But sir, it is such a strange bouquet

With the twisting petals writhing about

And the weeping willow shedding tears through out

And sir, have those strung forget-me-knots ever

Tied the entire piece together? –

While the bleeding hearts un-bandaged run

Down the paper roses bleached from sun

To stain the message carved so deep

she awakened the chamomile from her sleep?

But sir, it is such a strange bouquet...

"Sickness is but a pestilence…" He coos, and the world is film from a burnt camera, forever singed gray. When she convinces herself of the temperature, it is with budding fluidity; the signs, the atmosphere, the carvings of sweat across her forehead like diamonds forming from the most intense of pressures; and her smile is a row of pearls. Paper littered the night table, the stars of a nocturnal database… Open to suggestions, unwritten, the sheets perfectly square and suggestive. "It will not last forever."

She looped her fingers around the drawer handle, pulling weakly, skin fragile from constantly battling her illness, drained of all its color. Contagious, the doctor said, peering at her from round, owl-like glasses, pen scratching against his own parchment in a cold, hard diagnosis. She'd look away, stars forever stained. His pen strokes were not a galaxy of catharsis but rather quarantine. He'd turn his eyes toward her bedside partner, almost a complete stranger, declaring without finesse; You should leave.

Leaving, leaving – he watched them all leave, sweet breaths sucked out of her body.

He shooed the doctor away and locked the door.

"Roses are the hardest," she sighed, the sound rasping from inside of her throat, the paper sticking to her fingers from the perspiration irrigating the cracks of her finger prints, clinging to the fever. "The petals are difficult to align. One mistake means that the whole piece is lopsided."

He removed the white note card from her fingers, creases slowly unfolding like an entire garden blooming in his hand… The rose, closed timidly on itself, stretched ever outward from its center, embracing the world only to be destroyed by the enthusiasm that lead it to reveal what truly lied beneath the petals, coming undone in his palm. A crinkled block of paper.

He placed remnants on the nightstand. "How do you make them?"

Another smile crossed her features, only it wasn't a row of pearls anymore because it was skeletons.

"It takes practice," she said, glancing toward the crumpled flower, the one that had spread itself across the wooden surface in a crumpled ruin, motioning towards it, chamomile eyes glazed appropriate sedation. "But the hardest part is knowing what to say…"

Confusion turned his head to the left, a few blinks closing off the brown of his eyes, reopening them like hazelnuts. "… To say?"

Those skeletons laughed and clapped in an endless applause as she stretched a wan arm, so very pale and insubstantial, toward the paper, bringing it in front of her like a clump of snow.

And he saw it, the letters written beneath the petals in watered down, gray ink, concealed by the intricate folds of colorless petals; what she'd written there, cursive sloping into clumsy lines, the message under the rose.

"The seeds are nice," she laughed, coughing, coughing… The sound became strangled in her throat. He pretended to smile. "But I have always been allergic to the actual blooms."

"Is that why no one brings you flowers?"

She turned her head, eyes perplexed for a moment, staring at him in the endless silence, a snag slipping beneath their interactions. "I don't know, do you think it is?"

His shoulders rose and fell in a shrug, that woolen, black coat stiff with age. "It might be."

No teeth showed through her smile this time as she laid back, blonde hair sprawled across the pillow like a tangle of snakes sunning themselves. "That is a relief. For a moment, I was beginning to think I was very alone."

The forget-me-knots she'd been folding lay around her wrist, threaded on string she'd unraveled from the blanket, the name of the flowers more intense than any inked message could have ever been.

"They are beautiful…" She whispered, fingers weaving into the air, the garden flourishing with fabricated health. Fever begot madness too refined to be contained in that hospital room, or that bedroom, or that body, shades of pink spouting from winding tunnels of stems, leaves not leaving, but staying there forever. "It just feels so warm."

He buttoned his dark, wool coat and rubbed his hands together, cupping them to his mouth, exhaling a warm gust of wind across his palms, trying to rekindle any source of heat in them. He thought he felt a sense of envy, the way she could escape into a land of eternal summer. He thought of her as remontant, paper roses glittering around her head like a halo, strung through her hair, imbedding her into the linen as some kind of immortal prize --

Everything looks the most brilliant in its departure. His clumsy fingers, shaking with cold, unable to feel the paper in his clutches, folded another bloom. Placed them there. Lined her head with a garden that would never wilt. "Of course it does," he smiled, and wondered where that expression came from – had she saved it for him? Had it bloomed from those twining arms of make believe greenery, trickling with comfort and empoisoned by a callow outlook? "It is the middle of July."

The calendar on the wall was scratched off all the way through December, stagnated somewhere in the middle of January, frost pictures painted across the windows, hardening the sharp edges of the starkly white hospital room.

"Ah…" She whispered, settling into the tufts of grass, sprawled on her back as the sky twisted into glittering, azure shapes, a painting that could never dry, colors constantly running together. "So that explains these roses."

"Yes," he smiled, laying next to her, eyes beaming happiness as he traced the clouds in the sky with his finger tips, pretending he could touch them. His cheeks were filled with flushed warmth, blossoming carnations, smile so clean cut and truthful; a blossom in its own right, that she became lost in the garden of his expressions, the fragrance of pure bliss.

Something wet struck her hand.

A laugh bubbled from him, losing some of its luster. "A weeping willow, of course. They never actually cry."

Her eyes sparkled with a hint of sadness, something blooming from deep down inside of her, staining her lenses a forget-me-not blue, heart bleeding inside of her chest like the flowers, those tiny triangular shapes dangling like earrings. "Willows don't…" she whispered, voice more fragile than the drop of moisture on her palm. Her hand slid across the side of his face, feeling what the heat around them truly was. "But you do."

And their last days are chryselephantine affairs, hidden under the rose, his lungs constricting with the doctor's warning.

"What did you write on them?" She asked, holding a bud in her hand, voice grown weaker, hoarser, deteriorating. Her hand cradled a rose like a precious gem, forget-me-knots strewn around them in folds of paper, little threads encircling their bodies, everything bleached of its color, but retaining a new vibrancy.

"The flowers?" He asked, his own expression like an outline of ashes, pale skin sweltering with warmth, perspiration marking his forehead like a scarlet letter.

She nodded, everything about her carved out of that same cinereous gray.

"Just places," He whispered in the field of forget-me-knots, white roses framing her face like poetry, the bleeding hearts finally mended, the willows tears dried, replaced with flattering grins. "Places that only we will go."