CHAMELEON

Chris R--12.jpg Illustration by Christine Renney

‘As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said ‘No Trespassing’
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing
That side was made for you and me’

‘This Land Is Your Land’ by Woody Guthrie

Edward had always sort of melded, was at his happiest when unnoticed. In his youth he suffered from a debilitating shyness and although he was now relatively successful the after effects lingered.
Perhaps this melding, this blending in, was his defence mechanism. It was most certainly the way in which he had managed over the years. Although Edward wasn’t an ambitious man he was quietly satisfied with the places and the roles he had forged for himself. He was a husband and a father. His wife, their daughter and their modest but comfortable home were the things that mattered to him the most, along with his job. His job was important. It was quite possibly, was almost definitely, the thing that mattered to him most of all and despite everything that had happened it remained the glue that held him together.

Edward worked for the Environment Agency, tending to the rivers and waterways across three counties, a considerable area. He had begun as a surveyor, measuring levels of pollution, monitoring erosion and damage to bridges and other supportive structures, the general wear and tear to footpaths. But Edward had slowly risen in the ranks and now others collected and Edward collated the information and ultimately it was he who decided where the money went.
He took his job seriously; toiled long and hard and, in his own quiet and unassuming way, he had proved to be highly efficient. Each year, when the budget was cut just a little more, fretting and frowning Edward strived to be fair.
At fifty five he had aged quite dramatically. His wife and daughter noticed that he was getting greyer on an almost daily basis, both his skin and his hair. Although neither of them would have said so, they both believed that Edward was shrinking.

He didn’t tend the rivers anymore. It wasn’t about ensuring the places remained safe and accessible. Edward now was forced to put up fences and signs warning people of the dangers, instructing them to keep away.
After he had accepted the office job, becoming responsible for the constantly reducing funds, Edward continued to visit the site of the latest clean-up operation or bridge mending. He would drive out in the evenings or at the weekend.

When his daughter had been younger, aged nine, ten, eleven and twelve, she had accompanied him. Had it really been that long? For nearly four years together they had monitored the Department’s progress job after job after job. They would often take a packed lunch and make a day of it.
His daughter, though, moved on. At thirteen she didn’t want to accompany him anymore. Edward was disappointed but she was a teenager and for her it was the beginning of something that, quite rightly, he could not be a part of.
He tried to hide it and didn’t want her to feel guilty but she, of course, could tell and he was relieved when at last she stopped making her excuses and started to forget.
The work to be carried out lessened considerably but Edward continued doggedly with his excursions. He revisited all of the old sites and, over the years, he witnessed firsthand the gradual deterioration. It was, he concluded, time to start again; to begin afresh and this simple truth he found exasperating as he began in earnest to visit the places that had been neglected entirely.

Edward pushed through the brambles. He held his hands above his head and the thorny branches clawed and pulled at his jacket as he lunged awkwardly alongside the dry river bed. He glanced across at the overgrown hollow and wondered if technically this was still a river and if he shouldn’t perhaps invest in a new set of maps or was it him? Was he taking this, whatever it was, too far?
Engulfed by the brambles Edward turned and started back toward the road. He would need to come back at the weekend, needed longer if he intended to pursue this river.
The going was easier now, he had already trampled a path of sorts and he quickly reached the clearing in front of the fence and the imposing sign. A man was standing on the other side with his dog, a fat black Labrador. He had been waiting in the lay-by, watching and listening, expecting an unruly kid to emerge, not someone older than himself and in a suit and tie.
‘Can’t you read?’ the man shouted.
‘Yes, I can read,’ Edward mumbled. ‘But tell me what there is to read on this side?’
The man stared at him blankly.
‘Have you never heard of Woody Guthrie?’ Edward asked a little more forcefully.
‘Woody who? What are you talking about?’
‘Woody Guthrie. The Okies, the Dustbowl?’
‘Can’t you read?’ the man repeated.
‘Yes, I can read but tell me anyhow. What does it say?’
‘Do Not Enter,’ the man barked.
‘Private property?’ Edward ventured.
‘Yes, of course it is.’
‘No trespassing?’
‘Yes, that’s what it means.’
‘Now tell me,’ Edward pointed up at the bare and weather beaten board, ‘just what is written on this side?
‘Go on,’ he urged, ‘make a wild guess.’
Edward moved forward and was surprised when the man, taking a step backward, flinched. He was unnerved, possibly even afraid.
‘Nothing,’ Edward said. ‘There isn’t anything written on this side.’
Bemused, the man turned and, pulling his dog, started toward the footpath that ran alongside the road.
‘Hey, hold on,’ Edward called and leaning across the fence he held out his card.
‘Go on,’ he demanded, ‘take it.’
And the man dare not do otherwise.

Advertisements

HIS AND HERS

Number 2-0362 Image by Christine Renney

They were separating, pulling apart. It had been happening for a while, for an age in fact, and yet they still shared a bed and a bathroom and the kitchen stove. In order to end it they needed to talk, to sit down face to face. There was so much they had to decide and she wanted so badly to thrash it out, but the gulf between had gotten too deep, too wide and they couldn’t cross or go around it.

A weekend away in the country, a change of scenery, neutral territory. It was her idea but she hadn’t needed to push it, he had agreed almost instantly and this had annoyed her a little. He could so easily have just said no, asked what’s the point, why would we bother to do that? But he hadn’t and here they were.
She retrieved the key from beneath the plant pot as instructed and unlocked the door. She stepped inside but stopping she stood on the threshold, blocking him.
‘I don’t think we should be together.‘ She shouted it into the empty house. ‘We should be apart, in separate rooms I mean.’
‘Okay,’ he mumbled and put her suitcase down on the doorstep. She turned and watched him as he walked back toward the car.

‘Which of the rooms would you like?’ she asked, trying to make the question sound light and airy.
‘I don’t care,’ he snapped. He could hear his voice in his head, brusque, harsh, blunt, but it wasn’t really how he felt.
‘Well, there are three rooms to choose from so why don’t we go up and take a look and then you can decide?’
‘I want the smallest,’ he said, managing to say it softly, under his breath. And he wasn’t really talking to her, although he couldn’t be sure that she got it, that she understood.

In the largest of the rooms she tossed and turned. Couldn’t stop thinking about him. Why had he insisted on taking that little room, the box room. It was like a cell and the thought of him in there depressed her.
She crept out onto the landing and stood in front of the door. Cupping her hands she pressed her ear against it and listened, wondered if he was asleep, if he was comfortable.
She shuffled around, leant against the door and it gave a little in its frame; creaking and straining against the catch. She realised that if he were to open it she would fall through but she wouldn’t move and refused to accept that, however temporarily, this was the door to his room.

It didn’t take long, just twenty minutes or so to say all that needed to be said. They each drank two cups of coffee and afterwards sat in silence over a third. She wanted to keep talking but had to admit that it wasn’t really necessary. They had dotted the I’s and crossed every T, had attended to each and every cliché that concerned itself with efficiency. He, as usual, had been succinct, wasn’t the type to talk simply for the sake of it. They had divided their belongings, had managed to sort through all the baggage that they had acquired during their time together. But twenty minutes? It felt too quick, too soon and again she wanted to keep talking. It was the end and also the beginning of something, something big. Surely it warranted a little more?
She would be able to talk later with her friends, there would be much to analyse. But not now, not here and suppressing yet another sigh she watched him.
He stood at the sink with his back to her and rinsed his cup. He then placed it upside down on top of the empty draining board.
She suspected he would adapt easily to living alone. That for him the transition would be seamless, that it would consist simply of a paring down, a shredding and shaving away until everything was smaller and he had less of everything, except his books of course.
She could easily picture him in his new flat where he would have just one cup, one plate, one bowl.
She was determined now not to talk, any attempt to do so would quickly turn stilted and so why not play him at his own game? She would just sit here and not talk to see how he liked it. She was acting childishly, she knew this. After all they had managed to settle things amicably and both of them were wholly resigned. He had been reasonable and had acted like an adult. She should have been relieved, grateful even and she was, but why did she also feel like this?
‘I’m exhausted,’ she said, ‘I have to go back up to bed. I need to sleep.’

He stood at the door to her room but didn’t step across the threshold.
‘It will get easier,’ he told her.
‘I know,’ she replied.
After all that had been said the thought of being cooped up in this unfamiliar cottage was too much now to contemplate. She decided she would suggest they leave first thing in the morning. He could start making the necessary arrangements and move out. They needed to get away from each other. They needed to be apart.
She began to undress and from the door he watched her. Glancing at him she moved to the foot of the bed. She looked up at him again and, this time, she held his gaze.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘okay. But first will you promise me something?’
‘What is it?’
‘Don’t sleep in that little room, not tonight.’
‘What do you mean?’
She laughed, ‘Don’t worry, I don’t mean you have to stay in here with me but move into the other room, the bigger one. Please will you promise me?’
‘Okay,’ he said, ‘I promise.’
And for the last time he stepped into her room.