The cracks in my hand match the fissures in the wall. The sun is high and bright; it has warmed the stones, so they pulse as if they are alive. Each one I stack screams like the rat I watched giving birth in the barn last night. I was so fascinated by the violence of it, the slimy pink bodies popping out onto the dirty straw as the mother's pink eyes wept bloody streaks that I didn't hear my father's worn boots coming over the cobbles. Pushing me aside, I fell onto the ground; he hit the mother and babies with a large rock, leaving me to mop up the pulpy mess. I wonder if that killing stone is one he is placing now as rubble between the two laid walls to allow everything to settle.
Since arriving in Connecticut, it seems all we've farmed is stone; the land is scattered with them, some as large as houses. When I was a young boy, my mother told me tales from the old country about the wailing stone that called out to travelers who had lost their way for them to stop and rest. Everyone who lay down never got up again. The clasping arms of the wall held them until they too turned grey and hard. Mother always said I should treat the stones we pull up kindly, as each one has a sad tale to tell. So each time I visit her grave, I leave a special rock I have found to keep her company; I imagine them telling her their stories as she slumbers in the ground.
An unseen choir of frogs is rumbling deep in the woods like the organ from Sunday service sounding like a reprimand as I place a stone shaped like an anvil. I stop to wipe my face and listen to the discordant noise. I take paper and pencil from my pocket and scratch, 'The lowing woods cry out, but the soon vanishing men do not hear. They are building a monument that only God will see' Father appears as if he's been summoned by my lack of industry and I have no time to hide my poem in the wall with the others. "Why have you stopped? You'd better not be writing
those nonsense verses of yours. I swear over my dead body I will not let poetry harden you into devilry," he says gruffly. Around us, the day laborers pick up the pace of their work. If he looks, he will see they are piling the wall carelessly, and they will lose stones, so we will have to rebuild to stop our sheep breaching them. But he only has eyes for me. He snatches away the sheet, I try to grab it back, and he shoves me. My head strikes the stone with the force of a hammer.
I sit on the wall deep in Devil's Den and pour my milky tea. Hiking has never been my thing, but now I go by the saying 'beggars can't be choosers' and walk every day. At first, it was up and down the road where the repainted double yellow lines left images on my retinas like the start of a migraine. But now, months into lockdown, I venture further afield. My small town has a surprising number of trails that wind through forests like a scene from a fairytale, the ones that usually involve the possibility of someone being eaten.
I find it fascinating that there are stonewalls in the woods. They crisscross the land like a pattern only a bird or a giant could appreciate. The sun has snuck through the branches, and I put my hand on the wall, the heat pulses warming my palm. I hear noise in the undergrowth, it rumbles like an unseen plane, but I know it's probably just the frogs mating madly. I finish my tea and screw the lid on my flask, and I hear a cry. Looking up, a weathered, shirtless man is striding towards me, "Hey you, yes you," he shouts as he gets closer, "What do you think you are doing?" I'm a little confused, 'Um, I'm sorry," I stammer, "I thought this was a public trail. If I've trespassed, I'm sorry." The man walks right past me, and I smell sweat and something else that reminds me a little of egg salad. He picks up a stone with a pointed end and fits it like a jigsaw piece into the top of the wall. The veins of his hand stand out like those on the underside of a leaf as he smooth's it along the stone. Then he leaps over the wall and dissolves in the shadows thrown by the trees.
I walk over to the stone; it is splotched with purple moss and coiled in a crack I see a yellowed paper. When I fish it out, the stone topples and lands on my foot. The pain is indescribable, and I know I've broken a toe. I sit down, feeling nauseous. My head is heavy, and I lower it between my knees. The paper flutters away as my fists turn into rocks, and I realize I am wailing, but only the other stones can hear me.
Published in Issue #26