The Wall

by Julie Koh

 

On morning TV, a politician is promising to build a wall. The wall will divide Australia across the middle.

‘It’s a wall to keep the Chinese out,’ the politician explains. ‘Every night the tiny Chinese people come in and stroke my hair as I sleep. It’s illegal. They expect to get paid well for all the stroking – discount prices, they say. I tell them this isn’t a free country. We don’t just hand out jobs. If you disagree, you’re on the wrong side of the wall.’

As the politician takes more questions, a wrecking ball swings through our bedroom. It takes out the TV with a crash.

The dust settles. I peer out from the wreckage into the front yard. Men in short shorts and boots are already dismantling the letterbox and driving stakes into the ground. From the way the stakes are arranged, I can see that the wall is going to be built right down the middle of our marital bed.

‘Excuse me,’ I say. ‘You can’t build that wall through my house.’

‘You should have told the inquiry that,’ says one of the men. ‘You should have put in a submission.’

‘My husband will have something to say about this,’ I tell them, but he is nowhere to be found.

 

It is afternoon before I hear from him.

‘Darling, can you hear me?’ he shouts from the other side of the wall.

‘Thank God you’re okay!’ I shout back.

‘Which button do I press to start the washing machine?’

I look around me. I realise that in the division, I didn’t get the laundry or the bathroom or the kitchen, or even the garden taps.

By sunset, I can’t hold my pee in any longer. I squat in the backyard under the lemon tree, contemplating the wall.

It has left my side in total shade.

 

In time, my clothes start to stink. I don’t have money for the laundromat. I toss clothes over the wall to my husband. I can hear them land, but they never come back.

I shout to ask him if he’s washed them.

‘What clothes?’ he yells back.

‘The pink coat with the white birds? The blue skirt with the yellow tulips?’

The guard on our section of the wall looks over at my husband’s side.

‘I don’t see any laundry,’ he says, adjusting the sling on his rifle. ‘We don’t see any laundry.’

 

I try to write a complaint to the government. I sit down with a pen and paper but can’t get the words right. There is too much noise on the other side of the wall. Construction work during the day, but other noises too.

Thump, thump, thump.

My husband must have bought a treadmill. I call out to him but he doesn’t answer.

I wonder where he is running.

 

The next day, as I prune the wilting bushes in the front yard, the local newspaper lands in a roll at my feet.

The front page says: ‘All in Thrall of Great Wall’. Men in hard hats and ties grin out at me.

 

As the days progress, wall-related articles retreat further back into the paper.

One morning, buried on page thirty-seven, I read the headline ‘Local Couple Having a Wall of a Time’. The article features a photo of my husband with his arm around a woman who has the skin of a baby.

She is wearing a pink coat with white birds, and a blue skirt with yellow tulips.

Behind them is their half of the house, newly renovated. The grass in the photo is green and lush, and has grown into a vast front meadow filled with blue flowers.

 

The wall is covered in a thick layer of cork. I decide that it will work well as a vision board.

I cut out the picture from the newspaper and pin it to my board: an achievement unachieved.

 

I think about the wall every waking hour.

I hover near it, watching it.

I fall asleep next to it with my right hand splayed against its surface.

My husband on the other side doesn’t do the same back. He pounds eternally against a body that isn’t mine, in the midst of a glorious meadow.

 

 


Julie Koh is the author of Capital Misfits and Portable Curiosities, and a 2017 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist. She lives and works in Sydney, New South Wales. The Wall was originally published in The Canary Press, Issue 10. 


The Wall was originally published in The Canary Press, Issue 10. Illustration by Jeffrey Phillips, an artist in Melbourne, Victoria.