~ Brindley Hallam Dennis
(This story is the first prize winner in the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition)
Sometimes, he said, I think this damned thing has a mind of its own.
I’d followed him down to the boathouse.
I’ve just got this to put away, he said, and then I’ll make a cuppa. He lifted the chain saw. It should have had a plastic sleeve for the chain, but that was missing. I know that boat, and felt the shiver you get when someone steps on your grave. The boat is under water now, but he kept his tools in the boathouse, as if it were a shed. The plastic safety sleeve was lying on the decking near the boathouse door.
Must have left it, he said.
Easy done, I thought, and he glanced in my direction.
That was when he reached down for the sleeve and let the chain saw swing against his leg. That was when he said that he thought it must have a mind of its own. The chain was still, and the engine turned off, but the saw blade snagged against his trouser leg and pulled away a long, dark red thread.
Damn! He said.
Chain saws make me nervous. It’s the way they bounce up off the logs, or jam unexpectedly in the cut, or swing up further than you expect. Silly, really, considering.
The next time I visited he was in the orchard, slicing up logs. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to shift one of those logs. Far beyond me. He had the logs on the grass, steadying them with his foot so close to the moving chain. Sprays of soil shot up among the wood chips when he’d cut through to the ground. That’s bad for the chain, I knew.
Then he’d toe the cut piece away and move the cutting chain a few inches along the log. You only need to move such a small distance and you can be through boot, sock, flesh and even bone before you can yelp, let alone have the presence of mind to push the safety bar forward and disconnect the chain.
I stood beside him and watched as he worked. He kept it sharp. You could tell. Torrents of wood chips spew out when it’s sharp. If it comes out like sawdust, you’ve let it get blunt. It still cuts, of course. He’d always been good at things like that; keeping things sharp. Keeping them neat; in their place, under control.
He pushed the safety bar forward and the chain fell still. Hardly any effort there. He set the chain saw down and it idled contentedly.
That’ll do for now, he said. Still thinking aloud, I noticed.
I wondered how easily the safety bar would pull back to engage the chain again and bent to get a closer look. He jumped, as if I’d made a noise, or there had been a whisper in the air. He looked around and shivered.
Funny, he said aloud to the empty orchard.
Brindley Hallam Dennis lives on the edge of England, where he write short stories. Writing as Mike Smith he has published, plays, poetry and essays (mostly on the short story form). He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com