fiction

Seasons’ Spell 4

Part 4 of 4, the end. Reminds me: “The temptation towards resolution, towards wrapping up the package, seems to me a terrible trap. Why not be more honest with the moment? The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning” (Sam Shephard). Another beginning, a new beginning, or the same beginning, like part 1. Then part 2 and part 3.


He has written a note and left it on the table. The window, now closed and locked, is doing its time-weary best to stand against a wind that creeps disregardfully through the cracks and gaps and spaces, frosting the eight frames’ edges and inadvertently softening the view of a bitter, fuliginous gray sky hanging over leafless brown-black branches, if anyone were there to see.

The oxalis is long-dead but its empty pot remains on the sill, pointless and inert. The curtains have been removed, the tablecloth is gone, and the chairs are tucked in, left behind as if to commemorate shared comforts, and also loss. The photograph is gone but a faint rectangle of long-shaded paint remains on the wall in its place, and the only sounds in the house are the occasional wintry creak and groan of tired timber and the wind’s solemn, discordant breaths. The note sits on bare maple nicked and scratched.

I love the you I’m sure you’ve become even though I’m not there to know and see, he wrote.

*

And spring returns, and the house remains. The trees, the hills, the sky, the night, the day—they all remain with time, ever changing, ever the same.

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art, fiction

00:45 – 00:54 Mokhovaya Ulitsa St. Petersburg, Russia

Outside my Window: 00:45 – 00:54 Mokhovaya Ulitsa St. Petersburg, Russia

it is dark. A man in a gray suit stands in the door of the bistro. He is talking to a girl in a black leather jacket. It must be cold outside. It certainly looks wet

a man walks by on his phone. He is wearing a suit coat. White shirt underneath, loose collar no tie. come to think of it, yes, the guy in the bistro. He has the same shirt. The collar is a bit wider.

The man in the black suit coat has stopped, texting. He turns around and walks back, into the bistro, past the man with the matching shirt. All this, as a couple, both wearing gray, walk by.

The man in the gray jacket, white shirt. He comes out. He has a guitar on his back, I think. It is in a gray case.

Two older men walk by. I think. One of them may be a woman. His pants are tight. He is wearing flip flops. But that tells you very little these days. He has a puffy black jacket (it must be cold) and I can’t see his face. It could be a woman. But his hair is short. But that tells you very little these days.

It is quiet.

It is empty.

A car. Gray. Not speeding.

A man walks out of the mart. Younger. Tan. Tanned by ancestry, not the sun. It looks like he bought a drink. Non-alcoholic, maybe. He texts between a white and gray car. He gets in the gray car. Drives off. It must not have been alcoholic, surely.

Two men and a woman walk by. Man, they are moving. Not running, moving. They, too, are all wearing gray, odd. They pass a man with an unlit cigarette in his mouth. He is wearing black.

Two men and a woman again. Different ones this time. Both men wear black hoodies, up. Maybe it is raining. They aren’t moving so fast.

A man walks, stops, paces. Smoking. Between the mart and bistro. He has glasses. He is not wearing gray. Oh, shit, wait. He turns. Down the front of his jacket. A fat gray stripe. It is an ugly jacket. He is an ugly man. Maybe, it is dark. He is wearing glasses. A woman passes by him in a long black coat. She looks to be floating, not aiming anywhere. He watches her approach. As she passes, he looks away briefly only to return, smirking, watching her backside as she makes her way further down the street, out of sight. A car drives by, lights on.

It turns out he is an ugly man after all.

 

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fiction

Seasons’ Spell 3

Part 3 of 4. Read part 1 and part 2. Or don’t, it’s up to you.


She sits at the small square table by the half-open window, now in his chair, trying to feel his angle, again wearing the white sun dress but now with gray wool leggings below and a crimson cardigan unbuttoned above. Her hair is down and a single silver strand glints in the gradually approaching dusk. The sky beyond the window is sharp and cloudless, and the fading embers of day are being pushed down over the edge of an uneven horizon of autumn treetops now turned red, orange, yellow, brown, pushed down by the ever-deepening purplishness of evening’s onset. The sweet, pungent aroma of decline is carried into the room by cool air like an offering of resting peace.

She has before her a torn-open envelope which moments ago contained the letter which is now on the floor beside the chair, her left arm hanging at her side above it, hand limp and useless. Her right hand is in her lap and her heart beats slowly, as if out of pure, ignorant reflex, knowing nothing else but beating, and she’s looking, staring out the window to her right, crumpled. The oxalis is wilting and the corners of the tablecloth are as still as painted life.

The house, too, is still and silent, as if it holds the breath that has just been removed from her lungs. There is only the autumnal near-nervous whisper and swish outside, its indifference providing some cover for the dull, pointless beats of her heart. At least it’s not winter yet, she thinks, breaking free from her trance, at least these beats don’t sound like a hammer on cold steel. Because they will, the longer I stay, they will. And in that thought she realizes she does not feel lonely, she feels alone.

It’s the sound. The quiet is different when you’re alone, she thinks—you can hear it like a living, breathing, watching, thinking thing, a bigger thing than you by far, teeth and claws and eyes and all, virulent and terrible. Deafening, near-deathly—the quiet of aloneness, not lonesome presence, only absences drowning out all else, keeping you disclosed and defenseless because it knows no one is coming, knows it has you all to itself, knows how piddling and afraid. How does it know these things, how does it get through like this, she implores, at the edges of frantic, heartbeats hastening, feeling cornered and muted by the vacuity around her. Everything is so loud when there’s nothing in it.

The menacing quiet begins to recede, its work seemingly complete, giving way now to Silence, a silence which she is certain radiates from inside her, pure and terrifying. The wonderland has closed in, closed off, worn thin, turned colors real and sorrowful, but almost apologetic in a last gasping, pleading breath of beauty, a tease of remembrance and a hint of hope for yet another chapter, another turn, at least another page, just one more page, and for a moment she begins to dare to believe that that page has already been composed and lays helplessly, cruelly on the floor beside her, written for her rather than by. She steadies herself, steadies her heart, and closes her eyes and turns inward to face the Silence, seeking its source, much as she had once turned outward to him, opening, she had thought, to the source of Love like an alchemist to her prima materia.

It pains her now, all of it, everything around and within—the crispness and the clarity, indescribably profound in its extraordinary this-ness, teeming with absolutes, the colors, the smells, the turn, the radiating silence, the tease and the hint, the faded coffee stains on the tablecloth, the chipping, peeling paint on the sill, the sight of her own empty chair, as if it is she who has departed, now haunting her own home. What does it mean now to be here, to be where they once were and were They, she wonders, but she cannot make herself move. He has taken the life with him, she thinks, feels, knows, all the life, so she just sits, one hand hanging and the other dead in her lap, dark eyes seeing straight through to nothing, astonished it has come to this. I did everything for you and you just took it, took it.

She brings her right hand to the table and traces her index finger along a familiar groove felt beneath the tablecloth, halts, lays her palm flat on the envelope, and reaches without looking for the letter on the floor with her left. Once retrieved, she summons her right hand to help fold the letter back up and return it to the torn envelope as if retracing her steps, maybe even rewinding time, then places the mended missive on the table before her and smooths it flat. Winter is in the air, she thinks, inevitable and portending, but the details have yet to be written.

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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

Seasons’ Spell 2

Part 2 of 4. Read part 1 here.


She sits in her chair at the same small square table by the same open window, a sultry, hazy sky beyond, air like bath water in both hue and temperature and stillness, air soaked up by the same hills and trees, same curtains, same oxalis, same tablecloth, now still and languid, though, same newspaper, but now laid flat, flat and folded on his side of the table. It’s how she feels too, she thinks, folded and flat, as she looks around the room with an almost purely peripheral gaze, almost at the paper, almost at his empty chair across from her, pushed in, then completely out the window, staring without seeing into the spaces around her.

There and with those thoughts she sits in her white cotton sun dress, a favorite of his, her thin arms crossed, long black hair held loosely up over her slender neck and lithe but sturdy shoulders. The day is waking hot and thick, soon to swelter. The heat’s ubiquity acts as a level, she imagines, aligning her with and to all the rest, and she feels ok enough, sort of, tells herself, for the moment, perhaps, looking up at the photograph on the wall above his chair, the small, dark-framed black-and-white photograph of a sidewalk along a foggy Paris avenue from the Past. It has been hung high at standing eye level so he, tall as he is, can give it a for-granted glance or even stop and peer in for a moment when he comes to sit or stands to leave. Sometimes he will gaze at the photo, lingering, caught, she often mused, by the cimmerian figure of a girl and her little white dog about halfway to the image’s vanishing point, standing and looking back at the viewer between a row of bare trees to the right and a corresponding line of store- and housefronts to the left, together forming a corridor of sight with the sidewalk as its floor, leading straight to the girl. Its origin unknown, he has carried this photo with him for years, and where he hangs it is home, marked.

It must’ve been winter there, she fancies each time she looks, or late autumn, perhaps. The trees are bare and a cold-seeming mist hangs, obfuscous, and a presence of something about three paces short of sinister seems to lurk, just a sense of what if, what if the frozen moment were allowed to play. What would we see? He never talks about the photo, never describes it, never says anything more than that it’s “one of his favorites,” keeping the rest, whatever it is, to himself in his customary self-keeping way. He has never been to Paris, she knows that much. It’s something from inside him, she thinks from time to time, and then placed on the outside, hung on the wall, open to view and most likely best left untrammeled by common language.

It is summer Now, though, no matter what it was in Paris or inside him Then, and her gaze drifts to the window and out to the sky, still thinking of the photograph, losing herself in the vapid, smoky blue marked with incidental clouds, some whisping, some cottoned, all hanging above inert treetops and a thought occurs as a crow swoops through the frame. Chekhov and necessity. “If a pistol appears in a story, eventually it’s got to be fired,” he said, she recalled, and it stuck with her the way her arm feels stuck to the table in the heat, the way she feels stuck now, though she knows implicitly that the stickiness has no meaning beyond itself, and is glad for Chekhov, glad someone has thought thoughts before, glad for thoughts of function and relationality, for necessity, for something more concrete than morals or principle. She sits, ruminative, and time hangs, floats, drifts, slow and quiescent, detached from space.

The dog barks outside—three times, two, then one—and she rises from her seat, draws the curtains, and slips on her shoes.

*

Afternoon now, late, but still not dark, and she sits on the sill in her white cotton sun dress, feet bare and dirty and knees tucked up to her chin, looking, just looking, and hearing without listening to the low, unpunctuated hum of the World. Her gaze drifts down from the clouds—fewer now, and their sky deeper and bluer and yellowing with early sunset—and settles absently on the hills and treetops extending as far as Forever and she wonders where he could be. Wonders, imagines, begins to fantasize that he’s lost in the great wild wonderland on some great wild wonder-adventure, even worries a little, for comfort’s sake, oh familiar and trusty concern, hoping he’s safe and well-fed and thinking of her, longing for her, hoping against a deep gnawing knowing that it’s just foolishness, but a sustaining foolishness nonetheless, she tells herself, her thoughts becoming as boundless as the emptiness she’s beginning to sense within and without. He should’ve been back by now, should’ve been back, this is not like him. But something more than nothing tells her he’s not coming, not all of him anyway, and in her mind their wonderland begins turning to mere land, coarse, tangled, verdant, and overgrown, as if a switch has been flipped in a dimly-lit room and the thin gauze of their swoon-myth evaporated.

No, no, breathe, she tells herself, breathe, remembering she needs a reminder, something essential and constitutive, a mantra against the nothing around and rising dismay within. She inhales and hears it fill her, thinks about the air in her lungs, how it’s hers and she’s captured it, how it gives her shape and for a few seconds she’s an origami swan floating there in the viscid air, then it’s expelled and she’s folded and flat again, like the newspaper still on the table, still untouched. She swings her feet to the floor and leaves the window behind, padding off to busy herself, must stay busy, make sound, motion, life, something against this slow summer crawl of time, this boundlessness. He’ll be back and it’ll be ok, like Before, air in and out, remember.

In the evening he returns, just past dusk, and a pale midsummer moon sits low in a star-flecked sky of majestic blue-black through the window. He is troubled, solemn, and distant, not himself, not at all. She is in her chair again; he does not sit, leaning on the doorframe instead. A few small words are exchanged, a few small glances, then he goes off to bed. She remains at the table, feeling smaller than small and still breathing small breaths, and the world Out There comes In Here and suddenly it seems that there are strange trees growing right up from a grass-covered floor, ivy snaking up the walls, and dark bushes in the corners with little eyes glinting from within, the room’s lamplight hushed and outshined by the night sky ceiling. There is a long howl somewhere off in the distance and a slow-stammered hoo-HOO-hoo-hoo in the branches and she feels the crickets in her bones. Afraid to move, almost afraid to breathe, it is all finally too much for her, and then she goes too, to join him, small steps with small, bare feet, almost silent, hoping the truth won’t hear her and follow and she can at least have the night.

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Seasons’ Spell 1

This is the first of a four-part storyish kind of thing. Trying something a little new here—well, the story’s old, or the idea for it anyway, but I’m sharing it anew.


It is morning, spring, and he sits by the open window at the small, square table covered in a light linen tablecloth with trim of crocheted lace. The window is hung with aphotic green curtains, almost black, like the undersides of the trees at the forest’s edge a stone’s throw or so beyond, pulled back and fastened with cream tassel to taupe walls. A white-flowered oxalis in a rust red pot is perched on the broad, thick-painted sill, its jittery leaves fluttering each time a gust of forenoon breeze picks up and joins them, and he thinks nothing of it, next to nothing of any of it, nearly nothing at all, just goes on reading his newspaper, absorbing words because they’re there. His long, grey wool-trousered legs are casually crossed, angled from the table so his back is partly to the window, mostly to the wall, the sleeves of his white cotton shirt are rolled to the elbows, top three buttons unbuttoned, and his high-arched feet are bare, the left one firm and assured on the worn wood floor.

From time to time the breeze agitates the corners of the newspaper and teasingly threatens to tousle his curly brown hair, hanging mid-length and in need of pruning. But he does not care—he rather likes it this way, letting it be, all as it may. The tablecloth dances lightly, softly with the breeze too, softer than the newspaper and lighter than the oxalis and things make sense.

The tablecloth is one of the First Things they—he and she—got for the house, this small hundred-something-year-old two-storey of timber and stone masonry set back against the rolling foothills by Settlers from Who Knows When, out and away in their very own wonderland, or so they liked to romance, wild and full, surrounded by enchanted things for young-hearted dreamers, nestled and deep-rooted in a bucolic vastness that they’d imagine like starry-eyed children was—is—the center of a great, wide, mysterious galaxy comprised of two fundamental elements: In Here and Out There, with their two souls warm and singularly glowing together like a sun.

That was both Yesterday and Now, and today there is a chair across from him, on the other side of the small, square table. It matches the one in which he now sits—hand-finished oak, finished by her hand—but is empty and pulled out from the table as if its sitter has just absented. The day is still waking outside, still unformed and possible and he breathes it in deeply, listening only to the vernal ensemble of sun and clouds and sky and air and wilderness and dream and memory playing something soft and discordant, a slowly coalescing prelude to the day’s coming harmonics, rising as easily as the steam which gently ascends from black coffee in a white mug near his right elbow and is occasionally stirred and dissipated by the window breaths.

He can hear her in the next room, then in the kitchen, then back again, rustling and bustling and shuffling briskly about, light and nimble and with purpose, easily deliberate, and it makes him feel good, thoughtlessly good, the best good, busy as she is with morning, as he is with it too. All is warm and warming, and they’re serene in their uncertainties.

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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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