In the dream, the man comes to her, eyes brittle and shining as with a fever.
"One choice left," he says. "One choice, to live or to die. Take my hand."
And she knows that she'll be a coward if she takes his hand, a coward and worse; she'll lose everything. But she'll live.
For an act of cowardice, it takes a steel nerve indeed. Sometimes she argues with herself in the dream for hours, though only seconds are passing. But I'll lose everything, she thinks, and then, Is life not everything?
But really the decision takes only a second, and she braces herself, and there is terrible pain.
Everything seems like a dream, now. But when she met him, in more lucid days -- was that one year ago? or five, or eight? -- it seems she has known him always, but also that they have only just met --
whatever. It keeps love fresh. But when she met him, in more lucid days, he asked about the pocketwatch, the old heirloom sitting on a corner of her desk. "Oh, that," she said. "It's old. Hinge is stuck; it doesn't open."
He laughed, and laughed. His face grew red with laughter; his eyes were bright, like the man's eyes from her dream. "Take my hand," he said, and when she took his hand, it felt as though he were the only other real person in the world. Her memories began to tatter in her mind like tissue paper under rain.
The family she'd known all her life became thin and grey and translucent to her. They didn't seem to mind. "Lucy's in love," they said.
His body exerted a physical pull over her. Touching his skin was like falling into an undertow, feeling the sand suck out from underneath her feet.
This is not like love, she thought. But that didn't matter, either. She had to marry him. As soon as she took his hand, it seemed that she had already chosen. It didn't have to be like love. He was the only one, and everyone else was made of paper.
For a while, she wonders why he laughed the way he did.
Somewhere, something changes. And then she laughs too, every time.