TOTEM POLE

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PRECINCT

hijacked amygdala

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…

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THE LIE

Chris R-1-79 Image by Christine Renney

Edmund had told just one lie in his life, or at least that he could remember. He must, as a boy, have told tales but he couldn’t now be sure as this other lie, the big one, had wiped from his memory the childhood untruths, untruths that he now felt were an essential part of growing up. He wasn’t able to pinpoint exactly if this muddying of his past had in any way hindered him but it had begun to trouble him.
Edmund realised that he could remember very little from his childhood and he couldn’t help but wonder if it was because he had told far more than his fair share of tall tales. Perhaps he had lied almost constantly and it was because of this he had been able so easily to tell the big lie; to hold firm and not back down and retell it as often as was necessary until it had taken root and he no longer needed to say it aloud. But thereafter Edmund had vowed always to tell the truth, whatever the consequences for himself or others.
He had quickly gained a reputation as someone not to be messed with; who could be relied upon to make difficult decisions, who could cope with being in control. He quickly discovered that his new found honesty, this direct persona he had adopted, only helped him to achieve. In his chosen profession he climbed ladder after ladder until it wasn’t possible to climb any higher.
He still worked for ‘The Man’ but Edmund was comfortable with this. He was forty five years old and had everything that money could buy. It struck him that, at this point, he could easily divide his life into two. During the second half he had been undeniably successful with a beautiful wife, two young children and a large house. But it didn’t feel like home – Edmund realised that he wanted to relax at last, to take his foot from the pedal and revel in all that he had achieved and he was sure then he could make it feel a little more real.
The first half of his life was much more problematic. His memories resembled a series of photographs, snapshots that he could linger over for a moment or so but he couldn’t properly remember and was unable to delve into that world again.
What had he been like? Edmund asked himself this constantly. Had he been a mischievous boy and a sullen teenager or was the truth more startling than this? Had he been conniving and malicious? Since the lie he had, with his unbridled honesty, upset many people. He could be brutal, there was no denying this but maybe, just maybe, he had been different back then and he wanted desperately to know.
He had contemplated asking his mother but felt awkward about this, unsure of how to broach the subject, unsure how honest she would be, and so instead, one evening after work, he had driven out to their old neighbourhood. He had parked in front of the house where he had grown up. The house had changed very little, likewise the street, but both house and street had been engulfed by somewhere else. The surrounding area had been built upon and reinvented. In order to find his way Edmund had been forced to consult the GPS.
Momentarily, he had considered knocking on the door, explaining to the new owner that he had once lived there. Asking if he could come in and wander around, go up and into his old bedroom. But he realised how ridiculous this was, that he wasn’t a character from a Springsteen song but a successful man with a bright future. That he should be able to push through and beyond this, get over it and get on with his life but he couldn’t. And as he had driven away from there he felt as if any chance of retrieving his childhood memories had been buried under so much concrete and so many bricks.

It was two days later that she came and stood in the open door to his office. Edmund glanced up but just briefly.
‘Yes?’ he asked.
‘I wanted to ask you a question,’ she said.
‘What is it?’
‘Why are you so rude?’
Edmund looked up from his screen and studied her. She was short and stout, strikingly ordinary.
‘Have I been rude to you?’ he asked.
‘Yes, but of course you don’t remember.’
‘But if I upset you then I apologise.’ Edmund returned to the screen, ready to dismiss her.
‘But why are you so mean?’ she insisted.
Edmund pushed back in his chair and away from the desk.
‘I don’t consider that I am mean. I always speak honestly about what I see, how I perceive things, what I really feel and I do not tell lies. If I upset people from time to time well, I’m sorry, but it isn’t my concern.’
‘But why do it when it upsets people?’
Edmund sighed.
‘I told a lie once. I was young, very young, seventeen, eighteen maybe and I benefited from this lie. It made things much easier for me but I haven’t lied since.’
As he was speaking the woman stepped into the room.
‘No!’ he snapped, ‘don’t come in. This isn’t a confession.’
The woman flinched and her face turned white, she was visibly shaken but she didn’t move.
‘What was the lie?’ she stammered.
Edmund was unsure of what to say, just for a second or so.
‘I can’t tell you,’ he said.
‘But you have to, don’t you?’
‘Yes, perhaps I do.’ Edmund smiled and leaned forward to switch off the laptop. ‘Come back tomorrow.’
‘I can’t. I’m a temp and this is my last day.’
‘I see. Well, come back anyway.’
‘And then you’ll tell me?’
‘Yes.’ Edmund said and stared at her until she turned to go. He rose from the desk and closed the door behind her. He wasn’t going to tell her. He had already decided and found this revelation exhilarating. He didn’t need to wait until tomorrow but he didn’t call her back. She thought she had information she could try to use against him but who would believe her and what difference could it make now, after so long?

She came back the next door. Edmund hadn’t doubted that she would. He was looking forward to it, excited even, had set a chair for her in front of his desk, something he rarely did.
‘Come in, sit down.’ And before she could make herself comfortable he said ‘I’m not going to tell you.’
‘But you have to.’ she replied.
‘But I don’t.’
‘Then why am I sitting here in your office, at your invitation?’
‘I remembered something from my childhood last night. Something small and inconsequential. Something I had not thought about for years,’ he paused.
‘Go on,’ she urged.
‘You see, I haven’t been able to remember and now I can remember this, and I remember it so vividly.’
‘What is it?’ she asked.
‘I’m not going to tell you that either.’
Edmund watched the woman carefully, trying to determine how she would react to this.
She was dressed casually in jeans and a sweatshirt and was much more at ease. She smiled.
‘But does this mean that, in the future, you won’t be so mean?’ she asked.
Edmund chuckled. ‘I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about it but maybe things are different now, maybe I will be different.’
He laughed again and then neither of them spoke and for what was just a few minutes but seemed to him like an eternity they sat in silence.

THE EMPTY STATION

hijacked amygdala

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…

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HERE

Chris R-1-77 Image by Christine Renney

Even after so long it seems strange that I managed to find my way here. I didn’t suddenly become interested in art and start to visit galleries. Nevertheless, in this small town, the town where I once lived and where I still work, I found myself drawn here.
At first I sat outside and it was weeks, possibly months, before I ventured in. I would sit on a bench and while away my lunch hour. Why, during the course of my not so busy day, did I feel the need to escape? I live alone and only whilst at work am I able to interact with others.
Nevertheless there I sat, day after day, and from the safety of my bench I watched the visitors. They were almost exclusively couples and most middle aged or older.
The young rarely come here. I suspected that the paintings inside would resemble those who came to look, that they would be comfortable and safe. In a word respectable. Despite this, as the days turned to weeks I became more intrigued but I wasn’t ready to enter, not yet.
The visitors were sparse, few and far between, and I had started to linger (nobody at the office seemed to have noticed my continual absences) and, determined, I awaited the arrival of the next couple. They would walk briskly along the path and after I had watched them push through the doors and disappear into the gallery I would feel compelled to wait until they emerged. Blinking in the direct sunlight they would gaze out across the grass, staring directly at my bench, but they couldn’t see me. They weren’t able to find me or at least not at first, not until they were able to take a little time to readjust.
For the most part the gallery remained empty, deserted, apart from a woman who sat behind a counter just inside the front doors, residing over a makeshift shop through which, when I entered, I had no choice but to pass. If the visitors hardly noticed me she was all too aware of my presence. How could she not have noticed me on my bench where I sat so often and for so long?
I hadn’t done anything wrong. It was a public space but I began to feel guilty and under her scrutiny I began to act furtively. When I did enter it was under cover. I dogged the steps of an elderly couple and as one we moved across the foyer.
I had been seen of course and the woman abandoned her counter to follow us in. She studied me from afar and I found this most disconcerting. I was unable to concentrate and couldn’t focus. But slowly a picture, one of the paintings, began to take shape and form. I could see and when I did, when I looked, I realised what was possible. The woman continued to glower but I didn’t care. I could outlast her. The painting was of a garden, wild and labyrinthine and I wanted in, no matter how much effort or how long it took.

And from here, without fear of rebuke and reprisal, I can now watch the art lovers, all of those couples, and occasionally I glimpse a man on his own gazing into the bright sunlight.

TREMORS

hijacked amygdala

Chris R-1-74 Image by Christine Renney

He wanted desperately to pinpoint when it began, the exact moment that he had felt the first tremor. But it hadn’t happened like that, suddenly and revelatory. No it had been slow.
Ever so gradually he became aware of something happening beneath his feet. Slowly he had become more and more attuned until he was able to anticipate when the next tremor would occur and, readying himself for it, he could prepare for the impact.

He wondered if there were others who felt the tremors and suffered as he did. He watched his family and friends. He studied people in the street, in the supermarket and on the bus, people anywhere and everywhere. He concluded that if they did, if there were others who felt the tremors, then they were much stronger than he and better at hiding it.

He sensed that he had always sensed…

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