Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Fence

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Fence

Article excerpt

I WILL TELL YOU THIS: I never saw anybody work the ladies like Conrad. You wouldn't even think it if you saw him. He's not a looker, for sure. He's like a telephone pole in the summer. One of those misshaped ones that have roasted in the sun for years and now there's a curve to it. I'm talking about posture here. I'm talking about a Hawaiian-shirt-wearing, thick-accent-talking Oriental. Not Bruce Lee. Not even Charlie Chang or Mister Miyagi. I don't actually know where Conrad's from because he doesn't let on to stuff like that. It's part of his mystique. His aura.

I own a hardware store--Hammer Right--and Conrad lives there. It's peculiar, I know, but the truth is he had no place to go and I needed someone to maintain order. The shop's nothing grand. I keep irregular hours because sometimes I'm out building porches and gazebos and fences. There's a lot of fence building that needs to be done here. Seems like I'm putting up a new fence every week. If there's one gift I possess, it's the ability to make things right again. If it has an engine, I will make it purr. If it's broken, I will make it new. Tell me to fix something in my own life, however, then I'm lost as a pup. Seems I've been lost for a while now.

My wife Trisha says I'm doing good taking in Conrad. She says I'm being hospitable. Says I'm showing Conrad what a real American is, not some bully causing trouble in other countries. She's smitten with him. Don't think I didn't notice the first time I brought Conrad home for dinner and Trisha just about fainted. Don't think I didn't notice how Trish leaned in and settled her chin on the flat of her palm and smiled and listened to Conrad's crazy stories about his travels all over the world, laughing and playfully batting at his arm. I know my wife. It comes with the fifteen years we've been married, and I almost forgot that she could flirt like that--those big eyes and those fluttering lashes, they about drove me loopy when we were in school. And here was her youth again, sitting close to Conrad on the couch, legs crossed but her ankles bare, asking if he needed more tea, needed more anything. I didn't mind--not too much--because I hadn't been witness to that side of Trisha for a while now. Somewhere along the way, we kind of settled into the roles of ourselves and forgot what made us matter to each other in the first place. But here was this Oriental, charming the skirt off my wife, and suddenly I was that boy again, the one who got proprietary over his love, and so I went over and draped my arm around my wife, clear in front of this man I'd known for no more than a week, and said I love you, Sugar Dumpling, a nickname I hadn't used since those younger days, and Trisha leaned into me and kissed the tip of my nose and whispered, my Big Bear, like she used to those fall nights under the stars when the corn had been long harvested and we lay in the fields, a blanket around us, tracing constellation after constellation.

More than anything, this is why I keep Conrad. He reminds me of the man I used to be, the man I'm still capable of being.

After work today, Conrad and I head to McMillan's and have a drink before going our separate ways. McMillan's is the only bar in the county, and like the rest of this place, it isn't much to look at--wood panel walls, broken neon beer signs, and a couple of deer heads. Still, it serves its purpose and the beer is cold. Everyone in the county gathers at McMillan's, especially the ladies. McMillan's motto: Every night is ladies night.

Now I know my type. They are the women with a little more meat on the bones, not necessarily a plumper, as some of the boys say here. But I like heftier women, like Trisha and her thighs. In fact, it wasn't those eyes I fell for first; it was how she was able to heft up a heavy load of costumes from the school play and store them in the school attic, the way her large arms toted that weight and how those muscular legs pushed her up the stairs. …

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