THE WALL by Mandy Wheeler (1st place, Flash May22)

The Man picks at the wallpaper. He wants to get underneath it, to bring the whole lot off in one.
‘I thought you might like …’
A mug appears.
‘Thank you,’ the Man says, still looking at the wall.
‘Do you think you should …?’ his son says, ‘I mean … the new people … ‘
‘The new people are taking the wall down.’
‘But they might …’
The man wonders when people had stopped speaking to him in complete sentences, and whether it happens to everyone.

In the surgery, the doctor glanced at the white spots on his arm.
‘Perfectly natural … you know … when you are …’
‘Old?’ he suggested.
‘You can roll your …’
He rolled his sleeve down. The white marks had increased recently, as though he was walking through a gentle but persistent snowstorm.
‘It’s just loss of pigment, nothing to …’
‘Just?’
‘Well, you know …’
Yes, he knew. Hair, teeth, sight, now pigment — all quietly leaving the party that had once been his life.
‘Idiopathic Guttate Hypomelanosis’, the doctor called it. ‘Guttate — ‘resembling tear drops’.’
‘Ah well,’ said the Man. ‘At least Mother Nature has the decency to weep as she wrecks.’

‘If the wall’s coming down, why …?’
He wants to say, ‘It’s none of your business,’ but he’s everybody’s business nowadays, under constant surveillance for signs of eccentricity or worse.
‘How’s my favourite dad today?’ the nurse will shout as she gurns in his face. ‘I’m fine,’ he’ll want to say, ‘but I worry about you, if you think I’m your father.’
He’s got some purchase now. When a section splinters to reveal a fragment of brown and orange paper, he’s back flicking through sample books with Audrey, discussing the latest wipe clean wallcoverings, designed for the busy couple with a full life.
His son reacted badly when the new owners said they’d remove the wall. ‘I was brought up in this house,’ he said. ‘And so was my father.’ The Man smiled apologetically and complimented the couple on their plans for an open plan lounge cum dining area. His son looked away. He wondered when his father had started ignoring him, and if it happened to everyone.

Finally, the paper is off.
‘Do you remember these?’ the Man says.
His son runs his finger up the ladder of horizontal lines drawn on the pitted plaster surface.
He reads out the measurements, dates, his name. First Teddy, then Eddie. By 1975, he’s Ted.
The Man waits until Edward notices the other line. He watches as he bends down, then reads a name the Man hasn’t heard spoken aloud in years. Then a date, three years before Edward’s birth.
Audrey had made sure Edward didn’t see it, but now, at this late hour, the Man has stripped the wall bare in front of their son.
‘What …?’ Edward whispers.
His son is crouching down now, facing the wall. To protect them both, he stays there as his father starts to speak.

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