fiction, photography

SHRUNKEN

Chris R-1-172 Image by Christine Renney

I am stopping more often, and for longer, and I have places where I take cover and can hide. I have fallen into a routine of sorts and I know when it is most likely these places will be deserted and when it is least likely I will be noticed.
I shelter in the doorway of an abandoned shop and watch the rain. The storm is raging overhead and, looking up, I step out into it. In just a few seconds I am soaked through and my clothes are sodden and heavy.
The street is busy. I have misjudged this particular place at this time and shoppers caught in the downpour are rushing to and fro.
I turn back to the empty shop but someone brushes past me and a woman is now standing where moments before I had been. She is smiling, apologising, ‘sorry’, and moving to one side she motions for me to join her. ‘no’ I shake my head, ‘no’ but reaching she takes my arm and pulls me back and together we stand in the doorway watching the busy street.
Suddenly I am tired, exhausted and I feel overwhelmed. But it is more than the fatigue; I am also elated. I hadn’t realised I could still need this, that I could feel it again.
I move back and leaning against the glass I sit. The woman is looking down at me and delving into her bag she pulls out a ten pound note ‘here, go on, take it’.

I open my eyes. It is still raining. The street is busy and shoppers still rush this way and that. Have I been sleeping? If so, for how long? Has it been just minutes or hours? Is it possible I have slept right through, around the clock or thereabouts?
I glance at my wrist, pointlessly because I no longer have my watch but it is an old, old habit and remembering it now I feel odd.
The woman has gone but I still have the ten pound note she gave me balled in my fist. Standing, I thrust my hands deep into my pockets.
The jeans are too big and my t-shirt is too loose and ragged. I feel shrunken inside them and I sense that it has been more than minutes, that I have been in this dank doorway for too long and I should move on.
I step onto the street and walk calmly amongst the shoppers. Everything is wet out here and my clothes, the t-shirt and my heavy sodden jeans cling to my skin. At least until I can get dry they have taken on my shape again and carefully I make my way. Although I don’t know to where I keep walking.

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fiction, photography

MORE

Chris R-1-135 Image by Christine Renney

I have money now, just a few coins, and gripping them tightly, I delve deep into the lining of my coat as I walk. I work a coin between my thumb and forefinger. I take them out and move them from hand to hand. I thrust the coins deep into the pocket of my jeans only to take them out again and again. I can’t stop doing this, looking at them, checking.
I drop one of the coins and it rolls out into the road. I run after it, suddenly worried that someone will take it. I stamp down on it with my boot and, crouching down at the kerbside, I quickly snatch it back. I have wandered away from the centre and there is no-one around.
Rising I place the coin with the others in my pocket. I have an odd feeling inside. It is something like purpose and yet I haven’t any idea what it is I intend to do.
I reach a parade of shops and, stopping in front of the plate glass windows of the off-licence, I peer in at the bottles, at the wine and the spirits. I don’t have enough but then I see cans of lager in the cooler at the back of the shop.
Although I am still unsure that this is what I want or what I need, I am already pushing through the doors and I know how it works; I spend what I have and then I get more.

Can alcohol still take hold? Get inside and make its demands? Or am I too full of holes and will it seep through the scars?
I have separated the can from its companions, freed it from the plastic ring and set it down in front of where I am sitting. Leaning back I stretch my legs out across the pavement and I can’t reach the can between my feet.
The others, the passers by, are forced to step over me and many of them glare angrily and I am glad of it. I don’t want some good Samaritan crouching down beside me. But if I sit here for long enough and drink myself into a stupor I know, of course, that this will happen.
What I want is for one of them to knock the can over and I don’t care if it is intentional or not, as long as I can watch the lager pool onto the pavement, the damp patch spreading between my legs and soaking into my trousers.
But despite their impatience and the scowls, the passers by are graceful, balletic even, and they don’t touch me and they don’t knock the can.
If I were to draw in my legs and reach out, snatch the can and drink from it would I feel it? Can I still know it? Can a ghost carry that conflict and walk with it?

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fiction

THE KNIGHT PERHAPS

chris r-1-56 Illustration by Christine Renney

Cocooned in my parka, head down, I walk. I keep to the edges of the pavement and I follow the cracks between the slabs and in this way I cover my patch. I tug at my hood just to be sure; a habit I can’t, or won’t, break, and I scan the ground at my feet. When I spot a cigarette butt, a good one, I reach down and snatch it and place it in my pocket along with the others.
I must appear erratic, resemble a chess piece, the rook, or the knight perhaps, my movements awkward and jerky. Any progress I make is difficult to determine as I trek the board, seeming to endlessly fail at making my way across.
But I don’t raise my head and I don’t know if anyone is watching. I suspect that when I am noticed it is fleetingly and that they steer clear. I am just somebody scuffling, a scavenger.
There are plenty of cigarette butts but I only collect the good ones. The best are those that have been pinched or stubbed out before being dropped and not stamped upon. But I’ll take any that might still contain a little tobacco rather than just dry dust and ash. And I have become adept at spotting these and I know when to reach down and which ones to gather. Throughout the day I fill my pockets and when they are full I leave, I abandon the board.
I never stray far from the Centre now and I settle behind the bins at the back of Pound Saver. I empty my pockets and set to work, rubbing with my thumb and forefinger I remove the burnt tips. Stripping the paper away, I pull out all the good tobacco and without wasting a single stringy strand I drop it, one pinch at a time, into the tin. When it is full and the tobacco is tightly packed, as I roll the first cigarette, just fleetingly I am content.

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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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