Beautiful, Fragile Things
"Don't let me fall, Ivo." Haldis' knuckles turned white as she clutched the protruding brick just above her.
"I won't, for the third time." Ivo grabbed at her feet that rested on his shoulders. "I promise. I've got you tight."
Haldis jerked her foot from his grasp. "Ja, and I won't be able to go anywhere if you don't let go a little bit."
"Be careful. It looks like rain," she heard Valentin's voice behind her. She didn't answer. Of course she was being careful. Wasn't she Haldis Wegwerth, twenty one years old, and the only person from her entire family who never did anything without first having a plan? Of course she had a plan now. Actually, Haldis Wegwerth often had plans b, c, d, and e as well, with slight deviations for each plan in case some unforeseen thing should happen. Unforeseen by all but Haldis, that is.
Today's climbing experiment had a foolproof and simple plan. Scramble to her younger brother's shoulders, then reach up and hoist herself onto the protruding ledge-like roof of the squat, graffitti covered gas station. From there, she would be able to go around on the roof to face the Wall. There was a large, mangled pipe that had gotten cemented into the Wall when it was built and it reached over to the gas station.
Haldis would test the pipe for it's strength, and then, if it would hold her weight, creep across it. Once across, she could hoist herself up by the wall and peer over it through the barbed wire. Of course, Ivo would come right behind her, and they would look together for their mother.
It was a flawless plan, and Haldis was positive nothing could go wrong. It was five o'clock. Their mother would be coming home from her work in the sauerkraut factory, and they would see her as she neared their apartment. Just from the other side of the Wall.
"What if the VoPos get mad?" Ivo hissed from below as Haldis' feet lifted off her brother's shoulders.
"Hush up." Haldis scrambled to the ledge of the roof, flopping over onto her side and rolling to get up on it. She snapped into a sitting position and dangled her legs, shooting her younger brother a look of disapproval. "The VoPos won't be able to do anything to us. We're on the West side."
"I wasn't thinking about us." Ivo jumped up and snatched at the ledge, but missed and landed back on his feet. He propped his hands on his hips. "I was thinking about Mama. What if those police guys do something to her? Maybe we shouldn't try this whole thing."
"I wish you weren't such a worry wart." Haldis muttered. "I've got a plan for pretty much any situation that could happen. There's nothing to worry about."
Ivo's eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to speak. Haldis pulled her legs up and stood. "Are you coming, or aren't you?"
"I'm coming." Ivo squared his shoulders. "Hey, Valentin, give me a lift, would you?"
"Sure." Their friend ducked down and created a step with his hand. Ivo placed his foot in it, and then when Valentin straightened, he grabbed once more for the ledge. This time, he got it, and twisted upward trying to push himself onto the ledge.
Haldis reached out and pulled at his arm. "Come on, Ivo," she grit her teeth as she held onto her brother.
"I'm trying--" Ivo grunted, kicking his leg up onto the ledge. A piece of cement crumbled and Valentin dodged it below.
"Hey!" someone shouted from the distance.
"Um, say." Valentin breathed. "Ivo--"
Haldis felt as if the ground was zooming closer to her and closing in. "Let go!" she yelled as she began to stumble towards the edge from Ivo's weight.
Valentin jumped up and pushed at Ivo's back. With one last contortion of his body, Ivo somersaulted onto the roof. He lay flat and groaned. "I never want to do that again."
Their friend below coughed as a man approached. Haldis flattened down against the roof.
"What's going on?" An older man with a grey chevron mustache caught Valentin by the arm as their friend tried to slip away.
Haldis caught Ivo's eye, and Ivo shook his head, still laying on his back.
"We, um--" Valentin shifted, raking a hand through his dark hair. "You see,"
Ivo rolled over onto his stomach and poked his head out to where he was visible. "We're going to see our mother, sir."
"Up there?" understanding dawned in the man's eyes. "Over there?" he glanced at the wall with apprehension.
Haldis leaned forward then, too. "We haven't seen her--or my other family--in two years! This was the best way to see over the wall."
"Siblings? Someone could get hurt." the man backed away and stared up at them. "Besides, there's dark clouds coming in, it will be rain."
"Please!" Haldis had already formed a plan for this. Nobody could deny anyone the chance to see their mother--even if it was dangerous, right? "Nothing will happen to you even if something does happen to us, or--anyone else. You know that. So...please. Just ten minutes?"
The man let out a long sigh and released Valentin's arm. "Ten." he turned abruptly. "But if someone is hurt--it's not like I didn't warn you!"
Haldis sprang into action. "Come on, Ivo."
Together they slipped along the roof of the gas station, towards the mangled pipe. "It's fortunate that we found this." she breathed as she rested a foot on the pipe.
"No, God's blessing." Ivo grabbed Haldis' arm. "Careful, it might be rusty."
Haldis inched a little farther out onto it. Its sides were rough from wear, so it wasn't slippery. "I think it's ok. Wait till I get to the Wall and then you come."
"I'm heavier than you. It might break under me." Ivo protested.
"You're also taller." Haldis still held Ivo's hand, but her other she stretched out towards the wall. "So you will have a shorter fall."
Ivo snorted. But in the next half minute, he was beside her, both with toes clinging to foot-holes in the cement of the wall.
Valentin appeared below. "Do you see your mother?"
"Not yet." Ivo replied. Haldis scanned the area, her throat constricting. How familiar, and yet how different their old neighborhood looked. How strange to be seeing it as if from another world. They never would have gone to the college library for overnight studying if they had known.
The next day was the day the Wall went up, and they had never seen them again.
Ivo had panicked. He was only seventeen at the time. Valentin had helped them through it all. And he had told Haldis she was braver than many.
The truth was, though, that the Wall was the only thing in Haldis' life that she had not, and could not, plan for. It scared her, more than she could ever explain. So she didn't try. There was Ivo to think of, too. Now he was nineteen, and pretty much a man. But he was still the day-dreaming, tender-hearted boy inside. And Haldis, the big sister, couldn't imagine ever not being there to protect him.
"Or maybe, he protects me." the thought flashed through Haldis' mind as she saw an old woman scurrying down the street. "Wouldn't that be strange if it really was that way around and I only didn't know it?"
"That's Mama!" Ivo exclaimed, then, his hand squeezing Haldis' elbow.
"No, it's not." Haldis argued. "That's an old woman."
"It is. It's Mama!" Ivo raised his hand, shouting to the other side. "Mama! Mama, look here!"
The woman slowed, glancing around in confusion. She was about to go on her way again when Haldis saw her face.
Her heart dropped. "It is." something had happened. Mama was old, and she was weary. Haldis leaned against the wall, joining in her brother's calls.
Her mother stopped again, her eyes meeting there's. Two sides, one family. They almost didn't need to speak. But Ivo did anyways.
"Mama!" he called. "We are good! And you?"
Their mother didn't answer. She dropped to her knees on the sidewalk, lifting her arms out, as if to embrace her two oldest children.
"Mama!" Ivo yelled again. "I am going to write and paint children's books. And Haldis, she is still studying the stars." his laugh was loud and bright.
"Ivo! My boy!" Mama's cry finally came from the other side. "Haldis, my girl!"
A drop of rain hit Haldis' nose, and then a few more came. "Mama," Haldis choked. "Mama, Valentin and I are going to marry."
Their mother smiled, but then covered her face with her hands. The rain was coming down steadily now, and Haldis felt her hair plastering against her forehead.
"Here!" Valentin tossed up their umbrella. Ivo tilted to the side and managed to catch it. With a thump, he opened the umbrella and held it over his sister and himself.
"Mama, are you happy?" Haldis swallowed hard. "We will come see you, just like this, on the wall. August 14th, Mama. In my wedding dress."
"I am happy!" Their mother blew them both a kiss. "Papa, and Ollie and Silke and I. We will be here. And the cat. And Oma. All of us."
Haldis gripped the wall, a laugh leaving her mouth as tears began to fall. "Oh, Mama."
Ivo turned a little to view his sister and then, without a word, placed his arm around her.
A border guard walked up then. A quick order and their mother blew one more kiss and hurried into their apartment building.
Haldis' head sank against the top of the wall, sobbing.
"Don't cry." Ivo murmured, jabbing her on accident with the umbrella handle as he comforted her.
Haldis wiped at her eyes, giving a short laugh. "Oh, I know, I know I'm all a mess. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry!"
"It's alright. I understand."
She straightened again, glancing back at the other side. "Life is so fragile, Ivo."
Ivo smiled, his blue eyes soft. "Most beautiful things are."
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