His Fortress was a Faithful Heart

by Robert Leeming

The flickering outdoor light cast a milky pattern across the garden pond Oonagh had dug on her forty-fifth birthday. Michael stared at the water and remembered the dirt piling up beside the wooden deck chair he had sat in while she worked.

Oonagh had the habit of making household rearrangements to mark milestones. On her fortieth birthday she had smashed through a partition wall to open up the dining and sitting rooms and on her fiftieth she had uprooted several conifer trees that had grown so tall they blocked out the sun for the majority of the day.

He’d objected to the pond, he’d objected to chopping the trees down. He’d become unforgivably objectionable after he stopped working at the RAF base at Cogley Wood, and he had dragged his feet mercilessly as she hacked away at the tree trunks.

“Why don’t you go a little easy,” Michael had shouted at her, “you’re fifty now, you’re not as young as you used to be.”

“If it wasn’t for me,” she said, breaking to breathe after each swing, “nothing would change around here.”

The fact that he could gaze out across the garden to the Robinson place, the fact that he could sit and watch people come and go from the Horse and Jockey pub, the fact that he could make note of the changing seasons, the maypole in the summer, the lighting of the tree in winter, this was her gift of openness to him. Chopping those trees down had kept him connected to the world when he most wanted to be out of it.

“To accept the immediacy of death is the only way to overcome anxiety,” she would say. And, “To grow nightingale roses on the eastern side of a garden is to open up your life to a host of secrets,” among other such maxims that were not so serviceable for reality, but certainly were worth bearing in mind for the next world.

Michael still hated it when people sang ‘Jerusalem’ at weddings, everybody likes the tune but the words are hardly fitting and although they really belted it out on that summer’s day in 1952, he couldn’t help but cringe at the memory. Although her countenance was divine, the holy city paled in comparison to the passion Oonagh would bring forth every Sunday night, down by the beach, with the leaky roof and the jet planes from Cogley Wood roaring overhead.

Miraculous moments come and go, in the blink of an eye, and then, the miracle done, you are left to wonder if it was just a predetermined certainty you were made to wait a little longer for than you were entirely comfortable with.

Oonagh saw the world in Michael and the generational back-and-forth continued until probability conspired that they chop down the trees together, and she looked back at him from amongst the fallen wood, the world opening up before him again, as time proved his heart faithful, and she told him about the changes.

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