The World’s Heaviest Wheelbarrow
by R J Dent
My father’s wheelbarrow was in a bad way.
The wheel was wonky, there were holes in the barrow, the handgrips were missing and the legs were rusty and thin. It needed replacing.
– We need a new wheelbarrow, my father said.
The next evening, several items appeared in the garden. There was a large car engine casing, several pieces of aluminium tubing, two small stone mill wheels and four short pieces of heavy duty angle-iron.
My father was working with them in the garden.
– What I really need is a work-bench, he said, as he drilled several holes through the side edge of the engine casing. He then drilled two holes in each of the lengths of aluminium tubing.
– What are you making, dad?
– Something useful, he said.
I knew he wouldn’t say any more, so I left him to it, and went and found my brother.
– What’s he making?
– I couldn’t tell. There’s a whole range of bits. It’ll be heavy, whatever it is because it’s made out of an engine casing, some tubular aluminium and some angle iron.
– Anything else?
– Oh, yes; two small mill wheels.
We went out to look at our father’s handiwork while it was still light.
He’d been busy. The tubular pieces of aluminium, the short pieces of angle-iron and the stone mill wheels were all bolted to the engine casing. The engine casing was upside down, resting on the mill wheels and a couple of bits of angle iron. Two tubular lengths of aluminium were bolted along the side edges of the casing.
– What is it? my brother asked.
– What does it look like? my father responded testily.
– An engine casing with some metal pieces bolted to it.
– What else?
– Yes it does. You’re not looking properly.
My brother went into the house and came back a few minutes later carrying a huge magnifying glass. He looked at the engine casing carefully. Then he looked at our father.
– It’s definitely an engine casing. Nothing else.
– It’s something else now.
– Try and work it out.
– An engine casing?
– A bathtub for a midget?
– A cast iron mixing bowl?
– A giant ink well?
– A metal aquarium?
– No. And now you’re being daft.
– How does you telling me an engine casing is not an engine casing make me daft?
– You can see it’s not an engine casing any more.
– Can’t you just tell me what it is? my brother asked. I really don’t know.
– It’s quite obvious. You’ll kick yourself once I tell you.
– I’ll take the risk.
– Obviously it’s a wheelbarrow.
– Obviously, said my brother, gently using his right foot to kick his left ankle.
– What are you–
– You almost asked me what I was doing, didn’t you?
– I know very well what you were doing, mister comedian.
– Well, at least we know what it is. But what’s it for?
– It’s for using.
– But how is anyone going to use it?
– As you’d usually use it.
– Could you demonstrate, please?
My father shovelled some pink gravel into the ‘wheelbarrow’ and then gripped the handles. With immense effort, he made it move forward slowly. The stone wheels rumbled over the ground. Then it slowed.
My father stopped wheeling the contraption and pretended he was resting, but I could see that its wheels had sunk into the ground.
– It looks rather heavy.
– It’s not that heavy.
My brother took hold of one handle. He looked at me and I grabbed the other one.
– On three, my brother said. One, two, three…
We heaved. We also haaved, hiaved, hoaved and huaved, but it made no difference; we couldn’t move the thing an inch.
– It’s the world’s heaviest wheelbarrow, my brother said.
– Rubbish, my father said. It’s a man’s wheelbarrow. You’re too young to use it at the moment.
– If I start training now, I’ll be nearly ready in fifty years’ time.
Our father walked away and that comment was the last thing said regarding the world’s heaviest wheelbarrow.
The following day, the so-called wheelbarrow was at the bottom of the garden with the handles removed. It was full of pansies, violets and nasturtiums.
It wasn’t a wheelbarrow after all; it was a giant plant pot.
It didn’t take long for my father to realise that the engine casing was totally waterproof. Whenever he watered the plants in it, the water stayed in the soil. Before long, the plant all drowned.
– I need to drill some holes in that planter, he said one day. That’ll give the plants the drainage they need.
I looked at the limp drowned plants swimming in liquid soil and thought they were well beyond needing drainage.
My father went to fetch his drill. He returned a few minutes later without it.
– Change of plan, he said. Your mother wants a pond. Go and get your brother.
My father pushed the engine casing over and sodden soil poured out onto the garden.
– Full of nutrients, that is, he said, as I went to find my brother. The lilacs will love it.
And that was how we (my brother and I) found ourselves furnished with spades and press-ganged into digging a large hole in a seldom-used part of the garden.
– I don’t want a pond, my brother protested, so why am I being forced to dig a giant hole for it?
– You don’t have to, my father said. But if you decide to quit, make sure you go and tell your mother you can’t be bothered to help give her the pond she’s always dreamed of.
My brother continued digging.
Two hours later, my father decided that the hole was deep enough, wide enough, and oval enough.
My brother and I climbed out before our father could change his mind.
– Where’s the body? my brother asked.
My father was busy wrestling the engine casing onto a flat board with wheels. Once it was in position, my father dragged the casing over to the hole.
– Now we just need to lower it into the hole and Bob’s your uncle, our father said.
It took another hour.
Once it was done, my brother and I left our father tidying up, rearranging shrubs and sorting out paving slabs.
We returned a few hours later to find the pond full of crystal clear water, a paved path around it, a bench and a sundial near it, some decorative and fragrant shrubs screening it, and our father staring at it intently.
– It needs some fish and plants. And maybe…
And he was gone, another idea spurring him into instant action.
Within the hour, he’d returned, poured a small bag of brightly-coloured gravel into the pond, planted a water lily, and tipped a bag of goldfish into the water.
– That’s more like it, he said. It’s just not a pond without fish. Now, let’s show your mother.
She loved it.
3: Fish, Fish, Fish.
The pond had a constant stream of visitors.
Over the next few weeks, I saw a heron, a dog, a hedgehog, a cat, and a fox investigate it at different times. A pair of newts paid a visit and stayed. So did a large frog. The strangest visitor of all though was the child.
I got up one morning, looked out of my bedroom window and saw a child. She was a girl about five or six old and she had dirty blonde hair and was wearing dungarees. She had a butterfly net in her hands and was using it to hit the surface of the water in the pond. She was talking to herself.
– Fish, fish, fish.
By the time I’d got dressed and gone outside, my father was already there.
– Leave my fish alone, he said sharply.
The girl looked at him.
– My fish, she said.
My father shook his head.
– No, my fish.
I decided to see how this transpired, so I went and sat on the bench. The girl suddenly looked a bit apprehensive with two strangers in close proximity. After a minute of pondering, she turned her attention back to the pond and its contents.
– Fish, fish, fish.
– Where are you from? my father asked.
– Where you from, the girl mimicked.
– What’s your name? my father tried.
– Whass your name? the girl repeated.
– Who are you?
– Oo are you?
My father sighed.
The girl laughed and looked at me.
– Have you got an older sister? I asked.
– Is that really helping? my father asked me.
I shrugged. It was helping me.
The girl started to hit the surface of the pond with her net.
– Stop that! my father snapped.
The girl started crying.
My brother joined us by the pond.
– Who’s the dictyulci?
– The what?
– The net-fisher. The micro-adult. The mini-person.
– Dunno. She was here when I got up.
– Why’s she crying?
– Dad shouted at her.
– That’d make me cry. So what’s the plan?
– I just want her gone, that’s all, my father said.
My brother nodded. He wandered over to the crying girl and whispered something in her ear.
The girl stopped crying and looked at my brother carefully. He nodded. She looked at the pond, then back at my brother.
He nodded again and pointed towards the gate.
– Go home.
The girl took one more look at the pond and then started running towards the gate.
– What did you say to her?
My brother smiled an evil smile.
– I said that a monster with giant teeth lived in the pond. I told her it only ate little girls and it was very, very hungry, and it was about to leap out of the pond and eat her.
– You’ve probably traumatised her for life, my father said.
– I didn’t make her cry, though.
As usual, my father didn’t have a rejoinder for my brother’s comment.
– No need to be childish.
– Of course there is, my brother said, as he sat down on the bench and stared at the pond. Technically I’m a child, so obviously I should be childish. It’s almost an imperative. It’s a default position.
– Always a clever answer for everything, my father muttered.
My brother pretended not to hear. He just sat there gazing at the pond’s surface.
– Fish, fish, fish, he said softly.
The World’s Heaviest Wheelbarrow
by R J Dent
Copyright © R J Dent (2014)