Fiction, Issue #74

When the Fence Came Down


Whitney Porter

It was during the summer of 1987 when my best friend Joe and I first discovered our next-door neighbor Bambi Summerlin, a 16-year-old girl who had just flunked out of Sam Rayburn High, lounging nude next to a dented kiddie pool in her backyard.

“I can’t see anything.” Joe stared cheerlessly into the shifting branches of a pine tree.  Both of us 14 years old, sitting miserable, sunburned, and tree-blinded along the splintery ledge of a dilapidated backyard fence. 

The fence itself was a jerry-rigged masterpiece of support, a slowly warped wall of rotted pine. Unmatched and slanted two-by-fours were propped at different angles creating just enough platform for Joe’s and my anemic asses. 

But it wasn’t just the pine tree that frustrated us that day, it was the lawn chair itself and Bambi dodging and ducking behind its multicolored slats lowering her hand every few seconds to retrieve a Koozied Budweiser sunk at her feet. 

The slats were a maddening combination of green, blue, purple, and a fleshy pink, a catastrophe of unsolvable jigsaw pieces, all middle and no edge, the pink in particular so aligned with Bambi’s skin tone that I wasn’t sure if I was seeing her actual flesh or a pale imitation of it through battered pieces of nylon. 

 “Shit, all I’ve seen so far is a fuckin’ foot!” Joe said, a look of disgust coming like a dirty gulf coast wave over his ham-colored face as he stared bitterly at Bambi’s naked blue-toe-nailed foot. 

“Yeah, I know . . . all I can see is her leg,” I said.

Joe’s forehead furrowed like a Shar-Pei. “You’re a girl. You can see a naked girl anytime you want.” He looked down at his dirty hands and spat on each palm. Then he matter-of-factly rubbed them together, wiping the remaining spittle on the leg of his jeans and inexplicably through his hair.  

Yet it wasn’t true what Joe said. I didn’t get to look at naked girls any time I wanted, because I knew for certain looking at naked girls would get me knocked face-first into a gym locker or drowned in a toilet bowl. 

I had seen it with my own eyes. Sheila Seidensticker, one of the many Amazonian idiots that grew like weeds in Texas—all boobs, hips, and hair and excellent at hurling dodgeballs in faces—took Tonya Watson’s head and slammed it into a gym locker for merely gazing in her direction when she was putting on her bra. 

But I nodded my head at Joe and bit my lip so that I was practically eating it. Because that’s all I could do back then when faced with those beautiful bodies, inaccessible as I understood them to be.  

“All she is, is bunch of titties,” Joe said, staring hungrily at Bambi’s obstructed body like a starving junkyard dog.

To me Bambi was more than just titties—she was a goddess with titties. She was everything I wasn’t. Guile and beauty with an enticing kind of meanness that made her seem indestructible. She had spiky black roots that shimmered under a blanket of bleach blonde hair and pale blue eyes that cracked through her sun-bronzed face like a pair of blueberry Jolly Ranchers. 

In contrast, my body had little of the symmetry that had made me so enamored with Bambi’s body. I was an eight-year-old from the waist up and a mare from the waist down. I was developing hips before I even had boobs. 

Ah, the indecency of this lack of balance to my body, this budding pear shape of mine, that would send me scurrying to my full-length mirror in the nude, hoping to see something changed in that reflection that would resemble all the girls I desperately wanted to be or to be with, but instead every day it seemed I was developing more and more into that awful fruit: sallow, speckled, and round in all the wrong places.

And it wasn’t just the body. I was certain there was something wrong with my head as well. Narrow and long as well as tiny. Not quite oval, not square, not round, its shape a kind of geometrical mystery. How was it that I was getting uglier when my mother had assured me just the other day that I would soon blossom? 

Joe sighed heavily and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hand.

“Fuck this shit. I’m hungry. You comin’?” Joe asked. 

“No, I’m going to stay,” I said, not meeting his eyes and continuing to chew on my lower lip.

To my great relief, Joe didn’t ask why I wanted to stay on a fence without him on a blistering hot day in August watching a naked girl. He just simply took his leave of me.

And maybe that’s why I liked Joe so much back then. Apart from food and naked women, he was so wonderfully indifferent. He just didn’t care. It didn’t bother him that I liked girls. In fact, it seemed natural to him. He didn’t even look at me as he prepared to jump down from the fence. No crease of confusion across his dim, sunburned face. No callout to my apparent homosexuality. He simply shrugged his shoulders, as if it was my loss not to eat the putrid lunch of chipped tuna his mother had prepared for him that afternoon. He jumped off into my yard and walked across, then climbed the fence to his own backyard and never looked back. The yards were so close I could see and hear the crunch of dead grass beneath his footsteps. 

As Joe made his slow progression across his backyard, he looked over his shoulder to savor dreamily the yellowy soot-colored sky directly above Bambi’s yard as if it were a glistening cupcake, and yelled in a voice that would have wormed its way into Bambi’s ears but for the large foamy muffs of her headphones, blasting bits of hair-metal.  

“Someday I’m going to jump into that yard and talk to her,” Joe said, so hopefully that I kind of felt sorry for him.

Unlike Joe, I wouldn’t have dreamed of stepping into Bambi’s backyard. The yard was a steamy bed of tetanus, rabies, malaria, chiggers, the bubonic plague, and leprosy. I was sure of it.  There were splintered wooden boards with rusted nails sticking out of them. There were chewed-up dog bones—and the Summerlin’s didn’t even have a dog. 

Jangling crucifixes dangled from hanging pots with dead plants in them. There was even a four-foot-high cracked Jesus figurine, praying over what I assume was once an attempt at a garden. 

And I couldn’t understand how anyone could let their yard get this bad. Not that ours was immaculate. Our side lawn with its mini mountain range of turds had literally become a toilet for our dog. 

And even if it was just a bird-crap covered statue, how can you let Jesus crack? My grandmother had a wall of crucifixes in her hallway and at age 12, when I had the misfortune of being sent there for a “girls’ weekend,” my own personal penance and hell, she had me polish them with Pledge until I couldn’t help but equate a springy fresh lemony scent with the crucifixion of Christ. 

So, I couldn’t understand this lack of care, this lack of attention, this lack of respect. His face was peeling off. His head was crowned in bird shit. He had only one arm. I was so concerned about this flawed facsimile of Jesus that I couldn’t help but think that one look at Bambi’s nude body would render me smote and leprous before midnight.

Another thing that kept me on that fence that day: I knew firsthand that Bambi was an asshole. Every time I was outside, she would call out to me, “bet you like this don’t ya, dyke?” Then she’d gyrate her hips and stick her tongue between her two fingers and flutter it like a snake. So why would I risk God’s possible eternal damnation and possibly a poisonous blood disease in my foot for someone who treated me like I was a sub-human? 

Often, Bambi would yell at me right when I’d lope across my yard to drop a trash bag on our corner for pickup.  

And I loved taking out the trash. The way it felt when I heaved it upon my shoulders. The heaviness of it, the way it rested like a greasy beanbag upon my back. Carrying it felt important because it required strength, and in my mind, a kind of endurance and tolerance of the disgusting. It wasn’t just anyone who could take out the garbage. It was different from washing dishes and polishing crucifixes; it required a love of a specific kind of masculine suffering: the one of oppressive heaviness. People even felt sorry for me. And I loved when people felt sorry for me. It was as if someone cared. And isn’t pity a kind of caring? 

This was man’s work, and it was deemed important because of it. I got to grunt and curse and hold my nose and wince and squeeze my eyes shut and grit my teeth like Dirty Harry, because I was doing something that earned those reactions. My shoulders stooped, leveraging my body to lift this boulder-size bag of garbage almost half my size, using the luxury of long expansive strides reserved for men and boys. And in that circumstance, I would be walking in a way that must have screamed to Bambi “dyke.”

I thought about that as I stared down at the back of Bambi’s lawn chair, her brash blond head peeking out over of the top of it, her foot gracefully dipping into the kiddie pool next to her. How could someone this mean know me better than I knew myself? Because Bambi was right, of course. I was a dyke. It seemed I had known it all my life. Yet, it didn’t seem to crystalize until she moved in next door two years ago when she first said the word “dyke” while cruelly smiling at me as I walked my family’s garbage to the curb.  

Though we were divided by a ratty wooden fence, both of us living in the same shitty ranch-style houses, with the same kind of puddling after a hard rain in our marshy backyards, the same bugs buzzing around our ears, the same rusting clotheslines stabbed into the ground, (though ours were often saturated with WD-40 and rarely had clothes on it because we had a clothes dryer) my family aspired to be better. For instance, we occasionally ran a lawn mower. We weeded. We pushed our patio furniture in the garage when it rained. 

For over an hour, I sat on that fence, staring out at the top of Bambi’s blond head, mesmerized, sweat pouring out of every pore in my body, watching the sun sparkle along the limp currents of water in the misshaped kiddie pool, no longer round, but kicked by her two little brothers into the shape of a kidney. I wondered how she could stay in one place for such a long time, be naked without anyone coming outside to stop her, even her little brothers. I wondered if she was waiting for something, like I was waiting for something or maybe it was just that no one cared. 

That’s when I noticed the reflection in that kiddie pool and realized that it was reflecting Bambi’s partially naked body, distorted but there, her breasts undulating in the tepid ripples. Not all there but some there. And that would have been enough. Anything would have been enough. But then something happened that went beyond anything I would have thought possible. 

I don’t claim to be a believer of miracles or the kind of person that miracles are wasted upon. I detest most religion as it doesn’t comply with my lifestyle of wishful debauchery. But I think in this case, it’s the only conclusion that makes any sense. Because after an entire summer of nothing but the fleeting images of toes, ankles, heels, and the occasional thigh, Bambi got up and looped one of her taut Tropic-Tanned forearms underneath the lawn chair, lifted herself up, and walked naked beyond the barrier of the pine tree and the infuriating slats of her lawn chair to retrieve a pair of sunglasses on a nearby table. 

Instead of grabbing for a towel to cover herself, she walked over to the table with no obstruction. Her breasts now glistened underneath a dimming smog-eaten sun. They were as large and springy and shiny as I had seen in my agonized girl-on-girl dreams. And though I had been told repeatedly that it was wrong, strictly forbidden by my Catholic, yet birth-control using mother, I stuck my hand inside my pants, and touched myself. 

How the urgency of those fingers dazzled my long-neglected 14-year-old clitoris. Totally in the moment. Experimenting, innovating, circling, dotting, and stroking. A Morse code administered upon my clit. Only two weeks before I had touched myself with the barrier of underwear in place, but now I was touching myself without the interference of cotton. And what a difference it made. I had been doing it all wrong before. 

Such a revelation these fingers made as I watched Bambi turn around, giving me 360 degrees of her body. Anything that touched my flesh was amplified. The feel of the fence’s splintered wood grinding sadistic into my left palm as I braced myself to keep from falling. The one loose nail digging into my right thigh. 

I stared at Bambi’s ass, an ass that I had seen as a gift from the very God I had previously come to hate, for stinking brown air, for the wilt of summer, for stupid people so concentrated that I thought there had to be something more than just lead in our contaminated water. 

Bambi stretched, raising one arm and the other toward the sky, then vigorously scratched her ass with the indelicateness of a ranch hand. 

Yet it did nothing to lesson my ardor. Even her imperfections were beautiful to me, the long skeletal finger-toes, the drift of mascara running down her cheeks, the smear of lipstick, too pink, too pale a shade for her face, the lustrous black roots showing underneath the prickle of blond dyed hair, the buckled skin along her thigh. Even the ridges of inflamed bug bites on her beautiful ass and the imprint of the nylon slats of the lawn chair that creased her tan body like a tawdry form of abstract folk art all seemed lovely to me. 

I continued to stare upon Bambi’s immense and mosquito-bitten rear, my small limbic fingers working themselves to a nub. 

But as my body began to shudder into what I know now to be my first real orgasm ever, the fence began to wobble underneath me. Perched on the fence, angled as I was, and given that this fence in particular would have wobbled underneath the feathery girth of a winged tree roach, the fence buckled, and soon I was tumbling mid-orgasm toward the inevitability of Bambi Summerlin’s backyard. 

Can I share something with you? Deep hypnosis, heavy sedation, and shock therapy couldn’t extricate the complexity of this memory from my brain.

And what fence wobbles under the weight of a masturbating 14-year-old girl? 

What kind of white-trash workmanship was this? This jagged redneck relic of a welfare building program gone wrong. I blame Roosevelt. Yes Roosevelt, that irksome enabler that helped to bring about the Baby Boomer generation. New Deal my ass. Give me a new deal where all I have to do all day is build crappy hymen-busting fences for future generations to fall from. 

I weighed all of 95 pounds, and now I was flying into the middle of the Summerlin’s yard, dangerously dehydrated with my hand stuck in my pants. 

As I plummeted from the fence, the last thoughts before I hit the ground weren’t about myself, or a catalog of life experiences flipping through the pages of my mind, but were devoted exclusively to my mother and how she had warned me that I would come to a bad end if I consorted with girls like that, meaning Bambi. Yet how was it that “girls like that” were the only girls I wanted to consort with?

And now to find out my mother was right, a woman that I believed in my core was always wrong. Now I was rendered half blind, my face having landed in one of several burr patches in the yard, shouting “My eye!” 

I squinted, a burr lodged in my eyelid.   

The pain radiated throughout every part of my body when the inevitable call of Bambi responded to my desperate plea from the wilds of the Summerlin’s yard. 

She flung off her headphones, hurling them close to my head. “Your fuckin’ eye. That’s what you’re worried about? What the fuck are you doing?” She hunched over and circled me, still so very naked. And she was right, there was so much more to lose than my sight. 

 “My Dad’s going to kick your ass, you fuckin’ gay homo!” Bambi croaked. Even though I knew her Dad was never home and wasn’t the kind of Dad who was ever sober enough to kick anyone’s gay homo ass. 

Bambi, still radiant under the shrill gleam of a sallow, polluted Houston sky, ambled closer. 

But instead of offering one of her gorgeous sun-dappled and mosquito-bitten limbs in an earnest attempt to aid, as I had hoped and wrongfully expected, she screamed. Pounced on my back spread-eagle, then palmed my head and dribbled it into the ground while her Tropic-Tanned boobs pounded against my neck like sandbags. 

“Sick fucker pervert. There ain’t no decency in the world!” She screamed.

Yet, when was the world ever decent? There was a guy from down the street, a kind of demented neighborhood mascot if you will, who, when not talking to the stalking tenants of the imaginary secret service, would on occasion walk around at night peeking through un-curtained windows with his dick in his hand. Only two days before, my friend Stephanie had been hailed by some guy in a Volkswagen bug, the preferred car of serial killers, and when she got there, the guy had no pants on. For my friend Nancy’s 13th birthday, her mother insisted all the girls wear long shorts and baggy T-shirts, because “men get ideas,” despite the only man in attendance being her husband.   

 “My God, who the fuck do you think you are?” Bambi yelled, punctuated by the ground pound of my head.

And what could I say? My head was being hammered into a garden of burrs, my neck vertebrae cracking under the strain of a pair of enormous teenage breasts, unsure if I was ever going to fully see again. I was a teenage lesbian, masturbating on a post-Depression-era fence, three fingers pressed up against my clit and a burr imbedded into my left eyelid. Was I any less perverted?

Between concussive head blows, my one available eye looked miserably at the ratty horizon of Bambi’s backyard, while the pain in my other eyelid continued to pulsate, as I tried to pull my hand out of a pair of Jordache blue jeans, newly purchased, the tag still lingering along the belt line, the knees now torn. And these were my favorite pants, because they were my only pants, the ones I was allowed to have because of the lined embroidery on the back pocket, intended to feminize and draw attention to my 14-year-old pancake of an ass, the pants now wilted and torn up like a dead flower pulled down around my hips. 

As Bambi continued to attempt murder by strangulation, one recurring thought lingered helplessly through my oxygen-deprived brain: if I died right then, there would be no open casket, or even an actual casket, no funeral, no mass, no burial, no wake, no grief, because indelibly my hand would still be planted between my legs. I’d just be burned on a pyre off Galveston Island and shoved out into the polluted bay, like they do with the overflow trash from the city dump and the heretics in those castle storming movies. 

But be it a miracle or Bambi’s surprising lack of aerobic conditioning, I was still breathing. And then Bambi, gasping and red faced, twisted me onto my back side and flattened her chest upon my face. “You like that huh? This what you want, you freak?” 

“Yes.” I said, honestly and breathlessly. 

Her breasts smeared against my face. Was she kidding? Was this her idea of a punishment? I gratefully sniffed up her aroma, through halted breaths, lapping up what I could into my luckless senses, a mingling of unfiltered cigarettes, Jean Nate Afterbath Splash, and coconut oil, a delightful scent that smelled to me like something definitively whorey yet angelic. An idea that I had recently formulated from the depths of my mostly uninformed sexual imagination, which still consisted of big-breasted thimble-waisted cartoon characters and knockoff Barbie dolls named Stacy, Steffie, and Babie. 

Thankfully, with my face suctioned to Bambi’s immense, sweating chest, I was able to find yet another upside to my demise, the lubrication of her suntan lotion had loosened the burr so that it fell harmlessly to the ground. Not only that, I was also able to dislodge my hand from my pants. Still, Bambi seemed to be doing me the honor of using her breasts to smother me to death. 

Plump teenage breasts, nipples pink and erect, the size of quarters. My first ever. So what if they were going to be the last thing I was ever going to see? Who was I to be picky? 

But soon, Bambi descended into a kind of wheezy mania. 

She was overexcited and breathless and reciting incorrectly all those dreary Catholic prayers, as if trying to exorcise the gay demon out of me, the prayers I’d been forced to memorize to perfection by my grandma.  

Even in the most sordid of situations there was always God and Grandma to ruin it. 

“Oh Father, who in heaven, ‘hollow’ be thy name.” 

It was agony those prayers, and my still-swelling eyelid made everything blurry and watery and so off-kilter like I was under water, yet the sun was filtering through the clouds in a way that seemed like the heavens were opening up. And even though I was starting to believe that all that Catholic dogma was possibly bullshit, there was a lingering belief. And there was no way I was going to be conveying this incident to Father Brian in my next confession for God’s forgiveness. Even worse, I worried that God would pinpoint this sacrilege and turn us into a pillar of salt. But then Bambi stopped just before the forgiving of trespasses, which was always my favorite part. 

“Oh God . . . Jesus . . . Lord . . . um. . . I mean. Savior.” Her voice brimming with so much sarcasm she might as well have put it in air quotes. 

“Please take care of this little lamb, lead her away from the temptation of the devil that makes her a gay lezbo homo.” 

“Can you just stop with the prayers, please?” I said. 

She looked at me and cracked a beautiful half smile that was better than most whole smiles. 

“You worried God is going to smite you?” She said, bending over closer to me. 

Was she reading my mind?

And lo and behold, Bambi positioned herself on my raised knee, while pointedly staring up at the sky, and gyrated with the rapidity of a jackhammer. It felt like hours, yet I never wanted it to end. I stared up at her, shiny and beatific, as the fleeting bits of sun found a way around the smog and gave her a glow. 

“Don’t you look at me!” She held me down and I loved being held down. Then, just to add to the shear perversion of this whole incident, she started the Hail Mary.

“Hail Mary, full of grace . . . Oh fuck it . . . “ as she intensified the humping of my knee. Then without even an amen, she slumped over on top of me.

I lie still under the weight of her body. It was soft and heavy and warm. She smelled of coconut and Marlboro cigarettes and beer and while none of those smells I thought individually were all that pleasant, together they smelled like a kind of sex bouquet. 

This is what I had guiltily dreamed about on starless refinery fumed nights for the better part of a year. Better than the solid edge of my trundle bed, or the pointy edge of a decorative pillow. My body, albeit a knee joint, utilized by another girl-body in an act of sex.

This had happened. Here was a naked woman on top of me. 

Would I have to dissect the complexity of the moment for years to come with maddeningly expensive therapy sessions with a therapist that ultimately did me more harm in five years than my mother could do in a lifetime? Of course. Would I continue to suffer occasional bouts of vertigo while masturbating? Absolutely. But there had been a beautiful girl, whose touch as far as I knew then, would always be off limits to me, with no clothes on, so close to me I was being drowned in her scent.

 “I love you,” I blurted. 

Bambi, now finished, stood up and glared down at me. Her eyes narrowed into a cruel leaden gaze, calculating me as she looked up and down my body, the hysteria from before gone, replaced by an eerie calm. 

“Don’t say nothing’.”  She said evenly. Then slowly a smile creeped across her face. “Or Jesus and Mary mother are going to fucking murder you in your sleep.” 

I lay there, hoping for something else, something better than being murdered by Jesus and his mom. But there was nothing else. I sat up, felt the hard stick of dead grass, and ran my hand over my face. I stared at the smoggy sky, at the limitations of this healing bruise of a sky, and this humid oppression, my eyes able to re-focus just enough to watch Bambi walk away, taking the kind of long manly strides I had reserved for depositing trash, yet there she was, unadorned with trash, just walking that way. There was no wiggle of her ass, her shoulders stooped forward, and slowly and rather butchly she entered the circumference of her unswept patio and disappeared into the dusty shimmer of her sliding glass door. 

By Whitney Porter

Whitney Porter’s writing has appeared in Ping Pong Literary Magazine, Qwerty Magazine, Foglifter and Bayou Magazine. She is a 2016 Lambda Literary Fellow and was awarded Paragraph’s 2020 Jane Hoppen Residency. Currently she is a staff reader for Epiphany Magazine and a teacher at the Writers Studio in New York City. Originally from Houston, Texas, she now calls Brooklyn, New York her home.