THE ERASER #4

Chris R-0136 Image by Christine Renney

It is not the Eraser’s job to make accusations, to point the finger as it were. But it is the duty of each and every citizen to be vigilant and able to recognise subversive behaviour. To be able to tell when it is happening right there in front of their faces. In the houses just across the street or that room at the back of a public house or in a unit on an industrial estate.
Those who conspire against the System are devious and they hide in plain sight, making leaflets and pamphlets, distributing their lies. And most people are unaware or they choose not to believe, not to see it.
The people had become complacent over the years and this made Tanner angry. It seemed to him that they had reached a certain level of acceptance, not of the Subversives of course but of their material. It had been a constant for so long and, as soon as the System had removed a particular pamphlet or magazine, another would emerge. There were differences of course but they were subtle and really nothing changed. The Subversives’ message, their falsities, remained.

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THE ERASER #3

Chris R-0903 Image by Christine Renney

There were others. Other Erasers and occasionally their paths crossed. Tanner always attempted to keep his distance and this hadn’t proved so difficult because each worked alone, forbidden from sharing information or collaborating even when their cases were connected and the names linked.
Tanner had always accepted this and never questioned its validity. In fact, it seemed right to him that just one Eraser be responsible for extracting a life, for changing that history and the covering of the tracks. It was respectful, he felt, and dignified. Although he wouldn’t ever have told anyone, Tanner believed that even rebels and dissidents deserved that.

Tanner is the oldest of the Erasers, the last of the ‘Old Guard’. When he is around the younger men sense his disapproval and yet they don’t hold back and talk openly about their cases. Tanner is shocked by this and also at how fiercely ambitious they are.
They moan about how antiquated the job has become and how they could be so much more effective if only they were allowed to work as a team.
‘There is still a place for the foot sloggers,’ they say, as they glance across at Tanner, ‘but we need our own offices, our own archives even.’
For them the job is simply a step up onto a ladder and one that they intend to climb. Tanner has often thought about reporting them to those above but the system is, of course, evolving, and these young men aren’t rebels. No, they are a part of its future.

THE HOME PLANET

Chris R-0813 Image by Christine Renney

We all call it Heaven but of course it isn’t. In fact we laugh at those from the Difficult Past, the ones who believed in a somewhere that was better and forever. No, Heaven isn’t about eternal happiness, nor is it a place where we can float upon a cloud in blissful ignorance. It is simply home or at least we hope that it will be.

Integration began here on Earth One almost eighty years ago. Infants were brought down from the Home Planet and over the course of five years the population here doubled. This wasn’t done clandestinely but the chosen families were sworn to keep the origin of their ‘siblings’ a secret. We didn’t know who was who and we still don’t know who is who. Eventually of course it won’t matter and everyone will get to go home but we aren’t there, not quite.
The Home Planet isn’t so very different from here, not now at least. We all visit – it is a holiday destination, somewhere to save for and look forward to.

They were wiser than us. Simplistic I know, a lazy analogy perhaps, but it does seem to me to be the truth.
The Home Planet learned from us during the Difficult Past and they succeeded against the Plague and the Famine, against War and Division. I suppose division is at the root of it all. It is where Contempt and Hatred are able to brood and breed.

The Home Planet fended against the bloodshed and the death. Whilst our population dwindled they flourished. When they decided to help us it was, I suppose, the final step because soon there won’t be any more ’us and them’ and everyone from here will eventually be able to begin again there.

An old timer like me, at seventy eight, has about a fifty/fifty chance, not bad odds. And I suppose in the end it won’t matter. There is no evidence as yet that any of the re-born can remember. But that doesn’t stop me believing, from hoping, for Heaven.

GHOST LETTER 36

Chris R-0226-2 Image by Christine Renney

Can alcohol still take hold? Get inside and make its demands? Or am I too full of holes and will it seep through the scars?
I have separated the can from its companions, freed it from the plastic ring and set it down in front of where I am sitting. Leaning back I stretch my legs out across the pavement and I can’t reach the can between my feet.
The others, the passers by, are forced to step over me and many of them glare angrily and I am glad of it. I don’t want some good Samaritan crouching down beside me. But if I sit here for long enough and drink myself into a stupor I know, of course, that this will happen.
What I want is for one of them to knock the can over and I don’t care if it is intentional or not, as long as I can watch the lager pool onto the pavement, the damp patch spreading between my legs and soaking into my trousers.
But despite their impatience and the scowls, the passers by are graceful, balletic even, and they don’t touch me and they don’t knock the can.
If I were to draw in my legs and reach out, snatch the can and drink from it would I feel it? Can I still know it? Can a ghost carry that conflict and walk with it?

THE ERASER #2

Chris R-0325 Image by Christine Renney

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.

THE ERASER #1

Chris R-0792 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.

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.