The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 15, No. 4

I’ll Buy You a Shovel

by Jon McGregor

We'd been sat there all evening listening to the music and the laughter come over across the fields and we'd run out of drink about when the sun went down. Ray kept looking over in the direction of the Stewart place and I knew what he was thinking but I wasn't about to say it for him. The pallet wood was cracking and spitting in the fire and we were waving off the midges and all these shrieks of laughter kept coming across the fields.
     Fuck it, he said in the end. Let's go, he said.
     I went off and got the car started.
     Just let me do the talking, he said.

We knew about the setup they had over there. We'd been watching them bring it in all week. The marquee and the catering tent and the bar. The flowers, balloons, drapes, linens, and fancy chairs. The roads were hardly big enough for some of the stuff they'd been bringing in. On Thursday a furniture lorry had come past and stopped at the end of the road by the dead-end sign. We sat outside the caravan and watched. Weren't enough room to turn a lorry round. The reversing alarm kept going on and off and the lorry kept edging backward and forward, trying to keep out of the ditch. Jackie came down from her house to watch. It was a nice day. Hot, but with a breeze coming in off the sea. I offered her my seat but she said not to bother. She asked how the ditch was going. Ray told her the ditch was going fine and did she want a smoke. Jackie looked up toward the hay meadow at the top end of the site and round at the fishing lake and just sort of didn't say anything. She didn't need to. We'd been there the best part of a month and we'd dug about six foot short of fuck-all. Ray did one of his sighs and stood up and told her again it was going fine. He said we were just waiting to get some advice on the soil hydrology and then we'd crack on. She looked at him. He looked at her right back. The reversing alarm from the furniture lorry sounded out. A Tornado went over and dropped a bomb on the Sands and vanished over the horizon in silence.
     Jackie started speaking just as the noise of it caught up so neither of us heard a word she said. She turned and walked back to her house on the other side of the lake and looked up at the hay meadow again on her way. Waddled is more the word. She holds her weight like that. Ungainly is another word. We watched her go. I asked Ray what was he talking about soil hydrology and he said to keep out of it. He went back in the caravan and shut the door and turned the radio on in there. The furniture lorry finally got turned round and came back along the road and stopped. The driver called down to ask if I knew where the Stewart place was and I pointed him back to the end of the road and told him it was down that way. Weren't a dead end like the sign said, I told him, you can go through the farmyard and out the other side and the Stewart place is the second on the left. The look on his face. I went off and mucked about with stakes and string until I didn't think Jackie was looking out her window across the lake anymore. Pond is more the word, with the size of it. But they're not going to get any customers for a fishing pond, so they're calling it a lake. Another Tornado went over and dropped a bomb on the Sands. The stakes and the string made a pretty nice line coming down from the hay meadow to the edge of the lake. Made it look like the job was near enough halfway done.

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