Growing away

For the dverse prompt, a 144 word (exactly) story incorporating the line from Liesel Mueller:

there is nothing behind the wall
except a space where the wind whistles.’

©Christine Matthews


When I was small, the path to school followed two sides of a high stone wall. There was no door, no entrance, and I told myself that there was a magical garden full of trees and flowers on the other side, where no snow fell and no farmer shot the pigeons.
I grew up and, hating the cold northern place, went away, only returning to clear out my parents’ home. Wandering the streets in search of memories, I came to the wall, walked around the third and fourth sides until I found the door.
I stand here now, feeling the tremor of childhood magic, turn the handle. It isn’t even locked. There is nothing behind the wall except a space where the wind whistles, and dead leaves pile in nervous drifts. But among the leaves lies a child’s winter scarf and a dead pigeon.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

46 thoughts on “Growing away”

  1. It’s sad to lose a childhood dream, but hopefully the narrator found something better.
    I like “nervous drifts.” It makes me feel that there’s more to this place–and it’s not good.

    1. Thanks. I think when adults revisit places they loved as children, they’re looking for the wrong things. They don’t think like the child they were. It’s usually best to leave well alone.

    1. In a good story (from the point of view of the writer at least) the ending drops out of the sky and fits exactly where it ought. When I get to the almost end of a story and the end hasn’t shaped up yet, I worry.

    1. I wonder how many of us can actually remember how it felt to trust absolutely in ourselves without hanging on the words of some guru? We had more confidence in our own judgement when we were children, I think.

  2. OMG, JD this started out sooooo good, then just kept getting better. Just when I thought it was as good as it could get, you went beyond the empty space and gave me the pigeon scarf. My head is spinning.

  3. Powerful and sad. Losing the childhood magic and vibrancy in child-like imagination (oh, the tales we weave in those years) can be heart-breaking. The process in which it happens, I don’t think it is as heart-breaking as reading it happen to someone else. So many memories to delve into and then when faced with that reality, there only lies the truth.

    When first reading this, I was hopeful the ending would turn into a fantasy. But, the ending is powerfully poignant as it is aligned with reality and it shows that imaginary facets of the mind cannot come to life (well, except inventions, but I’m generally speaking about fantasy-esque things). As always, this is a brilliant piece. I enjoyed reading it very much, Jane.

  4. Childhood memories become seeds of character in adults. We can’t extract them and we can’t change them, but we can revisit them with new eyes. Powerful writing.

  5. This is great writing, and would stand supreme alone, with no connection to a prompt. We moved 10 times while I was in elementary school; never had a home until I left my parents.

  6. Wow. I wouldn’t have known the line was from a separate piece here as it fits so perfectly! You’ve done so much in this small piece, created that sense of childhood wonderment and then dashed it to smithereens.

    1. Thanks Ingrid 🙂 I sometimes think that adults go poking around in places they used to think were magical, not to find the magic but to be able to say, look, you see? Nothing there.

  7. You did incorporate the line perfectly, that empty feeling is powerful at the end. It is a dose of realism that we don’t like to pair with childhood memories. Great job here!

  8. I love the opening paragraph, Jane, plump with childhood memories, stories and the moral sense of the young – I agree that there should be no snow and farmers should not be shooting pigeons, or any other animals.I had to look for the prompt line, it was so well embedded. I also love how you found the wall again – and a door! The ending is perfect.

    1. Thanks Kim. There was a big house like that on my way to school, and there’s another here at the end of the lane. They seem to have been built for people to fantasise about 🙂

  9. This is incredibly potent! The closing image speaks volumes about what was, what had been and perhaps what could be. Especially love; “I stand here now, feeling the tremor of childhood magic, turn the handle. It isn’t even locked.”💝

  10. I’m late to the party so all the juicy stuff has been said. That ending was such a zinger. And isn’t it sad we grow up and lose our imagination (at least the open and carefree one that children possess).

    1. Thank you 🙂 It is a shame. We often say that children can be cruel, but I wonder if anyone has ever done a survey to find out whether those cruel children grew up to be cruel adults. Could it not be that awful adults were also awful kids, not at all the same ones who dreamed of talking animals and secrets behind garden walls?

      1. If nobody ever tells them it’s not acceptable, or worse, they’re told that that’s how you get to be a success, no, they won’t ever grow out of it, I agree.

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