Bête Noire

May 2, 2010
Fear is one of the most petty and selfish emotions that humans experience. We are so determined that something is out to get us or that we are the object of someone’s frustration that we allow ourselves to become absorbed in it. In many cases this prevents us from experiencing many of the joys of life. One man changed my opinion of what fear is, and I learned from him that judgment can silently destroy a person, and he didn’t even know me.
The barbwire fences that run along the back of his property are overgrown with unruly ivy and impossibly full weeds. For every diamond link in the chained fence there is an anomalous object, tattered, torn or aging in some fashion. Books with yellowing pages and cursive script have been strewn in every which direction. Board games with glue peeling away at the edges lay in boxes that smell like dust and cologne. The only objects that seem to belong in this century are prescription bottles—all empty—with perfectly crisp white labels.
As odd as these objects may seem, it is the most natural one that stands out above the rest: a thin yet sturdy crooked wooden stick about the height of a small man. About ten feet from the fence, it is a silent enforcer to keep away. He stabs the leaves in his yellowing yard until the stick is almost full. Then he proceeds to pull an orange handled pair of scissors from their permanent residence in his back pocket and snip away the leaves in the middle of the narrow street, as opposed to the more traditional rake or leaf blower.
At first glance his eclectic objects seem like they have been thrown quickly into boxes, thoughtlessly and without a plan. Then, as you take a closer look, you can see that they seem to be arranged according to some system. His unorganized curb appeal is merely a façade, and all of his items seem to have grown organically from his fence.
His is the only fence running along the back of a property that can create hesitance in the block captains passing out newsletters, and ward children who should use his house as the object of a double-dog dare. However, it does its job, quiet effectively.
I don’t believe the man has ever seen a casual stroller walking before his street. Passersby exchange whispers while eying his house, especially that fence. He has earned the nickname ‘Boo Radley’ for his elusive presence in common neighborhood functions such as the winter party and the Easter egg hunt. The barbwire fence seems to act as an electric fence, confining him to his house along with his identity and an alibi that could smooth the curiosity of his small minded neighbors.
Recently more and more of Mr. Radley’s things have been piled out of his house and moving vans have come and gone. The only genuine character on our false street has passed away. With his passing, I have become more curious about the type of man he really was, and wished that I had been brave enough to walk past his fence and see who he truly was.





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