Category: fiction

SALESMAN

Chris R-0845 Image by Christine Renney

‘Door-to-door sales is a dying art,’ he says.
I don’t want to answer, to be pulled into this again but the others around the table are looking at me, waiting.
‘It’s just a job,’ I say at last.
‘A trade,’ he muses, ‘a dying trade.’
The woman sitting beside him, I think she’s his wife, sniggers and the others are now watching me even more intently.
‘Maybe,’ I mumble, then more forcefully, ‘but…I don’t know, maybe not.’
‘Oh, come on,’ he is almost shouting, rearing back a little in his seat, ‘shopping is so easy now, almost instant. The idea of buying from a little man on the doorstep with his samples and brochures in his little suitcase, it just seems, I don’t know, so……..’
‘Anachronistic,’ the woman, who may be his wife or mistress, says.
‘Yes, exactly,’ he laughs.
I shrug.
‘So, you sell vacuum cleaners?’ he continues, ‘and other “Electrical Goods and Appliances” – am I right?’
‘I sell a vacuum cleaner.’
‘Just vacuum cleaners?’
‘A vacuum cleaner.’
‘Just the one make and model?’
‘Yes.’
‘You don’t offer any choice or variety?’
‘No.’
‘Wow, it must be something special this vacuum.’
‘It is very efficient and has proved to be reliable.’
‘Okay, so how does this work? What exactly do you do? Obviously you drive around from town to town?’
‘I drive, of course I drive, but mostly I walk. I walk from house to house, street to street.’
‘Okay, so you knock on the doors and people invite you into their homes? They are taken in by your spiel – I suppose it’s as simple as that. You show them the glossy brochures and they make an order.’
‘There aren’t any brochures.’
‘Then how do they know what they are buying?’
‘I show it to them.’
‘You show them the vacuum cleaner?’
‘Yes.’
‘You carry it with you?’
‘Yes.’
‘Isn’t it heavy?’
‘No. Is your vacuum cleaner heavy?’
‘No, I suppose not. So, you show them how it works?’
‘No, not really. Everyone knows how a vacuum cleaner works.’
‘So what do you do? How do you make them believe that they want, that they need it, that it’s better than the one they already have?’
‘I can’t tell you that. Tricks of the trade, I’m sure you understand.’
‘Tricks of a dying trade,’ says another woman to my left, but she doesn’t snigger.
‘Okay, I’m intrigued. You must have it in your car, show me this vacuum cleaner and make your pitch.’
‘No, I can’t do that.’
‘Why not?’
‘I don’t sell to friends,’ I pause, just momentarily, ‘or to people I meet like this, outside of work.’
‘You don’t mix business with pleasure?’
‘No, never.’
‘Okay, I’ll buy one on-line. You can give me the details.’
‘There is no website.’
Incredulous, he glances around the table and realises that all the heads have turned and the focus has now shifted on to him.
‘The shop then,’ he says, ‘there must be a shop or showroom somewhere?’
‘No.’
‘Okay, the factory then, I’ll visit the factory.’
‘You can’t buy direct.’
‘And I can’t buy from you?’
‘Of course you can buy from me or from any one of the other Salesmen but only if and when we knock on your door.’

GHOST LETTER 32

Chris R-0355-2 Image by Christine Renney

I know this place. I have been here before. Is it possible I have been heading for this particular city all along? That the idea of the road as endless was merely a conceit and no matter how often I have stopped and turned myself around, that the walking in circles was, in effect, little more than an effort to prolong it. To put off the inevitable. And no matter how protracted and arduous the journey, my intention had always been to come here, to this city that has been forgotten. A place most people pass on their way to somewhere else, that they circumnavigate. And here I am – at the edges, stepping out a boundary, desperately trying to make it real and still prolonging it.
Looking up I see I am walking along a street of terraced houses. I look back toward the city but the only view I have from here is of the roofs of the derelict factories. There is a bicycle leaning against the wall to my left. In the garden beyond it I see an inflatable paddling pool filled with rusty rain water.
Somehow I have stumbled and strayed to here, to ‘somewhere’ and although the street is deserted and quiet everything now feels weighted with possibility and I begin to panic.
I can hear a crowd in the distance, but the jeering and cheering is safely contained elsewhere. And I am reassured by this, by the fact that for the duration of the game at least I am alone out here. Convinced all the houses are empty I push on and I am getting closer, making my way toward it.

THE MAN WHO MOVED OFF TO ONE SIDE

Chris R-0077-3 Image by Christine Renney

It happened quite suddenly. Douglas was standing with his colleagues early one morning and they were talking as they always did at that hour, before scurrying off to their stations and beginning the day’s work. They were talking about the games of course. Douglas had watched the tournament the night before and he had much to say and yet he didn’t say it. He was listening intently, nodding along when he agreed, and when he didn’t stepping back a little and shaking his head. The others didn’t notice him moving off to the side, that he was no longer a part of it.
Throughout the morning Douglas brooded and at lunchtime he was still brooding. Hunched over his plate he listened again as the others picked up the conversation from earlier. He realised that they were in fact beginning again. The venue had changed but amid the clutter of the canteen it was a repeat performance.
Douglas watched his colleagues enthusing just as enthusiastically as they had before. He gazed around the vast dining hall, groups of workers were gathered at every table. Douglas couldn’t hear what they were saying from where he sat but he did notice each tableau was identical, the same body language, the same inflections and expressions.
Douglas pushed aside his plate and he started to wander. The hall was cavernous and he tried to concentrate but the voices weren’t in any way synchronised. No, it was an angry clash, an impenetrable din. In order to hear, he needed to get in close. And this he did, moving up on table after table, from group to group. It was one conversation, the one he was already familiar with and it was playing out at varying levels of intensity, a debate constantly finding ways in which to begin again.

NOWHERESVILLE

Chris R-0200 Image by Christine Renney

He leans over the rail and gazes down. The Precinct is big and it is flat and featureless and, if it wasn’t for the people, the paved areas, the walkways and the communal squares would be indistinguishable from the roofs of the buildings. It is a rough sketch, an idea at best. A still from a film, a panoramic view of nowhere.
The wind is trying its hardest to push him back, to keep him from the edge. But gripping the rail with both hands he holds firm. There is an old newspaper at his feet. He nudges at it with the toe of his boot. Wet from the rain, it is sodden and heavy. He tries to dislodge it from its resting place but the newspaper is stuck to the gravel and the felt. Holding onto the rail with one hand he crouches and, using the other, he works it free.
He stands and, nudging again with his foot, he slides the newspaper over the edge. But it doesn’t drop, doesn’t plummet as he thought it would, as he had hoped it would. Taken by the wind the newspaper erupts noisily above his head. He turns and, moving away from the rail, he watches its sheets flapping and flailing.

GHOST LETTER 31

chris-r-1110752-2 Image by Christine Renney

The cars are predictable. They crawl through the narrow and crowded streets at a snail’s pace. Searching for parking spaces. As soon as one moves away from the kerb, another is readying to take its place. This battle is almost constant. It is an elaborate board game, play pausing just briefly in the early hours of the morning when a stalemate of sorts is achieved and all of the vehicles are locked in tight and there are no spaces on the grid, on the streets and for a brief spell, at least none of them will move.
I keep walking and I am reassured by the line of cars jammed along the pavements. Occasionally I come across a space and if it is big enough to take a car I feel anxious. I am even unnerved but of course it won’t be long before the players return and the game commences.
I observe the drivers as I walk. They are all so desperately focussed that they hardly notice me. They are usually alone but if there are passengers they are just as centred, just as determined and desperate to find a space.
I am passing alongside a pale blue estate car. In the wintry light it is the colour of cement. The windshield and windows are tinted and I can’t see in. I feel a little uneasy about this but I can see quite clearly that there is a place just up ahead. It will be tight but I am sure that this driver, like all the others, is skillful enough. That he will be able to manoeuvre his vehicle quite easily into position. But he doesn’t.
Perplexed, I step down from the kerb and out into the road. Standing in the middle of the parking space I look back and there are no cars coming. It isn’t too late, he can still back-up but he doesn’t.
At the crossroads he turns right toward the City Centre. I cross at the junction and I stop and I stand and I wait. I expect that here, where the road is wider and there are no cars parked on either side, that he will turn himself around and begin to make his way back. But he doesn’t and brake lights ablaze he carries on, albeit awkwardly, down the hill.
When I start to follow he speeds up a little. I am running now and at the end of the road he turns left, onto the ring road and he is gone, leaving me stranded here at the edge.

THE FORUM

chris-r-0048-2 Image by Christine Renney

They have always wanted to take them from us. I don’t understand why. Perhaps it is because they can’t and this is also why they have never stopped trying. They could have cut out our tongues and rendered us insensate. The mutilation would have been quick and easy but it wouldn’t have worked. They couldn’t then, and still can’t now, remove the words, at least not with surgery or through violence.
The words inside us are like a virus. The most virulent of computer viruses and no-one is able to break it. Nevertheless, I often wonder what would happen if somehow they did. Could we still function? But once, of course, we did. In the time before we began to grunt and to nod and to point, first at each other and then at the sky. But this moment must have been so fleeting as to have been almost non-existent.

We all have our monitors. The notion we might be without them is inconceivable. We carry them with us wherever we go, brandishing them wherever we are, constantly checking the word count and reassuring ourselves.
Years ago a friend of mine put his monitor in his jacket pocket, unlocked. Throughout the course of the day, as he went about his business, rummaging for small change and his keys, he inadvertently punched in some words. Hours later, when he at last looked at his monitor and checked his count it had dropped dramatically. He had lost six words, a whole sentence wasted. He hadn’t used these words to search for something on the web, or to leave a message on one of his forums. He didn’t even know what the words had been. We surmised that they must have been short, one, two, three letters at most.
Anyhow, my friend tried to make light of it.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ he said, ‘I still have enough, if and when I need them I’ll still have enough.’
But I couldn’t help noticing he had upgraded his monitor. It was one of those early self-locking models. We all have them now of course but back then they were very expensive.

I can access five forums, which is a lot, especially nowadays but as long as I visit often enough, I don’t need to use a word and so I make the effort to keep them active. Whenever someone does key in words and looks at something on the web they always drag it across to share it and it isn’t too long before it is on all the forums and everyone can see it. New content trickles through slowly and it is always an event. No matter what it might be it is the subject of much verbal debate and conjecture. A pop video perhaps or a baseball game or some trashy tv show from yesteryear. Everything on the web is old, there are no up to the minute bulletins and no new pop songs. I suppose that most of what we share is superficial and insignificant. Perhaps that is why we all have aliases so that out there in the ether no-one knows who anyone else is.
News reports are shared infrequently but the repercussions are far greater. The coverage is always of terrorist attacks or hate crimes, of rebellions and uprisings and military coups, of political prisoners proclaiming from inside a stark prison cell or from some poorly lit courtroom. All of this happened long ago of course but people are still passionate and quickly enraged. This is the cause of division and violence often erupts and these outbursts, these incidents, are identical to those we watch on the forums.

There is very little of the written word on the forums. It is generally videos and photographs but mostly videos. There is the original accompanying text with every share, but this somehow doesn’t count and people rarely leave messages. It takes too many words to say something clever or funny, to write something thought provoking or meaningful.
There must be so much out there on the web, from magazines and newspapers, articles and essays, poems and stories and novels. Almost everything up until that point, up until it was stopped.
Just a few months ago somebody did drag a story across, a story by a once popular writer. Most people thought it pointless to share this work when it was still in print and readily available in libraries and bookshops.
We all wanted to find something within this story, to glean something from it. But it was just a story. A good one, yes, but one of many.

GHOST LETTER 30

chris-r-0460 Image by Christine Renney

Since abandoning the road I have become more and more pre-occupied with time. The idea that I might, that I will, that I do stop, is constantly lodged in my head as I walk.
I feel now that I was pushing against the road, that the traffic, all the cars and the trucks, were going in one direction and I in another. How did I manage to keep going for so long, without sitting or laying down, without stopping. I must, at least, have closed my eyes as I walked for longer than was safe.