That longing, because it was a longing, permeated through her skin and infected the air until she could bear it no longer. She opened a window, but only the last of the sunlight’s strength seeped in. The crisp, still air of a new autumn did nothing to abate the aroma and only reminded her of the short time left. She closed the window and hurried out the door.
She was all too aware of the cloaked figure that moved through her domain: a shadow that stretched out, growing longer on the ground as the days grew shorter. It lurked behind the sycamore trees, peeling the white bark off the trunk in large flakes as it closed in. It threatened her flowers, as it moved among the thorns. It lingered at her window, reaching out to her from under the cloak.
He, too, had reason to long. She heard him in the whispers that ripped through the branches and rattled the leaves. She felt the words gather around the hem of her skirt, making it dance around her ankles. Come back, come back, come back. They would be reunited again, but not today. She would not bear the burden of his impatience.
She tended her garden meticulously, harvesting the remaining blooms that withered in her hands as soon as she plucked them from the soil. The petals shriveled and curled at the edges, turning a darker shade before disintegrating to dust. She knew that even the ever-blooming grandifloras, the chinas, the floribundas, and the rugosas did not live forever…
There was a time when things were different.
There was a time when she took joy in gathering the flowers in the spring that her mother planted late in winter. In her hands, the fresh bouquet smelled of the earth perfumed by the sun. It was always the first gathering that smelled the best. It was the one thing she looked forward to each year, when the frost on the ground retreated and gave way to warmer days. It was a garland of perennials that would adorn her head on the day of her nuptial.
When she first saw him, he tried to seduce her from the garden. He stood tall. A smoldering figure ashen by the dust of his travels. He carried exotic fruits in a sack. He offered them to her, but she refused, never stepping beyond the roses that surrounded her. Each day he came and offered and every day she stood her ground. They danced this way all through summer and into the fall, until his patience had run its course.
She knew the moment she first caught a scent of his impending approach that she would have him. She imagined biting into his red lips and drinking in his bitter scent. This foreign thought shocked her and thrilled her. But she sent him away each time and waited for his return. For he always came back to seek her out until the day he would have her. She listened for him in the rustling of leaves and in the cooling warmth of the dying sun.
She longed for him just as she did the first time she gave in. That day, he offered her a fruit from his sack. It was heavy in her hand as she ran her fingers along the hard, leathery skin. He took it from her and dug his fingers into it and ripped it open. He raised it to her lips. She bit into hundreds of pleasantly acidic seeds, letting the juices drip onto her bodice from her red-stained lips.
Each year he claimed his queen from the realm above and seduced her with his promise. Each year, they sped off, hand in hand into the dark chasm, leaving behind a trail of death that waited for its resurrection upon her return the next year.