THE GANGSTER’S SUIT

Chris R-0852 Image by Christine Renney

The Gangster’s Wife had arranged to meet with an old friend in a park, close to the offices where she once worked. She hadn’t been in the city in a while, at least not during the day and on her own, without the Gangster and all that being with him entailed.
It was bright and sunny with shadows slicing the pavement. She could hardly see in front of herself but it felt good, getting lost in the crowd and looking in shop windows at all she could so easily afford, at all she already had.
She didn’t have any regrets, hadn’t ever doubted that she could be who she had become. They were clichés, the Gangster and her. She was all too aware of this. In their designer labels and with their fast cars and holidays in the sun. And she had hardened over the years, well no, that isn’t strictly true. She had always been hard and wilful enough to see it through. But at almost fifty she looked the part, with her fake tan and impossibly white teeth. There were more lines on her face now when she smiled and she smiled a lot. But she was still sleek and slim, her body sculpted at the gym and with just a little help from the most trusted of surgeons. She could still turn heads – both men and women stopped in order to look at her.

It was the Gangster’s suit that had first caught her attention. She had been attracted to it, rather than him.
She and her friends were sitting at a table in a club and she had watched the Gangster holding court at the bar. It was dark in the club and the suit was a deep blue. But even given the distance and the poor lighting she could tell it was a quality cloth, expensive and she suspected that it had been hand made, tailored especially for him.
There wasn’t anything gaudy about the suit, nothing flashy, that was all him, the cockiness and the swagger. He was loud and she could hear him. He had noticed her, she had noticed that much at least. But she hadn’t gotten a proper look at him, not yet. She hadn’t taken him in, not his features.
When he approached their table, she was the first to speak.
‘Nice suit,’ she said.
‘Yeah, I know,’ he replied.
But she didn’t look up at him and so he crouched down in front of her.
‘Yeah,’ he repeated, ‘yeah, I know.’ And he grinned.
Later, walking home from the nightclub, her friends had told her who he was and what he was. They didn’t come right out and say anything but she decided there and then that she wouldn’t be told what not to do.

The Gangster’s Wife had reached the park and she could see her friend sitting on one of the benches. But she didn’t step through the gates. Suddenly, she didn’t want to meet with her, to catch up and talk about old times and gossip about people she no longer knew.
The office block where she used work was right there across the street and, looking up at it, she started to make her way back.
There was a man on the pavement ahead of her, a young man and he was glancing back at her. He had slowed and she was gaining on him and any moment now he would take one last look at her and turning himself around he would move along. But she stopped and stood in front of one of the shop windows, letting him go.

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THE CENTRE

Number 2-0404

If I open my arms, will you
reach in but
turning away will you
grapple and grasp and grab
at it,
whatever it is.
The something that is a
part of me and is attached
to something else, the centre,
I suppose.
Will you grapple and grasp and grab
at it and pull at it
or will you
venture with abandon and fall
into my arms
and gamble.

Image by Christine Renney

THE CHARLATAN

Number 2- Illustration by Christine Renney

Edmund hadn’t been cajoled, he hadn’t been suckered into this. He had agreed to meet with the Charlatan in order to end it, expose him for what he was; a fraud, a conman, a charlatan who was exploiting Edmund’s friends, taking advantage of them and taking their money.
At this late stage in his life, Edmund shared with his friends the wish to wallow in the past and he understood this desire completely. But their memories were intact and they didn’t need anyone to help them remember, least of all the Charlatan. He wasn’t a professional health worker, a therapist or a psychologist but a man on the make, a fraudster, a trickster.
Increasingly, Edmund, became exasperated, couldn’t understand how they could be so gullible. His friends were intelligent and had all been successful but old age, he believed, was at last taking its toll. He alone, he thought, was managing to cling on, still able to retain his reason, to think things through.
Both as a group, and individually, they railed against him, but he was unmovable, remained steadfast and angry. Despite this they wouldn’t back off, wouldn’t let it go and they beseeched and implored and pleaded with him.

‘Please, please meet with him. Just once, Edmund, it is all that we ask of you.’

Edmund hadn’t prepared for the encounter, he didn’t need a master plan to expose the Charlatan. He intended simply to let this man lay his hands on him but first he wanted to talk a little, to ask a few questions. Just a few minutes before he was due to arrive Edmund realised that he hadn’t given any thought at all to what he might say, how he would begin, what he wanted to ask and suddenly he felt frail and vulnerable and of course this was why the Charlatan preyed on the elderly. Edmund felt fury rising in him again, it washed through him, cleansing away all of the doubt and all of the fear. When the bell rang, Edmund was ready and defiantly he flung open the door.
The Charlatan was older than he had expected and Edmund was surprised to find that he did not match his preconceived ideas about how he would look, how he would appear, this confidence trickster. But this man was late sixties at least, dressed in a suit, tie and hat. He resembled a pedlar, an old salesman still making the effort each morning in order to look his best and he was clever. He didn’t have to haul a suitcase from door to door.

‘Come in,’ Edmund said, ‘come on through.’
We can at least be civil, Edmund thought, why shouldn’t we talk together politely. It wouldn’t take much to break him, not this man who looked as if he ought to be selling cleaning products or shoelaces or shirt buttons.

‘How did you discover it, what you do?’ Edmund tried his best to sound sincere. The Charlatan blushed and Edmund found himself wrong-footed yet again.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, ‘surely you’ve been asked this before?’
‘No, never.’
‘Really? That’s difficult to believe.’
‘People are always awkward, especially the first time. They feel embarrassed, I suppose, and anxious to find if what they have heard about me is true. They don’t make small talk and afterwards, well, they just want more.’
Edmund flinched, ‘What do you mean, more?’
‘I mean they want to remember, that’s all. You want it as well, it’s why I’m here.’
‘But I don’t need your help in order to remember.’
‘No, but you’ve heard, you’ve been told all about how, albeit fleetingly, I can make it so much more.’
‘But how is that possible?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Why do you do it?’ Edward asked.
‘For the money, I suppose, to make my living.’
Sunlight poured through the kitchen window and Edmund couldn’t help but notice that the cuffs of the Charlatan’s shirt were frayed and his suit also was worn. Edmund was at least ten years older but standing beside him on that bright sunny morning he felt positively youthful.
‘It’s an unusual line of work to fall into,’ Edmund ventured. ‘Tell me,’ he murmured, surprising himself, ‘I am intrigued.’
The Charlatan shuffled backward, moving into the shade.
‘Certainly,’ he said at last, ‘but first may we go somewhere and sit.’

‘No, it doesn’t have to be a good memory but something sad is much more demanding, much more draining and afterwards it takes longer, it‘s much harder.’
‘For you?’
‘Yes, for me.’
Gleaning information from the Charlatan was proving to be a frustrating and difficult task. It was, Edmund thought, a little like trying to wring water from a dry cloth. He didn’t want to tell but show and Edmund was tempted simply to let this man take hold of him and get it over with. Of course, he didn’t believe but despite the impossible he wanted desperately to hear more.
He asked, ‘How did it begin?’
The Charlatan stared up and into the space above Edmund’s head. Suddenly he snapped to and looked directly at Edmund.
‘Were you married?’ he asked.
‘Yes.’
‘And your wife is dead?’
‘Yes.’
‘All the memories that you want to revisit are those you shared with her, am I correct? Those special moments that you experienced together.’
‘I hadn’t really thought about it,’ Edmund lied. ‘But I suppose so, yes, of course they are.’
‘We were married for thirty seven years. My wife and I were happy.’ The Charlatan’s voice had risen and he was almost shouting. ‘We were happy, we were contented. We didn’t have any doubts about our future together.’
‘I believe you,’ Edmund said softly, trying to calm him.
‘No, you don’t understand. This is when it happened, this is how it began. I’m trying to answer your question.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Edmund replied, ‘I didn’t mean to interrupt but I don’t understand.’
The Charlatan sighed, ‘My wife and I were sitting together one evening. She was in my arms. I felt all of it so intensely, the happiness, the contentment, that sense of security but it was all coming from her. It was her moment and I was locked into it.’
‘Did she realise?’
‘I’m not sure. We didn’t talk about it. For weeks after I hardly dare touch her but eventually I sat her down and asked her to remember something. Something good, something from her childhood that I knew nothing about. And then I held her again so that she would understand.’
‘And what happened?’ Edmund asked.

The Charlatan smiled, but weakly. ‘She wanted more,’ he said, ‘you always want more.’