Saturday, July 23, 2005


Nando peered through the grimy kitchen window at the chain-link fence that was bothering him. He was a slightly built young man of twenty-three who almost looked muscular under his baggy clothes but if you looked closely you could tell whatever tone there was to his body came from leftover youth and not from working out. His name was really Fernando but people who knew him mostly called him Nando.

The house he dwelt in was a clapboard-sided two-bed one-bath that had been built in the 1940s when the neighborhood was young and solid working-class couples raised kids who went on to own bigger and nicer houses in newer neighborhoods that radiated ever more outward from the city’s core and the owners here, much like their abodes, gradually grew older and more decrepit. The owners died and were buried, the houses gained new lives as rental properties, and the neighborhood fell farther into disrepair until it became “the hood.”

This house had belonged to Nando’s grandmother, he thought. Sometimes he didn’t remember. His parents had rented it out after she died but when the last tenant left Nando had been allowed to move in. His folks didn’t want to throw him out onto the street but they didn’t want him at their house with their two teenaged children.

At the moment Nando was obsessed with the chain-link fence that encircled the back yard. His next-door neighbor, a thirty-something black man who had moved in only two months ago, had erected a six-foot wooden fence across the back of his yard that abutted the alley. Nando envied that fence. He couldn’t stop thinking about how nice it looked with the wide dog-eared pickets and golden brown stain. He thought it might be fun to throw a softball against the fence and hear it thud against the boards. He thought it would be convenient to throw his empty beer cans over the fence into the alley. Man, that was a nice fence, and he wanted one for his own yard.

Mr. Miller was playing a video game inside his house when he heard an odd metallic noise. It wasn’t exactly a “clang” nor was it exactly a “clink,” but something in between. Was it his water pipes? The gutter? He heard it a second time and then it became regular.




Mr. Miller opened his back door and saw his young Hispanic neighbor hacking at the chain-link fence with a machete. He was somewhat startled. He suspected the young man used drugs but he seemed harmless. He walked over to Nando, who continued to abuse the thick metal pole that constituted the fence’s top rail.

“Hey, bro, whatcha got goin’ on here?” asked Mr. Miller calmly.

“I’m gonna take down this fence and get me a new one,” replied Nando.

“The way you’re goin’ I think it’s going to take you a while.”

Nando did not reply and continued to hack, but the cadence slowed a bit.

“Well, good luck,” said Miller and returned to his video game.

The noise abruptly stopped and when Miller looked outside, the machete was on the ground and Nando had disappeared.

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