All Fall Down by Rowena Fishwick

‘What am I meant to be looking at?’ I asked. 

‘The wall.’ 

My best friend, Hannah, went to Portugal this summer. Her family swam in the sea and made sand castles on the beach. Our family looked at walls. 

‘We have walls at home we can look at.’ 

‘But this,’ said Dad, ‘is the Berlin Wall.’ 

Even Simon, who could usually be counted on to agree about the weirdness of our parents, seemed fascinated. 

‘But what does it do?’ I asked, wondering if it might be like the movie Labyrinth and this wall contained a hidden entrance that led into a magical kingdom. 

It was Simon who answered: ‘The Berlin Wall separates East and West Berlin. Everyone knows that. I bet you haven’t even heard of the Iron Curtain.’ 

‘Why would they make curtains out of iron?’ 

‘Duh. It’s not a real curtain.’ 

‘Okay,’ Dad said. ‘Let me explain it to you.’ He tried to glance at Mum, but she had walked a few steps away and was staring at a different part of the wall. ‘It all began,’ he said, ‘when World War Two ended.’ 

‘Actually,’ said Simon. ‘It would be more accurate to say it began with the Russian Revolution.’ 

‘Yes, but that would take too long to explain.’ 

‘You could also say it began with World War One.’ Simon made his thinking face, where he stuck out his chin and made a hmmm noise. ‘Or you could look at the corrupt system in Russia under the Tsar. Or even -’ 

‘I think we’ll just start with the end of World War Two.’ 

‘But she’ll need to know what caused the war.’ 

‘Not necessarily.’ 

This went on for a long time. Mum wandered even further away. Her shoes clicked on the concrete and she stuffed her hands in her trouser pockets. At one point she moved up close to the wall and traced her finger along it. Dirt must have come off on her skin, but instead of wiping it away she sniffed it. 

‘So you see,’ Dad said. ‘This Wall is important. It’s a piece of living history and it may not be around much longer. You’ll be able to tell your grandchildren you saw the Berlin Wall.’ A large spider scurried up the wall. 

‘I think they’d be more impressed if I saw DisneyLand,’ I said. 

Your dad never gives up on anything, Mum said to me, not long ago. She made it sound like a bad thing, even though I was always being told off for giving things up too easily. Although I guessed she wasn’t talking about Dad sticking with ballet classes or learning the recorder. 

‘Let’s try a different angle,’ Dad said now, and I wondered if we were meant to stand on our heads and look at the wall upside down. But it was nothing so interesting. ‘Imagine this. You wake up one morning and there’s a wall cutting our town in two. If any of your friends are on the other side, you can no longer see them again.’ 

‘Technically,’ Simon said, ‘the Berlin Wall was not completed in one night.’ 

Mum was so far away now she was only a blur of red hair. Maybe she thought we were right behind her. Like the time I got lost in Woolworths and they had to put an announcement over the speakers: Could the mother of Lucy Chambers please come to the Audio-Visual Desk? Thank you. When Mum arrived she said she thought I was right behind her, even though I’d clearly said I wanted to look at the Pick n’ Mix. She was the one who wandered off and vanished. 

‘Now do you get it?’ Dad asked me. 

‘Could school be on the other side? Then I wouldn’t have to go.’ 

He sighed. ‘Do you want to try?’ This question was meant for Mum. Only now did Dad realise she was gone. ‘Sylvia?’ 

‘She’s over there.’ I pointed at the red hair. 

‘For Heaven’s Sake.’ 

He marched towards her. Simon and I followed, keeping a few feet behind. ‘What are you doing?’ Dad asked. ‘Why did you go off like that?’ 

‘Please don’t talk to me like I’m one of the children,’ Mum said. 

‘We’re in a foreign country. What if you got lost? Why can’t you just stay put?’ She gave him the same look she gave me when my rabbit died. ‘Because I can’t.’ 

Back at home, Mum seemed more distant than ever. Simon and I never talked about it. Instead, he continued trying to teach me about the Berlin Wall. Perhaps something he said must have sunk in because at school I wrote a story about a girl whose best friend lived on the other side of the wall. They could only communicate by sending letters carried by pigeons. I really got into that story. So much, I cried when the faithful pigeon was shot down by the Soviets, who believed it was a spy working with James Bond. Mrs Fielding said it was brilliant and asked me to read it out to the whole class. 

When I finished school that day I was bursting to tell Mum, but she only gave me a vague smile and said: ‘That’s nice.’ 

‘It isn’t nice,’ I said. ‘The pigeon is killed.’ 

Mum continued staring through the window. ‘Why don’t you go and play?’ Our home had become a strange place. Like the scene in Labyrinth where Sarah thinks she’s in her bedroom but it’s just a room made up to look like it. Everything looked the same but it didn’t feel the same. I kept waiting for the walls to tumble down and reveal what it really was. But what would there be underneath the home-costume it was wearing? I was afraid to find out. And then, one evening in November, I went downstairs for a glass of water. Mum, Dad and Simon were watching TV. 

‘Lucy?’ Dad said. ‘Come and see this. The Wall is coming down.’ 

I yawned. ‘What?’ 

‘The Berlin Wall is coming down.’ 

I shuffled towards them, the carpet tickling my bare feet. There was a lot of noise going on and people were crying. Mum also looked like she was crying, but it could have been the flicker of the TV screen. 

‘Come and sit down,’ Dad said. When I was squashed onto the sofa he smiled. ‘You can tell your grandchildren you watched the Berlin Wall come down.’ 

Mum moved off the sofa, as if there wasn’t enough space, and sat on the floor. I couldn’t see her face. Tangled hairs clung to her scrunchie. 

‘Funny, isn’t it?’ Mum said, in a voice that suggested it wasn’t funny at all. ‘The material they use to make prison walls is the same we make homes out of.’ 

Dad picked up his drink and downed it. ‘Very ironic,’ he said, as he re-filled his glass. For weeks Mum and Dad had barely spoken to each other. Now they seemed to be talking in riddles. I turned to Simon, sure he’d agree they were getting weirder by the day. But he was staring at them, his eyes wide, his lips drained of colour. 

We were sent up to bed soon after that. In the hall, between our two bedroom doors, Simon said: ‘I think they’re going to get a divorce.’ 

‘What’s a divorce?’ 

But he only sighed, slumped his shoulders and shuffled into his room. 

I asked Dad the next day, but he gave up trying to explain. A few days later he moved out. 

Published in Issue #19

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