fiction

Recurrence

We’re moving to Paris, we said to each other in astonishment about where we were. Only where we were was London and it was bleak and gray and confusing and I was trying to make sense of the subterranean rail system as if I’d never been anywhere before, let alone there. The map on the small screen in my hand was moving around like the carpet in the hotel lobby in Fear and Loathing. The film. I don’t remember what the carpet did in the book, because whatever it did was in my imagination and that was years ago.

Ali Smith commented on the suicides that take place each year on the north line out of King’s Cross, I recalled, aloud, as if that’d help us navigate and we maneuvered like two lost fish, our foreignness silvery and glinting amidst the hurried throngs, side by side and single file, slant formation, a desperately rhyming dance of happenstance through crowds and corridors and around corners and finally up some stairs at the top of which we emerged into noncommittal daylight and stepped our way past a woman with such judgment in her eyes she stood out from the blur and we couldn’t help but notice her glaring harshness and contempt like we were about to walk some plank and she knew it and enjoyed not telling us with her mouth, only her look.

We left her behind us like so much else but carried her look along and felt heavier for it, stepping out onto a walkway under construction or re- at the edge of a wide bridge high up some few hundred feet over a green-black river I thought shouldn’t have a name but surely did and was speckled with all manner of vessels going this way and that and lined by tall mirror and gunmetal buildings rising from its foam and filth banks. I noticed that part of our path consisted of a vehicle-sized rectangle of steel of the sort they lay awkwardly over giant potholes or trenches cut temporarily through streets for the laying of pipe or power only this had nothing beneath it but a long drop into that terrible water. We took our first halting steps with my mind full of wondering why we couldn’t simply stop, sit, and think this over… And that’s where the story begins, always.

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fiction, photography

THE LOOKALIKE

Chris R-0129 Image by Christine Renney

A man had moved into one of the ground floor flats at the far end of the cul-de-sac. He looked just like Richard Nixon and Thomas was fascinated, less by his uncanny resemblance to the disgraced former President, but the fact that the man seemed to have embraced it.
He always dressed as Nixon had; white shirt with a dark tie and with his jacket a little too tight across the shoulders. The jacket buttons seemed barely able to contain a man who somehow managed to be both coiled and slumped inside of it. Always hunched over, with his chin almost touching his chest, he appeared to have no neck.
Thomas was flummoxed as to why anyone would choose to emulate a man who historically had been so maligned, who to all intents and purposes, had failed in such a monumental and public way.
Thomas wondered if he was a professional ‘Look Alike’, although he couldn’t imagine there was much call for such a thing in 2017. But maybe over the years the man had become so locked into the part he was now unable to function as himself.

‘Have you seen the old man across the street?’ Thomas asked his wife, ‘the one who looks like Richard Nixon?’
‘Nixon?’ his wife queried. ‘What do you mean, Nixon?’
‘Richard Nixon, the American President, Watergate and that.’
‘I know who Richard Nixon is but that isn’t who he is. He’s that other guy.’
‘Who are you talking about, what guy?’
‘The other one from back when. I can’t remember his name but he had that TV show. They’re always showing old clips of him introducing Elvis or the Beatles.’
‘Ed Sullivan?’
‘Yes, him, Ed Sullivan.’
‘He isn’t Ed Sullivan, why would he want to be Ed Sullivan?’
‘Why not? Why Nixon then?’
‘Point taken but he isn’t Ed Sullivan, He’s Nixon, he has to be.’
‘Why does he have to be?’
‘I don’t know but he does!’ Thomas shouted.
‘Ok, ok. Calm down. So, if he is Nixon what would you say to him? If he really were, what would you ask him now?’
‘I don’t know,’ Thomas pondered the question, ’Nixon wanted it all so badly and he really worked at it and, after all the disappointments, he finally made it. He had what he wanted. He was exactly where he wanted to be and he screwed it up. So, I supposed I’d ask him what it was like, living with that.’
‘Wow, ok, but what if it is Sullivan? Would you ask him anything?’
Thomas laughed
‘I don’t know. Probably what was it like meeting with the Beatles and to meet Elvis.’
‘Didn’t Nixon meet Elvis and The Beatles?’
‘You’re right, he did.’
‘Wow, that’s it!’ his wife jumped up. ‘That’s how we do it.’
‘Do what?’ He stared at her, a blank expression on his face.
‘That’s how we find out.’
‘Find out what?’
‘Who he is or who he is trying to be.’
‘How?’
‘We ask him. We ask the man across the street about Elvis and The Beatles and we deduce from what he has to say, work it out from his answers, whether he’s Nixon or Ed Sullivan.’

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fiction, photography

A TRYST

Chris R-0172-4 Image by Christine Renney

He had fallen for a girl on a hoarding, a bill poster. He was living in a tiny bed-sit close to the office.
He had begun to fantasise and obsess about this alluring young woman in a cocktail dress, advertising a perfume, the name of which he wouldn’t be able to remember. The hoarding was directly opposite the window to his room. It was big and imposing and in his isolation his becoming infatuated with her was inevitable.
The advertisements were changed once a month and over the summer he had lived alongside a series of gaudy images encouraging him to eat a particular breakfast cereal, to fly with a certain airline, to think seriously about life insurance, to choose wholegrain to look after his heart.
From the instant that he noticed her, he was mesmerised. After all those bright primary colours, the block capital letters and all those crude messages that he had tried so hard to ignore, this photograph blown-up to super-size of a woman turning away from a party in order to gaze in at him was wholly captivating and he couldn’t help but reciprocate. That evening he found himself drawn time and again to the window, where he stood and gazed out at her.
At the office he wasn’t able to concentrate and the following day felt like an eternity. But when at last he was back in his room and able to look at her the hours seemed to go by in a flash. It was past midnight when he realised that he hadn’t yet prepared his evening meal; that he needed to think seriously about going to bed and getting some sleep.
When she stepped from the hoarding he was startled. It wasn’t so much that she had suddenly taken form but he was amazed by how effortlessly and gracefully she managed in her high heels to climb down the wall.
She stood on the edge of the road and straightened her dress. Watching carefully he expected her at any moment to set off in search of a nightclub but when she raised her head she looked up and directly at him. Blushing violently he stepped backward but didn’t turn or look away. Making her way toward his building she crossed the busy street. He listened as she climbed up to the window and when she appeared he held out his hand and, taking it, she stepped into the room.
He remembered that she had been holding a wineglass.
‘What did you do with your glass?’ he asked.
‘Oh’, she replied, ‘ I put it down somewhere over there I think’.
He looked across at the board at the party scene she had deserted. The remaining revellers resplendent in their finery seemed unaware that she had disappeared but the photograph was hazy and blurred and he couldn’t see the wine glass.
The young woman studied him quizzically.
‘What’s wrong?’ she asked.
‘Nothing, nothing’s wrong’.
He realised that his behaviour was unsettling her and smiling he pulled the curtains. He wasn’t embarrassed, surprisingly. After the first flush he now felt confident and entirely at ease.
‘Come here’, he said and, taking her hands, he pulled her in close and they kissed.

In the morning she was gone and at first he was stricken. There wasn’t any trace of her, no forgotten earring, not even a dirty cup. He rolled over in the bed and then he could smell her, her perfume, the perfume he supposed that she was now promoting across the street. Pleased with himself he basked in it. It had happened and he didn’t doubt that it would again.
Stretching out he decided that he was going to ring in sick, that in order to ready himself for tonight he needed to take the day off.
He slept in until late afternoon and, after reading the newspaper, he watched a little television and when at last it was time he crossed to the window. Once again he watched her step elegantly from the advertisement and climb down the wall.

Over the course of the next week he was surprised to find he wasn’t phased by her astounding good looks. He soon dispensed with any attempt at small talk and the moment she stepped through the window and into the room, taking her hand he would lead her to the bed.
Afterwards, he slept soundly and when he awoke he felt refreshed and eager to the meet the day. And then suddenly one morning he couldn’t smell her perfume. How long had it been, he wondered, how many nights, how many mornings? He tried to count; five, six, seven, eight? But no, it was nine.
He sniffed at the sheet where she had been laying, sunk his face into her pillow. He bunched up the quilt from her side, pulled it up to his nose and inhaled deeply but there was nothing.
That night he studied her and, scrutinising, he decided that she had deteriorated. It was a strange word to choose, he was aware of this, but it felt like the right one. She was fading, losing her sparkle, her shine. He hadn’t registered before that she was wearing make-up but he noticed now where it had begun to run on her face, that her arms and legs were streaked and dirty.
‘Would you like to take a shower?’ he asked.
‘No’, she looked at him, incredulous, ‘Why?’ she asked and smiled.
He decided not to push it.
‘It doesn’t matter’, he said. ‘But do you mind if we just sleep tonight? I’m really very tired and I don’t know but I think I might be coming down with something. I hope you don’t mind’.
‘It’s okay’, she said and sounded genuinely concerned. ‘Of course I don’t mind’.

As she groped and grappled her way from the board, he wondered how many more times she would be able to manage it, how many more times he would have to watch her as she clambered and scrambled down the bricks. He expected her at any moment to slip but somehow she made it. At the bottom she stood with her back toward him. Her dress was torn and coming undone at the seams and her legs were spotted with what, from where he stood, looked like dried blood.
She turned and he stepped backward and remembered that he had done this before on the first night and he hoped desperately that this would be the last. He was, in fact, convinced that it would be but he had decided what he was going to do and he wasn’t about to back down, now now.
She started across the street and, lunging forward, he closed the window and pulled the curtains. He sat on the sofa and waited for what seemed like an age and when, at last, she began to tap on the glass he switched on the television and turning the volume high asked himself ‘how long?’. He was surprised to hear his voice, to find that he was talking aloud.
‘How much longer’, he mused, ‘will I have to put up with this?’

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art, fiction

Snip-Snip

Getting a haircut in a foreign country is like going to the dentist anywhere in the world; it sucks. Yet, I’d live in a dentist’s office before resorting to a man-bun, so I do what I have to do. I can tell that they can tell I am American before I open my mouth.

“Wash?”

I nod. They lead me over to the sinks. They place a large black plastic robe around me and sit me down. As always, there is no position that is pleasant for my neck and my head is so far back that I can’t comfortably breathe. They wash it twice, three times.

I sit in front of the mirror, wet. I sigh.

“Style?” The woman asks. Embarrassed, as always, I find the screen shot on my phone of some much better looking man with much better hair than me and show it to her. She looks at it, then to my hair, then back. She frowns.

“Your hair, not like this.”

I shrug, taking my phone back. “Something like this then,” I tell her. She starts cutting, I close my eyes. Then, the worst part of a haircut arrives; talk.

“Where are you from?” she asks.

I open my eyes.

“America,” I say to her reflection.

She makes a face. “Why do you come to Russia?”

I try to blow off a piece of hair that’s fallen on my lip. It’s wet.

“I like it here,” I tell her.

She makes another face. I close my eyes, again. Only a moment.

“My friend go to America before. She went and came home with girlfriend.”

I wait for more, it comes.

“It is so strange, people in America do this a lot?”

“Do what?”

“Girls making girlfriends.”

I can’t nod so I tell her, “yes, it is quite common.”

She makes a disapproving tsk. “She had a boyfriend when she left Russia, but came back with a girlfriend. She wants to marry her.”

“Yeah,” I say, instead of saying something. She continues snipping around my ears, obviously deep in thought.

“Can she do that?”

“Yeah.”

“America is strange.”

I shrug. “It’s not that unusual there. Depending on where you are from,” I say, then close my eyes.

“Do you have a Russian girlfriend?”

“Mhm.”

“Will you take her back to America?” she asks, moving around to my other side.

“We will probably visit someday. But maybe I shouldn’t, she might come back with a girlfriend,” I smirk.

The hairdresser is silent. She keeps snipping with a concerned face.

“No,” she decides, “that would not be good.”

It seems to be the last of her ideas on the matter. I sigh and close my eyes, finally.

I suffer the rest of my haircut in peace.

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fiction, photography

SHELTER

Chris R-0257-2 Image by Christine Renney

I step beneath the bridge and begin to slow down and, at around the mid-way point, I grind to a halt. I look up at the roof and suddenly I have shelter. The wall to my left is covered with layers of graffiti and I cross and lean against it.
I can hear the traffic thundering along the carriageway above. It is almost constant up there but, concentrating, I can hear the little gaps, the spaces in between each vehicle.
Down here the cars and the trucks are far less frequent. The pauses are varied and unpredictable and much more difficult to fill. Fumbling I remove my tie and, crouching down, hold it with both hands. I remember reading somewhere how, in Romania under Ceausescu, cars with odd numbers on their registration plates were only allowed on the roads on ‘odd number’ days. I realise that I have forgotten today’s date and I don’t know if this is an odd number day.
I can’t read the plates on the vehicles flashing past me so fast. Anyhow it would be a pointless exercise. I am not in Romania and even if I were, Ceausescu’s reign of terror ended long ago.
I let the tie slip from my hands and stare down at it coiled between my muddy shoes.

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art, fiction

The Festering Wound of Tacky

Driving from the grand canyon into Vegas feels as I’d imagine a flea feels hopping from one side of a warzone to another.

We drive in at night. A sea of lights, a fire that refuses to die–or even flicker.

“Holy shit,” I say.

“Holy shit,” my brother agrees.

Our mother is in the back. “It’s the tackiest place on earth,” she tells us.

We get closer, a giant pink lighted sign advertises collision insurance. “Tacky, tack, tacky,” my mother says, in awe.

“It’s like the birth place of tacky,” I admire, as we head straight for a beam of light shooting into the sky.

My brother, trying desperately to concentrate on the road, can’t help but add, “the festering wound of tacky.”

We laugh, agreeing that ‘festering wound of tacky’ is the greatest height our joke will attain. “Where are we staying, again?” I ask.

“The giant glass pyramid,” our mother says.

My brother and I frown. “The what?”

“The giant glass pyramid.”

“Right.”

I don’t know exactly what we expected, but it turns out to be exactly that; a giant glass pyramid.

“Why?” I ask, staring up at the top where the beam of light is shooting into the sky.

My brother shrugs. “I think Las Vegas is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question.”

“And what’s that?”

“Why not?”

We make for the long entry-way into the pyramid.

“You realize if I were an alien, I would think this was the capitol of Earth.”

My brother nods. “Maybe this place was made by aliens and that is the capitol of Earth according to the rest of the universe.”

I can’t help but feel like that makes more sense than any other explanation I can come up with. So, I agree. Inside is motion–pure motion. People move, lights move, the air moves. It is 2 a.m. We carry our bags through a crowd of open containers, lit cigarettes, and bachelorettes. Our mother calls it “The Floor.”

It is endless, yet, it ends. The elevator goes up at a slant. A woman in a sequined blue dress stumbles into an elderly Hispanic woman holding a sleeping child.

“This is some wonky shit,” the sequined woman blurts out.

“I wonder what’s going on at the bottom of the Grand Canyon right now,” I whisper to my brother.

He looks around and shrugs, “probably the same.”

We laugh. Neither the elderly Hispanic woman or sequined dame seem terribly impressed.

 

**For more of our art and stories check us out at Flash 365

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Go Cowboys

Knock knock…

“Hi.”
“Hi”
“What did he say when you came home?”
“Go Cowboys…you left a mark”
“Is it big?”
“No.”
“Did he notice?”
“No.”
“Did she–”
“She called five times in the middle of the night.”
“Oh.”
“Why did we?”
“I don’t know.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“I know”
“I have to go.”
“Why?”
“I have to. I said I was getting coffee.”
“Okay…”
“Bye.”
“Bye.”

 

 
Knock knock…

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