Image by Christine Renney
He met her
In an audience
Image by Christine Renney
He met her
In an audience
Image by Christine Renney
A loosening knot
or the rope that binds
The older and deeper scar
And on the left a fine line
An almost perfect match
The base of an empty can
Marks the cloth
And it cuts on through
The broken gin bottle’s jaw
Image by Christine Renney
‘If, in the First Act, you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise, don’t put it there’ – Anton Chekhov
Since the disappearance Carter hadn’t ventured into his son’s room, not properly. He had stepped across the threshold, yes, but mostly when he opened the door he simply peered in at the son’s things, at all he had left behind.
His son had outgrown the room, both he and it had been at odds for years. He hadn’t even bothered to take down or replace the posters on the wall and Carter realised he was sick of the sight of them. Tired of looking up at them, at the outdated Superheroes and forgotten pop stars.
Turning, Carter closed the door, shutting himself in – the first time he had done this. He began to rip them down, scrunching the posters into unruly balls. He threw them to the floor where they promptly began to unravel and Carter kicked at them angrily.
There wasn’t anything in this room that was representative of the man who had deserted it; the one who had deserted it, the one who had turned his back on Carter and who had walked away. And because of this Carter wanted to dismantle it, to pull this room apart and he wanted to do this methodically and calmly. But already he was lashing out, sweeping the boyish things from the shelves, the old Airfix models and dog-eared paperbacks.
Opening the closet he began taking the clothes from the hangers, flinging them out into the room. His intention it seemed was to make a mess. To pile everything up in the centre and later he would bag it all up and get rid of it.
And then he spotted the sports holdall on the top shelf. Reaching for it Carter knew instinctively that there was something hidden inside. That it would be another question at least but possibly, just possibly, it would also be an answer.
He dropped the holdall onto the bed and, without hesitating, he unzipped it. It held a gun – nothing else just the gun, gleaming and immaculate. Carter was shocked and also surprised that it hadn’t been wrapped in something. An old sweatshirt perhaps or a towel. It seemed incomprehensible to him that anyone would place a gun in a bag without sufficient packing, without some sort of insulation, a bed sheet at least, better still a heavy blanket.
Carter tipped the holdall onto its side and, using his index finger, he coaxed the gun out and onto the bed. He lifted the bag, looking inside again, but it was empty. There were no bullets or a clip and no holster. Casting the bag aside, Carter knelt down beside the bed and studied it. It was the first time he had seen a gun other than in films or on television. In photographs and comics and such. Of course, it could be a replica but how would he know? Was his son the type of person who would purchase a fake gun, who would stand in front of the mirror and pretend?
Carter was wary of touching it, because he didn’t know it, didn’t understand it. He wasn’t able to take it apart and put it together again. He and the gun weren’t intimate.
But when he did lift the gun it slipped easily into his hand and it felt comfortable, natural even. And gripping it his finger found the trigger and was readying to squeeze as he pointed it at the wall. And beyond the wall was his own room, the room where he slept.
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.
His disappearing was an impressive act and only I could see it. I saw him and also what was happening and it was as if someone had taken a giant marker pen and drawn around him. A thick and jagged line that separated him from everything and everyone else and this line was getting bigger and bolder whilst within it he was slowly diminishing.
When he wasn’t there I watched and waited for him. Unable to concentrate I wandered aimlessly around the office, making my way to the windows at the far end, time and again. Gazing down at the busy street below, searching and failing to find him amongst the passers-by.
And suddenly he would reappear. I would glance across at his desk and there he would be, sitting in his chair as if set in stone.
It crossed my mind on more than one occasion that he had been there all along, that he hadn’t moved and like all the others I just hadn’t been able to see him.
One afternoon as I watched him I began to consider seriously that this might be possible and I decided when he next moved, if indeed he did move again, that I would follow him; find out where he went and what he did.
I became aware that there was a flurry of activity over at his desk and he was at its centre. He had one of the drawers open and, delving in, he pulled something out and lay it on top.
For a moment I thought he was readying for work and once again I was disappointed. But why? What exactly had I been expecting him to do? Well, evidently it wasn’t that I expected him to start afresh, to simply come back as if nothing had happened.
But he wasn’t beginning again and now everyone was watching him, witnessing the disruption of his desk as he removed everything from inside and placed it on the outside.
I moved a little closer and could see most of these items. And they were an almost perfect mirror image of the contents of my own.
Collage by Christine Renney
The old adage is that you don’t ever really know a person until you have lived with them. She hadn’t lived with anyone else but him, not since leaving home. Not since absconding from her parents and moving in to the first of those bedsits. The first and the crummiest, the one with the hollow door. She had covered the hole that someone had punched in its centre with the poster from the White Album.
He had simply sauntered across the landing, leaving his own room for hers and that had been that. Or now it so seemed, but there must have been just a little to-ing and fro-ing. For a few weeks at least, possibly even a month. But she couldn’t now remember ever being alone. He had always been there and together they had begun to make their way in the world. Scrimping and saving and living in a succession of shabby bedsits, until inevitably it was time to find a place of their own.
They quickly found the right place and, being first-time buyers, the transition proved to be relatively smooth and painless. The flat was small but shiny and new and part of a plush and newly refurbished development. An old boarding school on the edge of town. Its location was ideal and if they were stretching themselves just a little financially, he wasn’t about to disappoint her. She was so determined, so exhilarated at being able to make this leap at last and so, without so much as a backward glance, they leapt.
Occasionally she will notice him watching her as she moves around him, pointlessly straightening a picture frame or the rug. She catches him from across the room, looking up from his book or pushing himself up from the sofa where he has been sprawled, listening to a cd, readying to talk to her, to ask something. If she fancies watching a film later or does she want his book when he has finished with it or why doesn’t she sit and listen to the music with him. Quickly stifling the moment, she will turn and rearrange the cushions or rush hastily from the room, finding something to do in the kitchen or bathroom.
She slips into the bedroom and, pulling the door to, stands beside the window, staring out across the communal lawn. She hasn’t slept for days. In fact, she can barely remember when she last lay down her head to try. She has been working late in the evenings, partly in an effort to counter her boundless energy but also she is hoping for promotion.
Perhaps she is anxious. Could anxiety be the source of her restlessness and insomnia? She should talk to him or at least sit beside him and listen to the music. But despite her lack of sleep she hasn’t ever felt so alert, so alive. She hasn’t ever felt less like sitting.
Anyhow work is the same old humdrum and when she is there she doesn’t feel as if she has changed. So she leaves home a little earlier and returns a little later, hoping by being there less, he won’t notice the change in her.
Once he is soundly asleep and she has full reign at last, she pulls back the curtains, lets in the moonlight and begins to lope and pace. Relentlessly cutting this way and that, she moves about their tiny flat with unnatural grace, in this way finding and re-finding each and every nook and cranny.
It isn’t the first time, as she laps up the hours whilst he sleeps, that she has opened the closet in the bathroom and, reaching in, pushed with both hands against the back wall. But this time she stumbles, finding herself beyond where the wall should be, standing in a narrow passage. It is dark but there is light at the end. Four straight strands, like lengths of fluorescent string, forming a rectangle. It is the light around a door, the inside of someone else’s closet.
How could the builders have hidden this? Boxed it in and built around it? But as she moves cautiously forward she realises that of course they couldn’t have. There simply isn’t enough space for a lengthy passage like this.
She begins now to run and, reaching the door, doesn’t hesitate to open it and steps into a bathroom. A bathroom exactly like theirs but without soap and shampoo, without toothpaste and brushes, without toilet paper on the holder.
She moves into the lounge and crosses to the window. She looks down and it is just as she suspected – the familiar stretch of perfectly manicured lawn and the carefully crafted flowerbeds, the block directly opposite with its wall of windows. The only difference is there are no curtains or blinds, that all of the flats are empty.
She moves back to the bathroom and peers into the closet. It is still there; the link, the bridge, the passageway connecting their own flat and this other version, this clearer and cleaner version. This untouched version.
Just as it is beginning to get light, she climbs into the bed beside him, waits for him to wake, for the day to start. During the night she has prowled both here and there, constantly checking in the closet and moving along the passage, each time with mounting trepidation and overwhelming excitement. She is still excited as she lays now in the early morning hush – waiting.
She has decided not to talk to him, but how can she keep this secret from him? He needs only to open the closet door and stumble across it as she had and he will discover everything.
She begins to formulate a not so outlandish plan. She will cover the entrance with a drape and in front of this she will create yet another barrier. She will use cleaning products and utensils, a dustpan and brush, a broom and a mop in a bucket. She will arrange these things so that they resemble an unruly mess. She knows him well enough to know that, when he opens the door and sees this, he will immediately close it.
He is awake now, rousing himself, bleary eyed after yet another of his deep and impenetrable sleeps. She reaches across him to switch off the alarm and, kissing him squarely on the lips, she leaps from the bed.
Resisting the urge, the temptation to look again in the closet, she is on tenterhooks as she prepares breakfast whilst he takes his turn in the bathroom. Not until he has left for work can she fling back the closet door only to find herself confronted with the wall. But this time when she pushes against it she doesn’t stumble on through.
That evening her frustration gradually worsens, but no matter how often she looks in the closet or pushes against the wall it won’t give. No amount of wishing and wanting and hoping can make it happen. And after all the wringing of hands and the biting of lips, she crouches down beside the open door, curling in on herself, making herself as small as she possibly can.
When she opens her eyes the wall is shimmering and she can see the passage or at least the dark beyond. It is trying to define itself, to make itself available to her. But the wall is also fighting for solidity and it is this that wins.
She can hear him now, moving around in the lounge and closing the door she steps into the hall, almost colliding with him as he moves wearily toward the bedroom. She follows him in, watches him undress, watches him collapse on the bed.
She realises now that she no longer needs the barrier to mask the portal. She doesn’t need an untidy and unruly screen because he is the key and only when he sleeps can she push through and only when he is sleeping can she make her way back.