In a backyard that was no different than any other backyard in the town of Heart, N.C., planted in the rear of a two-story, rust-colored house that was no different than any other two-story, rust-colored house in Heart; each evening at exactly 8:45 p.m., there was our boy, Maxwell Benton, standing, wondering and fearing. What exactly did he see every night at that time toward the top of The Fence?
Of course, Maxwell had a list of questions and predictions as to its origins, its purpose and even his own fate in accordance to the existence of The Fence.
Inquiries from List 1/2:
… Why was this here? Where did it come from? What was it’s purpose? …
The Benton backyard spanned 20 yards parallel to his home, and about 15 on the other sides where, of course, neighbors tacked up far superior white fences to keep the properties in line. There was a stark difference between the side fences and the one he called The Fence, for to make something a proper noun, the object must have some great significance, he thought.
And it did, he thought.
(Note that The Fence has great significance.)
The Notebook he maintained was humble. It resided in the back of his blue jeans at all times. This tiny composition notebook had words scribbled in red permanent marker, “Keep Out,” which he thought may be a tad conspicuous, but he couldn’t afford another notebook now. Plus, it kept the girls on the playground curious: the new boy in the neighborhood sat on the same swing at the same time, every other day, with his No.2 pencil eraser faintly touching his upper lip, the way all the great thinkers did, he thought. And after a good minute or so of thinking and such, Maxwell raises his eyebrows like he just found a word for a crossword puzzle somewhere tucked away in the back of his head, and wrote down another question. There are a lot of questions, he thought.
(Note that there are way too many questions, and they need to be answered soon.)
When our boy Maxwell comes back from the park, or from school, or from dinner with The Moms, he squeezes The Notebook into a mason jar he snatched after spaghetti dinner one night and seals it shut. Maxwell then creeps out of his room and unlocks the backdoor, which leads to the backyard. Down the three cement stairs and to the left is a small plot of dirt where he had to bury his old pet (friend!) frog, Germ, who died a day after we moved into town.
(Note if I ever use the word “croak” to describe Germ’s death, well, you’re just full of puns then, aren’t you? And I should really upgrade Germ’s tombstone.)
Behind an inside-out Crayola Crayon box he stuck in the ground as a makeshift epitaph, he gets his hands down deep into the soil — clawing like a mad rabbit — just enough to fit the mason jar deep down there for another night, until he comes up with a better hiding place.
Inquiries from List 2:
…Why are there tiny, golf ball-size holes lining the top of The Fence? … Why does an evergreen light radiate, from what I can tell, far up over The Fence? … When I stare straight over into this evergreen light for no less than six seconds, why do my ears begin to buzz like a mosquito?
(Note that at 7:35 p.m. on Tuesday, July 24, 2042, I waited for six minutes again, staring straight over The Fence. At precisely 7:41 p.m., the buzzing commenced, and I had to avert my eyes. Next time you go to WalMart with The Moms, maybe pick up a strong pair of sunglasses…U.V. 800 or something. Also, find out what U.V. means.)
At 7:35 p.m. each night, our neighbor’s dogs begin to bark violently. It was strange, because they aren’t usually this clamorous during the day. Sure, there’s the occasional bird or squirrel that just doesn’t sit well, but that’s understandable. These were malevolent barks, like an intruder was trying to get inside their house. But their owners, Sue and Dennis Paine, were always home. They ran some Web site hosting service. Anyway, they’d take them inside after about three minutes of their little yelping fit, and that was that.
(Note the dog’s bark when they are outside, and not inside. But this inquiry isn’t pertinent, so don’t sweat it.)
The sun was being lowered down now; tiny spurts of tangerine streaks flickered through the tiny holes at the top of The Fence. Now, these little inquiries that our boy Maxwell scribbles in The (humble) Notebook, well, they weren’t for the neighborhood to see.
But it wasn’t just any little question that came to mind. There was an order, a specific sequence to these Lists. They each were labeled under an incredibly detailed hierarchy of importance that documents each and every of the happenings surrounding The Fence.
Like the question as to when The Fence was erected, well, that question made List 1/2. There were only three questions on List 1/2, and four on List 1. And if was a question of utmost necessity to the case, that made List 0.
Inquiries from List 5:
… When Germ died, why didn’t he make a sound (I thought that Death was a violent process?) … Where exactly did Germ go then? … Why does The Moms yell on the telephone every night at exactly 7:34 p.m.? And who is she yelling at? (She always repeats phrases like “there’s no time for that…” and “just where are we going to go, huh?)
There was only one question so far that had enough stuff to make it priority one:
At 8:45 p.m., after the neighborhood has retired and The Moms has stopped yelling on the phone, and at about the time when all you can hear are your own thoughts inside that tiny skull of yours — that’s when it happens.
List 0: Who’s eyes are filling in those gold ball size holes at the top of The Fence?