fiction, photography

THE CLAW

Chris R-1110182 Image by Christine Renney

I have become so adept at it, the getting close and yet maintaining a space, a divide. It is flat here, a desperate patch without a roof and no walls. Apart from the one I have built and that is sturdy enough and tall. But there is the slightest of cracks and I can see through and if I press my ear against it and concentrate I can hear.
They tend to the old woman, bringing her food but mostly drink. Cans of “Super Strength” lager. One of them opens a can and places it in her hand. If she would allow it, he would help her to drink from it, steadying and guiding her head, in order to limit the spillage. But she won’t be helped and motions for him to back away, which he now does and, at a safe distance, he sits and watches her. He watches the can. She is gripping it but her hold is weak and it is cold and the can is slick.
Bundled in her dirty woollens and, unsupported on the hard ground, her movements are jerky. The can slips between her fingers and the lager, sloshing, froths at the rim. But somehow, tilting and tipping, she manages to hold on.
I think about those old arcade games, the ones with the claw attached to a tiny winch and I remember standing and staring through the glass, frantically turning the little wheel and trying desperately to grab one of the fluffy toys.

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fiction, photography

CHEAP HOTEL

Chris R-0067 Image by Christine Renney

I lay back on the unmade bed and stare up at the ceiling. I trace patterns in the damp, find faces in the decay. Alien and immobile they stare back.
I have lost track of time and am unsure how long I have been here in this room. How many days have I managed to lose, writhing on the thin white sheet, trying and failing to grip the mattress beneath.
My mind is a cavernous blur and in my listlessness I have left no markers. I haven’t been reading and can’t add up the pages or count the stories.
I realise I am hungry, painfully so. I push myself up and, twisting around, I sit on the edge of the bed. I place my feet on the ground and clutching my stomach I gaze down at the carpet. But it is a good thing – this wanting, a need for something other than alcohol. But have I been here too long, for longer than I can afford?
And what will I do if and when my credit card fails.

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fiction

PALE IMITATIONS

Chris R--7 Illustration by Christine Renney

‘Did you ever notice the cartoons in those old American TV Shows?’ he asks.
‘Which shows?’ she glances up, a little perplexed.
‘I don’t know which ones, it doesn’t matter, but there is always a scene where the kids are watching cartoons. Sometimes, actually no, most of the time it’s just one little kid, boy or girl, sitting on the floor right up close to the screen whilst the real action is happening elsewhere. The parents are arguing in the background or quietly making plans in the kitchen. Those cartoons – did you ever notice them?’
‘Not really. Why?’
‘Because they are bad. I mean really depressingly bad. The colours have faded and the action and animation are so stilted, even the music is uninspiring.’
He stutters to a halt.
‘And your point is?’
‘I don’t know what my point is but why aren’t these kids ever watching Scooby Doo or Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry or Roadrunner or any of those great cartoons we watched when we were growing up? Deputy Dawg or Wacky Races? Top Cat?’ flailing his arms he motions toward the television sat in the corner.
‘Hell, if you switched on the TV now and Bugs Bunny was playing I’d sit down and watch it.’
‘Yeah, so would I.’
‘Of course you would, who wouldn’t? But those kids aren’t watching Bugs Bunny. Why is that?’
‘I don’t know,’ she ponders, ‘maybe it’s because of copyright. Perhaps those old shows weren’t able to show the great stuff, the classics and they hadn’t any choice other than to drag out the bad cartoons, the poor and pale imitations.’
‘Yeah, possibly or were those cartoons made especially for those shows? Put together quickly, cheaply, because they didn’t think anyone would notice them anyway?’
‘Maybe.’ she pauses, thinking. ‘But no, I don’t think so. There are already enough bad cartoons out there but nobody wants them or cares that they are bad. They are the cartoons that should have been forgotten.’

 

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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, prosetry

Teeth

She looks down and sees her bottom jaw resting on the ground by her feet. Carefully, she picks it up to assess the extent of the ruin but it is clear: her mandible has entirely detached itself from her head and now sits quietly in the palms of her shaking hands. It half-smiles at her, just as it had done so many times before at handsome strangers and bad jokes.

As if newly erupted from the grip of the ivory bone, her teeth form a sparkling semicircular row. She studies the teeth, noticing that where they are not laced with blood and saliva they are obscenely white, almost iridescent, like menstruating pearls. They look delicate and indestructible.

She begins to run and so does the blood: it trickles through the gaps in her fingers, collecting in the crease of her elbow before dripping on the pavement, leaving a trail behind her. The blood is gooey and viscous, and though it looks too dark to be fresh it keeps on flowing. A mess of bloody saliva pours from her jawless mouth, down her neck and settles in a sticky pool on her chest. When she tries to spit out the taste of rusty nails and panic, she discovers that she has no tongue.

The unfamiliar residential street is surprisingly busy for 3 a.m and she knows a lot of the people that she passes. She stops to ask everyone she sees to help her put her jaw back in place. She is met with bemused faces. She screams and shouts and begs but no sound emerges from her, just the occasional crimson gurgle. She looks pleadingly at the passersby then looks down at the jaw in her hands, motions fitting the jaw back to her head and then looks back at her potential saviour, praying they’ll understand. They look at her with pity and faux-guilt, apologise and say things like, “Sorry, dear, I’m in a rush,” “I’m not a dentist, unfortunately,” and “Oh, I don’t really want to get involved.” The fact that she can’t properly communicate to ask for help, or even find out what has happened to her, frightens her and causes her far more distress than the fact that her jaw has fallen off. She tries to communicate using her eyes; she is certain that her eyes must surely convey the horror, confusion and desperate need to be helped that she cannot speak aloud. But no: she is ignored and unsaved. Tears tumble down her cheeks, over her top lip and straight down to her chest to mingle with the rest of the mess of fluid. She tries to spit again but grows frustrated upon remembering that she can’t. She runs out of tears and sits under the glow of a street lamp, with her bloody, perfect jaw beside her, and hopes for somebody to throw her a tissue at least.

Sometimes she wanders about the strange town for hours, begging for help through her eyes, frenzied, covered in blood and clutching her jaw in her hands, rocking it slightly as if it were an injured bird. Sometimes she gives up after a few minutes and resigns herself to living a life of silence, with only her bottom jaw for company. Sometimes she smashes her jaw against an orange brick wall, sometimes repeatedly, hundreds of times, but it always stays whole. Nobody ever helps. She no longer truly believes that someone will eventually come along and fix her because nobody ever has before and she knows that if she expects nothing, she will never be disappointed, only ever pleasantly surprised. She remains mute and hungry and ugly and cries and cries and cries, but she never dies. She is, after all, built of the same matter as her jaw: she is delicate and indestructible.

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