A faint glow from the embers in the fireplace neither gave her warmth nor light. Emily could stay in her bed as long as she wished. The maid would enter at ten thirty bringing with her a breakfast tray and hot water. Staring at the ornate ceiling, Emily blinked the tears that blurred her vision. The bed was large, empty and cold. Even with the fire burning it would remain cold. She had to get used to it, somehow.

Winter was around the corner. The grave would be cold in the open while she stayed inside the warm house. Emily abruptly stood. Her head swam. Placing a hand on her abdomen, she took deep breaths to steady herself. Walking to the window, she pushed aside the soft curtains.

The sky was inky blue with fluffy cloud garland circling the horizon. A fine layer of mist made the view enchanting. In a matter of minutes, the stars would stop sparkling and disappear as the reddish sun climbed out of the clouds. The birds would chirp and fly; the flowers would bloom; the sweepers and maids would get to work.

 

Emily rushed to the wardrobe. She averted her eyes from the crisp shirts and starched trousers. Black was the only color she could wear for the next one year. Her hands strayed to the pale green dress. It was the exact shade of his eyes. Taking it out, Emily breathed in the faint trace of Richard’s aftershave.

She donned it immediately. Simple and elegant, the dress had no frills or lace. It fell straight from the small waist to the floor subtly emphasizing her long legs. The dress wouldn’t fit her in a few months. But until then, she would continue to wear it for him.

Richard gave it to her for their fourth wedding anniversary. It was just five months ago. Everything in the room reminded her of him. The room was his. Ever since they married, Emily slept only in his bed. She would continue to do so. She even had a few of her clothes and accessories in his room.

Not many men allowed their wives such liberty. But Richard, he loved her. He surprised her by placing her favorite shepherd and shepherdess vases on the mantel. A painting hung against the ivory wallpaper. It was one of Emily’s amateur works. Titled as ‘My Garden’ it looked like a splatter of paw prints to her. Richard thought it was beautiful.

Twisting her auburn hair into a messy knot, Emily pulled over a cloak that almost drowned her. She then wrapped a grey scarf around her face, only her chocolate brown eyes visible. As a mistress of the house, Emily knew the timings of her staff. She silently closed the door behind her and tiptoed down the stairs. She peeked into the kitchen to be sure. The fire was unlit. She walked to the back door and slipped outside. She had to get out of the house. She did it without causing any fuss.

 

Standing outside the kitchen door, Emily looked at the pale sky. Around her, the mist clung to the leaves and buds, shimmering and glistening like diamonds. The garden was one of the best in Devonshire. Emily and Richard often strolled under the moon; the heady scents of roses, lilies, and jasmines intoxicating their love filled hearts.

The sight of an empty bench among the daffodils choked her. Tears filled her eyes, making it impossible to see. Blinking hard, she reached for a rosebud and plucked it. Then she hurried towards the garden gate. It was usually left open as the gardener’s cottage was just outside the gates.

Scanning the extensive land before her, Emily half ran towards the family graveyard. Having an estate that owned half the land in Devonshire was a blessing indeed. It gave her the privacy she craved.

The Axton family was rich and powerful. Richard’s great-grandfather was determined to be buried on his land. So, he had a mini-mausoleum built in one part of the estate. Richard’s father had a garden developed around the mausoleum. Willows, maples, birches, elms, oaks, grew tall and strong.

Emily felt tired by the time she reached the graves. Her breath came fast and rapid. She should have eaten something first. In her condition, it was advisable to take proper care of her health. But, she had to come there.

The freshly dug grave drew Emily like a magnet. She walked towards it letting the helplessness drown her.

After the funeral two weeks ago, she did not step out of the house. Tears streamed down her face. Removing the scarf, she slumped onto the mud, uncaring about the stains. The tombstone was with the maker.

Richard’s young life was cut short by a freak accident. The axle of his carriage broke when he was riding back home from a meeting in London. He fell and hit his head on a rock. Emily’s heart stopped when she saw the footmen carrying his bruised and bleeding body into the house. The world stood still as she sagged helplessly against the door.

The next forty-eight hours passed in agony. The doctors gave up and left. The wound to his head was severe. He lost a lot of blood.

But, Richard woke up once. Emily pressed his hand to her stomach. He understood. Their dream had finally come true. With a smile on his face, he closed his eyes never to open them again.

 

Emily placed the rosebud on Richard’s grave. With her head bowed in grief, she cried until her lungs hurt. It was the insistent chirping of a sparrow that made her look up. Wiping the tears, she saw a yellow and brown bird fluttering its tiny wings. She tried to summon a smile and failed.

Looking around, Emily spied the bench hidden among the trees. Her grandmother-in-law had it placed when she mourned her husband’s death. Emily remembered how the old woman sat for hours staring at her husband’s grave. The bench was only three years old. It was such a sad twist of fate that Emily in her twenties was destined to spend the rest of her life mourning the loss of her love. Richard will never see thirty.

Sitting on the same cold bench, Emily felt the strain of the past days drain her energy. Her parents and brothers were supportive. Her father was a modest baron with limited land. The family had to work hard to manage the household. Emily sent them back to take care of the farms as soon as it was deemed appropriate. Richard’s mother and sisters handled the various details for her. His younger brother was in India working for the England government while his father was a Duke with failing health. It was strange how Richard got buried first.

Emily knew that if she had a son, the estate would continue to be hers. If it were to be a girl, it would go to the younger brother. She would have a house, quarter of the land and substantial money along with yearly allowance. Richard had made sure she had a comfortable life after him. It hurt her that the time arrived so soon.

Emily realized that the sun crept out of the clouds. It was a captivating shade of orange. Slowly and gently, the warmth of sun touched her. She began to relax a little. Her eyelids drooped as her head lolled to a side. Minutes passed as she found what little comfort she could on the cold bench among the graves.

She felt a soft touch on her shoulder. Emily opened her eyes to see Richard standing in front of her. He was handsome as ever. His thick black hair fell on his forehead the way she liked. The pale green eyes shone with intelligence as his lips were curved upward into a tender smile. The coat stretched over his broad shoulders. He was lean and well built something she always teased him about.

Emily gasped, her hands trembling over her lips. Was he real? Despite her blinking, his image did not vanish. When he offered his hand, Emily did not hesitate. The touch made her shiver. As if in a dream, she stood and walked with him.

She wanted to talk to him, to ask him. No words came out. Her throat felt dry. As though he sensed her pain, Richard pulled her closer winding an arm around her waist. His palm rested possessively on her stomach.

Emily leaned into him, breathing in the familiar musk. They walked into a garden that was new to her. The bright sun smiled at them. Flowers swayed to the gentle breeze. Emily was astonished to see such variety of flowers in a single garden. From peonies to marigolds, the burst of color made her smile. She itched to paint again.

 

Birds darted from one tree to another as the butterflies flitted around them. With trembling fingers, Emily touched the tip of a tulip. The flower sparkled, surprising a laugh from her. A dove flew and rested on her extended hand. Emily looked at Richard with wide eyes.

He grinned at her. Emily remembered the first time they met. Her family secured an invitation to the Borers ball. It was her debut season. She expected to have fun. But, the men found her title and dowry lacking. The women were subtly rude about her simply cut gown. Living in the country all her life, Emily found their behavior unsettling. The first ball of her life made her hate London.

Frustrated, Emily refused to dance. Richard found her sulking behind a huge flower pot. Five months later, they were married. Emily Stover became Emily Axton. Her parents were elated to see their only daughter marry the son of Duke. Emily’s life was secure. The fact that it was a love match only added to their happiness.

 

Now, she was the widow of Richard Axton. But she was with him that instant. She would not let their time together get ruined. Emily turned to Richard. He was wearing her favorite shirt. It had specks of paint all over the front. Tears spilled from her eyes when she felt a tug on the hem of her dress.

It was a rabbit. She bent to pick it up. Holding it in her arms, Emily strolled with Richard. They walked through a maze of bushes watching the chipmunks playing. Richard laughed, the sound warming her heart. She felt alive. Her eyes were bright as she clapped and cheered the monkeys swinging from the branches. The rabbit hoped from her hands to join its fellow mates.

Richard fed her juicy strawberries and blackberries he plucked from the bushes. She marveled at the taste. No berry on earth had such a tantalizing flavor of sweetness. Emily relived the heady feeling as Richard kissed her under a willow tree. She missed his touch, his smile, his humor. She did not want to think about anything else. The day would never end in the land of dreams.

Suddenly, Richard pulled away from her with a slight frown. Emily touched his face in concern. He smiled and gently tugged her with him. She followed, ignoring the growing uneasiness. They stopped in the center of an Orchid patch. Richard plucked a Japanese Orchid and wound it in her hair.

Fear clawed at her. She hugged him refusing to let go. A dark cloud curtained the sunlight. Emily felt her heart break again. She would not let Richard leave her.

A flash of lightning blinded her. She pressed her face into his chest. The light surrounded them, threatening her. Emily felt desperate. She had to do something. So she held him even harder. Still, Richard slipped through her arms. She was losing him again.

A deep rumbling of thunder jolted her awake. Startled, Emily looked around. She was sitting on the bench under a maple tree. The graves stared back at her. Her cry of agony terrified the birds. She sobbed bitterly mourning the loss of the man who carried away her heart with him. A few raindrops fell on her. She squinted at the rolling clouds.

She had to go back to the house before the rain got heavy. She couldn’t afford to fall sick. It wasn’t only her life at stake. The knowledge made her stand.

Somehow, she managed to reach the house without tripping over or getting drenched. Emily considered it a blessing. With her eyes blinded by tears she had no idea how she walked all the way. Maybe, Richard was still with her. She reverently hoped so.

 

As she reached the kitchen door, Emily heard sounds of cans from the attic. The cook was meticulous in her work. Quietly, she slipped through the kitchen to her bedroom.

Heaving a sigh of relief, she locked the door behind her. Emily saw that it was nine thirty in the morning. It felt like a lifetime to her.

Removing the dirty cloak, she tossed it aside along with the scarf and went to the window. The rain splattered against the glass incessantly. Luckily her gown was dry. Emily realized it would rain most of the morning. She would not be able to see the garden for some time. It saddened her.

 

Emily thought of the lavish garden in her dreams. Was it a dream? She had no other explanation. Emily sat on the stool near the dressing table with a sigh. She was ravenous and hoped the maid would bring some food soon.

After breakfast, she wanted to paint a picture of the garden. Richard had a room converted into a painting room and ordered the best paints and brushes for her. Taking a brush to dislodge the water droplets in her hair, Emily saw something from the corner of her eye. Turning to the mirror, she gasped.

 

A delicate Japanese Orchid lay nestled among her curls. She touched it fearing it was only an illusion. The flower sparkled and winked at her. A slow smile formed on her lips even as her eyes overflowed with unshed tears. Trust Richard to find a way to be with her. She wouldn’t analyze what happened. Neither would she tell anyone about it. The secret would be theirs alone. It was something that bound them beyond life and death.

The orchid may eventually wither, but it would stay carefully pressed among the pages of her favorite book. The love in her heart would continue to grow along with the child in her womb. One day, she’d tell the child, Emily knew.

Note: The Story was initially written for a prompt where the characters were not allowed to communicate with each other using words, written/ text format or sign language.

 

Srivalli Rekha

Written by Srivalli Rekha

Srivalli Rekha is a blogger, writer, nature lover, passionate cook, an amateur photographer who cannot live without reading books and good music. Her stories are featured in Sweek Flash Fiction Book(2018), Tales From the CLiff anthology (2018).