The wall was built of tears. Leastways, that’s what Daddy always said. I never thought to ask him what he meant until it was too late. The day Daddy died, I marched up to that wall after the funeral, and sobbed in its arms. I curled right up against those bricks and cried into them, and I’m pretty sure the wall understood. Mrs. Frinsome, our neighbor, didn’t. She scolded me when she found me, told me everyone was looking for me, and I’d have to learn not to be so selfish. Then she marched me back to her house so I could let a bunch of strangers hug me and tell me how much Daddy had loved me. As if I didn’t already know.
Mrs. Frinsome did a good thing in taking me in, when I hadn’t any relations left alive to do so. That’s what everyone said. Me, I wasn’t so sure. Day in and day out, all I heard was, “Izzy, have you done the dishes yet?” and “Izzy, this bathroom needs to be scrubbed out!” and “Izzy, if you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you somethin’ to cry about!”
It was a breath of relief when school started up again and Mrs. Frinsome had to let me go to school. Even better was that each day on my way to and from school, I got to pass the wall. I’d get up early so I could spend some time sitting next to it. Behind it, really, so no one told Mrs. Frinsome. And sometimes I chanced getting home late to sit by it again. That wall was a real good listener. It sympathized when my hands were rubbed raw from scrubbing, or when I got grounded because I didn’t do my homework right. It wiped away my tears when I was missing Daddy, and, each day, it smiled when it saw me.
That’s what I missed most about Daddy. The way he smiled when he saw me, as if he loved to look at me. When someone smiles like that, there’s a little bit of happiness that starts in your belly and climbs all the way up, like the sun warming you when you’re cold. I didn’t get that anymore after Daddy died, except when the wall smiled at me. And even though the wall tried hard, it couldn’t quite get it right. But it was better than nothing.
If that wall really was built of tears, it should’ve gotten taller with all the tears I gave it during my tenth year. By the time I turned eleven, and then twelve, I didn’t give it as many tears, but it didn’t seem to mind as it patiently sat and listened when I told it about the books I’d been reading, about the bullies at school, about Mrs. Frinsome’s latest annoyance, and occasionally even whispered the name of a cute boy.
And then, one day, the wall answered me.
“Happy birthday, Izzy.”
I about fell over from a heart attack. I had just confided to the wall that it was my thirteenth birthday, and no one had remembered. I stared at that wall, wondering if it’d finally happened. I’d finally gone over the edge. It’d been bound to happen, making a wall my best friend.
“Are you still there?” The wall asked after a minute. Its voice was muted. Kinda swallowed by the bricks. I swallowed hard. It was much harder to talk to a wall that was talking back to me.
“I—I think so.” I finally whispered.
“Sorry if I scared you.” The wall did indeed sound worried. “But I didn’t want you to go all day without getting a happy birthday.”
How was I supposed to respond? I glanced around, as if the grass or the crickets could give me an answer. “Thanks.” I had to stop myself from backing away as I forced the word from my mouth.
“My name’s Noah,” the wall continued, and I shook my head to clear it.
“You—you have a name?” I stuttered.
My breath was coming faster, and I pinched myself to make sure I was still alive. I winced, but didn’t feel any better.
“I have to go.” I turned and ran back to Mrs. Frinsome’s house, where I worked without complaining the rest of the day, and didn’t even think about the fact that no one but the wall had acknowledged my birthday.
The next day, I skipped right by the wall on my way to school, and would have done so on the way back too, except that it looked at me so reproachfully. I slowed as I passed it, assessing the 6×6 brick structure that sat there, at the edge of the park. Even though I should be old enough to know better, I felt the prick in my chest, as though the wall really was hurt. After all, it had finally bothered to talk to me, and I had repaid its years of kindness by running off.
Nonetheless, I bit the inside of my cheek as I approached it, dragging my feet. I cleared my throat, staring at the bricks that had held me through my sadness over the past few years, and glanced around one more time before speaking.
There was no answer, and a flutter ran through me as my shoulders relaxed. I waited another second just to be sure and then shuffled closer to the wall. “Noah, I’m sorry I ran off yesterday. You scared me.”
Still no answer, and I released a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, sinking to the ground and settling into my normal spot. “I don’t know if I went crazy yesterday or what, but I could’ve sworn you talked to me.”
The laughter in my throat was stifled as effectively as a candle being snuffed out.
“I’m glad you came back.” This time the wall’s voice sounded closer. Not as muffled. In fact, it kind of sounded like it was on the other side of me. I slowly turned my head, and gaped up at a dark-haired boy looking down at me.
“Noah.” He stuck out his hand, and I reached up to take it without thinking. He shook it and I dropped it back into my lap, still staring at him.
“You—you’re Noah.” I repeated, and couldn’t resist glancing from him to the wall next to me.
“Yeah. And you’re Izzy.” He dropped down next to me, leaning against the wall as comfortably as I usually did.
“How did you know that?” I examined him. He was about my age, maybe a grade or two older, which would explain why I didn’t know him from school.
His easy-going expression faded, and his eyes dropped to the ground. “I live close to the other side of the wall.”
I again looked from him to the wall and then back again as understanding dawned. “You’ve been listening to me.”
He shrugged one shoulder.
A pause. I felt my cheeks flush as I realized what that pause likely meant even before Noah said it.
“A while.” Then, as though he couldn’t hold it in. “A year or so.”
I turned my eyes away, trying to decide whether to be embarrassed, angry…or flattered.
“Why didn’t you say anything before?”
A side glance revealed another one-shoulder shrug. “It sounded like you needed someone to listen, not to talk.”
I was silent. He wasn’t wrong. If I’d known anyone other than the wall was listening, I probably wouldn’ta said a word.
“So, do you just hang out next to the wall, waiting for me?” I tried to make my tone light, unaccusing, but based on the shift in his posture, I didn’t think I succeeded.
“Not at first.” He picked at the grass next to him. “But after the first few days…maybe. You always came at the same time. It was easy to predict.”
I waited but he didn’t continue. I sighed. “Fine. So, why do you come to the wall? Other than to listen to me?”
His face lifted and he turned bright, if cautious, eyes on me. “Can I show you?”
I frowned but nodded. He stood, offering his hand to me, and I took it, letting him pull me to my feet and around to the front side of the freestanding wall.
I looked, but didn’t see anything different about that side of the wall from my side.
He tugged me closer and pointed to a brick. I leaned close, and realized there was a name carved into it.
I turned a questioning gaze on him. He gave his one-shoulder shrug again. “My mom.”
Oh. I turned back and examined the brick, and then looked at the other bricks. Each one had a name carved into it. How had I never noticed this before? Even as I wondered, I knew the answer. I’d always gone to the back of the wall. I’d never bothered to look at the front.
“Why?” I asked.
He seemed to know what I meant. I watched his gaze shift across the entire wall. “The wall was built to honor the people who died in the earthquake ten years ago. There’s a brick here for each one of them.”
It all fell into place. Why Daddy called it a wall built of tears. Why the wall welcomed me with open arms when I, too, needed a place to cry. Why it felt so comforting. I turned and began searching the wall. The bricks. Each name. Until I found it.
I turned and realized Noah’s eyes were on me, curious, but quiet. I swallowed as I pointed at the brick.
He came over and read it. Then looked at me.
I clasped my hands in front of me, and it was my turn to look down. “My mom.”
Without a word, he took my hand, pulled me down onto the grass and we sat with our backs against the wall, his arm around me, just letting me know that he understood.
I don’t know how long we sat there in silent companionship, but when I finally realized that the sun was getting low in the sky, I stood up.
“I’ve gotta go.”
He stood. “Will you be back tomorrow morning?”
I shrugged. “I’ll try.” Maybe.
He nodded and I felt him watch me walk away.
The next morning, I almost didn’t go. After all, it wasn’t my quiet wall anymore. Someone else sat there, ready to intrude. But when I began to pass by, there Noah was, sitting on my side of the wall, waiting. He stood up. And he smiled at me.
—Jacinta is a full-time writer living in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Her passion is writing stories about finding hope, and she has had multiple short stories published both online and in print. She loves reading, cross-stitching, and traveling, and is currently a board member of ACFW Virginia, serving as the Social Media Coordinator. She can be reached on her website, JacintaMeredith.com.