Friday, September 25, 2009

Oleander Fence

Serle liked to joke about the boy scouts who cut their weenie-roasting switches from the wrong tree, and died. “Where’s your god now?” he would say to Terry, laughing. Her husband was not a cruel man, but rather a wonderful man with a cruel sense of humor.

They seemed artificial to her, at least here in the desert, those towering, leafy predators, dissembling with profuse flowers in red, pink, and white. She watched the workers, her upper lip trembling, as Mr. Next-Door directed the ballet of flora.

“Nothing personal,” Mr. Next-Door called across the property line. “Good fences make good neighbors, right? I figure you could use the privacy as much as we can.” And up it went, a barrier of poison leaves and lying blossoms. And you could still see through anyway. Mr. Next-Door was a retired man, in his seventies, who puttered in the garden in his boxer shorts, exposing things Terry did not want to see. Terry wouldn’t even get the mail in flannel pajamas with a belted robe on top.

The oleander fence inspired Serle to take on his own home improvement project. He built a koi pond. To Terry, the little orange koi seemed as artificial as the oleander, and they started dying right away. Serle netted them out and threw them into the alley, one by one. Why did the fish cross the road, Terry thought. When they’d all crossed over, he drained the pond, threw the lining into the alley, and declared the resulting hole a fire pit. “The smoke will keep the mosquitoes away, so we can sit outside at night,” he promised. He roasted hot dogs in it, and taught himself to barbecue over the open fire, steak and fish. Terry didn’t eat red meat.

“I roasted you a marshmallow,” Serle said, holding out a whippy stick with a brown confection melting off the end.

“Are you trying to kill me?” Terry asked, afraid. Serle just laughed.

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