Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them?
What love was ever as deep as a grave?
They are loveless now as the grass above them
Or the wave.

-- A.C. Swinburne, A Forsaken Garden

The Shell

They scattered the ashes at dawn, watching them sift into the waves and disappear. Bette and Leo Wilson clung to each other, Bette dabbing at her eyes with a white cotton handkerchief. Leo stood tight-lipped and silent, his two surviving sons at his side.

Jonathan and James stared at the water, their dark suits dewed with spray.

House looked at the horizon, the borrowed yarmulke feeling odd and out-of-place on his head. He hadn't worn one in years; not since James's last wedding. The sun was rising, brightening the ocean surface, and the line between sea and sky grew more distinct as evening stars faded. He listened as the Wilson family began to say Kaddish.

The chartered boat rocked gently beneath their feet.

Later, walking along the beach, House noticed Wilson's clenched jaw.

"Hold up a minute", he said, gently tapping James's ankle with his cane. "Not used to slogging through sand."

Wilson swiped at his face with his shirtsleeve; both men had left their suitcoats in the rental car. He looked around and spotted a series of park benches, set where the beach shore ran up to the snow fences.

"Up there", he nodded. They trudged up to one of the benches and sat, arranging themselves comfortably for the first time in days.

Wilson stared out at the ocean.

"It was hard for us to convince my mother to do this", he said at last. "It's not really ... traditional. She wanted to bring him home. Bury him next to her father. Have the unveiling in a year".

House poked at a clump of dune grass with his cane. "Why didn't you?"

"Not what he wanted," Wilson replied. "Not according to the note he left. He was on meds ... before ..." He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his face with his left hand, wincing. House waited for what he knew was coming.

"Why didn't he call? He was living two hours away all this time, and we never knew!"

He looked at House as if just now seeing him.

"Why didn't he call?"

House sighed. This wasn't going to end well. "He was doing what he wanted; having a good life. For him."

"He had a crap life! He was fucking mentally ill!" Wilson slammed his fist down on the bench. His voice was hoarse. "He was smart, he could've been so much more, but he lived in a shitty little walk-up above a bar! What was he doing? Why was he gone so long? He left us! We loved him and he left us, and he wouldn't let us back in! What the hell was he doing?"

House tried to calm his friend. "Jimmy, sometimes people just leave ..."

"He was FAMILY!"

"Especially then ..."

Wilson slumped, defeated. "We loved him."

House hesitated, then put his hand on Wilson's shoulder. "Everybody lies."

James wept. His tears were salty, like the sea.

It was his first day back at work in two weeks, and Wilson was tired.

Everyone had been very understanding, which made it so much worse. The kind glances, the sympathetic words ... it was like being surrounded by Camerons. His clinic shift over at last, he made his way back to his office.

There was a package on his desk. White cardboard. A yellow Post-It bearing a carelessly scrawled "H". Grimacing, he sat down and opened the box. And stared.

It was a seashell. An unusually large Lambis lambis, as the printed shopcard informed him. It's polished russet pattern gleamed under the lamplight, and the smooth cylindrical mouth curled over itself like a rolling wave, guarding the ivory-pink interior. Protective spikes protruded from the body of the shell, warning the finder not to get too close. It was surprisingly heavy, and James turned it carefully over in his hands.

A person could love this beautiful object, and yet never know all its secrets.

Hesitantly, he held the shell up to his ear.

From far away, the voice of the ocean sang to him.

fin