Chris R-1-85Image by Christine Renney

I was unable to leave the house. There was a barrier but it was invisible and others were able to pass through it. No-one would have believed me and I decided not to try to explain to my family and friends when they visited. They would have been perplexed and concerned, worried that I was losing my mind. Of course, I could simply have shown them; opened one of the doors or a window and pressed against it or launched myself at it and they could have watched me collide.
But I didn’t and I wonder now that if I had done this, or if one of them had actually taken hold of me and physically tried to force me toward the force field, even then would they have accepted it, believed it?
I suspect they would have run from the house in fear, reluctant ever to return.
But I needed their visits and the fleeting sense of normalcy they brought with them. Just as I needed the delivery drivers, with their baskets full of groceries, to step across my threshold. I think that I kept the fact of the force field from them out of selfishness because I was determined to survive.

Over the course of the first few weeks so many theories played out in my head. I attempted constantly to place reason in outlandish scenario after outlandish scenario. It was exhausting and eventually I had to shut down and just let it be.
I was determined to appear normal. I haven’t ever been very sociable and my family and friends weren’t suspicious when I made my excuses for not going out there and joining in. But it was when I was alone that I felt it important, critical even that I present as nonchalant, unperturbed by the force field, even seemingly unaware that it existed. Although of course I couldn’t help myself and intermittently I would open the door or a window and press my hand against it.

The world beyond my home was so very limited it had shrunk away to almost nothing but still I spent a lot of my time staring out at it. The busy road in front and my overgrown garden at the back. It all seemed so much sharper, keener, as if magnified and I realised I would miss this when it was over. And often, late at night, I would find myself sitting by my bedroom window gazing up at the stars.


Chris R-1-83

Image by Christine Renney

Tanner’s job was to remove the evidence, to wipe away the traces. He considered this task as necessary, that he was an essential part of the system and for more than forty years Tanner’s belief in the system hadn’t wavered. He had remained resolute, diligent and effective.

Although he remembered all the names of those he had erased, Tanner hadn’t ever regarded them as individuals. No, they were part of a collective and anyhow many of them, most in fact, were already dead or imprisoned before his work had even begun.

Some, a few, had escaped and were living in exile, but what they did and said elsewhere didn’t matter. What they were beyond the system was inconsequential. It was the eraser’s job to eradicate those who opposed the system from within. To help establish and maintain the truth.

By the time a name is passed on to Tanner, the bulk of inflammatory material has already been unearthed and obliterated. Underground magazines can’t hide forever and the liars are always captured amidst the lies, like spiders trapped in their own webs.

Tanner is responsible for the minutia, his job is trawling through old news reports and other archives. When it is decided that someone shouldn’t exist, doesn’t exist, each and every record from birth right up until that final betrayal has to go.

The younger generation aren’t really sure what it is that Tanner does or, more accurately, what it is that he has done. But Tanner has helped to close down national newspapers, the demolition and destruction of institutions, of hospitals, factories, schools and libraries, with the disruption of families, of whole communities, of tradition. But none of this is a part of the truth and he is just an old man with a black marker.

The rhetoric hasn’t changed over the years and Tanner is perplexed by this. Whilst the system has evolved, is constantly evolving, those who oppose it are forever locked in a relentless fight and it is futile. They are able to make themselves heard, yes, but only fleetingly and it seems to him that they are shouting into the void.

Tanner often finds himself thinking about the monolith in that old science fiction film. The film has been banned, of course, and so he hasn’t seen it in years. And it isn’t actually the monolith that preoccupies his thoughts but its surface, gleaming and unmarked.

Protesters and rebels , this is how they are referred to beyond the system. Those who have survived and are still out there, they are dissidents or exiles. Tanner has always been uncomfortable with these labels although he hasn’t managed to come up with any that he feels are better suited. ‘Those who oppose the system’ is too clumsy but that is what they are. And they are still as virulent as they ever were, perhaps even more so and for that brief spell, until they are uncovered, just as vocal.

Tanner remembers the names and also their former occupations. He remembers the carpenter and the school teacher and the plumber and the doctor. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker. He remembers what they once were, what they should have been.


Chris R-1-82

Image by Christine Renney

The room was dirty not surprising given that it hadn’t been cleaned in months but even so it was dirtier than it should have been dirtier than seemed possible the floor was damp and grimy and the room struck cold but he reached out from where he was sitting on the bed and touched the radiator it was hot the room didn’t feel right it should have been warm dusty maybe stuffy perhaps but it shouldn’t have felt like it felt and he spent so long in the room and yet he did so little there were books but he didn’t read not anymore the room was without music there was no noise of any sort there was no clamour when he left the room he didn’t take anything from it apart from the clothes he was wearing and his wallet and the money in his pockets when he returned he didn’t bring anything fresh or new back apart from the money of course that was constantly changing he always placed it on top of the bedside cabinet sorting the coins into little stacks and putting his wallet on top of the notes a makeshift paperweight but there was no breeze in the room it was almost airless he couldn’t understand how a room so small and cluttered a room with a radiator so hot he couldn’t bear to touch it could be so cold he contemplated buying a coat a heavy and bulky winter coat with a hood and a padded lining he pictured himself in his room wearing the coat laying on the bed but he knew that it wouldn’t help


Chris R-1-70

Image by Christine Renney

Dean was amazed that he had managed to hold off for so long. He had decided to languish with the minority, but not because he was in any way pious or had some overly zealous agenda. Dean was a user, had been for all of his adult life, for as long – no actually, it was for longer, than he could recollect.
He remembered the illegal and addictive substances and had been a part of that world. It was a hard place and survival was a constant struggle. It was a shady and murky world and Dean did not want to go back.
For him the transition, like of most of his generation, was effortless and there had been no withdrawal. At first he had to buy the State sponsored substances but once he was working and earning enough they became part of the package and substances were simply something to which he was entitled. That gut-wrenching pain, the all consuming need, quickly became a part of his past and Dean was thankful and appreciative.
But the Grade was different and although not sponsored by the State it was not illegal. Almost everyone was using it and it was accepted. There was no stigma attached to it and no risks involved. It was just adding another pill to the State sponsored cocktail.
Perhaps Dean had held off for so long because to begin buying again felt to him like a step back toward the dark world from which he had managed to escape.

Dean was in the Works canteen, his colleague sitting directly opposite stretched out his hand and nestled in the centre of his palm were two pills.
‘Go on,’ his friend urged, ‘take one, what have you got to lose?’
Dean reached out and snatched one of the pills almost without thinking. He knew of course that it was the Grade. There wasn’t anything else it could be, that a friend could hold out in his hand and proffer.
‘Go on,’ his friend repeated. ‘Try it, you won’t regret it.’ Dean popped the pill into his mouth and swallowed.

But he did regret it, instantly. And throughout the day he became increasingly more anxious about how the Grade would affect him, what would he feel? Would it be something new? Different? Or would it be something old that he had forgotten?
Dean thought about the life he had managed to carve out for himself. The tiniest of slices in the largest of pies and for so long he had felt safe and secure. And then the Grade began to take effect and it did feel like something new and he felt different and he began to forget.