Without looking at her, he leaned forward to kiss her cheek. It was the colour and consistency of marshmallow, yielding a little beneath his touch.
“You don’t have to do this,” she said. Her voice was low, husky after too many tears. He straightened and took a deep breath, immediately wishing he had not, inhaling the familiar scent of her, in spite of himself.
He stared out of the window, pretending to watch the schoolchildren gathering at the bus stop, but he saw only her.
Child-sized, huge dark eyes. Blonde hair long and tipped with red. Black roses tattooed across her shoulders and neck, their stems tracing her carotid arteries, entwining to fall down her spine, a thorn seeming to pierce her alabaster skin at each vertebra.
He didn’t notice the wind tearing the foliage from the trees, only the feathered wings of angels falling to either side of her back.
He was oblivious to the single black chain that should form the garden’s boundary, but now lay broken, its loose ends buried in piles of crusty red and yellow leaves. The chain imprinted upon his retina encircled her hips and thighs, interwoven by a snake, whose evil fanged mouth lay ready to strike her navel.
For four months, she had been his canvas and he had painted her. He had kissed away the salt of her tears when she was in pain from the needles. Her skin had been the whitest he had ever known and he had defiled it with his black and red and green. He spared only her face.
All summer he had loved her and she loved him and submitted to his art, bearing her skin without a word when he suggested some new design.
The school bus came. The children disappeared into its belly.
The metallic taste in his mouth told him he had bitten his tongue and he turned, tears in his eyes now.
He picked up his needle.
Summer was ending.
It was autumn, a time of decay and slow death.