He met me in the garden just like he promised. He was late, but I tried not to let that bother me. The sun was high, and I sat patiently on the back porch of the beach house he vowed to buy for me. I sat on the swing we used to share when we watched the sunset over the ocean. I traced patterns in the dust and dirt on the floor with my toes as I swung gently back and forth, looking out between the ivy that had overgrown on the wooden pillars.
I wore my nightgown of lace and silk, wrapped in the warmth of the knitted pullover my grandmother had sent me for my last birthday. The midday sun was warm, but I was chilled by the gust of air from the sea below.
The ocean rumbled just beyond the hill of seeded grass and the gate that was broken and falling off its hinges. He had promised to mend it for me. He said I could paint it in whichever color I wanted. I could hear the ocean roaring in the air and the birds calling as the sight of him appeared on the hill. I could smell the salty sweetness in my nose.
He promised to meet me in the morning before the sun would rise. We would meet at the gate and pick wildflowers from the prominence for my bouquet. We would be married on the hill beside the ocean. I would walk an aisle of weeds and tall grass. There would be no priest or pastor to see us married. Just us and the sea. He promised he would come, and so I waited.
He opened the gate slowly as it teetered on rusted old hinges. I stood slowly and went to greet him at the edge of the porch though I could not find the words to say how disappointed I was by his lateness. I knew he would come for me, but it hurt nonetheless. He walked up the path, brushing weeds out of his way, and then he stepped up the stairs, apparently too ashamed to find words of his own.
I knew by the look on his face that it was best for me to stay quiet. My mother always said that sometimes it was best to keep your words to yourself. And so I hid them away as I followed him into the house. He pushed open the door and trod inside on those squeaky old floors. I had spent the day making the house ready for us. I hung the curtains I'd stolen from my mother's kitchen in the window that overlooked the garden. I had taken the dishes from my hope chest and set them out on the table. He ran his fingers through the dust that had settled and lifted a teacup my grandmother had sent for my collection. He caressed the painted rose with the pad of his thumb the same way he had touched my skin.
He was slow on his feet as he walked into the living room and looked up at the banisters that held the ceiling up. The iron bed that we had made love in for the first time stood in the center of the single-room cottage. He went to the table where I'd set out my mother's crochet doily and the tintype photographs we had taken at a fair our parents forbade us from attending together. The flowers he had given me that night were pressed and laid beside them. They were dead and delicate now, but I still kept them.
That was the reason we had made the promise we did. Our families never wanted us to love each other as much as we did. And so when we found this cottage by the sea, hidden and abandoned on the hill of grass and flowers, we made it ours and promised to meet by the gate to be married.
The man let out a sigh as he looked down and reached into his pocket for a piece of parchment. I had seen it so many times now. It was yellowed and falling apart at the creases. The words had faded, but I recognized my own handwriting. I waited for him to speak, or maybe just read the words I had written. He didn't need to. I still remembered what they said. Instead, he merely skimmed it over with his dark eyes for what must have been the hundredth time. Then he returned to the kitchen and walked out the back door.
So I met him in the garden by the gate where the weeds grew tall and reached up to my elbows. I stood in the waves brought on by ocean breezes. His hair shimmered like white gold in the warm sunlight. He stopped by the gate and hesitated as he reread the letter. Then he stuffed it back into his pocket and reached for the shovel he had brought one spring when he promised to plant irises under the windows for me.
The shovel was loud as it slammed into the dirt and broke through the crust of earth. I watched him dig through rocks and pebbles and the sand that blew up the hill during storms. He cried as he dug, and seagulls called out when he reached the necklace he had made for me so many years before. He folded his fingers around the rope and pulled, but it held, still wrapped around my throat.
I remembered that sunset when he finally came for me. He was late. I watched him when he appeared on the hill with his hair shining like yellow gold. He walked into the house right past me and found me wearing that necklace as I hung from the banisters that held up the ceiling. He made one for himself too. He promised we would wear them together after we married on the hill, but he never came for me.
So I wore the necklace myself. He came too late and buried me by the light of the moon in the garden where we had promised to meet. He placed my bouquet of wildflowers on my grave instead of in my hands. And he buried me with the necklace he said looked so pretty around my throat.
I watched him, and I still waited for the day that he would come to stay with me forever. Sometimes he would leave for years at a time, but he always came back with his face growing ever more tired with age and guilt. Only we knew of the love shared inside that old house by the beach where he promised to make me his wife. He carried our promise in his pocket on dilapidated and yellowed paper.
I could still see the boy in those tired old eyes and the strands of gold in his whitened hair. He always came to walk that house as if he could still feel me following behind. As if he could hear the words I sometimes chose to speak when I'd grown restless in the silence. He stepped over the gate where I rested beneath the weeds. He saw the tintypes and traced the lines of my face with the pad of his thumb like a painted rose on porcelain.
He tossed the letter into the grave, where my bones grew ever more fragile with every passing year. He threw a layer of soil over our promise and hid it beneath the weeds. He would die with that secret and that guilt. He would die old and alone, but he would finally come for me. Just as he promised. And when he did, I would be waiting. I would always be waiting, down by the gate in the garden where the weeds grew tall.
"The corpse you planted last year in your garden, has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?" –T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land