fiction, photography

THE LAST STATION

Chris R-1-206 Image by Christine Renney

The Station was small and tidy. This is what struck Carter as he stepped onto the platform; how incredibly neat and tidy it was. The Ticket Booth and Waiting Room were painted a muted purple that shone in the sunlight. There were window boxes and the flowers were unseasonably fresh and fragrant. Strangely, there were no signs and Carter had no idea where he was.
He realised that the train he had only just departed was already pulling away and he could so easily have jumped back on board and made his way back but he didn’t.
He moved toward the Ticket Booth and the middle-aged woman behind the glass smiled broadly. But as he drew closer Carter realised that it wasn’t a woman at all but a cardboard cut-out, faded and creased. And the smile he had found so welcoming at a distance was in fact a little grotesque.
Turning from the booth Carter looked around and he could see quite clearly that it was the end of the line. He was unsettled by this but he was unsure exactly why. He also noticed that the section of platform where he stood was separated from the rest of the Station by a chain link fence on his left. Carter walked across and moved close to it. He could see a concrete staircase at the far end that led up to the road above. Carter stepped back and studied the signs attached to the fence, instructing him to ‘KEEP OUT’ and warning him of the ‘DANGER OF DEATH‘. But it didn’t look so very different over there. It was dirtier, yes, grimier and dustier. Most of the floor tiles were cracked and an old rusty ticket machine lay on its back. But it seemed much more familiar over there and Carter realised that it was on the other side of the fence he longed to be.
The fence was split here, there and everywhere. Carter chose a gap close to one of the posts. He pulled and it came away easily. He clambered through and, once clear of the fence, he could hear the traffic from the road above. Carter looked up at the ceiling but it didn’t come down around his ears and although of course no-one was watching he moved stealthily across the station. He was less than halfway up the staircase and he could tell that the entrance had been blocked. He climbed to the top and pushed at the boards but he could see in the gaps around the edge how they had been bolted into the brickwork from outside and there was no way he was going to be able to shift it and break through, at least not without tools. Ideally, a drill and a saw but at the very least a hammer and a sharp chisel but even with tools he would make too much noise and draw attention to himself. No, he couldn’t break his way through.
Turning, Carter heard the train and rushing down he almost slipped more than once on the dusty concrete steps. But he hadn’t even reached the gap in the fence and the train was already pulling away. It couldn’t have stopped for more than a few seconds and Carter had missed it again, his chance to jump on and make his way back.

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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

CAGED

Chris R-2-20 Image by Christine Renney

The bird had fallen down into their chimney. They had missed this, hadn’t heard its descent. Trapped and stalled but still attempting to fly, the bird bounced against the bricks.

They could hear the wings beating, its head and body bashing against the thin board that had been tacked in front of the fireplace.
‘We have to do something,’ she said.
‘Like what?’ he asked.
‘What do you mean, ‘like what’?’ she glared at him, incredulous. ‘We need to get it out of there, to set it free.’
‘How?’ From where he stood he studied the board. He couldn’t see any screws or fixings and suspected it had simply been glued into place and that removing it wouldn’t be difficult or particularly disruptive.
‘If we’re going to remove the board we need to get in touch with the landlord,’ he said. ‘It’ll pull the plaster away with it and could cause some damage.’
‘I don’t care!’ she stepped closer and, reaching out, placed her hand at the centre and the board wobbled slightly. The bird had quietened a little but now began to thrash and flail more violently.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she said to it. She moved back.
‘We have to help it,’ she pleaded.
‘It’s a wild bird,’ he said. ‘If we let it out it’ll be disorientated. How will we deal with it? It’ll be covered in soot and I don’t know what else.’
She crossed to the window and, drawing back the net curtain, she flung it open.
‘It’ll find its own way out,’ she said defiantly.
‘I’m not so sure, why don’t we go out and when we get back it will have gone.’
‘No,’ she shook her head, ‘it won’t be gone, it will be dead.’ She moved to the kitchen.
‘I don’t care,’ she shouted back at him, ‘about the damage or the consequences.’
He listened to her rummaging in the junk drawer until at last she came back brandishing a paint stripper.
‘If you won’t do it then I will.’
He had been annoyed by just how indignant she had become and at how quickly. But the indignation had now turned to something else, something less fleeting, more settled. He took the paint stripper from her.
‘Okay,’ he said, ‘I’ll do it.‘
The board was indeed flimsy and, pulling away from the wall, it started to bend. The bird was bashing against it and then it wasn’t. He was shocked by how small it was.
He released the board and, letting it flap back into place, he stood and together they watched the little bird fluttering in front of the open window.

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