fiction, photography

TREMORS

Chris R-1-74 Image by Christine Renney

He wanted desperately to pinpoint when it began, the exact moment that he had felt the first tremor. But it hadn’t happened like that, suddenly and revelatory. No it had been slow.
Ever so gradually he became aware of something happening beneath his feet. Slowly he had become more and more attuned until he was able to anticipate when the next tremor would occur and, readying himself for it, he could prepare for the impact.

He wondered if there were others who felt the tremors and suffered as he did. He watched his family and friends. He studied people in the street, in the supermarket and on the bus, people anywhere and everywhere. He concluded that if they did, if there were others who felt the tremors, then they were much stronger than he and better at hiding it.

He sensed that he had always sensed them, subconsciously at first of course, and then consciously. They were buried deep down in the ground – the faintest of flickers, dying torches in the darkest mine shaft. The tremors hadn’t surprised him, hadn’t shocked him and this, in itself, was shocking. And now they were taking their toll and he could no longer stand firm and continue as if nothing was happening. He could no longer pretend

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fiction, photography

THE BOOKS IN THE BASEMENT

Chris R-1-63 Image by Christine Renney

The bookshop is busy and bright. Pushing against the throng Daniel moves toward the back of the store and down the rickety wooden staircase. Once below, he is able to breath again and, taking in the stale and musty but familiar aroma, he begins to relax. He finds making the short trip from the plate glass doors at the front of the shop to the basement so stressful. Daniel worries that he will be apprehended by one of the sales assistants, that they will demand to know what he is doing, why does he keep coming back and why does he spend so long down below?
Daniel has been coming to the bookshop every day for months now and he must have been noticed. But he hasn’t been stopped yet and no-one seems to care. And why should they? After all, the books in the basement have been forgotten and abandoned, left to molder and fade. And so why should he warrant more than a cursory glance and a fleeting thought.
Daniel is thankful for this. It means he is left alone to his own devices and he can read. It also means that at least some of the lost books will be rediscovered.

Daniel doesn’t have to worry about making the return trip for hours. He has a flask of coffee and sandwiches in his backpack and, if he wants, he can stay down here all day and quite often he does. Once settled on the old and cracked leather sofa in the far corner he loses track of time.

There are a lot of books in the basement. The shelving units run its entire length and the walkways are narrow, just wide enough for two people to pass each other sideways. But Daniel suspects that this has never been necessary, or at least not in years.
The shelves are tightly packed, mostly paperbacks and all have been read at least once. Most more than this judging by the creased spines and the dog-eared pages between the covers.
There are so many stories stored down here, so many ideas. It is an archive, an accidental one maybe, but an archive nonetheless.
Daniel wishes that he could reach all of the books but even if he were gifted an extra lifetime he knows he could not achieve it. But Daniel is determined to keep reading for as long as he is able, he is convinced that, eventually, someone will notice him, that someone will decide to care. After all, this is a bookshop and not a library and he is breaking the rules.

Occasionally others do venture into the basement and whenever Daniel hears someone on the creaking staircase he jumps up from the sofa. Although he is entirely hidden from view he tries to act nonchalantly, as if he is just another customer, casually browsing.
It is dank down here and poorly lit. No-one ever seems to venture more than a few metres into the basement. This time, however, he hears someone moving purposefully along one of the passages. Daniel is intrigued and, emboldened, he moves across until he sees her.
She is searching for a certain writer, maybe even a particular book but it isn’t there and Daniel sees the disappointment on her face.
Still she lingers, scanning the titles and occasionally reaching out and touching the books. Daniel moves closer but she doesn’t seem to be aware he is there and, turning, the woman stares right through him. And he realises that she doesn’t see him, that as far as she is concerned he isn’t there.
Staying with her, Daniel glides along the aisle until at last she works one of the books free and pulls it down. She studies the cover and flicks through it and, turning again, she doesn’t put it back. Daniel realises the woman is going to take it, that she is going to keep the book.

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fiction

THE KNIGHT PERHAPS

chris r-1-56 Illustration by Christine Renney

Cocooned in my parka, head down, I walk. I keep to the edges of the pavement and I follow the cracks between the slabs and in this way I cover my patch. I tug at my hood just to be sure; a habit I can’t, or won’t, break, and I scan the ground at my feet. When I spot a cigarette butt, a good one, I reach down and snatch it and place it in my pocket along with the others.
I must appear erratic, resemble a chess piece, the rook, or the knight perhaps, my movements awkward and jerky. Any progress I make is difficult to determine as I trek the board, seeming to endlessly fail at making my way across.
But I don’t raise my head and I don’t know if anyone is watching. I suspect that when I am noticed it is fleetingly and that they steer clear. I am just somebody scuffling, a scavenger.
There are plenty of cigarette butts but I only collect the good ones. The best are those that have been pinched or stubbed out before being dropped and not stamped upon. But I’ll take any that might still contain a little tobacco rather than just dry dust and ash. And I have become adept at spotting these and I know when to reach down and which ones to gather. Throughout the day I fill my pockets and when they are full I leave, I abandon the board.
I never stray far from the Centre now and I settle behind the bins at the back of Pound Saver. I empty my pockets and set to work, rubbing with my thumb and forefinger I remove the burnt tips. Stripping the paper away, I pull out all the good tobacco and without wasting a single stringy strand I drop it, one pinch at a time, into the tin. When it is full and the tobacco is tightly packed, as I roll the first cigarette, just fleetingly I am content.

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fiction, photography

THE BURDEN

Chris R-0329 Image by Christine Renney

As a boy I would daydream about having special powers. Super strength or x-ray vision, the ability to shift shape and form at will or to stretch my limbs and torso in order to reach far into the distance. Of them all it was the last that I would eventually find myself capable of. Not the coolest nor, as I discovered, the most practical and, over the years, I have contemplated long and hard as to why, of the special powers I conjured and pondered in my youth, this one was to be my gift, my burden.

I have always been tall and thin, freakishly so. I was bullied at school and had to endure a barrage of embarrassingly unoriginal taunts. Name calling mostly. Olive – that was the one that stuck – after Olive Oyl. I learned to live with it. I had to, but even after so long it still manages, on occasion, to cut me. Despite the fact that I excelled at all sports and was chosen for the football team and represented the school in the long jump and cross country, I dreaded Physical Education and having to undress in front of the others. They would gather around me, flicking with their towels, poking and prodding at my skinny frame, pinching and pulling at my skin.

In spite of my unnatural ability and incredible agility, after leaving school I never again participated in a team event or took part in competitive sport of any kind. I did continue to run, mostly keeping to the city. I pounded the pavements before and after work but at the weekends I would drive out into the countryside, taking to the footpaths and bridleways. I could push myself harder there, running for longer and further but I couldn’t counter the restlessness that, as a young man, I carried like an empty wallet.

When running I felt as if I were fleeing and I didn’t for a second feel that I was awkward and ungainly. In the city I held back, I had to, but at weekends I could let myself go although it wasn’t enough.

In hindsight I realise that something extraordinary was happening and that I had squandered my youth and all of my twenties. For more than a decade, clumsy and shy, I tried my best to hide away when in all probability I had been the fastest man on the planet. In middle age I brooded far too deeply on this but by then my life couldn’t have been more complicated and I had long since dispensed with any delusions as to whether running could ever be enough. But I am getting ahead of myself and need to backup a little.

After leaving school without the relevant qualifications to continue with a formal education I set out to find my way in the world. I didn’t have any trouble finding a job in the accounts department of a company which manufactured cardboard boxes. I had a propensity for numbers and became indispensable. I was a cog in their machine and best of all I was left alone. I found a corner in which to hide and I had a desk with a window above which looked out across the roof of the adjoining warehouse. I worked diligently with my back toward the world or at least to the rest of the office. I spoke when spoken to or not at all.

Then, miraculously, I was noticed by a woman, one of the many who over the years worked fleetingly in the office before moving on for pastures new. Remarkably, this young woman set out to ensnare me and happily I allowed myself to be snared. Suddenly my life turned around and I had it all. A loving wife and a happy home, the suburban dream, domestic bliss and then I started to stretch.

It happened without fanfare. We were having breakfast and I couldn’t reach something on the other side of the table. I don’t remember what it was but I didn’t ask my wife to pass it to me or push it closer. Instead I extended my arm the extra distance necessary and, after taking hold of it, let my arm slip back to its usual length, its normal length. My wife didn’t notice. I had been much too fast but I could have held my arm there or I could have extended it further still. I could have sent her screaming into the street in her nightgown.
I didn’t stretch again until I was alone. First one arm and then the other. Likewise my legs. I lay on my back, stretching both arms and legs together but when I felt my torso beginning to flex I restrained myself. The room wasn’t big enough. I needed more space.

Finding that space wasn’t ever an issue. There was the warehouse at work. I had the keys and it was deserted in the evenings and on Sundays and there was space aplenty but I delayed. Although I needed to stretch I was terrified of what I might find myself capable. At first I kept to the house and its cluttered rooms and for a while that was where I nursed my secret.

I did continue stretching in front of my wife in order to reach or kick something aside. As I have already explained I was fast and I was becoming ever more adept at cloaking it. Nevertheless, I limited myself to no more than doubling my arms’ length and it wasn’t long before I was stretching like this in front of my colleagues at the office, then the supermarket, in the streets, everywhere.

Unsurprisingly, in the end I hadn’t any choice and it was out of necessity that on a cold and blustery Sunday morning I let myself into the warehouse. The rain pelted against the roof, all encompassing and discordant it rang in the grimy half light as I stripped off my clothes and prepared to stretch myself fully for the first time.

I was in pain, had been for months, my every muscle and sinew aching, my body screaming for mercy and so raising my arms I stretched toward the roof. Thereafter, I visited the warehouse once a week without fail. Although I was always stealthy and swift those fifteen minutes each week were unceasingly traumatic for me and I was constantly concerned that I might be discovered hanging from the rafters. But I survived. I made it through undiscovered and unscathed. In fact, I have outlived them all, everyone I once, knew including my wife. Of course I am alone again, have been for more years than I now care to contemplate.

Whatever my circumstances at any given time, somehow I have always succeeded in finding a way but it was never as simple as it is here, in this rest home. At this place for the elderly I need only to step outside the door to my room and into the narrow and lengthy corridor beyond.

I have taken to laying out here after dark. On the plush carpet I can lose myself at last. Although I am long since past my prime, I am sure if I live just a little longer I will manage to reach and touch the doors at either end.

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