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Puddle+Vision

Photograph by Vancouver-based filmmaker and cinematographer Justin Pelletier, whose mantra – ‘achieve innovation through inspiration’ – is clear throughout his work. Check out more at www.straymatter.ca/welcome

200mm in an hour. It didn’t rain for the full hour, only twenty minutes or so but the downpour roared with intensity. I watched them all desert the streets. Even the traffic seemed to stop. If it were to rain like that for an hour there’d be real cause for concern. The drainage on our street and the surrounding area has always suffered in heavy rain. We’re in a valley. Three years back the rain fell for four days straight and the parents had to claim on the house insurance after the carpets were ruined and the walls and furniture took water damage. I wasn’t there but I saw photos and the place was unrecognisable.

***

There was little evidence of the deluge. It left as quickly as it arrived. Those that now walked the streets with me had left their houses without coats and umbrellas not anticipating the rain, and now that the downpour was over they could continue with their day, slowly emerging from the shops and garages and cafes that provided them shelter. The sky cleared and the sun was weak but it was there. A few solitary puddles were all that remained, mementos from a storm.

***

A depression on the surface of the road has filled with rainwater; a puddle. Throughout the day it will evaporate away but slow and eventual. Upon looking down at the still water it is possible to see a reflection of the world as the puddle sees it.

It ripples, like disruptions on some ancient lake. The reflection distorts and birds fly in reverse. Rain does not fall but rises. People walk backwards and the buildings that tower above are close, falling towards or around as if in the throes of seismic activity.

***

I bend down and my hand enters the cold water of the puddle. It is deep, deeper than I could have imagined and so I lie flat on my stomach and reach into the darkness as my shirt and jeans soak up the rainwater on the road. A car approaches and pulls up not far from where I lay. The window rolls down and a concerned voice speaks.

“What do you think you’re doing son, lying there in the road?

“There’s something in there. I saw the water ripple but it’s deeper than I thought.”

“You’re getting drenched, get up out of that mess.”

“Whatever it is, I can’t reach it.”

“You need to get out the road. Come on.”

***

I sat in the cafe with the stranger across the table. The mug of coffee I held was warming yet still it was not enough, and shivering with my sodden darkened clothing and the towels wrapped around me, opposite a man I had only just met, the situation was a curious one.

“Will you be okay? I would stay longer but i really must be off.”

“I’m fine. I just thought I saw something, that’s all.”

“Maybe you did. Not everything can be helped though.”

And he got up and left.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2015.

brendon burton

Photograph taken by New York-based artist Brendon Burton, who combines his clear creative talent with some interesting themes such as cultural isolation. Check out more at brendonburton.com

When he woke up that morning Joe was alone in his bed. He rose and entered the kitchen where his girlfriend Mary was laying breakfast on the table. “Eat up”, she said. “We’re going for a walk.”

It was too early for Joe’s bleary eyes and pulsating head to fully acknowledge the mowing of lawns, the playing of children, the hymns from church; the ideal painting of a Sunday morning. Besides, he had finished the bottle of gin last night and squinting in the harsh white light it was all he could do to stay upright.

They walked for hours. Out of the town they picked up on a trail that took them away from their society and out of sight, into nature, alone. Mary led the way, whistling, singing, running ahead to investigate anything that took her interest. They traversed fields that lay for miles and found themselves in a sea of green with no evidence of the interference of man. The trail they took ended atop a rolling plateau of long grass and sporadic trees and still they pushed on and down into a valley they descended to see a wooden house covered in moss, with peeling paint, with empty windows.

“Let’s take a look”, Mary whispered. With the awe and innocence of a child.

“It’s old.” Joe stood with his hands on his waist. “There’s nothing to see.”

She ignored him and waded through the field anyway, without looking back. He eventually followed.

She walked through the house, lingering in each room in an attempt to fully understand its purpose. She did this three times, continuing to notice intricate and underlying beauty within those aged walls. Patches on the wall less worn where a painting or photograph had hung, but no longer. A vase with the desiccated and stale remains of stems and petals at its base. Tables and worn chairs with discoloured fabric upended upon the scattered detritus that covered everything. It was earthy and warm and in the light that poured through the puncture holes and windows she could see the illuminated paths of a past life.

Joe took one look inside then stepped out and watched the hills. When he grew tired of this he returned to find something to entertain him. Moments later he sat on the porch flicking through a stack of sepia photographs of people who may have lived here. He found one family portrait and they stared without smiling, standing at attention. The backdrop could have been any of the fields surrounding the house. He took a lighter from his shirt pocket and set the photographs alight, watching them curl and blacken into flakes.

“Why do you think they left?” She stood behind him, watching the fading flames in the dirt in front of the house.

“Because it’s in the middle of nowhere. It became irrelevant.”

“How terribly sad.”

“Why did you bring us up here?” Joe asked.

She considered the question for a time. He watched her, her dress moving in the slight breeze, her mournful eyes black with no reflection. She simply shrugged.

“Come on.” He stood, rubbing his arms tirelessly. “It will be dark by the time we get back.”

They walked back to the house in silence under the bright light of the moon, a cosmic streetlamp. Searching for intentions on that still night but finding none. Joe slumped in front of the television, to drink. Later he went to bed and when he woke he was alone again.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2015

katrinakepule

This photograph was taken by Katrina Kepule, a photographer based in Latvia. This shot was part of her ‘Sit Silently’ series, and if you want to see more (which I highly recommend), you can see more of her work at katrinakepule.squarespace.com

We sit in silence, the dog and I. Outside the world begins to wake, hesitantly at first. In that weak dawn light the birds tweet without reason and without care. Later a generator begins to hum. A car engine starts. A door slams. Muffled voices congregate somewhere near only to trail off excitedly together as the sun arches across the sky. The dog is restless. Whines and casts in my direction an inquisitive look as she cocks her head accusingly. I tell her, It is my decision to stay.

Nature keeps us company while they are gone. Through the trees the wind speaks. I see the tall pines waving gently from where I sit. Beyond the ridge are mountains impassable, black against the sky with their obstructed trails and vague paths. Men who would adventure no longer lived here, migrated years ago to new lands.

I think of other places and the people in those places. The world was turning but not here. Circumvolving on some other place away from me. Thoughts cloud over while I wait, watching nothing in particular. Fearing the unknown but yearning for change. Uncertainty and regret dwelling in the shadows shifting across the back wall, cast from branches and those tired curtains in the midday sun.

The dog leaves the room, comes back, leaves, comes back. I remain where I am in restless comfort. Throughout the day my eyes glaze over all. At some point I rise to open the window and as I stand looking out the light fades and the sky grows dark.

In the quiet twilight something takes the attention of the dog. She gets up and runs to the window, fore legs on the windowsill. Nose in the air, ears erect but tuned into what. Tuned into what. Inquisitive but cautious. She hears something, nothing that I can hear but of which is undoubtedly there. Growling with unease she turns from room to window to room as if weighing up some polymathic decision that cannot be made lightly and cannot be undone. She yelps and jumps out of the window and she is gone and I am left alone. The night continues to churn out that constant but indescribable sound, distinct and subtle. The soundtrack of a dreamless sleep.

The door rattles and I wake startled. Whether hours or days have passed I do not know. They return exhausted, euphoric and drunk, marching past me without acknowledgment, back to their beds to rest. Those who come back have come back changed. Talking among themselves in a dialect I cannot understand.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2015

patrick joust

The photograph for this prompt is by the talented Patrick Joust. The image above is from his “surreal density’ project. Check out more of his work at www.patrickjoust.com

We drove out of the city and the horizon was flat and the sky was grey. Progress was slow in the early morning traffic as families left for the weekend. After a few miles it began to thin out and within an hour we were alone on a stretch of road that ran out straight and eventually met with the sky.

The radio stuttered with regular interruptions of static. Distorted news reports merged into jangly pop rock merged into artificial cheerful commercials. No one spoke.

It was not an attractive road but it held something to it, something we could all sense as we travelled along it. There were parts of the country that were worn and grey and parts of the country that were flattened and new but it was the parts in between that repeatedly caught our attention as they flashed by. The land was patch-worked with tradition and the recent, and it forgot nothing but was helpless to change. We drove over a railway crossing with signals that stood defiant, eroded from a century of wind and rain and disuse. Old relics of a bygone era. A little further the receiver of an emergency telephone hung limp. Overhead power lines interrupted the grey sheet above us which kept threatening to spit but never did. Additions and solutions tacked on for necessity or otherwise.

I rolled down the window halfway to taste the air, curious to validate a sense of instability.

A scrapyard of retired buses collapsing into rust. Vast swathes of long grass rolling gently, the road a scythe through the land. A busy diner lit-up where outside a girl waltzed the car park listening to her phone. Later on a lonely gas station, of which was abandoned or just closed; in the glimpse they were afforded as they passed it was impossible to tell which. A billboard, clear like fresh canvas standing over crumbled headstones and lost graves.

On the journey I would see some things that I liked and I would see some things I didn’t like. What I liked and disliked changed too often for there to have been any logic or reason behind it. I think I liked that which looked like it belonged, but this is subjective. Who can say if a thing belongs. In any case with different perspectives and with more time for consideration the land is always changing.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2015

IMG_8943

At twenty past five the penultimate patient is called, enters the doctor’s office. The waiting room becomes smaller and somewhat offensive. I sit alone. Across the room a secretary stares vacantly out a window. She is not company nor comforting to me, distant on the other side of her desk. I can’t blame her, this room is dull.

When the room is full of people and the phone is ringing and children scream, is she busy? Does the time fly? No moment to stop, no moment to worry or concern. Automation takes over as she carries out her job efficiently, with haste. Now, though. . . in this downtime I wonder if she resents the sight of me. Shut down, her mind grows idle. She can leave her post the moment I get called in. Yet here I am. Perhaps there was a delay earlier, a patient didn’t show up. Maybe the doctor took longer for lunch. Surely she doesn’t blame me for still being here.

The secretary cannot leave while I am still sat here. Simple. I look at her scowling face – she has to blame someone. It’s probably easier to blame me. I didn’t ask for this. I wanted an earlier appointment. If I stood up, said, ‘I’m going to leave now’, walked out the door, would she ask why? Would she show concern? Try to stop me from leaving? Or would she watch me eagerly – sat on the edge of her seat with coat and keys in hand – as I walk out the door, at which point she springs over that desk to race me down the elevator to the exit several floors below.

“Sorry for the wait – I’m sure the doctor won’t be too much longer.”

In the pressurised atmosphere of the waiting room an unexpected voice invades privacy and inner peace. We exchange a glance and a nod of understanding, before she returns to that window and I return to my thoughts.

My surroundings take on new meaning. These walls, hidden behind pin boards scattered with leaflets of warning and supportive slogans and cautionary tales. I don’t want to see this. That television in the corner throwing weakening spasms of colour across the room. Yet it has been muted. Why? I turn to her and still she chooses to humiliate me. Did you grow tired of its passive noise, validating the existence of a reality outside of this. . . waiting room. What before was a sterile, bland setting for my nerves has transcended any physical boundaries and now feasts on my psyche.

She does not care for why I am here. She does not care for my emotional state. I am here, so is she. I must meet a short list of basic criteria to pass through here before I can leave. Who judges whether those criteria have been met, and who hold the keys. The secretary currently, the doctor later.

It is a show, a game perhaps. But what if I were to cease this charade. I could stay. That would be unexpected, unfathomable to them, would go against everything they expect and prepare for.

“Thank you for waiting. The doctor will see you now”

And in the silence that followed I prayed to keep my resolve and sanity.

Let them wait. Don’t lose your damn nerve. Let them wait.

But I failed. And, gradually I stood. Trembling at the injustice. I walk slowly, as if to prolong the wait, a final protest to the indignity. Silenty she speaks to me as I walk past the desk, drenched in sarcasm and lacking any empathy. She is just a player. I can’t blame her.

It is the waiting room. This room is the greatest insult of all. In its definition a holding pen. While I wait it drains me of my dignity, contained and helpless at the mercy of my inner thoughts and those who watch us enter and exit. To them we must all look the same.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2015

The first entry in a new series of posts to encourage me to write more. I’ll post a picture (taken by me unless credited) and find something to write about. Not much, just a little. Reading is beneficial but you need to write to write better.

CNV00042

Seeping away the tide fell down the beach and he waited above for his baskets to rise from the shallows and ground. Gulls stalked the wet sand while the last of the evening swimmers returned to their towels and away into the approaching evening.

He guided the jeep down the slipway, raising a hand of apology to a family who waited at the bottom until he was clear and onto the beach. Although they smiled they did not look at him and he felt like he was a great inconvenience on this quiet evening on this quiet beach. The tires floated over the sand crackling upon dried seaweed. He drove a circuit of the beach as it was near deserted now and the gulls watched intently until he drove too close then leapt into the air and hung above. He pulled the jeep parallel to the receding tide and stopped. The radio hummed softly and with the waves massaging the shore with care and the birds crying above in that half light between the land and the clouds it was a beautiful moment. He cut the engine and sat, face half out the open window to observe the dull warmth of the setting sun and those darkened rocks offshore.

When he was a boy he would ride down to this beach on his bike and wait for his friends at the top of the slipway. If he had enough money he would buy an ice cream from the kiosk across the bay and eat it on the walk back. When they came they would swim out to the rocks. They were good swimmers all of them. Sometimes they would go too far but that was the excitement of it. Youth, when unsupervised, is forgotten. Once his friend Tommy had stepped on an old fishing hook out on the furthest rocks that you have to squint to see and the hook had gone right through his middle toe. He went pale and cried though there was no blood. On those rocks with half a mile of water between them and the beach they thought he was going to die. Tommy didn’t want to move or be left alone so he volunteered to swim back alone to get help. He swam as fast as he could and he ran all the way up the beach to the kiosk, where a man who was also a lifeguard worked, and together he and the man both ran down the beach with a jacket and a ring. When he reached the water he shielded his eyes from the sun and peered out to see all of them swimming towards them, far away. He saw them circling Tommy, taking turns to support him, shouting encouragement. It looked like sharks taunting prey before the kill. When they finally reached land they collapsed and laughed and cheered and embraced. The hook had fallen loose from Tommy’s foot on the swim back.

If he wanted to go out there he could reach them easily now-to stare back at the beach like he used to all those years ago with aged eyes-but those rocks suddenly seemed more distant than they ever had when he was a boy.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2015