They worked the garden together. They defined the elegant curves of the flowerbeds. They added trees here, bushes there, flowers everywhere. They framed their yard and cut their lawn. They watered the grass until it was an emerald green. The magnolias and dogwoods bloomed in April. The flowers bloomed in May.
They worked the garden together. In the spring they bought plastic flats full of flowers. She dug a small hole, put in some potting soil, pulled out the little flowers with two fingers, knocked off the soil at the end, gently placed it in the hole, and packed it firmly so that the roots would take. She was slow and gentle, working patiently but methodically. He watered the flowers after she had set them. They mulched around the little flowers to keep the weeds down.
They worked the garden together, but he never enjoyed it much. It was hard work. The flowerbeds had to be weeded and re-edged. The azaleas needed fertilizer. The trees had to be cut back yearly. Every fall the piles of leaves got bigger.
She drew him into her garden, gently, lovingly. It'll be fun, she said. He could not say no to her. Where she was, was where he wanted to be. She smelled as fragrant as any lilac bush. She was as beautiful as any flower.
They watched the leaves turn color, then fall off. They raked the leaves together, she in his flannel shirt, her golden hair glowing in the evening twilight. In the evening he rubbed her aching back. In bed they made plans for next year's gardens, holding hands underneath the covers. She'd ask for a glass of water; he'd get it. She fell asleep watching the news. He turned off the television, and made sure he kissed her good night before he turned off the lights.
She was all he'd ever wanted. She was his only love. She had taken root in him, rooted so deeply that he could not distinguish his life from hers, and would not wish to. She was the music of his life, his Bible, his treasure chest. She was his hopes and dreams. She was his rocking chair partner, somewhere in the aging future, when they would sit on the front porch and look to the western skies and watch the orange clouds and talk of grandchildren and gardenias.
Her first stroke came as she worked in the fall garden. She couldn't finish the sentence she started. He, raking, saw her face as she looked up at him with fear in her eyes. She was trembling and cold. He took her inside and undressed her, gave her a warm shower and put on her flannel pajamas, and lay in bed with her as she shook. I don't know what's happening, I don't know what's happening. That's all right, we'll go take care of it tomorrow. He put his arms around her and smelled her hair.
A scan showed a small dark patch on the bottom of her brain. A small stroke caused some memory loss and an inability to retrieve words. She continued gardening. As time went on she'd forget where she'd placed her shovel. She'd buy plants on sale, forgetting that she'd bought the same flat the week before. She'd apologize to him, but he would just say, that's all right, dear, I'm sure there's a place in our garden for these flowers. We'll look tomorrow.
The end came years later. The garden grew wild as he spent evenings holding her hands. The grass grew long and the weeds replaced the flowers. Branches bared, and leaves fell and stayed where they fell, until winds blew them away. Their fingernails were clean, now, always clean. He didn't bring her cut roses; she had no use for dying plants, no matter how beautiful. Instead, he brought pots of flowers she used to plant. She smelled the potting soil as much as the flowers, smiled in wordless joy, her thoughts transporting her back to her garden. Her pale hands with her clean fingernails lay on the fresh white linens of a hospital bed, and one evening she slipped away, his fingers in hers, his tears watering her hands.
He wanted to die with her, for a season. There was no point in going on without her, for she was all he'd had, all he'd ever wanted. Mother and father and sister and brother were gone, but he had loved her since they were young, and she gave him her youth and vitality, her joy and her beauty, her interests and hobbies, her love, her life.
For two years he kept her gardening gloves where she left them. He kept her dirty gardening clogs right by the door, imagining how she'd just slipped them off to go inside for a cool drink of water. If he would go inside, he could imagine her by the sink, brushing her hair back from her forehead, drinking the water, and looking out the window at her garden, watching the flowers grow, and planning for next year. He kept her glass there by the sink. No one was to move it. It was her glass. She had touched it last, raising it to her forehead to cool herself off. He kept the closet as it was. Her clothes were on one side. He could still smell her fragrance, but it was getting fainter, fainter.
One fall, one silent fall evening, as the sun was setting and the orange skies blazed, he turned off the television and went outside and mowed the lawn. He began edging the flowerbeds again. He began planning for the spring. He cleaned the hoses, edged the shears, and trimmed the bushes.
In the spring he planted annuals. He dug a small hole, put in some potting soil, took out the little flowers with two fingers, knocked off the soil at the end, placed it gently in the hole, and packed it firmly so that the roots would take. He watered her flowers. Color returned to the flowerbeds: yellows, pinks, oranges, greens. Beauty returned. He would weed, and edge the flowerbeds. When it was hot, he'd go in, and slip off his clogs, right next to hers, and go in for a cool glass of water. He'd stand by the sink and look out at the flowers. He'd imagine her in the garden, the twilight burnishing her golden hair. He smelled the soil on his hands. He inhaled greedily, to bring her back. Outside, the flowers smiled, but she was gone.