Number 2-0388

No-one else noticed it; the change in him, that something was happening. He was always quiet, reserved someone said, and kept himself to himself.
He was good at his job, reliable and diligent. The window above his desk looked out across the roof of the adjoining warehouse and he worked with his back toward the rest of the office. We did talk to him a little, receiving and passing on work-related information but we had long since stopped trying to involve him in our conversations. We didn’t ask him if he had seen a particular TV show or if he liked this or that, or what he was doing at the weekend. He had made it clear that he didn’t wish to share and so yes, we let him be and for the most part we forgot he was even there.

But one day, looking up from my computer, I noticed him sitting and staring through the window above his desk. At the roof of the warehouse, or the sky – I’m not sure which, possibly both.
It struck me that I hadn’t seen him like this before; simply sitting and staring into space and lost in thought. He was usually so focused and full of purpose, intent on this or that task. And I realised that the man we knew, or more accurately the man they had stopped noticing, who sat hunched over his computer screen and worked hard – that wasn’t who he really was. It was a mask, a disguise and now he was letting it slip, letting down his guard because no-one, he thought, was watching, no-one was looking at him.

To make oneself invisible is quite a feat and to all intents and purposes this is what he had achieved. Everyone else at the office was ignoring him, and unseen he moved amongst us but I was watching and I watched closely, intrigued and a little anxious as to how he would use his invisibility, about what he might do.
He started turning in to work a little later each day, leaving a little earlier and, intermittently, throughout the course of the day he abandoned his desk. Just for twenty minutes or so and I supposed that he was visiting the cafeteria or stepping outside for a breath of fresh air.
Albeit in isolation, he was acting more like us – bored and unengaged he didn’t want to be there. I was disappointed but also concerned. There was something about him, something desperate. It was plain to see, well at least I could see it. I wondered if he was ready at last to interact with us, if all he craved was simply a little camaraderie and I did think about approaching him but I didn’t. I put it off and put it off until one day I realised he was away from his desk much more often than not. He wasn’t just popping out for a coffee and his behaviour no longer resembled our own, that desperate something had now taken a hold.
He rarely came to the office and only for the briefest of periods and when he did he just sat and stared into space or through the window above his desk, at the warehouse roof. The others hadn’t noticed him when he was there and they hadn’t yet realised that for the most part he wasn’t. But his invisibility wouldn’t save him and I wondered would he still be around when the alarm began to sound.

His disappearing was an impressive act and only I could see it. I saw him and also what was happening and it was as if someone had taken a giant marker pen and drawn around him. A thick and jagged line that separated him from everything and everyone else and this line was getting bigger and bolder whilst within it he was slowly diminishing.
When he wasn’t there I watched and waited for him. Unable to concentrate I wandered aimlessly around the office, making my way to the windows at the far end, time and again. Gazing down at the busy street below, searching and failing to find him amongst the passers-by.
And suddenly he would reappear. I would glance across at his desk and there he would be, sitting in his chair as
if set in stone.
It crossed my mind on more than one occasion that he had been there all along, that he hadn’t moved and like all the others I just hadn’t been able to see him.
One afternoon as I watched him I began to consider seriously that this might be possible and I decided when he next moved, if indeed he did move again, that I would follow him; find out where he went and what he did.
I became aware that there was a flurry of activity over at his desk and he was at its centre. He had one of the drawers open and, delving in, he pulled something out and lay it on top.
For a moment I thought he was readying for work and once again I was disappointed. But why? What exactly had I been expecting him to do? Well, evidently it wasn’t that I expected him to start afresh, to simply come back as if nothing had happened.
But he wasn’t beginning again and now everyone was watching him, witnessing the disruption of his desk as he removed everything from inside and placed it on the outside.
I moved a little closer and could see most of these items. And they were an almost perfect mirror image of the contents of my own.

He is absconding, leaving the office for the last time and his departure couldn’t have been more dramatic. I had intended to follow, to learn more, but despite wanting to, I found myself rooted to the spot, unable to move. I don’t want to be pulled into it, to become a part of the drama. I suppose it is because that, unlike him, I have to come back.
The others are gathering in front of his desk. The desk he has turned inside out. I join them and together we gaze down at the debris; at all he has left behind and most of the items are work related. Folders, files, biros, a stapler, a phone and a couple of chargers. And there are lots of letters scattered here, there and everywhere. I notice that most of the envelopes are still sealed, that he hasn’t bothered to open them. And there is a picture frame, the glass is cracked and the photograph behind it has faded. I wonder for how long it had languished in one of the drawers, untouched until today.
I push my way forward, needing to get a proper look at it and I notice the ledger. It is big and cumbersome and I vaguely remember these books. But the information in them, all the facts and figures had been downloaded onto the computer system more than a decade ago. I reach for it. The cover is scuffed and its spine cracked.
Clearing a space I slide the ledger into the centre of the desk.
‘It’s been a while since I saw one of those,’ someone says behind me.
I open the book. It is empty. All of its pages are blank and, as I leaf through it, the others begin to talk.

Image by Christine Renney


19 thoughts on “GHOST PROLOGUE

    1. Ha sorry Sheldon…I know my pieces tend to end like this but this is actually part of a series, ‘Ghost Letters’, which I have been working on for a couple of years. Hope your patience lasts out but is there a why? Have to see.

  1. I like the way you are playing with this. I wanted to follow him too but I had to check and be sure. So I went back to Ghost Prologue #3 and yes, he was there. Or maybe he had just left. But the ledger was there. Open, empty.

    1. Yes, Jana, I really did want to follow him and that was my every intention but he slammed the door shut and I now find myself drawn back to the first person narrative. Thanks for staying with me.

    1. I think I should go back and decide on a sequence but I still need to work on it as I feel the ‘middle’ needs to be visited properly. Thanks as always.

  2. Amazing, Mark. I’ve actually felt just like him before. A ghost in the office. A ghost in life really.

    Chris Nelson is on to something there. Do you think you’ll ever collect these as one work? 🙂

    1. As I said to Chris I feel I have to return to the Ghost Letters and determine the unfolding of the narrative but I am unsure how strict I want to be with the sequencing and may just forge ahead with more standalone pieces that may become part of the final jigsaw. We are all ghosts in waiting.

  3. Dude, I evidently entered the story in the middle or the beginning or the end . I’ve been holding out on saying anything like this until I read more of your fiction but it has very Kafkaesque vibes mixed with a cold 1980s yuppie cocaine dystopian hangover feeling . Like it’s modern but not that modern . I don’t know if that made any sense LOL. I think one of the greatest strikes of your fiction is that there is no overt appeal for a certain emotional response . I don’t feel manipulated into how I respond to it which is hard to do as a writer . Sometimes I wonder if I’m feeling what you are hoping I’m feeling but that’s the coolest part , I don’t feel like it was written to make me feel or even think a certain way which is how most visual art is for me. The artist has their vision but the audience interpreted their own way , musicians get that to . But writers I’m realizing looking at your work almost verge on emotional propaganda . So this is a lot more like art than I’m used to reading on the Internet especially . It’s dare I say it literature ? Does have enough of a timeless quality to be even more confusing . If you hadn’t mentioned the computer I wouldn’t have had any idea when this had taken place but even the fact that there is still a ledger makes it possible to be from the 1980s .

    I have to say that Christine’s photographs actually by being the first thing that goes into my brain probably set the emotional context for me . Like when I read this I felt like I was watching a black-and-white episode of the twilight zone because her image is black and white and gray . I don’t know what you’re writing would be like without the images honestly . I don’t know if other people mention how important her photographs are. I originally was attracted to the blog because of the photographs because I’m really visual and they are very unique and then I noticed there were words underneath . I’m not sure if other people experience the photograph as a stage when the curtain goes up and then the writing is the action of the play . Because when I read I don’t see the words I see the images , her photograph always for me is like the curtain rising and the lights being dimmed. I would be really interested in putting together your writing with the photographs by her in the order selected by the two of you . The way the program works is that usually each image gets two seconds but I can repeat them . That could actually give a really cool rhythm , if there were patterns at certain points . It’s very hard to imagine either of your work separate . Cool . And you guys are a couple I think , right? That is kind of inspiring , to be able to do your most fun and creative and necessary work with the person who is your partner in everything else . And it’s very evident that neither of you are secondary as the artist . Which speaks volumes about the relationship . Your writing and her photography actually have very different vibes , which is I think why it balances each other out . But I’m really visual probably most of your followers are more linguistic so maybe the photographs have a much more powerful impact on me . Because I only look at them for a second but it imprints immediately and then the story starts . It’s like the photograph tells me something , but there is usually a feeling of bait and switch , the photograph doesn’t actually explain anything in the story or the poem , which makes your writing even more unsettling .

    Do many people comment about this? The writing and the photograph never compete but both are strong enough to hold focus on their own and it doesn’t feel forced like you guys are trying to hard to make it work , like I said the vibes are very different . Anyway now I have to go and figure out all prologues . Maybe you’ve even written the epilogues! Why would that not surprise me LOL . What if you just wrote epilogues to stories that never happened , I could totally see that .

    1. Wow, we are delighted by your words and interest in our joint work. A wonderfully insightful summary of what we have to offer. Your description of my writing reminds me a little of how I would describe J G Ballard’s writing and that pleases me very much. Christine is sorting some images for you and she will email them to you in the next few days. Take care, regards Mark and Christine.

      1. You are welcome. It’s sort of awkward for me because I can’t imagine that everyone else doesn’t experience this . I think they do but maybe they just don’t have the words to explain the experience of your collaborative work . And I am really happy that what I said about your writing is what you would’ve said about a writer you really like , because as a writer I totally understand that high. Hey you guys can use anything I said in your promotional public relations kit LOL . If you actually have one of those you can totally use anything I said and claim it as your own. There’s actually something of my journalist past that does have me curious enough to want to interview the two of you on how working as artists together affects the actual relationship because artists are notoriously self-centered LOL . It can be really difficult to have two artists in a relationship because artists are often really insecure end I will just come out and say it, especially the man I’ve noticed do not like feeling threatened , like if their girlfriend or wife gets a show that competitiveness comes out in her boyfriend or husband . Or one person in the couple gets to be really attached to the label artist and act it all out , so it’s hard to imagine two people . Also it’s really hard to collaborate with someone for a long time , so the process , I just wonder if you are the one who chooses the photograph or if you get the photograph and then you do the writing , maybe it’s nowhere near as interesting as I think it is . But I especially like to hear her point of view about it because my father is an art historian and would always teach that there aren’t that many women artists until recently because women had to do all the real-life stuff so the guy could be an artist . And there is a certain amount of selfishness that you have to have to be committed to your art just like you would to any real calling , and it’s obvious that she has her muse at least equal with her relationship with you. A lot of men wouldn’t be able to handle that . And a lot of women wouldn’t feel enough societal support even try it .

        The Lyme disease got really really bad and I had to take morphine and morphine gives me insomnia so I’ve been awake for over 45 hours now so if this doesn’t make sense , the intention is good LOL .

  4. I am feeling a little like this man right about now.
    Trying to pack things up for a move. Piles of letters, some with the words fading away.
    A few notebooks with nothing in them. Time to go.
    For years, I also sat behind a computer in a cubicle as many people do.
    Papers everywhere, coming and going. Something more to life than this….

    1. Thank you Mary. So pleased that this piece resonated with you and of course you are right. So much more to life than this. Regards Mark.

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