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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The purity of being adored or an ode to narcissism

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When the person you lie awake thinking about

is you

and you

are untouchable

you emanate an aura of inviolate

there is space around you in a crowd

despite your size you take up

all the oxygen in my brain

I think bad thoughts

I look at places I should not

in this I am

a typical, leering, shameful creature

you are a magnet

you repel those who don’t understand

and attract the rest of us

like mad things and late summer insects

we stick to you and you peel us off

disgusted by our lack of self-control

I wonder sometimes, what it must be like

to have that brand of intoxicate

what exactly you possess, that causes such insanity?

I try to pin it down like examining butterfly’s beneath glass

but you are immeasurable, in your strange beauty and your

angry wet licked lips

I think maybe it is not one thing

but an entirety, the perfume of you

something wordless and powerful

you scare me and nobody scares me

but I know if you wanted me to

I’d kneel

I’d bend to you

and I, am not in the habit of subjugation

or giving in without getting

when you stomp, the world quakes and we fall

it’s funny and it’s quixotic

how perhaps your greatest allurement

is that you want none of us

but the purity of being adored

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fiction, photography

THE GRID

Chris R-0602 Image by Christine Renney

The cars are predictable. They crawl through the narrow and crowded streets at a snail’s pace searching for parking spaces. As soon as one moves away from the kerb, another is readying to take its place. This battle is almost constant. It is an elaborate board game, play pausing just briefly in the early hours of the morning when a stalemate of sorts is achieved and all of the vehicles are locked in tight and there are no spaces on the grid, on the streets and, for a brief spell at least, none of them will move.
I keep walking and find reassurance in the line of cars jammed along the pavements. Occasionally I come across a space and if it is big enough to take a car I feel anxious. I am even unnerved but of course it won’t be long before the players return and the game commences.
I observe the drivers as I walk. They are all so desperately focussed that they hardly notice me. They are usually alone but if there are passengers they are just as centred, just as determined and desperate to find a space.
I am passing alongside a pale blue estate car. In the wintry light it is the colour of cement. The windshield and windows are tinted and I can’t see in. I feel a little uneasy about this but I can see quite clearly that there is a place just up ahead. It will be tight but I am sure that this driver, like all the others, is skilful enough. That he will be able to manoeuvre his vehicle quite easily into position. But he doesn’t.
This perplexes me. I step down from the kerb and out into the road. Standing in the middle of the parking space I look back and there are no cars coming. It isn’t too late, he can still back-up but he doesn’t.
At the crossroads he turns right toward the City Centre. I cross at the junction and I stop and I stand and I wait. I expect that here, where the road is wider and there are no cars parked on either side, that he will turn himself around and begin to make his way back. But he doesn’t and, brake lights ablaze, he carries on, albeit awkwardly, down the hill.
When I start to follow he seems to speed up. I am running now and at the end of the road he turns left, onto the ring road and he is gone, leaving me stranded, anxious, here at the edge.

 

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fiction, photography

SAVING

Chris R-0904 Image by Christine Renney

He is concerned now that he won’t finish, reach the end before he is dead or dying and too frail, that there won’t be enough space.
The newspapers are almost everywhere. He had begun in the spare bedroom, first in layers and then stacks against the wall, and working his way out into the room, first one side and then the other, leaving a gap in between.
The rest of the house had been reduced to a series of these narrow walkways, like tunnels they are narrowest in the places where he rarely needs to go.
There are no newspapers in the kitchen, nor the bathroom, not yet but of course it is just a matter of time. His bed is clear and he is still able to open the wardrobe doors. There is an armchair in the sitting room and a television on its stand pulled up much too close. He hasn’t blocked out the downstairs windows yet but they are almost impossible to reach and so the curtains remain permanently drawn back. After dark the rooms are bathed in an amber glow from the street lamps outside.

It isn’t so much the why, but the how, that concerns him. The very real possibility that his house won’t be big enough worries him constantly. The newspapers had changed over the years and they were still changing. Not just the content but also the way in which it is presented and he had wanted to save those changes and he was saving them. But twenty five years ago he wouldn’t have believed that newspapers could die, and yet they were and now he was running out of room.

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fiction, photography

SHELTER

Chris R-0257-2 Image by Christine Renney

I step beneath the bridge and begin to slow down and, at around the mid-way point, I grind to a halt. I look up at the roof and suddenly I have shelter. The wall to my left is covered with layers of graffiti and I cross and lean against it.
I can hear the traffic thundering along the carriageway above. It is almost constant up there but, concentrating, I can hear the little gaps, the spaces in between each vehicle.
Down here the cars and the trucks are far less frequent. The pauses are varied and unpredictable and much more difficult to fill. Fumbling I remove my tie and, crouching down, hold it with both hands. I remember reading somewhere how, in Romania under Ceausescu, cars with odd numbers on their registration plates were only allowed on the roads on ‘odd number’ days. I realise that I have forgotten today’s date and I don’t know if this is an odd number day.
I can’t read the plates on the vehicles flashing past me so fast. Anyhow it would be a pointless exercise. I am not in Romania and even if I were, Ceausescu’s reign of terror ended long ago.
I let the tie slip from my hands and stare down at it coiled between my muddy shoes.

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fiction

THE COMPOUND

Chris R-1110369 Image by Christine Renney

At less than an hour’s drive from the City, the compound wasn’t particularly remote but it did feel isolated surrounded, as it was, by open country, as if in the middle of nowhere.
The guard had been on duty for three days and he began to realise that his orders had been more than a little sketchy. He knew what to do when the others arrived – his job was to simply check their credentials, to let them in and to leave them be. But no-one had come yet and already he found himself gazing longingly through the gatehouse window at his car parked beside the barrier.
He didn’t need to leave the gatehouse. It incorporated his living quarters and there were enough supplies in the store room to last him for months. He was able to operate the entrance gate and the barriers from inside the front office. Cameras had been situated across the site and all he really needed to do was sit before the bank of monitors and watch.
He had expected the compound to be busy, a veritable hive of activity, people constantly coming and going and he hadn’t prepared himself for this lengthy period alone.

The guard abandoned his post. At first he kept to the inner single track road and carried the swipe card with him, reasoning that if anyone did arrive he would be able to let them in without too much inconvenience. Anyhow, he had been here on his own for almost a week now and he couldn’t be expected to be available twenty four hours a day.

The guard began walking around the perimeter fence and looking across at the warehouses. He was always impressed by how imposing they appeared, the black paint always managing to gleam even under the dullest and most overcast of skies.

Sitting in front of the monitors one morning the guard realised that he hadn’t taken a proper look at the warehouses, not up close. Stepping from the office he set out toward them, making for the one at the centre. Drawing close he registered the nettles and thistles at the base and the bindweed climbing up the sides. There were patches of rusty metal breaking through the black paint and he could see quite clearly that the warehouses were constructed from thin and flimsy sheets of corrugated tin. Reaching out, he pounded with his fist and the whole structure shook.
The guard saw a door to his right. There wasn’t a handle or a latch but he pushed at it and grudgingly the door swung inward, revealing another directly in front of him. Taking out his torch, he peered in and saw a narrow walkway between the first warehouse and the second which was a rusting husk. Crossing the threshold he kicked at it and paint flakes rained down on him. Coughing, he pushed his way through and, moving quickly, he lost count of the doors but each warehouse was a little more decrepit and at last the guard was inside and it was small and it was empty.

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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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