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
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
fiction

PARASITE

Chris R-0651-2 Image by Christine Renney

The man pulls his house along with him, wherever he goes. It is cumbersome and unwieldy but he is young and strong and full of vigour. He has attached ropes to all four corners and whenever he needs is able to turn the house around. But he is thankful to be in a country that is big and flat. The landscape can be desolate and harsh but it doesn’t matter because the man can always take shelter in the house.
The distance between places is vast and he is often on the road for weeks, even months, before reaching a settlement. But again, it doesn’t matter because the man hasn’t any intention of stopping, of staying put. In fact, it is when he is forced to pass through the populated areas, the townships and such, that he is at his most anxious. It is then that he wishes the house were smaller and not so heavy, that pulling it along wasn’t such a slow and gruelling task.

The people watch him from inside their own houses, staring through the windows, scrutinising his progress or they stand out on the pavements, huddled in small groups, talking quietly and conspiratorially.
They call him a freak and a parasite and it is the latter which baffles and troubles him the most. He doesn’t feel that he is a parasite, but quite the opposite in fact, whatever that might be.

Out on the road he is constantly tempted to turn the house and himself around. But he suspects that, if he did, eventually he would grind to a halt. Also he needs to buy supplies from time to time. He has considered setting the house down outside of a settlement and walking in with his rucksack. No-one other than himself would be any the wiser. But travelling through the villages and the towns is unavoidable and he can’t help feeling that if he were to do this it would be the beginning of something else.

When he traverses the populated areas the man tries to keep calm and stay focused. He tugs a bit harder and toils for longer. Dragging a house along a road is a noisy operation. Out on the open road he stops hearing, becomes immune to it. But amidst the people and their houses his every movement is blaringly amplified. He watches the bystanders as he works, and studies their faces. He is alert to each flinch and every grimace registers as he ever so, ever so, slowly makes his way. If he could he would continue throughout the night but of course he can’t. And when at last he takes to his bed, although bone tired, he is unable to sleep. He can still hear them, the towns’ people or the villagers, shuffling around his house, ever vigilant, ever observing.

On the road the drivers are much more vocal. They don’t whisper and shuffle. The man and his house are an obstruction and he is often the cause of lengthy traffic jams. When the lorries are able at last to manoeuvre around him, the drivers are angry and sound their horns loudly. They lean red-faced from their cabs, gesticulating wildly.
Almost oblivious and head down amidst the dust he can’t really hear what the drivers are shouting. They are yelling names at him but he is pretty sure they aren’t calling him a parasite.
When he is able the man pulls his house off to the side of the road. He waits for the lorries to pass, until the road is clear, and he is able to gaze out across the landscape.

Standard

Chris R--20

comics

THE FISH

Image
fiction

VENDING

Chris R-2-30 Image by Christine Renney

Out of work for almost a year Patrick finally found a job at the local supermarket. He was a shelf-stacker and so, one at a time, he placed a particular item in its correct place. All the cans and cartons, the boxes and bottles.
Patrick found the work invigorating and that it was enough. After being idle for so long, after compiling so much, so many thoughts, he needed this and it felt like a break, like a good clean snap.
He threw himself into the job, arriving early, and was always the last to leave. Patrick wasn’t out to prove anything, certainly not to himself and so why was he so concerned about what others might think and worried about what they might say behind his back.
The work was tiring and Patrick wanted to be tired, to be numb. He had gotten soft from sitting at a desk in an office. His body ached, his legs and his back were stiff and after a shift his arms felt longer than they should. But this weariness helped and Patrick felt as if he were a computer with a hard drive and could wipe himself clean. Through repetition and graft he could forget his failures and his loneliness and yes, for now, it was enough.

As often as was possible, Patrick worked the early shift. Increasingly he was becoming more and more anxious about working when the store was open. He dreaded running into someone he knew and in this small town, where he had lived for all his life, this was inevitable.
He was becoming accustomed to the work, to the bending and the lifting, and didn’t tire so easily. He tried to work harder and needed to work for longer and as the weeks progressed he was forced to enter the busy store more and more often. Keeping his head down he avoided interaction and contact with the townsfolk.
Scanning the aisles, whenever he noticed someone he knew, from school or a colleague from his old office, reeling around with their trolleys, he would scurry off in the opposite direction. Patrick was convinced that they were laughing at him behind his back and as he scuttled away he was ashamed of himself for not turning around to see if it was in fact true. And if they really were smirking and pointing at him then of course he should confront them, and if not then why couldn’t he simply say hello and pass the time of day.

Despite his erratic behaviour Patrick was left to his own devices and somehow he managed to get the products and the produce onto the shelves. He was able to tire himself, enough that he could sleep but he wasn’t able to achieve that former weariness and he couldn’t forget.
He was losing something. It hadn’t ever been more than an idea of who he was. And as he attempted to burrow unseen through the bright and busy store, Patrick was deeply and profoundly disappointed in himself.

Standard