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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fiction, photography

CODA

Chris R-1-101 Image by Christine Renney

Peter walked behind the shops, not a shortcut as such but it seemed to him a better prospect than the high road at rush hour. It was bitingly cold and, hunched in his jacket, he trudged with his head down.
He heard them first and, looking up, saw the girls, pole dancers, huddled in front of the door at the back of the club beneath a small oblong canopy of whitewashed concrete. They shivered, drawing hungrily on their cigarettes, teetering on stiletto heels, naked but for a little shimmer and sparkle.
It struck Peter that this would have made a great photograph and if only he had his camera how easily he could have captured it. But he hadn’t and as he stood watching the girls the irrefutable fact that he couldn’t change this caused him to feel nauseous.
Forcing himself he turned away and moved on. Walking toward home Peter re-played the moment in his head. He had watched the girls for a minute at most but this would have been long enough. He could have taken ten, fifteen, even twenty shots, each of them a masterpiece and all potential prize-winners.
Peter couldn’t accept that he had missed the opportunity to photograph the dancers. To contemplate the idea that the image didn’t exist and that he wasn’t responsible for its existence was simply too much for him.
Before he had reached his flat he had managed to convince himself that it wasn’t too late, that the girls would of course reappear the following evening and that all he needed to do was be there, armed with his camera.
The anticipation was almost unbearable and that night he rested fitfully. Over the course of the next week or so he revisited the back of the club. From late afternoon until the last of the light died he paced with his camera, a stone’s throw from the busy high road.
Each day his impatience lessened just a little and at last Peter raised his camera and started shooting but the girls failed to emerge and the door remained firmly in place.

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fiction, photography

THE BOOKS IN THE BASEMENT

Chris R-1-63 Image by Christine Renney

The bookshop is busy and bright. Pushing against the throng Daniel moves toward the back of the store and down the rickety wooden staircase. Once below, he is able to breath again and, taking in the stale and musty but familiar aroma, he begins to relax. He finds making the short trip from the plate glass doors at the front of the shop to the basement so stressful. Daniel worries that he will be apprehended by one of the sales assistants, that they will demand to know what he is doing, why does he keep coming back and why does he spend so long down below?
Daniel has been coming to the bookshop every day for months now and he must have been noticed. But he hasn’t been stopped yet and no-one seems to care. And why should they? After all, the books in the basement have been forgotten and abandoned, left to molder and fade. And so why should he warrant more than a cursory glance and a fleeting thought.
Daniel is thankful for this. It means he is left alone to his own devices and he can read. It also means that at least some of the lost books will be rediscovered.

Daniel doesn’t have to worry about making the return trip for hours. He has a flask of coffee and sandwiches in his backpack and, if he wants, he can stay down here all day and quite often he does. Once settled on the old and cracked leather sofa in the far corner he loses track of time.

There are a lot of books in the basement. The shelving units run its entire length and the walkways are narrow, just wide enough for two people to pass each other sideways. But Daniel suspects that this has never been necessary, or at least not in years.
The shelves are tightly packed, mostly paperbacks and all have been read at least once. Most more than this judging by the creased spines and the dog-eared pages between the covers.
There are so many stories stored down here, so many ideas. It is an archive, an accidental one maybe, but an archive nonetheless.
Daniel wishes that he could reach all of the books but even if he were gifted an extra lifetime he knows he could not achieve it. But Daniel is determined to keep reading for as long as he is able, he is convinced that, eventually, someone will notice him, that someone will decide to care. After all, this is a bookshop and not a library and he is breaking the rules.

Occasionally others do venture into the basement and whenever Daniel hears someone on the creaking staircase he jumps up from the sofa. Although he is entirely hidden from view he tries to act nonchalantly, as if he is just another customer, casually browsing.
It is dank down here and poorly lit. No-one ever seems to venture more than a few metres into the basement. This time, however, he hears someone moving purposefully along one of the passages. Daniel is intrigued and, emboldened, he moves across until he sees her.
She is searching for a certain writer, maybe even a particular book but it isn’t there and Daniel sees the disappointment on her face.
Still she lingers, scanning the titles and occasionally reaching out and touching the books. Daniel moves closer but she doesn’t seem to be aware he is there and, turning, the woman stares right through him. And he realises that she doesn’t see him, that as far as she is concerned he isn’t there.
Staying with her, Daniel glides along the aisle until at last she works one of the books free and pulls it down. She studies the cover and flicks through it and, turning again, she doesn’t put it back. Daniel realises the woman is going to take it, that she is going to keep the book.

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Uncategorized

Black book

Apparently

men can gather bed notches and

this elevates them socially

whilst women of the same history

are sluts plain and simple

therefore

I am a whore

not because you tell me so

or for any notches or black books

but for the raspy feather in my chest

when it tickles

I gather up my fancy

and I imagine

all the rides I’ve taken

which is as far as I go today

given my propensity for not coming back

but there was a time

I let four boys into my room

not all at once or even

in the same afternoon

they were as different as

the rules for men and women

one I found ugly and angular

his penis was a sharp hungry thing

that burned the desire out of me

another was vain and glorious

a cheshire cat apt to lap his own cream

his was large and unwieldly and

whatever they say about size isn’t really true

it’s about what you can do with what you got

the third had a penchant for drugs

and redheads and he had the best music collection

and the prettiest member

but I will when I die

think on the fourth most of all

short and a little fat with a tiny prick

that boy knew the secrets to loving

and we climbed all night

on divine ladders to heaven

where I briefly told him I loved him

and he bruised my womb

with his insistence I was his alone

which sadly I never was

by then my counterfiet heart

had been scattered like confetti

I was no more able to trust

than a painted lady selling her wares

It was the cheapened version of me

I let hook herself out on a line and dangle

you do that sometimes not for attention

but the disgust you have for yourself

and all the smut that got you to that point

and all the grubby fingers that wouldn’t quit

invading your right to peace

by then I had no feelings other than

roll another one, turn the record up

come here and let me suck

that pain away

it seemed the perfect solution aside

knowing the world would brand me a slag

concubine at best

but there is it

like the condom filled trash

stinking and real

though if you get stoned enough nothing

lasts long enough to peturb

including grateful boys who give their all

and in that five minutes of bliss

you learn a thing or two about transactions

how they salve the pain you never reveal

how being abused can make you turn around

and do the very same thing

though they’d never understand why

molested girls will open their legs to strangers

it’s one of those sad dichotomies

that’s also got a gender inequality label

for don’t you know it’s not always

piss and vinegar

makes a young man rut and rut?

we’re all carriers of some brand of pain

and those damaged souls

recognize each other

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fiction

A Carapace for this Irredeemably Querulous Nature

I step out of the office and into the hall for an hors d’oeurve taste of corridor’d freedom, industrial-carpeted and fluorescent, tans and grays and whitishes with a texture at once abrasive and numbing, unsatisfying like a tease of a snack on a toothpick that’s been sitting out too long but is better than no food a’tall, and head to the men’s room.

He’s in there again, turning from a urinal and zipping up, and my heart does that sinking thing because I don’t know everything but I know what’s coming, and I want to rush over and clap my hand over his stupid mouth before either of us can make the human people word sounds, maybe just choke him out and be done with it, then drag the body to the back corner stall, whistling elfish and cheerful while I wash my hands and walk out like nothing happened because nothing did, just a little murder.

But I’m already speaking, before the anticipation and the thought form an action, homicidal or otherwise, and a single Howyuhdoin slips out of a mouth I thought was under my control. WELL THANKS HOW ARE YOU, his voice booms, clear and commercial, a parody of our unfortunate ability to locute, all enunciation and no heart like the words are big wooden blocks he’s arranged with infantile pride in some inchoate effort at communication, and I’m furious at the futility of being soft-spoken and hard-thought in a world full of empty-headed broadcasters so I kick his stupid fucking blocks all over the place and say I’m good.

My only wish is to evaporate so I stand there and hold rabbit-style still watching him without breathing in case that’s how that happens, thinking there’s strength in non-doing, weakness sometimes in action. It does not—quite. He looks at me quizzically and I wonder if he knows how to spell that, with all those z’s and l’s and such, because I always thought it had just one “z” the way “kat” only has one “t.” He probably does, because no one but a good speller could SPEAK IN SUCH NICE WORD BLOCKS and no one but a broadcaster could manage to look quizzically at another being without even a shred of a hint of curiosity, only an otherer’s sense of abnormality sensed and I’m at least placated for a moment, standing there motionless, staring, blinkless, my mouth slightly open, physiognomy frozen. I’ve got him cornered as a kat, door behind me, man against man.

But he breaks the spell and steps up to the sink and begins to roll up his cuffs. I abscond to a stall where I sit on the latrine to use it as a perch from which to watch him through the crack in the stall door. He talks into the mirror as he washes his hands and inspects his visage, talks about sports or the weather or politics or something, something immediate and mundane and I flush the toilet over the little deluge of nihility cascading from his facial orifice, imagining his words getting sucked down the drain.

Have you considered therapy, I ask, cutting him off. Honestly, for a year I was completely mental. The cost, the trouble of finding a decent therapist. What a nightmare.

Yeah, he says with utter dispassion.

Yeah, this is a nightmare, I think, contemplating the décor—all beige-brown, but almost warm-seeming, like someone who cares but has no taste. I stand, lift my trousers, zip and button them, fasten my belt, flip the latch, and open the door. He’s drying his hands with those sandpaper towels, facing the room’s far wall, the back of his dress shirt wrinkled and crinkled from all day in a desk chair with no breatheabilityness.

Oh, excuse me. You were talking. That’s what I say.

Oh, you’re fine, he says, without turning around.

You’re fine is something people say when other people apologize but it sounds less like acceptance and more like giving someone permission to exist, I think. Anyway, I said I was good, not fine.

Have you ever read Foucault’s History of Madness, I ask him in italics.

Foo-calt, he inquires?

Yes, Foo-calt, I say. It’s all in there.

What is?

Everything, all of it. You should pick it up sometime. But just open it, and be sure to do so in public, so people know you’re smart. Otherwise there’s no point.

He smiles, and I see him smiling because he’s facing me now and I’m facing him and it’s just like it was a few moments before, before I dashed into the stall for cover from a threat that didn’t seem to have the first clue that it was threating. He’s facing me but he’s not looking at me, still, again. Well, he’s looking at me but it’s as if he’s not seeing anything and I think of something Dany Laferrière said in an interview about being homeless—because he was once—about being looked straight through like it’s something people have always seen, with compassion, perhaps, but without the slightest surprise or recognition. I suppose it’s all in how we experience, how we choose.

Still smiling, he says alright, sounds good, and makes a move to walk past me and leave as if some manner of routine continuance would reestablish normalcy and what do I do but smash it all to bits by initiating the people-passing dance and stepping in the same direction.

Excuse me, he says. Shifting to the other side.

You’re fine, I say, sliding myself in front of him again. Right, left, right. I swear a brain circuit shorts and tiny puffs of smoke emit from his ears. He looks me in the eye, uncomfortable, perplexed, futilely soliciting an explanation like a dog when you take its toy away and hide it behind your back. It knows it’s there, somewhere, but isn’t too sure what you’ve done with it.

Ah, you see me now, don’t you, you fucker. But I don’t say that; I just look back, returning the perplexity, thinking yes, I see, this is the way to be visible.

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fiction, photography

THE NOISE

Chris R-0246 Image by Christine Renney

The noise coming from above has changed. I’m not sure how to describe the difference but it is louder, all the walking and talking, even the water rushing in the pipes sounds more urgent, more focused. And I don’t like it.
They arrived, an eruption of activity, and I suffered throughout the redecorating. All the hammering and the drilling and the scraping. The work is now complete and the noise is less frequent but when it comes it is in bursts, more eruptions. It seems that they are always in a hurry; forever readying for somewhere or something else.

I can hear their television but I doubt that they are sitting and watching. The music, when it comes through the ceiling, is a dense and muddy block. I suppose that in a club it would make sense but not here and, despite the volume, I can still hear them moving around but they aren’t dancing and they aren’t listening.

I have a key. My former neighbours pressed it on me, ‘in case of emergency,’ they said. I didn’t want to take it, didn’t want to be a part of anything minor or major that they might consider an emergency. ‘It’s just in case we lock ourselves out,’ she said, sensing my reluctance, ‘or if anyone needs to get in whilst we are away.’ ‘Of course,’ I had said, ‘of course I’ll take it.’
I had forgotten the key. It languishes in a drawer, alongside nuts and bolts, nails and screws, all the bits and pieces that one day might prove useful. Rummaging through, I fish it out. I hold it up to the light, reacquainting myself with it and I add it to my keychain although I am unsure why.
Having it is enough. It dangles from the ignition as I drive. Each time I unlock the door to my flat it jangles alongside the others on the chain and for a while it is enough.

I hear their door slam up on the landing. Their clatter and their chatter on the stairs and they are gone and it is quiet. But I am agitated and although they aren’t at home my anxiety doesn’t subside. When they switch the noise off it doesn’t go away and I can’t settle, not tonight.
I have the key in my hand again. I have removed it from the key-ring, separated it from the others so that I can hold it. I consider damaging it, rendering it useless, unusable but how? I could take a hammer to it I suppose, force a nail punch into the grooves or place it in a vice and squeeze until it is misshapen and won’t fit. But I don’t have a vice, I don’t even have a hammer. I could of course take the key out onto the pavement and drop it down the nearest drain or I could simply return it.

I had been required, the key had been needed. I had let someone in, a workman and there had also been a delivery. I remember two men carrying something up the stairs. A fridge freezer or a washing machine, and I watched as they struggled with it along the narrow hallway and disappeared into the kitchen.
I had waited out here on the landing, shuffling in the cold without a coat, and when the men had done what they needed to do, retrieving the key I had pulled the door to.

I haven’t been inside, I haven’t as much as stepped across the threshold but I have used this key before, I have unlocked the door before and so why shouldn’t I do so again? Who will know?
I almost slip on the veneered and shiny floor and my footsteps echo. I move slowly and try to stifle the clatter of my feet but I can’t, not up here, and of course it doesn’t matter. There isn’t any need for stealth. I am alone.
I move more quickly, now stamping and stomping loudly. I switch on the lights and, letting the flat glare, I take it in. All is uniform and strangely fresh. There is a fragrance in the air and, breathing deeply, I am reminded of an office. It is sparse – minimalist and modern, not built for comfort. It isn’t any wonder that the young couple can’t settle but they will of course move on. Perhaps together, perhaps not, but both of them will enjoy more, will have bigger and better. This is just a beginning.
I resist the urge to rifle through their belongings, to mess with the scatter cushions. And in the kitchen I sit on a high stool at the glass counter and wait.

 

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art, fiction

Snip-Snip

Getting a haircut in a foreign country is like going to the dentist anywhere in the world; it sucks. Yet, I’d live in a dentist’s office before resorting to a man-bun, so I do what I have to do. I can tell that they can tell I am American before I open my mouth.

“Wash?”

I nod. They lead me over to the sinks. They place a large black plastic robe around me and sit me down. As always, there is no position that is pleasant for my neck and my head is so far back that I can’t comfortably breathe. They wash it twice, three times.

I sit in front of the mirror, wet. I sigh.

“Style?” The woman asks. Embarrassed, as always, I find the screen shot on my phone of some much better looking man with much better hair than me and show it to her. She looks at it, then to my hair, then back. She frowns.

“Your hair, not like this.”

I shrug, taking my phone back. “Something like this then,” I tell her. She starts cutting, I close my eyes. Then, the worst part of a haircut arrives; talk.

“Where are you from?” she asks.

I open my eyes.

“America,” I say to her reflection.

She makes a face. “Why do you come to Russia?”

I try to blow off a piece of hair that’s fallen on my lip. It’s wet.

“I like it here,” I tell her.

She makes another face. I close my eyes, again. Only a moment.

“My friend go to America before. She went and came home with girlfriend.”

I wait for more, it comes.

“It is so strange, people in America do this a lot?”

“Do what?”

“Girls making girlfriends.”

I can’t nod so I tell her, “yes, it is quite common.”

She makes a disapproving tsk. “She had a boyfriend when she left Russia, but came back with a girlfriend. She wants to marry her.”

“Yeah,” I say, instead of saying something. She continues snipping around my ears, obviously deep in thought.

“Can she do that?”

“Yeah.”

“America is strange.”

I shrug. “It’s not that unusual there. Depending on where you are from,” I say, then close my eyes.

“Do you have a Russian girlfriend?”

“Mhm.”

“Will you take her back to America?” she asks, moving around to my other side.

“We will probably visit someday. But maybe I shouldn’t, she might come back with a girlfriend,” I smirk.

The hairdresser is silent. She keeps snipping with a concerned face.

“No,” she decides, “that would not be good.”

It seems to be the last of her ideas on the matter. I sigh and close my eyes, finally.

I suffer the rest of my haircut in peace.

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