He hefted the maul again, then let its edge fall across the log’s crosscut rings. It thudded and stuck, but the weathered wood hinted splitting. He twisted the handle, freeing the heavy wedge from its failure, and swung again. The log popped in half, and hues of autumn honey akin to ruby fruit burst from the wood’s fresh inside. He split these into quarters and stacked them on the covered porch.
It was Sunday. Late November. Already cold – he was running out of time. Dad had died, and Mom was old. The weather was turning. On the leeward side of the house, a dented minivan on cinderblocks grimaced in its growling hive of briars. In the backyard, Dad’s beagle danced on her rusty length of chain, begging to charge into the taunting woods. He ignored her, focused on the task at hand.
Swing, thud. Swing, split. Swing, split, stack.
Like children who don’t know they’re old, dead oak leaves skipped and swirled in the windblown warnings of smoke from his neighbor’s chimney. A floating piece of ash could just as well be snow.
Swing, split. Swing, thud. Swing, miss. Cuss.
Across the valley, cracking echoes of father-sons sighting in guns. Grass on the overgrown lawn still desperately green. The trees were pulling inward from their chilling limbs right on cue for the cold, but for him the hack of his maul only chipped at the crack in the drum time leaked through. He was always too slow.
As the sun set, the pile of warm-colored wood grew. In his neighbor’s window the blue tempting glow of the game came on. He imagined the pressure released when a beer twisted open. Then
swing, split. Swing, split. Swing, split. Stack.
The beagle watched from her straw-lined barrel, bleary-eyed and bored, given up. Since Dad died, she hadn’t been taken out to hunt. But sometimes she broke loose and crashed, howling, through the underbrush for hours, doing what she was born to.