First Place Fiction: "The Wailing Wall"
by Steve Hill '03
It is the last week of July, and on CNN there is video footage showing thousands of Israelites and Jews from countries around the world making a pilgrimage to the Western Wall. The wall itself is stunning: ancient, desert in color, with small specimens of flora creeping out from the cracks in the massive stones. It is at once alive and inanimate. There are so many there in front of it. They are praying. Before this massive stone edifice, there are black-clad people, dozens deep and dozens long, waiting with patience. When finished, they back away from the wall, facing it. They disappear into the waiting.
A commercial break.
I am in New Hampshire, and out the back door of my parents’ home my mother sits cross-legged in front of her split-rail fence in a nightgown worn sheer by three decades of sleep. She is sitting in a patch of yard turned brown by the summer heat; in an hour or so, when I walk over to her, the grass under my feet will sound like chewing a saltine cracker. The sun is not yet at its apex, so it shines upon her at an angle. I can see the outline of her body within the cotton shell. She is wrinkled and yellow and sad-looking. Her gray hair gleams with oil in the sunlight. When I look at her eyes, they are wide and wandering. Her brain is black and soft behind them.
She has lost her mind.
An entire package of Post-It notes adorns the horizontal sections of the fence, each with an illegible prayer written upon it. The notes vibrate with the stale and humid breeze. I think of baseball cards pattering in bicycle spokes. She is laughing and crying at the same time, and the only words she’s spoken in the last three days have been “CNN,” “Pecker,” and “Tisha B’Av.” She saw the news article I also saw earlier this morning, and now she thinks she’s Jewish, has made this wooden fence her wall to wail on.
Occasionally, curtains in the homes of her neighbors ruffle, a face appears, pitying. This is for my mother. This is for me, too, standing there in the window of the dining room, curtains thrown behind me, sectioned glass in front of me.
My mother laughs and cries, laughs and cries, but not maniacally. Her laugh is how I remember it: resolute, yet daydreamy. She holds her arms out, leans her head to touch the weathered middle rail. Her words come out in a pulp.
Thank God, I think, that she can still laugh.