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, 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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art, fiction

The Festering Wound of Tacky

Driving from the grand canyon into Vegas feels as I’d imagine a flea feels hopping from one side of a warzone to another.

We drive in at night. A sea of lights, a fire that refuses to die–or even flicker.

“Holy shit,” I say.

“Holy shit,” my brother agrees.

Our mother is in the back. “It’s the tackiest place on earth,” she tells us.

We get closer, a giant pink lighted sign advertises collision insurance. “Tacky, tack, tacky,” my mother says, in awe.

“It’s like the birth place of tacky,” I admire, as we head straight for a beam of light shooting into the sky.

My brother, trying desperately to concentrate on the road, can’t help but add, “the festering wound of tacky.”

We laugh, agreeing that ‘festering wound of tacky’ is the greatest height our joke will attain. “Where are we staying, again?” I ask.

“The giant glass pyramid,” our mother says.

My brother and I frown. “The what?”

“The giant glass pyramid.”

“Right.”

I don’t know exactly what we expected, but it turns out to be exactly that; a giant glass pyramid.

“Why?” I ask, staring up at the top where the beam of light is shooting into the sky.

My brother shrugs. “I think Las Vegas is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question.”

“And what’s that?”

“Why not?”

We make for the long entry-way into the pyramid.

“You realize if I were an alien, I would think this was the capitol of Earth.”

My brother nods. “Maybe this place was made by aliens and that is the capitol of Earth according to the rest of the universe.”

I can’t help but feel like that makes more sense than any other explanation I can come up with. So, I agree. Inside is motion–pure motion. People move, lights move, the air moves. It is 2 a.m. We carry our bags through a crowd of open containers, lit cigarettes, and bachelorettes. Our mother calls it “The Floor.”

It is endless, yet, it ends. The elevator goes up at a slant. A woman in a sequined blue dress stumbles into an elderly Hispanic woman holding a sleeping child.

“This is some wonky shit,” the sequined woman blurts out.

“I wonder what’s going on at the bottom of the Grand Canyon right now,” I whisper to my brother.

He looks around and shrugs, “probably the same.”

We laugh. Neither the elderly Hispanic woman or sequined dame seem terribly impressed.

 

**For more of our art and stories check us out at Flash 365

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art, fiction

Go Cowboys

Knock knock…

“Hi.”
“Hi”
“What did he say when you came home?”
“Go Cowboys…you left a mark”
“Is it big?”
“No.”
“Did he notice?”
“No.”
“Did she–”
“She called five times in the middle of the night.”
“Oh.”
“Why did we?”
“I don’t know.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“I know”
“I have to go.”
“Why?”
“I have to. I said I was getting coffee.”
“Okay…”
“Bye.”
“Bye.”

 

 
Knock knock…

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art, fiction

How Do You Know if You Love Someone?

One of the most classic and clichéd questions is how to know if you love someone, so, I found myself, drunk with sleeplessness–trying to figure out some reasons, the first and most obvious being,

when I think of this question, I think of you.

If I were stuck as a fish forever, I’d want you to be a mermaid–

When I think of you, it is not a memory. It is a feeling, a touch, a taste, a smell; it is the way my body reacts to the idea of you.

Whenever I see something in a store, my mind tries to find any way to connect it to you, in the hopes that giving it to you might bring you some sort of joy.

I worry about getting drunk–or deliriously tired, and randomly asking you to marry me.

Some songs remind me of you–without ever having heard them before.

When I let my mind wander, it wanders over to you.

The idea of losing you feels like being on the edge of a waterfall–deafeningly loud, standing on a wet, flat stone.

I cannot trust myself to write anymore because love is like falling, and no one ever thinks too clearly when they’re falling.

So, you will just have to stay as a mermaid while I drift off to sleep.

 

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art, fiction

Take a Taxi

We headed to Memphis
A city known for blues music
and segregation
(segregation is a thing
like when you’re a kid
and you try to keep your peas
out of your mashed potatoes
except you have an irrational fear of peas
and you’re a potato)
we had dinner at a place
that didn’t have any peas
they had shrimp though
and it was good–
blackened
We asked the waitress
for a place to see some blues
she told us about a place
in that part of town
(that is a thing that no one talks about
it is similar to them or those)
“Take a taxi”
she told us
“I always take a taxi
when I go out
in that part of town”
We thanked her
and ate shrimp

 

*For more of our work, check out Flash-365

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