Part one can be found here.
It was autumn, and construction of the fort’s outer wall – which would eventually encircle the whole of the property – was in full swing. Despite graying temples and the first signs of arthritis in well-calloused hands Fred continued to put in long hours and progress rapidly. With his wife now gone for good the fort consumed nearly all of Fred’s waking hours, save the few hours a day at work when he hurried through his duties. His latest performance review had been a cross between a disciplinary meeting and an intervention. Fred barely paid attention, his thoughts drifting to the trouble he was having tying 2 sections of the wall together at the corner of his fort.
One Saturday as he was mixing cement to extend the wall footing his brother Bill stopped by to give the concerned brother speech. It was the first time he’d been back since an unpleasant incident in the summer when Fred had had to shout at his kids for their disrespectful use of the fort. “Hey Bill,” Fred greeted his brother as he continued to mix his cement. “Hello Fred.” Bill toed some loose gravel for a moment before beginning, “Well, gotta say that’s a heckuva fort you got goin’ there. I’ll bet you’ll be ready for any Indian attacks for sure.” He gave a nervous chuckle; Fred grunted but did not look up. Clearing his throat Bill continued, “Listen, I don’t mean to tell you…what I mean to say is…look, your business is your own, far as I’m concerned. But I – we that is, Barb and I, we’re just concerned that maybe your…project here is gettin’ a little outta hand. I mean we never see you no more, and what with S – I mean, your marital situation…not to pry or anything…”
Fred sniffed, “Yeah, been busy. Probably gonna be for a while…not near done.” “Yeah, yeah, I see that…but doggoneit Fred just what’re ya tryin’ to prove here?” Fred glanced up in surprise and shrugged, “Nothin’, not trying to prove anything…just buildin’ a fort.” “I can see that, heck, the whole neighborhood can see that. Point is, that ain’t…normal.” “I see, so I should try to prove to my neighbors and family that I’m normal?” Bill held up his hands, “No, no, now that ain’t what I’m sayin’. It’s just…I mean there’re other things in life besides your fort. Tell you what, why don’t you come over and watch the game at our place tomorrow? Some of the guys’ll be there, we can grill in the afternoon…whadaya say?” Fred swirled his cement a few times before answering, “Well, that’s nice of you to ask, but I guess I’ll be busy workin’ on the fort. Now if you’ll excuse me I gotta get this mix in the hole before it sets.”
It was almost winter, the days shortened and grew colder. Still Fred labored on. His hair was more gray and white than black, and he’d grown out a full gray beard to go with it. His progress slowed even with an increase in work hours due to the leave of absence pushed on him by his company. Still the walls around the backyard were up, the 2-storey structure where the garden used to be was connected to the fort in the tree, and Fred was measuring out a large chunk of the lawn for what he planned to be the 3-storey keystone of the fort. That was the day the uniformed police officer paid him a visit.
“Excuse me, are you the proprietor of this domicile?” Fred finished pounding a stake into the lawn and stood stiffly to face him, “Yep, it’s my house. What can I do for you officer?” “I attempted to reach you at your front door, but you were unresponsive so I came around to find you here.” “Yeah, pretty hard to hear the front door back here…so what can I do for you?” “Sir, I’m here to inform you that there have been a number of complaints regarding your structure here.” “Ok, what’re the complaints?” The officer looked surprised and at a loss for words, “Uh, well, sir, I am not at liberty…that is I was not made aware of the exact nature of the complaints, just that there were complaints; multiple complaints. Looking at the structure myself I’d have to ask whether you have the proper permits for this.” With this last line the officer seemed to have regained his balance and to be satisfied with himself for having come up with that. Fred sniffed, “Uh-huh, and what might those ‘proper permits’ be?” The officer was again taken aback, “Well, that…that’s more of a matter for the city clerk I guess…” He paused a moment to really take in Fred’s handiwork, “If I may ask, what exactly is it you’re building here…sir?” “Fort.” “Fort? You mean like a…fort?” “Yep, you got your outer walls there, and up in the tree there is where I started.” The police officer hung around a few more minutes, but since there wasn’t anything for him to do or say he shuffled off and left Fred to his work.
Winter arrived in full force and the pace of construction slowed to a crawl. In addition to increasing physical limitations and uncooperative weather Fred now faced material challenges. Pushed into early retirement by his company due to performance issues his financial resources were sub-modest and dwindling. As he sat in his living room staring out at the snow covered construction site that was his backyard, for the first time in his life Fred felt the pang of regret for not having progeny – now there was no one to carry on his project to a completion that it was becoming clear even to Fred that he would not be around to see. As winter deepened Fred’s aging body betrayed his ambitions more and more, until barely able to walk he found it impossible to continue construction, leaving the keystone structure framed and walled but roofless, a stark memorial to his half-done dream.
Rather than despair Fred set about revising all of his blueprints to include detailed instructions of materials to use, construction methods and planned extensions; he did so with the vague hope that someone might pick up his project, realize his vision and finish the fort.
It was Peter’s wife Grace who found him at his desk, head and arms resting on his master plan, pen still resting in his lifeless hand. She had been bringing him meals and helping around the house since there was no one else to do it and he was Peter’s uncle after all. When they set about putting his affairs in order they discovered just how bad things were – the house was mortgaged to the hilt and Fred had taken every loan and maxed out every credit card he could get his hands on. The house would be a nightmare to sell, it’s value severely compromised by the massive wall around the backyard – complete with corner watchtowers – and other structures in various stages of completion; in that sense it was almost a relief that it fell to the bank to partially recoup Fred’s massive debt.
Some people make families, others build companies or empires; Fred built a fort. Or rather he started building one.