The Dreamer surveyed the rows of purple flowers with a practiced eye, devouring each neat line in the falling light and drinking in the thick perfume of petunias. He remained motionless but for the rhythmic scans of his eyes until darkness flooded the tired earth. Slowly gathering his old muscles and pulling his old body together, he got up from his chair. He stood cautiously, as if he were carrying a glass of water filled to the brim; his mind’s eye was fixed on the image of the petunias so it wouldn’t spill away. He left the porch and their garden in the maw of the night.

Ignoring the moans of the enduring wooden floorboards as they gave under his feet, the Dreamer crossed the empty house. The bed springs screamed as he sank onto his side of the mattress and whimpered until he settled into his usual position. Arms crossed over a hollow chest and legs stick straight, he looked more like a corpse in his coffin than a man in his bed. As the clock in the living room tapped its unyielding beat, the Dreamer waited. He waited for her. He closed his eyes and met the past.

He was pulled from the bed from death to life, from without her to with her. His body was young and devoid of the ugliness of aging. Gravel crunched under his feet, sticky sweat glued his shirt to his skin, and the warm, thick, breezeless summer air held his breath close. And he saw her. She was walking by his side, silently. She never said anything, he never said anything. They just walked. He wished they said something… He had forgotten her voice.

He breathed her in, studied the curves of her arms, her legs, her body in the red dress. He reached out to grab her hand and strained to feel her pulse, to know exactly how her fingers intertwined with his, to find where their skin met. All these things, they were true. He looked to her face, imploring her to turn and gaze at him, but she was mesmerized by the purple garden that stretched out before them. It was always the garden. It mocked him. It was his only way to her, and yet, it suffocated their love, swallowed his days, and confused his mind. The stench of the petunias crawled down his nose and drowned out her gentle perfume.

He didn’t know why his mind had chosen this memory. There were so many others with so much more. And yet, he lived for these hollow shadows of her. He first dreamt of their garden a week after she passed, and she had visited him this way for years since. He thought that if he could recreate it, perfect down to every last petal, then maybe she would find her way back to him. So he let the flowers consume him.

The Dreamer awoke to a bright and sunny day. He shuffled out to the porch to watch the bees dutifully attend to her flowers. At first glance, everything appeared to be going as planned, the petunias drawing life from the earth and the sun, but the Dreamer then noticed movement halfway down a row near the edge of the groomed garden. Petals trembled as tiny little teeth ripped into his precious petunias. Two black, beady eyes watched him in what the Dreamer took to be contempt, but an onlooker might say more of a sad curiosity. Rage began to seep from the Dreamer’s damaged heart and fill his limbs.

Resisting the urge to yell in case it spooked the devil, the Dreamer slowly backed into his house. He kept his eyes on the delicate, perky ears and fuzzy, cotton tail as he reached behind the door and grasped the cold metal body of his shotgun. He took it slowly up to his shoulder and emerged onto his porch breathing even slower, knowing he would have to cool his temper if he wanted to get rid of the animal properly.

As the Dreamer aligned his sight down the dull, black barrel, the rodent somehow sensed danger in its uncanny, rabbit way and froze. The Dreamer studied the creature for just a moment before he squeezed the trigger and the rodent fell. The sound of the gunshot echoed through the empty valley and a flock of alarmed birds took to the sky. Setting his gun down, he trudged out to assess the damage to his once-perfect shrine.

He came upon the rabbit, its chest mutilated and crimson from the spray of shot. It lay crumpled between the purple flowers, the ground greedily soaking up its pooled blood. A terrible, sick feeling dripped down the Dreamer’s chest. There was far too much blood. It spattered the nearby petals and fell heavily on the petunia’s roots, a throbbing gash poisoning his garden. The Dreamer felt his nausea grow until he expelled it all over the bloody, torn plants. He wiped his mouth and looked up to the suddenly red-hot sun that shed harsh light on his ruined masterpiece. He turned silently around and moved languidly up the wooden stairs of his porch. He closed the door of his house behind him and crumpled quietly upon a bed made for two.

For the first time in years, his dream was different. It began in the same violet prison with the same stinking flowers, but this time, his wife was nowhere to be seen. He tried to call out to her, but the stench of the petunias coated his throat and blocked his cries. He left the gravel trail and ran through the field, his young legs taking him faster than he had moved in a long while. He dodged between the rows of petunias as the plants grew larger and larger, reaching out and trapping him in their choking embrace. He tripped, fell to his knees, and buried his face in his hands, silent sobs wracking his chest. He had lost her. Lost her.

He took his hands away from his eyes and saw his shotgun lying on the ground beside him. Startled, he looked up. The rabbit was sitting before him, nibbling on a petunia petal. His hands found the gun. His mind screamed to stop, but his body paid no attention as his legs stood him up and his arms brought the weapon to its ready position. As he stared, horrified, down the barrel at the rabbit, it again froze, and stared back with those same, beady black eyes. A shot rang out. The rabbit dropped to the black soil and transformed. As blood flowed over its limbs, they elongated. Its ears shrank and became hairless; its eyes enlarged and became human. It was his wife in her crimson dress.

The Dreamer regained control of his body and stumbled numbly over to her. He touched her cold face and whispered that he loved her. There was no sign of a gunshot wound; she looked just as calm and asleep as the day she left his world. He noticed the vines around him shrinking back to their normal size. The petunias’ smell was nearly pleasant now. He looked down at his rabbit and kissed her on the forehead. Good bye, my dear, he said.

The Dreamer opened his eyes to a steady, rhythmic rain. He got up and went outside. There was no sign of blood or the rabbit’s body. They must have been washed away. He walked among the flowers in their garden and gazed at the softly setting sun. It painted the sky a deep, lovely purple that faded to a light lavender where it met the clouds. For the first time in years, the Dreamer smiled. She was with him now. He decided that tomorrow, he would plant gardenias.