Fort by Eugenie Montague

Fort

It had been three months since Beckie’s father left, and two months and seventeen days since she’d taken up residence in the fort they built together in the winter of ’15. Before she moved in seventy-eight days ago, it had been at least a year since she’d even stepped inside it. Longer, probably, for the old place showed the tell-tale signs of abandonment, of a place once cared for and then forgotten. In fact, the fort was little more than an elaborate wood pile — originally three walls of stacked logs, six feet by four feet, placed corner to corner to corner, creating an open square. Three walls of a fort, as Beckie had seen instantly. A lean to without a roof, her dad had said.

The logs were overflow from the September storm, an early and violent blizzard in 2015 that began around one on the morning of September 23rd. By daybreak, every school in the county had been cancelled, because four feet of snow had dumped from the sky, burying Route 73 and Route 22 and Route 84 and all the roads, drives, and avenues that spread from them like tributaries. The new ground cover obscured the difference between backyards and driveways, soccer fields and pastures, in-ground pools and sand-boxes. By the time Beckie woke up that morning, farmers across the county had already been working for hours to herd big-eyed cows into barns, pigs into runs, sheep into run-in sheds, their dirty white wool crusted with snow. Around nine AM, the temperature dropped abruptly, and the precipitation turned to an ice that left a hard, translucent floor over the new snow. So hard, Beckie and the roosters and even the goats and small adults like her mother could walk on top of it without breaking through. When it was all over, the trees had been encased in a layer of solid ice that bent branches and split trunks. It was one of the most beautiful things Beckie had ever seen, like trees at a formal ball in highly structured gowns that diverted their shapes into new and different angles. A week later they were mostly dead and, with first a chainsaw and then an axe, her father cut enough wood to fill the rack by the front door and the overhang that ran along the back of the house. When those were full, he brought a full cord to Beckie’s aunt, who lived near them but didn’t have a husband or enough property for trees to fall down on.

And, still, there were more trees, so at the beginning of the wooded area behind the vegetable garden, Beckie’s father inadvertently built them their first fort: three walls of stacked logs, six feet by four feet, placed corner to corner to corner. From the house, they brought out her yellow table and chairs, as well as her play kitchen with the plastic fry pan and its two infinitely sunny side up eggs. Her father made a bed out of haybales, which he pushed against the back wall. Small branches protruded from the log walls like natural nails and from them they hung a slotted spoon, a hand broom, and a picture Beckie had drawn in the first grade. On nights when they slept out there, they ate sandwiches at the table and then her father zipped them both into a sleeping bag on top of the haybale bed. They looked up at the stars, or, if it was raining, they listened to the rain hit against a blue tarp her father lay over the open roof and secured on all sides with heavy stones.

When Beckie moved in on July 17th, 2018, the hay bales had disintegrated, her drawing had disappeared completely and the walls were lower and uneven, the result of her father taking from them to light fires in the house the following — it must be admitted — wildly inconsistent winters. Now, Beckie has done what she can with the place. The walls remain lower and uneven, but outside that, it is a rather pleasant fort again with a hard dirt floor she sweeps clean every day and a new haybale bed. Instead of a drawing, she has hung a Shel Silverstein poem she copied out by hand and laminated on the school’s machine. Every day when the bus drops her off, she comes directly to the fort to do her homework and stays there until her mother calls her in to eat. After dinner and two episodes of whatever happens to be on that night, she returns to the fort and reads by flashlight, falling asleep on the haybale bed.

In the house, her mother researches the temperature ratings of various sleeping bags. She has already decided that she will let Beckie sleep in the fort she and her father built until she is ready to come in. There doesn’t seem to be a point, she thinks, in trying to convince someone to stay. People build their homes where they want them.

 

Fort

 

Eugenie Montague’s fiction has been published by The Best Small Fictions 2017, NPR, Eggtooth Editions, Amazon, Faultline, Mid-American Review, Fiction Southeast, and Tin House’s Flash Friday. She earned her MFA from the University of California, Irvine and lives in El Paso, Texas.

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Art Do-ho Suh/Julian Stallabrass CC2.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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