From the ditch behind the house, Kate could see her husband up at the old forestry hut, where mottled scrubland gave way to dense lines of trees. “Colman!” she called, but he didn’t hear. She watched him swing the axe in a clean arc and thought that from this distance he could be any age. Lately, she’d found herself wondering what he’d been like as a very young man, a man of twenty. She hadn’t known him then. He had already turned forty when they met.
It was early April, the fields and ditches coming green again after winter. Grass verges crept outward, thickening the arteries of narrow lanes. “There’s nothing wrong,” she shouted when she was still some yards off. He was in his shirtsleeves, his coat discarded on the grass beside him. “Emer rang from London. She’s coming home.”
He put down the axe. “Home for a visit, or home for good?” He had dismantled the front of the hut and one of the side walls. On the floor inside, if floor was the word, she saw empty beer cans, blankets, a ball of blackened tinfoil.
“Just for a few days. A friend from college has an exhibition. I wasn’t given much detail. You know Emer.”
“Yes,” he said, and frowned. “When is she arriving?”
“Tomorrow evening, and she’s bringing Oisín.”
“Tomorrow? And she’s only after ringing now?”
“It’ll be good to have them stay. Oisín has started school since we last saw him.”
She waited to see if he might mention the room, but he picked up the axe, as if impatient to get back to work.
“What will we do if the Forestry Service come round?” she said.
“They haven’t come round this past year. They don’t come round when we ring about the drinking or the fires.” He swung the axe at a timber beam supporting what was left of the roof. There was a loud splintering but the beam stood firm, and he drew back the axe, prepared to strike again.
She turned and walked toward the house. The Dennehys, their nearest neighbors, had earlier that week sown maize, and a crow hung from a pole, strung up by a piece of twine. It lifted in the wind as she walked past, coming to rest again a few feet from the ground, above the height of foxes. When they first moved here, she hadn’t understood that the crows were real, shot specially for the purpose, and had asked a discomfited Mrs. Dennehy what cloth she sewed them from.
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