After The Wall
Daniel Pyne’s novel WATER MEMORY was published earlier this year; this is an excerpt from the sequel, VITAL LIES, scheduled for release by Thomas & Mercer in February of 2022.
DECEMBER 3, 1989, 15:07 (UTC+01)
A shrouded winter sun bore down on her with the cruel promise of a warmth it couldn’t provide. Her legs ached from so much walking after months spent in two-by-three-meter isolation cells; her eyes ached, unaccustomed to the bright day’s light. The wind gusting up the allee lifted the blanket wrapped around her narrow shoulders and knifed through her thin smock. Still convinced that they’d come after her, she’d been pushing herself for a couple of hours, feet blistered by the pair of ill-fitting shoes she’d found in the abandoned staff changing room, where the lockers were flung open, showing telltale signs of a swift emptying as the prison guards got the hell out before the full fury of the newly liberated East German citizenry came crashing in on them.
On first glance, anyone looking out at her from the steady stream of traffic heading west to the wall would have thought she was a broken-down, middle-aged hausfrau shuffling, scared, glancing back over her shoulder, eyes dark, sunken, her skin pale and raw. In fact, she was not even twenty, a girl who’d grown up too quickly; shivering, disoriented, nauseated, racked by the beginnings of withdrawal from whatever cocktail of Stasi drugs she’d been given steadily over the past eleven months.
So much of what had happened was a jumbled blur. Or white noise.
Long stark indigo shadows fell across the cobbled street, a smear of sun already low in the west; her loose shoes stumbled on a displaced sidewalk slab, but she caught herself and stopped to rest. From a passing rattletrap Trabant, a student shouted out to offer her a ride, and because she wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep walking she accepted.
There were already too many people in the car, so she had to sit in the back seat on the lap of the boy who invited her. His name, he said, was Marcus. He smelled like unwashed laundry and marijuana and bootleg vodka, and the facial hair he was trying to grow reminded her of failed crops in West Texas. His breath was sour with coffee and his fleshy warm hand found a way under her smock to her knee, where his touch made her feel sick but she let him leave his hand there because asking him not to would take more energy than she had left in her.
“What’s your name?” they asked.
“Trudi,” she lied.
“You’re American,” the girl in the front seat decided, looking back at her with serious blue eyes, pale and innocent and beautiful. The Aryan ideal.
“No,” she lied again, for no reason except that it had become habit.
“Where are you coming from?”
“Jail,” she told them. “Hohenschönhausen,” she added, and the car fell deathly silent except for the steady keening of the two-banger motor.
Smoke had sifted and settled over the city, thick from all the burning documents -- incinerator stacks were still pumping ash into the sky -- and she thought she could hear a dull roar of people massed up ahead. The Trabant shuddered to a crawl. Traffic was gridlocked on the street, the cars honking, people leaning out of the windows waving West German Flags and shouting things that a week before would have been cause for their arrest and torture.
The boy’s hand moved higher up her thigh; she looked at him sadly, wondering feverishly for a moment what it would be like to be nineteen and tasting freedom for the first time. New girl on your lap, all your best friends in the car, a glorious future stretching ahead of you, a movement, a revolution, the possibilities endless and surely bright.
She imagined going with them, reinventing herself. Finding a romantic little cold water attic squat in Friedrichschain, getting a job in a bookstore, sleeping with as many boys as she wanted, or none at all. She’d take classes at the free university, stay up all night in cafes arguing about pop music and politics and religion; she’d become someone else, pretend that the past year hadn’t happened -- or that her past nineteen years hadn’t happened -- but the boy’s hand moved higher again and she thought about her husband and her baby and how her determination to see them again had sustained her through the worst of whatever she’d endured.
“Wiedersehen,” she whispered in the scruffy boy’s ear, lifting the handle to wing the back door wide; then she slid from his lap and tumbled out into the roiling river of East Berliners flowing inexorably toward the west, and the illusion of freedom.
Daniel Pyne is a writer living in California.