fiction, photography

HAT

Chris R-0700-2 Image by Christine Renney

The man was wearing a hat. It was the first thing Jonathan noticed before he realised what the man was doing, what was happening. Even as he watched his focus was still drawn to the hat. It was a trilby and it was dark, both the hat and the street, but there was enough light from the street lamps and Jonathan could see and he could hear.
He wondered would the hat have stood out as much as it did if the man had been wearing a matching suit or a raincoat. But dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, the hat clearly did not belong to him. He had taken it, grabbed it from somewhere else, possibly, most probably, snatched it from the top of someone’s head. One of his victims perhaps, but not this one, the one cowering in front of him and fending against his blows. The hat didn’t belong to him either and it didn’t belong on this street. The hat wasn’t part of what was happening here.
If the victim had been aware of it at the beginning of his ordeal, it certainly wasn’t at the forefront of his mind now. Jonathan wondered had the other man, the perpetrator, also forgotten about it and was the joke now on him? But of course, Jonathan wasn’t supposed to be there and anyhow he wasn’t laughing.
The victim was proving to be surprisingly resilient and refused to drop. To fall down onto the ground, where even if he were to curl up into a foetal position, he would be much more vulnerable. Kicking him in his heavy boots would have been so much easier and the perpetrator was clearly flagging. The punches were getting weaker and his fists were hurting.
Jonathan moved closer. The perpetrator was still bobbing and weaving this way and that and the victim was standing with his head bowed, not moving, not watching. Both of them were entirely unaware that Jonathan was there. Reaching out, waiting for the opportune moment, he snatched the hat and placed it on top of his own head. Everything stopped and he lingered just long enough for this register and then Jonathan began to run.

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fiction, photography

THE GRID

Chris R-0602 Image by Christine Renney

The cars are predictable. They crawl through the narrow and crowded streets at a snail’s pace searching for parking spaces. As soon as one moves away from the kerb, another is readying to take its place. This battle is almost constant. It is an elaborate board game, play pausing just briefly in the early hours of the morning when a stalemate of sorts is achieved and all of the vehicles are locked in tight and there are no spaces on the grid, on the streets and, for a brief spell at least, none of them will move.
I keep walking and find reassurance in the line of cars jammed along the pavements. Occasionally I come across a space and if it is big enough to take a car I feel anxious. I am even unnerved but of course it won’t be long before the players return and the game commences.
I observe the drivers as I walk. They are all so desperately focussed that they hardly notice me. They are usually alone but if there are passengers they are just as centred, just as determined and desperate to find a space.
I am passing alongside a pale blue estate car. In the wintry light it is the colour of cement. The windshield and windows are tinted and I can’t see in. I feel a little uneasy about this but I can see quite clearly that there is a place just up ahead. It will be tight but I am sure that this driver, like all the others, is skilful enough. That he will be able to manoeuvre his vehicle quite easily into position. But he doesn’t.
This perplexes me. I step down from the kerb and out into the road. Standing in the middle of the parking space I look back and there are no cars coming. It isn’t too late, he can still back-up but he doesn’t.
At the crossroads he turns right toward the City Centre. I cross at the junction and I stop and I stand and I wait. I expect that here, where the road is wider and there are no cars parked on either side, that he will turn himself around and begin to make his way back. But he doesn’t and, brake lights ablaze, he carries on, albeit awkwardly, down the hill.
When I start to follow he seems to speed up. I am running now and at the end of the road he turns left, onto the ring road and he is gone, leaving me stranded, anxious, here at the edge.

 

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fiction, photography

SAVING

Chris R-0904 Image by Christine Renney

He is concerned now that he won’t finish, reach the end before he is dead or dying and too frail, that there won’t be enough space.
The newspapers are almost everywhere. He had begun in the spare bedroom, first in layers and then stacks against the wall, and working his way out into the room, first one side and then the other, leaving a gap in between.
The rest of the house had been reduced to a series of these narrow walkways, like tunnels they are narrowest in the places where he rarely needs to go.
There are no newspapers in the kitchen, nor the bathroom, not yet but of course it is just a matter of time. His bed is clear and he is still able to open the wardrobe doors. There is an armchair in the sitting room and a television on its stand pulled up much too close. He hasn’t blocked out the downstairs windows yet but they are almost impossible to reach and so the curtains remain permanently drawn back. After dark the rooms are bathed in an amber glow from the street lamps outside.

It isn’t so much the why, but the how, that concerns him. The very real possibility that his house won’t be big enough worries him constantly. The newspapers had changed over the years and they were still changing. Not just the content but also the way in which it is presented and he had wanted to save those changes and he was saving them. But twenty five years ago he wouldn’t have believed that newspapers could die, and yet they were and now he was running out of room.

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fiction, photography

THE NOISE

Chris R-0246 Image by Christine Renney

The noise coming from above has changed. I’m not sure how to describe the difference but it is louder, all the walking and talking, even the water rushing in the pipes sounds more urgent, more focused. And I don’t like it.
They arrived, an eruption of activity, and I suffered throughout the redecorating. All the hammering and the drilling and the scraping. The work is now complete and the noise is less frequent but when it comes it is in bursts, more eruptions. It seems that they are always in a hurry; forever readying for somewhere or something else.

I can hear their television but I doubt that they are sitting and watching. The music, when it comes through the ceiling, is a dense and muddy block. I suppose that in a club it would make sense but not here and, despite the volume, I can still hear them moving around but they aren’t dancing and they aren’t listening.

I have a key. My former neighbours pressed it on me, ‘in case of emergency,’ they said. I didn’t want to take it, didn’t want to be a part of anything minor or major that they might consider an emergency. ‘It’s just in case we lock ourselves out,’ she said, sensing my reluctance, ‘or if anyone needs to get in whilst we are away.’ ‘Of course,’ I had said, ‘of course I’ll take it.’
I had forgotten the key. It languishes in a drawer, alongside nuts and bolts, nails and screws, all the bits and pieces that one day might prove useful. Rummaging through, I fish it out. I hold it up to the light, reacquainting myself with it and I add it to my keychain although I am unsure why.
Having it is enough. It dangles from the ignition as I drive. Each time I unlock the door to my flat it jangles alongside the others on the chain and for a while it is enough.

I hear their door slam up on the landing. Their clatter and their chatter on the stairs and they are gone and it is quiet. But I am agitated and although they aren’t at home my anxiety doesn’t subside. When they switch the noise off it doesn’t go away and I can’t settle, not tonight.
I have the key in my hand again. I have removed it from the key-ring, separated it from the others so that I can hold it. I consider damaging it, rendering it useless, unusable but how? I could take a hammer to it I suppose, force a nail punch into the grooves or place it in a vice and squeeze until it is misshapen and won’t fit. But I don’t have a vice, I don’t even have a hammer. I could of course take the key out onto the pavement and drop it down the nearest drain or I could simply return it.

I had been required, the key had been needed. I had let someone in, a workman and there had also been a delivery. I remember two men carrying something up the stairs. A fridge freezer or a washing machine, and I watched as they struggled with it along the narrow hallway and disappeared into the kitchen.
I had waited out here on the landing, shuffling in the cold without a coat, and when the men had done what they needed to do, retrieving the key I had pulled the door to.

I haven’t been inside, I haven’t as much as stepped across the threshold but I have used this key before, I have unlocked the door before and so why shouldn’t I do so again? Who will know?
I almost slip on the veneered and shiny floor and my footsteps echo. I move slowly and try to stifle the clatter of my feet but I can’t, not up here, and of course it doesn’t matter. There isn’t any need for stealth. I am alone.
I move more quickly, now stamping and stomping loudly. I switch on the lights and, letting the flat glare, I take it in. All is uniform and strangely fresh. There is a fragrance in the air and, breathing deeply, I am reminded of an office. It is sparse – minimalist and modern, not built for comfort. It isn’t any wonder that the young couple can’t settle but they will of course move on. Perhaps together, perhaps not, but both of them will enjoy more, will have bigger and better. This is just a beginning.
I resist the urge to rifle through their belongings, to mess with the scatter cushions. And in the kitchen I sit on a high stool at the glass counter and wait.

 

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fiction, photography

HIS NEIGHBOUR

Chris R-0957 Image by Christine Renney

It struck Thomas as odd that he wasn’t repelled by his newest neighbour, who was very eccentric and extremely loud, the type of person Thomas had always gone out of his way to avoid. Strangely, he found himself drawn to the man and didn’t mind getting caught out on their communal landing or on the hard standing in front of the main entrance doors.
Thomas would happily stand alongside this man and talk, although he wasn’t required to do much of that. All he really needed to do was listen and nod along, getting the occasional word in whenever he could and often he would laugh because his neighbour was funny. Thomas had decided it wasn’t so much what the man said but how he said it. He had a gift for language, a way with words. It was as if he were reciting dialogue written by a talented playwright. And his outlook was slightly slanted and a little anarchic and Thomas enjoyed listening to him and looked forward to their encounters.

His wife had always found time for people like this man, the loners and misfits, the one who stood apart from the crowd. She had been more than polite, taking the time to talk and engage with them. Time and again, Thomas had found himself trapped alongside her, uncomfortable and mute. He had started to wonder if she wasn’t becoming a little eccentric herself and was readying to join their ranks. He realised now that he wouldn’t have minded if she had, that he would in fact have embraced it. And here he was, once again, standing with his newest neighbour, listening and laughing.

Thomas decided it was time to move this relationship, their friendship, to the next level. Half turning, and motioning toward the door to his flat he said, ‘Why don’t we go inside and I’ll get us some tea and we can make ourselves more comfortable.’
Turning again he realised that his neighbour had stopped talking and that, amazingly, he was lost for words.
‘Oh, ah,’ the neighbour spluttered, ‘that’s very kind of you but I’m far too busy. I have things I need to do.’
He was backing away and delving into his pocket for his key. Reaching his own door he looked back.
‘Thank you but no,’ he called, ‘perhaps another time.’

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