He walked about the yard and saw the sky sheeted gray and stood thinking of the two riders that came. An idle saunter towards the top of the hill and then they had stopped near the end of the track. The loud call of John Faller. He walked towards them and took off his cap when he saw the other rider was Hamilton. Faller's smiling eyes. The height of him bearing down on that horse. His words plunging like a knife. Hamilton leering red-eyed. Like that was anything new.
Shoulda said something then. Shoulda looked him in the eye. Shoulda dragged him down off that horse. What are ye on about? What do you mean we are being evicted? You know we done you no harm. And the woman with child. Pure wrong so it is. Wouldna have listened anyway.
His fists tensed and something roiled in him like the white fever of river until his anger was foaming and he walked to the yard and pulled an axe grinning from the wood and started walking. He marched down the track from the house, shoulders huge and hunching. The earth dew-kissed and the coldness of it was numb to his feet and he wanted to hurl a mountain, to tear at the sky, to rip the earth open with his hands, and he turned sharp and strode to a spot where trees stood huddling. The axe swung in vicious arcs till a fir splintered and fell newly ragged upon the needled floor and he sat spent, his head wagging, and he had no power to hold back the tears.
He wiped his face with his sleeve and walked back up the hill to the house. The shape of his mother crossing the yard and the cow giving up her milk. He went inside and sat on a stool between the fire and the bed and looked at his wife Sarah. Eyes sloping off low cheekbones. A face built for sadness.
You were keeping me awake all night with your turning, she said.
Ye were sleeping.
I was awake. Where'd you get to just now?
I was out cuttin.
What was the use of that?
He rose towards the hearth. The fire alive in the rakings and he blew gently. Ash skittered the surface of fizzing embers and he raked it and kindled it with moss which popped and sizzled till flame lapped hungrily. He took flitches of turf and put them on top and watched the smoke sidle up the gable wall to lie sleepily about the low rafters and then he put his hand over the flame.
The child awoke and climbed out of the bed and went to him. He scooped her into his lap and tidied tangles of hair with his fingers. The child fidgeted and he put her down again and leaned forward on his elbows with his hands worrying his cheeks. Sarah watched him. His face a forest of dark stubble and the way shadows pooled his eyes like he was quailing from the light. He saw her and shook his head.
The door opened and his mother placed a pail beside the table and she fixed her shawl and went out again.
They ate brachán in wooden bowls to the spit of the fire, silence filling up the room. They each watched him in turn, his eyes upon the floor, and then he lifted his head and spoke quietly. I'm sick of yous looking at me like I'm supposed to do something. Fuck it then I will.
Sarah put down her bowl on the table. Coyle stood up. Is Jim's suit down at the house?
His mother looked at him. Naw. It's up here. Why do you want it?
I'm gonna go and speak a few words. Ask Hamilton to let us be.
Sarah looked up. No you are not, she said.
Alarm now in her voice, ceding control to his voice low and steady.
Aye I am. I'm gonna go and talk sense to that man.
Sarah got up and stood in front of him. You will not. You know he's not the kind for it. There's no sense in him. You'll only make things worse off.
He looked at her unblinking. Huppidy hah, he said.
She placed her hand on his arm and looked into his eyes. He stared at her, his hands balling white-knuckled, and then he turned and yanked open the door and stood there for air. They watched him, the child climbing crying upon her mother's lap, and they listened to his low cursing.
Excerpted from Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch. Copyright © 2013 by Paul Lynch. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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