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Fiction issue: The Fence

May 1, 2014 | 12:00 a.m. CST


Outside my village there stands a fence. A fence so old and forgotten, no one really remembers why it is there. I often dream about it, that fence. I dream of climbing over it and walking into the vast desert, just walking. Walking away from all my responsibilities, all my problems, all my burdens. But then I wake up. I always wake up. I must.

My oldest sister is one of the few who crossed the fence, fleeing from duty. Fleeing from marriage. She left full of a fiery soul with hope shining in her bright gray eyes as she told me: “Raashad, the world is so much bigger than this village. Bigger than Mother, and Father! I could be anything I want beyond that fence!” Mother and Father never acted the same after Kimi left. I would catch Mother gazing blankly out past the hills, clutching her chest as the night grew old. Father would sit, lost in thought at Kimi’s desk. She used to sit there for hours on end writing, her hands a flurry of motion as she marked down her thoughts that would change the world. Now, only Father sits there, his hands cupping his face. He waits for Kimi to come back.

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The fence waits with him.

Time went on. Father started coughing up blood in the night, his small frame shaking over a wash bin. I couldn’t sleep on those nights. Sneaking up to the door, peering through the cracks, I could see Mother’s body shaking under the stress of holding up Father, as if she thought if she held onto him he would stay with us, if she could be his strength, he could stay. If only.

Ten days past the summer equinox, my sister returned, broken. Some of the other village boys had found her, just five miles outside the village, within the fence. They had come to me gasping.

“Raashad, Kimi is back!”

This girl was not my sister.

She lay there like a broken rag doll. Her eyes were dead. Her lips silent. They now mutely stayed in a permanent grimace refusing to speak the wonderful stories of the land beyond the fence. As I led her home, her hand gripped mine like a child, afraid to let go. Her once-glossy black hair was tangled like a birds nest atop her head, drooping around her bruised eyes. She glanced about like a wild creature; every person seemed to be a threat to her. When we made it home at last, she shrunk away from Father as he approached. Whimpering, she backed into the corner, as if we both were suddenly strangers to her.

“Mala! Kimi is back.” Father called to Mother, his voice cracking. Mother rushed in, dropping the plates she held. “What has happened to my little girl?” she cried, taking Kimi into her arms. Kimi sagged and didn’t return Mother’s embrace as she was led to her room. With crinkled eyes, Father instructed me to go to bed as he rushed out the door. While I lay in bed, I could hear Father shouting, screaming. He coughed and hacked until he finally fell silent, and the night once again grew quiet.

The day after Kimi’s return, I led her to her room. Sitting her at the desk, I waited for some remnants of her old self, stories of the city, a poem written while away — anything. But she sat. Staring into the hard grooves of the old desk. Her knuckles whitened as her fingers bit into the splintered edge of the desk. I can only get up and leave the shadow of my sister. We know unspeakable things happened to her beyond the fence. But we cannot bring ourselves to try to make her tell us. Because that would confirm what we fear to be true.

Sometimes I woke up to her crying, a sobbing that racked her body violently as she tried to curl in upon herself. On these nights I hold her because I don’t know what else to do. She eventually falls quiet into a deep sleep almost resembling death, except for the tears that still silently ran down her face. When Father would wake up to see her face with the telltale signs of crying, his feverish eyes would squint back the loathsome tears of a father crying for his daughter and flee her sight as his bitter tears accompanied his fit of coughs. I think that was the final blow for Father. The night before he died, he ushered me to his side. “When I die, Raashad, you must take care of this family. The role of eldest male falls to you.” My hands shook with the fear of such responsibility. Father saw the scared child in my wide eyes as he gripped my hands. “I am so sorry; I am so sorry.” And those were the last words my father ever said to me.

We found his frail body in bed the next morning. Mother clutched his hands begging for him to please come back, come back. Mother stayed at his bedside for a whole night and day like that, until the village men came to get his body. We had to pry her hands from his lifeless ones. Ever since that night, Mother has been unstable; she wanders about the house mindlessly sweeping with a broom, uttering phrases under her breath that only she understands. Her whispers and hisses can be heard throughout the house. It has fallen upon me to take care of my family. I feel like a boy trying to be a man.

The road ahead of me seems hopeless and burdened. But sometimes I dream about a fence. A fence so old and forgotten, no one really remembers why it is there. I dream of climbing over it and walking into the vast desert, just walking. Leaving the fence behind.

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