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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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.

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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.

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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.

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