fiction

THE WEIGHT

Chris R-0233 Image by Christine Renney

His dad was standing in the middle of their front room holding a coat, a bulky Parka, at arms length by the hood. It looked strange, almost as if someone were already wearing it, but someone without legs or hands.
Joe stepped closer and could clearly see that a flat rectangular weight had been sewn into the lining at the back. Reaching out, he traced its outline along the bottom and up the left hand side and across from shoulder to shoulder and down again.
‘Put it on,’ his dad said.
‘No. Why?’
‘Just do it.’ His dad thrust the coat into his hands.
‘Why?’ Joe repeated.
‘Don’t ask me that,’ his dad replied, ‘don’t ask why, just do it.’

Joe sits on the edge of the sofa and tries to remember not to lean back. Each time he forgets the weight presses into him. He can feel the ridge at its edges, cutting into him. There is something at its centre, a raised logo perhaps, and no matter how he sits, whether it be backwards, forwards or sideways, it finds him, bites into him.
Standing, Joe arches his back and the coat bags out, the weight hanging without touching. It is heavy and he can’t stay like this for long. Anyhow, his dad has told him he must learn to live with it. That he should simply get on and do things as he usually would and it wouldn’t be long before he doesn’t even notice it and he will forget but also that he mustn’t forget and he must never take the coat off, not ever.
Joe wondered how long the coat could contain the weight. Would it be just months or possibly years before it began to rip and fray and was simply a coat again, ragged and worn but comfortable.
Despite what his dad said, Joe knew that as soon as school started again he would be allowed to take it off. He only had to manage until the end of the summer holidays. For three and a half weeks. Twenty five days. It was going to be hard, an ordeal. He had hardly slept last night. Laying on his back was virtually impossible and he could manage on his stomach with the weight pressing down only for so long. Joe had actually drifted off in this position only to wake with a start, gasping and choking for breath. Eventually, after hours of tossing and turning, of wiggling and twisting, he had managed to settle on his side with his arms outstretched and the weight propped against his back. He had been tempted to slip his arms from the sleeves but Joe was all too aware that, at regular intervals, his dad came and stood at the open door and gazed in at him. He started to worry then that, whilst asleep, he would inadvertently set himself free. And in the end it wasn’t that he couldn’t find a way to sleep in the coat but that he was afraid to do so.

Joe had been pacing for hours, back and forth. Standing in front of the open window he gazed out. What he wanted was to go for a walk. Something simple that he hadn’t thought about until then. It was something that adults did, well not his dad, but other adults. Something they said not only to each other, but to themselves. “I need to stretch my legs, go for a stroll, get some air, blow the cobwebs away.”
But Joe didn’t know if he could, if he was allowed and asking his dad would only make him angry again. He was supposed to know the answers and not only the why but also the how?
Now that he was wearing the coat Joe wondered could the weight be seen? Was it still obvious? Out there would others be able to see it? In the bright sunlight he studied his reflection in the glass. But he couldn’t tell, he wasn’t sure.

His dad was sitting in the kitchen, at the table, with his newspaper. Joe moved past him making for the back door. Reaching it he grabbed the handle and pulled it all the way open before turning back.
‘I’m going out,’ he said. ‘Just for a bit, for a walk.’
His dad looked up surprised, startled even.
‘Okay,’ he said.
And shutting the door Joe stepped outside.
‘But don’t go too far,’ his dad called, ‘and don’t be very long.’

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fiction

PUPPET SHOW

Chris R--5.jpg Illustration by Christine Renney

Isabella courted catastrophe or, rather, she carried it with her, unknowingly dragging it behind her. Invisible and weightless, for almost fourteen years it didn’t hinder her and was benign. Only when it struck, when catastrophe bloomed, did she feels its weight, pulling at her. It almost lifted her from the ground. She was standing in the lounge of her grandmother’s flat, on the eighth floor of a sixteen storey block. Seven flats below and a further eight above.
‘What is happening?’ her grandmother asked.
Isabella, struggling to remain upright, didn’t reply. She managed to grab hold of the string, it was delicate, just a thread, but it didn’t give. She wrapped it around her right wrist and then tried to trace the line, to find out where it was attached and, as she knelt down to gather the excess at her feet, it cut into her skin.
‘OUCH!’
‘Isabella, what is wrong?’, her grandmother sounded distraught.
‘It’s nothing, Gran, just a power cut, you know, like in the seventies. Remember you told me all about it?’
‘I don’t mean that’, her grandmother said sharply.
‘What’s happening over there. What are you doing?’
‘I just stumbled in the dark. Don’t worry, I’m okay.’
Isabella stood and, with her left hand, she fanned the air above her head but couldn’t reach whatever was trying to pull her up. She groaned.
‘Are you hurt? Are you in pain,’ her grandmother asked.
‘No.’
‘Then what is it, Isabella?’
‘I don’t know but it’s heavy.’
Her grandmother crossed to the window and pulled back the drapes. The block of flats opposite stood like a mighty obelisk and there were squares of light dotted here, there and everywhere.
‘It isn’t a power cut’, her grandmother said softly, ‘at least not like in the seventies.’ She could see her granddaughter a little more clearly now and she resembled a pen and ink drawing. A skinny girl buffeted in a gale.
‘I have to step outside’, she said to Isabella, ‘just for a moment. I won’t be long.’
Carefully she manoeuvred herself around the dark shapes that were her furniture. Grappling and groping, she made it into the hall, but before reaching the door at the end, she could see through the glass a dim light from the flat opposite. Nevertheless, stepping outside, she hit the switch on the wall and the landing and stairs below burst into sight.

She placed her hand at the centre of Isabella’s back, gently pushed and they began to move forward, the excess line dragging on the carpet behind them.
At Isabella’s wrist it was taught and she tried with her free hand to grab and pull at it, but it slipped through her fingers and cut into her palm. She held out her hand.
‘Look, Gran, can you see it?’
‘No, not in this light.’
‘But you believe me?’
‘Of course I believe you.’
At last they reached the sofa and as she sat, Isabella managed, with considerable effort, to lodge the line beneath the wooden arm and both she and the sofa began to rise.
‘Now can you see it?’
‘Yes, I can see it,’ her grandmother sighed. ‘I’ll fetch the scissors,’ she said resignedly, ‘or a knife and we’ll cut it. I’ll set you free.’
‘Oh no, we can’t do that,’ Isabella wailed, ‘if we do, it’ll go up through the ceiling and through all of the flats or it might go down, it might fall through all the flats below, either way it’ll be a catastrophe. Anyway, it’s too late, whatever it is it has hold of me.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I don’t know exactly but I know we mustn’t cut it and I can’t be free of it, not now.’
As Isabella spoke something began pulling at the excess line, taking up the slack. She reached down and, grasping hold of it with her right hand, she struggled to wrap it around her left wrist.
Her grandmother began to sob as, suddenly, everything seemingly returned to normal. The lights came back on and the television began again to glare and blare.

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