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Being is Enough

A hallway sees the best of life

By Joe O’ConnorPublished about a year ago 6 min read
Runner-Up in If Walls Could Talk
4

If walls could talk.

Some people look at a wall and think there could be nothing worse than staying in one place your entire life. Never moving, never going, never leaving. “Life’s about getting out of your comfort zone” and all that.

And yet, there is something to be said for continuity. For the unchanging and ever-present.

Not convinced? That is understandable. You spend your whole life being told things like “life is a book, and those who don’t travel turn but a single page”. Sound advice? Perhaps. Ah, but what if you had a purpose to something other than yourself?

Let me tell you a story, and if by the end of it you still think that the life of a lath and plaster wall is one of misery and yearning for movement, then by all means spread your wings and fly away. But sometimes the greatest moments one can have, are those spent in the service of others. And that can be done anywhere.

One question. Have you heard of Eric and Amy Hatley?

No, I don’t believe you would have. And you see, that is where you’ve missed out.

I was a sprightly seventeen-year old thing back then, one clear lick of daisy-yellow to cover myself. I would have much preferred mustard, which would have been far more in keeping with the fashion of the time, but my painters were young and spontaneous, prone to hasty decisions and fits of passion.

Eric and Amy moved in when they were not much older than myself and the rest of the bungalow, though they were by far the most flexible. Defying her slight frame, she carried him laughing over the threshold that first night, in a dress that needed to be returned the next day, greeted only by my silent applause in the hallway, and the comforting quiet of a house that was all their own.

They spent that first year doing the place up, and many a day I spent shivering at the sight of the sledgehammer resting against the front door. Yet I survived, through all the noise, the tearing up of plans, the transforming and de-sanding and re-plumbing. They eyed me up together, her in bright-blue overalls and him in a green cotton tee, and I stood my straightest, determined to show my worth. Eventually, they decided they wanted brightness in their hallway, and I was splashed and dashed with two rollers so worn they barely held the paint they were dunked in.

More than once she would lean against me with her hands behind her back, watching him try to mix paint or drive screws, and though I could never see it, I could always tell when she was smiling. And if he caught her looking at him, I knew their work was done for a while.

If I had eyes I would have shut them, and if I had ears I would have blocked them, but in a way I was part of it too. You might think that is strange, but then again, you weren’t there.

Sometimes he would push her up against me, and their hands would reach up for support, interlaced and tight. The sheer intimacy of those moments made me feel in some way part of them- the sighs that rose past my face and the sweat that stuck to my paint. In the afternoons I was cool to the touch, and they would collapse into me, trying to catch their breath and laughing. Various items of clothing would usually end up at my feet (if I had any), depending on how far through undressing each other they had got.

It wasn’t all easy though. They were poorer than squirrels, for even squirrels have their big and bushy tails as blankets to wrap themselves in. I can’t say for sure, but I imagine that’s how squirrels sleep. She would tiptoe past me to the bathroom on winter nights, desperately refilling her red rubber water-bottle in a vain attempt to stave off the cold. The house was solid to be sure, but no amount of added insulation could stop the the chill from seeping under the front door and into my studs. On nights like these they huddled together so close it was hard to tell where she ended and he began.

She taught and he laboured. She marked at home while he cooked dinner. She packed the car while he organised the route. She sang, he danced.

What is a year to a wall? What is a decade, but the soft wear of time? All things fade, and I felt myself chip and bend. Yet, I was there always.

I stood proudly as birthday guests waited patiently beside me in the line to use the single bathroom, chatting about how good the guacamole was. No-one offered any to me so I cannot tell you if it really was that good, but a hint of chilli and a dollop of sour cream would be my advice. I didn’t take it personally when the occasional pillow was thrown by one of them in a huff, because I made an excellent backstop. I just couldn’t catch. However, I did hold their memories in my arms- the places they had been, the family they missed, and the photos they took of each other.

He came home tired, and she came home frustrated. He would go for runs, and she would walk in the forest. He fixed the car, she mended the clothes. He sang, she danced.

Sometimes they would be away for a weekend, or even longer. I would watch them bolt out the door and be sad that I couldn’t go with them, but then, that was not the place for me. Mine was for when they came home- to hang their coats on, to fumble along in the dark when the power was down, and to bang a head against when things didn’t go their way.

Over the years those memories on me grew, and their faces changed. Like all humans do, I watched them grow old. And still.

They read quietly together, feet touching gently. They made repairs to the house while their bodies allowed it, unsure whether the creaking came from their knees or the floorboards. They sat on the porch playing chess, a game made longer as their attention was caught by a strolling cat or a changing cloud. They sang, they danced. And they laughed.

As far as I can gather from the photos and conversations I listened to, they never once set foot in a plane. It wasn’t as easy as it is now, nor as cheap. They spent their money on necessities, and their time on each other.

Their passionate hallway moments gradually became a memory too, and were replaced by two frail hands grasping for support, one on me and one holding the other. Light became heavy, fast became slow, and age found us all.

In my eighty-sixth year, they left me.

They didn’t want to leave of course, but their home had become too hard to look after. Their families took them in, and they spent days packing everything into storage boxes- things to keep and things to throw away.

The day I said goodbye to Eric and Amy, they took down the photographs I had been holding up, and I have never wished more in my life than in that moment to be human. To hold them with arms, to cry tears with them, to tell them I would miss them dearly.

In the end, I did the best that I could. Commanding my buckled screws and warped wood to straighten, I was there one last time as they walked from their small bedroom to the front door, arms around each other, and brushing me. Amy patted Eric on the shoulder as they stepped out of the house, and then they were gone.

When all is said and done, you could say I was nothing more than a silent presence. A sturdy guardian. A plaster shoulder to lean on.

I saw no great sights, travelled no distant lands, spoke with no strangers.

And yet, what more could a wall ask for than to stand and serve?

I am still here, part of a quiet old house that stands alone. Maybe someone new will move in one day. Maybe not. Maybe this house will be demolished to make way for bigger and louder and newer things. I was built, and eventually I will be gone too.

But I was part of so much more than you can see, and all I had to do was be.

Love
4

About the Creator

Joe O’Connor

New Zealander living in London

Teacher of English and History, and sport-lover

Mostly short stories and poems📚

Feel free to be honest- one constructive comment beats a hundred generic ones

Currently writing James The Wonderer

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

Add your insights

Comments (4)

Sign in to comment
  • Leslie Writes4 months ago

    Ooh, I love this. A wonderful slice of life story! Congrats on placing runner up in the challenge!

  • Donna Reneeabout a year ago

    There was a whole lifetime of emotions in this! Beautiful. And congratulations!

  • Caroline Cravenabout a year ago

    Really well written. I loved this story.

  • CJ Millerabout a year ago

    This reminded me of the beloved house I grew up in. I think we all have at least one special place that feels like a physical part of us, and vice versa. You captured that relationship beautifully. 💙

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