They stopped the wheelchair to let him look along his arbour one last time, whispering in foggy ears for him to stir. He didn’t move and they turned, saddened at his incomprehension, but letting him have a private moment.
He smiled as they left. His eyes may be hollow but the westerly breeze let him feel the shape of the arching boughs as it touched his face; the warming sun coloured in the dappling leaves and the mummeration of the insects stirred the blossom into as clear a picture as from any camera.
He looked back down the long years, back to his sap filled adolescence when the land was brown and the living hard. He had planted his cuttings with the tenderness of a lover, intent on sowing his own legacy. He nurtured the thin twigs through cruel seasons – sharp winters and harsh unforgiving summers – youthful confidence overcoming the setbacks and slights to his dreams.
He marched with others at a siren’s call to far places where he learned of courage and friendship and inexplicable death. When he returned his hopes lay cracked and neglected, corrupted by indifference and constant dread.
For a time he despaired; as with his dream, he withered, gnarling and twisting away from the light, unhealthy disease seeking an insidious hold in those dank drear places.
They came, with money and typed paper and saws, offering a refuge from toil and a strong wall to hide his hopes. He prepared to go; it was all too much but an unexpected word came to him, floating on a strong westerly. ‘Wait,’ she said. ‘I will never leave.’
He trusted that promise, through tender, sweet-sweat-softened nights. Like water to a wilted palm, at her touch he unfurled and grew tall. The charlatans and destroyers went, churlish and angry.
Renewed, he bent again to his scheme but now he was two; another bending too, mimicking his swift fingers training, pruning, cropping, feeding, loving.
The twists and gnarls were too deep-set to change and risk a fracture, so they worked with Nature’ contortions. As time passed they all grew, slowly at first, but ever constant in their intent until their fingers interlaced and became one, dancing with and twining into and around the other; each might have come from a different root stock but each was now reliant on the other for support and shade and health.
Slower now, the work more delicate, intricate, shaping, shaving, giving form to dreams until the glorious arbour of their love was complete.
Sightless, and bereft, he wondered if his trust had been betrayed in that last cruel frost-sharpened winter. But he kept a small private faith and returned to their arbour, seeking a sign of a promise fulfilled.
And there she was, today, waiting at the far end, leaning on a stick, curled towards the opposite side, waiting for the space to be filled. For the first time in the years he stood to fill that space, his place opposite hers, bending forward, offering support. As their lips met one last time, melting, melding, becoming one, becoming part of the glory he released his tenuous hold. ‘I promised,’ she said.
When the carers returned, the wheelchair lay on its side. Their initial apprehension slipped to smiles as they looked upon the arbour and recognised the truth, just out of sight, on the edge of the shadows, a new bough had taken root and linked with its opposite. At long last complete, two had become one.