Andy Warmington

Crossed Wires

Andy Warmington

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     Gavin Fulcroft’s life could be measured, with precision, along a line of hammered wooden posts and fencing wire. This was true of his lineage going back some five or more generations. While Gavin tore merry hell through childhood and shuffled past a disregarded education, his father had erected forty-seven miles of pig-wire fencing along the Southern edge of a muck-stained farming county.

     Gavin left school with four O’Levels in practical disciplines, laid the certificates on the kitchen table with a nod, and inherited the family business. He was contracted at the age of sixteen years and three weeks to fence off the western side of another county, so that scowls could be cast askance to their detested neighbours from behind the safety of wire and post. Gavin estimated, an uncanny ability granted him in hereditary form, the job would take 40 years.

     Thirty-nine and a half years later, a leathery, taupe-skinned man who looked like he had been bent into human shape by a drunken lunatic, stood up to stretch his concave spine and lifted another two-pronged wire staple from his belt bag. Gavin was etching his way into his 57th year and would see early retirement with a county fence as his legacy before the last leaf ditched its branch.

     He reeled out another few feet of tension line and tacked it to the upright posts with staples, a repetitive motion that had left his shoulder sockets loose and pendular. Sometimes Gavin would pluck the tension line like the thick E-string on a double bass, but rarely. He could tell by sight the line was tight enough to support a dozen cartwheeling funambulists if it had to.

     Gavin walked, his neck arched downwards as he counted out five metres where he would submerge another wooden post ten inches into the turf with six solid swings of a sledge hammer. He was only three metres into his calculation when his kneecap struck something hard. Another fencepost.

     Confusion flooded Gavin’s mind as the blood from a mild haemorrhage flowed behind his patella. Ahead, in the line of his proposed fence track, he saw only fields of grass, lime green in the high summer sun. Although his eyes were capable of peripheral vision, the habit of his job discouraged it, so he did not immediately see the man tacking tension line to another fence ten metres or so to his left, perpendicular to his own structure.

     ‘Hey. You there.’, said Gavin.

     The man looked up momentarily, then returned to his work.

     ‘Aye, you.’, Gavin insisted.

     The man stopped and wiped his brow with a cloth. He squinted his eyes to settle on focus.

     ‘Is something the matter?’, he said approaching.

     ‘You’re cutting off my fence.’

     ‘I am?’

     He looked genuinely concerned by this piece of information, which he mulled over while packing a tobacco pipe he retrieved from his breast pocket.

     ‘Well, it’s just I’ve this contract to honour you see’, he said finally.

     ‘As do I. Have you a map, friend?’

     ‘I have. In my cart. Here, I’ll get it.’, handing his pipe to Gavin.

     The man set off back down the slope in the field. His arms swung loosely, with the same quality of dislocation from the sockets as Gavin’s. He returned with a crumpled Ordnance Survey, out of print and torn at the folds, as though denoting some catastrophic earthquake that had opened bottomless caverns on the landscape. Gavin took it and studied its grid references.

     ‘We’re here, I’m quite sure’, said Gavin, pointing to a slim valley.

     The man dragged on the lit pipe.

     ‘More like here’, he said, pointing two inches that represented almost a mile North-East of Gavin’s deduction.

     Gavin was quiet. The two men stood side by side, crusaders from the same shield but on very different warpaths. Gavin looked at his hands. His left, that held onto the wire and staples, was speckled with untidy white scars and russet grazes. His right, his hammer hand, was lean and powerful. He wrung them together. Hands united in purpose, they could have belonged to different men yet would have achieved little without each other.

     ‘Does this mean I’m finished? With my fence, I mean’, Gavin asked with childlike innocence in his voice.

     ‘I couldn’t say. Have you line left on you? And posts? And tacks? Have you a hammer by your hand still?’

     ‘I have’, Gavin replied.

     ‘Well then. I couldn’t say.’

     ‘Right. Well.’

     Gavin took to his feet and padded down the hill on his toes. He lifted his post and measured two metres past the other man’s and brought his hammer down on it, again, then four more times which he knew would see it home. He tensioned out the guide wire and crossed it with two diagonal lengths.

     He peered back up the hill at the man, who was dragging on his pipe with one corner of his mouth and grinning with bemusement from the other. Gavin understood. He felt the other man’s wayward fence was as unusual and unnecessary as his own.

     Gavin nodded up at the man.

     Best to keep on, the implicit offering in his glance.

     The man nodded back.

     Best to keep on, was agreed.

Andy Warmington

Andy Warmington lives and works in Derry. His fiction includes a short story in the anthology Chains: Unheard Voices published in September 2018. He has worked on arts and community projects across the North East of England, including Freedom on the Tyne (2017) and the annual arts programme for Refugee Week (2013-16).