Good Fences

Good Fences

It had been sixty-eight blissful days since the Martins had moved out, taking their obnoxious dog and their out-of-tune piano with them. They were the happiest days that Clive Eldard could remember since moving onto Stafford Lane. Now that this pod had been dumped just twenty yards from his living room window, he felt like he was under attack. It was not just a storage container; it was a landing craft.
When he purchased his modest little house, he had been glad to pay the extra to have the lot at the end of the lane, backed up to Tucker Creek with a nice view of a small thicket of oaks and manzanitas. He got used to spending most of his free time in the back parlor, or on the deck overlooking the creek. For the past sixty-eight days, however, he had been made aware of the wonders of total isolation, both sides of his home splendidly void of unwanted human activity. That was all coming to an end, he realized.
He looked at the pod, and the house behind it. What if the new neighbors were worse than the Millers? It was hard to imagine, but he supposed it was possible. They could have two dogs, and not just a golden retriever. They could have a chihuahua. And what if they played the trumpet instead of the piano? Or worse yet, the drums? He shuddered and closed the curtains, then retreated to the back porch.
The next day, the bang of a car door closing cut through the sounds of Rigoletto from his stereo. Pulling his front curtain aside and peeking through the corner of the window, he saw two young boys in jeans and dirty T-shirts standing by a pickup truck. They walked to the pod and opened it.
"Son of a bitch," Clive said to the empty room. "They have kids."
That had never occurred to him. The thought of hearing Jimmy Buffet music accompanied by the squawking of a parrot had kept him up all night, but he hadn't even dreamed there might be children. These were older, teenagers, but what if there were more?
"This can't be happening."
It wasn't until evening that the truck left. Clive was in a dark depression, sipping Chianti while he flipped through his television stations, unable to concentrate on anything but his impending home invasion. It was only when an episode of Stone House Revival came on that he was struck with inspiration. The host of the show went through a predictable list of renovations and remodels to preserve the house's old-world feel and spruce it up with modern touches, but when he suggested they use some of the stone siding to make a short wall in front of the house, Clive knew he had his answer.
"Of course," he said. "It's so simple. I'll build a wall."
It worked for Hadrian. Hell, it worked for China. Maybe if they had a wall at Normandy instead of just a beach, things would have been different for the Axis. No matter. This wasn't time for revisionist history. It was time to get to work.
The next few days were a blur. The kids came twice more, and Clive noticed that the one that drove the pickup had a light beard. He didn't stay to watch them work, opting instead to rush to the local hardware store.
The supplies had to be delivered, his sky-blue Fiat too small to fit them into. The planks were piled on his lawn next to his tulips, and some of them fell over, flattening a couple.
"Casualty of war," Clive said, and got to work.
The posts were tricky. He had to make sure his holes were lined up straight, and pouring the cement by himself while keeping them upright was a chore. One of the kids even offered to help.
"Hey pal, you need a hand with that?" The voice was deeper than Clive expected, and he started to wonder just how old these boys were.
"No thank you. I'm just fine." And I’m not your pal.
The crossbeams were the worst. He knew they weren't straight when he finished drilling them into the posts, but he continued anyway. When the planks started to go up, he made sure not to leave any gaps between them.
His fence was almost done the day the pod disappeared. He had been down at the hardware store buying more screws when they came to take it. He knew he didn't have long before the new family showed up in earnest.
It wasn't until the fence was finished that he realized he had forgotten to put in a gate. That was all right. He always left through the side door. He stepped back to admire the eight-foot barrier and sighed.
"It's beautiful."
His excitement was cut short by the sound of an engine, but not the big motor of the pickup the boys drove. He stood up on the bottom rail and hauled himself up on the fence to get a look. A Fiat just like his, only green, had pulled into the driveway and a little brown-haired woman in glasses was getting out. She looked left, then right, then dashed for the front door. She turned the key in the lock and disappeared inside.
"The kids will probably be back tonight," Clive said, then lowered himself to his lawn.
The next few days, he kept an eye on the house across the street. The woman came and went once or twice a day, always returning after an hour or so, and always with a brown bag in hand. From his spot on the rail, looking over the fence, he spied her in her yard digging away with a spade, working at a blistering pace, planting seeds all along the house and the edges of the lawn.
One day, Clive was on the back patio and he heard music. He cringed, expecting rap music or even polka, but the familiar sounds of La Bohème tickled at him and he smiled.
In a few weeks, he saw seedlings sprouting from the holes around the yard. They were too small yet for any blooms, but he recognized them as tulips at first sight.
He watched the mousy woman, reading on her porch or tending to her flowers. The kids never returned, and as far as he could tell, she had no dogs. She loved Italian opera, and she took a glass of red wine while she listened. He sat by the fence and listened along, a glass of chianti in his hand.
When the tulips started to bloom, she spent a good portion of the afternoon with them, trimming and humming along with Verdi or Puccini, whoever she chose that day. Clive sat alone in the front yard, his mood darkening. He started to resent his wall.
It was over a month since she'd moved in, and still there were no children, no dogs, and no visitors. Clive was tempted to pull down a plank or two, but he decided that might be too hasty. Instead, he went to the hardware store.
He returned home with his prize, a miniature hand-operated drill that looked like a fishing reel. Picking the spots in the fence was tricky. He chose one that would be shaded by the old cedar tree, and another where he could sit in the afternoon sunshine. Then he marked an X with his Sharpie at eye level and began to drill.


Daniel Link
Daniel Link lives in Northern California where he writes flash fiction, short stories, and novels. He is the assistant editor of the Gold Man Review, and his work has appeared in the Penmen Review, the Copperfield Review, and RavensPerch.


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