Another flash fiction challenge from the esteemed Mr. Wendig. Details of the challenge can be found here. The prompt I got to work with was: “Good fences weren’t built in a day.”
The Good Fence
A fence is a separator, a partition, a thing that is by its very nature divisive. Most folks don’t necessarily think of fences like that. Most often they think of a fence as a border marking off what’s theirs from what ain’t. Not old Jack Thompson though. Well it was that, but he also meant to be divisive. Three nails dangled from his mouth, pinched between his lips, as he lined up a fourth atop a post with his left hand, and a hammer in his right.
Jack looked down the long partition that stretched its way down the center of what used to be the family farm and far into the horizon. He tapped the head of the nail twice to start, then drove it home with one smooth motion. He’d had a lot of practice.
“Uncle Jack,” said Amber from across the fence. “Why don’t you come in for dinner? It’s getting’ dark.”
Jack looked to her, and saw his ex-wife Julia, mixed with a little bit of himself looking back. But it wasn’t himself he saw, that was just an illusion. He pulled the nails from his lip. “Your father home?”
“Then you know I can’t.”
“I know you won’t, but you can. Always could.”
Jack just nodded, set two nails back between his lips, and drove the third into the board atop the fence. Amber walked away to the cadence. Tap, tap, smack. Tap, tap, smack. The fence was finished. Jack was sixty years old, but a hard sixty, and he felt every bit of eighty as he lugged himself onto the tailgate of his nearby pickup. He pulled an icy bottle of beer from a beat up igloo cooler in the bed and popped the top with the chipped end of a Bic lighter.
He’d been secretly sweet on Julia since grade school, and John was both his brother and his best friend. Called themselves the three amigos. When John got himself kicked by a horse the summer after sophomore year, Jack and Julia stayed past visiting hours at the hospital. That’s when their friendship started turning into something more. He held her hand. She rested her head on his shoulder. They married at seventeen.
A few years after that Jack and John inherited the family farm when their father died in a freak accident involving the windmill, a cow, and an unexpected bolt of lightning. Jack never could wrap his head around exactly what happened. A year after that John started building a home of his own at the other end of the property, for privacy’s sake.
Jack and Julia were happy but by the time they were in their late twenties they still didn’t have any children. Doctor said his swimmers were bad. And sure, they argued and fought like any couple. But they were good. At least Jack thought so. That is until he came home from a duck hunt and found Julia with John. Jack never could quite wrap his head around that, either. He might’ve shot them both right then if she hadn’t said those two little words. “I’m pregnant.”
A month later and Julia had moved in with John. Seven months after that and along came Amber. The first post went up the day she was born. Jack wiped away a tear, finished the last of his brew, and laid down in the bed of the truck.