All that morning I played the Tin Woodsman. But the day was not wonderful and this was no Land of Oz. In the audience of strangers, I could only make out the space where my father should have been, and a deep sadness came over me. It was an emotion the Tin Woodsman himself was incapable of feeling; heartless as he was. That afternoon I had stolen away from school and by searching for him in the places I knew well, I found my father at last. My brother was there too. They were digging foundations.
Rain had begun to fall and cracked violently like broken eggs upon the wet sand, cement and gravel of the building site. I shouted out so that he would hear me above the tumult, ‘Where were y’, Dad?’ I was not crying then, but to stop myself a part of me needed to hate him. Another part of me wanted to pick up a spade and get to work with him. The other workmen crouched nearby under the plastic canvas of the scaffold looking glum. They sniggered from behind their flasks when they saw me.
‘You should be at school,’ my father said. He did not shout, but his voice was clear enough to the trained ears of a son. In hearing his words my feet almost took flight automatically. Then I remembered the Cowardly Lion from my play and found the courage to stay; maybe because I needed an answer.
‘I asked you ages ago to come. You said you would.’
‘I said I might,’ my father returned, and dumped a spadeful of slop into the pile.
‘It’s not fair Dad, everyone else’s mum and dad came. They were all there except you. They made the effort—.’
My father took me by the wrist and led me across the sodden planks until we were under the great canvass of the scaffolding. He set me down while I made a great effort to brush the muck from my skin, letting him see that it was a piece of him I brushed off. He scratched his stubble for a time, dried his hands on a rag and began to roll himself a thin cigarette using the tobacco from his tin. I noticed that two of his fingers had plasters on, the fabric ones that do not come off very easily and leave your skin a sickly white when they eventually do. A couple of black nails peeped through the top. I shuddered with the damp and felt the water in my shoes. He looked me in the eyes and told me that he was sorry he hadn’t come to my play. He said they were laying people off. That he and my brother needed to work, to put food on the table.
‘You’ll understand one day,’ he said. ‘Now go back to school. I’ll see you at home.’ He made to leave.
‘I can help you,’ I said at once, and noticed then a silver smear across my hand. It was the face paint from the play. I had forgotten that I was still the Tin Woodsman and saw my father smile on either side of his cigarette. Then he lit it within a cave made with his big hand.
‘Dad!’ I let my eyes do most of the begging. I wasn’t scared of going back to school but would rather stay and do something for the family, since we needed the money so badly. Outside I saw my brother look up and across at us from his spade and scratch his eyebrow furiously.
‘I can be just as good as him, if that’s it.’
‘Sit down. That’s not it. Now you listen to me, listen. You’re not going to use these,’ he said, putting up his hands whilst leaving the cigarette in his mouth, ‘you’re going to use this’ he said, tapping my head. ‘You know why, don’t you? I don’t want this for you. I don’t want you working outside like me in the pissing rain. I don’t want you working with your hands and I don’t want you missing school. You’ll get a good job. Earn lots of money. Because you’re not like me or him. You’re my son, you’re smart.’ I nodded, felt as though I was smart simply because my father had said so. I felt guilty at having hated him and might have began to cry then because he avoided looking at me. After that he went back to digging foundations and I went back to school.
That afternoon I returned home the long way, thinking about all that my father had said. I resolved to go and wait with him to finish work and get a lift back to the house afterwards. When I arrived, I saw that he was stood inside the hole he’d been digging. The wind blew his short black hair all over the place. My brother was bent low in the trench with a trowel. Unseen, I decided to sit and watch them work. The sky had rinsed itself of the day’s rain, yet from the gathering stains it would need another rinsing. I saw that my brother was getting muscles like my father, which made me wonder as I tensed my arm when I would get mine. Or whether, now I had brains, if would miss out on muscles altogether.
My father had the trowel now. He scraped up some cement and in one or two flicks it was all transferred onto a waiting brick. The brick was then applied firmly to another brick in the not so tall wall. My brother had a go and all the cement dropped clumsily from the trowel and plopped onto the floor. He rubbed his eyebrow in frustration and I couldn’t help laughing at him. I was too far away for them to notice me. My father scooped up the fallen cement and gave the trowel back to my brother. The second time he did it properly and I decided to go home without them.
When my father came home his van bucked the broken curb, and the curb was always broken because he did so every day. I heard the engine gasp for breath and die into silence a second later. My father, the Bricklayer, shined in the terraced street, shining with the rain and the sweat, with muscles hardly contented to be the meat on the bone of this man. He stomped the floor on his approach to rid his boots of the hardened cement and tapped his spade lightly on the ground. He entered the house through the back door and wanted a wash and shave before we sat down for tea. This is where I found him at seven that evening. We always ate late. He was at the tiny sink in the outside toilet and through the corrugated plastic roof sheltering the yard I saw the sky as dark bubbles. He dabbed his face with a soapy brush then carved the razor through the stubble.
‘I want to get a good job dad.’
‘Good. Done your homework yet?’ He was always short with me after work.
‘Yes. Here.’ He bent back and looked at it for a few seconds, ‘Right. Ok.’
‘You don’t want to read it?’ I said, ‘I’d like to know what you think.’ I craved, perhaps for the first time my father’s insight; I was his smart son after all and we were in this together.
‘I think you misspelt different. How do you spell it?’
He shook his head and I felt foolish. I was annoyed that he should pick out such a trivial thing from my work. It was meant to impress him.
‘I’ll just change it.’ I said.
‘D-I-F-F-E-R-E-N-T’ he said, ‘there’s your word, you missed the E.’
I stomped straight up to my room. Who was he to play with me like this? He did not think I was smart and probably wanted nothing more than for me to fail. I had asked for his help and he’d thrown it in my face. As my mind boiled over with these thoughts I caught my brother leaving my room scratching his eyebrow. He smiled, pushed past me and went downstairs leaving me to wonder what evil he’d done. My room was lit only by the grey sky which threw patterned light from the net curtains here and there. The rest was shadows.
I looked about until I saw the thing under my pillow. There it was, peeping out, a dirty brick. How could my own brother do this? How could they do this? And all of a sudden I remembered his face earlier that day, the half smile and itchy face. So I sat down upon my bed, my fingers shaking. I reached out blindly towards the brick. My hands groped the sheets and the pillow all the time feeling for the thing that squatted there so unnatural in the dark. But when I touched it, I could feel that this was no brick; its brown leather was as warm as the room. My brother had left a book for me underneath my pillow. A simple note upon the top said:
This is to get you started. Read this and I’ll get you another.
We’re both very proud of you.
Love Dad and Daniel.
I could not bring myself to cry then, but realised something that they, perhaps, had already known. I realised that I was in this alone; that I was to build things which they could not. My father had picked out that trivial spelling mistake because he would not have understood the content of my homework. After all, he was the Tin Woodsman with the heart and I was now the Scarecrow with my brain. Then I knew looking at the book, that whatever I became and whatever happened, I was my father’s son and my brother’s only brother. My father was a Bricklayer, and I was a Bricklayer’s son.