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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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life, poetry, prosetry

my wisdom is as neglected as chaos is

You can’t even think straight. Cleanly, that is. It’s straight enough, but so coarse and asperous I must put it in the shell of another—hence this “you” and its rhetorical undressing. You, tell me something funny. Ok, well, earlier there was pure despondence, that utter undesire for the substances of your life as you stood surrounded by linear narratives like sweaty shiny dudes at the gymnasion in tank tops for bearing tribal arm band bullshit tattoos doing bicep curls in incidental unison, their grimaces of exertion gaping back at them and that’s when irony got its hooks in deep around the vainly lathered notion of so little being left to the imagination when in fact the ancient Greeks were the ones who trained naked. Has our sense of the aesthete changed so much, or merely the gods in whose honor we do compete.

Our stories shape us and we shape our stories, you cried, as if in objection or acceptance—‘twas difficult to tell; it all depends on the angle and the context. The commercial break reminds in no uncertain terms that this particular loneliness has been brought to us by double caffeine coffee pods and home security systems but says nothing not a thing at all about extremism. Oh the places I’ve been, and left, reaching out from fate, trying to remember the crumbling Olympia of people within.

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fiction, photography

HIS NEIGHBOUR

Chris R-0957 Image by Christine Renney

It struck Thomas as odd that he wasn’t repelled by his newest neighbour, who was very eccentric and extremely loud, the type of person Thomas had always gone out of his way to avoid. Strangely, he found himself drawn to the man and didn’t mind getting caught out on their communal landing or on the hard standing in front of the main entrance doors.
Thomas would happily stand alongside this man and talk, although he wasn’t required to do much of that. All he really needed to do was listen and nod along, getting the occasional word in whenever he could and often he would laugh because his neighbour was funny. Thomas had decided it wasn’t so much what the man said but how he said it. He had a gift for language, a way with words. It was as if he were reciting dialogue written by a talented playwright. And his outlook was slightly slanted and a little anarchic and Thomas enjoyed listening to him and looked forward to their encounters.

His wife had always found time for people like this man, the loners and misfits, the one who stood apart from the crowd. She had been more than polite, taking the time to talk and engage with them. Time and again, Thomas had found himself trapped alongside her, uncomfortable and mute. He had started to wonder if she wasn’t becoming a little eccentric herself and was readying to join their ranks. He realised now that he wouldn’t have minded if she had, that he would in fact have embraced it. And here he was, once again, standing with his newest neighbour, listening and laughing.

Thomas decided it was time to move this relationship, their friendship, to the next level. Half turning, and motioning toward the door to his flat he said, ‘Why don’t we go inside and I’ll get us some tea and we can make ourselves more comfortable.’
Turning again he realised that his neighbour had stopped talking and that, amazingly, he was lost for words.
‘Oh, ah,’ the neighbour spluttered, ‘that’s very kind of you but I’m far too busy. I have things I need to do.’
He was backing away and delving into his pocket for his key. Reaching his own door he looked back.
‘Thank you but no,’ he called, ‘perhaps another time.’

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fiction

STASIS

Chris R-0352 Image by Christine Renney

On the day that she left she took only her clothes. She pulled our long unused suitcases from beneath the bed and I was impressed by how swiftly she managed to empty her wardrobe.
As she began to pack I didn’t doubt that everything would fit. She wouldn’t leave anything, only the discarded hangers, which she threw into a corner, a pile that grew ever more twisted and tangled.
I noticed her watching me as I watched her and I stepped back on to the landing and waited for her out there.
She struggled on the stairs with the first case and I follow her with the other. I set it down on the front step and, closing the door, I waited, watching through the frosted glass until she came back for it.

Over the course of the next few months she took back the rest of her belongings, just a few at a time. I have pondered over the years as to why she did this, if it was a misguided attempt to be gentle or out of necessity. Anyhow, she visited the house during the day whilst I was at work.

I imagined her, I still imagine her, deliberating over a particular picture on the wall or an ornament on a shelf. Sorting through the books and records and, although she took her time about it, eventually she had taken everything and I am now left with just the basics.
There are curtains at the windows and carpet on the floor. I have cutlery, crockery, pots and pans but no kettle. I have the cooker, fridge freezer and washing machine. There are sheets and towels in the airing cupboard and I have a bed for sleeping and sofas to sit on. The stereo and the television were hers and these were the last to go.
When she was done she posted the key. For weeks I left in on the mat, moving it around a little each time I collected the mail until, at last, I placed it at the centre of the mantle, above the electric fire and there it remains where the carriage clock used to sit.

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fiction

Stranger

Is this your girlfriend? The guy at the next table asked me loudly in one of those booming broadcast voices, pointing at her, as if she couldn’t answer for herself and was some kind of stranger even though she was clearly sitting with them, clearly sitting and smiling, and clearly smiling at me when I looked at her not so clearly like he’d asked me to identify a set of keys he’d found on the floor. She had blondish hair, soft features, a sweet smile with slightly too-big front teeth, and classic curves, I remember thinking, odd thought, thought it just like that, classic curves, and I was pretty sure she wasn’t mine, but she did look like a girl I saw in a dream one time so I took the bait and told him so.

Ah! Dream girl! AHAHAHA! No no, that’s not what I meant, not at all, but he was too full of toothy guffaws and eyeballs to hear my feeble clarifiers so they got left dangling and I gave up and laughed a little, just some, to mold to the mood a bit, I’d say, a little uncomfortable because he seemed a little like the relentless type and I had no interest in being hung out to dry, friendly-like or otherwise and thought that thinking who knows where this might go was nothing but a weary cynic’s rhetoricism.

It was probably 4-ish in the afternoon on a cold, overcast day, at the big café on the corner there, the one where that diagonal crosses perpendiculars to make six and no one knows when to turn or where to look when they do. And when I say cold I mean not jack frost in your face but old man hiver with the north wind freezing you from the inside out with each breath you take through numb lips and stiff nose. North because it’s cold up there.

Four of us, there were, to go with the time, my friend and I and an acquaintance and the acquaintance’s ladyfriend who was more like an acquaintance squared, if I math’d it—we’d just met her, were meeting her for the first time, maybe the last. She wore a pink coat and smelled like marshmallows, I thought, and I wondered how he found her, then thought maybe by scent because maybe he likes marshmallows. How little I really knew about him, faintly surprised at how little I cared.

We’d paid our bill by the time of mr. loudbusiness, as had he and his, and we sat, lingering, talking small-ly, coats on as if in preparation, and the boisterous one just had to jump in and make us nine with his five—himself, a couple other guys who seemed straight out of a clockwork orange, a girl with pigtails, grown girl with grown girl pigtails, and my “girlfriend,” who was by then engaged in an elaborate process of bundling up to what must’ve been twice her actual size and I wondered if she was Russian. Not because of the bundling, though, just because. Maybe it was the accent in her smile and the clockwork boys.

Thing was, I’d just finished getting mad at my friend and our squared acquaintances, so maybe the mouth had stopped talking long enough to hear me, us, and that was his in, when I flipped out in an animated but uncrazy way in the middle of a conversation my table’d been having about not love (in its magnificence) but relationships (in their banality), and he—my part-known friend—had taken to joking and teasing me about my apparent indifference, my unwillingness to Put Myself Out There, which, yes, I heard as a bad title to an even worse book that I wondered if maybe I should write for purposes of fame and riches, to hell with dignity. And I let go of my stoicism and let them have it, tracing my words out angrily on the table like they’d be etched there for the record.

And so we got up to leave and so did they and so we ended up leaving together, the two groups linked by his simple tease, the common bond of banter, and with the subtraction of our head count we all but cleared the place and I realized on our shuffling departure how empty it had been and how much space he managed to occupy with his booming broadcast relentlessness, and how blind I’d before him been with my first silent then outward aggravation.

We stood out front for a moment by one sixth of the corners to say farewells and chat like strangers do, searching the moment for the unsaid signal from the angel of dispersal before he gave me a congratulatory shoulder slap and “eh?” combo and I wondered what I’d won, with no idea what had just been said before. I smiled and laughed again anyway, more freely this time because we were on the outside then and I could run if I wanted, into traffic if I wanted, in front of a bus if I could find one, so I let him have whatever fun he was having while the magnificent nine shivered and shrugged and rubbed their hands and squinted in the wind and coats ruffled and breaths condensed and vaporised and the mumbled talk that we dragged with us from inside had shrunk even smaller with the influx of weather and strange strangers merging two separate into one single midst was chopped through chattering teeth.

The angel did at last descend and he and his mates and I and my friend (our acquaintances had already gone on their way), began to separate, our brief communion stretching like melted mozzarella, making me wish more than ever for a knife, even just a fork, either of which I felt might then and there serve several purposes. But she and the grown pigtail girl—who appeared to know her better than the clockwork fellas did—came along with us, fiend and I. They just came along. No invitations, no acknowledgement, we simply started to cross the street in our direction and they joined. You kids have fun! AHAHA! the boisterous one called out over his shoulder, and I waved a goodbye that was more of a good riddance, even though I kind of liked him when I was leaving.

The girls walked with us for a couple blocks before I politely took my leave and drifted off the way I tend to drift away and she gave me a wink that I missed. My friend grinned devilish and we exchanged a quick nonverbal in the midst of audibly saying ok see ya later ok yep and he continued on with the two girls ever so predictably, bundled curves and pigtails, while I went back to the old flat we were staying in, sharing, I should say, sharing so he could look for a job and I could look for ways to avoid one, just around the corner on a street that was almost always perfectly empty, and I thought as I walked both away and toward, chilled but not yet frozen, that the whole scene was like something from Dr. Zhivago, kind of around the beginning, and maybe she was Lara which definitely would’ve made her Russian unless she was the actress from the movie who was probably British or something.

He texted me not long after I got back to the creaky coldness of our beat up flat, probably an hour or so, saying some shit about how he was getting on smartly with her and I felt more stupid than jealous because I knew he was telling me I could’ve been in his shoes if I hadn’t been so stupid but what I really felt stupid for was thinking for a second that he was right. Which he was, but not how I mean it.

He came back late that night when I was taking a hot shower because I couldn’t sleep and my feet were iced. I heard the door slam and knew he’d been drinking and would probably barge straight into the bathroom to recount the tale of the past several wasted hours, hours I’d spent in some roiling combination of tossing and turning and trying to write a story, first on paper, then just in my head, then back on paper again, before my feet got me up. He’ll barge right in, I thought, right in, to make me uncomfortable and give himself something to do, which he promptly did, succeeding on both fronts. I told him to shut the door to keep the steam in and he said She gave you a wink when you left. Really? I totally missed it, trying for an unknown reason to sound like I cared, but for a second I must say I did forget how cold my feet still were.

There’s diversity in the mystery, he said, endless and seeming possible; details get tired, and then you do too. This girl is sweet, pretty, and other. Yes. I’m not thinking now on details. They’re really not attractive anyway, and I mean that philosophically. Not listening: You and I both, attracted to preliminaries and basics, then blanks get filled in and we get bored and/or annoyed, as much with ourselves as with them, he said,

and I knew right then and there that that was it for us, me and he and these non-entities, and all I wanted in the great wide world was to be left the hell alone.

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