Mr. Baxter had no choice but to cut the young trees down on the hill at the back of his garden. It was an idea his wife had been suggesting for the last few weeks, but Baxter had been trying to find another solution instead. This morning time had run out though and as his wife had left to drop the children off at school then go to her part time job, she had reminded him about their lack of fire wood again.

Out of options and armed with a small axe plus a pair of gardening gloves, for that was all he had, Baxter stepped out of the back door and avoiding the chicken coop, which give shelter to the three remaining chickens, strolled across his ragged looking lawn. The grass was littered with children’s toys of no real age or gender and many of the toys were broken and weather battered.  His back garden ran straight for twenty paces, then ended under a big oak tree with a crudely made wooden plank and chicken wire fence just before it.

Mr. Baxter struggled to climb over the boundary marker he had made with his own hands and cut off pieces from the chicken coop years ago. As he came to stand on the other side, he surveyed the quickly sloping hill and the row of houses that lay at the bottom. He couldn’t see very much through the wild tangle of bare tree and bush branches. However, he did spot a large and mean looking German Shepherd dog wondering around the neatly trimmed lawn of the garden to the left of him.

Hoping that the dog didn’t spot him and thus draw any human attention upon himself, Baxter selected the nearest young spruce, which for all he knew about trees could have been an endangered native species, and started to swing his axe at the trunk. Luckily, his swing was good, his axe blade sharp and the trunk thin, so after a few moments the tree fell. Smiling to himself, he rested the axe against a fence plank and dragged the tree up alongside it.

Sweat popped on his brow and caused his hands to go slick in the gloves. The tree became snagged on the branches of its companions and Baxter had to put all his energy into shifting it. With a final heave, he threw the small tree over the fence and into his back garden. He paused to catch his breath, for he was very over weight and had a back problem. Wiping his face and forehead, he selected another young tree and attacked it with the axe.

For the rest of the morning he carried on in the same vein, until his wife came home at lunch time and she came out to him with a cup of tea and half a fish paste sandwich. Handing him the cup and plate, she glanced at his hard work and nodded her head.

‘I fear it won’t last us though,’ she said quietly.

‘My benefit payment comes in on Thursday. I’ll try and get some more logs and coal then,’ he answered through a mouthful of sandwich, ‘this’ll be good for kindling though, so I won’t buy any of that.’

‘I’ll go down to the job centre tomorrow and see what else we can claim or if there’s any more jobs I can apply for,’ Mrs Baxter responded with sadness in her voice.

Baxter nodded, feeling he couldn’t say any more about their unfortunate situation.

‘Shall I help?’ his wife asked instead.

‘If you want too. I think I left the saw on the kitchen table.’

‘I noticed you had,’ she replied and left.

He finished off his sandwich and drank his warm tea in a few gulps, before turning back to the tree he had been cutting down. Leaving his things to the side he begin again and had chopped through the trunk just as wife returned. She helped him heave it up into the garden then began to saw the branches and trunk up. Baxter left her to it and moved towards another tree. He left his eyes drifted down the hill and saw that the German Shepherd was now in the garden below him. The dog was right up against the fence and sniffing the air madly.

From where he was, Baxter could see that the fence looked a lot stronger than his as it was made from concrete pillars and had two layers of thick wire in-between. Still though, he hoped there were no gaps that the dog could get through. Getting his footing next to another young tree, he swung low at the truck. The sound of metal striking wood drew the dog’s attention and this time, aware that something was going on above him, the dog started barking.

Baxter paused and looked nervously down the hill. The dog was jumping up against the fence now and barking urgently. Baxter’s eyes flicked towards the house, but he couldn’t see much further into the garden, let alone a back door. He glanced up at his wife, but couldn’t see her, only his fence. Gritting his teeth, he took a few swift swings at the tree and cut it down.

A yelling voice cut through the dog’s barking and the fading sounds of the tree crashing down. Baxter stopped and ducked down to hide as best he could. He heard the sound of the saw stopping and guessed his wife too had paused. The voice was yelling the dog’s name, though he couldn’t be hundred percent sure what it was, maybe Dante? Danta? Danti?

The dog stopped barking and the owner’s voice – a young man- questioned what had started it. Of course the dog didn’t answer and the man made his own conclusion that it was properly just a large bird or cat.

Holding his breath, Baxter slowly peered out of the branches and down into the garden once more. The dog and man had gone. Standing up, he grabbed the tree and hauled it up to his fence where his wife stood waiting. Together, they pulled the tree into their garden and left it beside the others.

‘That was close,’ Baxter muttered.

His wife glared at him, ‘what does it matter?’ she shot back.

Startled, he stared at her, his hand lose on the axe.

‘Do you think he would have even cared or asked? And if he had done, you could have said you were doing some winter pruning and to mind his own bloody business!’ She half shouted.

‘Calm down, it’s alright,’ he said gently.

He let the axe fall to the floor and held his wife tightly. He kissed her head and rubbed her shoulders. Slowly, she uncoiled and let her body lean against his. He heard her sigh and wondered if she was going to cry.

‘We’ll get through this,’ he said softly, ‘It’s only another month or so. It’ll be fine.’

‘I know,’ she sniffed.

‘Hey, there’s still time to sell the children,’ he joked and laughed.

She smiled, laughing lightly and patting his shoulder, ‘I don’t think we’d get much for them,’ she joined in with the joke.

Baxter hugged her tightly, ‘then we’ll just carry on. Now let’s get this wood sorted and inside before it starts to get dark and the children come home.’

His wife nodded and together they want back to work.