For as long as he can remember, Parry has wanted to go over the fence. He sits on the seared grass, staring up at the railings. They are faded now, their once proud brightness turned to a sad kind of olive.
He remembers the painting day, when his father dragged the big tin outside, patting Parry’s head as he lifted the lid with an old screwdriver. His father spent all day painting the fence, taking care with each railing, filling in every gap. When he was done, he stood back, surveying his work.
“That’s a fine-looking fence right there, boy,” he said.
Parry had yipped in agreement.
That was back when his father was as young as the fence, before he’d faded to a sad kind of gray.
Parry had noticed the fence before, of course, since the first day his father and mother had brought him to live in the yard. But it wasn’t until the painting day that Parry had sat in front of it, tail wagging, wondering what was on the other side.
He sits there now, still wondering, though he has a far better idea than he did back then.
Sometimes—not every day, but sometimes—a screaming monster blares out from the other side. Parry thinks the monster eats the leaves that fall from the tree in the yard, because when the screaming starts, some of the leaves fly over the top of the fence and scatter around the grass. His father will come out, shake his head, and rake them into a pile.
“It’s just not neighborly,” he’ll mutter, as he works.
Parry never runs from the monster when it starts. He sits in front of the fence and stares up, imagining what the monster might look like, thinking of its giant fangs chomping through the dead leaves, spitting them out in great gusts of breath.
It’s one of the things he knows he’ll see the day he does it, the day he goes over the fence.
The other thing he knows will be there is the She. The She is the voice who sings the songs he likes, whose laugh is loud and fun. Parry has known the She’s voice since it arrived, since all it did was cry and scream and wake Parry’s father and mother up during the dark hours.
Then one day the She stopped crying and started giggling. When the She played outside, bouncing a ball—Parry imagined it was blue—on whatever hard surface they have on the other side, the She would laugh. When the She ran around and fell, the She would cry and cry, then those cries would turn to laughter and the running would start again.
Time has passed since then and the She has grown older. The She doesn’t play and run outside anymore, but sometimes sits outside with her other She friends and they talk and there is the sound of ice clinking in glasses and of course, there is laughter.
There’s laughter even when the Others who live there start yelling, the ones with the cold voices who never laugh. The Others yell at the She and sometimes the She yells back, but mostly the She just laughs and says things like “whatever” and “you’re not even my real father”. It’s a different laugh, but Parry still prefers it to the yelling and the crying he sometimes hears, faintly, from the other side.
Parry has never seen the She, but he knows the She will look like his mother, back before his mother left and his father turned a sad kind of blue. He doesn’t know how he knows, but it’s almost like he can see her long brown hair and her big warm smile. He knows the She is warm, because they are friends, in a way that only those who know the fence can be.
When he hears the She outside he will give his best yip until the She comes up to the fence and shouts: “Hi boy!”.
Parry will yip again and sometimes the She will just laugh and walk away. But other times, on the best days, the She will shout: “What you doing in there, boy?” and Parry will yip twice to say he is enjoying the sunshine, or three times to tell her that he is just sitting there, looking up at the fence and thinking about the other side.
Once, he yipped four times to ask the She about the monster, whether it was there and whether the She was afraid. But the She had just laughed her happy laugh and walked away.
There was one day when Parry was outside with his father, when the yelling had stared. His father shook his head and talked about the She, saying the She had been brought up bad and that the skirting the She wore was too short and that her friends were from the wrong side of the tracking. Parry wasn’t sure what that meant, but his father had scratched Parry’s ears as he said it, so he’d done his happy growl and wagged his tail.
Later, when the yelling had stopped and his father was inside, a tremor came over Parry. He feared that the She might know about the happy growl, might think Parry thought the same thing about her skirting, and might not speak to him again.
He’d waited by the fence the next day, but the She hadn’t come. He’d waited the next two days and still the She hadn’t come. His heart sank.
Then, on the fourth day, he heard her. He yipped as soon as the sound of her shoes came drifting over the fence, yipped more times than he could count, to tell her that he was sorry and he shouldn’t have wagged his tail like that because they were friends and her friendship meant the world to him.
The She had come over, but there was no easy laughter like usual.
“Hi, boy,” the She said.
He yipped as he heard her lie down on the ground by the fence.
“What you doing in there, boy?” Her voice low and sad and her laugh nowhere to be heard.
Parry yipped five times to say he was sitting there thinking about her and wishing he could hear her laugh.
“You ever wish you could just get the hell out of here?” the She said.
Parry yipped once, meaning yes.
“You probably have it real good over there,” the She said. “Nice big yard to play in, bowl full of food every night, old Mr Cummings there to pat you and throw you sticks.”
Parry yipped once. This time it meant that he had all those things and they were nice and he loved his father, but that going over the fence was the one thing he wanted, the thing that consumed his thoughts.
“Sometimes I think you’re my only real friend, boy,” the She had said.
Before Parry could reply, the She stuck the tip of her hand under the tiny gap between two of the railings. Parry had crouched down and licked her fingers and the She had giggled. The She had taken her hand back and said “I gotta get out of this place. Maybe I’ll come and steal you and take you with me when I go.”
He’d heard her get back up and walk away, slamming the door a few moments later.
Parry had sat in that spot for hours without moving, tail wagging, his whole body warm now he knew the She wasn’t angry at him.
He’d sat in the spot every day from then on, in his spot, waiting for her. But the She hadn’t come as often, and now there was more yelling than laughter.
One day, when the sun was setting, there had been the worst kind of yelling, and the sound of the She crying.
“You trollop!” one of the Others had yelled.
“I’m not a trollop!” the She yelled back. “I love Eddie!”
“You’re just a kid. You don’t know what love is.”
“I know more than you do!”
The Other had laughed, a cold sound that made Parry wince. “Right, you’re so smart, I forgot. You think that no-good slacker will take care of you? You think you’re going to play house and it’s all going to be rainbows and kittens? You’re going to get yourself knocked up and your life will be over.”
“If I do get knocked up, I’ll be a better mother than you ever were!”
There was more yelling but it was at the front now, where Parry could barely hear it. Then there was a loud screech and a roaring and that was the last time he heard the She’s voice.
It’s that spot he sits in now, his head low, looking at the tiny gap where her hand had been. He can see a little patch of dirt on the other side and there is a worm wriggling through it. Parry watches it, its body twisting round and round. He thinks the She would have loved to watch the worm, would have giggled at its little twists and turns.
He will tell her about it when she comes back, three yips will be the story of the worm.
Parry gets to his feet and stares up at the fence. He hears his father comes to the door.
“Dinner time, boy,” he calls.
Parry looks back at his father, the way his back hunches over now, the creases on his face that get deeper when he frowns.
He looks back at the fence, puts his paw out and touches the railing. He aches to go over, to see what is on the other side, to brave the monster and find the She and hear her laughter.
“You hungry, boy?” his father says. He is shaking a box of the little nibbles Parry likes best.
Parry lets his paw slide down the railing a little, feeling the rough grooves of the wood.
Then he turns and trots over to his father, nuzzling his leg as he walks past.
The fence will be there tomorrow, Parry thinks. Tomorrow, he will go over.