SALVAGE

Chris R-1-154 Image by Mark Renney

Shortly after turning forty, the restlessness my wife had already suffered for some months reached fever pitch. It was strange to see her like this; she was usually so focused and sensible, so articulate, but the inability to think rationally was wholly debilitating and she was beside herself.
She was given to childlike tantrums which served only to fuel her frustration and she was capable of little more than pleading for my help. Frankly, she was a wreck and I was the one charged with the task of salvage.
She wanted to rebel, to break the rules. After forty years as an upright and law abiding citizen, without as much as a parking ticket to boast of, she wanted to act recklessly just once.
At fifteen she had run, for a spell, with a group of girls and these girls stole from the local shop. But not her. She had stood across the street and watched them disappear through the door and into the store. On tenterhooks, she had waited for them to reappear and, when they did, they had run together, an excitable gang, one of the girls brandishing the stolen item.
It had always been an aerosol canister, a deodorant or an air freshener, even furniture polish. Reaching the playing field the girls then began to grapple for the can, spraying each other with its contents. They had done their best to draw her into the game but she had resisted, stepping back again and again.
At age of forty she wanted to step up, ready to play at last. But after all these years, squandering an aerosol, albeit a stolen one, simply wasn’t going to cut it. It needed to be something disruptive, this was how she had put it during the months when she was still coherent and we had talked of little else.
She didn’t entirely dismiss my very obvious suggestions of a little mindless vandalism, scrawling graffiti or even bricking a shop window. But she had stressed that this was going to be a one off and it needed to be distinctive and somehow reflective of who and where we were.
From the beginning I had been sympathetic toward her but as her anxiety worsened so then of course did my own. I was concerned that she may act rashly. We had considered each and every possible petty crime and I feared that she might rush in alone and risk discovery, the consequences of which could be devastating for both of us. But it was more than this; I wanted to meet this head on, to rise to her challenge. All I had to do, after all, was mastermind and help execute our very own crime.

One morning, on my way to work, I stopped as usual at the newsagents in the adjoining village, to find the newspapers still stacked in bundles on the forecourt. I was taken aback. I wouldn’t ever have imagined, in this world of the internet, that such a small store could possibly shift so many and I presumed that the delivery had been late. Not wanting to draw attention to myself I didn’t enquire. Instead, I adopted a stony expression and held it as the shopkeeper cut through the white plastic cord and worked loose a copy of The Guardian.
Clutching the newspaper I climbed into my car and headed back home and ran inside. My wife had been away from work for almost a month and was still asleep. I didn’t wake her but sat at the kitchen table waiting for her to surface.
Sitting there I felt mostly relief. I wanted my wife back and the comfort of our old life. And after all the anguish it was going to be so simple to achieve. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and intended to act swiftly; stealing the newspapers during the interim period after delivery and before the newsagent opened up. It was perfect and I didn’t doubt it would meet with my wife’s approval.
I was eager to talk with her and so I climbed the stairs and peered in at her. She was sleeping soundly, lost to the world. I didn’t wake her; we had a long night ahead and in the early hours of the morning we needed to stakeout the newsagent’s and ascertain just how long we would have. That timeslot was essential for our success.
I began to pace at the foot of the bed. I saw no reason why, after that night’s reconnaissance we couldn’t take the papers for the next Saturday, just two days away.

Depriving the neighbourhood of the news struck the right chord and the weekend papers seemed particularly ripe for stealing, padded with all those extra column inches, with magazines and supplements, free gifts and TV guides.
Out here in the villages the Saturday paper was part of the ritual. It helped mark the end of the week. We relished the idea of all those lives temporarily stalled, of the fleeting disruption we could cause.
As the battered transit van pulled away we were excited and psyched. Not until it tail lights disappeared did I start the engine and move forward, parking on the pavement just beyond the forecourt.
We had twenty minutes but I had estimated that we would need less than half that time, that it should take us no more than ten as long as we moved swiftly and calmly, carrying the bundles one at a time and loading them into the back of our people carrier.
Together we climbed out. Our remit had been to just go and so I started across the tarmac. I gathered the first of the bundles and turned to find my wife still standing beside the car. Harshly defined under the street lamp she was visibly shaking and appeared ghostly pale.
I froze in front of the plate glass window. The cable binding the papers together was cutting into my hand but I wouldn’t drop it. No, I couldn’t abandon our scheme, not at this point. I carried the bundle over to where she stood, shivering, and I hauled it into the back of the car.
Ignoring her entirely I then set to work in earnest, running back and forth. Not until I had finished did I turn to my wife and taking her gently by the shoulders I eased her back into the passenger seat. As we drove away she started sobbing and, amidst this violent eruption, she gasped desperately for breath.

4 Comments

  1. Purely autobiographical, I pressume, Mark!
    Just imagine, an entire village deprived of the newspapers which reported the holocaust to come the following Monday!
    This is a great story, which I really enjoyed reading, particularly the twist in your ending, which revealed the over-arching sense of guilt that we develop.
    I like your photo which – and I realise that it is totally different to reality – reminded me of someone passing something over/ through the wall in Berlin.
    My best to both of you.

    • Ha! Now that’s a good idea for a story. I like your comment on the photo, I hadn’t thought about it like that but now I can see it. Thank you Chris as always.

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