That Which We Hold at a Distance
Anthony Shull

Hayward Fault Line Winner

In the first half of the twentieth century William Faulkner wrote a series of books dealing with human struggle: determination and duty. As a student at the College of Charleston, I had read most of them. A venture that brought me an understanding of the world unattained by most mortals. His words rang in my mind throughout my life. I don't know exactly when it was that the wall appeared; I first saw it on the morning of the 25th. Exiting my apartment, it loomed over and around the city. It was red brick and rose well into the clouds; I could not see its crest. Turning, I could see that it made a large U shape encompassing Charleston and extending perfectly eastward into the Atlantic Ocean.

Looking down the street, every stoop was brimming with worried people all staring at the same wall. I could follow their exasperated conversations with excess shouting and gestures. A man and a woman dressed in black walked past me. They were not anxious or tense or paying attention to the large mortared barricade. Hailing the couple, "Have you not seen this great wall around our city? I fear that I may not be able to leave."

The woman, "We have seen the wall. And do not fear, you certainly may not leave."

The man, "I have been there, I have touched the wall. It is unbreakable." They unceremoniously turned to the street and resumed their travel. I came to call them "doubters," and there were many more every day. Always marked by black clothing and placid faces. Some of them had been to the wall; others had only heard of its might and needed not even waste the trip.

Refusing, I set out to see what could be done about my imprisonment. A voice followed me as my hand glided over the rough of the wall, "You see, it can not be broken." It was a doubter.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"One doesn't have to touch the stove to know that it is hot," he replied.

He walked promptly away before I uttered shallowly, "I do." The next day I returned with a pickaxe and began my assault on the wall. Many wondered why I bothered, "What is out there that isn't in here. Do you think that you, of all people, with no machinery, can take down such a beautifully opposing thing?"

Forty years later I sit in a hospital cared after by a woman clad in familiar black. I worked the wall while everyone I knew became a doubter. And I swear if I had another forty years left in me, I'd break it. Time and doubt: my only enemies.

First published: May 2001