Andrew had tried before, and he would try again. But each time he tried to get past, over, or in any way through the wall he found himself back where he’d started. It was hard to get through the wall (well, he’s a person and it’s a wall) but nonetheless he had persevered, for years, trying various methods and procedures, despite the broken bones, one lost eye, and a series of psychological problems.
Arianna didn’t understand Andrew’s stupid obsession with the wall. Say “series of psychological problems” and she’s thinking that actually the whole thing starts with the psychological problems and migrates (or would migrate, if it weren’t so intractable) from there. The concussion, the shattered knee, the broken arm—this guy is a moron. Or a crazy person. Yes, just call him crazy, and then you have an origin story for the problems.
“This is the situation, Ari,” said Andrew at the restaurant. He sat squarely before her, looking tense and as if he hadn’t gotten much sleep lately. His hair was getting to the salt and pepper stage, and he wasn’t even thirty. His t-shirt said “Nectar of the Gods,” which Arianna assumed was a defunct band. “I come with the wall. I’m here; it’s here. I’m not going to stop dealing with it—I have to deal with it. I don’t want it to come between us, but I’m not going to stop trying, trying to get to the other side—not for anyone.” He gave her a painful shrug. “Sorry?”
Arianna gazed at the package that was Andrew. Their bodies, together last night. It was like two waterfalls, a red waterfall and a blue waterfall, falling down from a massive height to a tiny concentrated crystal pool. It was like—drops of water playfully splashing, ha-ha! tee-hee! , even while the general theme was down. She was so base, so superficial—to consider him a natural resource, a thing for herself, a benefit. But it was that, a gift that had just shown up, this Andrew. They were barely going out. She had no right to complain about his wall—and yet, at the same time, it felt as if she were contemplating a relationship with a married man.
They had talked, too, through sequences of darkness in the night, through bottles that had no deleterious effects.
“I think I understand,” she said, also painfully shrugging. At this restaurant, you could get chicken with your waffles. Neither of them had done so, though Andrew had gotten eggs with his. Was that some kind of baby step, a half measure? Arianna sometimes wondered if she should just take things at surface value.
After breakfast, Andrew went home to his apartment and Arianna went home to hers. Andrew sat on the couch and stared at the wall.
The wall was in his apartment, though to make this reality clear you should know it was in his other apartment in Portland also. So far, the wall seemed to follow Andrew wherever he went. When the wall first showed up, he was seventeen and still living with his parents. He considered calling the police or the FBI. It was exciting—like a TV show, wasn’t it? And TV shows were exciting. Even though TV shows always made some attempt to approximate our reality (this reality—non-TV reality that is).
He had tried rushing it headfirst, like a bull. The theory had been along the lines of it’s all in your head, and also something about putting that which you value the most out there, really making a statement about how much you want The Thing (the wall) to disappear, and/or to let you through, to the other side. He valued other parts of himself also. Let’s just be honest and say he did value his penis and balls, but he couldn’t think of a way to use them as a weapon against a wall. The most he could have done, he supposed, was to piss on the damn wall. But that seemed wrong. For one thing the wall was in his living room, so, yeah—and for another thing, he did somehow respect the wall. Andrew also valued his heart. His heart, metaphorically and actually.
Andrew had contemplated the heart a lot, as it related to the wall. It amazed him how certain thought-streams could take place over a series of years. The thought-stream about his heart was: if you wrenched a person’s heart out of his body, he would die, right? But if you wrenched the person’s brain out of his body, he would die, also. Or if you wrenched the lungs. Or other organs. Yet somehow it seemed the heart, the dear heart and not the brain, was the center of the body—the center of what it meant to be human. He would, if he could (he told himself) wrench his own heart out of his body and fling it at the wall, if it would have done any good. He would have pinned his heart to the wall, like a piece of evidence, or a painting.
He sat on his couch, letting his sight soften so that the wall’s colors became sinuous. It was the rushing of the wall, obviously, that had given him a concussion. Luckily his friend Wes had shown up, tossed aside the 12-pack, and helped woozy Andrew up from the floor and shepherded him to the hospital where, alas, Andrew’s parents incurred $750 in expenses, and Andrew was sent back to his apartment to contemplate life in dissonant form.
Was there a hole in the wall? Others had surely gone through. Andrew wasn’t so egotistical to think he was the only person to ever encounter a wall like this—or even this very wall. It had to be something physical, or related to physics. It was elemental in any case. The deep reality was Andrew needed to get to the other side.
A wall = get to the other side.
He didn’t think happiness would be found, necessarily, on the other side of the wall—nor even peace. Still and all he had to get there. Would he have a family, would he concentrate creatively on his work, would he love another (could he love Arianna?)? None of this could happen until he got to the other side of the wall.
The afternoon light played on the objects of his life—this life. Shadows shifted on the basketball and the blanket strewn on the couch and on the magazines and the liter bottle, once filled with soda. He re-focused his sight, and the wall became solid again. He got up from the couch and leaned on it. He rolled his body against it, like a horse rubbing his tailbone on a fence. This is prison, he thought indulgently. Then, out of guilt perhaps, he thought for one fleeting second: Maybe I could live without the wall, or live with the wall, but live on this side, and just ignore it. The idea itself was a very small wall in his brain, made of intellect only, and easily toppled over.
Arianna was sorting laundry in front of the television when the phone rang.
“Hey,” said Andrew.
“Hey,” she said.
“Want to go to the cheap movie theater later? It’s dollar-fifty day. I think that documentary about chimpanzees or whatever is there. We could sneak in candy bars and the new twelve-ounce plastic bottles of Coke or Diet Coke, if that’s what you prefer.”
“Wow,” is all she could say at first. Then she said sure.
They went to the movie. Afterwards, Arianna said, “Andrew, let’s just say you get to the other side. Do you think you’ll come back?”
Andrew got a wistful look and turned his head toward the McDonald’s sign on the horizon. “It depends what I find there.”
In her mind, Arianna dressed Andrew in a buccaneer/adventurer outfit, a safari jacket, binoculars, as some people had worn in the documentary. It would go well with his eye-patch, certainly: the image would be complete. She dressed him as if he were a paper doll, and then she stripped him again, blinked, and it was just Andrew in his red t-shirt and gray cargo shorts and sneakers.
“It must be very dangerous, in it’s own way, this search of yours,” she muttered. He could hardly hear her over the roar of traffic on Grant.
Arianna cried that night, after they’d had more awesome waterfall sex, and Andrew was curled away from her in the silver night. Loss swept over her. She was crying for the chimpanzees, and for herself. Clearly she and Andrew were not going anywhere. She touched his back, running her hand over his shoulder, a rounded wall. She let her hand fall back to the sheet. Her tears dried and she turned on her back and held her hands together on her stomach and stared at the ceiling, and then she closed her eyes again. Arianna imagined what it would be like to have a wall of her own. Certainly fortifying, to know what you wanted, what you needed. What would her wall be like? How would it appear? It seemed that a wall also created temporality, added shape to life. You had to get over the wall or through the wall, and then you were on the other side.
Arianna pictured her own wall:
She smiled in the dark.
The broken arm—well, that was from when he thought he could get to the top of the fucking wall, that it had to end somewhere, even though he couldn’t see the top from this angle (from the floor). Andrew had borrowed climbing equipment from his friend, also named Andrew as a matter of fact (this Andrew often went by “Andy”), and strapped himself in with clever rope, then hook and laddered himself up, quite a ways—though, tragically, not to the top. Apparently, Andrew thought to himself in despair after three hours of climbing, there was no top after all. The air was thin up where he’d climbed, and there was no end in sight, and he couldn’t even see his apartment down below. Andrew cried on the non-top of his wall. His tears flowed copiously. He was the rain king. He was a cloud.
In the mudslide that ensued the brackets of survival slipped sideways and his legs became alternating angles, and he slipped down, all the way down—pretty remarkable that he only broke his arm. Later Andrew wondered why the distance down did not seem equivalent to the distance up—to the three hours of climbing. It felt like he’d fallen from a distance such as, say, the height of his apartment’s ceiling to the floor. Still he landed with powerful finality. Luckily his friend Andrew/Andy had grown impatient—he was an impatient guy overall—and had stomped back to Andrew’s apartment to retrieve his equipment for an afternoon climb. Instead of or in addition to fetching his harness, carabiners, and rope, he discovered his friend sprawled on the floor, his arm the folded wing of a paper crane.
Some nights Andrew dreamed of others like him, trying to get to the other side. He dreamed he wasn’t alone, though it always felt he most of all was alone. Arianna was right in one way, which was that to Andrew she didn’t seem quite real…not particularly real at all.
It was embarrassing to have the wall in his life, although not in the way you’d think. It felt embarrassing for Andrew to walk and perform and exist, as this person on this side. He was in a perpetual state of untruth. At his job, as a web designer: no one knew. His landlord: didn’t know. Arianna: knew but. His family: once knew, but earnestly forgot, as families do.
His vision for life, once he’d made it—through? As the wall was part of his life now, so he imagined his life would be then, perhaps, a mirror image, with all the aspects of life as he knew them now, only bathed in gold, or otherwise illuminated and radiant with truth. He was willing to allow that it might not be a physical shift so much as a mental one. (Although he had to admit that the wall was physical, and his failures were physical, too.) He imagined a life in which he didn’t have to think about the wall anymore. Once over it—that was it. He’d be done.
Sometimes he allowed himself to daydream of that place, to consider how powerful might be his shock and gratitude.
Andrew jumped up from his couch, as if he’d been stung. He walked up to the wall. He could feel his armpits stinging with sweat. He stared at the wall, hating it for a minute. This happened sometimes—perhaps coming from a chemical imbalance, or just a natural emotional sequence he landed in, and eventually walked through.
* * *
Arianna went about her business with earnestness and with a freedom of spirit she only had when she’d forgotten to be scared of failure. Well, you didn’t meet someone with whom you had waterfall sex every day, nor talk through the night and achieve a magical state where liquors were no longer alcoholic and sunrise no longer brought a headache. But that didn’t have to mean it would or had to last forever, be something else later, a marriage for instance (to get crassly result-oriented). Of course she wasn’t thinking of marriage—pff! But she was thinking of this powerful essential thing that could happen between people, that seemed to have happened or maybe did happen or almost happened or might happen with Andrew. She had been on a train in the middle of the desert, desert sand on all sides, and she was going somewhere far away and unknown, and at the same time she was on a train climbing a crazy jagged mountain, and in the desert or on the mountain or just at the very edge of her vision she saw—a thing, a place without a name. And though Arianna was at this moment of recognition going about her business, in fact carrying her laundry basket down the street to the Laundromat, she felt a sense of falling, like a landslide or collapsing sand.
She painted that night, intimate articles draped on the furniture around her, small flags from small countries, indicators of ritual celebration or mourning. Time clustered, then let go again. But color transcended time. The colors looked best wet, borne at the end of her brush. It was the blankness of the future vs. now. The now was becoming.
Arianna slept well, afterward.
Andrew’s past built up, like a wall. When he was being himself, when he thought of himself to himself, encountering himself as if on a road, he constructed a précis that included where he had been, where he’d come from. He thought he needed this, a ladder on which to stand and face the (other) wall. The night Arianna was painting, Andrew was at home getting looped. He was drinking Belgian beer, of course, and listening to Wilco, then The Black Keys. At some point in the bleary early morning Andrew, forgetting himself, walked straight up to the wall (again)—and this time he stepped into and through it, as if it were a figment of his imagination, or at most a cloud.
Arianna didn’t hear from Andrew for a couple of weeks. She went about her life, having made meaning out of their brief liaison—she passionately loved that crazy, chintzy man, but it was not to be, that was now clear. Then she got a text from him one late afternoon when she was cleaning her apartment. drinks 2night? been 2long She stared at her phone briefly, then wrote back. Sure. B-line? 8? And he wrote her back: perfectamundo. Arianna sat on her chair with the stainless steel cleaning cloth in her hand, folded into a careful soft square.
They awkwardly stood next to each other in line behind two older women who were testing Chardonnays and considering splitting the salmon salad, or maybe one would get the salad and the other would get soup? The cashier/server, who had small black braids, a lizard tattoo on one arm and a checkerboard on the other, was staring at the women with a fabulously deadpan expression, as if she were actually dead, her brain blown out by a pissed-off sous chef from the kitchen behind her. When it was their turn, Arianna quickly ordered the Bear’s Blood, and Andrew ordered the Summer Wheat. They ordered a sausage and peppers sub to share. They took their playing card on a stick holder to a café table on the top floor.
Andrew had gotten a haircut, which helped him look organized and employed. Which he might be, or might not be—it occurred to Arianna she wasn’t sure what he did for a living. For all she knew he just wall-wrangled all day. It worried her not to know. Maybe she’d ask, later.
“Funny thing happened on the way here.”
“I ran into an old friend, Chuck. He’s getting married. In Canada.”
Arianna took a demure sip of her draft. “That’s cool, I guess.”
“Yeah.” Andrew was staring at Arianna.
“Guess what else happened?”
“The wall is gone. I went through it. And it disappeared.”
“So wait. You went through it—how did you do that? And then it disappeared?”
“The wall—the thing that happened is it wasn’t solid anymore. So I go up to it and I’m going to touch it, knock on it or rub it, I don’t know why. I’ve done this plenty of times, I do it all the time. But this time, when I put my hand on the wall—it didn’t stop. My hand just went in. Well, I didn’t hesitate. I kept going—I followed my hand into the wall.” Andrew’s eyes were bright, and he hurried to get the words out. “Then I was in the wall. It was dark—I couldn’t see anything or hear anything. I was surrounded by—by gray, like water. I passed out. I’m out, completely. Next thing I know I’m in my bed, and it’s morning. Birds are chirping away, I hear traffic. Like everything’s normal. But I know something has changed. The wall is gone. It’s not there.”
“So either I walked through it and came back—or I’m on the other side.”
Arianna stared back at Andrew. She was also excited; it felt like a fabulous uncle had his hands behind his back and he was saying, choose.
The sous-chef/murderer came by with the sausage sub, steaming hot, with ridged potato chips and a pickle. Arianna didn’t bother asking for red pepper. The sous-chef/murderer left.
“Which do you think it is?” said Arianna, sotto voce. She’d always thought that surely if he did go over (or through) the wall, he’d never come back. It would be a different kind of absence then the absence of the wall’s presence.
Andrew flashed back to the gray wall, into that strange water, the dance he did in the thick of things. The first sensation had been one of falling. He remembered now the way he was wearing the gray: it was a membrane, a bend in the road. She wanted to know if he had come out the other side, or was on this side now. He felt certain he could never tell her.