GHOST LETTER 51

Chris R-1-178 Image by Christine Renney

There is a window in the early hours when the bus station is deserted. The rush hour crowd is long gone and it is a chance for the others, for those who don’t leave, to step in from out of the rain and take shelter. It is our turn to wait.
I walk across the forecourt and the turning area directly in front of the station. The lights have dropped to an energy saving low level but I spot the young man instantly. He is standing beside a plate glass screen and beneath one of the ‘Stop’ signs. He shouldn’t be here in his smart suit and shiny black shoes. The first buses won’t arrive for at least four or five hours and he is either incredibly late or extremely early.
The man is jittery and anxious and he stares intently at the timetable attached to the pole. He should move into the waiting area and join the others slumped on the benches and huddled in the corners with their blankets and their dogs and their cans of Special Brew but of course he doesn’t.
I understand it, I feel his fear, it rises in me unbidden, something out of the past that has been buried down deep. It is only a memory but I can taste it again and I want to spit it out and tell the man to fuck off.
He raises his head and just fleetingly our eyes meet and he flinches. I push past him and join the others, letting him be.

GHOST LETTER 50

Chris R-1-175 Image by Mark Renney

The bus station has become the focus of my latest route. This place, where people congregate and prepare to leave and where they arrive, is now the centre of the trail I have forged here in the City.
I have tried not to stray too far from the station but this has proved difficult. I need thrust and momentum and my route must allow for this. It has to be big enough and wide enough and grand enough so that I can keep moving and push myself forward. But wherever I am in the City I am aware of the quickest and most direct way back to the bus terminal. I am always ready in case of an emergency but what that emergency might be I have no idea. But it feels good to have somewhere to head toward and I have tried and tested all of these tributaries, all of the shortcuts.

It is cold and wet tonight. I may perhaps linger a little and wait out the storm, but as I make my way through the terminal I realise that, yet again, I am pushing against the tide of travellers. They don’t see me and, cocooned in their heavy winter coats, heads down and hunched over their phones, they are hardly aware of each other.
Once clear I glance back but only fleetingly and there they are huddled beneath the inadequate plexiglass and I don’t stop. No, I keep going.

GHOST LETTER 45

Chris R-1-125 Image by Christine Renney

I have been walking this route for weeks now, making my way around again and again. I am not ready to stop, not quite yet, but I have managed to slow down and I am able to loiter and linger and meander, wandering from the road and exploring my surroundings, venturing a little further each time, moving either away from the City or closer to it, but always coming back to here, to this path I am still forging.

I start across the waste ground to my right. The grass beneath my feet is short and scruffy and it is strewn with rubble. I kick my way through it and I feel as if I am breaking the rules, especially this early in the morning when there is no-one else around. I feel as though I am trespassing.

GHOST LETTER 37

Chris R-2-3 Image by Christine Renney

Everything is so much smaller now and each day familiar, echoing the last. On the road the repetition was harsh and ceaseless. I wasn’t able to retire in the evenings and sleep in a bed and, come morning, begin afresh. I still can’t but somehow I have managed to establish a routine of sorts.
When the shops are open I walk the streets and I select a spot and I settle down. A particular doorway at a particular time. The abandoned spaces in front of the boarded windows and the ’TO LET’ signs. But not too far out – it has to be in a part of the city where people come, where they congregate. Pubs, clubs and restaurants or better still office blocks, places of employment and of course shops.
There are others here, vying for space, for a little change, but they aren’t resentful or in any way proprietorial. We are like fishermen on a bank and the busy thoroughfare is our river. They don’t ignore or avoid me but they do leave me alone and occasionally I will nod at one of these men because, for this, I am grateful.

NOWHERESVILLE

Chris R-0200 Image by Christine Renney

He leans over the rail and gazes down. The Precinct is big and it is flat and featureless and, if it wasn’t for the people, the paved areas, the walkways and the communal squares would be indistinguishable from the roofs of the buildings. It is a rough sketch, an idea at best. A still from a film, a panoramic view of nowhere.
The wind is trying its hardest to push him back, to keep him from the edge. But gripping the rail with both hands he holds firm. There is an old newspaper at his feet. He nudges at it with the toe of his boot. Wet from the rain, it is sodden and heavy. He tries to dislodge it from its resting place but the newspaper is stuck to the gravel and the felt. Holding onto the rail with one hand he crouches and, using the other, he works it free.
He stands and, nudging again with his foot, he slides the newspaper over the edge. But it doesn’t drop, doesn’t plummet as he thought it would, as he had hoped it would. Taken by the wind the newspaper erupts noisily above his head. He turns and, moving away from the rail, he watches its sheets flapping and flailing.

GHOST LETTER 22

Number 2-0795-3

I have become so adept at it, the getting close and yet retaining a space, a divide. It is flat here, a desperate patch without a roof and no walls apart from the one I have built and that is sturdy enough and tall. But there is the slightest of cracks and I can see through and if I press my ear against it and concentrate I can hear.

They tend to the old woman, bringing her food but mostly drink. Cans of “Super Strength” lager. One of them opens a can and places it in her hand. If she would allow it, he would help her to drink from it, steadying and guiding her hand in order to limit the spillage. But she won’t be helped and motions for him to back away, which he now does and, at a safe distance, he sits and watches her. He watches the can. She is gripping it but her hold is weak and it is cold and the can is slick. Bundled in her dirty woollens and, unsupported on the hard ground, her movements are jerky. The can slips between her fingers and the lager, sloshing, froths at the rim. But somehow, tilting and tipping, she manages to hold on.

I think about those old arcade games, the ones with the claw attached to a tiny winch and I remember standing and staring through the glass, frantically turning the little wheel and trying desperately to grab one of the fluffy toys.

Image by Christine Renney

THE MURAL

Edward visited the supermarket at least two or three times a day and sometimes as often as five times. It was a habit he had acquired quite unintentionally and it had been gradual. But since losing his job he had started walking to the store on the other side of town. And frequently he found himself compelled to buy only what he needed or whatever it was he wanted at that particular moment in time. If this was an apple and a banana, he would just buy those, one of each and carry them home. And later, when he needed a drink and found himself wanting for a Coke or Fanta, then he would simply go back.
Edward had time on his hands and his days now lacked structure and form and walking to the supermarket was something at least.
In order to reach the store he was forced to make his way alongside a lengthy stretch of the busy dual-carriageway that divided the town. Edward followed the curb, barely raising his head until he had reached the underpass.
In the basin beneath the road the walls were covered in graffiti. The work of many hands, a mix of tags and styles. Some of it had been scrawled quickly and was crude and naïve. But most of it was intricate and carefully planned and was obviously the work of artists who had nurtured and honed their skills elsewhere. And now it was all connected, like a mural and for Edward the message was not I WOZ ‘ERE but WE ARE HERE. But it was fading and down there in the half light, unless you stopped and really looked, much of it was already lost.
Edward lingered scanning the walls, searching for something he might have missed or even something new. Evidence that one of the artists had returned and was still working on it, keeping it alive. But, always disappointed, he made his way up and back into the light.

The housing estate on the other side of the underpass was big. At first, to Edward, it had seemed impenetrable but somehow he had managed to find his way and after all the months of to-ing and fro-ing he, and it, were intimate. He knew every inch of it, every path and all the shortcuts.
Crossing the courtyards and the communal area (the places where people were supposed to gather) Edward was always surprised, even shocked, by how quiet it was. The estate had an air of abandonment, as if everyone had simply left, deserted their homes. On a whim perhaps, or in fear, like something that might happen in one of those old black and white science fiction films or an episode or the Twilight Zone.
Edward imagined that behind the doors and the windows of the houses and the flats the tables were set. The food laid out but uneaten and untouched. That televisions and radios were still playing but no-one was watching and no-one was listening. And if a telephone were to ring in one of the public call boxes only he would or could answer it. But then suddenly he would stumble upon a group of youngsters, hanging around on a corner, or a dog walker crossing his path, and Edward’s daydreams would be interrupted.
Edward visited the supermarket at least five or six times a day and sometimes as often as eight times. He stalked the aisles and scoured the shelves. He didn’t carry a list and was determined not to have any pre-conceived ideas about what he might buy. But this proved difficult, impossible in fact. If, for instance, Edward needed to wash his clothes and discovered he didn’t have washing powder then of course this item was lodged in his head. And so to suggest that no pre-planning was involved would be misleading.
How could he not notice when the soap was nearly done or if the coffee jar was almost empty, likewise, the sugar bowl and the salt and the pepper and the milk. But Edward searched for the smallest available items, whether it be can or carton, box or bottle. He ignored the special offers, the ‘buy one get one FREE’ and the ‘buy one get one HALF-PRICE’ deals. He sought out the single sachets and the tiniest tins and, if he could, Edward would have reduced it even more. A spoonful of coffee and a splash of milk and a cup of water.

And not just the shopping but everything, all of it, just one tiny little step and then another but only as and when he needed to take it, as and when he wanted it.

Sign of the Times- Illustration by Christine Renney

 

FESTER

Sign of the Times-1110438 Image by Christine Renney

A chainlink fence runs along the back of the houses and the posts have been pulled across the path. Taking giant steps, the boy walks on the green plastic mesh. Avoiding garden refuse and a rusty bicycle frame, he reaches the gap between the garages on his right. He leaps clear of the web and stumbles onto the ground. Flies rise in his face but he stays down and, collecting himself, he crawls forward on all fours.
Keeping to the centre of the narrow cut, he pushes an old Coke can in front of him. A little of the drink spills onto the dirt. Flies buzz around the sweet and sticky droplets and he notices now the swarm, a little to his left, close to the wall. He stands and peers down but it is impossible to see through the flies. He unzips and urinates, clearing them with his stream. It is a finger. He steps back, splashing onto his trainers. A severed finger.
He sees now how it was done. Where the hand was held against the wall and where the blade has scarred the bricks. He notices too the gouged area, where the flies are concentrated, and that the congealed blood tapers until it is just a stain on the wall where it has run.
He knows that he really should leave, get away. It seems like the sensible thing to do, the only thing to do. But he doesn’t move. He stays put. He is rooted to the spot. He looks down but the ground under his feet tells nothing of what has happened here. There are no footprints, no scuff marks and no trampled grass.
The flies are working on the blood, it won’t last long. It will soon be just a stain and then not even that. He glances again at the finger. It seems to him like something you could buy in a joke shop, like something he would buy.
Head down, he scans the rubbish gathered at the edges on either side of the cut but he doesn’t find what he is looking for. He needs a cigarette packet, an empty packet, a discarded packet and it seems to him unfeasible that there isn’t one.
He reaches the end but isn’t ready to step out into the open, not yet. And so he starts back, slowly now, kicking through the cans and the sweet wrappers. He must use something from here or try somewhere else.
He grasps a red and green shiny paper sheaf and also the stick from an ice lolly. He uses this to coax the finger into the bag, folds to seal and carefully tucks the package into his pocket.

He hasn’t looked at it yet, hasn’t even so much as taken a peek. It is still wrapped in the waxy paper and stowed in his pocket.
Resisting the urge to run, he walks away from the cut and once clear wanders aimlessly. For hours he meanders back and forth, eventually making his way home where he slips unseen into the garage and then buries the package in the chest freezer under the pizzas and the pies.

Clutching an empty cigarette packet he trudges along, grimly determined. The wet patch is spreading and he can feel it pressing against his thigh. It is melting and he needs to find somewhere to make the transfer.
In his efforts to go unnoticed, he is making himself all the more conspicuous. Hunched over, he studies the pavement but, at regular intervals, he jerks his head upward and glares at the sky. He notices some boys from his school up ahead and it seems to him, on this bright and lurid day, that there is nowhere to hide.
He hops up and over the wall on his right and slides down the bank. He runs on the level grass in front of the windows to the ground floor flats. He reaches the entrance and tries the trade button. It doesn’t work but an old woman appears in the foyer and shuffles toward him from behind the wired glass.
She pushes the door and, taking hold of it, he waits for her. She stands on the threshold, uncertain and seemingly unaware that he is there. He could step around her. But why should he?
He leans back against the heavy aluminium door and at last she slowly makes her way up the steps, toward the road.
He fishes it from his pocket, peels away the soggy paper and there it is, in the palm of his hand. Like a metal cylinder, it is corroding. Already, it is much the worse for wear.
The old woman is stalled again, at the pavement’s edge. He watches her as she manages not to topple and closes his hand.
Holding it in the hollow of his fist.