WEDNESDAY: Backyard Fence

BY SHEILA HORNE

Copyright is held by the author.

AFTER THEIR husbands kissed them goodbye and headed off to work and the children, lunches in brown paper bags, got on the school bus in front of the old Presbyterian Church, the women would meet at the backyard fence. Mrs. Phillips with her coffee and cigarette. Mrs. Sloan in her worn housecoat, which she wouldn’t change out of until three in the afternoon. Mrs. Bradshaw, her hair in rollers, and Mrs. McAlister who knitted mitts, hats and scarves as they chatted. Once a month she took them to the only elementary school in town for any child who either lost theirs on the playground or didn’t have any due to family circumstances.

The four women had moved into the neighbourhood as newlyweds right after World War II. They had grown from girls to middle aged women and had raised their children together. Over the years, they discussed the problems with the latest ready-made perm solutions and hair dyes that now came in boxes, the trouble with appliances invented to make household chores easier, and everything wrong with television, the country, the world and teenagers.

“It’s that music, it’s nothing but noise,” Mrs. Bradshaw said every time the subject came up. “If you ask me, these kids need a good swat on their backsides.”

Then Mrs. Sloan would add, “So do the politicians.” Her comment made the other women laugh.

Sometimes Mrs. Phillips opened a fashion or family magazine delivered by the mailman to her front door once a month. The conversation turned to the latest fashions and hairstyles that they decided could lead to nothing but trouble. They had lots to say about the relationship questions in the Dear Lizzie column. Mrs. Shaw couldn’t understand why women had so many problems with their husbands. She often said that the only requirement to a happy marriage was a proper dinner on the table everyday. Everyone would nod and agree that no recipe in a magazine could compare with one passed down from their mothers and grandmothers.

Soon the talk turned to Miss Goady, the spinster librarian who after being left at the altar took up with the married Mr. Keats. It seems everyone knew except poor Mrs. Keats. Then there was that Simpson boy. Not only did he smoke, but he hadn’t cut his hair in a month. They blamed his parents and agreed they were lucky their children were well behaved and their husbands faithful. Of course, the morning couldn’t end without mentioning Reverend Newman. In their opinion he wasn’t godly enough to preach the bible. A new preacher was needed. An older man, who didn’t laugh as much or drink beer.

Year after year the women met. Year after year they discussed people in the neighbourhood. Year after year, they ignored the wood rotting under the white paint of their backyard fence.

7 comments

  1. Norm Rosolen

    It’s such a great description of the world I grew up in. I so identified with the moods, ambience of post WW2 suburban Toronto you bring out so well.

    I found the use of past perfect & past conditional a little distracting. They’re often used in flashbacks. My own taste is to stick to the past tense until I can’t. Eg. “would meet” > “met” “had moved” > “moved”. Google “grammar girl & flashbacks”. The past tense & past perfect are mixed as well – consistency.

    I think you could use more logical para breaks, throughout.

    Dialogue is so powerful (ask Elmore Leonard). Please consider.

    Thanks for the read.

  2. Andrew Paterson

    Loved the concept, the characters and liked where you were going with the ending. I see it’s posted in flash fiction but I think this would make a terrific longer short story. I wanted more; a little more time to spend with these women (one of them sounds like my mother) and more dialogue to get to know them. From the tiny bit of dialogue that’s there, I think you write dialogue well and I would have loved to have heard some more of their conversations since they seem like very interesting characters. I liked what you were doing with the ending and the rot underneath white picket fence/symbol of post-war suburban life and they don’t even notice it. Again, I would have loved to have seen a longer story so the ending could be a little less abrupt and more subtle. With a longer form, the symbolism could be woven into the story; maybe one of the women occasionally picking at some blistering paint during the conversations and gradually exposing the rotting wood but not recognizing what it is, something like that. I hope you turn this story into something longer — I’d like to read it.

  3. Mary Steer

    I love Andrew Paterson’s suggestion of having one of the women pick at the peeling paint, thus exposing the rotten wood, but still without noticing – that would have made for a more subtle metaphor. As it stands, I find the ending too obvious — as a reader, I prefer to be allowed to put some of the pieces together myself.

  4. JAZZ

    NORM:
    We are a country of immigrants — not all of them can claim to have your command of grammar.
    Personally, I would concentrate on the stories.

  5. frank

    The reason for the tense problems comes from too much telling and not enough or any showing. I still enjoyed the ending, but like many of the commenters, the journey (although short) did not sufficiently engage. Still, that ending, like a mediocre meal with a kick ass dessert, made up for the flaws.

  6. JAZZ

    As a vignette, no plot or structure is really necessary.
    Congratulations, Sheila, I thought it was quite clever and highly entertaining.

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