THE MESSAGE

Chris R-0099-2 Image by Christine Renney

As he walks Davis thinks almost constantly about stopping. This idea, more, this conviction plays in his head as if on a spool. An extract from a news bulletin but one he has missed, that he hasn’t heard, one, perhaps, he has had to invent.
It isn’t so much that Davis wants to stop, more that he feels it is necessary. That, if there were anyone still around to give out advice, someone from the Government perhaps, or the Army or the Police, the message would be to make the best of things and begin again.
But Davis doesn’t stop, and he doesn’t have to stray far from the road. There is so much now that is useless but Davis sifts through it in order to take what he needs. Food and drink, of course, or a change of clothes or a new pair of shoes. Occasionally he and one of the others will cross paths and they might nod at each other, even smile. But despite the message lodged in his head Davis keeps on walking.

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GHOST LETTER 36

Chris R-0226-2 Image by Christine Renney

Can alcohol still take hold? Get inside and make its demands? Or am I too full of holes and will it seep through the scars?
I have separated the can from its companions, freed it from the plastic ring and set it down in front of where I am sitting. Leaning back I stretch my legs out across the pavement and I can’t reach the can between my feet.
The others, the passers by, are forced to step over me and many of them glare angrily and I am glad of it. I don’t want some good Samaritan crouching down beside me. But if I sit here for long enough and drink myself into a stupor I know, of course, that this will happen.
What I want is for one of them to knock the can over and I don’t care if it is intentional or not, as long as I can watch the lager pool onto the pavement, the damp patch spreading between my legs and soaking into my trousers.
But despite their impatience and the scowls, the passers by are graceful, balletic even, and they don’t touch me and they don’t knock the can.
If I were to draw in my legs and reach out, snatch the can and drink from it would I feel it? Can I still know it? Can a ghost carry that conflict and walk with it?

GHOST LETTER 31

chris-r-1110752-2 Image by Christine Renney

The cars are predictable. They crawl through the narrow and crowded streets at a snail’s pace. Searching for parking spaces. As soon as one moves away from the kerb, another is readying to take its place. This battle is almost constant. It is an elaborate board game, play pausing just briefly in the early hours of the morning when a stalemate of sorts is achieved and all of the vehicles are locked in tight and there are no spaces on the grid, on the streets and for a brief spell, at least none of them will move.
I keep walking and I am reassured by the line of cars jammed along the pavements. Occasionally I come across a space and if it is big enough to take a car I feel anxious. I am even unnerved but of course it won’t be long before the players return and the game commences.
I observe the drivers as I walk. They are all so desperately focussed that they hardly notice me. They are usually alone but if there are passengers they are just as centred, just as determined and desperate to find a space.
I am passing alongside a pale blue estate car. In the wintry light it is the colour of cement. The windshield and windows are tinted and I can’t see in. I feel a little uneasy about this but I can see quite clearly that there is a place just up ahead. It will be tight but I am sure that this driver, like all the others, is skillful enough. That he will be able to manoeuvre his vehicle quite easily into position. But he doesn’t.
Perplexed, I step down from the kerb and out into the road. Standing in the middle of the parking space I look back and there are no cars coming. It isn’t too late, he can still back-up but he doesn’t.
At the crossroads he turns right toward the City Centre. I cross at the junction and I stop and I stand and I wait. I expect that here, where the road is wider and there are no cars parked on either side, that he will turn himself around and begin to make his way back. But he doesn’t and brake lights ablaze he carries on, albeit awkwardly, down the hill.
When I start to follow he speeds up a little. I am running now and at the end of the road he turns left, onto the ring road and he is gone, leaving me stranded here at the edge.

GHOST LETTER 30

chris-r-0460 Image by Christine Renney

Since abandoning the road I have become more and more pre-occupied with time. The idea that I might, that I will, that I do stop, is constantly lodged in my head as I walk.
I feel now that I was pushing against the road, that the traffic, all the cars and the trucks, were going in one direction and I in another. How did I manage to keep going for so long, without sitting or laying down, without stopping. I must, at least, have closed my eyes as I walked for longer than was safe.

GHOST LETTER 28

chris-r-0556 Image by Christine Renney

I am walking away from the road at last. The footpath is leading me across a field and through waist high corn or is it wheat? Anyhow, it is a sea of something and in this dull light it isn’t golden but brown.
I resist the urge to stop and turn. I don’t want to know how far I have managed to stray from the road, and whether or not I can still make out the signpost at the edge of the path. Instead, I focus on the field, on the corn or the wheat or the barley or whatever it is. I am aggravated by the fact that I don’t know. It is a little thing and yet it feels important, something that not only I but everyone should know.
Reaching out I trail my hand through the crop as I walk. Just a few months ago I could have unearthed the answer, quickly and easily, the means to do so at no more than an arms length. Tapping a few keys I would have gathered up the information, conjured the facts and figures, photographs and statistics onto a screen.
Stopping I realise that I am delving into my empty pockets. First my jeans and now my coat. I am searching for my phone. It is futile, I know, a pointless act because I remember quite clearly destroying it, the pulling apart and rendering it useless. Yet I can’t stop myself from looking and, using the palms of my hands, I start to pat myself down.
In my confusion, I turn and in order to stop this, to still myself, I start to move again and I am walking back. Toward the road.

GHOST LETTER 27

Chris R-0077-2 Image by Christine Renney

I still intend to keep walking but the road now is a distraction. It has become too much, the noise and the lights at night.
There is a bridge up ahead and I wonder about all the others just like it that I must have passed. But I haven’t noticed and I haven’t looked until now and I am walking towards this bridge rather than alongside the road.
It looks fragile, like something I might have built as a boy with Lego or Meccano or perhaps even both. Forcing the pieces together and making them fit.
It is thin and narrow, a walkway linking the footpath on either side of the carriageway. And from where I am standing I can see this path snaking away from the bridge on the other side.
Moving closer I gaze up at the underside. The paint is peeling on the girders. Each time a car thunders past the whole thing shakes a little and flakes fall. Stepping back I watch this confetti of rusty scabs.
The bank here is concrete and steep and if I am going to get up there I will need to double back. And turning myself around I feel giddy and disorientated.