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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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.

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poetry, prosetry

Southend-On-Sea

We were standing on the old sea wall,
one Saturday night in August.
I was looking out across the grey
and thinking,
“You are not like me.”
I was impressed;
you impressed my 18 year old naiveté.
I liked your history, that you were older than me,
and the way you held me
and your money
and your energy
and the way you smashed the punch-bag
on that boxing arcade game
with such might that it nearly fell over.
New high score.
New adventure.
New boyfriend.
New life.
You were a good dancer
and you made me feel safe.
But there was a very real danger in you
and that appealed greatly.
I lied to my father;
told him I was with the girls,
but I was steeped in drunken debauchery
with you, by the sea.
(He caught me.
I never lied to him again.)
He was disappointed in me.
But then you made me happy,
the happiest I’d ever been
and it all seemed worth it.
But I knew, “You are not like me.”
You don’t read books,
you have a proper family.
We had the worst nachos in the world
and sticky, sickly bright green shots
that dribbled down our sleeves.
We had sex on the shingle,
in the shower, in the van, in the bed at the BnB.
We ran through the streets,
laughing, singing, thinking,
“We could do this. We could really do this. You and me.”
A drunken, drugged-up stranger approached us
and told us to “love each other endlessly.”
I was scared of love.
No, I was scared of loving you.
I was stupid, but smart enough to know that I should not love you.
But while the stranger spoke,
you grabbed my hand and looked at me, lovingly.
In that moment it was like we’d decided,
(without words, but with eyes):
Fuck everyone else, let’s do this. Let’s do this. Let’s do “us.”
He told us to “love each other endlessly,”
and we agreed.
And we did.
Until some years later
you ended the endless.
You ended the endless
on the day that I saw a photo
of you
and her
on Southend beach,
exactly where you had taken me
in those magic early days,
exactly where you’d promised
to love me endlessly.
Every once in a while, I think of that stranger.
Where is he now?
Dishing out impassioned advice
to other young lovers.
Dead in a doorway.
Drowned at sea.
What was fleeting for you,
was forever for me.
But I suppose I knew it
all along
that you are not like me.

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life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Going home

Old and new

Play

Like friends who never liked each other

Standing here, I could be there

Laughing, lolling about Route 66

Your hair wax stained cowboy hat on the table

The clink of sweating beer bottles

I always did better striving than living

Being a pretend person, now . . don’t knock it

Has some draw

We laughed out of fear and the fear felt good

Like real life and grabbing things by beaded throat

We roared our mirth like tigers, at the absurdity and the sorrowful

It reminded me of my grandmother’s funeral

My dad and I weeping with hot besmerched giggles

She would have understood, she would have joined in

that Katherine Hepburn smile, and the outline of something sad

That’s just how this family rolls

We laugh when tragedy feels crushing and put reality on hold

A frozen picture on TV, static and unspoken

When the wake is over and everyone has left their condolences

In a nice row

Searching for your people

Coming up empty handed

Just as I thought I couldn’t give more away

You call me out of the blue

A stranger sharing my last name

Funny how life takes and takes

And then it gives

Like a hand on your shoulder

When you’re thinking of jumping

The both of you grew thin

I put on all your weight, inherited the space

Given away by years and wrinkles

You said; Now heed me young lady

You’re standing in for us now

Do a fine job and I saw in the line and curve of your jaw

The man you were, the man you were not anymore

Strangers and bloodlines, all running together

Now you’re both gone

I’m relieved and itchy under the skin with the lie

Pretended so long

I don’t know how to be, whatever I am

We were a tribe the three of us

Now I’m starting over

In my own land again

A stranger

Of familiar, unknown places wearing unreadable clothes

Sharing my bed with regrets and hope

Like nothing and everything has changed

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prosetry

Insight

The blind old gypsy man grabbed my arm as I walked past and said quietly, “You’re in pain.” I said, “How d’you know that?” avoiding looking into his milk-glazed eyes, and he replied with a wry smile, “Anyone can see you’re suffering. It’s obvious to a blind man.

His friend across the table said to me in a broad accent, “Why? What happened to you, girl?” The blind man and I replied at the same time. I said, “Nothing.” He said, “Everything.

Several seconds passed and it was as if the earth had got stuck on its axis, skipping on its turntable, the same intense moment fluttering on repeat before lurching forward to where it’s supposed to be. The old boy dropped my arm and I scuttled away, trying to shake off the sensation of what felt like a snake writhing up my spine.

In the safety of the ladies toilets I stared at my reflection in the dirty mirror, seeing myself with my own eyes looking at my eyes with my eyes. Was I that obviously broken? How can it be that those closest to me with perfect eyesight couldn’t see how much I was hurting, but this blind stranger could? I thought then of the old saying that the eyes are the window to the soul and then thought about why I always wear sunglasses, even when it’s dark, even when it’s raining. I always thought it was because I didn’t want people to see that I’m drunk or hungover, but maybe it’s because I don’t want anyone to see my pain, maybe I don’t want anyone to know me. For reasons that I couldn’t quite grasp I felt certain that that encounter would go down as one of those highly significant, if not pivotal moments in my life. I wanted to talk to this man some more. No, I didn’t want to: I needed to. I had so many questions. Too many.

I rushed back out to the floor but his table was empty. There was no sign of his friend either. Just an empty whisky tumbler and the frothy remains of a Guinness dripping down the inside of its glass. I pushed past the crowd at the bar, out the door and onto the street. I looked up, down, across the road, frantic. There was nothing, there was no one. It was as if they’d vanished.

I haven’t seen the blind old gypsy man since, but I can still feel the weight of his bony, weathered hand imprinted on the skin of my left forearm, its peculiar temperature that was neither warm nor cool, his grip so surprisingly heavy, saturated with a lifetime of wisdom, the gentle squeeze that said, “I know you,” and the fingertips that said, “I know.” And I know for sure that that strange old gypsy man is the only living being on this earth that truly knows me.

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fiction

SUSPENDED

Chris R-0317.jpg Image by Christine Renney

Three or so hours ago it seemed like a good idea. Set off this evening and drive through the night, arrive home in the early hours and sleep until late. Manage to snatch back some time for myself. But it is only just midnight and already I am beginning to flag. The road ahead is bleached by the hard light from above. It has the jarring urgency of film and I have grown weary from its unspooling. I squint through the windshield, watching, because I must.

Motorway services aren’t ever entirely deserted, not even at two o’clock in the morning. There are a handful of motorists sitting as far away from each other as possible. The service area is cavernous and my every movement is amplified. The scraping of my chair as I stand and my footsteps as I walk back up to the counter for a second cup of coffee. As I wait I notice an image printed on a sheet of paper. It is laying just beyond the till alongside the napkins. I move along the counter and reach for it.

It is the reflection of a man in one of the windows here at the services. He is sitting hunched over his coffee. The motorway fills the frame and the image is blurred. The quality of the print is poor and the paper is thin. It has the look and feel of a photocopy. But the man is much more clearly defined because someone, possibly the photographer, has taken the time to draw around him with a blue pen. And not only the man but also the space he is occupying; the chair and the table and of course the all important coffee cup. Head down, his face hidden, he is sitting amidst the glare of the headlights. I hold up the photo so that the young woman behind the counter can see it.
‘Who took this?’ I ask.
‘Don’t know.’
‘No?’
‘No, no idea,’ she shrugs and I go to put it back.
‘It’s been there for a while,’ she says, ‘surprised it’s not been binned.’
‘Do you mind if I keep it?’ I ask. ‘Save it from the trash?’
‘Yeah, take it if you want.’

I move along the walkway which divides the service area on this side of the motorway from that on the other. The man was sitting out here when the photograph was taken. I’m not sure exactly where but it was at one of the tables closest to the glass. I settle down with my coffee and I fold the image, stow it in my wallet and I gaze beyond my own reflection and down at the road below.

Standard
poetry, prosetry

Paramour

He saw a photograph of me in a magazine and said, “I have to know her.

We met by chance in a dark room some months later.

He said, “I’m so pleased that you look nothing like you do in that picture.

*

We spoke about the Silva Method; Vingt-Quatre on the Fulham Road; old ladies with cartilage piercings and dolphin tattoos; Hanni El Khatib; Bristol; how you can tell a lot about a person by the state of their butter; John Cooper Clarke; the perfect way to die.

He knew things about me that I’d long forgotten.

*

I only realised that my nose was bleeding when the champagne in my glass turned pink without the aid of Chambord. He said it suited me.

*

He saved my number in his phone under the name ‘Amber Chimera‘ — the colour of my eyes, and a much-hoped-for fantasy that is impossible to achieve.

You know a Chimera is also a fire-breathing female monster?

I do.

*

Later I discovered that the sensation of his lit cigarette burying its face in the pale crook of my arm would be the closest that I’d ever get to touching the sun.

And thus the parameters of our unbounding love were set.

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