The man put his children up in school books and cool grapes and funnelled himself into a dark garage corner. There stood the 8-pound maul, the splitting wedge and the axe, the last of these draped in a raiment of dusty webs.
In a letter he received a day later, the closing line: Dig in, we need the wood.
But before that he had curled his arm around the maul, eying the pile of rounds and boughs, still impressed with rainwater, still the upstart crow's cache of insects. As he propped each piece, set his distance, and swung his full arc through each plumb line he saw, he dreamt as he always dreamt; best, when his hands were full.
He was a Venezuelan hustler, boyish in long oily Jesus curls, a thin, resilient body, a tooth-baring smile learned from sudden uncles on the streets of Caracas. She was a Mill Valley woman who spoke like Page Six, who'd recently crossed her abyss of aging with him. He was for her a bridge of an idea, like preserving rainforests or the beginning, finally, of Che's great mestizo race. She smelled wood scent on him, wanted to smell herself on him.
In the office of her husband's lawyer, the lines for their big-screen drama were playing out more or less to plan. She was pregnant with a savior. He, the husband, was impassive, bored before he could start at his own short reach for an incredulous outburst. The South American boy was fresh with sex and taut with the vines of his cunning. But the husband remained back in his chair, calculating. He had mastered holding the angle of his face to the ceiling lights, so that when he wanted all anyone saw was two circles of flat flourescent eyes.
In their background, the woodcutter's sweat seeped through his cotton. He grunted loudly at the sodden, thick round, determined to split it, to prove to himself he could kill in a cold, deliberate vein. The son came out, surprised by his father-giant's sound, fascinated by the split cores, the dark humming brown of their cracked centers, the blond outer layers, like quarters of hickory watermelon.
"Don't cut these yet," the boy said. "I still want to see you do that."
"This is splitting, using a maul. I chop with that." He pointed to the spider braids decorating the thin blade.
The boy eyed the sledge-blade from a distance and went back to the house.
He had not so much ruled out murder as become bored by the idea. He could not know this would surprise them, badly. It was their plan to drive him this way, and watch him implode with the idea.
With the last stroke he could manage before the skin pulled off his thumbs, they became as dolls in a shoebox, and called his boy for a view on handling an axe.