fiction, photography

FESTER

Chris R-1-224 Image by Christine Renney

This story has been published previously in the journal ‘Yellow Mama’ – my thanks to Editor, Cindy Rosmus.

A chain link fence runs along the back of the terraced houses and the posts have been pulled across the path. Taking giant steps, the boy walks on the green plastic mesh. Avoiding garden refuse and a rusty bicycle frame, he reaches the gap between the garages on his right. He leaps clear of the web and stumbles onto the ground. Flies rise in his face but he stays down and, collecting himself, he crawls forward on all fours.
Keeping to the centre of the narrow cut, he pushes an old Coke can in front of him. A little of the drink spills onto the dirt. Flies buzz around the sweet and sticky droplets and he notices now the swarm, a little to his left, close to the wall. He stands and peers down but it is impossible to see through the flies. He unzips and urinates, clearing them with his stream. It is a finger. He steps back, splashing onto his trainers. A severed finger.
He sees how it was done. Where the hand was held against the wall and where the blade has scarred the bricks. He notices too the gouged area, where the flies are concentrated, and that the congealed blood tapers until it is just a stain on the wall where it has run.
He knows that he really should leave, get away. It seems like the sensible thing to do, the only thing to do. But he doesn’t move. He stays put. He is rooted to the spot. He looks down but the ground under his feet tells nothing of what has happened here. There are no footprints, no scuff marks and no trampled grass.
The flies are working on the blood, it won’t last long. It will soon be just a stain and then not even that. He glances again at the finger. It seems to him like something you could buy in a joke shop, like something he would buy.
Head down, he scans the rubbish gathered at the edges on either side of the cut but he doesn’t find what he is looking for. He needs a cigarette packet, an empty packet, a discarded packet and it seems to him unfeasible that there isn’t one.
He reaches the end but isn’t ready to step out into the open, not yet. And so he starts back, slowly now, kicking through the cans and the sweet wrappers. He must use something from here or try somewhere else.
He grasps a red and green shiny paper sheath and the stick from an ice lolly. He uses this to coax the finger into the bag, folds to seal and carefully tucks the package into his pocket.

He hasn’t looked at it yet, hasn’t even so much as taken a peek. It is still wrapped in the waxy paper and stowed in his pocket. Resisting the urge to run, he walks away from the cut and once clear wanders aimlessly. For hours he meanders back and forth, eventually making his way home where he slips unseen into the garage and then buries the package in the chest freezer under the pizzas and the pies.

He still hasn’t found the ideal container for the severed finger which is slightly shorter than a cigarette and certainly shorter than the brand his mum smokes and he scans the ground for empty king size packets, any of which will do. He will pull out the silver foil and it will easily slot into place, he is sure of this.

When he removed the finger from the freezer it had been almost perfect. He had been able to feel it through its tiny sheath, tracing with his own fingers, from the nail to the knuckle and a little lower where the knife had hacked its way through flesh and bone. Now he can feel it melting, the wet patch spreading and he can feel it pressing against his thigh. He doesn’t have much time – he needs to find a box, a container, something and make the transfer.

There is a bus stop ahead and he can see quite clearly that the bin beside the shelter is overstuffed. Reaching it he begins to rifle through it, the litter spilling over the sides. A woman who is waiting at the stop is about to say something but the boy glares at her and she changes her mind. Shaking her head she turns away. At last he has it, a king size packet and it is his mum’s brand. Chuckling, he kicks at the trash, spreading it all over the pavement. Head down he walks past the others standing in the shelter. He can hear them grumbling but he doesn’t look back. Thrusting his hand into his pocket he pokes at the finger and it feels weirdly soft and almost spongy. He now needs to find a place where, unhindered, he can peel away the paper and take a proper look at it.

Dragging his hand along the brick wall he studies the pavement but, at regular intervals, he jerks his head upward and glares at the sky. He sees some kids from his school up ahead and he hops up and over the wall on his right and slides down the bank. He runs on the level grass in front of the boarded windows to the ground floor flats and he wonders if the block is empty, uninhabited. He pulls at the entrance door but it doesn’t give. He tries the trade button but still no luck. Pressing his face against the wired glass he peers in – it is dark, a murky little scene. Someone has scrawled on the walls with a black marker but he can’t read it, not from where he is standing in the glaring sunlight.

Stepping back he hears the kids from school again on the road above. He ducks down at the side of the communal waste bin and sitting he leans back against the hot metal. He could do it here but the boy can’t help but crave for the cool of the foyer where he could huddle under the stairs and take his time. At last he hears the main door open and as he leaps up an old woman appears. She pushes the door and, taking hold of it, he waits for her. She stands on the threshold, uncertain and seemingly unaware that he is there. He could step around her but doesn’t. He leans back against the heavy aluminium door and at last she slowly makes her way up the steps, toward the road.
He fishes the finger from his pocket, peels away the soggy paper, dropping the cigarette packet, and there it is, in the palm of his hand. Like a metal cylinder, it is corroding. Already, it is much the worse for wear.
The old woman is stalled again, at the pavement’s edge. He watches her as she manages not to topple and closes his hand, holding decay in the hollow of his fist.

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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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fiction, photography

PRECINCT

Chris R-1-81 Image by Christine Renney

After visiting the shopping centre they always lingered, had done for years. It was difficult now to pinpoint exactly when this had begun, much less how or why. It was unspoken that, once the shops had closed, they would skulk along at the edge of the precinct where the teenagers gathered.
Pubs, clubs, burger bars and pizza joints dominated and the couple would find a table where, from behind the plate glass, they could gaze out across the now car-less car park.
The litter, the day’s debris, had been swept and shovelled against the kerb and in each and every corner and crevice. The youngsters didn’t seem to mind. They kicked through it, tramped on it, added to it, restless and eager for the night with all its possibilities.

The couple talked over their pizza, dissecting the lives of others, of old friends, people they rarely or never saw anymore, colleagues from work and people they barely knew. They raced toward conclusion after conclusion, invented scenario after scenario. There was something about that place, that time, that offered obscurity: a middle aged couple with nowhere particular to go, nothing to do except to visit the multiplex cinema to see the latest blockbuster – ‘Action/Adventure’ or ‘Romcom’, sequels and prequels they watched indiscriminately. But this particular night their hearts weren’t in it and so they began to wander.
This, in fact, was what they had wanted to do all along. Simply to walk, just to be here and not feel the need to dress it, to skirt around this fact. They were elated and entered a busy pub. It was like walking on air and the drink helped to prolong this feeling and then, suddenly, the moment was lost. The revellers had deserted them. Of course, they could have followed, chased the party, found another pub or even a club but – they had shopping bags to cart and so stayed put, drinking until common sense prevailed at last and they began to make their way toward home.

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fiction, photography

HAT

Chris R-0700-2 Image by Christine Renney

The man was wearing a hat. It was the first thing Jonathan noticed before he realised what the man was doing, what was happening. Even as he watched his focus was still drawn to the hat. It was a trilby and it was dark, both the hat and the street, but there was enough light from the street lamps and Jonathan could see and he could hear.
He wondered would the hat have stood out as much as it did if the man had been wearing a matching suit or a raincoat. But dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, the hat clearly did not belong to him. He had taken it, grabbed it from somewhere else, possibly, most probably, snatched it from the top of someone’s head. One of his victims perhaps, but not this one, the one cowering in front of him and fending against his blows. The hat didn’t belong to him either and it didn’t belong on this street. The hat wasn’t part of what was happening here.
If the victim had been aware of it at the beginning of his ordeal, it certainly wasn’t at the forefront of his mind now. Jonathan wondered had the other man, the perpetrator, also forgotten about it and was the joke now on him? But of course, Jonathan wasn’t supposed to be there and anyhow he wasn’t laughing.
The victim was proving to be surprisingly resilient and refused to drop. To fall down onto the ground, where even if he were to curl up into a foetal position, he would be much more vulnerable. Kicking him in his heavy boots would have been so much easier and the perpetrator was clearly flagging. The punches were getting weaker and his fists were hurting.
Jonathan moved closer. The perpetrator was still bobbing and weaving this way and that and the victim was standing with his head bowed, not moving, not watching. Both of them were entirely unaware that Jonathan was there. Reaching out, waiting for the opportune moment, he snatched the hat and placed it on top of his own head. Everything stopped and he lingered just long enough for this register and then Jonathan began to run.

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fiction, photography

THE GRID

Chris R-0602 Image by Christine Renney

The cars are predictable. They crawl through the narrow and crowded streets at a snail’s pace searching for parking spaces. As soon as one moves away from the kerb, another is readying to take its place. This battle is almost constant. It is an elaborate board game, play pausing just briefly in the early hours of the morning when a stalemate of sorts is achieved and all of the vehicles are locked in tight and there are no spaces on the grid, on the streets and, for a brief spell at least, none of them will move.
I keep walking and find reassurance in the line of cars jammed along the pavements. Occasionally I come across a space and if it is big enough to take a car I feel anxious. I am even unnerved but of course it won’t be long before the players return and the game commences.
I observe the drivers as I walk. They are all so desperately focussed that they hardly notice me. They are usually alone but if there are passengers they are just as centred, just as determined and desperate to find a space.
I am passing alongside a pale blue estate car. In the wintry light it is the colour of cement. The windshield and windows are tinted and I can’t see in. I feel a little uneasy about this but I can see quite clearly that there is a place just up ahead. It will be tight but I am sure that this driver, like all the others, is skilful enough. That he will be able to manoeuvre his vehicle quite easily into position. But he doesn’t.
This perplexes me. I step down from the kerb and out into the road. Standing in the middle of the parking space I look back and there are no cars coming. It isn’t too late, he can still back-up but he doesn’t.
At the crossroads he turns right toward the City Centre. I cross at the junction and I stop and I stand and I wait. I expect that here, where the road is wider and there are no cars parked on either side, that he will turn himself around and begin to make his way back. But he doesn’t and, brake lights ablaze, he carries on, albeit awkwardly, down the hill.
When I start to follow he seems to speed up. I am running now and at the end of the road he turns left, onto the ring road and he is gone, leaving me stranded, anxious, here at the edge.

 

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fiction, photography

THE LOSS

Chris R-0868 Image by Mark Renney

Despite the lack of evidence, Carter was utterly convinced he was missing a body part, that he had lost something, a piece of himself. He couldn’t stop checking and wherever he might be he would hold his hands up in front of his face and count off the fingers. Or was it a bit of his ear or part of his nose? Or was there a hole in his forehead or in his side or was it a toe? No matter that he always rediscovered he was complete, that nothing had gone astray, he didn’t feel reassured. But he had no scars nor wounds. All of him was in its place and working properly.
Carter decided that if he could pinpoint exactly when and where it had happened he would be able to move beyond it and stop obsessing. He had been suffering from this strange affliction for no more than three months and so the time frame was at least narrow. He was a creature of habit and lead a routine existence, his movements confined. Even so, retracing each and every step he had taken during that time would be difficult.
Carter took the same route to work each day. He walked the same pavements and rode on the same bus. He frequented the same café and pub close to the office and a newsagents nearer to home. He shopped at the same supermarket on Saturday mornings.
He realised that he could have dropped ‘it’ anywhere, whatever ‘it’ was. One of his fingers perhaps or a thumb or an eye. He could, of course, have lost it at the office, and someone else had picked it up and taken it or mistaken it for rubbish and thrown it away. But Carter sensed that it hadn’t happened like this. Not at the office, nor at home nor even on the bus. No, he had lost it out on the street whilst walking en route to elsewhere. In transit as it were. And he had lost it in the way one might lose a wallet or a watch or a single ten pound note. The chances of finding it now were almost non-existent though Carter didn’t need to find it but simply to remember.

Carter quickly understood that his world was small and although he had believed it would be difficult re-tracing his footsteps and remembering what he had done and where he had been it had proved depressingly easy. As he moved through the familiar streets, searching again and again, he became more and more aware of how intricate the City was and how dense.
He rifled through the waste bins and sifted through the detritus and debris gathered at the curb side and in the gaps between the buildings. He scoured along all but forgotten pathways and cut-throughs. At first these ran parallel with his old routes but gradually he was pulled further and further from his little patch of the City and he was exploring parts that were completely alien. He realised also that anything lost would remain lost but he wasn’t able to stop looking, not quite yet.

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fiction

RESISTANCE

Chris R-1116 Image by Christine Renney

I make my way through a labyrinthine network of paths and alleyways. The blocks of flats are identical and even the decay is uniform; peeling paint on the weathered boards, rusty stains on the bricks from the leaking gutters, the graffiti repeating itself, the same tags and faded colours.
Most of the shops I pass are empty and no-one is at the centre of the parade. The Advocacy Bureau is closed. There is a hand painted sign above the door and I study the flyers and posters in the windows but none of the dates are forthcoming.
I move on, and walking alongside a wire mesh fence at last I find my way out onto a vast expanse of rickety paving slabs. It is more of the same here but the flat blocks are bigger and taller. It is deserted and desolate. It seems that living here is a covert operation.
The old woman is standing on the balcony and ranting. Her voice croaking and unfettered by humility. She doesn’t trust her flat, not since her husband died.
‘I don’t trust it’, she yells. ‘Not after all the trouble with the electric and the plumbing and the watermarks on the ceiling they remind me you know? All the time, you know what I mean?’
Her granddaughter is clinging to her skirt but now she pulls away, and begins to fidget.
‘He was so ill at the end’, her grandmother continues, but calmly now, and reaching out she places her hand on top of the girl’s head in an effort to still her.
‘He didn’t care, how could he like that?’
She moves to pull the girl close again but her granddaughter has stopped fidgeting and, for a few seconds, she stands firm and won’t be moved.

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fiction

DIVISION

Chris R-0793 Image by Christine Renney

It smells of urine in the lobby. I grimace and step from the main entrance and out, onto the scuffed tarmac. I gaze across at the tower block opposite.
‘Jordan, get back here NOW,’ a woman‘s voice. I hear but can’t find her, but I spot Jordan striding swiftly and full of purpose. She keeps close to the building and her head below the windows. She reaches a column jutting out from the main block and she stops but doesn’t turn.
Her mum is standing in the doorway of their flat. They have copper coloured hair and are both deathly pale behind the freckles.
‘DON’T make me come out there,’ mum shrieks into the falling dark. ‘Don’t you fucking DARE.’
Jordan moves around the column and stands for all she is worth with her back to the wall.
Mum, in her bare feet, is clearly unprepared and so determined not to move. Nevertheless she leans forward and craning peers first one way and then the other. But to find her daughter she needs to move onto the expanse of patchy grass which separates her block from where I am standing. And this she now does, treading carefully in her bare feet on the hard dirt.
I step forward and onto the pavement so that she will see me and not be startled.
‘Come back Jordan, please,’ she pleads but softly, unaware her daughter and I are there and that we both hear her.

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