up against a wall


This (almost 900 word) short story is now so old it can vote.





The young man stands two feet from the wall. His feet are slightly parted. His hands rest against the rough brick, palms flat. His head is level. He watches the wall. He waits.

Time passes.

He learns to sleep standing up, holding the wall upright. He closes his eyes, his body relaxes, but his hands stay against the wall, holding it still and safe.

When he awakens his mother brings him food. She helps him eat. Sometimes she stays and chats with him, but mostly he’s alone. Just him and the wall. While he stands there he contemplates. He ruminates on life, love, family, the ways of the world. People.

Later each day his mother returns and feeds him again. Later still she returns with a basin, some soap, a flannel and a towel. Lovingly she washes him, keeping him clean and free from sores or infection. Then she leaves him to sleep again. This he does standing, hid body trained in the art of his support.

One day his mother appears with another, a young woman. She introduces the woman to the man. They talk, laugh, and discuss the workings of the world. As interested as he is in the young woman, the man never lets his concentration slip. Dedicated.

The young woman returns every few days with the man’s mother. Each time they bond further. After a while the mother allows the young woman to visit the man on her own. She lets the young woman feed and wash her son. Happily she passes on the role.

One day the woman arrives with a priest, and they are married. The rest of the man’s family is present. It is a marvellous day. The man almost takes a rest from his devoted work.

The mother sits at home knitting for the child that the young woman is expecting. The mother knits for a son. She looks forward and is happy. She visits her son sometimes, only now not to perform tasks, chores which have long been passed on, but merely to sit and converse. She realises how alike her son is to her long-dead husband.

One day the man’s wife joins her husband bearing their child. Their daughter. The ageing man marvels at his child, but can’t mask his disappointment. Yet he remains happy and confident. Positive.

Time passes, and his daughter grows. The man isn’t there when his daughter laughs and learns with his wife. But they visit him, involve him as best they can in their lives. Still his wife brings him his food and cleans him. Only now he is much older. His hair has turned grey and is receding. His muscles aren’t what they were. He still feels strong in his mind, but knows his body is failing him.

He summons his daughter, giving her notice, as his father did to him many years before. He invites all those who remain in his family. His mother proudly stands to one side. When his daughter arrives he invites her to join his side. He speaks a few reverential words and requests she take his place. He lifts one hand from the wall and waits for his child to place hers in its stead.

Only, she refuses. She says this is not her world. He can’t understand. It is what happens. His father before him. His grandfather before that, and so on. Tradition. His daughter apologises.

Slowly she turns and walks away.

The old man replaces his hand upon the wall and closes his eyes. He can’t think straight. Nothing makes any sense any more. He waits, leaning against the wall, now needing its support.

His daughter doesn’t return. His wife never mentions her when she visits him, feeding and cleaning him. The old man remains silent, growing ever weaker. Ever hopeful. One day he requests the presence of his daughter: they have much to discuss. She refuses to see him, sending message that he must understand.

The dying man stands by his wall. His wrinkled, calloused hands still support its weight, and yet his back is bent, his strength sapped. One morning when his wife arrives to feed him he doesn’t open his eyes. He still stands in his same position, yet he has died during the night. Gently she eases his ravaged fingers from the wall, carrying him backwards and away from his life’s work. Wary of being crushed by it as it topples.

But it remains standing long after they have gone. Long after she has taken her husband and buried him beside his father, his grandfather. Long after his only child, his daughter, visits first his grave, and then the wall. Slowly she approaches it. Respectful. She lays one cold palm against it. Then the other. Her fingers slip into the creases left by her father. She looks down and places her feet in the holes left in the earth by her father and grandfather and so on back through time. She closes her eyes, remembers the stories, the history, seeing things she’s never witnessed. A tear slowly trickles down her cheek.

She lifts her right hand from the wall to wipe it away.

Then her left follows it.

And she turns.

And she leaves the wall forever.

And yet it remains.

And remains with her.


* * *


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