fiction, photography

THE EMPTY STATION

Chris R-1-78 Image by Christine Renney

The reception area is so vast that it easily engulfs all of those waiting. Each has found a space for themselves, somewhere to sit, to stand or to lean, even to pace, unhindered. Only he is unencumbered – he hasn’t a briefcase, no portfolio, no evidence of his brilliance. He has nothing to declare.
He watches the girl behind the desk and awaits his chance, the opportune moment to approach. Unlike the others, he hasn’t an appointment but instead a little insider info and a name and his plan is simply to wing it.
He isn’t sure if he is ready for what might be possible here and, standing in front of her, is suddenly aware of his ambivalence and casually he begins to improvise.
‘I don’t have an appointment.’
‘Oh,’ she looks up at him.
‘I know this is a little unorthodox but about eighteen months ago I worked with one of the employees here, freelance of course. He said that I should keep in touch, that I could contact him at any time. Well, I’ve been trying to reach him for days now, on the number I have for him, but keep hitting a wall and so I decided to come down here myself.’
This little speech rings in his ears, echoes in his head and sounds like utter bollocks. Even if it were true it couldn’t possible convince, could it? Surely not. But, yes, she asks it, the loaded question.
‘If you let me have your name,’ she says, ‘and the name of the employee I’ll see what I can do.’
And so he tells her and watches as she scrolls down the screen of her computer, searching for the name and number, for someone to call. He doesn’t bother to act incredulous, doesn’t pretend to be surprised when she tells him his colleague is no longer there. But although he isn’t really listening to the answers he already knows, when she asks him to go sit and wait he obeys.

It has all gone swimmingly and now that he is safely parked in lay-by a mile or so from there, he can give it some thought. It had worked like a charm; the name and his supposed association with a long since departed maverick. But his complacency had played its part, he had been impressive. They had repackaged their offer again and again. Coaxed him with the finer detail and all he had done was act aloof, as if he was about to get up and go.
Yes, without a doubt it had been the most auspicious of beginnings and eager to talk with his wife he reaches for his phone in the glove box, waiting impatiently for her reply.
‘It worked like a charm.’ It feels good saying it out loud but he now almost incoherent and the complete antithesis of his earlier self. Excitedly he blathers on, trying to tell it all at once, just what it will mean for them. A regular salary and the proposed bonus scheme, the health cover, the pension plan and the projected trajectory of promotion after promotion.
‘Are you sure about this?’ his wife sounds doubtful.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean are you absolutely sure about this?’
‘But we discussed this already, we decided together.’
‘Yes, I know, but aren’t you doing okay on your own? We’re all right aren’t we?’
‘Is it the deception? Because I lied?’
‘No, it isn’t that, well, yes maybe. I don’t know, I’m not sure. I know that you’re good at what you do and of course you will be good at it there and I know that it doesn’t matter, that we’ll forget but, I’m sorry, can we talk about it when you get home?’
‘Isn’t it a little late for that now?’
At her end she presses the red button and for a moment or so he sits with the phone clamped tightly against his ear to listen to the silence, to the highly charged static.

He is being led to his work station, not by one of the guys who last week conducted the impromptu interview. No, this is a fresh face, although following behind he hasn’t seen much of it.
The office is scarily large and he is reminded of a news room in one of those old black and white films, the chaos and the clamour. But he is mistaken, overwhelmed by the sheer scale and number of employees, all of whom are quietly engrossed at their screens. No, there is no chaos, no clamour here.
Up ahead, his guide is talking but he has fallen back and can’t hear. He can see the windows at the far end and hopes his desk will be in that area. At least then he will be able to look out.
And there it is at last – the empty station, his allotted space. He doesn’t stop but instead, forging forward, he pushes through the fire exit and wonders if it is alarmed.

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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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