The Wall by Joe Lucido
Associate fiction editor Annie Bilancini on today’s bonus story: "The Wall" is a no-frills fable that simply isn't interested in wowing you with bells and whistles. Instead, this perfect little story about the inexplicable appearance of a seemingly endless wall behind the protagonist's home and his lost brown dog unfolds quietly and lingers on a tender final image.
It appeared to appear overnight, when the town was tumbling through their dreams. It separated the town from somewhere none of them had ever thought to go, so when they woke up, they were not sure what they were missing. They were certain they were missing something, though, and the town was not known for a citizenry without questions. The man whose backyard was bisected by the wall was troubled most—first of all, because he couldn’t recall what the other half of his backyard looked like; second of all, why was he never consulted?—and that morning, after having realized the town had been walled in, or out, from one side, the man sipped a cup of coffee with a hand on his hip, sizing it up, wondering where in the world his dog had gone.
The man thought someone, probably the town zoning committee, had some hell to pay for this one, and after he finished his coffee and gave the wall a couple of kicks for good measure, he set out into the town, leash in hand, to find his dog.
He found much of the town discussing the wall on their front lawns. The town long-distance runner was stretching her legs in the street. The man said, “Have you seen this wall yet?”
The long distance runner said, “How could you miss it?”
The man, displaced several blocks from his home, turned around to see that the wall was taller than he initially thought. The top was visible above the houses, though when he was standing in his backyard earlier, the wall had seemed just taller than he was. The man said, “Well, all right.”
“I’m off to find the end,” said the long-distance runner. She set out toward the wall, running eastward.
“Real quick,” the man said, “have you seen a brown dog running around here?”
The runner, already two blocks away, shouted, “Brown? No, but a white one went west!” The man had never seen a leaner human being before, nor had he seen a body glide so otherworldly. He took comfort in her pro-active search for answers. He wondered whose white dog had escaped.
The town held a meeting that night to discuss the wall. It was the best turnout ever at a town meeting. During the meeting the man called the zoning committee into question. He said, “If this is some stunt to put a few extra dollars in their coffers, they need to think about at what cost to the rest of us.”
The mayor said, “Will the zoning committee please stand up.”
The three members of the zoning committee stood up and proclaimed they were just as baffled as the rest of the town.
“Bullshit,” said the man. “Sorry,” said the man. “Has anyone seen a brown dog running around? He’s been lost since the wall went up.”
Several people said they saw a white dog.
“My dog is brown,” the man said.
“Are you sure?” said the mayor.
The town brainstormed how to understand the sudden materialization of the wall. The mayor stood at the front of the crowd and wrote ideas down on a dry-erase board.
gathering wall info ideas
- find tallest member of town
- fire truck ladder
- wait for long-distance runner to return
- accept that it’s there for good and move about lives
- try to remember what was over there in the first place
On the other side of the dry-erase board:
what was over there in the first place
- maybe another town
- grass and/or trees
- a different wall slightly farther away than this wall
- brown dog
- if we can’t remember was it even important
“In conclusion,” the mayor said at the end of the meeting, “we will wait to see when the long-distance runner returns and then go from there. Who is the tallest person in the town?” The tallest person, who knew she was the tallest person, stood up, and the town agreed that being so tall she must be the tallest person in the town. The mayor said, “If the runner comes back with no information about the wall, then, if you’re willing, of course, we might employ you to peer over the wall and see what’s going on over there.”
When the long-distance runner didn’t return for a week, the town gathered in the man’s backyard to watch the tallest person in the town peer over it. The tallest person, who was very much taller than the next tallest person, approached the wall and appeared to peer over. “Can you see the runner?” one townsperson said.
“Can you see my brown dog?” said the man.
“What is your dog’s name?” said the tallest person.
The man thought and thought. “I can’t remember,” said the man.
“What about the runner?” said another townsperson.
The tallest person peered for a long time. She stood on her tiptoes. The crowd anxiously awaited her report. When finally she turned from the wall, she said, “I cannot see over the wall.”
“Of course you can!” said a townsperson. “I could see you seeing over the wall!”
The argument went on back and forth like this for a long time, until the mayor summoned the fire engine and the fire engine extended its ladder as high as it would go. The tallest person climbed up the ladder and stood many feet above the townspeople in the man’s backyard. Again, the townspeople anxiously awaited a report. The tallest person stood on her tiptoes, and, again, she reported that she still could not see over the wall.
The town stood baffled and baffled. They called the tallest person a liar. They requested a report on the whereabouts of the long-distance runner. The man thought his dog must definitely be on the other side of the wall. “Let me have a look,” said the man. The town agreed that because the man had lost his dog and because they were standing in his backyard that he should have a look.
At the top, the man saw nothing but the top of the wall just above him. It was clear the wall was too tall for anyone to peer over and it would always be this way. He told the town this theory. The town, frustrated, agreed. At another town meeting, they pulled out the dry-erase board and erased everything but “accept that it’s there for good and move about lives.” Someone said a few words on the bravery of the runner, whom they missed dearly.
The man resigned himself to a shortened backyard and a dogless decade. He went back to work, never fully understanding what he was supposed to do at his job. Each morning he woke up he found himself a little plumper. The wall continued to stand a head taller than the next tallest thing. The man couldn’t help but look around when he heard a dog bark in the distance. Eventually he called the town artist. He said, “Can you paint the wall in my backyard to make it look like the wall isn’t there?”
“I can do that,” the town artist said. The town artist came over with many gallons and shades of paint. “What is it that you remember on the other side of the wall?”
“Well,” the man said, “I guess I had twice the lawn I have now. There was a wooden fence, like the fence you see on either side of the lawn. And I don’t quite remember, but I had a brown dog, and I’m pretty sure I had neighbors back there.”
The artist worked for weeks shading in the world for the man, until the top of the wall in the mornings blended with the sky, and at night blended with the stars. Soon, the man did not even notice his house backed up to a wall.
When the artist was leaving, the man said, “I’m in love with you.”
“I’m in love with you, too,” said the artist.
They kissed before a sprawling landscape. The man got plumper yet.
Many years later, the long-distance runner returned with a white dog in her arms. The man was eating a BLT on a park bench. The runner was out of breath. The town was how she left it. When the man saw her, he said, “Did you ever find where that wall stopped?”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “Do you have any water?”
“I have this.” The man offered her some of his Sprite.
The runner finished the Sprite and thanked the man. “I found your dog,” she said.
“My dog was brown,” said the man. “That white dog belongs to someone else.”
The dog was old with rheumy eyes and a crooked tail. It was happy to see the man.
“Do you want her, anyway?” said the runner.
“You must be starving,” said the man.
“I am,” said the runner.
The man split what was left of his sandwich in half. He gave one half to the woman and one half to the palsied dog. “I guess I will take the dog,” the man said.
“She’s a good dog. Do you have any kids?”
“No. We decided not to have any.”
“I wanted kids. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t gone running.”
“I could see that.”
That night, after the artist had gone to bed, the man took the old dog into the backyard. The dog did not want to play, so the man led the dog to the wall. The dog sniffed at the wall and found a suitable spot to pee on. The man sat on the ground, his back against the wall, the old dog in his lap. He looked at the back of his house. He scratched the old dog’s ears. The old dog groaned, and then she fell asleep. He loved the dog and felt the dog loved him. He was tired. He rested his head against the wall. He had never looked at the back of his house before. It was a good house.
Joe Lucido is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. Some of his work has recently appeared in Wigleaf, Booth, Whiskey Island, and others. He grew up in the suburbs of St. Louis.