DEMOLITIONS

Two jets flew over as I was getting out of the car to tell the head gardener what I’d been doing at the other place.

Damned noisy things, he said.

I said, I’ve taken out that old gate in the top wall, what was left of it. He nodded and looked at me, his mouth half open. He didn’t much care by that time what I or anybody else come to that did up there, not that there was anybody else. I said, I took out the posts too. They were rotten as hell.

Did you lift them out, he said, making an invisible post between his hands.

No, I said. They were loose already.

Broken off? He said.

That’s right. Rotten through, I said.

He said, sometimes, if they come out clean you can drop a new one straight in the hole.

No, I said, shaking my head. These just broke off. He nodded, and looked at me.

He said, are you going to burn it?

Already have, I said. Charred wood, white in the heat, criss-crossed with black, red flames licking the last life out of it, looked like a city burning, Dresden. I said, I’ve strung some wire across the gap, but it doesn’t look too good.

No, it won’t, he said, and nodded.

I said, I wondered if you had anything that might do it, fill the gap? We could do with a new gate.

He said, we might have something down here, tucked away, and he looked at Jack who was his sort of second in command though he hadn’t been there all that long. Jack nodded. How big’s your gap, the head gardener said, and he made a space between his hands.

I don’t know, I said. Maybe ten, twelve feet.

That’s a big gap, Jack said. No wicket gate then.

We might have something tucked away down here, the head gardener said. You measure it out.

I said, there’s no tape up there.

He said, pace it out then. That’ll do. We can fill it with rail if we have to.

I went back up there and paced it out in my boots, toe to heel. It was eight boots across, almost exactly, and those two jets flew over again, while I was doing it, returning to base safely.

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