Hope you enjoy this short story from the collection I published in 2015 - 'Banfield Tales'
Don’t Take a Fence by Michael Braccia
Four hours I’ve been here. Four long, arduous hours. I’ve now used half a tub of Fenceguard (other fence products are also available) painting my flippin’ fences. I feel tired, angry, stupid, and most of all embarrassed. Why? Let me tell you what happened.
It all started really well on a lovely day in June last year. I’d got the day off and Anita had given me her usual list of jobs I needed to complete; main one - the fences at the side of the house. So you can understand the layout of our grand estate (that is, 3-bedroomed linked-detached). I will explain. As you look at the front of the house, the garage is to the right (‘linked’ to the neighbour’s house next door), the front door and porch is in the middle, and to the left is the side entrance to the garden. Further to the left (try to picture this in your mind) is the bottom of each of the gardens attached to the houses in the next street, which is at right-angles to our street. Hope that makes sense. Anyway, these are the fences crying out for a new coat of Fenceguard. Also, at the front of the entrance (before I carried out my maintenance duties, and by the way, we call it the tradesmen’s entrance) was a very rusty metal gate. When we first moved in we could hear knocking and clanking in the night. I’m sure Anita is wrong when she says I’ve quoted Benny Hill’s song too many times: ‘was it the trees-a-rustling or the hinges of the gate, or Ernie’s ghostly gold tops a-rattling in their crates’. She’s probably right. She’s also right when she says I need a new script writer.
So, two jobs regarding the front gate - rub it down to the bare metal and paint it (black, says Anita). We’ll padlock it and put a ‘stopper’ at the back of the gate to prevent it from clanking. Stopper is my technical term for a house-brick.
Now, for security reasons, that is, when we first moved in, to stop our hyperactive six-year-old from escaping (possibly climbing the metal gate) we had a proper man in who fitted a robust wooden gate half-way down the side passageway. Hope this makes sense. So, picture the scene, a new-ish wooden gate to which we added bolts that cannot be reached from the outside. This is where my problem started.
On the fateful day, I moved all my tools, tub of Fenceguard, sandpaper and black metallic paint and brushes into the passageway, between the two gates. I used Fenceguard for the wooden gate and started to ‘fenceguard’ the three side fences (bottom of the garden for the neighbours to the left). Anita called me, suggesting a break. I left the metal gate unlocked, walked round the back of the house, bolting the wooden gate, nice and secure, nice and snug, and went in the house via the backdoor.
Sandwich, cake, nice cuppa and one hour later, this is where I made my big mistake. For some reason only known to the Gods, and I will never be able to explain it, I carried all the other stuff I needed (towel, rags for wiping off excess paint and so on) through the house, out the front door, and into the side passageway. It’s now about one o’clock and Anita calls out:
‘Going to see Mom, see you at tea-time.’
‘Ok love, send my best to your Mom.’
I love my mother-in-law to bits, but I’d rather be rubbing down and painting a metal gate, thank you very much.
It took about half an hour to finish rubbing down the gate, and maybe about the same to paint it. I carefully closed the gate, padlocked it and placed the brick to stop the clanking. Shall we call it the anti-clanking brick? Anyway, I am now in the passageway, locked outer gate, and if you remember, locked inner gate. Trapped like a dog. Correction, a dog would have had more sense.
Think now, think, you berk. You hurt your back a couple of weeks ago just cleaning the car; you can’t climb either of the gates, or the fences. Anita’s gone to her Mom’s, John’s with his Auntie til about seven. Flippin’ eck, what next? It was at this stage I had my first (or should I say second) stupid moment. One of my neighbours walked by and waved.
‘Hi David, keeping busy?’
‘Yeh, these fences take some painting.’
‘Want a hand?’
‘No, it’s keeping me out of mischief; thanks anyway.’
Little did they know I was the Prisoner of Askaban, Bird Man of Alcatrass, and Prat of Banfield. Good grief, why don’t they just bugger off.
‘Sure you’re ok?’
‘Course, see you later.’
You will, of course, believe me when I say that each and every neighbour we have got to know over the five years living at the house naturally decided to walk past, each one looking in my direction, acknowledging me. I hadn’t seen some of these people for weeks. The Gods are, indeed, cruel.
Right, I’ll have to do something. I am too embarrassed to call for help. No way am I telling Mike or Joan next door that I’m trapped, whether it’s like a dog or otherwise. I’ll never hear the end of it. Reminds me, while I seemed to have plenty of time on my hands; last Christmas was interesting. I went round Mike and Joan’s to wish them ‘Merry Christmas’ and Mike offered me a whisky. It was about 9.00 p.m., and I simply wanted to say thank you for our presents and pass a book to Mike about Egypt that I know he’d enjoy.
Could do with it now. Good at tunnelling, the Egyptians.
I told Anita I’d be about 30 minutes. Well, at around 11.30 p.m. (Joan had gone to bed), and half a dozen whiskies later, Mike helped me out of the front door. Now, if you’ve followed the geography lesson so far, you will know that I needed to turn right to go home. It’s not far. I turned left, staggered into another driveway and sat down, quite dizzy. Mike was brilliant. He half-carried me back home. Now, you see, I don’t really remember all the details. Mike filled in the gaps at a later date as he can take his drink better than me. Mike, bless him, has embellished the story as the months have fluttered by. Anyway, he told everyone, and I’ve been asked about my drinking habits quite frequently since, and been offered maps and a loan of a Sat Nav. As you will now appreciate, I don’t need another story to do the rounds.
Back to the plot.
It’s now 3.00 p.m., and I’ve exhausted all the tidying up and double-checking the metallic paint. I’ll paint a fence again. It’s got to be dry and ready for another coat. Good idea, Dad always says I should give it two coats. Thanks Dad. I think I’m going mad as I suddenly remember the joke he told me about the man who stole a garden gate and asked for 23 other fences to be taken into consideration. Told you.
This time it’s Jack from the other side (no, I mean the other side of the fence - not that sort of story, so not in the spiritual sense).
‘Hiya Jack, you ok?’
‘What you up to?’
‘You know, giving them an extra coat.’
‘You seem a bit wound up, sure you’re ok?’
‘Fine, just keeping myself busy. Beats going to visit the outlaws.’
(Go away Jack, you’re a great bloke, but I don’t need this right now).
‘Know what you mean. Anyway, if you need any help, give me a shout.’
Giving someone ‘a shout’ was the initial plan, but that had been instantly shelved due to the embarrassment factor. If only he knew. Now I’m feeling stupid, really stupid, and extremely embarrassed. I think you could fry an egg on my face.
Surely she’ll be back soon. I’ve sat down and stood up so many times when people have walked past I feel like a jack-in-the-box on some performance enhancing drug; and I’m bursting for a pee. This could be interesting if Anita’s not back soon.
I will always remember that time. My darling wife returns. I have never been so glad to see her. Unfortunately, I don’t greet her quite as I should, and I’m lucky she didn’t leave me there.
‘For God’s sake, how long do you need for a chat with your Mom?’
‘What’s up with you?’
‘Nothing. Just get round the back, quick, and open the gate.’
‘Just do it, Anita, please.’
Anita is sworn to secrecy, but I’m sure that some of our friends and neighbours know something. How silly for a grown man to be too embarrassed to shout for help.
‘I would have climbed the fence’, they might say.
‘Why didn’t you shout up as we walked past?’
They didn’t actually say anything, Anita is forgiven, and I always, always keep at least one of the gates unlocked when I work at the side of the house.
Thanks for listening.