THE MODEL

Chris R-1-227 Image by Christine Renney

If the model had been bigger it wouldn’t have survived, someone would have destroyed it years ago, taken a hammer and smashed it to smithereens. But the baseboard was a little less than a metre square and it fitted easily into the back of a small van or a large estate car and so moving it from place to place hadn’t ever been that difficult, not too much of a task. When it outstayed its welcome there was always someone able to transport it and somewhere else willing to take it. And so the model had survived and it had languished in little museums and dusty civic centres and draughty village halls. Over the years people had looked at it and a lot of them had been impressed. But no-one had really, really looked at it, not in the way he did. Jacob was the first to study and scrutinise it and to recognise just how delicate, how intricate and extraordinary it was.

The model was a sprawling cityscape of high-rise towers, a section of a much larger metropolis. It wasn’t a re-creation of a particular place, not New York or Singapore or Chicago or Hong Kong. This city was the model makers’ invention and no attempt had been made to conjure anything futuristic or other-worldly. No, this place was representative of the here and now, a city that had once been high-tech and ultra modern but was quickly fading, losing its lustre and its glow.
The model was constructed from molded plastic and the paintwork was exquisite. It had been the model maker’s forte, the masterstroke. At first glance the tower blocks appeared identical and it was only when you looked closely that you noticed the subtle differences and could see the wealth of tiny detail and Jacob couldn’t stop looking.

As he moved around the model that first afternoon and gazed down into it and it snatched the hours away from him, he wracked his brain for an analogy. The best he could come up with was that it was a little like staring at a computer generated image on a screen. A scene from a game perhaps or a video installation. A mid twentieth century city that has become jaded and has somehow lost its way. A place where no-one wants to be, certainly not somewhere that Jacob would want to go and yet he couldn’t stop looking.

Squinting in the bright sunlight, Jacob felt giddy and disoriented. Stumbling he managed to reach the bench in front of the community hall and he sat. Gradually he began to focus again and, looking up, he realised that it was a beautiful evening. After standing for so long in front of the model he needed to stretch his legs and started to walk.
Jacob had lived in this small town since he was a child and he couldn’t remember ever being anywhere else. But, as he walked through the narrow streets and alongside the rows of Georgian and Victorian houses, it began to dawn on him that he had not looked properly at the place in years. Moving out across the market square he felt like a stranger but no, not a stranger, like someone returning to their home town after a long journey and discovering it anew. It felt good and Jacob considered himself to be lucky, lucky to be here and yet he knew that, in the morning, he would re-visit the community hall and look again at the model. That he would look at it as often as he could and for as long as he was able.

THE ERASER #6

Chris R-0098 Image by Christine Renney

Tanner had often considered creating a pamphlet of his own, writing and distributing it anonymously. It would be a manual of sorts, offering advice on how to recognise the troublemakers, those challenging the system, but more importantly those who haven’t yet but who might.
Whenever he began putting it together in his head it always seemed absurd. The notion that people should be suspicious of others based on their haircut or the kind of clothes they wore, or which newspaper they took, the music they listened to, the books they read.
Just because someone visited the library and checked out a novel by a long ago formerly banned writer it didn’t necessarily mean that particular someone would become a conspirator. A pamphlet might help, yes, but really it would be little more than a list of traits and affectations, of mannerisms and possible signs and it wasn’t enough.

THE ERASER #5

Chris R-0140 Image by Christine Renney

Over the years Tanner had become highly attuned to his work and was able to spot the conspirators from afar. He could pick them out on a busy street, in a crowded bar or restaurant. This wasn’t ever based on anything concrete but he just knew. Perhaps it was because he had been obliterating these people for so long. Rubbing them out, the ones who conspired against and opposed the system, once they had been exposed after the fact.
Tanner had reported his suspicions hundreds upon hundreds of times and he had never been wrong. Each and everyone of those individuals had been found guilty and eventually their names appeared on The Eraser list. Occasionally Tanner will be appointed the case of one of his suspects and he always finds this deeply satisfying. He had been the first to recognise that this particular person was a potential agitator, someone who could easily stray and be pulled from the centre. Someone who would believe the lies and help to perpetuate the myth and now Tanner was able to wipe him or her from the face of the earth or at least from the system. To remove all evidence and any legitimacy that might still remain.

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 LAST TOURISTS

Chris R-0779.jpg Image by Christine Renney

Despite the continual warnings, all the official advice, they continued to travel. Despite the very real threat of a bomb or poisonous gas or a man in the middle of the night coming into your room and holding a hand over your mouth whilst plunging a knife into your side. Despite all of this, they continued to visit and explore.
It was easy enough to get a flight, find your way to anywhere. Still possible to climb part of the Eiffel Tower or gaze at the site where the Parthenon once stood. For the most part they set off alone but were easily identifiable in their raggedy uniforms of jeans, a sweatshirt and sensible shoes. And so, with their backpacks, they banded together. There was safety in numbers or so they hoped.

‘Why do we do it?’ Joe asked.
‘Because we can,’ Eve replied, without missing a beat, ‘because it’s all out there and we want to see it and experience it for ourselves.’
‘But at what risk?’ Joe mused, ‘is it really worth putting ourselves in danger?’
‘I don’t think about it,’ Eve said, ‘I really don’t and after so long I’m not even sure if I believe.’
‘But the terrorists are real,’ Joe declared. ‘The bombs, the murders, it’s all real.’
‘I suppose so,’ she said, ‘but I just want to look at the world.’
Joe realised then that he was falling for her.
‘The girl who wanted to look at the world,’ he said. ‘It would make a good title for a story.’
‘But it would be a sad story, one full of regret,’ she said.
‘Is that how it’s been for you?’
‘No, no, of course not.’
‘Well then it’s your story,’ he said.
‘But I don’t write.’
‘Yes, you do. You’re writing it now.’
‘Describe those men,’ Joe demanded, a little too forcefully. ‘The ones sitting behind you at the table closest to the door.’
She laughed. ‘Ok. They are young, in their early or mid-twenties. They are dressed smartly, are a little dandyish. They have dark hair and olive skin. They are from here, I think, and they keep glancing across at us. They know why we are here and they have polished, shiny shoes and they despise us.’
‘Are they terrorists?’ Joe asked.
‘It’s possible, it’s always possible.’
‘But you don’t care?’
‘Of course I care, but I won’t not do what I want to do.’
‘You really are impressive,’ Joe said.
Eve blushed. ‘Why didn’t we do this in Paris?’ she asked.
‘Do what?’
‘Talk. Why didn’t we talk, it would have helped pass the time.’
‘It was pretty grim, wasn’t it?’
‘I’m serious. Why didn’t we do this?’ she repeated.
‘We were all too desperate,’ Joe replied, ‘we weren’t capable of talking in anything other than clichés and platitudes.’
‘It sounds as though you dislike us as much as our friends at the table over there,’ Eve said.
‘Sometimes,’ Joe sighed, ‘I think that I do.’

Joe and Eve had met the previous year, had been part of a larger group, fifteen of them holed up in a grotty hotel in Paris, waiting around on the off-chance that they might be able to visit the Louvre.
In Paris they had indeed been desperate. They were reduced by it, lessened. It wasn’t that they hadn’t been disappointed in their travels before. They had all journeyed hard only to come up against a locked door or a barred entrance. To find a ruin, fenced off and hidden, a once fine building dilapidated and in disrepair. To discover that something had disappeared entirely, had been moved or stolen, possibly even destroyed. But they had believed Paris would be different. It had been announced in the newspapers that the once world famous gallery would be open, just for one day from nine in the morning until five in the evening. Although it was an advertisement and not a news report it had the stamp of authority, the air of officialdom and so they had gathered, only to have their hopes dashed.
Before their disappointment had been able to sink in the rumours had begun to circulate. The day had been changed and there was still a good chance that the gallery would open. Those that could afford to do so stayed. Joe and Eve were amongst the very last to leave.

‘Would you do it again?’ she asked.
‘Of course,’ he replied.
Satisfied by this response Eve settled back into her chair and grinned.
‘Tell me something good,’ she urged. ‘Tell me about somewhere you’ve visited, something you’ve seen, something that amazed you.’
‘Ok,’ Joe said, ‘but let’s go back to the hotel. We can get a drink there.’
‘Yes,’ excited, Eve stood. ‘And we can compare notes,’ she enthused.

The table closest to the door was now deserted. Eve took Joe’s hand and in their sensible and soundless shoes they began to make their way.
Stepping from the restaurant and gathering themselves on the pavement, they didn’t notice the two men standing deep in the shadows beneath the awning directly opposite.