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by Peter Koronakos

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Nancy Krusoe

Fences and Fabrications

“Do you remember the tortoises you saw crossing the road last month? The ones you called turtles, Mrs. Bowman?” The pleasant-looking lady nods her head in the affirmative. “Now I want you to close your eyes and see those tortoises again just as they were that day. Can you describe them for us?’

Mrs. Bowman wants to bolt from the chair she is sitting in, but she feels glued to it, somehow unable to even shift a muscle in her butt, her great butt some have called it. She tries to lift her right butt cheek, no response, then the left. Uh-oh, she is glued to the chair. What have they done to her new dress? Won’t it be ruined? Mrs. Bowman stares at her lap, all covered with pretty pink daisies with yellow mouths smiling up at her; so much labor and love went into making the dress that she is momentarily unable to discuss the turtles, although in general she is not opposed to answering the man’s questions and would like to have it over with.

Apparently seeing her frozen state and wanting to help her out, the man asks: “How many tortoises were there, Mrs. Bowman? What size and color were they and did you see their faces?” How will he ever get to the question of who or what damaged the fence around Mr. Bowman’s property, which presumably this strange woman will be able to provide some insight into if she can be made to speak.

Daisies have always been Mrs. Bowman’s favorite flower and to find material with such astonishingly pink ones in a big, bold pattern had filled her with pleasure the whole time she worked on the dress. Looking at the daisy mouths--and there were so many in four yards--had led to an event that was unexpected: at some point in the cutting and stitching, she had begun to see their little yellow mouths start moving. That’s right. The dress she was going to wear to court had talking daisies. It had been a surprise but not an alarming one to the woman who had for years known that all living things talk, in one way or another, but that her daisies spoke English, not Spanish or Chinese, did seem more than coincidental to her. But why not speak English? Hadn’t she bought the fabric in an American store? But where was it made? It hadn’t occurred to her to ask when she bought it.

“The fence . . .” she says at last, leading to some excitement in the room because not everyone had such entertaining thoughts in their head as did Mrs. Bowman, whose husband’s fence had been damaged. “The turtles,” she begins again cautiously, “I think there were five of them. That’s enough to damage a fence, isn’t it?” she asks, having now apparently decided that tortoises had torn down the fence.

There are gasps in the room. Mr. Bowman is watching her expectantly, his mouth hanging slightly open as if waiting for a pacifier to be placed there. He hated this, this halting thing she did, as if she couldn’t think any better than a two-year-old. Much of it was stubbornness he’d thought a few years ago; now he thinks it’s stupidity. Turtles, tortoises, crawling or leaping in joy, heads in or out, talking, probably, if he knows his wife. Enough, he thinks, let her feeble mind wander, although it should be said that not everyone agreed with Mr. Bowman’s opinion of his wife.

But no leniency was extended to Mrs. Bowman, who was prompted to stick to the facts as she remembered them, and the tone of the judge was
stern. Of course, she understands that the facts are in dispute, but those facts are somewhat afloat at the moment in Mrs. Bowman’s mind. And as you can imagine, the reason is not stupidity. But when you have four yards of hot pink daisies talking to you, you do have the responsibility to listen, don’t you?

They are rather good-natured, she thinks, as the daisies are chatting away about their relative positions via the sitting Mrs. Bowman, some located right at the tip of her breasts, waving to the audience, others underneath her butt, which we already know is a great one. How thoroughly they evaluate their placement on her dress is remarkable to her. Had she known there would be so much concern about it, she’d have had them draw straws—held a lottery of some sort. She is pleased they are not snappy with each other, no malice in their voices; on the contrary, they laugh with just a touch of complaint in the background while discussing where they are on their host--just stating the facts. Yes, she thinks, here and now the turtle facts.

“Now, Mrs. Bowman”--his tone has become condescending but still hopeful—“on the day that your husband’s fence was damaged, were you out walking on the road by your property?” The answer is yes. “Then did you at one point observe some tortoises crossing the road you were walking on?” The answer is yes, but her face is twitching because the daisies have reached their evaluation of her underarms, which are now apparently offending one of them who does not like being wet! And Ms. Bowman feels sorry for it because she doesn’t like the hot sticky sweat rolling down her side zipper either. What is it Mr. Bowman told her to say and when exactly was she to say it because it’s all made up anyway and how’s she supposed to remember what the tortoises saw or how she saw them when all these daisies are vying for her attention, and they’re much friendlier than the judge or her husband, who is decidedly not like a talking daisy.

So Mrs. Bowman said, “I have read a book about fences with stories about information swapping, the kind that crosses borders, and I can tell you one now.”  Scheherazade couldn’t have presented herself for the judgment of her deadly king with any more bravura than did Mrs. Bowman at this moment of her testimony, which felt like her own trial.

Another gasp from the room, which held only a handful of extra people so all of them must have gasped, as if she had praised Allah in an American court rather than volunteered a story about fences and borders. And Mr. Bowman is bowing his round, nicely-shaped head, she’s observed many times, and appears to be in desperate prayer to the lord he doesn’t believe in, nor does she, and the man questioning her (he had never introduced himself, so she assumes he’s a lawyer without a name yet) is looking at her with a bewitched frown that puzzles her under the circumstances. Isn’t it she who is glued to a chair?

By noon on a hot summer day in a hot state where the weather’s unchangingly hot, they have reached a dead end it appears. While it is true that Mr. Bowman has a perfectly legitimate claim for damages to his fence, his only witness is his wife, who is the one he has chosen as his life partner and has brought to court, civil though it is, and who is apparently unable to speak of matters relating to the tortoises and the person, or was it people, or was it a breeding bull with restless legs that charged through Mr. Bowman’s electric fence, taking it down as if it were made of paper? The one woman who saw it all is talking like the host of a book club who drank the wine before the others arrived. What’s to be done?

On the surface of her body, Mrs. Bowman has quieted the daisies by promising them treats later on if they sit quietly for now. Like all happy children, they do what they are told. 

“The fence I am talking about is the fence of power,” she begins, hoping that, like fabricated daisies, the people in this room will stop asking questions without answers and will listen contentedly for a time: “Nearly a hundred years had passed before the ones who called themselves the fence builders were ready to start dreaming themselves awake.” She closes her eyes to avoid the sun that’s just reached its most blinding glare through the freshly installed glass hole in the ceiling. “On the other side of the dreamers’ fences, though, were forces they had only barely imagined before, forces that were not always visible and only sometimes friendly, often not,” she continues. And perhaps she continued beyond that. 

It’s hard to say what the judge decided that day to do about the case of fence destruction that Mr. Bowman had alleged against a neighbor. He was asking one thousand dollars in damages plus payment of court costs. Also hard to say what time the courtroom doors opened and let out the handful of attendees, who had been there many hours longer than anticipated, or to gauge their frame of mind as they left. Mrs. Bowman had many other things to attend to, had never wanted to go, and had been persuaded by the one who does usually do the persuading, the one who needs something. And she had delivered something. That was that.


Thanks to Clifford Henderson's writing workshop, Nancy Krusoe is writing fiction again after a long hiatus. She last published in the nineties.

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