Good Neighbors and Good Fences

A Short Story

Photo by Rusty Watson on Unsplash

Monday, one week before the judging for the Annual Honeyville Community Garden Competition

“Seamus! Seamus, get out of my garden!” I took chase after my neighbor’s wheaten terrier who was now racing in circles around my bird and butterfly sanctuary. With each rotation, he chased away another goldfinch and another butterfly. It was a futile exercise, running in circles after a beast that was more agile than a ninja and faster than the Roadrunner escaping Wile E. Coyote. Suddenly, my foot slipped, and I did a full face plant in the grass, still wet from its recent watering.

Photo by Michael Murphy on Unsplash

This, of all things, made the dog stop. He not only stopped, he turned to me and began frantically licking my face, seemingly trying to go spelunking in my nostrils. I now felt sympathetic with Lucy Van Pelt and wanted to announce, “Ugh! I’ve been kissed by a dog!” Still, I kept my mouth shut, because, otherwise, I’d have a dog’s tongue in my mouth. I was sure of it.

“He likes you.” I looked up and saw my neighbor, Jackson Reardon, standing above me, his Stetson in his hand. “Need a hand?” he said, as he offered one.

I pulled myself up without his help. Now that I was standing, Seamus jumped up on me, placing his muddy paws on my chest, leaving prints on my pink plaid flannel. When he jumped down again, he sauntered right over to a coneflower and tried to take a bite.

A wheaten terrier I know in real life, not named Seamus. (She’s female.)
Coneflower, PumpkinSky, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“Seamus, haven’t you been naughty enough?” I asked.

“Sit, Seamus!” said Jackson.

In the first demonstration of obedience, the dog actually sat.

“Jackson,” I said. “Get a fence!”

“Deirdre,” said Jackson. “I have a fence. You know that, but, as you can see, that isn’t necessarily an obstacle.” He nodded to the side of my white picket fence and the hole the Houdini had dug beneath it to make entrance.

“He chased away my birds!” I protested. “He tried to eat my coneflower!” I walked to the fence to inspect Seamus’ excavation. “And he’s uprooted an entire family of fairies!” My fairy house structure was on its side and several miniature plants had been pulled up. Thankfully, my bonsai ficus was still intact.

Photo by Justine Meyer on Unsplash
Bonsai ficus, Daniel Di Palma, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Jackson smirked. “What! You don’t have fairy insurance?”

I took off my Croc and flung it at him hard. He flinched and the thing slid over his right shoulder, landing behind him.

“Please, control your dog,” I said. “I think you’re trying to sabotage my chances in the garden competition. I know you’re competitive, but really …”

“Look …” Jackson spread his hands.

I took off my other Croc.

Coolgirly88 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“All right!” He flung up his arms. “We’re going!” He hooked a leash on Seamus and walked off. Good riddance.

I walked into the front yard. What had I become … an irritable Croc-throwing maniac? Of course, as far as I knew, no one had been seriously injured by a lightweight foam shoe. But maybe this is just where it started, and the next step was hurling gardening shears?

My dreams were disrupted by a handsome face peering over the fence. “Matt!” I held my hand to my heart. “You startled me.” Matt was an old school friend and, now, my handyman, who happened to look a bit like Jude Law.

“I’m sorry. I came about the trellis and … whatever other jobs you have for me.”

I suddenly remembered my appearance. My curls were wild, I was covered in mud and had muddy paw prints in an awkward location. “You’ll have to excuse my appearance.”

“No apology needed,” said Matt. “You’re like me. You’re not afraid to get your hands dirty … or other parts of you either.”

I was trying to decide whether he was being fresh or adorable.

He grinned. “And it would take more than a little mud to take away from your looks. You’re like one of your flowers. They’re surrounded by dirt, but it just makes their beauty stand out more.”

I was leaning more towards adorable. Still, I didn’t know how to respond. Was he flirting? Because I really didn’t know anymore. A guy had to be on one knee with a ring box in his hand before I understood he was interested.

“Oh … well, thanks. I’ll show you the trellis.” I began leading him to the back of the house. The arched trellis, covered in pink climbing roses, was the central feature in my formal English garden section in the rear right corner of the yard. I showed him several places where the wood had broken.

Photo by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash

We turned and walked to my bird and butterfly garden. “The gazebo needs a little work too. It got damaged in a wind storm. A small tree fell and caused a chain reaction. The swing bench got damaged too,” I said. “It’s my favorite spot in the yard. I can sit here and see birds come feed, turn and see hummingbirds at my bee balm or butterflies on the coneflower.”

“No problem,” said Matt. “Leave it to me. By the time the judges come Saturday, everything will be perfect.”

I worked until evening, and then another surprise awaited. Sitting on the porch in a Mason jar was a bunch of white orchids. The mysterious giver left no note and no explanation. I brought them inside and set them on the kitchen table, wondering who had left them. Matt? He had been slightly flirtatious maybe, but they could be from anyone. Everyone knew I liked flowers.


I spent all of my spare time in the garden – watering, fertilizing, weeding and trimming. I repaired my fairy garden, filling in the hole that Seamus had dug and restoring my miniature ferns, colorful succulents and dainty polka dot plants. I fussed over the little pathway of twig rounds that led to my fairy house door. By judging day, Dad’s old electric train would be winding its way through all of these miniature wonders.

Polka dot plants, Vinayaraj, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
mini succulents, cogdogblog, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Matt busied himself with the structures on the landscape, the trellis and the gazebo. He passed behind me. “The fairies must be jealous.”


“Because you’re the fairest in the land.”

A sudden rush of heat prickled my cheeks. Matt was almost a little too much. What was into him lately? Was he the one that left flowers?

Just shortly after thinking about the mysterious flowers, I found new ones on the porch, a bunch of white roses in a Mason jar, again with no note. Matt again? If so, how did he do it? I’d seen him go back and forth to his van several times to get tools, but flowers? Did he pull them out of his sleeve like a magician? If someone else, how did they do it free of notice?

T.Kiya from Japan, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


I woke to the melody of songbirds and then a clattering and then the screech of frightened, tortured birds. I sat bolt upright in bed. “Seamus!”

I jumped up out of bed, seized a bathrobe and wrapped it around me as I ran down the stairs and out the back door. The shaggy thing was racing after my birds again, scaring off a chickadee and cardinal. I didn’t chase him this time. I spun around, marched back into the kitchen and emerged again with a heaping spoonful of peanut butter. “Seamus!”

soft coated wheaten terrier, SusanSmithGSU, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The beasty lolloped towards me, his tongue lolling out. I sat down in a patio chair and held the spoon out, allowing him to lick right off the spoon. I looked into his expressive brown eyes. “You’re kind of cute when you aren’t destroying things,” I said, “but don’t try and use that to your advantage.”

“Seamus!” Jackson sauntered into the yard.

I pulled the bathrobe tighter around me and felt the top of my head for the curls that were imitating Little Rascals’ Alfalfa. I tried to give my red hair a toss as I imagined Maureen O’Hara might in an old movie, but I’m sure I looked more like Shirley Temple after an unfortunate encounter with a fork and an electrical outlet.

I loped over to the fence to survey the damages to the fairy garden. It looked like Gulliver had trompled all over Lilliputia, upheaving miniature hideaways, uprooting the foliage and scattering tiny household things thither and yon. In a moment’s time, hours of fastidious labor was destroyed.

As a young girl, I learned the song, “I’m a Little Teapot.” It came to mind now, because the water was ready, and I was about to shout. I could feel the steam slowly rising through my middle and seeking to find a vent. “Jackson! How do you manage to sic your dog on my garden? Throw steaks over the fence?”

“I … I …” Jackson threw up an arm in the direction of my bird and butterfly sanctuary. “You have wildlife.”

Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I looked in the direction his arm was pointing, but I saw two empty bird feeders, one empty hummingbird feeder and an empty bird bath. When I turned around, Jackson was on his knees trying to right my fairy world, but his designing eye had different ideas than the plan I had worked so hard to create. His efforts set things up in jumbled order.

I tried to swallow down one last bit of steam, but it escaped. “You’re just making more work for me! Just go.”

Jackson stood up. “You’ve always been a very aggravating woman!” He threw his arms up, leashed Seamus and walked off.


After work at the florist shop, I filled the hole in the garden, set my fairy world aright and reinforced the gap under the fence with some scalloped stone edging. Matt returned and set to repair the swing bench for the gazebo. When he finished the repair, I brought him a glass of iced tea, and he asked me to test it out with him. We sat on opposite ends. He stretched out his legs, smiling rogueishly at me, “Nice. I could get used to this.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Nature.”

(This pic doesn’t fit the story completely, but it comes close.) Michael Martin from Cypress, Texas, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“I meant the company,” he said.

“Oh.” Not knowing what else to say, I just said, “Thanks” and continued gazing at nature.

The evening held a series of surprises for me. The first was a third bouquet left on the porch, bigger than the first two, filled with white tulips. The second surprise I discovered as I set them down in my kitchen. Some cash I’d left on the counter, about $60, was missing. The mystery of how it had disappeared continued to haunt and nag at me thereafter.

The third was a surprise visit from my childhood buddy, Eddie. “Eddie!” I said, as I answered the door.

“Mom’s recovering from surgery.”

“Yeah. I heard.”

“So, I’ll be here a few days taking care of Mom, and I thought I’d drop by. Sorry if it’s not a good time.”

“It’s fine,” I said. I pointed out an Adirondack chair. “Have a seat. I’ll bring some iced tea. Do you still like M&Ms?”

Photo by Julia D’Alkmin on Unsplash

“Do I still like M&Ms?” he said in a way that made the answer obvious.

I brought the M&Ms with the tea, and we sat on the porch. He pointed out the oak tree in front of us. “Remember when we used to climb that tree?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Do you remember falling out of that tree?”

“Yeah. I ended up in the hospital with a broken arm, but then you came with your Peanut comics and books of Mad Libs and made everything better.”

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I smiled. “How long have you been in the area?”

“I came here Monday. I would have dropped by sooner, but, you know … family.”

I wanted to tell him about the mysterious flowers but didn’t. What if they were from him? He’d had an attraction once. Instead, I told him about the garden competition and Seamus and the fairy garden and Dad’s old electric train. “Do you remember that old train?”

“Sure do.”

“I wish I had some little bridges for it to go under. I’d commission Matt to make them, but my budget only goes so far.”

“Yeah. I understand the budget issue.”

I changed the subject. “He’s fixing the rose trellis, and my formal English garden area will be perfect. Speaking of roses, I always loved your mother’s roses.”

“The yellow ones?”


“I think they’re called Julia Child.”

“Bon appetit,” I said in my best Julia Child impression.

“Hey, there’s something I’d like to tell you some time,” he said. But just then, his cell phone rang. “It’s Mom. I gotta go. Talk soon.” He left.


Thursday brought more mysterious flowers and more missing cash. This time, the Mason jar held a profusion of red carnations. The cash was missing, this time, from a pocket of a coat hanging in the mud room. Perhaps, I did leave cash in odd places, but I lived alone, and I didn’t expect anyone other than myself to see it or move it around. Was I suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s or was I a victim of theft? Could the mysterious flowers and the missing cash be connected? Was this a thing among thieves? Hey, thanks for the cash. Have some flowers.

In the evening, I got another visit from Eddie, and we sat on the porch and reminisced about the old days. Suddenly, I said, “Hey, thanks for the flowers.”

He smiled. “’Welcome. Thought you’d enjoy them.” He turned and continued to gaze lazily at the dogwood trees.

That was it? A week of suspense, and he answered in this casual way? Not even a mention of that thing he had to talk about with me some time? “It was sweet of you,” I said.


Friday, I came home from work, walked into the kitchen and found Eddie standing there. “Eddie! What are you doing in my kitchen?”

He hunched his shoulders, holding two hands out in front of him. “Your sister told me where your key is in the bunny statue. I can explain.”

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

“Don’t! You betrayed my trust! You entered my house without permission!”

He left, and I cried. The case of the mysterious flowers – solved. The case of the missing money – also solved? All of those flowers, invading my private property – weren’t these signs of a stalker? That didn’t sound like my Eddie, but we’d been apart so long. Did I even know the man anymore?


Saturday brought no more mysterious flowers to my porch. When the judges came to my yard, I noticed some new things, a stem with a yellow rose planted in my English formal garden and, in the fairy garden, little handmade wooden bridges carefully spaced over Dad’s old electric train track.

I still thought about the mystery of the flowers and, after the judges had seen the place, had the idea to look up the Victorian meanings of the flowers in a book I had. White orchids represented “I’m sorry.” White roses represented new beginnings. White tulips said “I’m sorry,” and red carnations stood for admiration. I pondered these things a while.

A neighbor called me and told me she’d seen a man messing around in the garden statuary and then entering the house. “Yes, I know,” I said. “I know a man got into my house that way. It was a friend. Thanks for telling me.”

My sister called some time later. “Did you hear the news about Eddie?” she asked.

I thought I was the one with news about Eddie. “No. What?”

“He’s getting married.”

My scalp tingled, and I was speechless a moment. “Did you know I found him in my kitchen? He said you told him where to find the key in my bunny statue?”

“I did. He wanted to help you in the competition and surprise you with that cutting from his mom’s bush and those little bridges for the train track. He called me and said he needed access to the house for some tools and such. You’re not mad?”

“Not anymore.”

Afterward, I called my neighbor back. “Can you describe that man you saw enter my house?”

“Sure. He looked a little like a movie actor. I can’t remember …”

“Jude Law?”

“That’s the one.”

Later, I went with neighbors to see my chief rival’s garden. I expected to see an amazing koi pond with waterfall surrounded by tropical foliage and a greenhouse full of rare orchids, but something else for me ended up being the top attraction.

Photo by Jean Jacobs on Unsplash

I noticed a broken bit of fence along the edge of the property where two posts were tied sloppily with some rope. It must have been the site of Seamus’ Houdini action. It seemed so out of place and unlike Jackson to leave a sloppily mended fence for the judges to view. Hanging there on the fence was a plaque with a Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall,” burned in wood.

I read a portion of it, “Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Beneath the plaque was a milk can filled with white orchids, white tulips, red carnations and white roses.

It could be that Jackson’s message was that Seamus had the right to invade my property whenever he liked, but I thought he meant something quite different. Soon, Jackson was standing beside me.

“I agree,” I said.

“With the poet?”

“With you. I am the most aggravating woman.”

He laughed. “I know.” After a pause, he said, “Dinner Saturday night?”

I smiled. “Sure.”

To add to the sweetness of a new start, he and I tied for the winning ribbon.

I apologized profusely to Eddie and thanked him for all of his kindness. Six months later, Jackson and I attended Eddie’s wedding together.


This story was originally published on Reedsy Writing Prompts from the prompt, “Write a story where flowers play a central theme.”

I have a new short story up on Vocal Media, a Victorian period story set in Martha’s Vineyard around 1870, The Unexpected Courtship of Widow Laramie. Check it out.

The Mask of Deception (A Fairy Cautionary Tale)

Photo by Sandra Ahn Mode on Unsplash

I have been inactive on this blog for a little too long, distracted by other events and concerns in my life including caring for parents, and, perhaps, have also neglected my blogger friends. Forgive me for that. Lately, I have been busy writing and posting both on Vocal Media and Reedsy Writing Prompts for various writing challenges, with both non-fiction articles and short stories. So, I have the rights to republish those works here, so I will begin to do so. This is one of them, published recently on Reedsy for a fairy tale theme from the writing prompt, “Write a cautionary tale about someone who lies too much.”


Photo by carolyn christine on Unsplash

As a music box played a soft but melancholy tune, Moonbeam dreamed of the masquerade ball the king was throwing that night. She had no gown, only a drab dress of coarse fabric and nondescript color. She did have a mask, a white sequined mask with upright bunny ears. She put it on and looked at herself in the mirror. Her clothes might have been humble, but she had a crowning glory of golden ringlets that fell to her waist. With the mask on, one could still see the beauty of her rosy lips, but her eyes and her very identity were hidden. It was rather exciting. She took the mask off and put it into her satchel.

Suddenly, she remembered there was an old text about masks. Pulling down a heavy, old tome from the bookshelves, she found it in its weathered pages. “Do not wear the mask of deception. Do not deceive your fellow men. If you do, you will become hardened and your heart will be hard.” She might be wearing a mask tonight, but everyone would be wearing a mask at the ball. She closed the book, returned it to the shelf and thought nothing more about it.

Photo by Matthias P. R. Reding on Unsplash

Taking her satchel with her, Moonbeam went out into the street and walked through the city, and, eventually, wound her way through an open market. There, a beggar boy sat on the ground by a fruit cart, which was piled high with starberries, windberries and earthberries, sparkling like gems and smelling sweet as honey. She could tell the beggar was a street performer from his colorful rags with tattered ribbons flowing down from the hems of his knee pants. A hat full of coins sat on the ground beside him.

Moonbeam leaned down to him. “What a lot of coins you’ve collected.”

“Yes’m’” he said.

“You must have done a lot of dancing,” she said. She smiled in a way she hoped was sweetly.

“Yes’m.’ Would you like to see? I do a fancy bit at the end where I stand right on my head. Folks seem to like that part the best,” said the boy. He smiled a dimpled and lopsided grin then wiped a bit of dirt from his face with this sleeve.

“No, that’s all right,” said Moonbeam. She reached into her satchel and pulled out a small object. “This,” she said, “is worth more than all of the coins you have there altogether.”

“It is?” said the boy, leaning in to get a closer look.

What she held out was a button, a big very beautiful button with crystals that shimmered when they caught the light. “I’ll trade you this button for your hat full of coins.”

Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash

“Oh. Yes ‘m!’” he said. He pushed his hat forward and took the button with its artful imitation, gazing at it like it was a glistening prismstone from the mines of Luwannton.

Moonbeam emptied the boy’s hat of coins into her satchel and then promptly used some of the coins to buy a bag full of mixed berries from the berry cart. She popped several of the delectable berries in her mouth, wiped the purple juice from her chin with the back of her hand and quickly walked on, carrying the rest in a bag.

After she’d walked a few steps, a thought came to her, so that she did not know if it came from herself or elsewhere. Perhaps, the boy will have no means to get his dinner tonight, and you didn’t even leave him a berry. Then, she fumed and pushed that thought away like she was stuffing overflowing rubbish into a bin and slamming the lid on it.

He is a boy of the streets. He will have to be tough and hardy. He can’t be so fragile like glass. With this new thought, she pushed onward.

Moonbeam continued to wind her way through the stalls in the market: brushing past colorful silks here, there jingling fancy horse harnesses embellished with bells, and everywhere, smelling delicious aromas, both savory and sweet, from the food stalls. As she continued, her steps were not as easy as before. Her feet felt heavy, and her legs began to feel stiff. “I am merely tired,” she thought. When she stopped at a stall selling clockwork mechanical figures and watched a brass doll walk stiffly through a crowd of children, she thought, “I am like that doll.”

Photo by Julius Vincent on Unsplash

Next, she saw a most beautiful ice blue gown in a seamstress’s stall with a sweetheart neckline, mutton leg sleeves and an impressively full and gauzy skirt. Every inch of it was covered in iridescent glimmer. The seamstress, sitting alone in a corner, nearly obscured by her creations, was dressed more simply, in a dress as coarse as the one Moonbeam wore, and though she wore a thimble as she continued to work, her fingers were covered in calluses and pokes.

Moonbeam knew she did not have enough coins for the dress, but perhaps she could arrange a trade similar to what she had already done that day. As the seamstress looked up, she peered into her satchel and pretended to look. “I don’t have the coins today for that gown,” she said, “but I can give you this key.” She pulled out a skeleton key and showed it to the woman.

The seamstress shrugged, “What good is a key to me?”

Photo by Everyday basics on Unsplash

“It’s not the key so much that’s valuable,” said Moonbeam. “It’s what the key can open. My father has a stable over that hill there.” She pointed beyond the seamstress’s head. “This is the key to a unicorn’s stall. I will write down the address and give you this key and this voucher in exchange for the iridescent gown.”

“A unicorn, you say?” asked the seamstress, poking her head out from its screen of hanging clothes. “What breed?”

“A Southern silky,” said Moonbeam, “the finest.” She picked up a quill pen and parchment and made out a voucher, also writing an address, a false address. The skeleton key was of no use to her anymore and only opened an old wardrobe that had already been converted to firewood.

Photo by Chris Spalton on Unsplash

aving made the exchange, she went behind a screen at the back of the stall and put on the gown and then the mask, stuffing the old coarse dress into her satchel. She spun around and looked at herself in the mirror. As she twirled around, her skirt swished, its iridescence shining like crystals, its semi-transparent nature like glass.

Standing still and looking at her masked face in the mirror, she thought she could pass for Princess Butterfly who also had long, golden hair. It made her think. Princess Butterfly had a small, berry red mark on her cheek. Taking a berry from her bag, she squeezed it and used some of the juice to mark her cheek. The effect was quite successful.

Moments later, things began to look a bit peculiar. Her gown continued to sparkle, but her face, hands and the fleshy parts of her were barely visible. “It’s only the light, only a trick of the light,” she thought. “My eyes burn.” She blinked away tears and turned from the mirror.

Photo by Inga Gezalian on Unsplash

Walking out in the market again, although she looked fine and felt pride in her beauty and appearance, physically, she felt worse than before. Her legs felt stiffer. Her feet stung. Every part of her hurt, even her heart – perhaps, especially her heart, that felt like an old mechanism winding down. She remembered the mechanical doll and thought it was running more smoothly than she was. Moonbeam almost felt like she needed a key to wind her up again.

She passed a jewel merchant’s stall when she heard a voice call, “Your Royal Highness!”

“Yes?” She spun around, although she spun around like a doll on a turntable.

“Your father, the king, had me reserve this just for you,” said the merchant. With a key, he opened a chest and pulled out a velvet box. Opening it, he revealed a crystal tiara.

Now, this is what Moonbeam truly wanted, to be revered as the princess, to be regarded as important and admired for her glamour and beauty. She lifted the tiara from the box, and her arms ached so that she could barely lift them to place it on her head.

Photo by Amy-Leigh Barnard on Unsplash

Moonbeam walked onwards, imagining everyone looked at her with awe. Though she reveled in the awe, she felt more ill than before and her motions were slower and more painful than any old grandmother in the kingdom. She walked, creeping and creaking, a little ways further until she reached the center of the Swanton town square just beyond. Then, she stepped no more.

Moonbeam is still there in the Swanton town square – frozen as a glass sculpture. Her golden ringlets turned to fragile coils of glass. Beneath the glass exterior casing of her torso, a black glass heart is suspended.

Some people of the town, seeing her in this form, wanted to break the fragile sculpture to bits, but the duke over this region put up a plaque instead. “Let this be a warning to those who, in selfishness and greed, deceive their fellow men. As the old text says, ‘Do not wear the mask of deception. Do not deceive your fellow men. If you do, you will become hardened and your heart will be hard.’”

© 2021 Susan Joy Clark

Photo by Angel Barnes on Unsplash