My husband Alan was broiling. Home for the month of August after teaching a summer course, he’d been watching our neighbors’ yard like he’d been paid to do it. For days, he gave me the play by play. “They’ve taken down the lilacs that ran here and there along our driveway.”
“I noticed that,” I said.
“I wonder what’s up.”
“Yvette mentioned they might be putting in a fence,” I told him.
“What kind of fence?”
“She didn’t say.”
When the truck came from the fencing company and three young men smoking cigarettes and scratching tattoos unloaded the materials, Alan got even hotter.
“What am I seeing here? Is that vinyl?”
When the same young men returned to start the work, they were greeted by Justin, Yvette and Lou Henderson’s college-age son. Apparently he was house-sitting while his parents and much younger siblings vacationed somewhere comfortably beyond the scrutiny of my husband.
Justin seemed to know one of the crew because when they met, they performed a complicated handshake that made them smile. I thought that was kind of cute. Soon after, they started digging post holes and blasting their Green Day and Blink with the numbers, which I know from our own kids.
“Oh we can do better than that,” Alan said.
I kept an eye on him as he dragged two speaker columns into the backyard, fixed himself a gin and tonic, lit a cigar, lay back on the hammock under the mimosa and signaled me that he was calling on his cell phone.
“Yes,” I answered. “Who is this?”
“It’s the culture vulture,” he said. “What are you wearing?”
I climbed up on a chair in the dining room, waving to him from the window where I had watched his activities. I didn’t know where I was with his protest. Up till then, he hadn’t let his displeasure show in any public way.
But Alan was disturbed that Lou Henderson would chose a vinyl fence and not stay around to see it go up, not that he owed Alan any kind of explanation.
I stood on the chair and waved to him through the window screen. The heat had obliged me to wear little more than a tank top and my underpants when the kids weren’t around.
“I see London,” he said. “Now honey, although I’m tempted to come inside and ravage you on the spot, do you think you can do me a favor and throw on that Sammy Davis Jr. CD? The one I placed next to the Bose? “
“That I can do for you, dear, because the sound of Sammy Davis Jr. is not unreasonable in our backyard, but it’s going to end there, right?”
“We should start with “On a Clear Day;” what do you say? Join me for a cocktail?”
I agreed and threw on a pair of shorts. As we sat in the shade, sipping our gin and tonics, Alan swaying to the music, the boys next store continued to raise the fence. Perhaps in moving materials from one end of the job to another, they had walked out of earshot of Hoobastank or Aerosmith and into the surround of Sammy or Frank because at some point the station that played “all the hard rock hits,” got a major decibel boost. Alan finished the last of his drink and frowned.
When the job was done, he looked sad and bewildered, as if he had expected some power beyond his own negative will to intervene and alter the composition of the fence or halt the project before completion.
“Vinyl stockade! Nobody does vinyl in this neighborhood. Lilac hedges he could have had. Nice, cool, breathing shrubs. A corral type fence maybe.”
I said what I knew to be true. “He’s put the fence up for the little ones. A corral just wouldn’t work.”
“They want a fortress,” said Alan, “a shiny, vanilla fortress.”
So I put it out there, an idea. Something to make us all happy. I would paint murals, maybe sea life, maybe tarot archetypes. I’d been designing my own deck of tarot cards. The heat and Alan’s despair had inspired several renderings of the Tower already. With these I was trying to suggest he cool it. When he didn’t, I tried a different tact. I started playing with the Fool. When I showed him the prototype, Alan loved him and said he looked like Jerry Lewis.
“I was thinking of you,” I said.
“You fascinate me,” he said.
Anyway, I told him I’d paint some large murals of tarot figures and we’d install them along the fence.
Alan said, ‘That’s good. No, I correct myself, that’s great! We’ll just blot out their wall of bland, stay in the Technicolor garden. That’s what we’ll do. I can see them now, pretty, billowy canvases, flapping behind the rhododendron and the azalea. It will be magic.”
He was oozing sweat and raring to go.
“Let’s get started,” he said. ‘What can I do to help?’
“Procurement,” I said.
So I sent him off to buy canvas sheets, rope and grommets.
“Grommets? He asked. “What on earth for?”
“I’m going to need grommets for the corners of the canvas, to thread rope through. We’ll tie the rope to stakes in the ground, to anchor the murals.”
“Anchors? Right. Oh baby,” he said, and hurried out the door.