Chain Linked Fences

Looking back now, as an adult, I’m not sure that most children are children, but adults. It also seems now that, most adults are not really adults at all, but children themselves.
Dad’s Volvo took me there that summer to Aunt Linda’s suburban castle on Byford Ct. in Somewhere Ohio. On the way trees passed us by.
It was July.
I liked July.
But, I didn’t like Aunt Linda’s. Dad was leaving me there for the summer to rot while he met Natalie. Natalie came from Land of the S***s, and since Mom left and Dad was lonely, it didn’t bother him she was twenty years younger or that he met her online. Dad was the kid on the playground with no friends.
When the car pulled into Aunt Linda’s driveway, and he dropped me off like an UPS package, I saw my cousin Brady. He was a slim boy with long locks of blond hair. He kicked his stupid soccer ball against the chain linked fence dividing Aunt Linda’s house and her neighbors.
RAT RAT RAT said the fence.
Janice, my other cousin, laid sprawled out on a lawn chair absorbing the sun.
Janice.
Stupid Janice.
She was so thin and beautiful, and I wasn’t. I was chubby. With stupid brown hair. And stupid freckles. I didn’t care, though. Well, yes I did. Like most things I was bad at, I just pretended to hate them, like one time in math class, I told Ms. Schwartz she could choke on her stupid lesson and that I hated her. Well, she gave me a detention and told me I had a bad attitude. Well, I didn’t care for her big old stupid attitude, either, so I didn’t go to her stupid detention, and that was a big old dumb mistake because, then, she gave me another one. Stupid Ms. Schwartz. Stupid math.
I remember the first day I was there, Aunt Linda smiling and making an awful casserole for dinner that I pretended to like. She was a middle-aged woman who wore too much make up and sold houses all day to people who couldn’t afford them. I didn’t like her either.
Well, anyway, we sat around her kitchen, all one big happy family, except for her husband, Uncle Jeff, who got cancer and died. She had a son too, Lance, who hung himself a couple of winters before all this.
Aunt Linda performed like a mother from this old movie I once saw on late night cable called The Stepford Wives, about a bunch of husbands turning their women into robots. She kept asking me, “How are you?” Or telling me, “You’re getting so big! Your cousins are just so excited you’re here!”
Well that was bologna.
Janice sat shoveling food down her pipe, God knew she needed it as skinny as she was, and Brady left early to do his boring routine soccer game outside.
Well who needed them?
Stupid big old dumb heads. I had brought books to read anyway. I loved reading. It was probably the only thing I did like. I didn’t read much that summer though. Not after what happened.
I soon discovered the stupid sleeping situation as I tried to climb into Janice’s bed. We had to share a room, and her room was pink, and I hate pink. It’s a stupid color.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked.
“Going to bed.”
“No you’re not,” she said. Then she pointed to the floor as if I were some puppy who had his first accident and snapped, “You’re sleeping on the floor.”
“No.” I told her.
“Yes.”

“No.”
“Yes!”
“I said no, Janice.”
“Listen to me,” she barked, “this is my house, so my rules. What I say goes. No one, including my Mom wants you here anyway. It’s not my fault your dad is having some mid-life crisis and left you here. Got it?”
I was so mad that I could only agree with her.
“Fine, have it your way,” I said, trying to hide the defeat in my voice. Then I added, “you stupid skeleton.”
“I’m pretty,” Janice said. Her voice cracked.
I didn’t say anything.
Instead, I lay down on that stupid hard floor in that stupid pink room.
Stupid skeleton Janice.


The days were long, the world was empty. RAT RAT RAT said the fence outside, and Janice locked herself in her room all day. Well, fine. I had my own little slice of heaven upstairs in the attic. One of Aunt Linda’s rules was not to go up there, but she was gone all day at work, so who would know? It had been Lance’s room and everything had been intact as if he had been there that very morning.

I don’t know much about my cousin Lance, but I can tell you one thing, I feel like I know him better than anyone else. His room provided me my own private adolescence. He had a big brown desk in the corner with a chair beneath the low ceiling rafters. The desk had hundreds of notebooks just waiting to be read. Lance had been a writer.

One day I stumbled across a poem. To this day, it is my favorite.

As I was going up the stairs,

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today.

I wish, I wish he’d go away.

The poem stayed with me, and one day as I sat eating lunch in Aunt Linda’s kitchen, I ran over it in my mind several times. Janice entered, ignoring my presence, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. She ate a whole bunch of food for being so slim and quickly rushed back upstairs. I noted the following days that Janice repeated this, and I wondered why.

I even asked her if she was Okay.

She looked at me and said, “I’m fine. Obviously you’re not, because you obviously have nothing better to do than to watch me eat.”

Well that was that, then.

Stupid skeleton Janice.

Some days I grew bored and would spend the time with Brady playing a game of soccer. RAT RAT RAT the fence would say. Yet, for the most part, Brady was a silent character.

“You know what Brady?” I told him one sunny afternoon.

“What?” he asked, kicking the ball into the fence. It was hot outside and the boy wore no shirt, exposing his scrawny torso. I hadn’t realized being so young that this image would come back to me in later years. I hadn’t realized that I was attracted to him.

“Grown ups are stupid.”

He nodded.

RAT RAT RAT the chain linked fence agreed.

Brady became my only friend that summer and possibly the only real friend I have ever had.

I asked him once about Janice.

“Is your sister okay?”

“What do you mean?”

“Brady,” I began passing the ball to him, “you know what I mean.”

“Look in her closet,” he told me.

He did not say anything else.

Well that night when stupid skeleton Janice was asleep, I got off that hard floor and tiptoed to her closet. I opened the door, unsure of what I was really looking for, but I knew one thing, her closet stunk…bad.

Well, here’s where I wish I could have turned back time, shut the door and just gone back to sleep and spent the rest of the summer normally, but I didn’t.
On the floor of Janice’s stinking closet was a bright blue duffel bag. The smell seemed to be coming from there, so I reached down and unzipped it.

My eyes bugged out like a rubber duck.

The duffel bag was filled with zip lock bags of chunky liquid…vomit.

Suddenly, there was brightness and a voice asking what the hell I thought I was doing. I turned around, finding the lights were on, and Janice was standing there, jaw to the floor, so shocked it looked as if I told her she just won the mega millions lottery Dad always played on Sundays.

Uh-oh.

Busted.

To make matters worse, when I had turned around, the zip lock bags fell out and spilled onto the floor by my feet. I felt like those dumb criminals on TV when they find out they’re on hidden camera.

Janice stared on like a wax figure.

Nothing was said.

Finally, although my legs could barely make the journey, I stumbled across the room, gathered my things and left quietly. The door shut behind me. Inside, I could hear Janice sobbing. That night I slept in Lance’s room.

“I saw it, Brady,” I said to him the next day.

He didn’t say anything.

“How long has she been…?”
“Since Abby Phelps, the cheer captain showed her how to stay skinny,” he said quietly. He looked embarrassed.

“And you haven’t told your mom, you big stupid head?”

“She knows,” he added defensively.

What? She knew? Aunt Linda must have been dumber than I could have ever dreamed. Who would let their daughter do that? I couldn’t understand her. I couldn’t understand the mind of the adult.

“Yeah,” he said, “Since Dad died and Lance, well, Lance did what he did, Mom tries to make everything perfect. She lives in a fantasy…ask her about Lance. She’ll look at you dead in the face and tell you she never had a son.”

Well, I couldn’t believe it! A family that was just as much of a freak show as my own.

“She’s going to die,” I told him.

“Janice?”

“Yes. Bulimia kills, you know.”

“I know.”

“But you don’t care?”

“No…do you?”

“I don’t know.”

We were silent. Then I said, “She’s a stupid skeleton anyway.” And we laughed like the children we were. I have not laughed since.

For sometime after that I did not see Janice. She remained hidden in her room, and Brady and I played outside all day. We spent a lifetime together in one summer.

The last weekend I was ever there, Aunt Linda announced she was going to a realtors conference in Columbus and would be gone the next two days, and on her way out the door she called for us to please be good.

That day Brady and I lived in Lance’s room. That’s the day I realized that I liked him. He was sprawled out on the floor by the bed. Outside, rain fell in buckets.

RAT RAT RAT said the chain linked fence in the wind outside. The air was still, the room was silent. I wished we could have remained that way forever.



One that stupid afternoon, I went to get a snack and found Janice scarfing down food at the kitchen table.

She ignored me and I tried to do the same to her. I couldn’t. In the end, it was foolish for me to do what I did. But, oh well.
I looked at her and said, “You’re killing yourself.” And she stared at me as she had that night I found the puke. For once Janice didn’t have one word to say. She remained blank like a piece of paper.

Suddenly, I felt a wave of an indescribable feeling that I have never felt since. I wanted her to say she was sorry for my Dad dumping me off here in this s*** hole, for her to be sorry she was bulimic, and most of all, I wanted to grow up. I didn’t want to be a child anymore. And, then, I felt guilt. It was not her fault. I was the one who was mad. Looking down at the thin frame placidly sitting there, I just felt sorry for her.

I said, “That was not my place and I apologize.”

When she replied, she seemed distant, somehow. It was the not the Janice I had known.

“It’s okay,” she told me.

I went back outside.

It was the last time I ever saw her.

When we came in later I should have known what I was going to find. I went upstairs to get out of my wet clothes. The house felt dead, the stupid old rain let in its gray light splashing against the walls. I said my poem aloud to myself as I wondered about to Lance’s room where I kept my belongings…

As I was going up the stairs,

I met a man who wasn’t there.

He wasn’t there again today.

I wish, I wish he’d go away.
At the top of the attic steps, I remember blinking several times and gasping. Lance was before me, hanging from the ceiling, swaying to and fro like a pendulum on a clock. And, then, I realized it was not Lance, but my cousin, Janice, with a kicked away chair beneath her feet.

I wish I could tell you how I reacted, and what happened, and all that good stuff. I guess it would make this stupid story somehow better. Well, I don’t. I don’t remember. The next thing I can recall is Sunday, in the yard with Brady. In, silence we kicked the ball at the chain linked fence. It did not talk to us that day. Inside, stupid skeleton Janice was now stupid dead.

Aunt Linda came home that night and I averted her eyes. Brady was the one who led her inside. I gave one last hard kick and one last time I heard RAT RAT RAT. Then, I heard nothing but Aunt Linda’s screams three stories above me.
It was August when Dad came and got me. I liked August then, but I don’t think I do now. I won’t tell you about the police, or how Aunt Linda almost tried to stab me. I don’t want to. So tough. All the way home Dad did not say one word to me.

Well, that’s fine. I did not kill Janice.

I only killed the adult and became the child. The child, who was going up the stairs, met a man who wasn’t there, found he wasn’t there again today, and wished and wished he’d go away.

And so he did, hiding behind the chain linked fence the whole time.





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Jacqueline This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 3, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Shane, of course I love it. I'm a bit of a sucker for the unusual repitition like the poem and RAT RAT RAT. You're so bitingly desriptive about these things, it makes me want to flinch... but it's so damn true.

I can hear you reading this outloud, and know that you would make everything work (you know how things can sound perfect when read outloud, but seemed weird in print?) but maybe you would want to read this outloud in a not-reading-outloud-voice and delete a few 'wells' and 'stup... (more »)

 
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