At the Fence by Christi Craig

water dripping on an iron fence - close-up

After the storm settles and all that remains is the smell of wet dirt and the sight of leaves torn down from branches, your mother asks you to go for a walk in the pasture behind your house. It isn’t her request that makes you suspicious but the fact that, in your twenty-two years, you have walked the pasture with her maybe a handful of times and because of the way she whispers to you. Pulls at your elbow and tells you to hurry and get out the door before your father notices you are gone.

You love a good rain, the relief after the humidity falls, the way everything outside looks so green and alive. But as you follow your mother through the field, you notice patches of dead grass drowning in puddles and clumps of clover beaten down by the storm. The air is still heavy, and you slip in the mud.

Your mother, though, clips along. She isn’t hesitating, isn’t looking back, isn’t waiting for you.

When you both reach the iron fence at the end of the pasture, she looks beyond it at the old creek bed below. Water rushes between its banks, through tree roots and rocks in a torrent of too much at once. To ease your tension, you make small talk about the creek, how fast it will probably dry up again, and suggest the two of you walk down along the bank. She shakes her head.

“I have something to ask you,” she says, looking straight at you. “And I want you to be honest.”

You can’t remember the last time you lied to her, but there are things you’d rather her not know. You study her expression, registering angst or accusation: you aren’t sure. The rail of the fence feels rough against your palms, but you grip it just the same.

“Okay,” you say, sensing a strange pull at the back of your throat.

She spits out quickly, then, something about “divorce” and your father and “would you still love me?” And the words don’t even make sense. They get lost in the wind. You almost laugh at the absurdity, because divorce is so common these days, and you are of the world, unfazed. Relieved, too, that her question was not about you. Then, when she presses you again, waiting for what you realize is your approval, you are unable to move.

Your parents have been married almost thirty years. They do not scream or yell in your presence, so you can’t fathom her rage or his indifference that will show itself later. You can’t comprehend, just yet, how the wine she drinks plays into things. You balk when she says your father’s having an affair. That this isn’t the first time. But she keeps on, telling you more of things you don’t want to hear. You cannot remember a time she’s lied to you, but there are things you don’t want to know. It never sits right in your gut to learn that your parents are human. Fallible. Broken.

You wish she’d stop talking.

You wish the wind would pick up again.

Wish you’d stayed back at the house.

She asks again, “Would you still love me?”

It’s the smell of dirty creek water; it’s your mother’s eyes pressing on you for an answer; it’s the rip you feel in your chest that makes you look back to the house, searching for relief, for your father.

You stand at the fence, sure that no matter what you say, you will be taking sides. Throwing yourself into the torrent. Splitting yourself in two.

christi craigChristi Craig lives in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer, teacher, and editor. Her stories and essays have appeared online and in print, and she received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Family Matters Competition, 2010. Visit her website at christicraig.com or follow her on Twitter (@Christi_Craig) or on Instagram (@christicraigauthor).
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Les Chatfield
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  • Carol Wobig

    Moving piece, Christi. Well done. Congratulations.

  • Pam Parker

    Great piece! I remember this one in draft form — very, very close to the final. Excellent job. Very moving.