They sat overlooking the garden, sunlight playing along the leaves and flowers, drinking sweet red wine. He was older than her, almost fifteen years her senior, and once widowed, but he was nervous all the same as they made small talk about the blooms and the trimming of shrubs. She was full of excitement, the tops of her pale breasts flushed red from the wine and summer sun. He turned his eyes; though he didn’t want to.
“So Jasper, why have you asked me here today?” Her voice was like peasant music; melodic and sweet and unassuming. He muttered something and fidgeted in his chair. He was not used to spending time with beautiful young women anymore, not since his wife had died in childbirth a decade before. She giggled and blushed, not knowing the effect that would have on him. “Oh Jasper, you really shouldn’t mumble. Move your pipe from your mouth and tell me what you want to say. “
Jasper didn’t mind that she was correcting his manners, ten years of working himself to the bone to forget his pain, ten years of spending time with mostly men, ten years alone had made him absentminded and rough. He spoke clearly this time, looking mostly into her eyes as he did and pulled a small envelope from his pocket. Daphne gasped and nodded yes, her clear brown eyes beginning to water. She pulled him close and kissed him softly at first, then with urgency. Jasper really did not mind how forward she was.
Three years later Jasper stood overlooking the garden. His pipe was lit and he puffed hard on it, trying to keep it lit against the gray cold that had swept in. It served as a distraction; exactly what he needed. The biting wind stung his eyes and cheeks; tears welled in his eyes and were brushed aside carelessly. Inside the house there was a terrible commotion, people were rushing about excitedly but Jasper was worried.
He took a long pull on the mouthpiece of his pipe, drawing the acrid smoke deep into his lungs and holding it there for a moment before letting it rush from his nostrils and open mouth. He wished for a cup of wine or whiskey to calm him, but all he had was his pipe and his garden. The garden was not the comfort it had been; the bushes and trees were twisted and frightening without their leaves, the vines were long and raggedy brown and bore no fruit. Jasper heard the door and turned from the garden to face the house.
The man who exited the house walked briskly towards him, holding a decanter in one hand and a short, squat glass in the other. When he reached Jasper he laid a hand on his shoulder in a comforting manner and Jasper realized that nothing before had been discomforting until that moment.
“It was a boy, Sir. He didn’t make it”. The doctor poured a long pull of scotch into the glass, then, looking at it, drank a long swallow from the glass and handed the decanter to Jasper.
“And Daphne? How is she?” Jasper could feel the pit in his stomach; a heavy stone that seemed like it would pull him down through the ground. He held the decanter unsteadily in his left hand, his right still clutching his pipe.
“The labour proved too much for her, in the end. I am sorry Sir, there was nothing I could do,” the doctor said in level tones. It looked like there were tears in his eyes, but that might have been the tendrils of smoke creeping off the pipe. “The Lord takes even the young at times, Sir, we may never know when he will call us”.
Jasper stared at the man coldly, then lifted his left hand and took a swallow of whiskey before smashing the crystal against the wall of the house.
Jasper turned back to the garden and looked over it, fiddling with his pipe. He imagined it as it had been just a few short years ago. Daphne was young and pretty, giggling as he had made his proposal. She was tender and kind and understood him on that summer day, before the winter had come and taken her from him. And Jasper remembered the story of Persephone, beautiful and fertile in the summer; cold and dead before spring.