fiction, photography

THE LOOKALIKE

Chris R-0129 Image by Christine Renney

A man had moved into one of the ground floor flats at the far end of the cul-de-sac. He looked just like Richard Nixon and Thomas was fascinated, less by his uncanny resemblance to the disgraced former President, but the fact that the man seemed to have embraced it.
He always dressed as Nixon had; white shirt with a dark tie and with his jacket a little too tight across the shoulders. The jacket buttons seemed barely able to contain a man who somehow managed to be both coiled and slumped inside of it. Always hunched over, with his chin almost touching his chest, he appeared to have no neck.
Thomas was flummoxed as to why anyone would choose to emulate a man who historically had been so maligned, who to all intents and purposes, had failed in such a monumental and public way.
Thomas wondered if he was a professional ‘Look Alike’, although he couldn’t imagine there was much call for such a thing in 2017. But maybe over the years the man had become so locked into the part he was now unable to function as himself.

‘Have you seen the old man across the street?’ Thomas asked his wife, ‘the one who looks like Richard Nixon?’
‘Nixon?’ his wife queried. ‘What do you mean, Nixon?’
‘Richard Nixon, the American President, Watergate and that.’
‘I know who Richard Nixon is but that isn’t who he is. He’s that other guy.’
‘Who are you talking about, what guy?’
‘The other one from back when. I can’t remember his name but he had that TV show. They’re always showing old clips of him introducing Elvis or the Beatles.’
‘Ed Sullivan?’
‘Yes, him, Ed Sullivan.’
‘He isn’t Ed Sullivan, why would he want to be Ed Sullivan?’
‘Why not? Why Nixon then?’
‘Point taken but he isn’t Ed Sullivan, He’s Nixon, he has to be.’
‘Why does he have to be?’
‘I don’t know but he does!’ Thomas shouted.
‘Ok, ok. Calm down. So, if he is Nixon what would you say to him? If he really were, what would you ask him now?’
‘I don’t know,’ Thomas pondered the question, ’Nixon wanted it all so badly and he really worked at it and, after all the disappointments, he finally made it. He had what he wanted. He was exactly where he wanted to be and he screwed it up. So, I supposed I’d ask him what it was like, living with that.’
‘Wow, ok, but what if it is Sullivan? Would you ask him anything?’
Thomas laughed
‘I don’t know. Probably what was it like meeting with the Beatles and to meet Elvis.’
‘Didn’t Nixon meet Elvis and The Beatles?’
‘You’re right, he did.’
‘Wow, that’s it!’ his wife jumped up. ‘That’s how we do it.’
‘Do what?’ He stared at her, a blank expression on his face.
‘That’s how we find out.’
‘Find out what?’
‘Who he is or who he is trying to be.’
‘How?’
‘We ask him. We ask the man across the street about Elvis and The Beatles and we deduce from what he has to say, work it out from his answers, whether he’s Nixon or Ed Sullivan.’

Advertisements
Standard
fiction, photography

A TRYST

Chris R-0172-4 Image by Christine Renney

He had fallen for a girl on a hoarding, a bill poster. He was living in a tiny bed-sit close to the office.
He had begun to fantasise and obsess about this alluring young woman in a cocktail dress, advertising a perfume, the name of which he wouldn’t be able to remember. The hoarding was directly opposite the window to his room. It was big and imposing and in his isolation his becoming infatuated with her was inevitable.
The advertisements were changed once a month and over the summer he had lived alongside a series of gaudy images encouraging him to eat a particular breakfast cereal, to fly with a certain airline, to think seriously about life insurance, to choose wholegrain to look after his heart.
From the instant that he noticed her, he was mesmerised. After all those bright primary colours, the block capital letters and all those crude messages that he had tried so hard to ignore, this photograph blown-up to super-size of a woman turning away from a party in order to gaze in at him was wholly captivating and he couldn’t help but reciprocate. That evening he found himself drawn time and again to the window, where he stood and gazed out at her.
At the office he wasn’t able to concentrate and the following day felt like an eternity. But when at last he was back in his room and able to look at her the hours seemed to go by in a flash. It was past midnight when he realised that he hadn’t yet prepared his evening meal; that he needed to think seriously about going to bed and getting some sleep.
When she stepped from the hoarding he was startled. It wasn’t so much that she had suddenly taken form but he was amazed by how effortlessly and gracefully she managed in her high heels to climb down the wall.
She stood on the edge of the road and straightened her dress. Watching carefully he expected her at any moment to set off in search of a nightclub but when she raised her head she looked up and directly at him. Blushing violently he stepped backward but didn’t turn or look away. Making her way toward his building she crossed the busy street. He listened as she climbed up to the window and when she appeared he held out his hand and, taking it, she stepped into the room.
He remembered that she had been holding a wineglass.
‘What did you do with your glass?’ he asked.
‘Oh’, she replied, ‘ I put it down somewhere over there I think’.
He looked across at the board at the party scene she had deserted. The remaining revellers resplendent in their finery seemed unaware that she had disappeared but the photograph was hazy and blurred and he couldn’t see the wine glass.
The young woman studied him quizzically.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.
‘Nothing, nothing’s wrong’.
He realised that his behaviour was unsettling her and smiling he pulled the curtains. He wasn’t embarrassed, surprisingly. After the first flush he now felt confident and entirely at ease.
‘Come here’, he said and, taking her hands, he pulled her in close and they kissed.

In the morning she was gone and at first he was stricken. There wasn’t any trace of her, no forgotten earring, not even a dirty cup. He rolled over in the bed and then he could smell her, her perfume, the perfume he supposed that she was now promoting across the street. Pleased with himself he basked in it. It had happened and he didn’t doubt that it would again.
Stretching out he decided that he was going to ring in sick, that in order to ready himself for tonight he needed to take the day off.
He slept in until late afternoon and, after reading the newspaper, he watched a little television and when at last it was time he crossed to the window. Once again he watched her step elegantly from the advertisement and climb down the wall.

Over the course of the next week he was surprised to find he wasn’t phased by her astounding good looks. He soon dispensed with any attempt at small talk and the moment she stepped through the window and into the room, taking her hand he would lead her to the bed.
Afterwards, he slept soundly and when he awoke he felt refreshed and eager to the meet the day. And then suddenly one morning he couldn’t smell her perfume. How long had it been, he wondered, how many nights, how many mornings? He tried to count; five, six, seven, eight? But no, it was nine.
He sniffed at the sheet where she had been laying, sunk his face into her pillow. He bunched up the quilt from her side, pulled it up to his nose and inhaled deeply but there was nothing.
That night he studied her and, scrutinising, he decided that she had deteriorated. It was a strange word to choose, he was aware of this, but it felt like the right one. She was fading, losing her sparkle, her shine. He hadn’t registered before that she was wearing make-up but he noticed now where it had begun to run on her face, that her arms and legs were streaked and dirty.
‘Would you like to take a shower?’ he asked.
‘No’, she looked at him, incredulous, ‘Why?’ she asked and smiled.
He decided not to push it.
‘It doesn’t matter’, he said. ‘But do you mind if we just sleep tonight? I’m really very tired and I don’t know but I think I might be coming down with something. I hope you don’t mind’.
‘It’s okay’, she said and sounded genuinely concerned. ‘Of course I don’t mind’.

As she groped and grappled her way from the board, he wondered how many more times she would be able to manage it, how many more times he would have to watch her as she clambered and scrambled down the bricks. He expected her at any moment to slip but somehow she made it. At the bottom she stood with her back toward him. Her dress was torn and coming undone at the seams and her legs were spotted with what, from where he stood, looked like dried blood.
She turned and he stepped backward and remembered that he had done this before on the first night and he hoped desperately that this would be the last. He was, in fact, convinced that it would be but he had decided what he was going to do and he wasn’t about to back down, now now.
She started across the street and, lunging forward, he closed the window and pulled the curtains. He sat on the sofa and waited for what seemed like an age and when, at last, she began to tap on the glass he switched on the television and turning the volume high asked himself ‘how long?’. He was surprised to hear his voice, to find that he was talking aloud.
‘How much longer’, he mused, ‘will I have to put up with this?’

Standard
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.

Standard
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.’

Standard
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.

Standard
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.’

Standard