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.