Chris R-1-151 Image by Christine Renney

Pulling the pillow down over his head, Robbie lay face down on the bed. He could hear his mum’s aunt in the living room below, along with the others. Their voices were muffled and yet still strangely distinct and although he couldn’t hear what they were saying he listened intently.
They were holding court and she, his mum’s aunt, was the Judge and the others, mum, dad and sister, the Jury. Robbie didn’t stand a chance, he would be found guilty, guilty of being rude and insensitive, of letting them down. Writhing on the unmade bed, he wished he could bury himself in the mattress but it didn’t fold in on itself and encase him.
Groaning, Robbie waited to be called, for the moment he would have to face the music. It would be his mum of course. She would shout up from the foot of the stairs or perhaps she would come up and stand in his doorway, hands on her hips.
He rolled over onto his back and he realised that he couldn’t hear his mum’s aunt and that whatever was happening down below she was no longer a part of it.
He crept out onto the landing and he could hear his mum clattering about in the kitchen and the T.V. was once again blaring in the living room. He made his way quietly down the stairs and stood in the hall, loitering until his sister spotted him from her place on the sofa.
‘What are you doing out there?’ she called.
‘Nothing.’ Tentatively he stepped into the room. His dad was snoring in front of the T.V.
‘What’s up with you?’ his sister asked.
‘Nothing. Nothing’s up.’ he replied. ‘Where is she?’
His sister frowned.
‘You know who.’
‘She’s gone.’
‘Gone where?’
‘I don’t know. Home I suppose. Why do you care?’
‘I don’t.’
‘You’re weird.’
‘No I’m not.’
‘Yeah, you are.’ his sister twisted in her seat and shouted into the kitchen. ‘Mum, Robbie’s acting weird.’
His mum appeared in the doorway, wiping her hands on a tea towel. She studied him quizzically from across the room.
‘What is it, Robbie?’ she asked. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘Nothing,’ he replied. ‘Nothing’s wrong.’



Chris R-1-149 Image by Christine Renney

His mum’s aunt was going to be an embarrassment, this was clear to Robbie from the moment he set eyes on her. His dad pushed and his mum, taking his arm, pulled him into the living room where he stumbled to in front of her.
She didn’t fit, didn’t belong, not here. Why? He wondered, had she come back but no, she hadn’t come back. She had simply appeared as if from nowhere. It seemed to Robbie that she had stepped from out of the past, from some bygone era with her tweedy clothes and her pearls and her sprightly demeanour.
Oh yes, she was going to be an embarrassment, a big, big unavoidable embarrassment. He resented her for disrupting the very fabric of his Sunday. He was annoyed with his mum and his dad and his sister for acting up, for trying to talk posh. How, he asked himself, could this work? How could she come back? No, not back but how could she come here? If, in order to impress her, they were expected to act falsely, if they couldn’t be themselves.
‘How do you like your school?’ she asked.
‘It’s alright I suppose.’ Robbie mumbled.
‘Which is your favourite subject?’
‘English,’ he said, without thinking and regretted it instantly.
‘English? Really, that’s interesting.’
‘Is it?’
‘Robbie,’ his mum snapped, ‘don’t!’
‘Don’t what?’
‘Don’t be rude.’
‘I’m not.’
‘Yes you are.’
‘Which sort of books do you like?’ his mum’s aunt, unperturbed, continued with her questions. ‘Tell me some of your favourites.’
‘I can’t; I don’t remember.’
‘Robbie,’ said his mother, ‘don’t be silly.’
‘ “Stig of the Dump”,’ he blurted, ‘ “White Fang”, “Catcher in the Rye”.’
‘”Stig of the Dump” I don’t know but Jack London and Salinger, their works I have read. Interesting, don’t you think?’
‘Is it? Why?’ Robbie said, but this time his mum was smiling.
‘We’ve read the same books, Robbie, despite the vast difference in our ages. We have both wallowed in the angst of Holden Caulfield and we have both ventured into Jack London’s bleak, beautiful terrain. Now don’t you think that’s interesting?’
‘Yeah, I suppose,’ Robbie admitted. ‘Can I go?’ he asked and his mum nodded yes, that he could go.

She stood out in their small town as Robbie had known she would. His mum’s aunt was too smart and far too proper. Avoiding her he watched from afar and had to admit that she was entirely at ease, that she hadn’t any difficulty adjusting to her new surroundings.
His mum said that she hadn’t ever really settled but had moved constantly throughout her life. Moving from city to backwater to city and back again. Boxing her possessions and transporting her antique furniture from house to house, time and time again.
Robbie wondered if she had decided to settle down at last. And if she had and she stayed here he suspected that she would begin to blend in. That as the years progressed she would stand out less and less.

‘Why now?’ he asked his mum.
‘I don’t know Robbie,’ she sighed. ‘We are her family, her only family, and she wants to be close to us. Is that so difficult to understand?’
‘But she hasn’t been interested in you and dad, or any of us, until now.’
‘She’s getting older, Robbie. Perhaps she wants to get to know us better before it’s too late.’
‘Yeah, right,’ he scowled.
‘How did you get to be so cynical?’ his mum paused. ‘I think that she’s lonely. I think that the answer is as simple as that. Why now? Because she’s lonely.’

It was bound to happen, inevitable in this little town, that they would collide. He was coming out of the newsagents on the High Street with his friend Martin. And there she was; standing in the door and blocking his way. Martin was breathing down his neck and when she stepped to one side he followed her so that his friend could get past. Martin stood out on the pavement and gazed in at them.
‘What are you doing with that rubbish?’ his mum’s aunt asked, looking down at his hands. He was clutching a can of Coke and a Mars Bar. He mumbled something about being hungry and thirsty and it struck Robbie that their relationship so far had consisted mostly of moments like this. He, standing in front of her awkward and uncomfortable, whilst she questioned him. Her questions were annoying and not worthy of his attention and yet, despite himself, he tried to answer.
‘Why don’t you put those away?’ she said. ‘Why don’t you and your friend come to my house and I’ll make you something to eat.’
‘Okay,’ he said.
‘Good,’ she smiled, ‘give me a half an hour or so.’
‘Okay,’ Robbie replied.
Turning, she called back, ‘I just have a few things to do first and then I’ll be ready to welcome you both.’

‘Who was that?’ Martin asked.
‘No-one, a relative. My mum’s aunt.’
‘Your auntie?’
‘No, my mum’s aunt.’
‘Your great-aunt then.’
‘Yeah, something like that.’
‘What did she want?’
‘Nothing,’ Robbie said, ‘come on, let’s go.’


Chris R-1-147 Image by Christine Renney

I have abandoned the route and my meandering has now moved onto a new level. I am exploring a vast area that was once a thriving centre of industry but is now deserted.
I walk between the buildings and the sky above is reduced to narrow strips of grey. I am unsettled by this place and find it difficult to navigate. Whenever I reach a door, one that isn’t locked or boarded, I step inside. Or if there is a hole, and there are a lot of them, where the bricks have crumbled and fallen away, places where I can climb in or crawl through and this I now do, down on my hands and knees, pulling and kicking at the earth until I am standing on the factory floor.
At the outer edges people are holding on and still finding ways to be useful but here almost everything of value has been taken and these buildings, the factories and the warehouses, have been stripped bare and are merely husks.
I look down at the tiles beneath my feet; they are grimy but in the dusty half-light they glint and they gleam


hijacked amygdala

Chris R-1-142 Image by Christine Renney

He hadn’t seen the sea, not in real life, not until now. He had seen it on the t.v. and he seen photos in newspapers and magazines and such. He had seen it at the cinema, up on the big screen, but not like this.
Behind him the others were still talking, bickering and just moments before he had been a part of it, of the tomfoolery. It was a game they played, a drama that they performed amongst themselves, taking it in turns to pick on each other. But, staring out to sea watching as it roiled, he realised the game had changed and at some point he had stopped bothering to fight back.
He had become the butt of their jokes, he was the Fool, the Fall Guy, the Patsy. He took all that they threw at him and he took it in the…

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Chris R-1-140.jpg Image by Christine Renney

It would shamelessly court
dance with controversy
fight in the face of adversity

If I could write a poem to last
it would be brave like Siegfried Sassoon
it wouldn’t lurk on the page but blaze

If I could write a poem to last
it would work for a wage
a lover demanding
expecting to be heard

If I could write a poem to last