Obviously there was no connection between little Spiderman and this letter.
He just came into her mind at strange times.
Cecilia flicked the letter across the table with her fingertip and picked up Esther’s library book: The Rise and Fall of the Berlin Wall.
So, the Berlin Wall. Wonderful.
The first she’d known that the Berlin Wall was about to become a significant part of her life had been at breakfast this morning.
It had been just Cecilia and Esther sitting at the kitchen table. John-Paul was overseas, in Chicago until Friday, and Isabel and Polly were still asleep.
Cecilia didn’t normally sit down in the mornings. She generally ate her breakfast standing at the breakfast counter while she made lunches, checked her Tupperware orders on her iPad, unpacked the dishwasher, texted clients about their parties, whatever, but it was a rare opportunity to have some time alone with her odd, darling middle daughter, so she sat down with her Bircher muesli, while Esther powered her way through a bowl of rice bubbles, and waited.
She’d learned that with her daughters. Don’t say a word. Don’t ask a question. Give them enough time and they’d finally tell you what was on their mind. It was like fishing. It took silence and patience. (Or so she’d heard. Cecilia would rather hammer nails into her forehead than go fishing.)
Silence didn’t come naturally to her. Cecilia was a talker. ‘Seriously, do you ever shut the hell up?’ an ex-boyfriend had said to her once. She talked a lot when she was nervous. That ex-boyfriend must have made her nervous. Although, she also talked a lot when she was happy.
But she didn’t say anything that morning. She just ate, and waited, and sure enough, Esther started talking.
‘Mum,’ she said in her husky, precise little voice with its faint lisp. ‘Did you know that some people escaped over the Berlin Wall in a hot air balloon they made themselves?’
‘I did not know that,’ said Cecilia, although she might have known it.
So long Titanic, hello Berlin Wall, she thought.
She would have preferred it if Esther had shared something with her about how she was feeling at the moment, any worries she had about school, her friends, questions about sex, but no, she wanted to talk about the Berlin Wall.
Ever since Esther was three years old, she’d been developing these interests, or more accurately, obsessions. First it was dinosaurs. Sure, lots of kids are interested in dinosaurs, but Esther’s interest was, well, exhausting, to be frank, and a little peculiar. Nothing else interested the child. She drew dinosaurs, she played with dinosaurs, she dressed up as a dinosaur. ‘I’m not Esther,’ she’d say. ‘I’m T-Rex.’ Every bedtime story had to be about dinosaurs. Every conversation had to be related somehow to dinosaurs. It was lucky that John-Paul was interested, because Cecilia was bored after about five minutes. (They were extinct! They had nothing to say!) John-Paul took Esther on special trips to the museum. He brought home books for her. He sat with her for hours while they talked about herbivores and carnivores.
Since then Esther’s ‘interests’ had ranged from roller-coasters to cane toads. Most recently it had been the Titanic. Now she was ten she was old enough to do her own research at the library and online, and Cecilia was amazed at the information she gathered. What ten year old lay in bed reading historical books that were so big and chunky she could barely hold them up?
‘Encourage it!’ her schoolteachers said, but sometimes Cecilia worried. It seemed to her that Esther was possibly a touch autistic, or at least sitting somewhere on the autism spectrum. Cecilia’s mother had laughed when she’d mentioned her concern. ‘But Esther is exactly like you were!’ she said. (This was not true. Keeping your Barbie doll collection in perfect order hardly compared.)
‘I actually have a piece of the Berlin Wall,’ Cecilia had said that morning to Esther, suddenly remembering this fact, and it had been gratifying to see Esther’s eyes light up with interest. ‘I was there in Germany, after the Wall came down.’
‘Can I see it?’ asked Esther.
‘You can have it, darling.’
Jewellery and clothes for Isabel and Polly. A piece of the Berlin Wall for Esther.
Cecilia, twenty years old at the time, had been on a six-week holiday travelling through Europe with her friend Sarah Sacks in 1990, just a few months after the announcement that the Wall was coming down. (Sarah’s famous indecisiveness paired with Cecilia’s famous decisiveness made them the perfect travelling companions. No conflict whatsoever.)
When they got to Berlin, they found tourists lined along the Wall, trying to chip off pieces as souvenirs, using keys, rocks, anything they could find. The Wall was like the giant carcass of a dragon that had once terrorised the city, and the tourists were crows pecking away at its remains.
Without any tools it was almost impossible to chip off a proper piece, so Cecilia and Sarah decided (well, Cecilia decided) to buy their pieces from the enterprising locals who had set out rugs and were selling off a variety of offerings. Capitalism really had triumphed. You could buy anything from grey-coloured chips the size of marbles to giant boulder-sized chunks complete with spray-painted graffiti.
Cecilia couldn’t remember how much she’d paid for the tiny grey stone that looked like it could have come from anyone’s front garden. ‘It probably did,’ said Sarah as they caught the train out of Berlin that night, and they’d laughed at their own gullibility, but at least they’d felt like they were a part of history. Cecilia had put her chip in a paper bag and written MY PIECE OF THE BERLIN WALL on the front, and when she got back to Australia she’d thrown it in a box with all the other souvenirs she’d collected: drink coasters, train tickets, menus, foreign coins, hotel keys.