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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fiction

A Carapace for this Irredeemably Querulous Nature

I step out of the office and into the hall for an hors d’oeurve taste of corridor’d freedom, industrial-carpeted and fluorescent, tans and grays and whitishes with a texture at once abrasive and numbing, unsatisfying like a tease of a snack on a toothpick that’s been sitting out too long but is better than no food a’tall, and head to the men’s room.

He’s in there again, turning from a urinal and zipping up, and my heart does that sinking thing because I don’t know everything but I know what’s coming, and I want to rush over and clap my hand over his stupid mouth before either of us can make the human people word sounds, maybe just choke him out and be done with it, then drag the body to the back corner stall, whistling elfish and cheerful while I wash my hands and walk out like nothing happened because nothing did, just a little murder.

But I’m already speaking, before the anticipation and the thought form an action, homicidal or otherwise, and a single Howyuhdoin slips out of a mouth I thought was under my control. WELL THANKS HOW ARE YOU, his voice booms, clear and commercial, a parody of our unfortunate ability to locute, all enunciation and no heart like the words are big wooden blocks he’s arranged with infantile pride in some inchoate effort at communication, and I’m furious at the futility of being soft-spoken and hard-thought in a world full of empty-headed broadcasters so I kick his stupid fucking blocks all over the place and say I’m good.

My only wish is to evaporate so I stand there and hold rabbit-style still watching him without breathing in case that’s how that happens, thinking there’s strength in non-doing, weakness sometimes in action. It does not—quite. He looks at me quizzically and I wonder if he knows how to spell that, with all those z’s and l’s and such, because I always thought it had just one “z” the way “kat” only has one “t.” He probably does, because no one but a good speller could SPEAK IN SUCH NICE WORD BLOCKS and no one but a broadcaster could manage to look quizzically at another being without even a shred of a hint of curiosity, only an otherer’s sense of abnormality sensed and I’m at least placated for a moment, standing there motionless, staring, blinkless, my mouth slightly open, physiognomy frozen. I’ve got him cornered as a kat, door behind me, man against man.

But he breaks the spell and steps up to the sink and begins to roll up his cuffs. I abscond to a stall where I sit on the latrine to use it as a perch from which to watch him through the crack in the stall door. He talks into the mirror as he washes his hands and inspects his visage, talks about sports or the weather or politics or something, something immediate and mundane and I flush the toilet over the little deluge of nihility cascading from his facial orifice, imagining his words getting sucked down the drain.

Have you considered therapy, I ask, cutting him off. Honestly, for a year I was completely mental. The cost, the trouble of finding a decent therapist. What a nightmare.

Yeah, he says with utter dispassion.

Yeah, this is a nightmare, I think, contemplating the décor—all beige-brown, but almost warm-seeming, like someone who cares but has no taste. I stand, lift my trousers, zip and button them, fasten my belt, flip the latch, and open the door. He’s drying his hands with those sandpaper towels, facing the room’s far wall, the back of his dress shirt wrinkled and crinkled from all day in a desk chair with no breatheabilityness.

Oh, excuse me. You were talking. That’s what I say.

Oh, you’re fine, he says, without turning around.

You’re fine is something people say when other people apologize but it sounds less like acceptance and more like giving someone permission to exist, I think. Anyway, I said I was good, not fine.

Have you ever read Foucault’s History of Madness, I ask him in italics.

Foo-calt, he inquires?

Yes, Foo-calt, I say. It’s all in there.

What is?

Everything, all of it. You should pick it up sometime. But just open it, and be sure to do so in public, so people know you’re smart. Otherwise there’s no point.

He smiles, and I see him smiling because he’s facing me now and I’m facing him and it’s just like it was a few moments before, before I dashed into the stall for cover from a threat that didn’t seem to have the first clue that it was threating. He’s facing me but he’s not looking at me, still, again. Well, he’s looking at me but it’s as if he’s not seeing anything and I think of something Dany Laferrière said in an interview about being homeless—because he was once—about being looked straight through like it’s something people have always seen, with compassion, perhaps, but without the slightest surprise or recognition. I suppose it’s all in how we experience, how we choose.

Still smiling, he says alright, sounds good, and makes a move to walk past me and leave as if some manner of routine continuance would reestablish normalcy and what do I do but smash it all to bits by initiating the people-passing dance and stepping in the same direction.

Excuse me, he says. Shifting to the other side.

You’re fine, I say, sliding myself in front of him again. Right, left, right. I swear a brain circuit shorts and tiny puffs of smoke emit from his ears. He looks me in the eye, uncomfortable, perplexed, futilely soliciting an explanation like a dog when you take its toy away and hide it behind your back. It knows it’s there, somewhere, but isn’t too sure what you’ve done with it.

Ah, you see me now, don’t you, you fucker. But I don’t say that; I just look back, returning the perplexity, thinking yes, I see, this is the way to be visible.

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fiction, photography

THE NOISE

Chris R-0246 Image by Christine Renney

The noise coming from above has changed. I’m not sure how to describe the difference but it is louder, all the walking and talking, even the water rushing in the pipes sounds more urgent, more focused. And I don’t like it.
They arrived, an eruption of activity, and I suffered throughout the redecorating. All the hammering and the drilling and the scraping. The work is now complete and the noise is less frequent but when it comes it is in bursts, more eruptions. It seems that they are always in a hurry; forever readying for somewhere or something else.

I can hear their television but I doubt that they are sitting and watching. The music, when it comes through the ceiling, is a dense and muddy block. I suppose that in a club it would make sense but not here and, despite the volume, I can still hear them moving around but they aren’t dancing and they aren’t listening.

I have a key. My former neighbours pressed it on me, ‘in case of emergency,’ they said. I didn’t want to take it, didn’t want to be a part of anything minor or major that they might consider an emergency. ‘It’s just in case we lock ourselves out,’ she said, sensing my reluctance, ‘or if anyone needs to get in whilst we are away.’ ‘Of course,’ I had said, ‘of course I’ll take it.’
I had forgotten the key. It languishes in a drawer, alongside nuts and bolts, nails and screws, all the bits and pieces that one day might prove useful. Rummaging through, I fish it out. I hold it up to the light, reacquainting myself with it and I add it to my keychain although I am unsure why.
Having it is enough. It dangles from the ignition as I drive. Each time I unlock the door to my flat it jangles alongside the others on the chain and for a while it is enough.

I hear their door slam up on the landing. Their clatter and their chatter on the stairs and they are gone and it is quiet. But I am agitated and although they aren’t at home my anxiety doesn’t subside. When they switch the noise off it doesn’t go away and I can’t settle, not tonight.
I have the key in my hand again. I have removed it from the key-ring, separated it from the others so that I can hold it. I consider damaging it, rendering it useless, unusable but how? I could take a hammer to it I suppose, force a nail punch into the grooves or place it in a vice and squeeze until it is misshapen and won’t fit. But I don’t have a vice, I don’t even have a hammer. I could of course take the key out onto the pavement and drop it down the nearest drain or I could simply return it.

I had been required, the key had been needed. I had let someone in, a workman and there had also been a delivery. I remember two men carrying something up the stairs. A fridge freezer or a washing machine, and I watched as they struggled with it along the narrow hallway and disappeared into the kitchen.
I had waited out here on the landing, shuffling in the cold without a coat, and when the men had done what they needed to do, retrieving the key I had pulled the door to.

I haven’t been inside, I haven’t as much as stepped across the threshold but I have used this key before, I have unlocked the door before and so why shouldn’t I do so again? Who will know?
I almost slip on the veneered and shiny floor and my footsteps echo. I move slowly and try to stifle the clatter of my feet but I can’t, not up here, and of course it doesn’t matter. There isn’t any need for stealth. I am alone.
I move more quickly, now stamping and stomping loudly. I switch on the lights and, letting the flat glare, I take it in. All is uniform and strangely fresh. There is a fragrance in the air and, breathing deeply, I am reminded of an office. It is sparse – minimalist and modern, not built for comfort. It isn’t any wonder that the young couple can’t settle but they will of course move on. Perhaps together, perhaps not, but both of them will enjoy more, will have bigger and better. This is just a beginning.
I resist the urge to rifle through their belongings, to mess with the scatter cushions. And in the kitchen I sit on a high stool at the glass counter and wait.

 

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fiction, life

Predestination Uncertain

Dream one. At a crowded beach on a warm, sunny day, big puffy white clouds in the sky that eventually overtook the sun, leaving its warmth behind but dimming the glare and gleam. With a few people, trying to decide if we should wait for the sun to return or be on our way. Cars were parked in a grass lot nearby, packed in. It was breezy and bustling, and felt like the kind of day when something might happen, relaxed but unsettled. I got up and left without a word.

Dream two, three days later. The sea again, but another beach, another time, in fact. Wider, broader, longer, slower. More space, more sand, more sky, more horizon, less severe and far fewer people. The sea was calm, blue, and shimmering and the hot sun poured down as if fixed in the sky high above and slightly out over the sea as if it had nowhere else to be. “It will sit there, right there in that spot all day,” I thought, “and nothing will change.”

I neared the shadowed side of a dark brick building, low with a gently slanting roof and a wide central corridor with iron gates open wide and fastened back against the brick. The kind of seaside building with bathrooms and lockers and vending machines. I approached the entry, the far end of the corridor framing the ocean like a painting, and found an information desk set back in a dark recess of the inner wall to my left. From the obscurity behind the desk emerged the dark, wrinkled face of an old man like an eel from its hiding place. I asked him a question and his response was kind and measured, something about where to swim. I wanted to get in the water but felt uncertain. In calm, unhurried tones, he told me where to go and I thanked him. He receded into his cave, shoulders, face, and, finally, eyes, and I continued through the corridor toward the sunlit beach, made a right, and set out along the dunes.

After a short trudge through soft, hot sand that burned the tops of my feet as they sank in, I came upon the end of a small, narrow inlet, so shallow and still that the water was transparent, about thirty yards from the waves’ innermost reaches. The inlet was not completely cut off from the tide, and the far-out waves caused occasional ripples on the pool’s surface. There was no one nearby, but I could see people out in the water, some walking through the flat, wet sand by the wavebreaks with children, some alone, some farther inland laying on towels or reclining in beach chairs. The sun radiated. The lightly roiling sea glistened and no one had a face. All was illumination, nearly blinding illumination.

I was carrying something, a bag or a box of some sort, and I set it down near the small pool, keeping it close. Then I stepped into the shallow water, only about thigh deep, and lay myself down, supine, trying to submerge all but my face in that tiny bit of water like it was a bathtub. Floating like that, I used my hands against the bottom to walk myself down the inlet a bit, out toward the sea and the waves, but the channel became too shallow and narrow for me to proceed any further. I could taste the salt water on my lips and noticed that I had forgotten what the ocean tasted like, it had been so long.

I drifted back to shimmering pool where I’d left my burden and got out, dripping. I walked back up the beach toward the brick building, hugging the grassy dunes. A faceless man ambling in the opposite direction asked me if it was nice in a tongue that I recognized but did not feel was my own. I nodded an affirmative, assuming he meant the water, and continued on my way.

Later, I found myself high up in a large building on the shore, standing before a wall of windows and gazing out at the spectacular oceanside panorama, down past the brick building, past the snaking dunes, into forever. A voice said “See? It’s coming,” and pulled me from my trance. The voice became a man standing beside me, pointing up the coast to my left at a mass of gray-black clouds bearing down on us, slowly, deliberately billowing and bulging and churning and consuming the luminescence all around. “Just in time,” I thought, as if the word were etched across the darkness, “good thing I didn’t go out any farther.”

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