Lumpen by Jennifer Riddalls


Jennifer Riddalls


Every day Elke and I started tying strips of rags, lumpen, to the barbed wire. The coiled grey tangle reminded me of the thorn forest outside sleeping beauty’s castle. I kept look out while Elke’s slim fingers quickly tied the cloth around the barbs, softening the sharp edges. Tying these scraps of protest against this divide, this open sore that cut our country in two, was all we had. Our Papa was on the other side, the side of plenty, and we had heard nothing. He could have written to us, but he didn’t. Either he was dead, or he had forgotten us and we wanted him to be. We didn’t talk about him, as if he had died the day the wire went up, and I stopped waiting for word the day I realised the tanks in the streets seemed normal.

We started with our lumpen after we watched, helpless, appalled and mesmerised, as border guards gunned down a young man sprinting through the no-man’s land towards the coil on the other side. This middle bit became known as the death strip and, of course, belonged to us in the east. After that, Elke fidgeted constantly. She twisted her bone-coloured hair in coils round her hands and sometimes the rope of it went round her neck, wrapped round twice.

One evening, sitting side by side and ripping up Papa’s curtains, Elke said, ‘Eventually, we’ll cover every barb. We’ll try, until they take it away again…’ she paused, biting her bottom lip while ripping a particularly stubborn piece of lining from the light blue fabric. She looked up at me, her eyes wet. ‘Or we are rescued from captivity,’ she added, shrugging.

From our kitchen window we could just make out the fabric pieces on the barrier. They fluttered in the breeze, tugging at the wire, as if they were wings trying to fly free. Our little flags of resistance called to others and rag covered barbs, that weren’t our doing, started appearing further down the street. Four months after the separation, in bitter mid-December, we woke to find they were finally removing the barbed wire. All our lumpen went with it. We’d hoped for this day but it wasn’t what we imagined. Elke stamped her feet against the cold and noosed her hair as we watched a solid wall being created from paving slabs taken from the death strip. It felt like the ground itself was rising up against us.

As if they could hear us breaking, our old neighbours, now unable to reach us on the west side, put up their own protest at our captivity. Hundreds of Christmas trees, standing tall up above the wall, were lit up at dusk, all along the west side of the border, close to their wire. We could see the lights from our kitchen window, shining in the distance.

Elke was finally sitting still. I stared at the lights reflected in her eyes. We were not forgotten.


About the author: Jennifer Riddalls is  a writer, reader, and mother of boys. Flash fiction comp winner, short story writer, novel abandoner. Always trying to improve. Scot in England. Likes small things.


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