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Periaktoi Writing Post

Volume 51
Issue 2

Single Visual Art Post

  • Essay
Light Shining through a Wall
Hayley McDowell


Light Shining through a Wall


Clutching onto my hand, Liezel looked up at me, her bright eyes full with excitement. I

felt her soft palm pressed against mine, warmth collecting between our hands in the hot summer

day. The sun beat down against our skin as I guided her through our neighborhood, only a few

blocks away from her school. Her little black shoes skidded against the gravel as I pulled her to a

stop as a group of soldiers stalked beside us. As I watched them advance down the street, my

towering height blocked Liezel out of view. Swallowing a lump out of my throat, I squinted in

the glaring, morning sunlight, leading Liezel down the road once again when the soldiers were

out of sight.

Liezel leaped out of my grasp when her friend Eckerd waved her over. Smiling, I walked

over to our mother and father, who stood waiting with all of the other parents, holding

extravagant gifts in their hands. Eckerd lead Liezel over to his parents, Elke and Norbert Wolf,

who were talking with our parents. Eckerd, holding onto Liezel's hand, had the soft, brown eyes

of his mother and the sharpness of his father. Elke held out a towering, bright green Schultüte

towards her son. Eckerd's attention wavered from Liezel, and as I watched Eckerd's small hands

disappear into the paper-cone, filled with pencils, pens, crayons, plush animals, and some candy,

I heard a squeak of joy from Liezel. Held in her dainty hands, she peered down into the pink

Schultüte, and she wrapped her arms around my legs as mother told her that I had invested in all

her presents.

After I watched Liezel squirm around impatiently during the traditional photo of the

Einschulung, the first day of school that even I had to sit still for in the past, I stooped down and

hugged her tightly, pressing a kiss on the top of her head. "Have fun at Oma's, okay? She'll pick

you up after school," I reminded her, fixing the collar of her dress as I handed her an overnight

bag. Her small arms struggled to hold the bag, but she managed it, gracing me with her signature,

toothy smile.

Having walked away from the school, I reminisced upon my own Einschulung as I

headed to my Praktikum. On August 12, 1945, when I was five years old, I clutched my mom's

hand tightly, chest filled with butterflies. She walked me from our house to school, carrying my

empty book bag on her back. My eyes lit up with excitement when I arrived to the front doorstep

with my mom, for I hadn't seen so many intricate things before! But when I looked up at my

mom, a crease formed between her eyebrows. When all the other kids squealed with joy when

they all received a Schultüte, my mom bent down and kissed my forehead, wrapping me in a

warm embrace as we both knew that we were waiting for another gift: dad's homecoming.

I arrived to my Praktikum five minutes early, which allowed me to purchase a pretzel

with spicy mustard as a morning snack before work. My Praktikum consisted of working with

farm animals that resided at the Uni's farm and studying biology and biophysics. Rolling up my

sleeves as sweat collected on my skin, I headed out to the farm to start care with the injured foal

who had twisted a leg in a hole.

A lingering feeling of paranoia wrapped around my shoulders as I held out my hand, the

injured foal eating an apple from my hand.

"Waren Richter?" a soft voice asked, buzzing through my ears. When I turned to look

towards the voice, my eyes fell upon a pair of green, fox-like eyes. I offered a soft smile, raising

a brow in question, ignoring that the foal was making a smoothie in my hand as he ate the apple.

"Chef asked me to fetch you. Your mom called and asked for you to come home early.

Lucky you!"

Wiping off my hands with my shirt, I walked over to Fuchs, Max Alder's nickname,

handing him a brush. "I guess you don't mind finishing brushing him?" I inquired, motioning to

the foal.

My mom threw herself in my arms as I walked through the backdoor that lead into the

house from our garden. "Waren! I kept on seeing so many soldiers–I don't know what they're

doing, but I had to be sure get you home. I called Oma, and Liezel is safe at home with her. We'll

pick her up tomorrow afternoon after school. And to make sure they're okay, your dad is staying

the night with them."

"Why must Liezel insist on being so stubborn?" I questioned, pulling away from mom's

embrace, running a hand across my chin.

"I wonder who she gets it from," Mom whispered, pressing a kiss against my cheek

before she prepared dinner for the two of us.

After dinner, I headed to my room to sleep, even when the sun was still up. My shadow

was filled with paranoia, and I didn't want mom to see the worry found in my eyes that I saw in

my mirror.

I awoke with a start, a rapping on my bedroom door echoing across my room. Opening

my door, I felt my heart drop as utter fear pained my mother's face.

"Waren, there's a–there's a Mauer–" mom breathlessly slurred, hands shaking as she

grabbed me by my shoulders. "There's a Mauer and little Liezel, my lovely Liezel–" she gasped,

eyebrows creasing. "She's stranded!"

"What do you mean there's a Mauer? What do you mean she's stranded? I thought she

was with Oma?" I asked, eyes searching her face for any sign of what this all meant.

"They've separated the city–no, the country–by building a wall between it," mom

explained, tugging on my night flannel, shaking her head in disbelief. "You can't get over the

wall, Waren! They'll kill anyone who tries," she stated, burying her face against my chest as she

shook with fear.

I felt empty as my mom leaned into me, tears spilling from her eyes. I looked down at

her, resting my head on top of her head as I felt a tug of guilt in my chest. "I knew there was

something up... I just felt it. I have to go have a look for myself."

"No, Waren! Please, don't–" she pleaded, looking up at me with her stunningly tragic eyes

that reminded me of Liezel.

"We're going to have to live with it, won't we? We can't live in the dark."

Wind whipped against my face as I rode my Motorrad across the city until I slowed down

to a stop right before Liezel's school, where the wall started and separated the city. Large groups

of people besieged the wall and the soldiers, shouting at them, and some people were being

escorted away with soldiers by their shoulders. My eyes caught glances of hurt eyes, ruthless

eyes, and terrified eyes. By the uniforms, I knew that the Soviets were responsible for throwing

up the wall overnight.

People surrounded the wall on both sides, shouting and screaming so loud that the

soldiers often had to fire their guns to scare people into silence. I walked up closer to the wall,

seeing familiar faces, the Wolf family of Liezel's friend, on my side, and when I looked across to

the other side, I saw Fuchs, one of my classmates at Uni, wiping at his bloody nose. His eyes fell

upon mine, and he stepped closer to the wall, reaching out towards me, but a soldier grabbed a

hold of him by his shirt and threw him onto the ground, spitting on him. "Abmahnung!"

I sped back home after I realized Fuchs had gotten a final warning of messing around the

wall, running inside the house to see mom nervously sitting at the kitchen table, staring down at

a plate of bread and butter. "There's soldiers guarding the wall, and I saw Fuchs from Uni get

thrown by a soldier," I murmured, placing myself across from her.

When a slow nod was all I got from a response from her, I reached across the table,

resting a hand on top of hers. "Liezel will be okay. She's with dad and Oma," I reassured. But as

the words left my mouth, I felt how sour they really were.

"Waren, she's with the Soviets–if, if they even try to contact us, we don't know what

consequences will follow."

Throughout the next couple weeks, I returned each day to my Praktikum at Uni, and

today, September 13, 1961, one month after the wall was built, as I struggled to keep the foal still

as I bathed him, my mind wandered to the quietness around me, for Fuchs couldn't attend Uni

here anymore because he was on the other side with Liezel, Oma, and dad. And just yesterday,

another classmate of mine had died trying to get across the wall and over to this side. The

newspaper said that he had suffered away to his injuries, but the sound of a gunshot still

resonated with me a day later.

As I let the foal play in the field, I spent my time sitting beneath a tree, reading as I

suddenly heard a panicked neigh. I rushed over to the foal, finding him with his injured leg once

again stuck in a hole. Shaking my head, I helped him out of it and carried him to the stable,

checking his leg to see if anything was worsened. But fortunately, he wasn't further injured and

was just being dramatic. To prevent any further injuries, I grabbed a bag of soil and shovel and

headed to the hole, beginning to fill it with soil as a thought crossed my mind. If I were to dig

under the wall, I wouldn't be seen. But I would need help.

As night fell, I slid out of bed and downstairs, heading to the small room next to the

kitchen where we kept office supplies. I opened a drawer and picked a piece of gray cardboard

paper and a black marker. Not wanting to add any suspicion, I lit a candle and wrote a simple

plead on the paper: "Hilf mir. Macht ein Loch und einen Stollen auf deiner Seite."1

I walked over close to the wall the next morning, around the same time I had last saw

Fuchs here a month ago. I didn't know if he would be here again, since he had gotten spit on by a

soldier, but my eyes searched for his familiar green eyes in the midst of a quiet riot. People

weren't shouting anymore, but they were standing there, staring at the soldiers guarding the wire

and wall. I held the note, wrapped around a stone, in my hand, sweat collecting in my palm as I

waited, hoping that he would be there.

I didn't want to bring too much attention to myself, so after I waited a while to no avail, I

left to grab lunch before heading back. When I came back to the wall, I sat down on the steps of

a post office, resting my head in my hands as I suddenly heard an uproar of people. Looking up, I

met eyes with Fuchs to my surprise, and I stood up, slowly stalking my way closer to the wall,

casually holding up my hand and opening my palm for Fuchs to see. I threw the rock over the

wall, hearing it land against the ground, and fortunately, the soldier just dismissed it, flicking

cigarette ashes to the ground. After I saw Fuchs slip the rock into his pocket, I hopped on my

Mottorrad and headed home, waiting for nightfall to begin digging.

1 Help me. Make a hole and a tunnel on your side.

The humid air resting on my shoulders, I began digging in the night, cloaked in my silent

breathing. My sleeves were rolled up to my elbow, and with each hit of the shovel against the

ground, my heart skipped a beat. Sitting against a tree, my Motorrad reminded me the distance I

was away from home, whispering to me the fear that I felt about if my mom had noticed I wasn't

home and called the police. Banishing the fear that I felt, I began humming to myself, security

from a familiar song nudging me closer to courage.

I continued digging for what seemed like the longest month. Each night, I would go into

my room after dinner, fall asleep after setting an alarm on my clock, and left my bed at one in the

morning. I would push my Motorrad down two blocks or so until I felt safe enough to ride it

away from home without waking mom. By now, I had finally reached across to the other side of

the wall, my tunnel expanding from behind an abandoned Lebensmittel store that the Wolf family

used to own but now opened a larger grocery store in the center of Berlin to the other side. The

part of the tunnel I had not explored yet might have been made by Fuchs, but I haven't been

brave enough yet to venture towards it.

Slipping down the hole and falling into the tunnel, I dusted myself off and swallowed

hard, looking up at the moonlight falling into the tunnel. I looked up and admired the

illuminating moonlight that reminded me of Liezel's wavy locks. My feet followed my heart and

obeyed my love for Liezel, leading me away from the moonlight and into the darkness of the

tunnel. I carried a candle in my left hand and crawled through the tunnel with my right hand.

Every push sent fear coursing through my veins, the darkness of the tunnel struggling to smother

away the candlelight, but Liezel's cadence echoed through my head and pushed me onwards. "Du

schaffst das immer,älterer Bruder!"2

A mound of dirt cascaded on my face as I crawled through the tunnel, and a soft glow of

moonlight seeped in the tunnel in the distance. Dusting the dirt off my face with my hand, I

finally made it to the central point where the two holes and tunnels met. When I made it there, I

pushed myself up, thankful for the bountiful room to stretch my legs. Focusing my eyes on a

flicker of light in the distance, I asked quietly, "Who's there?"

Awaiting a reply but to no avail, I tensed as the light grew closer, a black silhouette

venturing closer towards me. "Who's there? Tell me!" I repeated, stepping closer to lessen the

distance between the figure and I, holding out my candle towards the light.

"It's me, the Fuchs," Fuchs whispered as his face illuminated in our shared candlelight,

his green eyes shimmering. He offered a smile, grabbing a hold of me by my wrist, tugging me

along with him. "You trusted me enough to throw that rock, right? I'm the only one besides you

who knows about this place."

"Sit here," Fuchs said, nudging me to sit on the left side of the tunnel. He sat down across

from me, sitting with his legs crossed in order to offer me the most room out of the space. As he

looked at me, I noticed the way he fit in the tunnel like a fox does in a hole. He seemed

incredibly at peace with sitting in the house of danger. "Tell me what you need help with. Ever

since the foal hurt his leg on my watch, I have much to repay you."

Setting my candle down next to me in the tunnel, I began speaking. "My little sister,

Liezel, my Oma, and my dad are separated from my mom and me. Two months ago, August 12,

2 You can always do it, big brother!

it was my little sister's Einschulung, and she went to stay with Oma. But as we both know, when

we woke up, there was a wall between the city. My mom has been too paranoid to call them, and

they haven't called us either. If I am ever to see them again, I must bring them back to my side."

"I'll help you bring them across, but we must wait until tomorrow," Fuchs said, his voice

low. "Tomorrow night the wall will be guarded by the dumbest soldier. We'll get by easily,

Waren," he added.

"What about you, Fuchs? Do you need any help?" I questioned, looking at him, noticing a

hint of restlessness found in his eyes.

"I'll make you a deal: first, we move your family over to your side, and then, you must

promise to tame that foal," Fuchs suggested, standing up. "How does that sound? Deal or no

deal?" he asked, spitting into his hand and holding it out towards me afterword.

Standing up, I spit in my own hand and held out my hand, clasping his hand in mine as I

nodded. "It's a deal, but you must let me in on the project you're doing this winter."

Wearing the key to my house and Oma's house around my neck, I slipped out of the

house once again unnoticed. I pushed my Motorrad down a few blocks and hopped on it

afterwards. After I parked it underneath a tree, I stepped down into the tunnel with a flashlight

carried in hand and began crawling my way through the tunnel to meet Fuchs.

Once Fuchs jumped down into the tunnel to tell me it was clear, I gave him a squeeze of

his shoulder and followed him to the opening of the tunnel. He jumped out of the tunnel and

pulled himself up and onto the ground, holding out his hand for me afterwards to help me.

Grabbing his hand, I hoisted myself up out of the tunnel and onto the ground next to him.

Turning off my flashlight, I motioned for him to follow me in the darkness and to my Oma's


Reaching her house seemed oddly easily, for Fuchs wasn't wrong about the guard. As I

crept towards her house, Fuchs trailing right behind me, we passed the guard, finding him dozed

off to sleep standing up, looking rather uncomfortable. While the journey to her house was easy,

it seemed never-ending and sent pulses of anxiety through my body with each step I took. I kept

looking over my shoulder, obsessed in making sure the guard had stay put and hadn't harmed

Fuchs. When we finally reached her house, I nodded to Fuchs and managed, as quietly as I could,

to unlock the backdoor.

As I went inside to wake my family, Fuchs agreed to stay outside and keep watch for us.

First, I headed to wake up Liezel. Hesitantly, I turned the door to the guest room she usually

claimed as her throne, and to my wish, I saw her moonlight hair stick out in the darkness of the

room. "Kleine Kätzchen," I murmured, placing a 3 hand on her shoulder, softly shaking her. "It's


She looked up at me, her bright eyes filled with sleepiness, and it took her a moment to

register what was happening. Before I knew it, she gasped and threw her arms around me,

burying her face against my chest. I felt her grinning against me. But my embrace around her

tightened as I felt my shirt become wet with her tears.

Waking up Oma dampened my shirt even more, but I continued on speeding up our leave

and woke up dad afterwards, hoping not to leave Fuchs exposed to long and draw attention to

himself. I helped Liezel throw some of her extra belongings back in her bag, and dad helped

3 little kitten

Oma pack clothes and necessities quickly. After I had helped Liezel pack her bag, I threw the bag

over my shoulder and grabbed her hand, leading the group of my family outside and locking the

door behind us, after I had peered outside and checked with Fuchs it was clear.

My dominance having given up on Fuchs, I handed over Liezel's bag to Fuchs and picked

Liezel up in my arms, carrying her as we made our way to the tunnel. Dad kept an arm locked

with one of Oma's small, delicate arms cloaked in her long sleeve night gown. By now, I guessed

that it was around two in the morning, and each step I took, Liezel's arms wrapped around me

filled with me courage.

Once we all made it to the tunnel, Fuchs threw Liezel's bag down into it, Oma's bag

following. First, after placing Liezel on the ground, I leaped into the tunnel and then held out my

arms, staring up at Fuchs as he helped Liezel into my arms. Next, dad slid himself down and into

the tunnel. Afterwards, both of us helped Fuchs place Oma in our arms. Once all three of us had

made it into the tunnel, Fuchs leaped into the tunnel and agreed to stay put and make sure we

weren't being followed back to my house.

I lead my family through the tunnel, crawling through the tightest spots first in case I had

to help anyone. Oma was tough as a lioness but had the heart of a bird, and she managed to crawl

through the tightest part of the tunnel without scraping her knees against too much rubble. Dad's

quiet protection over Oma filled the tunnel with a warm atmosphere instead of the hostile

atmosphere I felt before. And to no surprise, Liezel's hair illuminated the tunnel in innocence and


After we had gotten out of the tunnel, I lead everyone to the tree where my Motorrad sat.

Watched by my father's bright eyes, just like Liezel's eyes, I hugged him tight and told him to

take Oma and Liezel home. I took off the necklace of keys and placed them on Liezel's neck,

pressing a kiss against her forehead before I watched them drive away with dad back home.

Falling back down into the tunnel, I crawled through the rubble and dirt, my arms

scraping against small but sharp rocks. My flashlight illuminated barely anything ahead of me,

and I could see specks of dust falling all around me. Without Liezel's illuminated, silver locks of

hair, light within this darkness struggled to present itself. As I pushed myself up to a standing

position in the middle of the tunnels, where they met, I could scarcely make out the figure of

Fuchs. "Fuchs, I cannot thank you enough... danke schön," I stammered, watching as Fuchs

stepped towards me in the scare moonlight.

Grabbing a hold of my shirt, Fuchs looked through me as if he had seen everything I have

seen. I tensed, raising an eyebrow at him, not knowing whether or not he was going to slug me.

But once Fuchs smiled at me, I knew that it was far from that. "You're welcome, Waren Richter,"

Fuchs whispered, pressing a warm kiss against my lips.

Five years later, I sat with my family celebrating Liezel's tenth birthday. As I watched her

blow out the candles, I realized that Liezel represents the light in the midst of this darkness

devastating our country. Without her light shining upon me, I would have never had the courage

to ask Fuchs for the help I needed so badly. Smiling brightly at me, Liezel tilted her head back

and shook her moonlit waves of hair. All the love emitting from Liezel whispered to me that even

a wall couldn't separate those who loved each other.