BACK TO THE 80'S - Runner Up

Terry Baldock

Runner Up
Our Wall of Love


Terry has been a winner and runner up in  Writing Magazine competitions, plus many shortlisted stories and poems. He has also had winning poems in other magazines as well as wins in the National Association of Writers Groups’ short story competitions and been shortlisted in the Swanwick Writers Summer School Competitions.  He used to live in Hong Kong where he had stories published in the TV Times and articles in the South China Morning Post, and is a Member of the Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong (CASH).

Our Wall of Love By Terry Baldock

Was it the music, the fashion, the friends dying of AIDS, the wars, Tiananmen Square, the wall coming down, the strikes, the fading disco of the Bee Gees, shoulder pads, the Falklands, Band Aid, John Lennon was it…oh so many things? but most of all it was you…a decade of you.
It was so hard dancing to the number one on New Year’s Eve nineteen seventy-nine, Another Brick in The Wall wasn’t all optimism, not disco, just a great record. And the countdown came, the minutes had moved onward, the seconds ticking away, and I grabbed your hand for the ‘should old acquaintance be forgot’ thing Auld Lang Syne, when strangers cross hands and move them up and down. I didn’t know who was holding my right hand, but my mate Reg was holding my left.
Something happened.
A tingle; stardust in the air; heart racing; a feeling that I was destined to hold your hand
forever, nothing could have stopped it. The Universe said so. It wasn’t the drink. It was fate;
destiny; karma (not chameleon) as ours never changed colour. Never ever changed colour. I didn’t want the silly tradition to stop. Never brought to mind? We did every year. It was a
new decade, our ten years, your ten years. The starting gun had been fired and we were off, just from holding hands.
The disco lights started, and we danced to Abba’s Dancing Queen, which you were to me.
You can measure a decade in many ways. How many football world cups; how many
Olympic Games; how many kisses; how many heartbreaks. The answers for our eighties are
two, three (with two boycotts so do they count?), not enough, too many.
And so that’s how we entered this new era. The number eight is good luck in Chinese. So,
let’s say that we had Chinese good luck as we danced the first hours of nineteen eighty away.
‘I’m Alan,’ I said.
‘Liz. Elizabeth,’ you answered.
‘What a lovely name.’ You could have said any name, anything at all, and it still would have
been a lovely name. You were loveliness for me. You smiled. That did it.
We were slaves to fashion. Me with a silly moustache, longish hair, sweaty shirt, flared
trousers ( remember those?). You with lovely red hair, short skirt, chunky shoes, blue eyes, and a figure to die for (the number eight - curves in the right places), and sometimes we took them to the wrong places, but enough of that. I was twenty, you were a year younger. The dance was at our Polytechnic (they don’t have those anymore, turned them into Universities).
We dated. Got addicted to Dallas and its fashions. Coronation Street didn’t have the same
clothing sense. Strangely, flat caps and hairnets were not as popular as the glamourous
American fashions.
We didn’t join the euphoria that the world suffered in July nineteen eighty-one. It won’t
last, your mother had said. And it didn’t. Charles and Diana, a fairy tale that had a sad ending.
I asked you to marry me in April nineteen eighty-three, after an Indian curry. You answered
‘yes’. The engagement ring was not expensive. ‘It didn’t need to be,’ you’d said as Bowie’s
Let’s Dance replaced the Indian music. The staff gave us a nice bottle of wine and applauded.
Nothing could be kept secret.
You didn’t get on with my mother. But that’s always the way. Nobody is good enough for
their sons. Your Dad was OK, and your family welcomed me. We both graduated. There’s a
picture of me looking silly in a gown and mortar board, holding the rolled-up degree certificate like a baton that I was about to hand over in a relay race.
Then there’s you in a similar picture, looking so elegant. The world had better watch out,
your look said. But it was us that should have watched out.
Our April wedding was the best ever. Friends and family. Kids running around. The
reception. Best man speeches, Reg was mine. We danced to Auld Lang Syne’ which people thought was odd, but then it was our wedding reception, not theirs. Then bang into Dancing Queen and our married life had started. A honeymoon in Paris. Life looked so rosy.
Best laid plans don’t always work.
We made enough money to live. That’s about all I can say. We survived on love and
optimism. Promotions came and with it more money. The rented property had to do until we had enough to put a down payment on a house.
Your parents lent us the deposit money. And suddenly, we had a semi-detached life, with a
small garden and a cat.
You said that we should place a brick each New Years Eve in the garden to build a small
wall. It soon grew.
Time slipped away. No, time ran away. You fell pregnant with John and had to stop
working. That hit us hard. Saving up for a house was easier in nineteen eighty-five than now, but still difficult.
‘I love you so much,’ you whispered as I held your hand. The Auld Lang Syne hand. And,
whatever love we had between us, suddenly had to be shared with another. John appeared. He looked around as if to say, ‘Hello world. You’d better watch out.’ He took after his mother.
And the world trembled in March nineteen eighty-five. Our son had arrived.
A decade is about three thousand six hundred and fifty days long, 520 weeks. Not ‘about’
but ‘exactly’, I heard you say. But some seem longer than others. For me this decade was the most important there has ever been since history began.
Important things happened that didn’t concern us. Well, that isn’t strictly true, Reg was
seriously injured in the Falklands, a place which he had no idea where it was, but we both
agreed that it wasn’t one of the Scottish Islands. One drunken night he decided to join the army and in April nineteen eighty-two was blown up thousands of miles away. Such is fate.
John grew into the world. Doting grandparents. Aunts and Uncles. I was finally welcomed,
albeit begrudgingly, by your mother.
It’s easy to look back now, so much written about the good and the bad. You can’t go back
to change things, at least, not in the real world. You could if you had a DeLorean car. And
they had found the Titanic, so maybe time could be bent. Halfway through the decade would I have changed anything? The big movie was Back to the Future, where tinkering with time changed things.
That year saw the Band Aid extravaganza that raised money for Ethiopia. Do They Know
It’s Christmas
was a big hit the previous December. Revived twice in later years. John
certainly knew it was Christmas that year, his first. We showered him with love. Grandparents visited. Aunts and Uncles and the little boy watched them all, assessing each. Wish I could do that. He didn’t seem to like my mother-in-law; he’d inherited something from his Dad.
We’d bought our small house. It had been a stretch, but we did it. Liz had the idea that we
could build a wall. Add a brick each for the years since we met and three each New Year when
John came along. She said it would be our wall of love.
Time passed. We were on the edge of things, skimmed along on its surface. Never involved
Chernobyl in nineteen eighty-six, scared the hell out of us. What had we brought John into.
Each year the wall grew by three bricks.
There were wars in the Middle East, there always were. But we would protect John from
these things, the mad terrorist attacks. And then that man who stood in front of the tank in
China. Nineteen eighty-nine. And the Berlin wall came down. It was going to be a better
world for John.
But then… The diagnosis was bad. The doctors said that it was particularly aggressive. So
was I. Shaking my fists at the sky didn’t help anything. What good was a better world without you in it. You said goodbye in December, and we had almost used up the last of our three thousand six hundred and five days.
People were good. I was useless. Half of me had gone. The better half.
It was best not to look back. Random wonderful moments in no chronological order. Bad
times too. There always has to be bad times.
The day had arrived. New Years Eve, not the best day to lay your loved one to rest, but we’d agreed that if it was possible then, because it was when we met, then that should be the day.
Many couldn’t attend. I held John’s hand. He knew what had happened. His mummy was
gone. So quickly. I had the brick in a bag. Ready. After all, it was when we had always placed one on our wall, our wall of love.
Condolences were given. I held back my tears.
It seemed odd to people that the song playing when she entered was Pink Floyd’s Another
Brick In The Wall
but it was apt, and it was ours. Number one when we met.
And then we all sang Auld Lang Syne. Why not. The curtains opened and Elizabeth left
the stage.
John had his little brick, and I had my grown up one. We placed them on the memorial stone in the garden of remembrance, and later two identical bricks on our wall at home.
It was our wall. Each year John would say, as we played Pink Floyd, there we are daddy,
another brick in the wall of love.
As we hummed Auld Lang Syne, I was sure I could hear her voice quietly joining in, such
is the power of music.
And the wall keeps on growing.

Judges Comments

'Our Wall of Love', by Terry Baldock, the runner up in WM's Back to the 80s Short Story Competition, is the bittersweet, immensely touching love story of a relationship that lasted for that decade, curtailed only by death.

The first-person narrative is in the voice of the remaining partner - a direct address to his wife, Liz. Terry has suffused the narrative with yearning, intimate tone, and the whole story is permeated with a sense of loss, as the narrator sets out the personal experiences that marked the decade for the couple against a backdrop of momentous events that affected, or at the very least coloured, the lives of everyone living though that time. There's a feel to the story of being shown snapshots of time that is very effective.

The story's author, Terry Baldock, is skilled at using musical references to evoke atmosphere in his fiction, and in this case, he marks the beginning of the decade with the new couple dancing to Pink Floy's hit Another Brick in the Wall. And then, using the brick motif as a building block in this bittersweet story, he shows how they built their relationship throughout the decade, creating strong foundations for their family that have even outlasted death. It's a device that draws attention to itself but the way Tery has played it makes it feel fresh and highly effective.