So Isaac and I are to dig in the backyard, go out twenty paces from the porch to Lady’s doghouse.
Father makes us banana pancakes first. He tells us about The Poor Law in 19th century Ireland, that many thought it against the natural order to simply feed the famished.
We have our little kid beach pails and plastic shovels. Father is, he says, a kind father. A modern father. “They toiled without tools.”
My brother and I slap on sunscreen. He wears his baseball cap and I have the old straw bonnet from the chest in the attic. Father presents it to me, his face very serious. “In Donegal in the winter of 1846, they were cold and half-clad.”
This is summer and we’re in Toronto. It’s hot.
I cut through the lawn with my pink shovel. Tug, tug. Rip, rip, rip up chunks of grass.
Isaac’s blue bucket is cracking under the weight of the heavy sod and so is he. “This is too hard, Eliza.” Wipes his eyes on his muddy T-shirt. “I can’t go on.”
I pat his bony shoulder and be the big sister and say, “We will. Just like the first Isaac and Eliza did.”
Arms aching, I carry my bucket and his. Isaac piles the stones we find in our path into a cairn.
Dig, dig, we dig our famine road under the swing set and a mean prickly shrub, stomping the dirt hard and padding it smooth with our bare feet.
At ten paces from the dog house—gasp, pant; oh God, we’re only halfway—Father appears on the porch waving his pancake spatula. He yells, “In this way, people were fed by work and not by charity. Remember it, children.”
Karen writes in Ontario. Her work is in or forthcoming in the voidspace, Brink, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Bullshit Lit, The Viridian Door, The Hoogley Review, Overheard, and elsewhere. She/her. @MeKawalker883