We recently published Phebe Jewell’s gorgeous “Fence Jumpers.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I love the sparkling, here-and-there details in this story — one of my favorites is Mr. Li’s bag of lychees. It gives him so much personality in this small glimpse of his life. What made you choose lychees for Mr. Li to be carrying to his niece?
“Fence Jumpers” was one of those stories that took on a life of its own. It started with a free write about the scene in the church, but then somehow Mr. Li rode his bike across the page. I could see him quite clearly (probably because he’s modelled on a man I often see biking by my house, usually carrying a bag of groceries on his handlebars), so I followed him as he made his way up an extremely steep hill. I could see Mr. Li ride with purpose, a man on a mission to comfort someone with something that had weight and could be shared. That’s when I knew he was bringing his niece lychees.When I lived in Vancouver, B.C. I would go to Chinatown to get lychees for special occasions. There is something comforting in peeling their rough skin to reveal the perfumy fruit. Mr. Li wanted his niece to taste this unexpected sweetness. I wanted to make sure Mr. Li made it safely to the top of the hill, and that’s when the truck came in, allowing me to connect Mr. Li with the narrator.
2) The way this story addresses the loneliness of not quite fitting in, the way the narrator wants to be part of things — it’s so powerful and longing and, here especially, tinged with sadness. Do you think the narrator will blame themself for what happened? That they will feel that, by sneaking the communion wine, they have somehow caused George’s death?
I think so. Like many children, the narrator makes sense of the adult world by connecting details and events that may or may not be related. The narrator, for all their bravado about sneaking the wine and being a badass, carries the weight of new knowledge that not everyone survives breaking the rules.