SHELTER

Christine and I have a new post on Hijacked Amygdala.

hijacked amygdala

Chris R-0257-2 Image by Christine Renney

I step beneath the bridge and begin to slow down and, at around the mid-way point, I grind to a halt. I look up at the roof and suddenly I have shelter. The wall to my left is covered with layers of graffiti and I cross and lean against it.
I can hear the traffic thundering along the carriageway above. It is almost constant up there but, concentrating, I can hear the little gaps, the spaces in between each vehicle.
Down here the cars and the trucks are far less frequent. The pauses are varied and unpredictable and much more difficult to fill. Fumbling I remove my tie and, crouching down, hold it with both hands. I remember reading somewhere how, in Romania under Ceausescu, cars with odd numbers on their registration plates were only allowed on the roads on ‘odd number’ days. I realise that…

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RESTORATION

Chris R-0392-2 Image by Christine Renney

The sitting room at the nursing home is always bright, even on the dullest of days, and yet the air hangs heavy and stale. Breathing it in, I remember his workshop with its heady aroma; the wood shavings and sawdust, the varnish brushes soaking in old jam jars filled with turpentine.

I sit across from him and we begin to talk, and at first I am uncertain as to who he believes I am. I am convinced that he is speaking to himself and that I represent the younger man, still working, providing and caring for his family. Still married and still very much in love with his wife. But as he quizzes me and the questions come thick and fast I’m not so sure.

He hasn’t changed, not really, he is older, yes, and paler. He could do with a fresh coat of stain but, overall, his appearance isn’t so different. I look for the tip of the pencil in the breast pocket of his chequered shirt, but it isn’t there. However, it is the shaking hands I find the cruellest. He had been a joiner and furniture restorer and I picture him at work with the plane, his movements smooth and streamlined. Or with a chisel and the ‘tap tap’ of the mallet, and a bracket or a brass plate sliding into place, the satisfied expression on his face.
‘There you go,’ he would say, ‘how’s that?’

He is constantly preoccupied with his old job. Not surprising, I suppose, given that it had been his trade for more than fifty years. I am impressed by his questions, they are so very specific but I don’t know the answers. But what he is asking has long since passed and so I try to humour him.

I had worked for him a little during the school holidays and at weekends and such, but I hadn’t ever really been that interested. I attended to the sanding and polishing. The work had been monotonous but I had completed these tasks leaving the more interesting and rewarding work for him and his apprentice proper. I had no desire to progress, to move on, to be schooled. My head had been elsewhere, the workshop wasn’t for me. I didn’t belong there, at least that is what my mother had always said. It was an unspoken command that I would continue with my education, go to university.

I do remember the furniture that was brought into the workshop. All the tables and chairs, old and broken. The dressers, chests of drawers, wardrobes and desks; dilapidated and damaged. But when he and his apprentice had finished with them they had been restored, made new. And I had helped – my fetching and carrying, the sanding and polishing, had been a part of the process, although I hadn’t thought of it as such, not until he started with his questions.

He is confused and I believe I can convince, that I can reassure him. He asks how a particular piece is coming along, which hinges, handles and brackets, should we use? Should it be this or that stain, which is the right polish or wax? He talks about how different oak is from teak or mahogany, how to spot infestation, how to isolate and treat it. Despite my hazy recollections he might as well be speaking in code, one that I can’t crack. In the end I haven’t any choice and, shrugging my shoulders, I tell him, ’I don‘t remember.’

I glance down at his hands. They are yellow, the colour of beeswax. He is holding a plastic beaker, fumbling with it, the cold tea spilling into his lap.
‘Shall I take that from you?’ I ask, reaching out.
But he looks down and remembering he grips it a little tighter and will not let the beaker go.

GHOST LETTER 35

Chris R-0593-2 Image by Christine Renney

I have money now, just a few coins, and gripping them tightly, I delve deep into the lining of my coat as I walk. I work a coin between my thumb and forefinger. I take them out and move them from hand to hand. I thrust the coins deep into the pocket of my jeans only to take them out again and again. I can’t stop doing this, looking at them, checking.
I drop one of the coins and it rolls out into the road. I run after it, suddenly worried that someone will take it. I stamp down on it with my boot and, crouching down at the kerbside, I quickly snatch it back. I have wandered away from the centre and there is no-one around.
Rising I place the coin with the others in my pocket. I have an odd feeling inside. It is something like purpose and yet I haven’t any idea what it is I intend to do.
I reach a parade of shops and, stopping in front of the plate glass windows of the off-licence, I peer in at the bottles, at the wine and the spirits. I don’t have enough but then I see cans of lager in the cooler at the back of the shop.
Although I am still unsure that this is what I want or what I need, I am already pushing through the doors and I know how it works; I spend what I have and then I get more.

CHOSEN

Chris R-1110581 Image by Christine Renney

Robert had received one of ‘the letters’ offering him a room. He had been chosen, selected and it was that simple. He had a month in which to decide. Back when the Scheme was in its infancy Robert would not have had this luxury; a whole month to think about it, to weigh up the pros and cons. Then, one of the men would have knocked at his door and stood on the threshold. He would have had only minutes to make up his mind. In those days most people simply said no but this had gradually changed. Nowadays it was almost unheard of for anyone to refuse, to not accept a room and all that came with it.

Moving into a room would mean security and peace of mind and Robert would at least have time to himself. He wasn’t quite sure just what he might do with it but in the room he would of course have access to media. He wouldn’t have to work. In fact, he wouldn’t be allowed to work but Robert, like almost everyone else in the city hated his job and he was all too aware that he was just a cog in a not so pristine machine. Robert didn’t even know what it was that he did nor how nor why it mattered. But he supposed that somehow he was part of it and that he helped to keep the mill wheel grinding, as it were.

Robert had worked at the same office for over twenty years and he was proud of this. He proved himself resilient, hadn’t given in and dropped out like so many in the city had. Robert had always considered himself lucky not to have been placed in one of the factories or the yards or the foundries. The work he did was boring, yes, but it wasn’t physically hard and he had always been able to manage the long hours.

Robert enjoyed having money in his pocket. It had only ever been just enough to pay the bills, his rent and buy his food. Robert had always saved for that rainy day, for when he needed a new shirt and tie or shoes. For when he had to replace a mug or a plate. On the few occasions he needed to replace the bigger and more expensive items, his old armchair or stove for instance, Robert had found it particularly satisfying handing over the cash and filling out the forms, arranging for delivery and installation. Once he had moved into the room Robert wouldn’t ever have money in his pocket again but neither would he have to scrimp and scrape to save.

There was much he needed to do. Robert would have to give notice at work and to the landlord and to clear the flat of his belongings. He would be allowed to take just his clothes but eventually even those would be replaced by the standard issue. The little money he had he would give to his sister along with the almost new stove. Everything else was worthless and he would have to pay someone to cart it all away. And then he would re-decorate, re-instating the neutral colours he had over the years rebelled against.

HEIRLOOMS

Christine and I have a new post on Hijacked Amygdala.

hijacked amygdala

Chris R-0883 Image by Christine Renney

In the past, when we argued, I would often throw something. Now words are enough as over the years I have become more adept at hurling them and I no longer need to rely something inanimate. If I happened to be holding a mug I would throw that and, after retrieving the largest surviving part, I’d throw that again and again. Or I might reach and grab for something close at hand, an ornament or a trinket made from china or glass, something that would break, something that would smash. If I happened to be holding a book then I would throw that. It wouldn’t break of course, not even after I had kicked it and stamped on it. Books don’t come apart or at least not easily. Try for yourself, take one down from the shelf, a paperback, open it in the middle and try…

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GHOST LETTER 34

Chris R-0210 Image by Christine Renney

I have managed to settle at last. I sit on the pavement and look up. The buildings above the shops, once regal, are now in disrepair. The City glares back at me in the windows but one of the blinds is broken. Where the slats have fallen away I can see an old filing cabinet. It is standing just behind the glass and there are cardboard boxes stacked on top of it. I wonder are all the rooms up there like this one? Used for storage and filled with junk?
This is the busiest part of the City or at least it soon will be. I am often here, in this place at this time before it all begins. Standing I can hear the clash and clatter of the metal shutters being raised up from the front of the shops a little further along the street.
I walk toward this sound.