fiction, photography

CHEAP HOTEL

Chris R-0067 Image by Christine Renney

I lay back on the unmade bed and stare up at the ceiling. I trace patterns in the damp, find faces in the decay. Alien and immobile they stare back.
I have lost track of time and am unsure how long I have been here in this room. How many days have I managed to lose, writhing on the thin white sheet, trying and failing to grip the mattress beneath.
My mind is a cavernous blur and in my listlessness I have left no markers. I haven’t been reading and can’t add up the pages or count the stories.
I realise I am hungry, painfully so. I push myself up and, twisting around, I sit on the edge of the bed. I place my feet on the ground and clutching my stomach I gaze down at the carpet. But it is a good thing – this wanting, a need for something other than alcohol. But have I been here too long, for longer than I can afford?
And what will I do if and when my credit card fails.

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fiction, photography

HEIRLOOMS

Chris R-0883 Image by Christine Renney

In the past, when we argued, I would often throw something. Now words are enough as over the years I have become more adept at hurling them and I no longer need to rely something inanimate. If I happened to be holding a mug I would throw that and, after retrieving the largest surviving part, I’d throw that again and again. Or I might reach and grab for something close at hand, an ornament or a trinket made from china or glass, something that would break, something that would smash. If I happened to be holding a book then I would throw that. It wouldn’t break of course, not even after I had kicked it and stamped on it. Books don’t come apart or at least not easily. Try for yourself, take one down from the shelf, a paperback, open it in the middle and try to rip it in two. It can’t be done. In order to destroy a book you need to act methodically, to tear the pages one at a time. I have done this, but only once.
I hadn’t read the book but I remember it was ‘The Idiot’ by Dostoevsky. As I started to rip out the pages, T… watched but she quickly tired and, exasperated, she went to bed. ‘The Idiot’ is a big book but I persevered until each and every page lay at my feet. In the heat of the moment a book is decidedly unsatisfactory. A mug, on the other hand, is ideal. A mug will bounce unscathed across a carpeted floor time and again. Six, eight, even ten times, before it will begin to chip and crack and, when it does, when it breaks, something snaps and in the silence we are able to make things right again. To scrub at the coffee stains and sweep up the pieces, although for weeks afterwards, we find bits of the mug lodged here, there and everywhere.

T… was frightened by my outbursts and believed if I didn’t react in this way that I would lash out and strike her. But it was only when the argument really took root, when it wouldn’t stop, that I would throw and break something. Of course, it wasn’t always a mug but sometimes things that were much more valuable and difficult to replace. Heirlooms, things that had been passed down and things we had bought together and which, over time, would have come to mean so much more. I won’t bore you with a list but I did once break a clock, a wedding present. I lifted it from the mantle and flung it to the floor. I kicked it, stood and stomped on it. Grinding the glass and the face and the mechanism until all of the tiny parts, the cogs and the washers and the wheels, were embedded in the carpet. Later, we hadn’t any choice but to carefully and painstakingly pick them out.

I am now aware, however, that T… has begun to replace some of the things I have destroyed from our past. I wouldn’t even have noticed if it hadn’t been for the book, not even the clock, but there it is up on the mantle, exactly the same although of course it isn’t. I wonder how she did it, how she managed to find it? And I would like to ask but how can I, how can we talk about this?

After finding the book and taking it down from the shelf, I carry it with me and begin to wander through the house, searching the rooms and discovering item after item, things I won’t list, not now, not here. I’ve told you about the book and about the clock and that’s enough. And the mugs of course, although they don’t matter, mugs are inconsequential; you use one only for so long and then replace it. Eventually I sit and start to read ‘The Idiot’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky, a copy of the book I desecrated long ago. It has the same cover, a sky blue border and the same painting on the front. ‘Portrait of Ivan Pochitonov’ by Nikolai Dmitrievich although of course these details I don’t remember.

T… comes into the room and, noticing the book, she asks quite coolly, ‘Haven’t you read that before?’.
‘I started once but didn’t finish it,’ I reply, ‘and I’ve decided to try again.’

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fiction

RECONCILIATION

chris-r-0318 Image by Christine Renney

We yell until each of us is hollow. She is sobbing. The sound hoarse and guttural. She is empty and has no more words and I no longer have to fend against them.
She shivers and I touch her. She is cold and I fetch a sweater from the bedroom. With a handful of kitchen towel she mops at her face, at the snot and tears.
The sweater is too big and sitting she pulls at herself from inside. I place my hands on her shoulders and press down gently, an effort to still her.
I feel remorse, it fills the hollow inside, I am full to brimming with it when she turns, ready for regret.

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fiction

NOT TOUCHING

chris-r-0048 Image by Christine Renney

We haven’t spoken in almost a week. Time since we argued feels stretched. I don’t fill it as I usually do. Although I keep to my routine of work and such I don’t read and I try but cannot listen to music. She is above in our bedroom. I am alert to her every movement, each and every footfall, every creak and thud.
The telephone rings and I am startled but realise I have spoken hardly at all since we stopped shouting and that here, in the house, I haven’t uttered a single word. But still I sit stiffly and wait and when I hear her pushing up from the bed I am relieved. I listen to her voice through the ceiling, one side of a conversation, low and abstracted. I hear her put the phone back in its cradle up there and I lift the one down here – I don’t key in a number but still I hit green and pressing it hard against my ear I listen to the tone. I am surprised at how loud and insistent it is.

A little later I will relinquish this room and take my turn up there. I will lay on the dishevelled bed. I am exhausted but won’t sleep. For hours I will stare up at the ceiling and at some point I will undress and crawl beneath the covers. Eventually she will join me and, facing away from each other, we will adopt almost identical foetal like positions and try not to move, try not to touch.

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