Each day he took something. The right breast of the mother. The grandfather’s supper. The child’s teacher. Sometimes he’d leave something in exchange, but it was always lesser.
Selma’s black hair was replaced with gray. Over time, her brush stilled, her studio emptied. Once she heard the eagle’s cry and her heart opened like a red barn door, then the crack of a rifle and the door slammed shut. She kept one brown feather. During the days that grew windy and progressively darker, she’d stand at the window and run a finger up and down the feather, its softness a comfort, a reminder.
But still he took something beautiful and left something ugly. Civility became extinct, like the eagle and the wolf, and in its place was built a long wall separating her old country from her new one.
Without her art, she took to pacing her side of the wall carrying a bucket in which she collected torn signs and other scraps. On the day the nation was unrecognizable to her, she felt rough hands foraging deep within her, intent on taking the flame she’d had since birth. So she shouldered her pack and set out to find the end of the wall.
Day turned to night, night to weeks, as she followed the wall. She filled her bucket with treasures separated from their mates and a bunch of loose screws. Cars whizzed by and sometimes someone shouted from a window, their words garbled and lost.
She hiked every day, but still the wall stretched unending into the horizon and the hands rummaged at her core. One rainy morning as she stopped to survey the wall, she noticed a small chink in it. She rested her forehead against the rough concrete and peered through. Here her old country looked not so different from her new one. Black chickens pecked in a garden, their backs glinting in the sun. The sun! That was what she had missed. He had stolen even that. She blinked and a brown eye peered back at her from the other side. “Where is the end of the wall?” she asked.
The brown eye pulled back and she saw a raven-haired woman in jeans—herself just months ago. “There is no end to it,” her younger self said, and her older self understood that they were not just discussing the wall. With that, the younger woman lifted her brush and painted the hole closed.
Alone now on the other side, Selma pulled rusted dreams, dented laws, and other rubbish from her bucket to create a ladder. Climbing it to the top, she found a perch. The looting within her ceased. Straddled between the two countries—the one before the thief and the very same one after—she could feel the eagle feather in her shirt pocket. Blocking the hands from breaking in; her hope from flying out.
Lynn Mundell’s work has appeared most recently in Connotation Press, Spelk, The Airgonaut, and Gone Lawn. She lives in Northern California, where she is the co-editor of 100 Word Story.