The Fence Is Leaning by Ron Burch

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It sits at an angle, no longer plumb with the sky, at odds with our world. The fence seems sturdy, I went out and prodded it to make sure it’s safe. The squirrels scamper over it with aplomb, accustomed already to its slant.

My wife worries that it’s going to fall flat into our elderly neighbor’s yard, but I remind her that we’re only renters. We’ve already told the management company a couple times. I think it was their company who had the wooden fence built when they bought the house twenty-some years ago.

Our elderly neighbor hasn’t complained about it. She thanked me for three lemons I left on her doorstep. 

We have a nice back yard in the city. It’s small with a giant oak tree in one corner, a small, square patch of green lining the cemented section with the old wicker furniture. We have three bird feeders out so the morning songs are from yellow-bellied finches and dark-eyed juncos, cooing mourning doves and the hummingbirds’ endless chirps. 

In the morning, I find my wife in front of the window, coffee cup in hand, her head bent an angle. 

“What’s wrong?”

“I think it’s sagged a little more in her direction.”

I turn my head at the angle and move it from that angle to normal to angle. “I think you’re right.”

My wife calls National Management again. Two days later our management company sends out a representative to evaluate the fence. We safely open the side gate to let him in and walk down the clean pathway to the back yard. My wife’s wiry hand tightly grips my left wrist. The fence looks even worse. The rep takes pictures of it with his cellphone, standing on top of the wicker couch for a different angle. Then I take his picture with the slanted wall because he wants one. He gives a thumbs up. I hear him laugh when he sees it, slipping his phone into his pocket. We walk to the gate. 

“So what happens now?” I ask, opening it up for him but keeping my distance.

“Nothing,” he replies, walking out. “It looks fine.”

I point down the pathway. “Don’t you find the angle troubling? Especially if it falls into my neighbor’s yard? What if she calls the city?”

He signs a form and places it on the edge of our front planter box. Proof he was here. “Naw, it’s solid. I talked to the old lady beforehand. She’s fine with it. The city’s fine with it. But thanks for letting us know.” I close the gate and walk to the backyard. My wife listens to the singing birds. I hand her the form.

We both reflexively look at the wall. It appears more tilted. My wife sighs and walks back inside. 

The birds keep singing. I don’t know if it’s because they’re happy or hungry.

That night we eat dinner outside, rollups crammed with healthy things, watching the wall. It seems to have sunk even further, the top of the fence beginning to arc down toward her house. Luckily, the slanted section only lines the grassy area, and her house is safe. She has a small white dog who my wife fears might be innocently sleeping on the grass in her backyard when it finally falls.

“We have to do something,” she says, a sprig of arugula sprouting from the side of her mouth. 

I wipe sweat from my face. “Honey, according to our lease, we’re only allowed to do something with the management company’s approval.” She nods at me and looks to the fence.

The next morning I find her in a chair next to the window that overlooks the fence. She types on her laptop and sits there most of the day. 

“Something’s going to happen,” she whispers as the dark starts to invade our living room. I close the curtain and make dinner. Later that night, I wake up to go to the bathroom only to find my wife sitting in the chair again. “Let’s go to bed,” I say. She drinks her water, and we go back to bed.

In the morning, she’s again at the table. Her laptop closed. I know she has to log in remotely for work, but she never opens her laptop that day. That night she shrugs off dinner, staying at the table. At nine p.m. she makes a full pot of coffee.

“We can’t keep doing this,” I say, shutting off the coffeemaker. “It’s been a couple days.”

“It could hurt someone.” I understand her fear. Elderly neighbor, little dog, grandkids visiting. Bad things happen to innocent people, not that our management company cares. I hug her, not wanting her to worry, but it might be too late.

I call the management company again and express serious concern with the fence. The representative, a different one, listens and replies the issue’s already closed. In fact, it was closed before the phone call. Have a nice day. I slide the phone in my pocket and go outside to find my wife and deliver the news.

She’s outside in her pajamas. There’s a rope tied to the top of one of the leaning fence posts. She has the other end of it tied around her waist and pulls against the fence, the rope taut and stretched, tight around my wife’s waist. “Look it’s working!” she says as she gives it another pull. She gasps for breath, her face red, the veins engorged on her neck. “It’s working! It’s working!” She calls to me. I slide the phone in my pocket and pull with her, the weight heavier than I expected.

Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including South Dakota Review, Fiction International, Mississippi Review, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His new novel, JDP, comes out in 2021 from BlazeVOX books. He lives in Los Angeles.

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