Invisible Fences

Free Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss

Book: Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss Read Free Book Online
Authors: Norman Prentiss
    I visited more frequently over the next few weeks. Dad was often lucid, but would sometimes drift into confusion. He’d pause over the kitchen counter, as if thinking about which cabinet he wanted to open. “Dad?” I’d say. “Dad?” No answer, but in a few minutes he’d be his usual stubborn self again. I tried to talk him into hiring a part-time nurse, but he said the house wasn’t “ready,” and argued he didn’t need a nurse. 
    “Well, why don’t you call a cleaning crew in here,” I said. “Clear out some of this junk.” 
    During a few of his confused episodes, I wondered what would happen if I started arguing back at him, saying every angry thing I ever wanted to say. After all, it wouldn’t hurt his feelings: once he snapped back to normal, he’d already have forgotten what we talked about. 
    One afternoon as we sat at the kitchen table, he looked right at me and started to carry on a conversation with Pam. “Your brother doesn’t understand,” he said. “Nate thinks everything is so clear cut.” 
    That’s when I yelled back. “Pam’s not here, Dad. I’m the one who stuck around. She left home because of you, because you let Mom sink into herself and almost drag the rest of us down with her. Pam’s the one who blames you for Mom’s death, not me.” 
    Silence followed. He nudged his half-empty coffee cup and his eyes seemed to follow a gentle ripple in the dark liquid.  
    When he looked up, he was Dad again, as pleased as if I’d just arrived at the house. 
    “Hello, Nathan,” he said. “Let’s go in the garage. I’ve got a story to tell you.” 
    • • • 
    Some of the junk near the wall was pushed against the tracks for the garage door, jamming the mechanism so the door stayed half-open. A few boxes and RubberMaid tubs had forced their way into the driveway since my last visit. A wedge of daylight stretched beneath the opening, filtered by slats of unfinished wood, a bookshelf without a back, and an upturned Formica table. It was bright enough that Dad didn’t bother to pull the metal chain hanging from the uncovered light fixture in the ceiling.  
    And dark enough to set the mood for my father’s final cautionary tale. Aside from a few stripes of light across his legs, Dad’s figure seemed gray and muted. Although his voice had a slight old-man tremor, its volume commanded attention. We stood amid the workshop tools that formed the subject of his story, and at strategic moments, he would rattle a toolbox, or shake the metal frame of an upright buzz saw. The tight quarters of the junk-crowded garage pressed me to stand close to him: we were the same height, but as his story progressed, my father seemed to lengthen slightly, like a late-evening shadow. 
    The first storyteller of my childhood was back, and I listened. 
    • • • 
    Once there was a young boy [my father began] who grew up in a neighborhood much like this one. He lived in a modest-sized home, full of many memories. So many, that they pushed him into a smaller space, almost like life had forced him into a box. 
    His big house became as small as the apartment you live in now, Nathan. 
    This boy was critical of everyone around him, but that meant he had to be critical of himself, too. He didn’t always like himself. 
    That might be why he had the accident, as if he’d subconsciously decided to punish himself.  
    He went to his father’s garage, where he’d been warned not to play with the electric tools. He turned on the drill press and the disc sander, and they made loud buzzing and screeching noises. Then he placed a fresh blade in the jigsaw, perfect for making careful cuts in thin strips of wood—the same machine people use to make the precise, interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. He pressed the red power button, and the machine roared to life. 
    But he didn’t have a thin strip of wood to cut. Instead, he pushed his left index finger against the blade. Cut

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