July 2008

(x) Days of Photography is a flash fiction/photography collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day Twelve.

…all seemed to be waiting for something to occur; the dead man only was without expectation.

The Damned Thing, Ambrose Bierce

He tried to sleep on the streets, but couldn’t; he still had enough money to eat.

– Did you see it?

He tried to eat but it just brought on desire, and in digestion, a misguided hope in sleep.

– Did you see that?

He tried to find the young man who had taken photos of him, so as to forget them.

– I can see you now.

He tried for a job and got it.

– No wonder.

He tried to understand his contract and didn’t.

– Wait a little longer.

He tried to find a place as far away from his work as possible.

– Just turn your ear.

He tried to sleep on the train to and from work.

– Clutter!

He tried to read ghost stories.

He tried to stay scared when he woke up from nightmares.

He tried to take baths instead of watching television.

He tried bringing cats to his balcony with a tree made of fish-bones.

He tried reading great poetry against the mirror to correct his reflection.

He tried to remember what you can and can’t say about yourself.

He tried staying away, but couldn’t.

– Greed! A band of noise…

He tried to wait outside the entrance for someone to let him in.

– … always using up ideas.

He tried the side alley.

– You want movement?

He tried to smash the bathroom window with his fist wrapped in a jumper.

– Pick up my inconsistent breath.

He tried to balance with one foot on the sink and the other on the bath’s edge.

– If you hear it can you see?

He tried the light switch in the hallway.

– The scuttle of the cat’s claws…

He tried to let his eyes adjust.

– …day and night, without repeat…

He tried to feel his way around the apartment.

– …always in my ear.

He tried to hear her mumbling over the sound of his breath.

– If you want to know…

He tried to clean in search of her.

– …where you are going…

He tried to make out the trace of the dead man’s life to take her devotion.

– …turn around, my sweet, and go…

He opened the cupboard door again and again, but she didn’t re-appear.

– … back from whence you came.


Photo Copyright ©2008 Austin Andrews

(x) Days of Photography is a flash fiction/photography collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day Eleven.

Starting in late autumn, he rented the room that was previously occupied by his victim, and took up a routine. He spent most of his days away from the apartment down by the train yards, waiting for the rain to quit and snow to start falling to cover the city in a blanket.

Today, there were mud pools between the tracks, and a young man in corduroy pants and loose shirt walking around the yard photographing those brown mud pools with a small black camera.

After several days of eyeing him off the young man came over to him and asked if he could take his photograph. He suspected he was in a dozen photos already, albeit in the background behind the mud pools, and the young man was just being courteous.

“Is that all you want?” he asked, trying to come across gruff.

“Yes, that’s all.”

“That’s okay by me then,” and he went back to staring out on the yard.

It was just before knock-off and all the trains had come into station empty and were waiting to go out full with the evening rush.

“Do you think you could sit on that chair up there?”

Presently, he was sitting on the ledge, and turned around to see a metal frame chair lying on its side next to a large wooden spindle of orange cable. His bum was cold, and he felt stupid for not noticing the chair earlier; so he got up gingerly, even though his legs were fine, and made his way over to the chair. He lifted the chair and sat on it backwards so he could rest his arms on its back, and put his face in his hands, and resume staring out on the yard, although he now was being watched. “Great,” said the young man, and made a full circle around him, resting on his haunches, twitching the lens of his camera. His straight black hair flared some in the wind and it was all he could do not the look at young man’s hair and wonder how it didn’t bother him. The first outbound train came out of the station with a handful of passengers still making their way to hand straps dangling from the ceiling. He heard the shutter open and close twice behind him.

“Thank you,” said the young man.

“All done? Can I see?”

“It’s an old camera.” The young man showed him that the back of the camera had no screen.

“Oh, really.” He tried to think of something to say. “Dark-room and chemicals and stuff.”

“In my bathroom.” He could tell the young man’s thoughts had already turned to how the photos would come out. He shuffled his feet as he talked about how he had painted the skylight in his bathroom black, and bought a red bulb so he could see in the dark.

“You best go then.”

It wasn’t yet dark, but he made his way back to the apartment. From the train yard it was impossible to take the same walk back.

He rattled the keys in the lock, opened the door and put down the keys and shook out his umbrella and took of his boots and turned the heels to the edge of the landing so he could step into them easily them on his way out. He walked into the kitchen and switched on the light and stood at the kitchen sink with his hands resting on the counter. Empty, save for a few sticks of furniture he had found outside the building on hard rubbish day.

“Can you please come out.”

She didn’t, so he went to the cupboard door and opened it. She was curled up at the bottom of the cupboard. He grabbed both her arms and dragged her out over the cans of peeled tomatoes and baked beans and a bag of oninons, out onto the ktichen floor. Her eyes were open but she pretended to be asleep.

“I can’t go on like this,” he said.

Every bone in her body popped back in place as she stood up straight. She held her mouth slack before gulping and tightening her lips.

“We have to think about our future.” She didn’t say outright that she wanted him to stay, but woman never should unless they’re foolish, she thought.

It was her choice of words that bothered him. Words are sometimes fivolous noise with their meaning put out before the thoughts behind them are fully understood. Conversation is the game we play where thinking is the practice, and they had been keeping conversation to themselves for over a month; She now boasted that she had already rejected his offer two-times. “So many times, I forget what the question was,” she said. A hollow boast.

“You should say yes, and soon; you can’t be sure I’ll ask again.”

He went to the bedroom.

A month later, an unmarked manilla envelope, without address or stamp, would be slid under the door of the apartment. A further two more weeks would pass before curiosity got the better of her and she came out and collected the envelope and then hurried back to the crawl space. With her torch she flicked through the magazine that had been delivered, and soon thought of returning, but saw that is had no sender. She flicked through after photo after photo, and articles in print to small for her to read, until she came across a black and white double-spread of a man sitting backwards on a chair with his back to the camera. He was mere shadow. All colour was taken out of the scene. The background was shaky and blurry. She thought she could see two trains passing, one on either page of the double-spread. But his shadow casted doubt in her mind. Were the two trains heading in the same, or opposite directions? Were they just the same train? The light and shadow gave the photo an age. It reflected his thinking.

He came back into the kitchen. He was wearing the last of his clean shirts and a pair of pants with an oil stain on the pocket. She broke off her stare and looked at him, tucking a wisp of hair behind her ear. His mouth contorted in a search for words, and after a moment, he just sighed. He walked to the landing and returned with the keys and placed them on the kitchen counter, then returned to the landing and slid into his boots, picked up his umbrella and opened the front door, only to turn back into the apartment and take one step from the landing to see that she was gone. He found the switch and turned off the kitchen light and left through the front door.

“Did you see it? Did you see that?”

(to be continued)

Photo Copyright ©2008 Austin Andrews

(x) Days of Photography is a flash fiction/photography collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day Ten.

He returned to the car to find it covered in black, pink and silver graffiti tags, and wondered where she had got to.

Nowhere, it turned out.

She was sitting on the front passenger side and staring vacantly through the graffiti on the windscreen, past him, at the green, white, and yellow glow of the service station. A car came from behind him and shot light through the windscreen. For one moment the shadow of graffiti was marked on her face. She squinted. She was putting it on.

He had asked her questions all the way down the freeway. After half an hour of no response he started answering his own questions in the hope she would want to correct him.

“How old was he? Mm, I don’t know exactly. Did he have any family? He may have had a girlfriend or three. Really, but none that you saw? He never brought them home. Pity that. He must have had a good job?
She rested her head against the window and closed her eyes.

He continued, “He worked very hard, and got paid handsomely for it; but he worked too hard: late nights, weekends. Sometimes he’d arrive home from work, only to have to leave two hours later. Why didn’t he stay at the office? Sleep under the desk? Routine was very important to him.” At that point he paused. “Was.” He had not meant to say this word aloud, but it weighed all his questions down. He might be the last person to ever ask after this man. “And how about you?”

He wanted to change the topic of conversation, but was not at all curious about her. If he had any questions for her they were all in relation to him. Her silence, however, was making it rather difficult to talk about anything else.

He unlocked the car and sat down beside her. “Thanks for watching the car.” He passed her a cup of tea but she just put her head back against the window and close her eyes so he put it in her cupholder: “For later, then.”

He started eating his hamburger in the hope it would make him tired. He had driven all day and felt like he could drive all night until morning and still not be through with asking questions that would remain unanswered.

He wiped his mouth with a napkin and took a sip of club-lemonade and sat and watched the comings and goings of the service station. It was like its own little township in the middle of nowhere, with an exact replica one-hundred metres away on the other side of the freeway. From where he had parked he could see straight through the fly-screen back entrance of the kitchen and the woman in a black apron and white top working over the grill. He had worked in a kitchen once, scraping plates and scrubbing pans. They had called him ”dish-pig” because he found his dinner in half bowls of soup and soggy french fries. A young girl, just dropped out of school, took over the job when he left and the boys in the kitchen called her dish-pig as well, which probably wouldn’t have happened if she were queen of the prom. But if she had been queen she wouldn’t have been washing dishes, and he wouldn’t be in a service depot on route to nowhere thinking about her.

To the left of the kitchen was an automatic car-wash. He found the keys in his pocket, started up the car, and drove around behind the car wash, parked on the platform, and put in his money. Through all this she didn’t wake. Her breathing was heavy now and he could hear a slight wheeze in her chest.

The car wash started up and the car slowly moved forward and then stopped in position. First, a high pressure spray. He liked the noise of the jets hitting the car. It was like putting your head under a shower and the only thing you could hear was the water pressure. Second, the rinse. He took his hands off the steering wheel and put his fingers in his ears. He didn’t like this sound, back and forth, squeaky, squeaky. He started to hum to block out the noise, but that didn’t work, so he screamed. Quietly at first, and then loud.

She woke and flung her arm out and whacked him fair across the nose. He was stunned and stopped screaming. But then he started up again. This time louder, as they went through the blow-dryer. She joined him. They faced each other and screamed louder again.

Two truck drivers smoking next to their rig looked at him as he drove past and headed back out on the freeway. He made his way across an emergency road exit and onto the otherside of the freeway, heading back in the direction of the city.

They drove in silence through the night. He wasn’t sure when she slept and when she was awake, as her breathing was pretty much all the same, and she sat against the window the whole way. He liked driving at night. He liked being the sole car on the unlit parts of the freeway with only his headlights to guide him. He remembered back to yesterday morning, and what the man in the pyjamas, beige overcoat and… had said about… at the bottom of the cupboard. When he was in the apartment the night before, that is where she had been hiding. He lifted his eyes and saw a line of lamp posts curling around the top of the hill and a rig slowly making its way up to the top. He changed lanes and sped up to pass.

They made it back to the city by morning. He made it through dawn and his energy increased with the light. Without thinking, he drove to the apartment where they had been only yesterday and parked in the alley. She woke up soon thereafter. Every vertebrae in her back crackled. She looked out onto the street and saw the front entrance to the apartment and looked over at him. He shrugged his shoulders.

They were only twenty metres away from the entrance and he could see white chalk and hand marks on the entrance door where the police had been. A train of school children, tallest to shortest, dressed in safety fluro yellow vests, walked along the sidewalk in front of the building. For a moment he wondered if those were his fingerprints, but then remembered he wore gloves and didn’t go through the entrance door.

She was nervously knitting with her index fingers and mumbling, “purl, purl, stich; purl, purl, stitch…”

He turned to her and put his hand reassuringly on her arm: ”I’m sure you’ve left many strangers behind you.” And he opened the car door and walked across the street towards the entrance door and pushed it open, leaving his fingerprint amongst the others in the remnant of chalk.

She reached over and took her cold cup of tea from the cupholder.

(to be continued)

(x) Days of Photography is a flash fiction/photography collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day Nine.

A single unmarked car stopped at the steps of the apartment building and put on their hazard lights. On their arrival a man dressed in white pyjamas, slippers, a black scarf and beige trench-coat stepped out from inside the doorway. After a brief conversation between the suited couple, a man with cropped black hair and woman with a auburn pony-tail, they went inside the building. Fifteen minutes later the suited man came back out on to the street talking on his mobile phone. The tail lights flashed as he unlocked the car. He took a casual glance down the street, ran his hand down the inside of his jacket to the holster clipped on his belt, before getting in his car and reversing into the side-alley. Going back into the building he glanced down the opposite end of the street, then ascended up the steps, two at a time.

Soon after a marked police car arrived with its lights flashing, but no siren. Two uniformed policeman stepped out and stood at the steps of the apartment with their hands resting on the holster and baton on either side of their belt-buckles. The taller of the two radioed back to the station. The response came back after a short wait, altogether too loud, and drew the shorter policeman’s attention away from admiring the car in the side-alley. The taller policeman went to the boot of their car and drew out a roll of yellow tape and began cordoning off the sidewalk. As they went about their work the sirens on the roof of the car continued to flash and the low murmur of the highway flow not-so-far off was soon replaced by the tired surprise of residents in the area who came down from their apartments. Some were in pyjamas, others in sweatshirts and shoes with laces undone. Some even went back to their apartments and came back with their children, or a cup of coffee, a piece of toast.

The two policeman stood at the foot of the steps and talked with some of the people in the crowd. Youths walking past with a bottle in their hand stopped and sat on the gutter and drank rounds before someone pointed it out to the shorter policeman and he came over and took it away from them with little fuss, and let them saunter off down the street.

The man in white pyjamas, slippers, and beige trench-coat came down the steps and joined the crowd. Other people in the building followed him. He talked to a woman holding her daughter on her hip, who then talked to the man standing next to her, until the noise had drawn most people out onto the street.

It was almost dawn.

* * *

They joined the crowd behind the police-line.

He had not slept since the murder and was glad for the smile that came with a cup of black coffee in a styro-foam cup. She declined, instead drank from the can of cola he had bought her. It helped form some phlegm to wet her dry throat. She had several bruises on her arm, covered up by his jumper she wore.

They heard talk of an open front door, blood on the floor, an ether soaked rag, a starving cat, food scraps found at the bottom of a cupboard, and a missing man.

She clicked her tongue until he reached down and squeeze her hand.

They stood there holding hands as the sun came up and the crowd broke off to begin their day.

The policeman began to take down the tape, and eventually the traffic picked-up and they had to step onto the sidewalk.

She turned to him, and with a rasp said, `Who do you think they’ll believe?’

(to be continued)

Photo Copyright ©2008 Austin Andrews

(x) Days of Photography is a flash fiction/photography collaboration with Austin Andrews of Disposable Words. This is Day Eight.

‘There is someone out there,’ she mumbled under her breath, ‘Dread!’

He walks seven blocks into a part of town that is car parks and civic buildings and back alleys with endless tagging on the walls.

‘Their balance is on their toes — I can hear — taking small steps, arms outstretched in search of the light switch. That switch always is a trouble to find.’

The patrols are not much interested as long as he’s not mulling about. For this exact reason he can’t sit nor sleep in his car. He finds a toilet, pays enough money for ten minutes, and masturbates; just to kill time. His time runs out too soon and the electric door first beeps, then opens out onto the street.

‘She has delicate steps. She will not find me by darkness, even if I walked around the apartment, let alone in the crawl space at the bottom of the cupboard. Even if she opened the cupboard door she could not see me but for my eyes that might be seen between the gaps of tin cans of chick peas and whole peeled tomatoes. And even then my eyes would be red and camoflauged from straining in the dark.’

He stays away from the apartment having watched it all afternoon and drank too much coffee. In a want to know the movements of the loved ones who belonged to the man he killed. That is why I’m doing this, he thinks.

‘How right I was not to sleep in his bed. Why I wanted to, I don’t know.’

There was only one woman who came through his apartment. She was old, but well kept, and made her way up the ladder in the back alley and crawled through a bathroom window in routine fashion.

‘It has been quiet for some time. They are waiting for me to come out. I have been seen, but how. And now they want me to unhide myself. As sure as you can hear me, I will not do that.

But maybe they will wait forever in the dark; listening to my voice as it comes to them. My every small movement and breath one more clue to my whereabouts. Maybe they are unaware of my being here and are waiting for me to come in from the night through the front door. What could they do if I were here? I am here, obviously. They could report me.

Squatting. Pink and yellow forms would be required. “I want to report a squatter,” they would say. “How very noble of you, and your name is?” says our desk-job policeman. “I don’t see what my name has to do with it.” “Very well then. The squatter’s name, please?” says our policeman, efficient as ever.

“How would I know that?” Very true, this, they don’t know my name — at least I have not heard them whisper it. “Where is this squatter?” “In my apartment.” Strange, they have already taken possesion of the apartment in my day-dream. “If that is so, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.” Hooray, for our desk-job policeman!

“But you’re the police, of course you can.” That, my dear, is the mistake you have made. “Well, if what you say is true, then it’s not really squatting, and, oh, excuse me a moment.” He shuffles some papers together and shreds them. What efficiency in ignoring her claim! “As you were saying, you want to report a squatter but the place of residence is not abandoned.”

“That’s right.” “True.” And with this obvious fact he would not speak to her again. She would get the forms and they could be filled out with the utmost care. But what matters. Oh! I’ve never felt so sorry for someone in my life.’

‘This is a good kitchen, I tell you. Why my voice is still in a whisper, I’m not sure. Darkness will guide them to see many shadows, including my own, but they will not be able to touch nor see the very existence of me. If they are evn here now, or if I heard company when I have none.’

‘But there, I hear something. Those delicate steps walking across the linoleum floor, coming closer. If I turn my eyes I will find out, for they are less then two metres away from me. Only the kitchen counter between us. They have found the counter, and move around to the sink. They will come upon me any minute. Surely they have heard my voice. The steps, so close now, coming below me. I can not feel the movement of breath at human height, but from low down.

Shock! Fuzz against my legs, electrifying the hair along the length of my spine, gripping all the muscles to my bones. Warmth, pushing its spine up against my leg. This sensation I know, although it is old, is that of a cat. Calm! Even happiness, as fear rests in my stomach.’

He reaches around from behind her with both arms and covers her mouth with a rag. She quickly goes limp. He stands in the kitchen holding her up by her left breast and her throat.

The light and shadow did not reflect his thinking.

(to be continued)

Photo Copyright ©2008 Austin Andrews