed over.
“You had nothing to do with that moss,” she said to Cornell’s likeness. “I’m such a fool, thinking you could somehow reach beyond the grave like Rex Harrison’s Captain. Ghosts?
Interfering with our daily lives? That’s all fine and dandy in the movies. But in the real world? The idea is downright ludicrous. But can you blame me, Cornell? I still love you. Oh. So. Much.”
Reluctantly, she went to the bedroom. Removed her dress, slip, stockings. As her garments fell to the floor, she examined her now-translucent skin in the cheval.
How her bones glowed white beneath their vein-and-muscle wrappings. Within her ribcage, blood pumped through her heart like miniscule rapids filtering through a misshapen sponge. Never before had she been so aware of the mechanicalness of her own body--of how easy it would be for something to pierce her sternum, to stop her battery-like organs.
The sight both fascinated and repulsed her.
She covered her eyes, sobbing. “Oh, Cornell… I wish… I’d never… returned… to our tree…”
Stalking through the house, she turned every photograph of Cornell face-down. Draped a sheet over the painting.
Despite the late-spring warmth, she shivered. And when she slept that night, teeth chattering, she saw nothing but that cursed moss, covering everything.
It dropped from the oak’s branches; slithered toward her like a hundred hungry, hissing snakes. It circled her ankles and wrists and pierced her skin, filling her completely.
She woke up choking.
Opened the curtains at sunrise. Filled the house with light. Blinked several times. Vigorously rubbed her eyes.
Everything was cast under a pinkish tint.
She sheeted the mirrors, horrified by the skeletal hands working the fabric. Could the doctor fix her? She’d never know; she couldn’t bear to be seen.
“Cornell… I’m so frightened.”
She entered the bathroom.
“What else can I do? I can’t hide forever.”
Filled the claw-foot tub with water--soap, cloth, and razor nearby.
“I hope, if an afterlife exists, we’ll be together. And that you won’t see this grotesque thing I’ve become.”
Disrobing, she lowered herself into the water. Then reached for the blackness. The oh-so-soothing blackness. And, as it spread through her, one final thought entered her mind.
More than anything--
Please, let me escape this god-awful pink--