Post Road Magazine #21

Meet Me at the Hedge, My Love

Caren Beilin

I live in the shed outside of our house, built to look like a house like your house, with fake shutters as a real house has those. I've built us a fence between us, as though we are neighbors, and good ones, too. The fence

I've made is of some roots and branches, things having fallen, or what comes up when the ground brims. I made this fence myself, binding the branches vertically with green root. It is a fence for romance.

She comes out here to say, "What are you doing?"

I say, "Roots and branches, a fence now binds us." A fence is a binding thing if it separates its neighbors, if we are separated. We are.

"It's a demented fence," she says. Her curls are antique, abstracted banisters. I love her. A fence is not furniture. Mine appears as the art project of a troll, but it is still a fence, and perhaps one I've built with dementia in mind—in mine. I am not an employed, employable, young, or particularly healthy man. I'm the rat you see in his coat, covering his disease with how he survives.

"But here you are. You've come out now to say hello! This fence between us brings you forth!"

I keep my food (and not one drink) in a small refrigerator in my shed where we once stored beach furniture together, the floats and jetsam. I run a wire through the grass into her house to light up my miniature fridge. I go out at night and touch the wire under the moon. I hold it under the stars near our fence of romance, holding the current in my weeping palm, and I imagine it goes into her, into her chest or through her brain with its thought-proud particles, and this is why I eat: I think she will start to pull me close. I do not ever drink.

The mailman won't deliver to me back here, no matter the number and its half I've nailed to my door, so she consents to come out to our fence of potential romance.

"I have a memoir coming out," she reports, and hands me the letters of billers, and the cardboard-boxed books I still buy online from the library's computers. I walk to the library every day. I'm like Van Gogh's back in the only picture taken. His black overcoat, and mine. The way the whole town hated him, and she, me. They saw he was not a good neighbor, and I was bad to her.

"Memoirs are all the rage. Am I going to die out here?" I ask.

She, whose abstracted banister hair grays—but in she whom I love, it looks like silver strings from the moon, if the moon were her own—she looks at my shed where it stands near a bush, and then—a soon frosting crab apple tree: "It seems that way now," she says. "You're really not drinking?"

"What's this memoir about? No more poetry?" She used to write poetry. About me.

"No, the poetry's gone." "Are you leaving?"

"I'm going to—leaving for a week."

While she's up in New York, somebody new is beginning his life in our house, a young man whose skin daubs the panes as he passes. I see him, the curtains being flexed, then closing. I can't see—I don't know.

I call her using the only phone outside of the market. I've run, panting, "There's a man in your house! Is he allowed?"

"Yes, that's my boyfriend," she explains. She sounds rushed. The curtains contract, then close more than ever. I go to bed with my hand on the fridge.

I see the man in the yard this morning, tearing apart my fence. He smashes the branches on the grass as though mistaken about their material—you wouldn't begin to saw through glass to break it. He's young, seeming full of that quick, dumb rage, his brain the kind churning open animal after animal, and feeding each thought to his heart.

"Hello?"

"Hey, neighbor!"

He walks closer. The crab apple tree has been on my side of our fence of romance, but of course the apples are hers. He eats a young one with the leaf still on its stem, then drops the leaf as if littering indignantly. I watch him chew the core like gum. He must have been a patient. He must have once been very ill.

"How's everything going?"

"You better go," he tells me. He's so much younger than me. I wonder if she left for a week so he could do this, to our fence, to us—to old me. I wonder if they're even together or if he's a thug, a patient who couldn't pay, so there was this. And then he turns on every light in her house and drops every drape. I see his hands loosening each notch of each noose. My head hangs in bed, and I hear his world music—chanting and drums and hymns, all this distance clutched in a sound.

Though never appearing in the yard, she still speaks to me at the market. She's buying two gallons of whole milk at a time, and sounding gay about her agent, the book, and buying a lot of fruit, too, until she has to confess it: her boyfriend, a practicing monofruitarian.

"He's addicted to fruit?" I make sure.

"No, not addicted. He's very rigorous." There are twelve mangoes. "The milk is to offset the absence of other things."

"One addiction often replaces another," I have to warn. If he likes mangoes so much, I wonder what he really enjoys.

"It's food!" she says loudly. "Food is good." She pronounces good like it's a foreign word for the word great.

"Too much of any one thing . . . " The library is where they have the meetings.

I don't go. I buy books online (The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, other letters, the letters of lovers to each other, I love those) and watch the people drink cigarettes instead of drinks before coming in, past these computers where I hover.

"Look in your cart, will you? What's in there?" She points very pointedly into it, where there is a lot of one type of item, as well. "Look at yourself." Call me a mono-frozen-bags-of-vegetables-tarian. Call me it.

But now everything is silent, and colder, the apples snow-dappled, as though she had once swallowed a bird and the bird, for a while, lived. That is marriage. A bird in each of our stomachs trying to survive. Sometimes one bird in one stomach outlasts the other in the other's. Her bird is dead. My bird is flapping furiously, is awake in my stomach, is frantic and foolish and calling, is calling, singing, mating with a ghost, her bird that is elsewhere from Earth, the distance unsound.

"I'm so busy," she says. "My agent wants me working already on a new thing."

"Ok, ok."

She checks on her milk gallons as if tenderly over her boyfriend's infirm forehead. He must be ill. And then I don't see her. It is as though we are not even neighbors. There are papers. She delivers me the very papers.

The memoir comes out. Blurbed as this: a psychiatrist's intrusion into herself. It doesn't say intrusion. It doesn't say that it's all about me.

Her boyfriend has made purchase of a fully mature hedge and transplanted it moments from my door. Here are the leaves between us, a thousand green curtains all fluttering. I can hardly see the house. They go above the face. I don't see her ever and the mailman has since consented to deliver. A hedge is somehow more official than a romance of a fence. But she delivers her book to me herself. She whispers through these leaves:

"I've brought you my book."

I whisper, "It's beautiful," and then I see it, the cover so white, like a photograph of a place inside new linen with the sun shining. I see her name: "It is so beautiful."

Here is a scene: husband on the floor, the money gone, the faucet running over a defecation, and in his arms, bottles.

He's a mono-bottle-tarian.

A scene: he falls in the market. A scene: the town hates him.

A scene: a scene!

And then: a violet ruffle caught in the window like the window taking a picture of another woman's shoulder. A blue feather found in the dry bathtub like he's torturing birds behind her back. Or the other woman wears blue feathers.

And then: a glass bottle on her way to work rolled under the brake. This is what ends everything: her inability one day to stop, and his inability to stop.

Then: She stops herself, finally, by smashing that bottle with the brake like an impromptu Jewish wedding (which was theirs, they'd eloped, they'd smashed a bottle at a window breaking both), and then, the divorce, like that, in sequence. It ends.

The end.

"I'm working on my second book," she says to me at the market, where I corner her and ask her why she wrote about our divorce before it happened, presupposing it, composing its truth before it was, necessitating it, promising her readers she'd do it. Meet me at the hedge, my love, is what I want to say.

"What's bound to happen already has," she says.

"Meet me at the hedge, my love," I say. I say, "Because it is written." In my shed at night, I do not drink. I hold my beard like a bird. I let it go and go to sleep.

But I hear a rustling. I hear a finger on a leaf. I wake. I go out and find her hands inside of the hedge like porcelain fairies I've found. I am a very old child who believes I've found these things. I can't even see her arms. I hold her hands which are breathing like whole creatures. I hold her fingers like soft scrolled wings, bending and pulsing.

"Come through the hedge, my love," I am saying. I'm pulling on her hands as if I could pull her through, her body through the flutter and all the brown bone.

"I wish you'd drink," she says. "Then it would make sense, this."

She'd said that line in bed to herself, her boyfriend viscous with mangoes, and then she came out to the yard, saying it, saying it, and then, saying that line out here, the air cleaning it.

"I guess the big house made me do it," I say. I don't mean it. Or I do.

"But out here?"

"Out here, I'm much better."

"Then you'll have to stay!" she cries, and we're plunging our faces in the hedge and kissing inside. I feel if I pulled the silvered strings in her hair, the moon would open. I take one and pull, but it pulls her voice through my mouth, my tongue a frantic wing, flapping east into her:

"We're married," she says.

In the shed, I write a poem at my small table, and then I burn it, here with my candle, like a hot pet you feed your poem to, when you're done with it on the table. I burn her book, too, like burning clean sheets you have dirtied, in which you have slept, and I think of the romantic fence between me and all my won't be a bad person.

Her husband chops at his hedge -----and me knowing a drink -...vould burn the bird good.





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