fiction, photography

TRASH

Chris R-0153 Image by Christine Renney

The room was dirty. It hadn’t been cleaned, at least not properly. She wanted to complain but Pete was so exhausted he pleaded with her, tried to talk her down, convince her to let it slide.
He sat on the end of the bed. She hadn’t noticed the empty beer cans stowed beneath it and he realised of course that, if she did, they wouldn’t be sleeping in the room; probably wouldn’t be staying in this particular motel.
She slumped down beside him and, laying back, he heaved a very audible sigh.
‘Okay,’ she said, ‘but I’m not getting inside the covers and I’m not taking off my clothes.’
Turning onto her side she groaned and Pete could tell she was just as tired as he and could no longer fight it. Reaching out he fumbled for the light switch and closed his eyes.

Pete awoke with a start. His arm was hanging over the edge of the bed and his hand brushed against something or something had brushed against it. Rolling over he peered down. Some of the cans had rolled from beneath the bed and Pete could see there was other trash scattered across the room. Fast food and sweet wrappers and empty crisp packets. Squinting in the half light he could see an old apple core and a mouldy banana skin.
Pete climbed quietly from the bed and crossed to the window. He was thankful that he hadn’t taken his shoes off. He parted the curtains a little, letting in the light from the street lamps. The rubbish was everywhere, the room was almost entirely covered.
Pete crouched down and closer to this carpet of mess, of leftovers, he felt nauseous. Looking away he swept his hands through it. The rubbish was sticky and old, the food stuff mixed amongst the paper and card was rotting. It seemed impossible to him that somebody had managed to cram so much underneath the bed. And unbelievable that neither she nor Pete had noticed. Standing, Pete gazed across at her. He realised that it was now time to complain. But she was sleeping so soundly and after the day they had had, after the night they had had, he didn’t want to disturb her. Pete wanted to leave her be, to let her rest.
He decided that he would clean up the mess himself. He had gloves in the car and some old carrier bags. Using these he could carry the rubbish across to the wheelie bins he had spotted at the far end of the car park. Working as quietly as he could Pete would make as many trips as were necessary and in the morning she would be none the wiser.
Pete stepped closer and he studied her for a few moments. Crouching again he lifted the faded eiderdown and peered. There was still a lot of rubbish beneath the bed. In fact it had been forced and crammed so tightly that the trash formed a solid block and it was pushing against the underside of the mattress.
But how could that be when so much had already spilled out into the room? Pete’s bewilderment suddenly turned to anger and in his rage he thrust his hands in, frantically clawing at it. He realised that she was standing beside him but she didn’t speak and kneeling she began to help.

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fiction

STRANGERS

Chris R--10 Illustration by Christine Renney

Only a brief description of the Apartment Block will be necessary. How it is perceived by the Townspeople is far more interesting. By those who pass it each day to and from work and the shops, by those who walk in the park and feel they are imposing, trespassing even, within the grounds of some stately mansion. For it is here when they come to escape at lunchtime or on a summer’s evening; here when families gather at the weekend to picnic and play – this is when the Apartment Block antagonises them the most. From its vantage point at the edge of the park, with its black windows like hoodless eyes, it is all seeing and impossible to ignore.

The Townspeople are proud of their park and all have contributed to the restoration of its centrepiece, the Bandstand, now fully restored to its former glory, is a testament to their perseverance and dedication. To their hard work. But now, when they come here to bask in the sunshine, the Apartment Block casts its shadow from above, spoiling it for them. Its residents are constantly changing, an array of Young Professionals. It is rare that anyone stays here for more than a year but, to the Townspeople, they are indistinguishable in their fine clothes, with their impractical cars and well paid jobs in the City. Their lives are without commitment and seem, from afar, frivolous and their home is akin to the most modern of hotels. Its gardens, lovingly tended and painstakingly maintained are the Town’s parkland. The Bandstand is merely a trifle, a folly within the Apartment Block’s playground.

The Townspeople have not been colluding but all are moving in the same direction so of course it is inevitable they will converge. They gather in the bushes and watch the Apartment Block. Occasionally someone will emerge and each time the Townspeople become more agitated, moving involuntarily, eventually lurching forward, revealing themselves. An exiting couple, alarmed by the presence of the now all but motionless individuals littering the grass in front of them, move hastily along the path. They fail to notice the first of the Townspeople who, reaching the doors before they close behind them, slip into the building.

The Townspeople begin edging slowly forward and the couple, unaware of what has triggered this ungainly procession, are brought to an abrupt halt. Stranded on the path they cling to each other but are forgotten. The Townspeople, intent on the Apartment Block, keep on coming from out of the undergrowth, a veritable hoard moving toward and beyond the couple, who perhaps recklessly rush against the tide toward the exit.

Huddled beneath the Bandstand the young couple look back toward the Apartment Block. The crowd gathered, in front of the main entrance doors, appears as a leaden and lumpen mass. But it is thinning. Slowly the Townspeople are forcing their way through the doors and into the building.
‘Who are they?’ she asked.
Shaking his head he said nothing.
‘Where did they come from? What do they want?’ she shrieked.
Reaching out he placed his hands on her shoulders in an effort to still her.
‘I don’t know’ he said softly. ‘I have no idea.’

They began to pace, their footsteps beating against the shiny hardwood floor of the Bandstand. He began to wonder about their neighbours – how many of them were still at home, still in their apartments? Readying, as they had been just a few minutes before, for the day ahead?
They watched as the Strangers pushed across the threshold and the doors swung to behind them. Mesmerised, the young couple continued to watch and seemingly everything had returned to normal.
The Apartment Block glared back at them but the Park again was quiet, picture postcard perfect, until the faces began to appear at the windows. Everything then wasn’t so beautiful or quite so serene.

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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

DESCENT

Chris R-0315 Image by Christine Renney

I am attempting to forge a route that takes in all of my haunts, all the places where I have taken shelter after dark. The doorways where I have pushed back and stretched out and where I have slept. But there are too many and as I move between them, making my way back and forth, I feel disoriented and this sudden compulsion is now pulling me from the Centre or at least from the part of the City I have accepted as the Centre, a place where I have loitered and lingered. But my reluctance to leave seems to have deserted me and I am fleeing, but to where?
I am pushing against the City and it is dense and difficult to navigate. I look because I must but I can’t focus and I can’t see my way through. The idea of a Centre here, that it could exist, is inconceivable and yet I have conceived of it and somehow I have found my way. But how?
It must have been slow, my descent. So gradual that the progress I have made is all but impossible to detect.

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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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