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Fence Line


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									Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                         1

                                          Fence Line

        She is having one of her headaches.

        The throbbing starts in the morning, so early it is still dark, as Amelia stands at

the long wooden table piled with ice and raw shrimp. She works as she always does,

methodically removing shells in three slick movements: yank off head, slice underbelly

with thumbnail, squeeze the tail. If it’s done right—and she always does it right, she’s

been peeling since she was a child—the cold body pops out, slimy smooth and naked.

        The shrimp gets thrown onto clean ice, and the shell is dropped into the bucket at

her side. Head, belly, tail, shell in bucket, over and over, until the bucket gets full. When

it is, she carries it to the boss, and he marks it. Fifteen cents for a full bucket of shells. On

a good day, she can fill ten buckets. $1.50 for the day’s work, on her feet the whole time,

except for the break to eat and stretch and put up her feet so her ankles won’t swell.

        Her first bucket is nearly full when the headache comes to life. The throb starts

under the black kerchief wrapped over her hair and forehead to keep the sweat out her

eyes. It starts on the right side, radiating towards her eye. She scrunches her face,
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                      2

squeezing tightly, but the pain is still there when she opens her eyes. Throb, throb, throb,

and now a shimmer of light on the edge of her vision.

       A cold finger of dread, colder than the mountains of ice strewn across the rows of

peeling tables inside the shrimp shed, crawls up her spine. By the time she gets home, the

pain will be blinding.

       “Amelia, what’s the matter? Why you making those faces, cher?”

       She shrugs. Head, belly, tail, shell in bucket.

       “Headache,” she says. Because the questioner is her cousin Betrice, and all the

Marcelle women suffer from the bad headaches, Amelia adds, “Tres mauvais.”

       Betrice nods. Her fingers move like Amelia’s. Head, belly, tail, shell in bucket.

       “Pauvre bete, come with me at break time, I’ll rub your head. I had me a bad one

last week. Mon dieu! I about switched my boy, he wouldn’t leave me be to lie down….”

       Betrice keeps on talking. The other women join in, eager to share their maladies,

or criticize their husbands, worry over their children and gardens, and the tables come to

life. Talk is the only thing they can do that doesn’t slow them down while they’re

shelling shrimp for fifteen cents a bucket.

       Amelia could peel raw shrimp in her sleep, and sometimes it feels like it. Last

night, she had a pile of shirts from Mr. Leon, who owns the hotel. Up ironing until

midnight, and then up at four to get a place in line. There are no reserved spots at the

shrimp shed, even if the boss is your husband’s second cousin, and he well knows that

Tomas left you widowed with five children. If you need to work, you show up at four to

catch a place at a table. Everybody’s got mouths to feed. You’re not the only one wearing

black for a year, with four more to go. Everybody on the bayou’s got need for a day job.
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                     3

       At the break, she unties the damp kerchief and shakes loose her hair. The kerchief

is soaked with sweat, but the hot air feels good on her head. She runs her fingers through

her hair. It hangs down her back, almost touching her waist, and is so silky smooth, it

snags on the cuts the shrimp picons leave on her hands.

       She walks to the giant weeping willow shading the bayou side and sits on a

wooden bench built around its trunk. She breathes in the salty breeze and rolls her neck

from side to side, then stretches out her arms. Her thin wedding band catches the sun. Her

fingers are white as an oyster shell, the skin pale and wrinkled from the brine.

       She braids her still-damp hair and rolls it into a chignon. She eats her boiled egg

while Betrice stands behind her and rubs small circles on her neck, and then slowly

moves up under the chignon and towards her scalp.

       “Cher, your head’s tight! You not sick to your stomach this time?”

        Amelia says no, though sometimes the headaches are so bad, she vomits. Not

today. The egg goes down easy. Sometimes eating helps, sometimes not.

       “At home, make you some coffee,” Betrice says. “Strong, strong. And a cold


       Betrice’s fingers dig into Amelia’s scalp. “Tell me if I’m hurting you,” she says,

but Amelia says nuh-uh, and Betrice rubs harder. She is a generation older, old enough to

be Amelia’s mother. They all learned the cures. Cold towel. Strong coffee. Head rub.

       And prayer.

       “Notre Père, qui es aux cieux, que ton nom soit sanctifié…”

       Amelia hears the low recitation of the Lord’s Prayer that Betrice mumbles as she

massages. Amelia’s mother prayed, too, and for a moment Amelia is lost in it, the
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                            4

memory of her mother’s hands, the sound of her mother’s voice, but Betrice reaches the

point of pain, and Amelia inhales sharply. The hands freeze. The prayer stops.

        “Here?” Betrice gently places her palm flat on the aching side of Amelia’s head

and pushes circles over the spot. Amelia would like the hands to keep going, never to

stop, but Betrice has to eat, too.

        “Merci beaucoup,” she says, sincerely, but when Betrice tells her to say the

Lord’s Prayer while she peels, Amelia does not respond. She has not prayed, not for

relief, for her husband, for anything, in a long time.


        In the afternoon, the breeze from the bayou goes still. The shed gets so hot, sweat

runs down Amelia’s back, pooling at the cheap black muslin cinched around her waist by

her work apron. Outside, the sky grows heavy with thunderclouds and the air in the shed

thickens. Her head throbs like the bass drum in the Mardi Gras parade, pounding in the

same kind of rhythm as her constantly moving hands. Head, pound, belly, pound, tail,

pound, shell in bucket, pound pound pound. The headache rumbles in tune with the

thunder that bounces against the shed walls.

        For one moment, just one, it hurts so bad, she stops peeling. She is in such pain,

she wants to die.

        Right then, the rain starts. It hits the tin roof in scattered pings, and within

seconds, rain is hammering so loud, the shed shakes with it. The boss runs to slide the big

doors closed, and now there is no air, not even hot air, blowing in. The ladies look at each

other across the tables, wincing in the din. But it doesn’t last long. A few minutes only,

and then it slows down, and stops.
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                          5

       “Woo,” Betrice says, and the ladies laugh. The boss opens the door and air, cooler

now, plays under the tables.

       The chatting starts, livelier than this morning. Amelia says nothing but no one

minds. They have all had sick headaches or cramps, sore hands and aching backs, but no

one stops. Head, belly, tail, shell in bucket. The haul is light today, so the married

women, the ones with husbands who fish out on the Gulf or trap furs in the swamps, quit

after the break. When Tomas was alive, Amelia left early, too, but now she stays until the

shed closes down. On her way home, most days she will pick up shirts to iron, and she

will work until the job is done, no matter how long it takes. At 4:00 a.m., she will wake

up and take the ferry over the bayou and get in line and start all over again.

       Today, there is nothing to pick up. She can go straight home. The last hour, she

thinks about her bed, and lying down with a cool towel over her head. It is all she thinks

about. Lying down. Closing her eyes.

       The boss walks up and down the rows, seeing how much shrimp is left. Finally,

there is only ice, and the shift whistle blows. Amelia removes her soaked and stinking

apron and rolls it into a tight ball. She gets in line to have her buckets counted. Nine full

to her credit, and this last one half to three quarters. The boss puckers his lips as he peers

inside, and shakes his head. No credit. The bucket has to be full to the top. Some days, he

pretends he sees more shells than what’s in the bucket. This is not one of those days.

       Stepping outside, she feels dizzy. At the bayou, ladies cluster while Maurice pulls

up with the flatboat and counts the waiting passengers as he ties up to the dock.

       “Six!” he calls back to his brother Josef, who works the other side. Six trips the

ferry will have to make, back and forth.
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                       6

       Amelia is the last one to arrive at the dock. Already, the flatboat is nearly full.

       “Wait!” She hears Betrice cry. “Maurice, let Amelia go first round. She’s got the

bad headache.”

       There is grumbling, maybe, but no one argues with Betrice. Amelia manages a

smile of thanks and another to Maurice when he holds out his hand to help her step down

into the flatboat. If his hand holds onto hers a little too long, and if he smells of whiskey

when he steps too close, she pretends not to notice.

       She clutches the railing. The boat sways back and forth with the current, and now

her stomach lurches with it. She breathes deeply, staring down. The bayou is covered

with water lilies, thick and green, swaying just like the ferry. A water moccasin weaves

through the clusters of leaves, dipping in and out of the water, never stopping.

       When the boat is full, Maurice stands in front and pushes the lilies aside with a

long pole while Josef turns the rope wheel. The cigarette hanging from Maurice’s mouth

bobs up and down as he curses the thick carpet of lilies choking the surface.

       The boat lurches across the bayou. Shivers of pain fly through her head with

every movement. The other ladies let her be first to climb off. Maurice takes her hand

again, and this time there is sympathy in his voice as he says bon soir.

       Her eye is crying now. She walks along the dirt road towards her house, wiping

her eye. The tears smear with the dust that rises with every breeze off the bayou. She

stays close to the bank, ducking under the weeping willows that line the bayou side. It

aches to move her head, but the sun hitting the back of her head hurts worse than that.
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                      7

       Finally, she can see her house. The whitewashed front is blazing orange from the

setting sun. This time last year, her fence was lined with sweet peas blooming lilac,

yellow and blue. It is bare now, the flowers dried.

       Her children are home from school, long home, and playing noisily in the front

yard. When they see her, they raise fresh clouds of dust running up the road to greet her.

Before they get close, she holds out her hands, palms out, and they skitter to a halt.

       “I’m sick,” she says, and they are immediately silent. They part as she steps

between them. At the gate, she says, “I’m going to lie down. Henri, take some cornmeal

and catch some shrimp in the bayou, then you and Lorna peel it for supper. Arnaud and

Emmie, I want you to cut the grass in the back yard.”

       “I did it last time,” Arnaud says sulkily.

       “Do it!” she cries. “If I have to come outside, you’ll be sorry. You hear?”

       No one answers. She leaves them standing by the gate. She doesn’t know if

Arnaud is mad or Lorna is ready to cry. She doesn’t know because she won’t look at their

faces. Lately, she has trouble meeting their eyes when she gives her abrupt instructions.

She could not tell what any of her children are wearing today. She only knows they are

fed and clothed because that is what she does, all day and late into the night, peeling and

sewing and ironing to take care of these children, fair-haired and blue-eyed like her

husband. She doesn’t see their faces anymore. All she sees are their mouths to feed.

       She stops at the cistern by the back porch and washes her hands and arms. She

pulls off her dress in the back room where she does the laundry. In her slip, she walks

across the cool wooden floor towards her bedroom. She wishes now she had told Lorna to
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                        8

make coffee, but it is too late. If she calls Lorna inside now, the girl will talk and talk and

talk to her. Amelia was like that, too, when she was nine.

       No coffee, but it will be quiet. She reaches the bed and stretches out, her head on

the pillow, her arms crossed over her chest, just the way Tomas was in his coffin.


       The house is hers, clear, and if she were still speaking to God, she would thank

him for that.

       She is twenty-nine, widowed, with five children. She is poor. She is uneducated.

She got married at seventeen, had her first baby a year later. Now, Gilbert is twelve and

works on a shrimp trawler. He quit school after his papa fell and hit his head and never

got up. A year ago. A year since Amelia bought three bolts of cheap black muslin and

sewed seven mourning dresses from it. Three for herself, two for each of her daughters.

Her girls will wear black for two years, and she will do five.

       She does not listen to the radio. She no longer goes to dances. The only music she

hears is in church. Her children are not allowed to sing. At school, while their friends and

cousins jump rope or play hopscotch, Lorna and Emmie stand aside and watch.

       Other widows say she can marry again. After her mourning, she will still be

young. Every time she hears that, she recoils in horror. She does not, ever, want a man to

touch her.

       But she owns her house, free and clear. She and Tomas lived with her parents for

four years, sleeping in her bedroom, to save money to build their house. Her first two

children were born in her childhood bed. When Gilbert came, her mother had just started
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                    9

to hunch over from the pains in her stomach. Two years later, for Lorna, Mama was in

the sickbed all the time. By the time the new house was ready, she was gone.

        The land was Tomas’, inherited from his grandfather. His two brothers got the

same. The parcels of land back up to one another. Amelia questioned once if it was wise

to live near his brothers, who were wild single men who drank and gambled and caroused

with women she would not speak to on the street. But what choice did they have? It was

the only land he would ever own. He told her, too, that maybe one day his brothers would

settle down, like he did. She settled him down. Neither of them needed to say that his

brothers hate her for this.

        Now, she lies in her own bed, in her house no one can take from her, so long as

she pays the taxes. Tomas left no debts but one, to Mr. Rebstock, the grocer. After the

burial, she kept on her black dress that was still scratchy and new and walked to the store.

Gilbert went with her. That first week, Gilbert would not leave her side.

        She owed the grocer money. $32.15. Tomas told her the amount before he left for

trapping. He bought his supplies for the season, with the promise to settle the debt when

he sold his furs. The grocer marked it in his ledger. He gave credit to trappers who made

good on their credit. Tomas always made good.

        But his last season, Tomas caught no furs. He fell the first day and was carried

home by other trappers. Amelia had no money, but she was young and strong. She could

work off the debt. That was her thought when she walked up the wooden steps of the

general store. The old men who clustered on the porch every afternoon to smoke their

cheroots stopped talking and removed their hats when they saw her coming.

        “Comment ca va?” they asked. All she could do was nod in response.
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                      10

       “Stay here,” she said to Gilbert as she opened the screen door. Her knees shook.

What if Tomas had charged more than he told her about? It was such a large sum, but

what if there was more?

       There wasn’t. When she got to the counter, Mr. Rebstock said she had

misunderstood. “There is no charge,” he told her. “It is paid.”

       He opened his ledger and slid it across the counter. She could not read but she

knew her numbers. She knew the letters of Tomas’ name written across the top. A pain

stabbed at her chest when she saw it. But when she looked down the column, to the

bottom, the $32.15 was crossed out.

       “No debt,” the grocer repeated. She looked into his face. He was older than her

father. His black hair was gray now, what was left of it, but his blue Rebstock eyes were

steady. Tomas always said a Rebstock could drive a hard bargain, but what she saw now

was not a businessman’s look. It was pity. He had lost his wife, too, two years before.

       She stared at him, and then at the crossed out numbers. She had not

misunderstood. Tomas could not have paid it. No one in her husband’s family would, and

no one in her family could, but still the grocer insisted, again, that the charge had been

paid. And so she left, with no debt but a new burden.

       Now she buys her foodstuffs there but she always pays cash. She does not know

that when she sends one of her children to the store, Mr. Rebstock gives them free penny

candies. If she knew, she would no longer patronize his business.


       By dusk, the headache is better. Not gone, but better. She has dozed and roused.

In half-sleep, she heard Lorna in the kitchen. She can smell the shrimp that’s been
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                        11

cooked. She forgot to tell Lorna to cook rice, but she probably did without being told.

Emmie would have to be told, every time, but not Lorna. She’ll have fretted about it, then

done it, then fretted more until Amelia tells her she did right.

        Outside, it has been quiet, but now Emmie and Arnaud are arguing. Gilbert’s

sharp voice tells them to be quiet. If he is home, it is time for her to get up, but she

doesn’t want to. She wants to lie here all night. One full night’s sleep, with no worries.

She would give anything for that—except she has nothing to give, except her house.

        Boots stride across the kitchen and stop at her bedroom door. Ready to fuss, she

lifts one side of the cloth over her eyes.

        “Mama,” Gilbert says, “you have to get up.”

        She lifts the towel, amazed at his tone, which is not scared like one of the children

has been hurt but Mon Dieu, like he is giving an order. Giving her an order.

        “I’m sick,” she says. “I’m tired. Go away. Leave me alone.”

        He shakes his head, his blond hair swinging as he does it. His dungarees, she

notices, are so short, she can see over the tops of his boots.

        “Mama, you have to get up. You have to come.”

        It is a statement, not a question, so she groans as she sits up and slides off the bed.

He waits in the hall while she slips on a dress and old shoes. She follows him through the

yard on the path that Emmie and Arnaud just cut. It ends past her clothesline, and the

cool grass there is so long, it reaches under her dress and tickles her calves. By the time

they reach the fence, the other children are following like in the Pied Piper story. Fireflies

flick around the two lengths of barbed wire crudely staked across the back of their

property to keep Bella, their milk cow, from wandering off.
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                     12

       At the fence, Gilbert stops. “I came to mend it. The posts are rotting, so I came to

fix them.”

       Confused, she glances at the freshly chopped wood posts lying in front of the

fence. When he raises the top wire, she obediently ducks under it to the other side.

       “Stay there,” Gilbert tells his brothers and sisters, and like Amelia, they obey.

       It is dusk but not quite dark, so when he points to the ground behind the rotting

post and says, “Look,” she doesn’t see at first. She bends down and peers at the holes in

the grass, first in one spot, then another and another. Covered up with clumps of dirt, the

grass on top dying because, until today’s thunderstorm, it has been dry. After the third

hole, she straightens up and looks across at the other post. Gilbert nods.

       “They’ve been moving the fence forward,” he says. “They’re stealing our land,



       They, they, there is only one they.

       After Tomas was buried, after she went to Mr. Rebstock’s store, she came home

and sat in the rocker on the front porch. She rocked until her children, exhausted by

confusion and crying, put themselves to bed. She was still rocking when Ennis, Tomas’

oldest brother, walked up the lane in the darkness. He stopped before her rocker and said

Tomas told him, if anything ever happened to him, he wanted Ennis to have his shotgun.

He knew where it was, he said, and he did not want to bother her, so he would go to the

shed and get it himself.

       The next morning, she was still rocking. Tomas’ younger brother came through

the morning fog.
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                 13

       “Tomas gave me his pirogue,” Matthew said. “He said it was mine to have.”

       “But you already have a pirogue,” she protested mildly, because she knew she

should but she was too exhausted to understand why.

       “Tomas promised me his,” Matthew insisted and then he disappeared back into

the fog.

       Later, how many days she does not remember, Gilbert came to find her.

       “Mama, where’s Papa’s gun and pirogue?” he asked. “I looked all over the shed.”

       “They’re gone,” she said and explained about his uncles’ visits.

       Gilbert watched her while she talked, his blue eyes hardly blinking. When she

finished, he said, “But Mama, that doesn’t make sense. Why would Papa talk about

giving away his things? He was only thirty years old. He didn’t know he would die.”

       She flinched at the word die. “That’s what they said.”

       “Maudit, Mama! They’re lying!” he said, so sharply she did not scold him for

cursing. “They stole from you. How can I hunt with no gun? I can’t fish without a

pirogue. Papa would want me to have them. Me, not his brothers.”

       His round, child’s face was red from anger. He turned around so sharply, his arms

swung away from his sides like he was dancing.

       “Where are you going?” she called.

       “To get them back,” he answered.

       “Wait,” she said. “Stop.”

       He didn’t listen. He disobeyed and it made her angry. The anger grew and grew

all afternoon while he was gone, blossoming into something as alive and choking as the

water lilies killing the bayou.
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                     14

       He showed up, late in the day, one eye swollen shut, his lip busted, walking into

the kitchen with Mr. Rebstock at his side. The grocer held her husband’s shotgun.

Through the screen door she saw three other men carrying the pirogue.

       Gilbert pressed a bloody rag against his face.

       “They beat you?” she cried, the anger pushing the words out so clipped and hard,

Gilbert took a step backwards.

       “No,” Mr. Rebstock said. “No, they made him fight.”

       “Fight? Fight who?”

       “Them. First Ennis and then Matthew. He had to fight to get his papa’s gun and

pirogue back.”

       “You fought your uncles?” She stared at her child. He was twelve! He never

fought, except with his brother Henri, who was so pudgy, it was like fighting a toddler.

How could he beat two grown men? “You won?”

       “No,” Mr. Rebstock said again. “No, they beat him and sent him home.”

       He was still holding the shotgun. She noticed that his knuckles were white.

       “But how?“ she asked, nodding at the gun.

       “He came by my store, for some ice—“

       “Only a little,” Gilbert interrupted. “One piece, for my eye.”

       “—and the men on my porch saw him. Beating a boy! Their own nephew! My

men went and got these things back.” He handed her the gun then. “I told them to put the

pirogue in your shed.”

       She nodded. Her hand clutched the gun as tightly as he had. It tightened harder

when his face moved into something like a grim smile.
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                        15

         “They won’t cause you no more trouble. I guarantee. My men, they took care of



         She tromps back through the yard, her head aching, but her exhaustion gone. The

children follow again, like one of them is in trouble, but they don’t know which one.

         In the kitchen, she stops in front of the stove. Lorna has set the cooked shrimp on

a plate with a cover on top. The rice pot is still on the burner. By the sink, slices of

cucumber are lined up neatly on the cutting board. When she looks at it, Lorna jumps

forward and starts putting the slices in a bowl.

         Her heart is hammering. She feels almost faint with anger. “Sit down,” she says.

“Let’s have supper.”

         After supper, the children do their homework. The girls rinse out their dresses at

the cistern. The boys go out on the back step and bang their boots together to knock the

mud off. All evening, her head pounds and pounds and pounds, but it is nothing now.

         At bedtime, she tells Gilbert she will talk to him in the morning.

         “All right,” he says, as if he is granting permission to wait that long. The children

do not ask what she will do about the fence. Can they tell that she does not know?

         She gets into bed, her head pounding against the cool pillow. She sleeps in the

middle, not on her side, not on Tomas’, but in the center, and the layers of Spanish moss

stuffed inside the mattress sink with her weight. The sides close in around her. She runs

her hands along her sides and pushes it back, away from her.

         She is alone, she has been all year, from the moment Mr. Rebstock’s men beat her

husband’s brothers. No one in the family will lift a finger to help her. Her children could
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                      16

starve in the road, and they would allow it. Her children who are afraid of her. They make

her angry, for being hungry, for growing too fast, for needing her. She is angry with Mr.

Rebstock for pitying her and his men for aiding her son. She is angry with Ennis and

Matthew for stealing from their brother’s widow. But most of all, she is angry with her

husband, with Tomas, for deserting her.

       In the morning, the headache is gone. She gets up at four, as always, and sets

coffee to brew and lights the oven to make biscuits. Gilbert gets up soon after she does.

He sips coffee and watches her climb on a chair and reach way back, so far she can

barely reach, into the top cupboard over the sink. She pulls out a strongbox.

       He comes to her side when she sets in on the table and opens it. She pulls out her

marriage paper and the birth certificates the priest gave her after her children were born.

At the bottom is the deed to the land.

       “Read that,” she says. She pours a cup of coffee and listens while, haltingly,

Gilbert reads the lines telling how many feet and where and how they will be marked.

She remembers, shortly after their marriage, when her husband went to the parish seat to

have the papers drawn. She thought he was being foolish. Everyone else simply

remembered where their land ended and started. But he had insisted on getting the papers

and later, showing her where the fence should go, alongside two china balls trees.

       “That’s where my parcel starts,” he’d said. He pointed east. “Matthew’s is over

there.” And west. “Ennis is on this side. I’m making this fence right here. This is ours.”

       He had good sense, Tomas. She thinks it now as she folds up the paper. Good

sense to know his own brothers could not be trusted.

       “I have to get in line,” she says to her son.
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                      17

       “But what about the fence?” Gilbert begins. She holds up a hand to shush him.

       “Go wake up your brothers and sisters. I’ll tell you.”

       They gather, sleepy and surprised, but happy to be in the kitchen, with her talking

to them, in the middle of the night. Her boys, she notices, badly need haircuts. Her girls’

dresses should be turned and re-sewn inside out, where the black is not so dulled out. She

will do the haircuts tonight, she decides. The girls’ dresses she’ll start tomorrow, or the

next day, whenever she doesn’t have ironing.

       She leaves for the shed at the regular time. She takes the ferry. She peels all

through the morning. She eats her lunch. When Betrice asks about her head, she says,

“Bien merci, ma cousin. I’m better now.”

       There is a lot of shrimp, a big haul, so much that the boss asks as many women as

can to stay behind. For those who leave anyway, he threatens they might not get a place

next time, no matter when they stand in line.

       Amelia peels bucket after bucket. Head, belly, tail, shell in bucket. She fills

fourteen buckets. It is the most she’s ever peeled. The last one is not quite full when she

shows it to the boss. He shakes his head, but she protests, not too loud, but clear enough,

“It’s almost full. Yesterday I had more than half one. And you know I need the money.”

       He looks up, surprised, and nods. “Fourteen,” he says, like he is almost proud.

       She gets no special consideration on the ferry. She stops at the hotel for a bundle

of laundry. Her arms ache as she carries it up the road. When she sees her house, it is

dusk again. The children are not outside, and there is a glow from the kerosene lamp in

the kitchen. Seeing the silence, the dread from yesterday comes back. Why are they not

outside? Is everyone all right?
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                    18

       They are. They are waiting by the table. Gilbert is there. He trapped a rabbit, he

tells her when she comes inside. Lorna made a stew, with onions and a few potatoes, and

they will have the last cucumbers from the garden. The iron pot is covered, but the smell

of the stew hangs all over the kitchen.

       Her stomach growls as she sits down. They are all watching her, all five, all blond

hair, blue eyes.

       “Did you do it?” she asks.

       “Yes,” Gilbert says.

       “You covered up the holes on our side?”


       “With fresh grass? And you watered it?”

       “Yes, Mama, just like you said.”

       “And you made three sets on their side, and put the old dirt on top of those?”


       She nods, satisfied. Her stomach growls again. The rabbit smells delicious.

       “So, the fence is back where it belongs?”


       She looks up sharply and sees a flash, a glimmer of brightness in Gilbert’s eyes.

And in her other children’s eyes as well. They look at her the way they used to, without

fear. She has not seen this, anything like this, since Tomas died.

       “We moved the fence three foot lengths over on their side,” Gilbert says. “That’s

a yard.”
Ramona DeFelice Long/Fence Line                                                       19

        A cold fist squeezes her chest. She wants to scold, to say that what he did was

stealing, and stealing is wrong, a sin. He should know this. It is how he was taught.

        That is true, but it is not that that makes her breath stop. Her husband’s brothers

will see. They will know what was done, and why, but the why won’t matter. They will

blame her; they will say she is stealing their land. Gilbert has started a whole new trouble

now, a worse one.

        But she can’t say it. He is a boy, and he has much to learn, but he won’t learn it

tonight, not from her. The cold unlocks a tiny bit. Maybe, with the rain, Ennis and

Matthew won’t be able to tell. The hope is as foolish as the act, but it is easier to pretend

to fool herself than to tell her son that was he did was worse than wrong. It was stupid. So

all she does is nod. She says nothing, as if it is a secret. Their family secret.

        She stands, so quickly her chair nearly topples behind her but she catches it in

time. She reaches for the bowls Lorna has set out on the counter. Lorna stands to help

her, but she says, “No, I’ll do it.”

        She serves the stew, parceling it out evenly, and hands a bowl to each child. They

wait until she is seated before bowing their heads over the hot food, the way they have

been taught to all their lives. Amelia does not bow her head, or bless her meal. When

they raise their heads, she looks back into their faces and nods again.

        “Let’s eat,” she says. “Let’s eat now.”

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