By Tom Nestor


We are building a wall, my father and I. It is three years in the making, and perhaps there will be another one before we are finished. It is March, the month of many variations, all degrees of bitter cold. The wind comes from the east and there is no shelter where we are laying stones.

I pray for April of the many kindnesses, but it is always a long time coming and short time going. I am captured here. The next brother above me has always a reason that requires his presence around the yard. And the one below is too young to duel with the wiles of bitter March.

When my father bought this land it was wild and untamed. It lay cheek by jowl with his inherited fields, all but one that was far away. By horse and cart it was a half day going and the same coming home in the darkness. It was a small layout but those small acres in the right place paid for a package that was numerous by many degrees.

But the land had run to wildness when he bought it, populated by whins and low-lying patches of thorn and yellow gorse. He had wrested them away now, all the pulling and the walling, the last chore is to confine the last field into easier and more effective management.

Somewhere, in every field, there is a large collection of stone, quarried in the early days of back-breaking work, and are now old enough to be draped by creeping briars and whins. The mound we are now working from came from the collection that had been thrown together long before I was born.

We seldom talk, my father and I. I bring him tea in a lemonade bottle and a slice of bread and sometimes barmbrack or a piece of apple pie. I carry the bottle in one hand, the delicacy in the other. It is a trial of utter concentration.
Sometimes I wander into another space, and the piece of apple pie slips to the ground. He examines it carefully when I hand it over. He puckers his lips when he suspects that the delicacy had been earthed but never says anything. Sometimes he might shake his head, or let his breath out slowly, but never asks a query.

That is the way we build a wall, my father and I.

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