Alan Rossi

Neighbors

A Japanese man came to the end of the block to work on the rail yard gate.  People crossed the tracks, came over the gate from anoth­er, worse neigh­bor­hood.  I didn’t care, but the Japanese man added fenc­ing, barbed wire.  The peo­ple who crossed tore down his work.  They tore it down and he built it up again.  He may have worked for the rail yard.  He want­ed to keep cer­tain peo­ple out.

He had a daugh­ter in high school who some­times helped him.  She had very long and very black hair, which made it appear her skin had nev­er seen the sun.  She wore shorts, her legs long and smooth down into ten­nis shoes, sock­less.  Her Achilles were pro­nounced, beau­ti­ful­ly taut and stretched up to her low­er legs and into calves.  When he asked, she car­ried his tool­box or held gate wire in place.  He ham­mered and sweat­ed while she sat clean and shad­ed beneath trees.

He had an admirable yard, a very fine chin­aber­ry tree.  Some days his daugh­ter sat on the lawn in a bathing suit, read­ing or tap­ping on her phone, always in the shade.

I could see with binoc­u­lars.

I went out when they were repair­ing the gate.  He was arrang­ing looped, cir­cu­lar barbed wire.  His arms worked, mus­cles and veins pop­ping.  His hands were rough and when I came out and we shook, his hand was like rough, hard wood.

There was more fenc­ing than I had ever seen, but still they came through.  They came through the woods now, nowhere near the gate.  He was extend­ing the fenc­ing through the woods.

There’s noth­ing to do, he said, in bro­ken English.  I’m feel defeat­ed.

His daugh­ter sat on the bed of the truck, watch­ing us.  Her legs dan­gled and her shoe­less feet moved in cir­cles.  Her toes were small and paint­ed bright red, doing pleas­ant dips in the air, as if dip­ping in water.  When I looked at her, she got still and kept her eyes on her feet.  Have you tried No Trespassing signs? I said.  Signage helps.

This type peo­ple don’t care about signs, he said.  They don’t know neigh­bor­ing.

We extend­ed fenc­ing to a large tree, putting in new poles.  It took the after­noon.  On the tracks, train cars screeched, rocked, then halt­ed.  The Japanese man’s daugh­ter jumped once, a train car crash­ing into place.  She watched us.  Once, I need­ed the sledge­ham­mer, and she brought it.  She leaned with its weight and could not lift it toward me.  Her wrists were slen­der.  I touched her wrist when I took the ham­mer and she laughed and said it was heavy and went back to swing­ing her legs off the end of truck, her eyes lift­ing up to me then away.

That night the Japanese man invit­ed me to eat with them.  It’s the neigh­bor thing to do, he said.

We sat at a table on a screened-in porch and had whisky with ice and water.  We both drank three or four.  The daugh­ter brought out plates of food: a soup, rice, pork and veg­eta­bles.  She set the plates down with­out a sound.  Her hair brushed against my shoul­der when she set my plate before me.  I dropped my fork and she paused.  She knelt, her thighs com­ing togeth­er.

Get anoth­er fork, her father said.

She stood and went to the kitchen for anoth­er fork.

After eat­ing, I asked for the bath­room.

There’s more, the man said.  Still dessert.

I said okay then went inside to pre­tend to find the bath­room.  I went through the house, upstairs to her room, while the Japanese man and his daugh­ter sat on the porch, wait­ing.  Her room was dark and very neat, bed made, desk clean, walls white, maybe light pink.  I pulled open a draw­er.  Inside was neat­ly fold­ed under­wear, then a pile of bras, then socks.  There was noth­ing frilly.  I pulled out a pair of white under­wear, which smelled of lemon deter­gent, then put it back, fold­ed in place.  I dropped a pair of socks on the floor.  I closed the draw­er.  Then I went back down­stairs for dessert.

~

Alan Rossi’s sto­ries have appeared or will appear in The Florida Review, The Journal, Ninth Letter, Juked, Storyglossia, eli­mae, and oth­er places.  He is cur­rent­ly an adjunct at USC-Upstate.