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 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.