fiction, photography

THE EMPTY STATION

Chris R-1-78 Image by Christine Renney

The reception area is so vast that it easily engulfs all of those waiting. Each has found a space for themselves, somewhere to sit, to stand or to lean, even to pace, unhindered. Only he is unencumbered – he hasn’t a briefcase, no portfolio, no evidence of his brilliance. He has nothing to declare.
He watches the girl behind the desk and awaits his chance, the opportune moment to approach. Unlike the others, he hasn’t an appointment but instead a little insider info and a name and his plan is simply to wing it.
He isn’t sure if he is ready for what might be possible here and, standing in front of her, is suddenly aware of his ambivalence and casually he begins to improvise.
‘I don’t have an appointment.’
‘Oh,’ she looks up at him.
‘I know this is a little unorthodox but about eighteen months ago I worked with one of the employees here, freelance of course. He said that I should keep in touch, that I could contact him at any time. Well, I’ve been trying to reach him for days now, on the number I have for him, but keep hitting a wall and so I decided to come down here myself.’
This little speech rings in his ears, echoes in his head and sounds like utter bollocks. Even if it were true it couldn’t possible convince, could it? Surely not. But, yes, she asks it, the loaded question.
‘If you let me have your name,’ she says, ‘and the name of the employee I’ll see what I can do.’
And so he tells her and watches as she scrolls down the screen of her computer, searching for the name and number, for someone to call. He doesn’t bother to act incredulous, doesn’t pretend to be surprised when she tells him his colleague is no longer there. But although he isn’t really listening to the answers he already knows, when she asks him to go sit and wait he obeys.

It has all gone swimmingly and now that he is safely parked in lay-by a mile or so from there, he can give it some thought. It had worked like a charm; the name and his supposed association with a long since departed maverick. But his complacency had played its part, he had been impressive. They had repackaged their offer again and again. Coaxed him with the finer detail and all he had done was act aloof, as if he was about to get up and go.
Yes, without a doubt it had been the most auspicious of beginnings and eager to talk with his wife he reaches for his phone in the glove box, waiting impatiently for her reply.
‘It worked like a charm.’ It feels good saying it out loud but he now almost incoherent and the complete antithesis of his earlier self. Excitedly he blathers on, trying to tell it all at once, just what it will mean for them. A regular salary and the proposed bonus scheme, the health cover, the pension plan and the projected trajectory of promotion after promotion.
‘Are you sure about this?’ his wife sounds doubtful.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean are you absolutely sure about this?’
‘But we discussed this already, we decided together.’
‘Yes, I know, but aren’t you doing okay on your own? We’re all right aren’t we?’
‘Is it the deception? Because I lied?’
‘No, it isn’t that, well, yes maybe. I don’t know, I’m not sure. I know that you’re good at what you do and of course you will be good at it there and I know that it doesn’t matter, that we’ll forget but, I’m sorry, can we talk about it when you get home?’
‘Isn’t it a little late for that now?’
At her end she presses the red button and for a moment or so he sits with the phone clamped tightly against his ear to listen to the silence, to the highly charged static.

He is being led to his work station, not by one of the guys who last week conducted the impromptu interview. No, this is a fresh face, although following behind he hasn’t seen much of it.
The office is scarily large and he is reminded of a news room in one of those old black and white films, the chaos and the clamour. But he is mistaken, overwhelmed by the sheer scale and number of employees, all of whom are quietly engrossed at their screens. No, there is no chaos, no clamour here.
Up ahead, his guide is talking but he has fallen back and can’t hear. He can see the windows at the far end and hopes his desk will be in that area. At least then he will be able to look out.
And there it is at last – the empty station, his allotted space. He doesn’t stop but instead, forging forward, he pushes through the fire exit and wonders if it is alarmed.

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life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

She is the only one

Dear World

these days you seem to have structured yourself around

those who hate anyone who is not heterosexual

and all the rest; the pansexual, extensions, reinvention

new words for the same brand of suffering

when I was younger there was only Bi and it was a dirty word among lesbians

(though behind our scowl we may have fancied the more Bi of the group)

it was, you see, just self-preservation

hard enough to compete with one gender, let alone two

can’t stand up and fist fight a man for you

though if it were a war of words … mmmm

I devoted myself to the shedding of labels

they don’t describe a beating heart

but when prejudice comes knocking, you realize how

there is safety in numbers

I joined my lesbian sisters

though they did not welcome me

I did not act the Femme

I did not look the Butch

I liked men too much, wasn’t adequate bra burning feminist enough

though i’d go to the ends of the earth to defend us

for there is a special hell reserved for women who do not defend women

or those who feel it’s a meat market and they’ve got the biggest cleaver

Type A Personality who leave the quieter woman to the side

learning their dismissive strategies from the history of men

oh how cruel we can be to each other in pursuit of

a tiny fraction of nothing important

the person I take to bed doesn’t possess a penis and that’s just how it is

love between women isn’t about sex it’s something

in the grey matter that turns to starlight

when it became known I was gay

the bisexuals came to town

in a little red wagon

by then I’d decided I couldn’t condemn them

for more the merrier isn’t a crime

though I was not of their ilk

I was born in a violet hour and

given second sight to see a woman’s heart

it was unnatural to me to imagine loving a man

such things are part of who we are

as a tree is a tree and a river a river

still they call and ask

would you like to play with me?

when my husband is at work

and I wonder, do some hard-luck girls say yes?

do they ask the lesbians, figuring her vulnerable to

their beauty?

it is true, I don’t see much I like, in our small lesbian community

too many masks, unhealthy stereotypes in place of reality

most of the time I am condemned for not being lesbian ‘enough’

ultimately, labels are ridiculous

we’re all just trying to meet the one (or the two, or the four, or …)

when I met her, I saw instantly

she was my mauve butterfly

waiting for me to land beside her all along

I would not share

I would not replace

she is the only one

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fiction, photography

THE TRAVELLERS

Chris R-0249-2 Image by Christine Renney

I follow the other travellers across the car park and toward the rest area. They reach the doors and they push their way through but I stop and hover in front of the entrance, where people step around me, hardly seeing I am there so intent are they on getting inside.
I move close to the plate glass and peer in at them under the bright lights and although what they can do in there is limited, so very, very limited, they falter. It is fleeting but they are disoriented and unsure, if only for a few seconds and then they are able to re-focus and move again. It is a glitch and I realise that this is how I feel, that I am unsure, but for me it isn’t a glitch.
I step away from the entrance and begin to pace in front of the windows. Intermittently I raise my head and gaze into the cafeteria but I am unable to concentrate and I don’t really see them, they are just a blur.

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fiction

CHILDISH THINGS

chris-r-1110422 Image by Christine Renney

He is, she concedes, a singular child. When his father decided it was time to take away the stuffed animals and the cuddly toys he didn’t protest or hold out for a particular teddy bear. Instead, he was happily steered toward the building blocks and the giant jigsaws. He didn’t try to force these toys into his mouth or push them into a corner or against a wall. By working out what they could do he played constructively and contentedly. He didn’t crave for encouragement or interaction of any kind.

Watching him closely she is more than a little unnerved at his rapid progress. And the clumsy blocks and colourful shapes are soon replaced with far more intricate building materials. Lego and Meccano enable the boy to express himself and, as his models become increasingly more elaborate, she is impressed from afar. A medieval fortress and an oil rig and a space station like something from a science fiction film. Although he can only have seen these things on the television here they are, albeit briefly, for no sooner has he completed a piece he begins to dismantle it, eager to start on the next.

He breaks from play for the nursery rhymes. As she slips the record from its sleeve, she watches the hairs rise on his neck and his back arch in anticipation. He stands beside her as she places the record on the turntable and sets it going. It is old and scratchy and somehow has survived from her own childhood. When she first played it for him he had been just a baby and she had bounced him on her knee. She wonders if he remembers but doesn’t ask, doesn’t want to confuse what she hopes will be his earliest memory. They neither of them as much as shuffle in their seats but sit stock still and listen to the simple rhymes.

She moves around him and feels heavy, like a lead weight, like part of the furniture. She sits on the sofa to watch him at work and is astounded by the speed at which he transforms the pile of interconnecting pieces again and again.

Is that the supermarket at the end of the street? Yes, and that derelict factory and the unusual looking office block that they pass on the bus. Is that a power station or an old gas works with its chimney stacks? She kneels down beside him and is tempted to reach out and knock it over. And why not? Why shouldn’t they enjoy it crashing? But already he is taking it apart, breaking it down and beginning afresh. He concentrates now on constructing smaller buildings in order to create something altogether grander – a cityscape. She stands and, looking down, sees that it resembles one of those developer’s models of the proposed plans for a new town centre. Shiny and unreachable in its glass case. She steps away, attempting to take it in. But it is all too much and is changing far too quickly. She feels giddy and, nursing her head, she turns around. They are back to back now and she tries to picture them like this, but has to work at getting it right.
There isn’t a wild flurry in the corner, no turmoil, nothing to contain. Just a boy playing quietly with his Lego.

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fiction

VANISHING ACT

chris-r-0906 Image by Christine Renney

In the early morning I cannot find myself. Stalled in front of the bathroom mirror I lean in close but I am not there. At first it was for seconds but now it is minutes. How many? I do not know. Twenty? Thirty? More? And when at last I do begin to reappear my reflection is blurred and hazy and, razor at the ready, I am forced to wait until once again I am clearly defined. I could of course dispense with the mirror but I am not yet prepared to do that.

In the beginning it really was not very elaborate. I would find myself on the edge of a group, nodding along because I wanted to fit in and it was so much easier and I always sided with the majority. Each morning before work I studied the newspaper, particularly the sports section and the previous night’s television reviews in preparation. It really was very subtle and I did not consider myself to be lying at all. Although I did not watch the reality shows and soap operas, I kept abreast of the latest exploits and was able to join in. And despite my disinterest in football I followed the sport vehemently from afar and managed, without watching, to convince. I feigned enthusiasm for a chosen side and impressed with insightful comment and impassioned opinion. But of course, it did not stop there. It was not long before I was unable to deny the lies. In fact, I had started to research in order to add gravitas to my tall tales. Gradually, it became very complicated and all consuming and had I wanted to watch the football and the soap operas I simply would not have had the time.

Determined to control the lies I worked diligently in my spare time. My chief preoccupation was travel; the places people visit, holiday destinations. I professed to have been everywhere or at least wherever my colleagues mentioned. The places where they had already been or intended and planned to go. I offered advice and suggested itineraries, even restaurants, painstakingly unearthing the tiniest detail to ensure that my lies appeared authentic and were infallible. When my colleagues returned, and having acted on my advice, they shared their experiences of a particular excursion, museum, art gallery I had recommended or simply commented on a local dish I had mentioned, it all seemed worthwhile and I would feel warm inside. I relished the elation and it was good. I was sharing, involving myself with others and how could that not be positive?

I am changing, beginning to look older but it is more than that. I first noticed this in the mornings whilst shaving. I struggled for an analogy, a way in which to define it. The best I could manage was watching a film and not recognising the actor but knowing I had seen him countless times before, although I did not fully realise this until midway through. I would lean in close and study my reflection until I became so tense my every muscle locked and I was unable to move. I was concerned that I was stretching the truth too much and too far and that I risked discovery. But I could not resist a new destination and I added constantly to my repertoire of the most frequently visited of places. I began to keep a ledger, a journal of sorts, a record of my bogus travels. I compiled a list of dates for each and every visit and their duration. This included nine months backpacking in Australia with a friend from university, plus four months on trains with a girlfriend, travelling across Europe. I have even allocated time slots and gathered information on places I have not yet had occasion to use. I read the guides and the literature and I scour the internet for photographs and anecdotes that I might use.

My determination and diligence is rewarded and the feedback from my colleagues continues. I have no reason to believe they suspect and yet each morning, in front of the mirror, I am forced to linger for longer and longer.

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