Sign of the Times-0272

Image by Christine Renney

Isabella courted catastrophe or, more accurately, she carried it with her, dragging it behind her on a string. Invisible and weightless, for almost fourteen years it didn’t hinder her and was benign. Only when it struck, when catastrophe bloomed, did she feels its weight.
It almost lifted her from the ground. She was standing in the lounge of her grandmother’s flat, on the eighth floor of a sixteen storey block. Seven flats below and a further eight above.
‘What is happening?’ her grandmother asked.
Isabella, struggling to remain upright, didn’t reply. She managed to grab hold of the string, it was delicate, just a thread, but it didn’t give. She wrapped it around her right wrist and then tried to trace the line, to find out where it was attached and, as she knelt down to gather the excess at her feet, it cut into her skin.
‘Isabella, what is wrong?’, her grandmother sounded distraught.
‘It’s nothing, gran, just a power cut, you know, like in the seventies. Remember you told me all about it?’
‘No, I don’t mean that’, her grandmother said sharply.
‘What’s happening over there. What are you doing?’
‘I just stumbled in the dark. Don’t worry, I’m okay.’
Isabella stood and, with her left hand she fanned the air above her head but couldn’t reach whatever was trying to pull her up. She groaned.
‘Are you hurt? Are you in pain,’ her grandmother asked.
‘Then what is it, Isabella?’
‘I don’t know but it’s heavy.’
Her grandmother crossed to the window and pulled back the drapes. The block of flats opposite stood like a mighty obelisk and there were squares of light dotted here, there and everywhere.
‘It isn’t a power cut’, her grandmother said softly, ‘at least not like in the seventies.’ She could see her granddaughter a little more clearly now and she resembled a pen and ink drawing. A skinny girl buffeted in a gale.
‘I have to step outside’, she said to Isabella, ‘just for a moment. I won’t be long.’
Carefully she manoeuvred herself around the dark shapes that were her furniture. Grappling and groping, she made it into the hall, but before reaching the door at the end, she could see through the glass a dim light from the flat opposite. Nevertheless, stepping outside, she hit the switch on the wall and the landing and stairs below burst into sight.

She placed her hand at the centre of Isabella’s back, gently pushed and they began to move forward, the excess line dragging on the carpet behind them.
At Isabella’s wrist it was taught and she tried with her free hand to grab and pull at it, but it slipped through her fingers and cut into her palm. She held out her hand.
‘Look, gran, can you see it?’
‘No, not in this light.’
‘But you believe me?’
‘Of course I believe you.’
At last they reached the sofa and as she sat, Isabella managed, with considerable effort, to lodge the line beneath the wooden arm and both she and the sofa began to rise.
‘Now can you see it?’
‘Yes, I can see it,’ her grandmother sighed. ‘I’ll fetch the scissors,’ she said resignedly, ‘or a knife and we’ll cut it. I’ll set you free.’
‘Oh no, we can’t do that,’ Isabella wailed, ‘if we do, it’ll go up through the ceiling and through all of the flats or it might go down, it might fall through all the flats below, either way it’ll be a catastrophe. Anyway, it’s too late, whatever it is it has a hold of me.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I don’t know exactly but I know we mustn’t cut it and I can’t be free of it, not now.’
As Isabella spoke something began pulling at the excess line, taking up the slack. She reached down and, grasping hold of it with her right hand, she struggled to wrap it around her left wrist.
Her grandmother began to sob as, suddenly, everything seemingly returned to normal. The lights came back on and the television began again to glare and blare.


13 thoughts on “PUPPET SHOW

  1. Joseph Nebus June 28, 2015 / 5:23 am

    I like the metaphor of carrying catastrophe with you.

    • markrenney1 June 29, 2015 / 6:03 pm

      I think it is part of the human condition – thank you Joseph.

  2. chrisnelson61 June 28, 2015 / 9:44 am

    This is a fabulous piece of writing, Mark, beginning in a sort of casual tone and then sliding effortlessly into a Kafkaesque nightmare. I really like how you have, in such a short piece, managed to create a contrast of perceptions within the characters, especially with Isabella’s recognition that, in some way, this ‘connection’ is important to her. This reminded me a little of the type of short story that Murakami writes. After three reads it still offers up more. Thanks for sharing this.

    • markrenney1 June 29, 2015 / 6:06 pm

      Ha, Chris, I think I said to you before, when speaking of Kerouac, that I did catch on to Kafka too but to be compared even slightly with him and indeed Murikami, of whom I am also a great fan, is very high praise and I thank you for it. Regards Mark.

      • chrisnelson61 June 30, 2015 / 11:45 am

        You’re more than welcome, and my words are sincere. Have you read anything by Jon McGregor? I think you might like his writing.

    • markrenney1 July 1, 2015 / 5:43 am

      No I don’t know his work but I will certainly check him out. Thanks Chris for the recommendation.

  3. field of thorns June 28, 2015 / 4:10 pm

    Mark, I have the greatest admiration for you and your ability to create a gripping story. The ideas that you are able to spin are incredible, “PUPPET SHOW” is no exception. Breathing life into an intangible feeling that is no longer benign, resulted in a very compelling read. For me Isabella represents everyone and no one in particular, while “catastrophe” is depicted as a string or line that can cut you, control you, take hold of you and carrying you away, I think it grabs all of us at one time or another. I agree with Chris, “a fabulous piece of writing”.

    Take care,

    • markrenney1 June 29, 2015 / 6:08 pm

      This, from someone whose writing I admire and respect, is a comment that means much to me and it helps drive me on. Thank you so much. Regards Mark.

  4. StacyMichelle June 28, 2015 / 9:42 pm

    wow Mark this was exceptional writing. I re-read this 3 times, discovered something new I’d missed in previous reads

    • markrenney1 June 29, 2015 / 6:11 pm

      Thank you so much StaceyMichelle and congratulations on new the Chapbook – I have it on my Kindle and so pleased to have it there. Regards Mark.

    • markrenney1 July 23, 2015 / 4:04 pm

      Thank you so much.

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