Pickett Fences: A Short Story
Arrival At the Pickett's
Marnie was shocked and heartbroken when she saw the dilapidated condition of Henry and Naomi Pickett's brick house. She pulled into the driveway wondering if she should go through with this. Henry had sent her a letter three weeks before. How he tracked her down she had no idea. He asked her to come to see him and fulfill his last wish. She assumed Naomi, Henry's wife was gone, as he hadn't mentioned her. It was clear he hadn't been able to tend the place for a very long time. The front yard was nothing but weeds with a little grass and a lot of dirt. No flower beds and the brightly painted stone donkey pulling a cart that always captivated her as a child was nowhere in sight.
As she stepped up to the door and knocked a wave of apprehension washed over her and she nearly ran back to her car. She did not want to see him old and dying. "Henry, are you there? It's Marnie Harris."
The pounding of a hammer on wood echoed from behind the house. She followed the sound toward the backyard. As she came around the corner she gasped. The beautiful garden she, Henry, and Naomi tended for so many years, was now ravaged by time and neglect with tall weeds and blackberry vines. The picket fence Henry had built around the garden wasn't even visible. Perhaps it wasn't even standing. Henry was a fence builder by trade with his own small company - Pickett Fence Company. She always smiled at the play on words.
"Picket has only one T," she corrected him at age nine when she saw the name of his company on his truck.
"I'll bet you do well in spelling bees," was all he'd said. Naomi informed her that their last name was Pickett, with two ts.
"Oh, silly me." Her cheeks had flamed with embarrassment.
"Don't give it another thought, Marnie," Naomi said. Henry winked at her.
They met when she walked past their backyard from the alley on her way home from school one day. Their tawny little mutt Barnabas ran to the fence that skirted their yard barking and poking his head between the pickets. She stopped and patted his head. Naomi and Henry came over and introduced themselves.
"Looks like Barnabas has made a new friend. I'm Naomi and this is my husband, Henry. You're the Harris, girl aren't you?" Naomi had asked.
"Yes, Marnie Harris."
"We were just planting some bulbs for spring," Naomi said. "Would you care to join us?"
That day she became a member of the Pickett family. Her parents were in the throes of divorce and she felt abandoned. Their son Guy was in ninth grade and always at football practice. On the rare times she saw him, he pretty much ignored her. That changed when she came of age.
Marnie saw movement, then a man appeared from behind the garden. He stopped, dropped his tool belt, took off his baseball cap and wiped his brow with the sleeve of his blue flannel.
They Meet Again
"Hello," Marnie called out.
The man looked up at her, annoyed at the intrusion.
"I'm sorry to interrupt, but I'm looking for Henry Pickett. Do you know if he's home?"
"Mr. Pickett died a few weeks ago. Why are you looking for him?"
"He's an old friend. He sent me a letter wanting me to visit."
The man took his hat off again and squinted at her for a long while.
"Is that you, Marnie Harris?" he asked.
"Yes, and who might you be?"
"It's me, Guy. I don't know why dad would contact you after all these years of not hearing from you. Mom's been gone ten years."
Marnie felt her heart drop. "I'm so sorry about your folks. I don't know what to say about the letter, Guy. Henry wrote asking me to visit him; that he had one last wish that only I could fulfill.
"And what would that wish be?"
"I don't know. He said he'd explain when I got here."
"You have the letter to prove it? He didn't leave anything to anyone but me."
"Here's a news flash, Guy, I'm not here to collect anything. I'm simply responding to an invitation." She dug in her purse and handed it to him.
He snatched it and read it over a few times.
"My dad's writing and signature, but Dad died two days after the date of this letter. He was in a coma the day after he sent this."
"I don't understand."
He examined the envelope. "This is addressed by Dad's attorney. I'll get to the bottom of it. You go on home."
"I drove five hours to get here. I loved Henry and I think it's only right I ask his attorney about this. Now, give me back the letter," she said.
"Because your dad sent it to me and I want to keep it. If there's any possibility I can still do something to honor his wishes, I want to do that. Give it to me. I'll call the attorney."
"Tell you what," Guy said, "we'll go in right now and I'll call him." He paused. "You haven't changed much, Marnie."
"Neither have you. Ornery as always."
"I meant you're as pretty and prickly as ever."
For a split second, her heart quickened at his calling her pretty but she turned hard again and stared him down, wanting no heart connections.
"Come in the house then," he said, holding the screen door open for her.
"You can sit at the table," he said as they entered the kitchen. "You want a beer?"
"I don't drink beer. I see you're still sucking the suds more than ever."
"That was unnecessary, Marnie." He looked in the fridge for something else to offer her. "There's a Sprite in here. You want it?"
"No thanks. You going to make the call or what?"
He mumbled something under his breath and made the call. "Can I speak with Mr. Kinsey, please? This is Guy Pickett, son of Henry Pickett."
Marnie listened carefully to make sure he didn't try to pull something.
"Can you please have him call me when he gets in? Uh huh. Tomorrow afternoon? Hold on." He turned to Marnie. "You want to see him tomorrow?"
"Guess I have no choice."
"Okay," he said into the phone. "We'll be there at two." He hung up and considered Marnie. "You can stay here," he said.
"With you here? I'll find a motel."
"I have my own place ten minutes away. You hungry? I can scramble some eggs or something."
"I'm allergic to eggs, remember?"
"Okay, we'll order in. My dime."
"Fine!" She was miffed, not knowing why.
"Marnie, let's call a truce, okay?"
By the time the pizza arrived Marnie had softened.
"Marnie, I'm not trying to pick a fight, but how come you didn't keep in touch with Mom and Dad for the last twenty years? They were sad when their cards and letters were returned."
"My husband moved us around a lot. He tried to keep me from everyone - friends, family. I finally got away from him."
"I think Mom and Dad knew something wasn't right. They prayed a lot for you."
Marnie choked up. "They were so good to me. They knew I needed them and they took me under their wing. What about you?"
"I helped Dad with the business. When he retired we sold it. I'm an independent contractor now. I was married eleven years, had two daughters, but it didn't work out. My daughters are everything to me and I spend as much time with them as I can. They brought a lot of happiness to Mom and Dad."
"The sun rose and set in you to them."
He turned his beer bottle around and around. "Marnie, I need to make amends to you. I know I was a jerk and hurt you all those years ago.
"Water under the bridge, Guy. I was not the easiest to get along with."
"You were prickly when you got mad, but you were kind and true to me and I broke it off so suddenly."
"Let's move on, Guy. We're adults now."
"I'm sorry nonetheless. I'm glad you're here."
Guy and Marnie sat next to each other in the attorney's office waiting for him to explain Henry's letter to Marnie.
"I did not read the letter Henry wrote to you, Ms. Harris. I just mailed it at his request. However, he gave me a letter to read to you if he died before you could get here. I'll read it to you now." He opened the letter.
"Dearest Marnie, I'm sorry I did not live long enough for us to meet. How I've missed you. Naomi, too, before she died. I told you in the letter I sent that I had one last wish before I passed and that you were the only one who could fulfill it. It's a very simple request - work with Guy to restore the garden then you two mend the Pickett Fence. Love Henry."
The attorney neglected to explain Pickett with two Ts.
"This doesn't make any sense," Marnie said. "Anyone can help Guy, why me?"
"I like working alone," Guy said. "I started building the fence yesterday but didn't get very far. Someone interrupted me."
Marnie's hackles rose. 'What is his problem?'
Mr. Kinsey smiled. "Your father capitalized "MEND THE PICKETT FENCE." I think you'll figure it out along the way."
Two Months Later
Marnie and Guy stood up from putting the last picket on the new fence. They had cleaned out the garden and filled it with new plants and flowers
"This is amazing," said Marnie.
"It is. It seems too pretty to have this beautiful garden and the rest of the place in such poor condition. I think I'll redo the front yard too. I could sell it then."
"Sell it? That would be a shame, Guy."
He frowned, looked down at his work boots, and toed the soil. His silence was long and made Marnie uncomfortable.
"What is it, Guy?"
He finally looked up into her face.
"It's just that...well, we've worked so hard and so well together. We make a good team. We've mended the Pickett with two Ts fence - you and me. I know that's what Dad meant." He stepped up to her and ran his thumb down her dirt-smudged cheek. "I'll keep the house if you'll marry me."
"That's an interesting way to propose. Very romantic." Her sarcasm hurt.
"Marnie, I'm sorry. I love you. I've never stopped loving you and that's why I'm asking you to be my wife." He put his forehead against hers and pulled out a ring. "Please become Mrs. Pickett .
She melted. "That was better. I'd love to be your wife."
He pulled off her garden glove, slipped the ring on her finger and kissed her softly like two velvety pedals coming together.
"It will be a garden wedding," he said.
"And the two shall become one Pickett."
"With two Ts."
© 2018 Lori Colbo