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.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Changing Planes

When you have to change planes at 2 a.m. in Montreal, there’s a shop where you can buy Néstle’s Crunch bars and cans of Coca-Cola with the labels all in French. You want to buy Néstle’s Crunch bars and cans of Coca-Cola, but you can’t because they cost Canadian dollars, and all you have are Israeli shekels, British pounds, Dutch guilders, and also American dollars. You can’t get Canadian dollars, because it’s 2 a.m. and all the currency exchanges are closed. You don’t want Canadian dollars; you want to get back to the States. You want your eight years of junior high-high school-college French to hold a lens up to the signs so your eyes can untangle the words you ought to understand, the words that tell you how to find your airplane. You want to see the long lines at border control in O’hare and realize that there is no line before the booth marked “U.S. Passports Only.” You want to see a regular American guy look at you only once before stamping your passport and saying, “Welcome home.” You don’t want to cry with relief when he says this, but you will.