The wide face of the far wall, the first wall, soon grew so we could not discern it from the sky–bleached white on white from years of sunning, surrounding all our minds. As the sheer white around the city fattened, our air took on new mesmerizing light, refracted back and forth between the two–light that’d blight your eyes out, though just looking long enough would get you drunk.
The light was free. Our children suffered, in their bodies, as did we. As did the wall, which in the new heat would speak. The sound ransacked our city, a low long crinkle like book paper being ripped apart or writ upon–which, in friction with our buildings, shook our bodies and the wall.
For weeks we could not stop laughing. Our sleep became destroyed. Caught in the air of those blown dream rooms, people hurt people. People died. The city earned its night.
The city silent even under all that laughing, as our softer organs learned to disregard.
The wall had been designed by men before us to show us where was where and what was when. Beyond the wall, we knew, there lay an acid ocean that could rip our bodies into blood.
Where the far wall against the sky now seemed no longer, our sadder minds began to walk. To try to scry a way out of the city, some new exit. No. The wall would burn their skin.
Many further bodies had to be killed for trying, as one hole rended in the far wall’s flat face might let the inside out and outside in. Might bleat again straight through our bodies, like how all those before us here had fried.
We built another wall inside the old one, to keep kids from trying, and to muffle the new sound. This second wall was slightly higher than the first, by several men’s lengths, which made it hard to see the sky at all. The space between the new wall and the old one was deemed unhealthy, and entry punishable by perpetual imprisonment or blight.
This second wall was bright brown, the way our sky-burnt flesh had for all of us become. From a distance, through my window, the wall looked like several thousand people in a line, their bodies all together meshing, watching on us, or looking all away.
How you interpreted this vision became a way to say what kind of hope lived in your heart, they said. In secret I was bitter, though in the streets I grinned and sucked my tongue.
I’d already lost my children to the Growing. I’d partitioned my old mind. I could have shook from the saddest of us a small insurgence: This is not working. Instead, at home, at night, I carved. In wood I stole from torn down buildings I envisioned objects I’d never had and always wanted–things long forbidden in these walls. Though I could not think to call the objects as they had been–those terms absconded–I named them each with my own mind.
For the image of the long stick used for hitting, with which once our men had gathered into teams, I chose the name Atlanta, for the city where I was born–now buried well beneath us underwater, in the Leak.
For the image of square box from which once colors flew, images encased in them as well, frames of now forgotten men and women carried on the air with sound and light, I chose the name Belial, which I have been told means pleasure mind.
I could not think of any name to call the oak I cut into the image of a man. No familiar someone’s names came into me, no matter how I tried.
In great daylight our second wall hummed in vast contrition with the first. Within a wide range of the more recent, the sound wound on the air, causing little pockets of weird fission that would adhere to your skin. For a while these became popular tattoos, a sign of fearlessness or power. Soon, though, the tattoos would turn to wounds. From the slim packed slits the humming walls made, the branded bodies opened peels, pouring from them a gold or purple substance that smelled like nothing and yet burned. This gunk as well would cause more wounding, transmitted on contact, on the air.
Those bearing the mark, then, had to be surrounded, gathered, installed in treatment camps beyond the outskirts of our town, led through subterranean tunnels to a location where their names as well would be struck out.
It was said by some that these locations were centered beyond the far wall, a secret outpost by the State, though those who said that often too soon had the bruises, and were picked up or disappeared.
By night, by now, the walls were silent, or at least more so than the first alone, though in my house, locked in the bedroom, I swear I could hear the screaming from the itching of those bodies’ overgrowing sores. Almost a language in the groaning. Almost a war.
When the mandatory petition for a third wall, then, came around–I signed.
The third wall was translucent, hair-thin, which at first seemed like an excellent idea, designed to minimize the want of what young ones we had remaining: If they can not see what they despise, then they will learn to breathe it in.
This logic quickly proved neglectful, as kids and cats and other bodies collided with the endless, flattened clear. Jogging injuries quadrupled. At certain speeds men burst open their whole head, laying on the newer, thinner cram of our air a smell that refused to wash away. Small planes and box kites ended badly. The most common word that year was “Ow.” The second most was “Oh.”
Still, the spatial blunder was looked over until one of our countless nameless local Statesmen hit the wall head-on in his glass helicopter, drunk on light. His blood rained down all in one gush.
Where he thought he was headed outside our district, I can’t imagine, and no one else would say.
The wall’s face was to be adorned then, demarcated, like the others, like a wall is, so we could name it, so we could see. The advertisers flocked. Soon the wall blinked in the night all neon, 3D, slathered with fine foods and women’s tits, watchwords that made us want more.
I carved and carved and carved, though I was running out of wood. Our newer homes were made of plastic, ash, things I could not force a form onto.
With what I had I made a tower. I made a tiny horse, a wand, a ring.
One night I made a doll that looked like me. I had not meant to cut the wood to match my soft eyes, which seemed to have grown closer in recent years; I had not even realized the way my body in its sagging no longer even seemed a female shape. I cut the wood down smaller and smaller, slashing at me, until in my hands the wood was gone.
On the night for a while then the third wall triumphed. Ads were sold to adorn the other ads, a teeming sound-barfed crowd of color, sort of gorgeous. Even under crumpled population our state’s tax and income revenues totaled in trillions–enough to build another, better wall.
A thicker one. One smarter.
This new wall, we knew, would be just right.
The fourth wall–black as night blood in the daytime, and in the nighttime white as day–went up so far it appeared to never stop, though with special lenses you could see, way up there, the gun turrets and strobing lights, made to distract the wayward birds and brigand planes.
You were not supposed to see the wall–to look directly at it–but you had to know that it was there.
Machines were installed on the far side of the fourth wall to make sounds of commotion during light: intense female screaming, artillery fire, the bubbling of blood, as well as various unidentifiable noises, which were by far deemed the worst. The volume hung low throughout the city, covering the older sounds, and only increased as you came nearer to the wall, approaching a sound so loud that it could eat you, take the flesh right off your face. This would inspire, in future reams of children, an association that would lead to valuable non-fleeing impulses and therefore a general at-home goodwill.
At night the machines were replaced by men with masks and prongs and bugs. They would put the insects on you first, a warning. Then, if you still hung around, they’d zap.
Though this was likely the least popular of all walls, it was for sure the most effective.
And yet within weeks the headlines screamed trouble–there’d been an error in the fabric of our wall’s new face. Crud was gushing in through tiny peepholes. No one was so safe.
They rushed to put up the fifth wall made of plaster, this time high enough there seemed no end. This one’s each inch was embedded with long spear points, topped with a laser guided missile eye.
And soon a sixth wall, of gluey substance, to which a foreign body would upon contact stick, the stink of which brought bees from other years in legion, lining every yard with hiving.
And so another wall. And then another. Higher. Nearer. Further in.
By now, the inseam of our city’s far perimeter had shrunk distinctly, though it was hard to say how much. People were walking closer together, rubbing bodies. I felt fatter, for how my thighs burned on certain streets. The buildings once considered outskirts lay beyond the outdated walls therein, molding over, licked with dust, though you could only see them from certain registered locations, for a small fee, as the walls kept getting higher. Homes were built on top of homes were built on top of homes on top of homes.
Doors to certain buildings became blocked off, as if they’d never been right there.
Another new wall was rumored to be made from collapsing bodies in our close, gross cramming air, though surely this was meant to keep the streets less busy, and so more people would buy guns.
And the houses stacked up higher. The light strained, seeping, low.
By the time I could not count on both hands the rings of city walls and walls that in mind I could remember, there was nowhere left to walk.
Through the windows of my own home, the most recent wall stood right there, watching, a reflective surface kissed with light. I could hardly hear my breath go in and out, the warm air crushed and crushing in around me, lining my insides with fresh mush. My heartbeat stuttered through me, trying to keep up. Ow.
And yet they found ways to wedge in more.
The space between each thinner, halving, multicolored.
And soon then in my home too the air was subdivided, making many rooms each of my rooms, to help house the writhing population. At night I could hear my neighbors in their new rooms right there beside me. I could hear them making love. The grunts and thrusts made me carve faster. I made more things, one by one. I could no longer think of names to give.
In bed I’d sit up wheezing white for hours, the endless sound all in my head, working my knives in rhythm, sometimes slightly bleeding on what I made–my last wood cut down into small things, the function of which I could no longer recall–or in the shape of my own image, dozens of me, each growing smaller still as it became more difficult to see–each of which I would then press against my chest and try to breathe in, to scratch my lungs with what they knew.