5th January

The Executioner

I take a log from the pile, position it on the block, adjust my stance, swing the log-splitter. The log divides under the blow and the halves fall like toy buildings. I throw them into the creel.

My father taught me how to do this. Method, not strength, he advised. ‘Feel the weight of the head,’ he said. ‘Let it do the work.’

I place another log, swing the splitter. The log seems to separate an instant before contact, as if it self-destructs to avoid what’s coming. As if it could know.

At my parents’ house over Christmas, I did various tasks around house and garden that they can no longer manage. The strong, practical, hands-on man who taught me how to split logs is now so slow, stiff and unsteady that it’s not safe for him even to put one on the fire.

He was an outdoors man. Now he can’t walk to the paper shop without running out of breath or falling. Cold air kicks off his angina. But one mild, calm day I got him into the wheelchair and pushed him to the beach where he used to sail his boat and walk his dog – both now gone.

We parked the wheelchair by the cars and made it down the wooden steps onto soft sand littered with clumps of weed left by a recent storm. With him gripping my arm, we reached the flat, firmer sand on which the waves were breaking, sullen and regular. A family was playing with two dogs. Dad’s distance sight is better than mine. He watched the joyous energy of those children and dogs for a long time.

On the way home he was talkative – more than in the house where competing noises make it hard for him to hear or be heard. I leaned down to his ear and found we could communicate pretty well.

Back by the fire he sat glaring at my mother, as a prisoner might at his warder. ‘I’m having another dog before I die.’

An impossibility, but we didn’t deny him it. A few minutes later he was asleep.

I take another log, position it, adjust my stance. Swing the splitter.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Guitar: Sorren Maclean
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