fiction

SUSPENDED

Chris R-0317.jpg Image by Christine Renney

Three or so hours ago it seemed like a good idea. Set off this evening and drive through the night, arrive home in the early hours and sleep until late. Manage to snatch back some time for myself. But it is only just midnight and already I am beginning to flag. The road ahead is bleached by the hard light from above. It has the jarring urgency of film and I have grown weary from its unspooling. I squint through the windshield, watching, because I must.

Motorway services aren’t ever entirely deserted, not even at two o’clock in the morning. There are a handful of motorists sitting as far away from each other as possible. The service area is cavernous and my every movement is amplified. The scraping of my chair as I stand and my footsteps as I walk back up to the counter for a second cup of coffee. As I wait I notice an image printed on a sheet of paper. It is laying just beyond the till alongside the napkins. I move along the counter and reach for it.

It is the reflection of a man in one of the windows here at the services. He is sitting hunched over his coffee. The motorway fills the frame and the image is blurred. The quality of the print is poor and the paper is thin. It has the look and feel of a photocopy. But the man is much more clearly defined because someone, possibly the photographer, has taken the time to draw around him with a blue pen. And not only the man but also the space he is occupying; the chair and the table and of course the all important coffee cup. Head down, his face hidden, he is sitting amidst the glare of the headlights. I hold up the photo so that the young woman behind the counter can see it.
‘Who took this?’ I ask.
‘Don’t know.’
‘No?’
‘No, no idea,’ she shrugs and I go to put it back.
‘It’s been there for a while,’ she says, ‘surprised it’s not been binned.’
‘Do you mind if I keep it?’ I ask. ‘Save it from the trash?’
‘Yeah, take it if you want.’

I move along the walkway which divides the service area on this side of the motorway from that on the other. The man was sitting out here when the photograph was taken. I’m not sure exactly where but it was at one of the tables closest to the glass. I settle down with my coffee and I fold the image, stow it in my wallet and I gaze beyond my own reflection and down at the road below.

Standard
art, fiction

Outside my Window 7:26 – 7:59 P.M.

hijben

A man is standing by the cars outside my window, smoking. He is not a man, really, younger. A boy. But he is wearing a suit like a man. I don’t think it is his car, it is nice. Something with an animal for an emblem. But then again, it is a nice suit.

Turns out it is his car. It seems he didn’t want to smoke in his nice car. He must be a man.

A boy in an orange shirt; bright orange. Oranger than orange, the orange of a blind, elderly fashionista. He is standing in front of the market across. There is no telling what he will look like when he is older. He is wearing glasses, his hair is a mess. One day, he will see, I won’t. Oh well, he went inside.

A woman pushes her daughter on a silly looking carriage. It is shaped like a bike, with a fat seat. She is eating ice cream, the little girl. The mom has a small boy in the other hand; jealous of his sister, probably. I would be.

A whole group. A messily clothed slog of meat walk by. A disturbing amount of floral shirts are among them, despite age. They’ve passed.

A woman in heels heads into the market. I can hear them click from here. I am on the second floor, across.

Two twenty-somethings and a girl in a gray dress stand outside the middle eastern restaurant beside the market. She is smoking, they aren’t. One of the men has his hair up in a bun. I don’t like that, I don’t know why.

The young man in the nice suit and nice car has been sitting a while outside. In the air-conditioning, most likely. It is a decent day. A woman just got in. I only just noticed his scarf, it is floral, too. They are driving away now. It his nice car with an animal emblem, like a leopard, but without spots. They are gone, off somewhere nice, I suppose.

A man walks with his girlfriend in one hand. Not his whole girlfriend, of course, just her hand. In the other he holds a skateboard. It is bright orange, but, at least he is wearing sunglasses.

A girl in an orange scarf passes with her friend. It is a sensible orange, more sluggish. She is talking with her hands outstretched, holding an invisible ball. I can only imagine.

An Asian looking an with blue streaks through his hair passes, drinking Gatorade. It is blue, too.

A man in lime green shoes, violent green, sour–a sour, sour green–he walks by. I can’t see the rest of hm.

A truck just went by. It was dirty, so dirty. The men in the front look dirty; in a good way, an almost-dangerous sort of way.

A woman, carrying her blanket walks by. The blanket is checkered. Black and orange; soft. Two boys, one bigger, one smaller, chase her on bikes. I don’t think she realizes the chase is on. She finds the right song.

A woman walks out of the market. I didn’t see her go in. She isn’t a woman–really, few are. She has a fat face. I wonder why that is all I can see, I hope she sees more.

A girl, maybe three, or four, just ran by, calling for something, or someone.

A man–I think it’s a man–walks by holding a painting. I can’t see the painting. His hair is frizz. He turns. It isn’t a man.

The man I buy coffee from in the morning walks on by. He has very long hair, messy. Off he goes, in the wrong direction of where I’d expect him to be.

The girl, the one who might be four, has found her mother. She is quiet now.

A younger man, a less well dressed one, stands across, he is on the phone. He looks like the boy in the orange shirt. It turns out he won’t be all that handsome after all.

Standard
Uncategorized

L’appel du vide dit


Sympathy

Remains for burial

Zipped in black

Who comes to vouch then

Our misdeeds

Finally earn their napkin passage

I want to tell you

Open yourself 

Let me back

But you are bolted down

Empty of patience

Knowing when to leave

You are covered in oleander petals

Like a bride awaiting the fissure of her maidenhead

Bon voyage little girl

Leave behind your childhood room

All the china dolls you despised with their elegant haunted painted eyes

Under a yellow light attracting flies

Trying to catch up on diary entries half filled

The confessor wears a wagging chin, the judge is a mute 

And this rope will not be strong enough for two

We sit by sea spray electric in timber and soon 

There is no division

Between waiting and being

I can’t cry on demand or be happy, because you need me to be

You bought a faulty part

With your drive-through iced tea

Blessings over family dinner,  ash the crease between my eyes 

Eggshell blue walls

Symbols on concave plates

Sorrow out-stayed her welcome 

Take your wet bills and muddled sums

Away to the sheltering water

Overhead hawks cool in slipstream

Marveling the fresh note of deep current

Deceptively calm on jade surface

Standard
life

Misgivings

You know most of this already.

In the car with them, sitting in the back seat with her up front passenger-wise and turned back to me the two of us and talking fast like always like she had something to sell that she knew we hadn’t the cash or care to buy and the rain pelted the windshield and the wipers swung right back and the dark was outside full of unfocused and flickering points of light, streetlamps and headlights and incidental bokeh, while some vague figure in shadow form all the while drove us on.

Afterspiel, when she’d used up all her words and most of the air in the vehicle, I told her in fact no, our problem is we try to do too much too fast, all force and no finesse, just blind dumb vigor and ataxia and too little brains, like these wipers here, perhaps, I felt, reaching for a metaphor, sweeping dismissive overreliance on artificial intelligences built up around sleights perceived and true and entitlements seemingly due, ungrounded emotion and mechanical philistinism with an inarticulable mission like the goons who forcibly removed that doctor from a plane in Chicago and probably went home that night and had the nerve to believe in civil society though in their idiomatics it’s hard to believe any such nerve is needed, they haven’t even the proper vocab for the fact that kids in the same city kill with AK-47s and five people died last Wednesday just because, nothing happening, nothing going on, just a Wednesday in the city and what do you make of that, if you were to stop and sit still and be quiet for a minute.

The other there with us in the back seat with me was compelled to agree with me and I wondered what keywords in her repertoire of principled social consciousness I tapped, knowing for sure she wasn’t packing even the slightest hint of directional allegory, as oblivious to irony as those goons and maybe just as gullible, just as crowdsourced, giving a mere simple pacific piggybacking mhmm and nod of head, pleased that someone had done the thing and spoken out because somewhere along the straight and narrow well-meaning way she acquired the notion that speaking out said something but it at the very least for the moment changed our atmosphere.

And with that, nevertheless, just her up front stillness and quiet and that slight sound and musculoskeletal gesture in the back beside me within the still-floating presence of my words, I’ll be damned if a faint fellowship did not for a moment shine upon us all four road-weary travelers like the immediate aftermath of a photograph flash, a fraction of assent trying its best to be illumination and hanging in the air and draping us in what I can only think to call our common humanity, common and shared and base, and for that instant it felt not as if we were two against her brazen, impudent one, not as if the three of us outshined and consumed his resolute nothing drive-along indifference and better-knowing onlooker’s bemusement, but as if we were actual, and in that actuality a forward step might be taken, an honest word might be uttered, some responsibility assumed, a tide turned, a leaf flipped, a change made.

But it swiftly turned to dust as always tends to seems to happen with everything with vocal chords and no backbone and all was once again rain and shadows and distorted glows and she just looked at me through streaks of darkness and light and a sort of crazed eye blaze on par with Colonel Kurtz and I wished I hadn’t said a thing, wished I could vanish along with the dust of our fleeting fellowship, right along with it be turned to dust myself and taken away by wind and washed away by rain,

but all I could do was shrink from the terrible inordinacy of the space she occupied up front in that fractured darkness, already shaking off my rejoinder like a dog fresh out of water while I began inwardly apologizing by proxy and diminished presence for others’ misdeeds, her misnomers, our great misanthropy, daymare dreaming in my passive defense a wishful little thesis about going beyond thought as if awareness were something cartographical lying somewhere off the edge of the world, somewhere where I might forever sever ties to the false freedom of staying small amongst the throngs and the safety sense that silence might be the way to say what life’s about, beating myself into a backseat submission that like a deep bruise I felt lacked his up front strength and dignity, and yet

And yet there is hope, he said, and stopped us all.

Standard
prosetry

Soup

I had spent the week in the same way, lying in bed, flat on my back, arms straight by my sides, staring out of the window, watching the ash trees slow-dancing and the gangs of birds loitering with intent and the city skyline lurching woozily in the heat, listening to the rattle of spray cans from the garage downstairs and the mistakes made by the bell-ringers during their weekly practise peal.

On the third day, West London was on fire and the smoke was rolling in vertical waves: I didn’t think it would ever cease. And still, I lay in bed, useless, like a wildly unconvincing Frida impersonator, spitting words about inside my head, words that have already been said, already been read, counting magpies and missing dragonflies, thinking of names for the children that I’ll never have, tearing the skin around my fingernails, peeling ’til they’re bleeding, and waiting, just waiting.

In the mornings I lay waiting for nightfall. In the evenings I lay waiting for the sun. I lay waiting for sleep, for help, for silence, for affirmation, for you, for life, for a sign, for God, for answers, for revolution, for the tide to turn, for Godot, for death, for change, for justice, for love, for me, for reprieve, for miracles, for time, for everything, for anything, for nothing in particular.

Five days into my self-imposed bed rest, he phoned me up to talk about nothing in particular. He checked if I was still alive. I said that I was, that I am. I heard him smile down the phone but could not mirror the sentiment.

He told me about his brother receiving a big compo cheque for his motorbike crash. He asked me if I wanted to go to Dublin with him for a few days next month and I said “I’d love to but don’t think I could manage it.” He said that he’d picked up his neighbour’s cat off their garden wall and taken it indoors with him because it was a nice cat and he wanted to hang out with it for a while, but he wasn’t sure if that was called “kidnapping” or “catnapping” and what did I think? I said “borrowing.” He invited me to a party on Sunday night, I said, “Absolutely not.”

He told me about how Islington Council are chasing him for library fines. He said he’s lost the book somewhere in his house before he’s even read it, and that the overdue charges fine is now so huge that he could’ve bought the book brand new four times over and still have enough money left over for a bag of chips.

I asked what book it was and he said, “It was Book 5 of My Struggle, I can’t even remember what it’s fucking called.” He asked me what I was reading and I said Fireworks – short stories are easier for my broken brain to comprehend. Then he said, “I’m coming round to your place soon, I need you to I Ching me,” to which I replied, “Ooh, kinky.” He reminded me to eat and to pay my rent and to stay alive.

One day before Bed Rest I had made a huge vat of my special tramadol, tequila and tomato soup. It means that when I’m tired of being conscious I can drink some and quickly go to sleep for a few hours: when it’s cold it’s just a More Bloody Mary but is equally knockout. If I could sell this soup at the Farmer’s Market I would be a millionaire. The Grenfell death toll was creeping up and I was ready to go back to unconsciousness.

As I was crawling along the floor from my bed to the kitchen I spotted it in one of the stacks of books that line every wall of my flat. “Some Rain Must Fall: My Struggle Book 5 by Karl Ove Knausgaard.” I only ever bought Books 1 + 2. I grabbed it and opened it. Sure enough, inside there was a stamp from Islington Central Library and a few sticky barcodes on the back.

“Fuck,” I thought. “That man will do anything to get me out of bed.”

Standard
Uncategorized

Pearl

When I think of all the hours I stared

at the carvings of a wardrobe making faces in dusk

or listened intently to the sound of monsters unfurling

beyond my bedroom window

and the dust settling on objects belonging to me

sleeping away another day

the sense of time passing

and what we own versus what we only purchase

for this short journey

a pearl within shell

fleeting like a play where all characters

are insubstantial and hardly formed

like voices calling from a great distance

with fog separating their meaning

what do we know of another’s journey

or the grief they store within their silence

what of the godless and their cleave

to make terms with empty skies and

when you lay your head on my lap

in my dark room with no windows

and you whisper all the swallowed hurt

you folded and re-folded within your heart

I cannot say I know where to place such pain

it lingers

like the ghosts of my childhood

and the specters I created

tapping at window panes

snarling beneath the bed

they are only kept at bay by our reason

and I have less and less

but you

you demand notice as the crying child will urge

even weary mothers to unclothe their milk

and my chest burns for wanting to soothe

but nothing comes

not succor

not words

for who can say

it will be all right

when outside the world hefts its mighty sword

and hacks down with seeming impunity

those tender links we make

during our dusty walk

it feels sometimes as if we ought

to cease to observe

and become feral once more

only responding to the urge within us

to outsprint our demise

who wants to witness, to consciously realize

as they diminish toward frailty

and what can the child who has no child

say to her loved ones when they

clamor for her wisdom?

this reversal of roles sits like new flowers

drinking in early sun

knowing less of themselves than the past

I feel my grandmother’s hand

she is somewhere in the light

just a step beyond where I can follow

she tells me to be brave and strong

hold on child, the waves will be high

and you must find purchase

it is the break of my sandals on boulders

the scrabble of my fingers climbing wetly

all the chains of our fears

biting our attempt to defeat

it is harder to do this as you reach

the summit of yourself

where looking out at a drowning world

there are days you wish

not to understand what it is to love

or the pain this will bequeath

when those dear pass beyond

your reach

I can only strike out

one sure step, one uncertain

leaving footprints for myself

in virgin sand

there is no forward, no return

only a circle within a circle

ancestors on one cusp

perhaps a forest between us

for it is not just the heart

but the sound of birds coming home

and the boon of life as it bursts

anew with each day

we cast our nets deep

we gather our grief

and set sail our hope

for one more

one more moment

kept safe against

the crystal wall of waves

sure as day will close

they gather

like women beneath

the moon glow

opalescent

Standard
fiction

CAGED

Chris R-2-20 Image by Christine Renney

The bird had fallen down into their chimney. They had missed this, hadn’t heard its descent. Trapped and stalled but still attempting to fly, the bird bounced against the bricks.

They could hear the wings beating, its head and body bashing against the thin board that had been tacked in front of the fireplace.
‘We have to do something,’ she said.
‘Like what?’ he asked.
‘What do you mean, ‘like what’?’ she glared at him, incredulous. ‘We need to get it out of there, to set it free.’
‘How?’ From where he stood he studied the board. He couldn’t see any screws or fixings and suspected it had simply been glued into place and that removing it wouldn’t be difficult or particularly disruptive.
‘If we’re going to remove the board we need to get in touch with the landlord,’ he said. ‘It’ll pull the plaster away with it and could cause some damage.’
‘I don’t care!’ she stepped closer and, reaching out, placed her hand at the centre and the board wobbled slightly. The bird had quietened a little but now began to thrash and flail more violently.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she said to it. She moved back.
‘We have to help it,’ she pleaded.
‘It’s a wild bird,’ he said. ‘If we let it out it’ll be disorientated. How will we deal with it? It’ll be covered in soot and I don’t know what else.’
She crossed to the window and, drawing back the net curtain, she flung it open.
‘It’ll find its own way out,’ she said defiantly.
‘I’m not so sure, why don’t we go out and when we get back it will have gone.’
‘No,’ she shook her head, ‘it won’t be gone, it will be dead.’ She moved to the kitchen.
‘I don’t care,’ she shouted back at him, ‘about the damage or the consequences.’
He listened to her rummaging in the junk drawer until at last she came back brandishing a paint stripper.
‘If you won’t do it then I will.’
He had been annoyed by just how indignant she had become and at how quickly. But the indignation had now turned to something else, something less fleeting, more settled. He took the paint stripper from her.
‘Okay,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it.‘
The board was indeed flimsy and, pulling away from the wall, it started to bend. The bird was bashing against it and then it wasn’t. He was shocked by how small it was.
He released the board and, letting it flap back into place, he stood and together they watched the little bird fluttering in front of the open window.

Standard