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Short Story: The Gap

Short Story: The Gap

She had no clue who or what lived on the other side of the fence. So what began as a chance to curtail the lush green growth of weeds in her garden on a sunny day turned into a totally different encounter with a furry neighbour ... and the tantalising prospect of a secret friendship through the fence.

Short Story: The Gap

A sunny day, a long weekend and a lush green growth of weeds in the backyard. She tied her hair in a bun, rolled up her sleeves, pulled up her pants and looked for the pair of soiled garden gloves. They were large for her hands, but she used them anyway.

She picked the corner of the garden, which had a small sand pit on the ground that was her kids’ play area. This could well be a minefield, given the kids always hid all sorts of stuff in the sand. She was amazed at the relentless weeds; they even spit themselves out of beach sand!

She carefully climbed on the top of the sand pit onto the retention wall which housed the healthy patch of weeds. Long hedging plants grew on either side of this unused patch.

The weeds were quite thick at the base of the shared wooden fence. A huge, double-storey house stood on the other side of the fence.

Some recent garden work in her neighbour’s house had left a gap in the fence. She had occasionally heard the neighbours, but had never seen them. If they had walked past her on the street, she would not have a clue!

She was very alert as she began plucking the weeds from the far-right side. It was the exact place where a gorgeous blue-tongue lizard was spotted by her husband, which he mistook to be a snake! But secretly the prospect of a snake in her garden excited her. She loved watching and spotting animals, birds and insects. Their unglamorous and simplistic life appealed deeply to her.

Squatting and with her head down, she was utterly focused and methodical in plucking the weeds, while he was silently peeping through the gap in the fence. Not a sound. It was almost like he did not want to startle her. After all, she had no clue who all lived on the other side of the fence.

She lifted her head and stood up straight to ease the strain on her back. Looking away from the fence towards the garden bin standing a metre away, she aimed the bunch of weeds in her hand at the bin. Most of it made it in. She wiped her face right across with her forearm to clear the hair from her face.

Looking down, she moved closer to the gap in the fence and squatted again, ferociously plucking the heavy growth at the base of the fence.

His presence was so still.

It seemed like he had turned himself into a statue with his gaze fixed on her and her gaze fixed on the weeds.

She inched right in front of the gap and in an instant dropped the weeds she was holding and almost lost balance and barely saved herself from falling to the sand pit. Her legs were shaking; her heart was racing. She quickly got down feeling wobbly and shocked. She stood at a safe distance and stretched her neck to peek through the gap.

She certainly saw those beautiful brown eyes that glistened in the sun. She had not the slightest clue he lived in that house . She was surprised she had not heard him in the four years that she lived in her house. She waited for him to reappear. She was curious now. She wanted another good look at him. Shock and surprise turned to smile and anticipation. Still no sign of what looked like the cutest face. Maybe she startled him, too.

She quickly corrected herself to be as calm and composed as him, luring him to peek back. She was keen to say hello and strike a conversation. Know thy neighbour, after all. He did not return, but her curiosity stayed.

The next day she was in her balcony overlooking her front yard. She saw a young family walk past. “That’s him!” she exclaimed with excitement. She raced down, planning to say hello in case the family walked back the same way.

She again took to removing the weeds from around the letter box, being silly and superstitious that somehow plucking weeds would make them meet again. He did not return, but her hope stayed. A few days later she went back to the sand pit area, stood at a distance and looked through the gap in the fence, looking with more attention this time. She spotted a few toys on the ground. She imagined playing with him. Just a momentary glance at those beautiful brown eyes and she felt all-consumed by him. Wanting to meet him again became a secret mission.

She had a few tricks up her sleeve. She tried them one by one. She coughed and paused. No sign of him. She made a few noises and paused. No sign. She rustled the branches of the hedging plants, still nothing. She whistled gently and paused. Fourth time lucky!

He appeared very quietly and looked through the gap with great curiosity. Nothing grand, but she felt jubilant. She paused again to check his intentions. He was in no rush. He stood at the gap with nothing but himself on offer. She could not read the emotion just yet. She was keen to make the best of this opportunity. She took a few steps closer. She smiled and very softly said, “Hello, there.”

He stared right into her eyes. She loved eye contacts: they were a special way to communicate, especially when someone had such mesmerising brown eyes. She did not stop smiling in case she would lose him. “How are you doing? Are you okay? I have never heard you in all these years!” she said, almost in a whisper.

He stood there, not flinching but listening and looking with interest. She quickly stopped whispering when she realised it was satisfying enough to just look at those brown eyes. She felt a deep connection.

She stood like a statue this time. He sniffed and tried to squeeze his nose through the gap. He looked all the way up to the top of the fence, turned around, wagged his tail and walked away.

She always enjoyed spending time in her backyard, her Zen place. She would never miss a cuppa in her backyard, especially on a sunny day when the clouds were in an effortless frenzy of fluffy formations.

This secret friendship felt enticing. You either love dogs or you don’t. She was very fond of dogs, but was far from having one of her own.

So, she grew very fond, very quickly, of this bond that was growing through the gap in the fence, with her paw friend. Gentle whistles always did the trick. He would, without fail, fill the gap with his beautiful face.

He would let out low-pitched moans every time she spoke, and he would always look up to the top of the fence, gauging if it’s a leap he could make.

These two acts specifically wrapped her in a warm blanket of loving fuzziness.

She was now bold enough to go up close and pet his nose and offer him some biscuits he seemed to enjoy. He was Mr Composed and Mr Patient: virtues she was learning with great deal of effort and there he was – being such a natural at it. He never showed desperation to grab the biscuit. He waited until she dropped it well into his side of the fence.

He never asked for more, always content with the two that was offered each time. She was wary of the owners catching him sniffing into her backyard.

But for several weeks both were safe and forged a special and secretive relationship with ease. The stock of biscuits at home were dwindling faster than before, yet she got away without anyone noticing.

The meetings did not last more than five minutes, but it was the most special part of her day. She felt plugged into life when she was with him.

She used any excuse to go to the backyard.

One sunny day, she tiptoed to the backyard and stood well away from the gap in the fence to let the sun dry her wet hair.

He could not have heard her come to the backyard since his owner was doing loud work, which to her ears sounded like woodwork. She could see the scaffolding still intact for a few months now around the back wall of the house. It looked like some interior renovations were underway. She was facing her back to the fence and stood there silently drying her hair, in her own world of thoughts.

After about 10 minutes, she turned around and a wide smile spread across her face like melting butter on a pan. He was there, sitting on his hind legs, watching her all along: just like the first time he stood there watching her while she was unaware, filling the gap yet again with his simple presence.

She took note that this time she did not have to whistle. He seemed to know. She walked back inside to get ready for her daily hour-long walk, feeling somewhat special. Later in the evening, she went into the backyard to remove the clothes from the clothesline.

She glanced through the gap and gasped. She felt a sinking feeling in her heart. Time seemed to freeze. She stood still, holding the clothes in her numb hands. A blanket of sorrow engulfed her.

The gap where she experienced stillness and love, where she learnt patience and composure, where she felt life, now she felt deep loss.

The gap was covered by a brand-new unpainted plank of wood. She wondered how he felt when his owner covered the gap.

The image of sadness in those brown eyes made her wince. She headed back in with drooping shoulders, uncertain how long she would take to overcome this gaping gap that now stood like a statue in her heart.


About the Author:

Archana is based in Melbourne, Australia. However erratic the weather can be in Melbourne, she is happy to call it her home. She enjoys the cultural diversity and inclusiveness of the city. Although an IT consultant by profession, Archana enjoys all areas where creativity can be explored. She is a blogger and an amateur photographer. Writing, she believes, is the best way to talk without being interrupted.

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