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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fiction, Uncategorized

Contemplating Gender Roles while Following my Wife around Marshalls

There is a man standing at the door, I don’t know whether he is lost or left, he is staring at a table of FAB-YULE-OUS LAST-MINUTE GIFT ITEMS; a bottle cap dart board, an essential oils reed diffuser, a bundle of three cheeky-Christmas T-shirts, an array of Yankee Candle Holiday collections, and so on. He is still wearing his jacket, bundled to the neck.

I follow my wife passed him, he smells cold as we pass.

My wife stops in the ceramics and begins perusing. A large man passes me, a child holding the end of his jacket, his wife speeding ahead with the cart, he is playing something on his phone. His hat is on and his beard is unkempt.

“Should we get this for my parents?”

I turn, my wife is holding a ceramic jar with a plaque on it that says “MILK.”

“Sure,” I tell her.

She picks up something else, I wonder about the last time I saw a milk carton and what must have happened to all of the runaways.

“Or this one?” my wife asks.

“Sure,” I tell her.

She frowns, “which one?”

“That one.”

“You’re not pointing at either of them.”

“The milk one.”

“They are both milk ones.”

I refocus. “Oh, that one.” I point.

“That one is for tea,” she cries.

I shrug, and she waves her hand at me, annoyed. “You’re annoying, go away.”

“Okay.”

I head back for the door. I pass a younger man in a display chair. He has a patriot’s jacket on and is staring into an aisle of discount lotions. I head for the exit. Someone has collected the man who’d been by the door. Good for him.

I stand outside the door looking out on the parking lot. I notice a spot three rows from the exit. We parked about ten rows back. I go and get the car, move it to the empty spot and sit in the heat. I notice in the rear-view that someone has moved from a spot in the first row. I reverse out and straight into it, cutting off a PT Cruiser.

Who the hell still owns a PT cruiser, I think, as the man behind the wheel flips me off.

I sit in the car another twenty minutes before slowly making my way back inside. As I pass the shoe department, I see an old man sitting on one of the stools, he isn’t trying shoes on. He is just sitting, two hands on his cane as an older woman bustles around him with an armful of sandals.

“Eight dollars, dude!” I hear someone cry out. I turn, two teenage boys are looking at a pair of sneakers.

“Eight dollars! Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, eight dollars, dude!”

“Dude, ZOLA.”

“Merry Christmas, ZOOOOLLA!”

They run off with the sneakers.

I find my wife in pet accessories.

“We should get the cats something.”

I nod, watching a Hispanic man help his wife pick from a giant pile of Buy three get one free Christmas socks. Another man walks by on the phone, “WHICH ONE!—That one? You have one of those!—because you’re always THROWING IT TO MY SIDE OF THE BED!”

My wife has a Santa cat outfit held up to her own body, she is looking down at it.

“Should we get this?” she asks.

I smile and nod.

It isn’t enough.

I give her a thumbs up.

She rolls her eyes. An old lady, digging through a table of hand-creamers, laughs.

“Men are so useless, huh?” she tells my wife.

My wife laughs.

Ha-ha

The woman laughs.

Ha-ha

I laugh.

Ha-ha

Am I living in a sexist narrative, I wonder? Do I only not want to shop because I have grown up in a patriarchy? Would helping pick out a cat outfit make me a better, more gender inclusive? Is that what that means? It doesn’t seem to have impacted that guy over there.

I glare at the Hispanic man who has just made his wife laugh after hanging a pair of socks off each of his ears.

I look back at my wife. She is fingering through a rack of cat treats. I walk over and grab one off the rack.

Christmas Turkey Dressing

I open it and take one out.

“Hey babe, watch.”

She looks up at me.

I pop the treat in my mouth.

She stares at me as I chew the treat. Her face goes very quickly from curiosity to disgust, and by the time I swallow, concern.

“Why the fuck did you do that?” She asks.

I look down at the bag of treats, then to my other empty, then back up at her.

“I thought it would be funny?”

She looks at me, then to the old lady who’d also stopped, arms deep in the pillow-pile, to watch me eat a treat. They share a look. The old lady smiles sympathetically.

My wife hands me her armful of goodies and pats me on the arm.

“Go find somewhere to sit by the registers sweetie, I won’t be long.”

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fiction, Uncategorized

The Time Travel Artist

I love my job.

Someone managed to change something. They shouldn’t have been able to. But, that is the company’s problem. Someone needed to die, again.

Killing someone is not an easy thing. Killing them again is even harder. Killing them the same way as before.

That is art.

Her name was Mary Harris. Nineteen years old. Strangled.

19:23 exactly. My hands are already around her neck. Not too soft. With passion, as before.

19:24 she is dead.

On the dot. Man, I’m good. I stand up and look around. The room hadn’t been wrecked. That is always an annoyance. A simple strangulation. I look down at her. Turning blue.

“Sorry, darling,” I lie.

I would feel sorry for her, really. Her savior is in jail. Her killer is still unknown. But, I don’t. I feel hungry. I’m a professional. Only professionals know when they are hungry.

I study the room. I study the body.

One of her eye-lids is shut. I bend down and open it wide, just like in the picture. Sadness and terror, it says. I smile.

“Now, that is art.”

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fiction, prosetry

Fear and a Spirit of Hateful Accommodation

Yes, all those things are lovely, but it’s boring when all is said and done at the end of the day eventually in the final analysis after all—indecision can be a like standing in the middle of field of lilacs and sometimes we simply say too much. Speaking of lilacs and sometimes, I don’t do well on the fly, too little meaning caught in too many words, with “do” and “fly” being the operatives here, deep down undercover with fake mustaches and mirrored aviators for obfuscation. We all know “well” well enough, or so I tell myself, to hold the sentence together with minimal disambiguation. The sentence—life, with no possibility of parole, unless you’ve got a little imagination. We all step away sometimes, needing to, receding to or from or for with grimy presumptions of stiff finality all around, creeping up the walls like rot till they seem darker than the corners and we can’t remember how or why we serve the question, but we do. Insistent on the peculiar merits of placement, I seem predisposed to point to the energy and the process like it’s blame I’m placing, not credit, clinging to rhizomatic enthusiasms rooted in contexts so specific and references so obscure that the truth can’t go unnoticed. The truth. What is this appetite for absolutes? Strip that away, and what—the positive qualities of illusion suggesting that the walls and corners aren’t in fact closing in, that they simply have spirit? Having seen it done and having done it, I strain to model myself on something definitive, over and over, ever and ever, ever stepping away to return all over, mumbling mawkish mantras like Destroy, and piece it back together but this time with gold at the seams. Kintsugi, yes? and how appealing, no, how improving, with an orange-juicer twist drop of idealism plus the pulp. Each answer is formed of countless questions, as variegated as the languages with which we pose them, so thus I ask: Do we spill because we break or does our spilling do the breaking because we get too full?

Everything has to go somewhere (that’s definitive-infinitive); there’s action in the outpouring, but I could see it working either way, or both, finding a comfortably uncertain trajectory regardless, whether of containment or release, a course, of course, if you will, running roughly from vulnerability to repair and so on, with voice, agency, embodiment, and destruction all packed in and cozy snuggled between. And so on, and back again. Till it breaks again and I’m back here on the fly again, going nowhere till it feels too right to not be the wrong words for a story.

I had a rough day, she said, barely holding back tears and looking smaller and more defeated than she’d ever permitted herself to look. A hug and kiss were proffered as preludes to a word or two of unconvincing edification as I, draped in coat and bags, walked out the door and down the hallway to the elevator and another hallway to the parking garage so I could warm up the cold little car with rust spots on the hood and drive cautiously through heavy nighttime snow already covering the highway despite evening weeknight traffic to a hotel way out west of the city where there was a meeting of the old white minds that I had to endure the following day. The following day arrived and I woke up from an uncomfortable half-sleep with the outlines of a migraine that would gradually color itself complete as I tried to take notes and look like I gave a shit in a windowless conference room thick with recirculated air and coffee breath, wanting only the essentials of sleep, hydration, and a proper breakfast. The rest—freedom, love, pain—would have to wait.

 


Originally published on Art & Insolence.

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fiction, Uncategorized

There were Four Russians Outside of my Door This Morning

photo_2018-12-10_16-42-40My mother grew up in the 70s. This means that all of her favorite spy movies had eerily similar bad guys with names like Boris, Ivan, Ivan, and Boris. When my mother visited me in Russia, she stepped out of the arrival gates and said,

“Holy-fucking-shit, I’m here.

Since American media had already moved on to Arabs by the time I crawled into the world, I never thought of Russia as an enemy. But today there were four Russians outside of my apartment building this morning. They rang up, and I thought,

“oh, they are here to murder me–I am going to be taken to some dark room and tortured until I admit anything, they want me to admit. it won’t take long, I am so squishy and pink! Then I will be hung in the Red Square and I don’t even know any Morse code, so I won’t be able to send any secret messages to anyone and I get stage fright so even if they let me speak, I’ll probably just sweat and mutter until my neck snaps–“

My girlfriend–woken from the ringing–stormed passed, spoke through the receiver, buzzed the men into the building. On her way back to bed she looked into the kitchen. I was still half-hidden behind the cabinets, peering out.

She sighed and went back to bed.

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art, fiction, life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Pure & broken

Emily-DiDonato-Nude-Narcisse-Magazine-Spring-Summer-2017-Cover-Editorial03Lie in bed

Child

Lest what stands beyond threshold

Threatens calm

Waking to the sound of winter silence

Clutching at inanimate objects

The seen friends who do not reply

Delve deeper into the mind

Where disturbance is held away

By merciful imagination

How long can a child

Pretend

And make-believe?

The sounds of fighting through the walls

Even the deaf hear

The crack in plaster grows wider

Each day carpet higher

Till jungle swallows child

Alone

Her own words ingrowing

Dance when no one is looking

For nobody did

Turned faces absentees

Hunger for attention

At first an annoying shame-faced thing

Then the end of longing

Acceptance

You placed me in a room of my own and said

Thrive

I did not

Instead

Half of me turned into plaster and chipboard and carpet fibers

And half climbed out windows and got lost

Letting her feathers be plucked early

By stranger fondling hands and false words

Prophet’s without prophecy

Girls born without reason

Growing in one ache

The silence their lover and their torment

Sliced in half

One, a creature straining to survive herself

One the albatross of finely dressed humans

Absenting themselves from responsibility

She says

You damned me

You shut me up

You expected me to thrive and grow in darkness and coal

As you closed the door and said entertain yourself

She switched the camera on and let them come one by one

Watch her fall beneath the lights

Mayhap dancer, mayhap pornographer

No words escape her

She moves her pain

Above you like light streaming down

Pure and broken into prisms

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