by Anthony DeSantis
After she retired, Mrs. Quaid only belly-danced andsat on our patio with us and her husband.They werehillbillies from Appalachia.No one knew why they moved to the suburbs of Florida. It didn’t matter where they lived, though. Mr. Quaid still played the banjo in his underwear on their front lawn at night as he smoked his pipe of sweet-smelling tobacco. Mrs. Quaid decorated their house with arts-and-crafts junk and showcased it all whenever someone would come to visit them. It always smelt like moonshine behind their house—so no wonder they spent so much time relaxing on our patio, instead.
“We’re thinking about putting up a fence,” Dad said to Mr. Quaid one summer while we all sat on our patio. We pulled at our clothes as sweat stuck them to our skin. Our eyes ached as heat sucked the moisture out of our sockets. If irritation has a sound, the chirping of katydids and frog croaks drowned it out for the longest time.
“How’re we supposed to see if it’s alright to come on over?” Mr. Quaid asked. Mom said it would be fine if they knocked. “No,” Mr. Quaid said. “For years now, we’ve been able to look out our kitchen window and see if people are out here—and that’s how we know we can come on over.” Mrs. Quaid begged us not to build a fence by bringing it up with a nervous laugh three or four times that night.
“Maybe a fence isn’t a good idea,” my sister said after they left.
“Says who?” Dad asked. “We’re building it because we want to.” A few weeks passed until we started building. The Quaids stopped talking to us completely but Dad and Mom didn’t care. My sister and I were the ones who actually suffered, anyway. The squabble cut off our constant supply of Mrs. Quaid’s Appalachian treats like preacher cookies and grape pie. The kids we played with around the neighborhood started annoying us with questions. Why were our parents fighting with the Quaids? Were we mad that we weren’t invited to their End of Summer party? Were we still going to build the fence? Eventually, the kids in the neighborhood wouldn’t talk to us anymore. My sister and I became each other’s best friends. With the raising of each fence board, she and I wondered if we were closer to reconciliation with the neighborhood or closer to isolating ourselves.
Hostilities began when ascreeching noise—one that started and stopped in random bursts—scared me out of my bed the night before school started. It hurt in a unique way. I heard melodic tunes dispersed through the noise, though, and realized that someone was trying to play music. The shaking of my bedroom walls prompted me to go downstairs. In the kitchen, Dad, Mom, and my sister crowded around the window above the sink and peered out into the nighttime. As soon as Mom turned the light in the yard on, the awful music blasted again. “It’s coming from the Quaids’s,” Dad said.
More than half of the adults in the neighborhood greeted us when we walked over to Mr. and Mrs. Quaid’s front lawn. We hadn’t seen the party going on beyond the new fence. Mom held my sister and me close to her as we watched Dad push through the crowd to find the party’s host and hostess. I broke loose of Mom and went after him. I saw Mrs. Quaid, scantily dressed in her vibrant colored belly-dancing clothes—dangling shards of metal on her costume jingling as she moved her hips and stomach in ways retired women never should.Reeking of liquor, she danced to the accompaniment of her husband’s banjo. The instrument was hooked up to a large box—an amplifier—andthe slightest strumming of it sent a deafening sound through the air that almost passed for music.
The shrill and abrupt noise of the banjo player stopping as he saw Dad hushed everyone at the party. “This is ridiculous,” someone said. I’m not sure who said it. The two men, short and stocky Dad and lanky and frail Mr. Quaid, did their best to go face to face. Shouting erupted almost from the start. People slunk as far away as they could while still being able to hear.
“It’s just a fence,” I heard my father say.
Mrs. Quaid’s eyes locked with mine and I realized we were no longer neighbors. The fence was our new neighbor. We no longer saw the Quaids’s house when we looked out the window above the sink on our kitchen. We saw a fence. There’s nothing wrong with privacy. Or is there? It took what may have been hours of arguing on the Quaids’s front lawn before we decided no one would ever win—and that it was all nothing. The party guests left, the electric banjo music stopped, and only the fierce shouts of feuding families remained in the night air.
Mom, my sister, and I followed Dad back to our house after he decided he had nothing else to say. We heard the noise of breaking wood as we approached our front door. “Go inside,” Dad said after flinging the door open. I ran into the house pulling my sister and Mom behind me. He wasn’t in the doorway when I turned to look at him. I heard him slam the door on his way out, though. I never wanted anything so much as to follow him back to the battlefield and defend our family against dishonor. It was a full-scale war in my mind, our family versus the Quaids and their allies. I opened the door and screamed to the Moon, “March on! March on!” Mom pulled me back inside and sent me to bed, where I would dream of fantastic battles between the armies of neighbors dueling for all of suburbia.
We never bothered to replace the section of our fence that Mr. Quaid took down with his hammer. Dad always said he was going to file a law suit for damages but never got around to it. Within a year of the Battle of the Banjo, a name I came up with soon after it happened, Mr. Quaid left his house and never came back. No one in our neighborhood talked to us anymore, so we only figured out bits and pieces of the story. He went to the store for eggs and milk. It might’ve been some other groceries, too, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. “Probably found someone better,” Mom said the morning that we finished putting all of our stuff in the moving truck.
“No,” Dad said, “smoking that pipe all the time probably took its toll—finally.”
I remember the last time I walked around that backyard. The grass was trimmed and the flowerbeds exploded with color. It frustrated me. I thought about how no one could see our beautiful backyard as I walked along the fence-line, my fingers running over the unforgiving wood. That’s when I came to the section Mr. Quaid broke down with his hammer. I peered through the break in the division and saw Mrs. Quaid belly-dancing in her back yard. The fluidity of her movements seemed to tell a story, and I let her tell it to me. She finally noticed my curious eyes through the fractured fence, and gave me a look that almost said, “There’s a dish of preacher cookies in your kitchen I left for you and your sister.” I knew there wouldn’t be. She went back to her story-telling, and I still wonder if she heard banjo music in her head as she danced.
Anthony DeSantis is a junior in the Creative Writing Department at the
South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. He writes
largely to examinethings from a variety of perspectives. Nothing is more
important to him than influencing a person’s thoughts and feelings
through what he writes. Along side his passion of writing, though,
Anthony loves to study theatre and foreign languages. His infatuation
with Spanish language and culture began while he was growing up in South
Florida. Anthony feels that this childhood has provided writing material
for years to come.