fiction, photography

CATHEDRAL

Chris R-1-166 Image by Christine Renney

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. I’m not quite there yet but this place has begun to grate a little, to nag and gnaw at me. Feels as if I have conjured it up from out of nowhere and I’m not sure why or how.
A tiny square in a sprawling city, a city that can’t be contained. It is spreading and thriving despite the degradation, all the empty and dilapidated buildings.
I have settled here and I stay until I have the cash, enough for what I need. And in order to get it, I walk elsewhere, a little farther each time. And yet still I keep making my way back.

I awake in the grounds of the Cathedral. Hands in the short and wiry grass, I push myself up and gaze down at the City. I try to pick out the place from which I set out, the one to which I keep on making my way back. But it is so vast, a dense and cubist scrawl. For months now I have been walking further and further from this particular part of the City in order to find an off-licence with an unfamiliar face across the counter. Someone who won’t recognise me as I purchase the bottles and the cans I need. And this time I didn’t turn myself around. I kept on walking for longer than was necessary and eventually I settled down.

Glancing up at the Cathedral I shudder to think that I have slept here in the grass; in this carefully tended, this perfectly and painstakingly manicured graveyard and, that as I did, someone tidied around me, removing the strewn cans, even prizing the almost empty bottle from my hand. Taking it and the last few drops I hadn’t quite managed to drain.

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fiction, photography

MORE

Chris R-1-135 Image by Christine Renney

I have money now, just a few coins, and gripping them tightly, I delve deep into the lining of my coat as I walk. I work a coin between my thumb and forefinger. I take them out and move them from hand to hand. I thrust the coins deep into the pocket of my jeans only to take them out again and again. I can’t stop doing this, looking at them, checking.
I drop one of the coins and it rolls out into the road. I run after it, suddenly worried that someone will take it. I stamp down on it with my boot and, crouching down at the kerbside, I quickly snatch it back. I have wandered away from the centre and there is no-one around.
Rising I place the coin with the others in my pocket. I have an odd feeling inside. It is something like purpose and yet I haven’t any idea what it is I intend to do.
I reach a parade of shops and, stopping in front of the plate glass windows of the off-licence, I peer in at the bottles, at the wine and the spirits. I don’t have enough but then I see cans of lager in the cooler at the back of the shop.
Although I am still unsure that this is what I want or what I need, I am already pushing through the doors and I know how it works; I spend what I have and then I get more.

Can alcohol still take hold? Get inside and make its demands? Or am I too full of holes and will it seep through the scars?
I have separated the can from its companions, freed it from the plastic ring and set it down in front of where I am sitting. Leaning back I stretch my legs out across the pavement and I can’t reach the can between my feet.
The others, the passers by, are forced to step over me and many of them glare angrily and I am glad of it. I don’t want some good Samaritan crouching down beside me. But if I sit here for long enough and drink myself into a stupor I know, of course, that this will happen.
What I want is for one of them to knock the can over and I don’t care if it is intentional or not, as long as I can watch the lager pool onto the pavement, the damp patch spreading between my legs and soaking into my trousers.
But despite their impatience and the scowls, the passers by are graceful, balletic even, and they don’t touch me and they don’t knock the can.
If I were to draw in my legs and reach out, snatch the can and drink from it would I feel it? Can I still know it? Can a ghost carry that conflict and walk with it?

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fiction, photography

THE SEA

Chris R-1-142 Image by Christine Renney

He hadn’t seen the sea, not in real life, not until now. He had seen it on the t.v. and he had seen photos in newspapers and magazines and such. He had seen it at the cinema, up on the big screen, but not like this.
Behind him the others were still talking, bickering and just moments before he had been a part of it, of the tomfoolery. It was a game they played, a drama that they performed amongst themselves, taking it in turns to pick on each other. But, staring out to sea watching as it roiled, he realised the game had changed and at some point he had stopped bothering to fight back.
He had become the butt of their jokes, he was the Fool, the Fall Guy, the Patsy. He took all that they threw at him and he took it in the face and in the gut and it hurt and he was almost thirty years of age. They were all almost thirty but he was the one that hadn’t seen the sea, not until now.
Although he wasn’t really listening he could hear them clamouring. They were getting restless and needed him to turn around. They needed a Punchbag but he stood with his back toward them, immobile and unflinching.

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fiction, photography

BOX

Chris R-1-117 Image by Christine Renney

Jim didn’t know why he had been put in here, in this box. It was ultra-modern, designed to endure, to not lose its shine and sparkle and it hadn’t but it remained a box nonetheless.
It was big, on two levels with a staircase at its centre. He had a bed, a sofa, armchairs and a dining table. There was a kitchen area and all of the appliances were hi-tech, State of the Art.
Everywhere was easy to keep clean, to maintain. Stainless steel surfaces and sturdy but soft vinyl, and hard plastic sheeting. There were pillars and posts, rails and screens. But it remained a box with compartments. It was not a house with rooms.
Jim often imagined that if he were to remove one of the walls and step outside, that if he could look back from afar, it would resemble a set on the stage of a theatre. But of course Jim couldn’t do this, there were no doors or windows, no way out. He didn’t know how he had been put in here, in this box, much less why.
Jim wondered had he been drugged and lain asleep in the bed whilst the box was built around him? Had he been compliant and simply sat in one of the armchairs or sprawled on the sofa watching? It wouldn’t have taken very long, most of the work would already have been done, the wiring and plumbing. It would have been just a matter of connecting everything up and pushing it all together. The last of the workmen lifted out in their harnesses and the same crane used to lower the lid.
The cameras were everywhere. No effort had been made to conceal them. They were big and bulky and noisy, whirring as they swivelled and rotated in order to capture his every movement. Jim performed for the cameras by not performing, by keeping to his routine of cleaning and cooking. By keeping to his exercise regime. By simply sitting quietly in contemplation.
Jim’s memories from before were uneven, scattershot. Mountains and the Internet, the night sky and music, television and the sea. He remembered shopping and the names of particular stores, wandering around a supermarket or a retail outlet, the infinite choice.

The storeroom was situated off the kitchen. There was a heavy steel shutter, sometimes it was locked and he was unable to lift it and sometimes it wasn’t. The storeroom was basically just another box, smaller and on one level.
Always full of everything he needed, food mostly of course. As everything ran out it was instantly replaced. If there was something on the shelves he didn’t want, that he decided he didn’t like, Jim would leave it and eventually it would be replaced with something else. There was another shutter at the far end of the storeroom. Jim had tried to force it but only once, huffing and heaving, but to no avail.

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fiction, photography

THE RULES

Chris R-1-115 Image by Christine Renney

Sy had changed things over the years. He had done this out of necessity, in order to continue. Sy was a tramp and constantly on the road. People didn’t expect him to stop and they tended to steer clear of tramps, giving them a wide berth, especially one who was pushing something awkward and unwieldy in front of himself.

Sy had adapted with the times, making the best of his surroundings and using whatever was available; discarded bicycles for instance. A tramp pushing along a bicycle didn’t draw a lot of attention. They were relatively easy to control, even after the tyres had disintegrated and the wheels started to buckle.
Whilst wheeling a bicycle, and Sy had wheeled an uncountable number of them over the years, he constantly found himself having to resist the urge to hop up onto the saddle and coast along for a spell. The temptation was excruciatingly painful and almost impossible to bear. And so, yes, bicycles worked but when his latest model eventually seized up and refused to move Sy was forced to carry it. But it was never too long before he was able to find something else, another bicycle perhaps or shopping cart.

Shopping carts were plentiful. At least, they could be found almost anywhere; alongside a busy road or at the bottom of a ditch out in the middle of nowhere. Or simply sitting and waiting on the pavement of a busy neighbourhood. But Sy could only search for so long. He needed to limit the time spent carrying rather than pushing. Often he hadn’t any choice other than to help himself to a cart from a supermarket car park. No-one seemed to mind or even to notice when he dumped an old and broken cart and helped himself to a shiny new one. But of course he was stealing and this troubled Sy as he pushed the cart, even one he had dragged from a deep and muddy ditch. He couldn’t help feeling that it was stolen and that he was breaking the law.
Shopping carts wheeled along okay, for a spell at least, especially if Sy was able to keep to the flat, on tarmac or concrete or the hardened earth during the summer. But when the weather was rough, when it was wet and windy, they were much more difficult to control. And when the wheels finally seized or fell off altogether, which is what did often happen, carrying them was hard. The carts were awkward and unwieldy and quite frankly dangerous. A tramp with an out of control shopping cart tended to draw a lot of attention.
Sy worried that he would be apprehended, that a Police car would pull alongside him and the officers would demand he stop. And when he didn’t that they would force him into the back of the car and whisk him away to the local Police Station where he would be held in a cell.
But this hadn’t happened yet and somehow Sy had always managed to find a way. Over the years he had pushed all manner of things – prams and trolleys, carts and pushchairs and bicycles, old tyres and children’s toys, scooters even skateboards and suitcases. Anything with wheels. And it hadn’t been easy but Sy was all too aware that it wasn’t supposed to be.

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fiction, photography

A CLOSE REBELLION

Chris R-1-104 Image by Christine Renney

The rebellion was close, although at first they didn’t realise this. The inmates had taken over the asylum, a cliche but apparently true. This really was happening and they were watching it live on TV. There were aerial shots of the hospital where patients had taken members of staff hostage, although the captors hadn’t, as yet, made any demands.
‘Isn’t that us?’ Melanie leant forward and scrutinised the screen. ‘Isn’t that us? Isn’t that here?’
‘No,’ Rachel replied uncertainly. ‘It can’t be. These places, they all look alike. Turn it up.’
Melanie reached for the remote but as she did so the picture switched to a view of the front of the building, the entrance doors with the hospital’s name emblazoned above. They gasped in unison and crossed to the window, staring across the inner courtyard at the main block. It was deserted.

In their stockinged feet they walked along the hospital’s central corridor, cautiously peering into the wards. Monitors hummed and the strip lighting glared but thankfully the rogue patients remained elusive. They reached the end of the corridor but didn’t step into the reception area. They could see the television cameras through the plate glass, the reporters and police gathered at the edge of the road just beyond the hospital grounds.
‘What should we do?’ Rachel asked.
‘Go out there I suppose,’ Melanie replied.
‘I guess you’re right but….’
‘But what?’
‘I don’t know. I just don’t feel ready to, not yet.’
‘What do you want to do then?’
‘I think we should go back to your room and find out what’s happening.’
‘On the TV you mean?’
‘Yes.’
‘But isn’t it dangerous here?’
‘I don’t think so. At least, not in this part of the hospital, not if we’re careful.’
‘How can you say that? You don’t know.’
‘You’re right, I don’t know but, okay then, let’s go out there.’
‘No!’ Melanie reached out and took Rachel’s hand in hers. ‘Come on, let’s go back.’

Melanie began flicking through the channels and there they were.
‘We’re the hostages,’ she said.
‘Yes,’ Rachel sat beside her on the sofa. ‘You don’t seem surprised.’
‘Neither do you.’
‘No, well I did wonder. I sort of hoped it might be us.’
‘But we’re not.’
‘Not what?’
‘Hostages.’
‘No, we’re not.’
‘Look, there’s my house,’ Melanie sounded distraught. ’My parents’ house I mean.’
‘We’re famous,’ Rachel laughed.
‘But we’re not.’
‘Not what, famous?’
‘Not hostages,’ Melanie hit the OFF button.
‘Why did you do that?’
‘We can’t just sit here, watching this. It’s not what’s happening. The TV won’t tell us what to do, how to react.’
‘Okay, okay,’ Rachel stood and started to pace.
Melanie watched her.
‘You’re enjoying this,’ she said.
‘No I’m not. I’m as confused as you. This is weird and I’m trying to make sense of it. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound flippant but we have to keep calm, Mel. I’ll run you a bath, it’ll help you relax.’
Melanie flopped back in her seat. ‘Okay,’ she said, resignedly.

Whilst Melanie soaked in the bath Rachel immersed herself once again in the news coverage. She didn’t have any trouble finding their story. It was unfolding or, rather, constantly repeating itself on most channels.
With the volume low and tightly gripping the remote she sat close to the set and there they were, up on the screen. Their lives in profile and the childhood photographs. Her mum and dad sat behind a desk beside some high ranking police officer in his uniform, her mum making an impassioned plea for her release. It was thrilling. Melanie had been right – she was enjoying it. It was a mistake, an outrageous mistake, but she needed to prolong it, to keep it going for just a little longer. For tonight at least, let it take root, give the tabloids a chance to get a hold on it. And in the morning, when they surfaced bleary eyed and bewildered but safe she could really enjoy her moment in the spotlight.

Melanie had started whining again, was calling from the safety of her bath. She wanted to end it, was ready to go out there. Rachel stood in front of the bathroom door, not really listening but readying to talk to her from there.
‘Okay,’ she said, ‘but first I am going to have a look around.’
‘No!’ Melanie moved violently and Rachel could hear the water sloshing. ‘Please don’t.’
‘I have to Mel, I need to do this and then I’ll be ready.’
It was silent then apart from the bath water settling like a sigh.
‘Okay,’ Melanie said at last, ‘but promise me you’ll be careful.’
‘I will, I promise, and I’ll bring us back some drinks. I’ll grab a couple of cans from one of the machines.’
‘Okay.’
‘If you like I can lock you in. Do you want me to do that?’
‘Yes.’

Rachel’s plan had taken little effort to formulate. It was all about resolve. And as she turned the key she asked herself, could she do it? Would she be able to see it through? Leave Melanie alone in her room for five, six or possibly seven hours to fret and cower? Not return until after dark, until the dead of night to comfort and coax? When it would be far too late to contemplate going out there, not before morning, when things would seem so much brighter.
As she wandered the deserted hospital she realised that of course she could and would and, as she had suspected, there were no hostages and no hostage takers.

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