That summer, I fell in love twice.
The first time falling, I went swaying, skipping sauntering dazed, in slow motion down empty streets, chasing a can. Catching it. Kicking it, feeling the pavement alive holding me. Together we play kick the can, follow the can, catch the can. The sky watches. The air breathes. Above our conversation chattering cars rumble by, during work hours in a haunted down town Austin. Wandering down the clean side of the downtown streets, through gaps in bursting yellow clouds, that weren’t there, floating on a wonderful feeling of somewhere to be. I must have dreamed it.
Drunk, high, and drinking in more. Smoking, too, drags of weightless updrafts of joy. Every delicious breath re-intoxicating. Every taste of wilder fascination with the air. Second guessing the tin can-soccer player I have become, in high heels. The best of both worlds. I’m the can flying at shiny foot tip. I am a black leather shoe. I am. Feeling all the way me, all the way everything. Drinking in that mended fence, a magic vial, had spiraled me into this addiction in one sippy taste; fast as crack. It was the fence that did it.
The fence was low. It’s sagging skeleton wheedling up to the street it ran along. It came up to the old cracked curb from way before sidewalks were invented. It appeared crooked winding in a short burst through forgotten, dull, decaying East Austin. Lost in endless streets of shabby row houses, over by the projects, this one fence crouches into view-depressing really. The horrible monstrosity just added to my depression.
It’s front yard is narrow. The house crouched up with her face in the street’s face. The color was peeling paint, over the old color.
I was lost.
The clinic had been over. By the time I found my way, and walked three times further than I thought, and twice as long as I calculated it would take on the bus. The clinic was over, I’d lost my spot.
No dental appointment for me till, I don’t know when I can get back. I need to see a dentist. It had taken so much to get here, all for nothing. A nothing death crack echos in a dark cave sending drops of moisture flying to lubricate my chappy emotions. Wasted effort sagged in my chest.
My next class would be over by the time I found a bus back to anywhere. This vague picture of where I am, tells me: If I wait the accustomed forty-five minutes for a bus, get on that bus, and stayed on for fifteen, got off downtown, waited those forty-five minutes then rode twenty more minutes stopping and going, and got back to college, I’d be back for nothing, just like this. So, even though my class isn’t starting for a few hours, I’ve already missed it. Crap.
I’d come into the free clinic one way. Then thinking nothing of it, I came out another. Now walk, walk, walking to find the street I’d come down. The bus stop, back to the bus stop. This street is not it. I’m lost. I’m on foot. I’m lost. Empty echos punch me, eyes loose up, just with realizing how lost I am.
How long it is gonna take to get home. How hot and tired I’ll be. Well, at least I know where I live. That other time, I felt so lost. I didn’t even know what city to go back to or an address, just what the streets looked like and were to get off, and what bus to get on, again. Well, I hoped I knew, anyway. Wasn’t sure. The feeling cooked me.
This time, I do. The feeling of knowing were home is makes me feel better. I’ll get home. No chance of being lost forever, exhausted, starving alone in crowds, again.
The weather is nice too. I’m not tired. I will be hungry and thirsty soon, just not yet. Glad I’d grabbed a can of lunch from the bookshop after a.m. class, before picking my way through bus routes and schedules, with my epic hit or miss accuracy to arrive here, sinfully late. Sin, translated from an archery word means “miss the mark”. Yep, I sinned something dreadful. Getting another appointment. Another three months wait. That thought curled its lips at me, growling eminent pain. I’d have to do this again. More planning, more confusing bus schedules, tired, hungry, all for nothing, and hot.
In misery, I looked around, not at the maze of house lined streets though. I looked at the weather. I hadn’t even noticed the weather. Puffy clouds, a breeze gently flapping my blouse against my skin. That felt nice. Just glad it’s not hot.
Oh, right. It’s summer in Texas, and it’s not hot. The absurdity of this, made me laugh out loud, a crazy street wanderer trudging the empty street, alone. I’d been so afraid to be caught in the heat. It’s not hot!
Perfect time to be lost! The sky reached out. It smiled. I am almost taken up into cool by the wind. Into the sky where the heat should have been baking me at about three in the afternoon. Now a friend, now a smile. The sky feels like a smile, and I am a lunatic. But I don’t care.
I turn my smile-back up to the sky.
Thank you! jumped out like a squirrel. The frisky squirrel scampered up the air. Then it disappeared into the tree-high stacked clouds.
The emptiness is where the squirrel moved in. Now, it felt like a nest. The weather is nice, I’ll be okay walking till I find my way home. Walking around…
If I get hungry before I find the bus home, I’ll just buy something at one of these repainted stores. Oh, yeah! I won’t starve like that one time. That one time when I was lost and all I had was bus fare, cramped in my stomach. When I spent that fare on the wrong bus, I didn’t even have the fare home. Horrible feeling begging for a ride!
A rare ten-dollar bill and some change all grin at me from my backpack pocket.
Walking will be my exercise for today. I smile. Perfect time to be lost, actually. I smile again.
Slowing down, I find I’m looking around for the first time noticing more than decaying streets and weather. The place. A place. A new place to explore. I’m in no rush. Everything is taken care of. No one will miss me. I stop.
The low fence is still there.
It’s made up of a number of things- a big number. Part of the pickets were replaced by some ancient rusted oil barrel, with its ends cut out. The oil drum had been slit in a jagged rip down the side and opened up, then stretched into a panel. A long bent, curved panel that stood jammed lengthwise into the ground crammed right up to the random sticks and old boards part of the fence. Some boards must have been as old as it’s rickety house. This crooked house in particular, from the looks of the eaten away bottoms of what remains of the paneling.
This fence had been mended. It had been mended, and mended and mended. It was mended with, you name it, anything. Anything that would have been thrown away, or had been. This one hole stuffed impenetrable with a faded a piece of frayed red plaid tablecloth. The round top of a big opened tin can, still sharp and, shiny, wedged itself into the ground making up for two rotted board bottoms. Colorful seventies design broken tiles peeping fragments out of the ground between all sizes of plain random rocks mixed with fat lumps of broken cement, filling in for rotted fence. Fading red and white milk cartons, new rolled up cardboard tied up with baling wire standing in for a stick. Several Corn Flakes cereal boxes are doing a job. Some grain sacks, a black trash bag, lined the bottom inside visible through the gaps. Some ripped indistinguishable linoleum propped up by a pile of pebbles. Some limply stretched barbed wire. More jumbled bunches of barbed wire, keenly placed so nothing could get out at the top North corner. There were normal fence boards too, they may have been a part of a picked fence once, perhaps white. Several bent t-posts driven crooked in the ground look strong, holding up the mixed in, random rebar reinforcements to keep the remaining original fence posts from collapsing.
Someone takes good care of this fence. Someone needs it. Someone loves it. Oh.
Oh! This artful, thoughtfully, woven fence amplifies this cracked webbed street. It belongs here, a birds nest. Like those heartbreaking birds nests knit mostly of scraps of cloth, pieces of string, shreds of paper, plastic bags and other trash, with a few sticks and feathers, a thrilling nest for baby birds belongs, like this fence belongs. It gives back. Oh.
This sleepy fence wakes up from an afternoon siesta, then. I could feel it’s eyes flutter sleepily. The bold whisper of confidence gleams, warm, friendly, like only shines through the loved and the wanted. It spoke to me. It’s love of an old woman, an old, old one inside, brought over from across the border by her children. She lives here. Their friendship has the relaxed feeling of old friendship, like old money, comfortable. Fence has always been hers, it seem. But it hasn’t. She has always belonged to Fence, though she hasn’t. This edge of chaos in her world, she cares for it. She tends to it. I could feel her attention. The fence is in her company now. I’m in company with the fence, so I know her. I love her too. I know her. I’ve always known her.
Oh, her and her chickens. In middle of this dusty, all but abandoned nowhere lifeless, old ghetto street, chickens, hens and red crowing roosters. The tiny houses, were quiet. None of them spoke of anything living. Some loose dogs, a wary cat, drudgery of mistaken spun lives is their story. Here, this fence spoke in a different voice, of someone loving chicks, and hens. She loves plants, but mostly chickens. I could see her. The fence projected her tender magic.
She feels familiar like a woman I remember meeting briefly deep in rural Sonora desert in Mexico. A rich life of animals, plants and giving was suddenly alive pulsing warm like blood in me, now. Now, I have a screen to see it on, or eyes, perhaps a soul.
Back then I was ten. I saw a place like this place. Not in the middle of the city. It had popped up from the middle of the nothing, the intolerable boring, hot middle of saguaro desert.
What’s with my eyes? Why aren’t they sore?
The green and, cool shade, out of the blaring sun was the only reason I even got close to her hovel. Well, that and we were suppose to be polite, and kind to the Mexicans. Dad said they are a chosen people. But, I can’t see why God is dumb like that. A woman with the deepest wrinkles I had ever seen, lived in this hut in the middle of the desert sun, surrounded by nothing, and nothing, living in one, if you may call it, room, with a sloping, crooked slanting porch.
The porch is hung all the way around with squeaking swinging rusty tin cans tied up with baling wire each nesting a gallon size plant. Rusty baling wire and a bunch of different once brightly colored, now fading, plastic twine hold up the floating gardens. Some empty decapitated white plastic jugs tied up by holes poked in the top sides, were wound with twine. That’s the stuff we use for tying up egg cartons. It’s not for plants. Plants are everywhere. Plans perk out of water stained, cracked and broken clay pot set atop a mesquite stump. More vibrant plants glowed on an upturned log. Plants flowing off an overturned five gallon Sol oil can. Profuse waves of little flowers in labeled cans on rocks, in old jelly jars half full of green water; springing out of coke bottles, creeping from XX beer bottles, faded by the sun.
I could see rusting cans, and out of place fading labels on new cans, rotting string, misused twine, rusty wire, clanky trash hanging were they had been hung on a nail, or tied with wire, that should be cleared up. Old, worthless garbage that belongs in the trash was placed everywhere. And why doesn’t this lady get a floor?
The whole place was like well organized trash. The floor was hard packed wetted down earth. It smelled cool, and kinda good. The porch thick knotty mesquite logs held up by crooked hand cut rickety beams, and some strong saguaro skeleton polls covered with long slender gray cachenilla sticks. On top of the cachenilla, laid across for a roof, some rusted down to nothing open barrel panels, mixed with woven plastic feed bags, pieces of corrugated tin, in odd shapes as old as the lady was wrinkled, and calloused. The house might have once been made of sawed boards and thick burnt engine oil soaked corrugated cardboard sheets. Around here, there were homes made of oiled cardboard everywhere there was anyone living. Way more than actual sheet metal houses. Tell you the truth, I couldn’t see why anyone would build a house out of either of those. Anyway, this whole hut all patched up, unrecognizable like her faded shapeless apron and droopy dress disgusted me. As did her plastic flip flops once green, I think, now more mends that original plastic strapped on with faded twine to thick calloused dirty feet, protruding toes with thick yellow claws for nails, like monster feet.
She had lots of chickens, and sad dog. The mangy dog was to skinny to be alive. I could tell she wasn’t a nice lady just by looking at her dog.
Then she offered me, and my sistersand brothers, and aunt water, so I guess she may have been a little nice. The water was cool.
Where did she get cool water in this dusty ranch? There is no such thing, no fridge.
We didn’t even have one anymore, since we moved here, and broke the only gas fridge we could get that ran on propane. Out here, no one had electricity. We broke that fridge with our old habits. We couldn’t break them. So used to opening the fridge whenever we were thinking of food or just walked by it, fifteen kids, in summer dessert heat, opening a tiny fridge, very often, killed it. Back in the day, back in the USA, there was always another fridge. Now we had no fridge.
She showed us the clay water-jug wrapped in ancient washed out faded to gray relic, strips of ripped rags, and cracking strips of black inner tube rubber wound and wound around it, wrapping, and wrapping that clay jug since the moon was born. But the water was so fresh and good. Nothing like the jug it came from or like the bony hands, and thick yellow nails that held out a smooth worn tin cup for us to drink. There was no dirt at the bottom like you might have expected from the looks of this place. The water was sparkling clear, like the cool air blowing, and the crisp feel of being closed in by all her plants, surrounded, under the low gunnysack ceiling.
She gave me a piece of one of her fuchsia flowering succulents, and some others. I asked here for a red flower one, but she didn’t give it to me. Course, I didn’t know what it was back then. Just that it was way to pretty for her. Yet, different shaped thick kinds of leaves that I had never seen before, this green with tiny flowers bloomed over everything around the old hag.
Keep it in water till it sprouts roots, then put it in good soil. You will have a wonderful place like mine.
Wonderful garden like hers? Give it time, she had assured me, in Spanish, and through gestures.
My house is your house. Come, again for more when those grow.
I barely understood her Spanish. What the heck? How is her house mine? Why would I, or anyone for that matter, want this falling over stack of trash? Just the plants are pretty. Except for the stupid things she puts them in. Why would anyone put a plant in a labeled Cafe Combate can, or worse a rusty old tin? No, wait, the shiny labeled tin cans are even worse, than the rusty ones- of course. Or why put a pretty plant into a very very old rusty dented beat up, barely discernible, once blue, chipped beyond any recognition, porcelain coffee pot? I think it may have been a pot. The Cafe Combate commercial playing on the tiny wired together battery operated radio, that is simple minded, too. Lot’s of things in Spanish are.
This is one dumb and old lady. But I like her plants allot.
Mine died. It had bloomed bright miniscule roses for a week. Red ones too. The ones she hadn’t given me. They were wonderful and refreshing, in my endless drudgery of hot desert void of life, flowers, and all but three trees, for as far as the eye could see in all directions. No green, no color. Well there were saguaros…There were mesquites. But who likes those?
It died. I’d scooped up some sand from around the porch, and tenderly, sorta like the old lady, put it in a bowl for it to grow, to bloom forever, like hers. I put it in a pretty glass bowl, so I didn’t poke holes in the bottom of it like the old lady had showed me and gestured for me to do. She can really ruin pretty things. And poking holes? Nah.
Anyway. I’m a terrible gardener. Everything dies.
But this fence, this place, this little corner of the earth in this vast desert of houses so far away, in Austin, is alive. I drank of it’s cool water.
The water turned to wine in me, spilling out. Rushing, crashing cool, slow, deep, narrow, growing wide, becoming vast, a cup, crashing falls, clouds, drops, rising waves, sprinkling onto me, into me. It took me like falling; it washed me away.
A perfect day to get swept away, too. Perfectly tossed down a storybook brook street. A perfect street, with perfect cracks, perfectly repaired with lovely sleek black tar, graceful, snaking, spilled, swirling webs of it.
All becoming magic, just like that.