The wall grows proportionate precisely to the gap in time between the imagined then and the imagined now.
On the first Sunday in July, I wore my tenth-birthday dress, flared, with deep blue pansies on sunshine yellow. Granny’s bent fingers had curled tight pulling the thin shiny belt closed. It was one year since my parents had died.
I was by the apple trees, twirling, when I heard Damien shout. His hands sneaked over the grey stone of the wall that separated our gardens. With my tummy swirling, I watched as his fingers tried to grip the smooth stones. His head appeared and disappeared as he jumped.
Damien’s Daddy kept building up that wall. Last Sunday Damien climbed over it and again, by the Wednesday, it was higher. The new bricks even smoother. They were darker, too, and I cried when I saw them.
Damien shouted that he had climbed Mount Everest. There were streaks of gravy on the corners of his mouth.
I plucked a very green apple from the tree and threw it to him. “You’ll need energy!”
I felt warm all over when he sat, then, eating the unripe apple, swinging his legs, on my side of the wall.
“I had chicken and gravy for my dinner as well,” I said, standing beneath him, looking up.
He wiped the sides of his mouth with his sleeve. “I always drink it straight,” he said, a smile curling on his lips, “even though I’m sixteen.”
We looked towards Granny’s house. There was no sign of movement. He took a final bite of the apple then threw the butt at me. I ducked.
Counting to ten, I ran to the end of the garden, to where the nettles were.
Damien was the knight who had come to rescue me. When my parents died, I became a slave, working all day and sometimes all night.
I brushed my hands over the nettles. “Help! Help!”
I tugged at a dock leaf, rubbed it across the stings.
Sometimes the knight got stuck getting over the wall. Other times dangerous dragons chased him. Black and white dragons they were, after the crumbs from the table. One time the evil King found him and beat him until his armour fell off; it hung from the holly bushes, flags winking in the light.
I twirled, looping my thumbs into my shining belt. You are so beautiful, my princess, Damien would say. My long hair flew in the wind and tiny birds hovered, waiting to pin it in place with their perfect beaks.
I listened for his footsteps. A dragon flew past; I waved the bad luck away. I tiptoed past the holly bushes, jumped over the nettles, and went around the foxgloves. They sang to me, their pink and purple trumpets filled with melody.
I leaned against the apple tree, rubbing the dock leaf between my blistering palms.
Damien’s trousers, grey like my school uniform, were on top of Granny’s petunias, his blue underpants dropped on them. A material cake.
He stood in the clay, his hands moving. Covering himself.
I stared. His eyes were scrunched up, his mouth gaping open. I tried to call his name but my throat closed up. I stayed very still. I looked to the perfect blue sky.
“Gracie.” He finally spoke again, his voice crackling. “I love you.”
The back door of Granny’s house slammed.
“Damien, get back to your house now.” Granny’s voice was strange, as if she wanted to scream but had to speak instead.
Damien grunted and turned to climb back over but his hands slipped.
“Fly! Damien fly!”
I threw his trousers and pants over the wall.
He scrambled some more before pulling himself up. He slid down the other side of the wall.
The swoosh of the stick against his Daddy’s leg as he stomped down the garden startled the magpies.
“You’re for it now, boy!”
His Daddy’s voice boomed.
“Gracie,” Damien called to me, “Gracie. I’m sorry…” His voice trailed, stopped by the blow of the stick.
Granny took me roughly by the wrist. “That boy needs fixing,” she muttered, shaking her head, pulling me into the house.
Damien’s screams faded as she snapped shut the doors and windows. I wondered where the half-eaten apple he had thrown at me had landed.
The echo of a human voice rebounds in our minds even when it has been silenced.
That night I dreamt my arms and hands were buried in heavy wet sand. Above me, Damien poured light grains of sand from a red bucket. His laughter felt like rain. I smiled through the sunshine. I woke up, needing to go to the toilet.
It was still dark.
I wanted to see the garden before the day had changed it. I walked down to the bottom, to the foxgloves, bobbing with the weight of water. I tried to catch the sparkles of dew on the flowers, on the leaves. I touched the wet apples. The garden was filled with birds. No magpies dared invade. I crouched down, balanced myself, my hands on the wet grass. I was sure a fairy light flitted past me; I shivered.
I looked at the apple trees. I wanted the apples to be round and red, so I could line them in a perfect row on the wall. Damien could eat them one by one, pips and all.
The cloak of the night hides happiness like the apple hides its pips.
On the second Sunday, as the sun rose, Damien’s Daddy had not built the wall any higher. A light rain fell. The wall shone, as if it had been polished. I tried climbing up it but slipped. I looked at my muddied knees. If I climbed the wall, maybe Damien would laugh, and maybe Granny would like him. If I climbed the wall, maybe I could fly.
I heard sirens, getting louder. I ran back to the house, following the sound. My ears were ringing.
Granny stood at the front door. “Come, I’ll make us eggs for breakfast, Gracie.”
I ran to the front room, strained at the window.
“You’re a good girl,” she whispered into my ear, pulling my arm, “look away, look away.”
I banged on the window until my fists hurt. Damien’s Daddy stood by the ambulance, with a man in a white coat.
Damien lay on a stretcher, his legs kicking. As they carried him from his house, away from our wall, a ribbon of white gauze fluttered behind him. His bound wrists had pockets of red seeping through.
The ambulance drove away, the lights flashing brightly, the sirens loud again. Granny opened the front door as the sirens faded. I ran out. Threads, torn threads of gauze, lay on the ground. Granny followed me outside, hugging herself as if she was cold. She reached out, pulled me to her.
“Gracie, poor Gracie,” she said, her embrace tighter and tighter.
I squeezed my eyes shut, wanting to fly like Damien. I sobbed, wishing that he could fly over all the walls in the world.
Shauna Gilligan, from Dublin, Ireland, has lived in Mexico, Spain and the UK. She now lives in Kildare, Ireland, with her family. She writes short and long fiction. Her novel Happiness Comes from Nowhere (London, Ward Wood: 2012) was described by the Sunday Independent as a “thoroughly enjoyable and refreshingly challenging debut novel.
–Foreground Art by Lisa Griffin
–Background Art by Sarah Hardy