Raising the barn

Paul was there almost every day. This decrepit oversized shed would become his inheritance and he wanted his parents to remember that.

Scott didn’t come often but when he did he’d stay for a weekend, or even a whole week. He’d stopped going on holiday so that he could work on barn. Paul had to admit that Scott put the effort in, but he really didn’t have a clue what he was doing. Give him a spade and tell him to dig and he’d be content for hours. Ask him which way up a beam needed to go and he’d be lost. Paul made sure he put in extra hours when Scott was around.

And then there was Hunter. The spoilt one. The favourite. He hardly helped at all but somehow mum and dad always noticed the little things he did more than they noticed anything else. He’d dropped by last week with a camping stove and made everyone a cup of tea they didn’t need. They all had flasks, but mum wouldn’t stop going on about how much better it tasted having been freshly made.

Now every time they stopped for a break he’d be reminded of Hunter’s triumph. It was true that the tea did taste better but that wasn’t the point. You could easily get a stove for about twenty pound from any camping store. It took a lot more effort to shift a hundred years of cow manure and pig shit out of the barn. Each spadeful needed lifting up and over the sill beams that were as high as Paul’s knees. They’d been at it a week and had only managed about a quarter.

That’s when the horn sounded. Paul’s first thought was that Hunter had turned up. He was the only one who tapped out a tune whenever he arrived. Paul stood up, stretched his aching back and looked across the brambles to see a four wheel drive car with a trailer. It couldn’t be Hunter. It wasn’t his car and it was much too early for him.

But it was Hunter. Climbing out of the passenger side and prancing about in his city clothes, totally unsuitable for doing anything out in the countryside.

“Cooeee. You can put the spades down.  I’ve got it sorted.”

Paul rammed his spade into the ground and made his way to the track. A large man in mucky overalls emerged from the driver’s side.

“This is Dan and this beauty is his digger. He’ll get that muck shifted in a jiffy. While you help him get the digger unloaded I’ll put the kettle on.”

Dad was smiling like an idiot and pumping Dan’s hand. Paul gave Dan a manly nod of acknowledgement.

It wasn’t as easy as Hunter made it sound. There was a ditch that needed crossing and then the digger needed to get over the beams. Paul shifted some scaffold planks to make a bridge and a temporary ramp.

Even then the digger was no use. Dan would have no problem digging but the arm didn’t extend far enough to empty the filled bucket. Paul’s solution was to build a mud ramp. Dan used the digger to build the ramp on the inside. Paul used his old fashioned spade to build one on the outside without any help. Dad had gone to collect the teas and hadn’t returned. Probably laughing at one of Hunter’s anecdotes.

Once the ramps were made Dan shifted stuff at such a pace that by mid-morning he’d done as much as they’d managed in a week and by evening he’d dug down to the planned ground level. It felt like a massive achievement. From now on they’d be putting things in the barn rather than taking them out.

Paul walked up the slight rise behind the barn where he could watch the sun set through the open timber frame.

“Paul,” shouted Dad. “Hunter has brought some champagne. Come down and let’s have a toast.”

Of course it was Hunter who made the toast.

“To progress and the start of something new. God bless this barn and all who will live in her.”

Paul half expected Hunter to have construed a way to smash a champagne bottle against one of the barn’s timber posts. Hunter was obviously having similar thoughts.

“Mum, have you thought of a name yet”

Mum looked puzzled.

“Well you can’t call it The Barn when you live here. And it’s not going to have a number when it is the only house on the street. If you can call it a street? Which you most certainly can’t.”

Paul went to his supplies in the corner of the tent and pulled out a beer. He held the can up to Dan who nodded. Paul threw the can to Dan and got himself another.

“Thanks mate. I’m not one for the fancy stuff.”

“Dan don’t drink too much. Remember you’re driving me home.”

“We better get the digger loaded while it is still light,” said Paul.

Paul guided Dan over the temporary bridge and together they got the digger safely installed on the trailer. Then the two of them paused and looked back at the skeleton that would one day become a home.

“I hope he gets to see it finished.”

“He should do. For a sixty year-old he’s as fit as a fiddle.”

“I meant Hunter.”

Paul laughed, “He’s half dad’s age. Of course he will.”

“Yeah. It’s good to stay positive.”

“What do you mean?”

Dan assumed Paul knew all about Hunter’s illness. Paul couldn’t believe that Hunter hadn’t told him. He wanted to confront him but it didn’t seem appropriate with mum and dad hovering around. He wasn’t sure if they knew.

He was back at the barn the next morning. It was going to be a busy week. Scott had taken a week off work and decided to camp on site. He’d bought his own tent which he set up next to the kitchen one. Paul’s dedication didn’t go that far but he’d put some clients off so that he could spend more time building.

Most of the morning was sorting and cleaning beams. Scott did the heavy lifting, Paul the cleaning and dad applied the preserver and woodworm treatment. They made a good team but Paul was waiting for a chance to talk to Scott without dad overhearing.

It was late morning before he was got his opportunity. Dad called a tea break. Paul suggested that he and Scott check the wood pile to see how many beams were left.

“Do you know about Hunter?”

Scott shrugged in response, “What about him?”

“His illness?”

 Scott looked down and didn’t reply.

“You did, didn’t you? What about mum and dad? Do they know?”

“Course they do. Why do you think they treat him like they do?”

“But they’ve always treated him like that.”

“God Paul, sometimes you’re so dense it’s hard to believe.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s been ill for years. This is just a relapse.”

“But… but… how come he didn’t tell me.”

“You’ll have to ask Hunter that.”

“But why didn’t you tell me, if you’ve known so long.”

Scott held up his hands as though surrendering, “It wasn’t my place to tell.”

“But everyone knows. Even the digger driver knew. It was embarrassing. He assumed I’d know. I should have been told.”

“Look Paul. I’m not inside Hunter’s head but it’s not like you two are best buddies. Think about it. Would you tell him if it was you? And anyway, don’t you think you should have noticed without being told. Everyone else did.”

Scott walked away. Dad was waving to tell them the tea was ready. Paul walked in the opposite direction.

Mum came to join him. She didn’t say anything. She sat next to him and passed him a cup of hot chocolate and a couple of custard creams. Then she slipped her arm over his shoulder and held him.

He snivelled into her cardigan. She pulled out a tissue and passed it to him.

“I think I’ll spend a lot of time up here. It the perfect view.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

She patted his shoulder and gave him a squeeze.

“Well now you do.”

“I’m so, so sorry. I’ll be nice to him.”

“Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare treat him like an invalid. You two have always been fighting and arguing and trying to do better than each other. He can’t lose that. I think it’s what keeps him going.”

“But I’ve got to do something.”

“Yes. But not too much. You hear me?”

“Yes mum.”

“Come on. Let’s get back. I think your dad’s missing your help.”

Dad and Scott were still on their tea break. Mum and Paul joined them in the kitchen tent.

“Mum, Dad,” said Paul. “I’ve got an idea about the name. I think you should call it Hunter’s Lodge.”

Mum, Dad and Scott all nodded. Paul raised his tea cup and announced a toast.

“Hunter’s Lodge.”

The tent flap opened and Hunter’s head poked through wearing a beret. Paul realised he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen Hunter without a hat and he had no hair on the back or sides. Paul had always assumed it was a fashion choice.

“Well?” said Hunter. “What’s all this I’m hearing?”

Mum looked at Dad, who looked at Paul.

“I figured that you’ve done such a good job of convincing mum and dad that this barn would never get done without your help that we may as well name it after you. Call it a pre-emptive strike. Anyway, they rejected Paul’s palace and Scott’s shack. Now back to work.”

Paul threw a brush to Hunter, who caught it. While he was distracted Paul grabbed him in a head lock, removed his beret and rubbed knuckles over Hunter’s bare head.

 “And don’t think you can get out of it because you’re ill, you knuckle head.”

 For a moment Hunter was too surprised to reply.

“Right,” said Hunter. “You scrape and I’ll brush and we’ll soon see who’s the knuckle head.”

Hunter stepped out of the tent.

“Paul,” whispered mum. “Don’t let him overdo it.”

“Don’t worry mum. I can feel my shoulder playing up. I don’t think I’ll last long.”

Mum smiled and mouthed her thanks. Scott gave Paul a thumbs up. Dad almost pushed him out of the tent.

“Come on boys, this barn won’t build itself.”

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