fiction, photography

THE THICKET

Chris R-1-201 Image by Christine Renney

There was a wood directly behind the house and although Joseph had been living on the outskirts for almost a month he still had not ventured into this small but dense thicket. When he needed to make his way down into the village for supplies he would walk around it. There was a beaten track that began just beyond his garden and led straight into the trees but each time Joseph reached the edge and peered in he would find himself stalled and unable to take the next couple of steps. He could see that the path was very narrow and overgrown with bramble and gorse encroaching on either side and it seemed to him that it became even narrower as it disappeared into the darkness.

The others living on the outskirts were making use of the path. Joseph often noticed one of them pushing through the tangled branches and disappearing into them, or someone emerging head down and hunched over, laden with supplies. But once clear they would stretch and yawn, readjusting to the light and reacquainting themselves with the sky.
Just a few days ago one of these men had spotted Joseph watching from the window and, putting down his heavy bags, he had glared back. Looking down Joseph pretended to busy himself at the sink and when he raised his head again, the man was gone.

Following this incident Joseph began to imagine that the others were talking about him, that he was a topic of their discussion. He was sure they were perplexed as to why he continued to walk around, trudging in the wet grass of the meadow, rather than making use of the more direct path leading through the wood. Joseph was convinced they considered him a fool and were laughing at him. He began to keep his distance even more, as far as it was possible. But he continued with his chores, working in the gardens and chopping firewood and hauling supplies from the village. It took him a little longer but Joseph was working hard and doing his share and the others had no reason to complain.

Joseph has hardly slept in days. He creeps from the house and moves stealthily across the garden in the moonlight. Reaching the trees, he stands at the edge of the footpath. The others don’t use it after dark and certainly not at this late hour. Joseph is determined that tonight he will be able to do it, and steeling himself, he takes first one step and then another and suddenly he is walking through the wood. In fact, he is moving quite quickly, almost running and he can’t see but he can feel the brambles and the gorse brushing against his legs and pulling at his coat. And just as suddenly Joseph stumbles and he is down, flat on the ground. There are scratches on his hands and blood on his face and dirt in his mouth. But he isn’t hurt, not really, a little bruised maybe but no more than that and yet he can’t move. Joseph is now frozen to this spot and he wonders how far has he managed to come? Half way perhaps? But he suspects that it is considerably less than that.

Standard
fiction, photography

FRAGILE

Chris R-1-181 Image by Christine Renney

I still intend to keep walking but the road now is a distraction. It has become too much, the noise and the lights at night.
There is a bridge up ahead and I wonder about all the others just like it that I must have passed. But I haven’t noticed and I haven’t looked until now and I am walking towards this bridge rather than alongside the road.
It looks fragile, like something I might have built as a boy with Lego or Meccano or perhaps even both. Forcing the pieces together and making them fit.
It is thin and narrow, a walkway linking the footpath on either side of the carriageway. And from where I am standing I can see this path snaking away from the bridge on the other side.
Moving closer I gaze up at the underside. The paint is peeling on the girders. Each time a car thunders past the whole thing shakes a little and flakes fall. Stepping back I watch this confetti of rusty scabs.
The bank here is concrete and steep and if I am going to get up there I will need to double back. And turning myself around I feel giddy and disorientated.

I am walking away from the road at last. The footpath is leading me across a field and through waist high corn or is it wheat? Anyhow, it is a sea of something and in this dull light it isn’t golden but brown.
I resist the urge to stop and turn. I don’t want to know how far I have managed to stray from the road, and whether or not I can still make out the signpost at the edge of the path. Instead, I focus on the field, on the corn or the wheat or the barley or whatever it is. I am aggravated by the fact that I don’t know. It is a little thing and yet it feels important, something that not only I but everyone should know.
Reaching out I trail my hand through the crop as I walk. Just a few months ago I could have unearthed the answer, quickly and easily, the means to do so at no more than an arms length. Tapping a few keys I would have gathered up the information, conjured the facts and figures, photographs and statistics onto a screen.
Stopping I realise that I am delving into my empty pockets. First my jeans and now my coat. I am searching for my phone. It is futile, I know, a pointless act because I remember quite clearly destroying it, the pulling apart and rendering it useless. Yet I can’t stop myself from looking and, using the palms of my hands, I start to pat myself down.
In my confusion, I turn and in order to stop this, to still myself, I start to move again and I am walking back. Toward the road.

Standard
poetry

Feels

Feeling nothing is still a feeling
so is feeling numb (i.e. feeling unable to feel anything)
I have a hard enough time trying to survive with feeling tangible feelings,
let alone non-feeling feelings that make me feel as if I can’t feel anything at all
and ‘feel’ does not look like a real word anymore
but it must be real as I feel its definition swimming in my brain
(an organ which, actually, cannot physically feel)
and I feel sick of feeling all the feelings
I am sick of feeling sick
Fuck feeling feelings
I don’t want any
I don’t want a single one

Standard
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.

Standard
poetry

Elizabeth

she looked like a girl I knew
but stranger
a creature
dental-floss hair
ice in her eyes
tattoos on her toes
tequila on the tip of her tongue
where did she come from?
that whole afternoon
we told stories by the pool
about parents and books
and drugs and the moon
and smoked cigarettes on the beach
with the sea up to our knees
and shared hugs and kisses
and promises and secrets
and I told her
that I’d rather be happy and never write again
than feel this sad/bad/mad forever and have poetry in me
and she said no no no
you must love your pain, your sadness is you
and I told her
that I wished more than anything
that I had nothing to write about
that my notebook was empty
that my heart was good and full
that my life was simple and easy
that my brain was quiet and dull
and she said no, no way,
no way, that’s not true
oh Elizabeth,
my darling girl,
you have no fucking clue.

 

Originally published at Treacle Heart.

Standard
poetry

My Illnesses Apologised To Me

Step out of hot bath
seared skin
outline of phantom bikini
bird nest twist on top of head
soft breasts, right slightly bigger than left

Wipe steam off mirror
cool green wrist
tattoo evidence of his existence
white lines whiter still
middle finger ring won’t come off so don’t try

Face less puffy
wish it were gaunt
constellation of freckles
spots and dots
lips vanishing
nose twitching
sniff deep
taste the dripdripdripping
of chemical rocks
that make your teeth bite each other
see what you see

Eyes with nothing in them
no water, emotional or otherwise
no stories no soul
just a nondescript colour
surrounded by non-colour
with a black hole in the middle of it
which is printed on your face twice
a brief moment where you realise
dead men’s eyes contain more life
and you cannot blink
just blank
-ly stare

Ghost lips move on their own
somewhere else not on your face
maybe in your brain
saying words they’ve never said before
“I’m sorry, [your real name]. I’m so sorry”
still eyes watch mouth return from far away
Illnesses speak again
in voice that is and isn’t yours
“You were supposed to be brilliant. Sorry.”

Try to reply
try to say “I know” or “it’s okay” or “it’s not fucking okay” or “I’ll never forgive you”
but no no no no no no nothing comes out nothing
you can’t blink or wink or think
the pink folds on your face don’t move
there’s nothing you can say or do
just a downward nod
stare at floor
notice fresh wound on foot
watch blood pool
swallo
O
o
O
o
ow the remains of the cocaine at the back of your throat
find your black book, make a note
of the first and only apology
and never look in the mirror again.

Standard
poetry

My Own Ghost

I am being haunted by my own ghost;
after all, it is me and all my selves that I fear the most.

The spectre that loiters with intent
at the end of my bed is my own reflection,
clearer than any mirror.
She conjures a portal to our pasts
and cackles as she presses Play: there, by my feet,
a montage of my transgressions and overlooked indiscretions,
a projection of my ugliest traits and most deplorable thoughts,
all the things that I tried to bury deep but keep
on creeping up on me,
on display in perfect clarity for human-me to see
the worst aspects of me presented on a loop
through wicked, unsolicited reverie.

I have been disturbed, tortured, cursed
by the various versions of me that I hate the best,
the personalities that I present that never asked, never meant,
never wanted to be created but exist;
born out of malice,
mothered by hatred,
fed by abasement,
but, for now, diurnally sedated.

Sometimes solus,
sometimes en masse,
that old menace escapes
from the gaping crevasse in my brain,
they bring the noise, she brings the pain.
Ultraviolence through the night
and then, at daybreak, silence:
I am the only living creature on earth
but even I have abandoned me.
Only one more version of me left to destroy,
the best of the worst.
When she joins the rest of her selves
there’ll be no girl left to haunt.
I wonder what we’ll all do next.

Maybe when there’s no one left to blame
and you’re playing a losing game against your own brain,
it’s fair to say that I hurt me the most;
I am being haunted by my own ghost.

Standard