Joy hefted her father’s axe, swung it in a wide arc over her shoulder and buried it in the maple log. The papery fibers creaked and took the axe in almost completely.
She tapped the head with a ballpeen hammer, and the log fell apart.
“C’mon now,” her father said. “You shouldn’t need a crutch. Make the first swing count.”
Joy bent to pick up another log and her father cuffed her on the back of the head. She bit her lower lip, eyes watering, and put the log on the stump. Her fingers were numb from the cold.
“Make the first swing count, dammit,” he said. “Unless you want us to freeze to death this winter.”
Joy wrapped her numb fingers around the axe handle, pulled it behind her shoulder and struck.
Her father yelped, and the log fell apart.
“There we go!” he said. “One fell swoop. Keep her shoulders firm but your arms loose. That’s my girl.”
Her father took a rag out of his pocket and put it to his face. The stink of starter fluid made Joy’s nose tingle. Her father took two deep breaths and put the rag away.
“All right,” he said. “Couple hundred more swings like that and you can call it a day. Want a puff off the rag?”
Joy shook her head.
“You’ll be fine out here,” said her father. “You’re too far north for them to bother you. And if any of them do make it this far up, you have the Mossberg.
Use the MREs to get through the winter, and then put in a garden in the spring. The lake’s only a few hundred yards away, so water will never be an issue. You can fish, and I left you my traps.”
Joy’s knew there were tears running down her face, but she couldn’t feel them on her numb cheeks.
“Hey now – this has to be done. I got tagged when we went through Chicago. I can already feel the change coming. Let’s get this done before you get too tired.
You still have a lot of chopping to do.”
Joy’s father again produced the rag. He took four or five ragged breaths, knelt in the mud, and laid his head on the stump.
“I love you,” he said. “Please. Make the first swing count.”
Joy picked up the axe and swallowed the hard ball of snot building in her throat. She pulled the axe to her shoulder.
“That’s my girl,” her father said.