fiction, photography

SHELTER

Chris R-0257-2 Image by Christine Renney

I step beneath the bridge and begin to slow down and, at around the mid-way point, I grind to a halt. I look up at the roof and suddenly I have shelter. The wall to my left is covered with layers of graffiti and I cross and lean against it.
I can hear the traffic thundering along the carriageway above. It is almost constant up there but, concentrating, I can hear the little gaps, the spaces in between each vehicle.
Down here the cars and the trucks are far less frequent. The pauses are varied and unpredictable and much more difficult to fill. Fumbling I remove my tie and, crouching down, hold it with both hands. I remember reading somewhere how, in Romania under Ceausescu, cars with odd numbers on their registration plates were only allowed on the roads on ‘odd number’ days. I realise that I have forgotten today’s date and I don’t know if this is an odd number day.
I can’t read the plates on the vehicles flashing past me so fast. Anyhow it would be a pointless exercise. I am not in Romania and even if I were, Ceausescu’s reign of terror ended long ago.
I let the tie slip from my hands and stare down at it coiled between my muddy shoes.

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fiction, photography

HEIRLOOMS

Chris R-0883 Image by Christine Renney

In the past, when we argued, I would often throw something. Now words are enough as over the years I have become more adept at hurling them and I no longer need to rely something inanimate. If I happened to be holding a mug I would throw that and, after retrieving the largest surviving part, I’d throw that again and again. Or I might reach and grab for something close at hand, an ornament or a trinket made from china or glass, something that would break, something that would smash. If I happened to be holding a book then I would throw that. It wouldn’t break of course, not even after I had kicked it and stamped on it. Books don’t come apart or at least not easily. Try for yourself, take one down from the shelf, a paperback, open it in the middle and try to rip it in two. It can’t be done. In order to destroy a book you need to act methodically, to tear the pages one at a time. I have done this, but only once.
I hadn’t read the book but I remember it was ‘The Idiot’ by Dostoevsky. As I started to rip out the pages, T… watched but she quickly tired and, exasperated, she went to bed. ‘The Idiot’ is a big book but I persevered until each and every page lay at my feet. In the heat of the moment a book is decidedly unsatisfactory. A mug, on the other hand, is ideal. A mug will bounce unscathed across a carpeted floor time and again. Six, eight, even ten times, before it will begin to chip and crack and, when it does, when it breaks, something snaps and in the silence we are able to make things right again. To scrub at the coffee stains and sweep up the pieces, although for weeks afterwards, we find bits of the mug lodged here, there and everywhere.

T… was frightened by my outbursts and believed if I didn’t react in this way that I would lash out and strike her. But it was only when the argument really took root, when it wouldn’t stop, that I would throw and break something. Of course, it wasn’t always a mug but sometimes things that were much more valuable and difficult to replace. Heirlooms, things that had been passed down and things we had bought together and which, over time, would have come to mean so much more. I won’t bore you with a list but I did once break a clock, a wedding present. I lifted it from the mantle and flung it to the floor. I kicked it, stood and stomped on it. Grinding the glass and the face and the mechanism until all of the tiny parts, the cogs and the washers and the wheels, were embedded in the carpet. Later, we hadn’t any choice but to carefully and painstakingly pick them out.

I am now aware, however, that T… has begun to replace some of the things I have destroyed from our past. I wouldn’t even have noticed if it hadn’t been for the book, not even the clock, but there it is up on the mantle, exactly the same although of course it isn’t. I wonder how she did it, how she managed to find it? And I would like to ask but how can I, how can we talk about this?

After finding the book and taking it down from the shelf, I carry it with me and begin to wander through the house, searching the rooms and discovering item after item, things I won’t list, not now, not here. I’ve told you about the book and about the clock and that’s enough. And the mugs of course, although they don’t matter, mugs are inconsequential; you use one only for so long and then replace it. Eventually I sit and start to read ‘The Idiot’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a copy of the book I desecrated long ago. It has the same cover, a sky blue border and the same painting on the front. ‘Portrait of Ivan Pochitonov’ by Nikolai Dmitrievich although of course these details I don’t remember.

T… comes into the room and, noticing the book, she asks quite coolly, ‘Haven’t you read that before?’.
‘I started once but didn’t finish it,’ I reply, ‘and I’ve decided to try again.’

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fiction

THE COMPOUND

Chris R-1110369 Image by Christine Renney

At less than an hour’s drive from the City, the compound wasn’t particularly remote but it did feel isolated surrounded, as it was, by open country, as if in the middle of nowhere.
The guard had been on duty for three days and he began to realise that his orders had been more than a little sketchy. He knew what to do when the others arrived – his job was to simply check their credentials, to let them in and to leave them be. But no-one had come yet and already he found himself gazing longingly through the gatehouse window at his car parked beside the barrier.
He didn’t need to leave the gatehouse. It incorporated his living quarters and there were enough supplies in the store room to last him for months. He was able to operate the entrance gate and the barriers from inside the front office. Cameras had been situated across the site and all he really needed to do was sit before the bank of monitors and watch.
He had expected the compound to be busy, a veritable hive of activity, people constantly coming and going and he hadn’t prepared himself for this lengthy period alone.

The guard abandoned his post. At first he kept to the inner single track road and carried the swipe card with him, reasoning that if anyone did arrive he would be able to let them in without too much inconvenience. Anyhow, he had been here on his own for almost a week now and he couldn’t be expected to be available twenty four hours a day.

The guard began walking around the perimeter fence and looking across at the warehouses. He was always impressed by how imposing they appeared, the black paint always managing to gleam even under the dullest and most overcast of skies.

Sitting in front of the monitors one morning the guard realised that he hadn’t taken a proper look at the warehouses, not up close. Stepping from the office he set out toward them, making for the one at the centre. Drawing close he registered the nettles and thistles at the base and the bindweed climbing up the sides. There were patches of rusty metal breaking through the black paint and he could see quite clearly that the warehouses were constructed from thin and flimsy sheets of corrugated tin. Reaching out, he pounded with his fist and the whole structure shook.
The guard saw a door to his right. There wasn’t a handle or a latch but he pushed at it and grudgingly the door swung inward, revealing another directly in front of him. Taking out his torch, he peered in and saw a narrow walkway between the first warehouse and the second which was a rusting husk. Crossing the threshold he kicked at it and paint flakes rained down on him. Coughing, he pushed his way through and, moving quickly, he lost count of the doors but each warehouse was a little more decrepit and at last the guard was inside and it was small and it was empty.

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fiction

THE WEIGHT

Chris R-0233 Image by Christine Renney

His dad was standing in the middle of their front room holding a coat, a bulky Parka, at arms length by the hood. It looked strange, almost as if someone were already wearing it, but someone without legs or hands.
Joe stepped closer and could clearly see that a flat rectangular weight had been sewn into the lining at the back. Reaching out, he traced its outline along the bottom and up the left hand side and across from shoulder to shoulder and down again.
‘Put it on,’ his dad said.
‘No. Why?’
‘Just do it.’ His dad thrust the coat into his hands.
‘Why?’ Joe repeated.
‘Don’t ask me that,’ his dad replied, ‘don’t ask why, just do it.’

Joe sits on the edge of the sofa and tries to remember not to lean back. Each time he forgets the weight presses into him. He can feel the ridge at its edges, cutting into him. There is something at its centre, a raised logo perhaps, and no matter how he sits, whether it be backwards, forwards or sideways, it finds him, bites into him.
Standing, Joe arches his back and the coat bags out, the weight hanging without touching. It is heavy and he can’t stay like this for long. Anyhow, his dad has told him he must learn to live with it. That he should simply get on and do things as he usually would and it wouldn’t be long before he doesn’t even notice it and he will forget but also that he mustn’t forget and he must never take the coat off, not ever.
Joe wondered how long the coat could contain the weight. Would it be just months or possibly years before it began to rip and fray and was simply a coat again, ragged and worn but comfortable.
Despite what his dad said, Joe knew that as soon as school started again he would be allowed to take it off. He only had to manage until the end of the summer holidays. For three and a half weeks. Twenty five days. It was going to be hard, an ordeal. He had hardly slept last night. Laying on his back was virtually impossible and he could manage on his stomach with the weight pressing down only for so long. Joe had actually drifted off in this position only to wake with a start, gasping and choking for breath. Eventually, after hours of tossing and turning, of wiggling and twisting, he had managed to settle on his side with his arms outstretched and the weight propped against his back. He had been tempted to slip his arms from the sleeves but Joe was all too aware that, at regular intervals, his dad came and stood at the open door and gazed in at him. He started to worry then that, whilst asleep, he would inadvertently set himself free. And in the end it wasn’t that he couldn’t find a way to sleep in the coat but that he was afraid to do so.

Joe had been pacing for hours, back and forth. Standing in front of the open window he gazed out. What he wanted was to go for a walk. Something simple that he hadn’t thought about until then. It was something that adults did, well not his dad, but other adults. Something they said not only to each other, but to themselves. “I need to stretch my legs, go for a stroll, get some air, blow the cobwebs away.”
But Joe didn’t know if he could, if he was allowed and asking his dad would only make him angry again. He was supposed to know the answers and not only the why but also the how?
Now that he was wearing the coat Joe wondered could the weight be seen? Was it still obvious? Out there would others be able to see it? In the bright sunlight he studied his reflection in the glass. But he couldn’t tell, he wasn’t sure.

His dad was sitting in the kitchen, at the table, with his newspaper. Joe moved past him making for the back door. Reaching it he grabbed the handle and pulled it all the way open before turning back.
‘I’m going out,’ he said. ‘Just for a bit, for a walk.’
His dad looked up surprised, startled even.
‘Okay,’ he said.
And shutting the door Joe stepped outside.
‘But don’t go too far,’ his dad called, ‘and don’t be very long.’

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fiction

STASIS

Chris R-0352 Image by Christine Renney

On the day that she left she took only her clothes. She pulled our long unused suitcases from beneath the bed and I was impressed by how swiftly she managed to empty her wardrobe.
As she began to pack I didn’t doubt that everything would fit. She wouldn’t leave anything, only the discarded hangers, which she threw into a corner, a pile that grew ever more twisted and tangled.
I noticed her watching me as I watched her and I stepped back on to the landing and waited for her out there.
She struggled on the stairs with the first case and I follow her with the other. I set it down on the front step and, closing the door, I waited, watching through the frosted glass until she came back for it.

Over the course of the next few months she took back the rest of her belongings, just a few at a time. I have pondered over the years as to why she did this, if it was a misguided attempt to be gentle or out of necessity. Anyhow, she visited the house during the day whilst I was at work.

I imagined her, I still imagine her, deliberating over a particular picture on the wall or an ornament on a shelf. Sorting through the books and records and, although she took her time about it, eventually she had taken everything and I am now left with just the basics.
There are curtains at the windows and carpet on the floor. I have cutlery, crockery, pots and pans but no kettle. I have the cooker, fridge freezer and washing machine. There are sheets and towels in the airing cupboard and I have a bed for sleeping and sofas to sit on. The stereo and the television were hers and these were the last to go.
When she was done she posted the key. For weeks I left in on the mat, moving it around a little each time I collected the mail until, at last, I placed it at the centre of the mantle, above the electric fire and there it remains where the carriage clock used to sit.

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fiction

DESCENT

Chris R-0315 Image by Christine Renney

I am attempting to forge a route that takes in all of my haunts, all the places where I have taken shelter after dark. The doorways where I have pushed back and stretched out and where I have slept. But there are too many and as I move between them, making my way back and forth, I feel disoriented and this sudden compulsion is now pulling me from the Centre or at least from the part of the City I have accepted as the Centre, a place where I have loitered and lingered. But my reluctance to leave seems to have deserted me and I am fleeing, but to where?
I am pushing against the City and it is dense and difficult to navigate. I look because I must but I can’t focus and I can’t see my way through. The idea of a Centre here, that it could exist, is inconceivable and yet I have conceived of it and somehow I have found my way. But how?
It must have been slow, my descent. So gradual that the progress I have made is all but impossible to detect.

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poetry

DON’T EVER

Chris R-0115 Image by Christine Renney

Don’t ever think that we are
So far gone and too far down
And that it doesn’t matter
That their voices, the others’ voices
Are louder and have more clout
That we are just a clamour
And that they are the clarion
And that only they can shout
That they have the megaphone
And all of the music
And are able to drown out our lyrics
Or that the street corner isn’t
A stage or the blank page
Or that the pen, a biro, isn’t enough
Or that they are a fact
And we are merely fiction

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