By Mary-Jane Holmes
Maurice Picard rattled the fixings of the thin metal ladder that ran the height of the spire and adjusted his tool belt. Below him, Gerard Rigal’s goats coursed the graveyard, strewing chrysanthemum petals across the airy mounds of freshly piled earth. Above him, the weather vane listed eastwards, the flashing from under it split and curled, its cockerel lurching as if readying for flight. Maurice climbed towards it. The wind was sharp at his back, and his hollow tooth throbbed, the remnants of the storm still gusting in its root. His teeth were better than any wall-hung barometer. He’d felt the weather coming the day before as he set a new lintel across the gable end of Pappy Parnell’s milking parlour, glad of the work and the mild October temperatures to get the task done. Late swallows threaded the telegraph pole as he measured the stone, driving the plugs and shims through the split line. It was then his molars started humming, like the quiet vibration on a train rail. He blamed it on the fall of the hammer, but by evening his jaw raged premonition and the birds had flown.
That night, a bull’s eye squall bubbled off the Atlantic and charged the coast. In Fontenay, it flattened the perimeter of the small zoo and there was talk of caiman slipping into the canals, but in Mazanou only the church was struck. Maurice was not a superstitious man and paid no mind to those who talked of omens; he’d volunteered to repair the damage because he’d watched his father when the century was still fresh, hammer and bellow life into the finials and wind cups of the mechanism, helping him scratch his initials on the glowing tail feathers of the bird freshly forged. Of this he was proud, and he didn’t like to see his family honour skewed off its fixings.
But now the whole thing looked crude and comical, this squat bird with its chamfered eye and comb smeared white with guano, and he took the scutch from his belt to scrape it clean, but the pain rose again and sang across the fissured enamel of his teeth. He looked towards the west wondering if another front was forming, but there was nothing but the furzy haze lifting off the marshland and sunlight glinting off truck sidings on the ocean road. At this height he could see the future, the outline of rising cities, the criss-cross of new tarmacadam—a world he’d lost his sons to, a world a man like him, an artisan, could surely thrive in, be valued even and be done with splitting stone for centimes. Yes, that was what he must do.
The cockerel quivered in the briny air, and he grabbed its shaft with both hands. It bent easily back into shape, and he worked a fresh apron of flashing round its base, seaming it tight with his chase wedge. He lubricated the bearings and spindles just as the sun began to dip, and the bird shimmered in the low rays. He blinked through its brightness at the village heaped below him and traced the unpaved road to the glint of tin that was his own roof. In the yard, his youngest, his little girl, scattered grains, hens swarming at her feet. He waved and saw the child look up, her face a rosy moon against the rays of the sun. She set the feeder on her hip and lifted her arm to him. In the city, she will learn reading and arithmetic, he thought, feeling the evening breeze swell against his chest, hearing the newly greased cardinals swing. They revolved so freely and with such vigour that he felt the fall before it happened: the North point snagging on the collar of his overalls, the lift of his bowels as he dropped and the rush of comfort as the weight of his toothache dissolved into the surprisingly clement evening breeze.