by Clark Nida, serialised here by permission of the author.
The rest of that night Alan taxed himself with not having done the right thing discharging the patient c/o God-knows-whom. Had he done enough to save Mr Fever from some obscure fate? He felt like Coleridge’s lonely traveller, hurrying on his way in the dark…
And having once turned round, walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.
People pretend wicked folk are good folk, that evil hasn’t crossed their path, because they hope that in its turn it will pass them by. Did such a thing make Alan a coward at heart? Or was it mere self-preservation?
Another voice spoke up inside his head, counselling reason.
Don’t make a fool of yourself – nothing is wrong really.People will simply say you’re a dippy nineteen year-old.
As the August sky began to lighten, so the voice grew louder and louder, drowning out the voices of doubt…
There’s a perfectly good explanation for everything. Just because you don’t know it – that’s no cause for alarm.
It’s all too easy to get infected with the patient’s fantasy.
Particularly cooped-up alone with him in the dead of night.
And as for his tale about a wall going up all round Berlin…!
He took a deep breath and laughed.
There was nothing the matter after all. Not really.
It had been the last of Alan’s four-nights-on. Being Sunday now, he was off for four whole days and three nights, during which he’d try to live normal hours. He went home and crashed-out for the entire afternoon.
Then, after getting up and having a gorgeous bath, he stepped-out along the seafront to the Royal Albert, where he met Vince and Jo as usual. By the second beer he was telling them the story.
Jo looked shocked. “Have you told anyone about it at the hospital?”
“Only Arden of course. She was on-duty with me.”
“What did she have to say?”
“Oh, she took the attitude that these things happen all the time. She said I ought to do my job and not meddle in what doesn’t concern me.”
Vince took a deep puff and let the smoke trickle out of his mouth. “This job is really playing with your mind, isn’t it. Why don’t you give it up?”
“I haven’t got long to go now,” Alan replied. “I’m saving up as hard as I can for college. So I don’t want to jack it in before I have to.”
He stretched. “I’ve got a fortnight’s leave to take. I was hoping they’d let me go two weeks early.”
“I should take it now,” said Vince.
Alan ordered another round of drinks. “I’m sorry to put a damper on things.” He gave a sudden leaden laugh. “I thought you’d both see the funny side. Here’s this guy spinning me an amazing story – and then he lets me down at the end with a glorious bump!”
Alan leaned back on the stool to gesticulate. “Can’t you just see it? A blooming great wall springing up around West Berlin during the night? Can’t you just imagine people waking up in the morning and looking out of their windows? – ‘Vere iss mein garden? Vot iss zis vall doingk here?’”
The three of them laughed loud and long. People looked up from their drinks and said to themselves – for so early in the evening they’re pretty far-gone, that bunch!
The six pips of the Greenwich time-signal sliced the air into neat slabs. The announcer said “This is the BBC Light Programme. Here is the News…”
Jo’s mother turned the radio up. She didn’t often do that. But she’d heard the news already and this time she thought the whole bar should listen. Whatever had happened to make her do that? A rail crash? Another spy-scandal?
As the newsreader spoke on, Alan fixed his gaze on the loudspeaker and let his jaw sag. His friends exchanged wide-eyed glances.
During the night, without prior warning, a ten-foot-high wall had been thrown-up across the Brandenburg Gate, the entry to the Russian-occupied zone of Berlin. Hurriedly erected with concrete-blocks and masses of barbed wire, heavily patrolled by armed guards, it was rapidly being extended north and south. When complete it was clearly intended to stretch right round West Berlin, shutting-off all ground traffic into the western half of the city. Underground, the corresponding branches of the Autobahn were being hastily sealed-off with breeze-blocks.
It was Sunday, 13th August, 1961. The Berlin Wall had literally sprung up out of the ground. For the next 28 years it would sever roads and sunder families and communities. It was Winston Churchill’s metaphorical “Iron Curtain”, made hideously tangible, wiping out twenty years of cunning Soviet propaganda. Wiping the smile from the face of Russian communism. Only madmen would do a thing like that!
Or men who’d been badly frightened…
Here in Britain events had been set in motion which would in a year’s time bring down the government in an avalanche of shame and scandal, as ministers and parliament sought to divert attention from the real damage done to the country. And in the year to come, 1962, in a tit-for-tat between Russia and America, the Cuban missile crisis would once again see the world come close to all-out nuclear war – as close as it would do again for the rest of the century.
Only a madman would have seen any connection.
…to be continued.