Fiction · Short Story

A Mass Engraving

Requests come in daily. They are from loved ones wanting a rubbing from the Wall. A rubbing of the engraving they have requested be mailed to them. Loved ones who are unable to make the trip to the capitol. Loved ones who will not see their own eyes staring back from the glassy black wall. Loved ones who will not to consume all the other names, those brief strings of letters that signify the brief years all those sons and brothers and father and uncles and husbands and nephews and cousins and grandsons and men and boys.

She pulls a new card from the stack of names and walks to where it is on the wall. It is as if she is drawn there by instinct. Decades of doing her duty beneath the Wall have learned her a great many names. When she began in the position she saw the marks on the Wall as one big name, one mass engraving of the missing and the fallen. Clarity and acceptance have sharpened her focus on what is signified there. The years have taught her she is the Wall’s most frequent visitor. Observance has shown she belongs to a community of mourners unfettered by generational division who find the comfort in the sorrow enclosed in the borders of the Wall.

Most days she finds sovereignty in the task of finding the names and transferring their letters from wall to paper. Today is tasking. It is only the fourth name of the shift, but she can already feel an infernal cry from the granite as she presses the paper against it and rubs lightly with the edge of the charcoal. The pain from the empty space bordering the letters has shown itself earlier than it does on a typical day. As she pushes away from it, the Wall burns hot unforgiving as an iron clumsily pressing over her wrinkled heart.

On a typical day she is able to stave off the pain of thinking what he might look like if he were still alive, if she had been able to carry him until January so he might not have drawn such a low number. If she had been more accepting of his love of country and the pride he took in his service. She wished she’d written him more than once those months he was there. Since word reached her of his death, hundreds of letters, she’d composed upon the canvass of her heart, bore his name in the salutation. They went unwritten and unread. No tender hand came along to rub over her heart to expose meaning from her mourning.

She could not justify self-pity for long. There had to be days like today, she told herself. She was here to be close to him and his fallen brothers. Catharsis lay in knowing her hands’ purpose in allowing those families to know their boys are immortalized.

As she pulls the next request her breath turns solid in her lungs. She recognizes the name on the card as the name engraved just next to her son’s. With little hesitation she walks to the familiar place on the Wall, flattens the paper against the intended name, and rubs with gentle care. The Wall sees a great deal, but it reveals even more. In this moment, the glassy surface of the black granite glistens as it catches the light from a mother’s tear glide down a wrinkled cheek.

This scene was inspired by a visit to The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where the names of over 58,000 servicemen and women are engraved on a massive reflective black granite wall. Everyday, Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund volunteers capture rubbings of names requested by those who are not able to travel to Washington, D.C. The service is free of charge. For more information, please visit

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