Academic journal article African American Review

The Fence

Academic journal article African American Review

The Fence

Article excerpt

Again? Seems like we were just out there. To Deacon's house. Why do we have to go every year? Why do we have to go at all is what I want to know, all the way out in the Boondocks . . . to the big-deal sub-urbs. So he's got a house. Big deal. My mother says to watch my smart mouth. I'm not grown yet. Then she says, It wouldn't be like your father if we didn't have to go traipsing out to the Boondocks for no good reason on the hottest day of the decade.

Well, do we have to go straight from church in stupid dresses? Why can't we go home first? I say.

Ask your father, she says. But then I remember it's Sunday and you can't wear shorts on Sunday anyway.

Why can't we go tomorrow? I say.

Ask your father, says my mother. She don't care I guess since she wears stupid dresses every day of the week. So it's "jubilation day," because Deacon lives in a house in the sub-urbs and we live in a small flat in the city like everybody else we know. So we should be impressed by his success. I am not impressed by Deacon's house. But I still have to go.

Deacon is not really a deacon. We, I, call him that behind his back. His father is head of the Deacon's Board at church, but that's not like he was a king or anything. But the father seems like a very nice old man, especially when he reaches in his pocket and gives me a quarter, or sometimes just a nickel, but none of that rubbed off on Deacon. Sometimes, my mother says, quality skips a generation. And so, when we go to Deacon's house, my mother does not look like jubilation day. She looks like a pin cushion, steel pins ready to fly at a word.

The high-speed expressway that will take the city folk out to the Boondocks faster will be done in about three more years, people say. My mother gives them ten years, which is about when she will be ready to go to Deacon's house. But right now, we stop-and-go for it seems like hours. Before we're started good, I can feel the car-air shrinking and my stomach starts reaching for the back of my throat, and I don't know if I can make it all the way without throwing up.

I concentrate on not throwing up. Then I figure out how I will throw myself across the lap of my sister, Sharin, and hang my head out the window if I have to. I imagine the vomit hitting the wind and blowing back into my face and onto my clothes and onto both Sharin's and Karin's clothes and how they will be so mad and almost never forgive me. Thinking of this, I concentrate on not throwing up. I tell my father I am going to be sick, and ask him if he will stop the car please please please. He says, We're almost there. But we're not. We are not almost there. That's just what my father says instead of No. We're almost there, he singsongs, almost there. . . almost there . . . he will say almost there until we are there.

My stomach feels like the treeless dusty sunbaked streets of the Boondocks. The houses are not red or brown brick like ours. These houses look weightless. They are colors like green, pale blue, yellow. They look like Monopoly houses all in their rows of aqua and beige and pink trimmed in white with trees so weak they need two sticks with wires to hold them up, or down. They look like houses in books, flat, with no backside.

Especially his house. Deacon's.

See Deacon's house, sub-urban, see his vomit-green window shutters that don't shut or open, his initials in cursive metal on the front door screen, swinging open, see him step through the crack, a dark slant cut into sunlight. My head is tight, swirly, dusty. The earth turns slowly. If I stare and stare at his black shoes like ink wells, like small black puddles, I can make it stop. Make the world stop moving, make my ears stop ringing, make my gut let go the back of my throat.

When I look up there are two flamingos standing in the yard. They look as if they might highstep out of here except, like the trees, they are stuck to the spot. A thin rod penetrates their bellies. …

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