Trouvé: New Fiction By C.D. Rose

In an exclusive extract from his new collection *Walter Benjamin Stares At The Sea*, out this weekend, C.D. Rose sets the scene at a train station for a story about getting lost and then finding oneself

To pass the time while we waited I was telling Anna a story I’d heard about a guy in Turkey who gets wasted one night then wakes up in a forest or something, unsure where he is. He gets up, dusts himself off, then stumbles across a search party, all in hi-vis, I suppose, with maps and whistles and stuff, and they’re out looking for someone, so being essentially a good citizen, he decides to join them, to help out. Only then—

‘He hears them calling his name? He realises it’s him they’re looking for?’

‘Ha, yes. That’s it.’

‘I’ve heard that one before,’ she said. ‘Only, when I heard it, it was in Iceland. A tourist had got off the bus and changed her hat, or something.’

‘I don’t get it,’ I said. ‘She’s changed her hat and they think she’s lost?’

‘Something like that, yeah.’

‘And she joins the search party for herself?’


She didn’t seem interested in what I thought was interesting so I shut up and went to have another look at the arrivals board, which said my friends were going to be twenty minutes late so I sat down again.

‘What’s that film?’ I asked, ‘The one where the guy slowly realises it was him, that he was the one who did it?’

‘I don’t know that one,’ she said, and then we were quiet again for a bit.

And then she said, out of the blue, ‘Same thing happened to me once.’

‘What?’ I said. ‘You got lost and found yourself?’

‘Kind of, yeah.’

I thought she’d go on to tell the story, but she didn’t. Anna was odd like that.

There was a pause for like five minutes or something.

‘What’s that film,’ I asked, ‘where they’re sitting around waiting for someone to arrive?’

‘Waiting for Godot.’

‘No. A film.’

‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘but there was this time, a few years back now. Maybe twenty. God, ages ago. I was in Paris, was passing through, en route from somewhere to somewhere else, can’t remember where. I used to travel a lot, work, that’s what it was usually, but sometimes I just went roaming. Out with the camera. See what turned up. That kind of thing.’

Anna was a photographer and I’d known her since school, though she wasn’t a photographer then.

‘I remember having one eye on my watch and worrying about getting to the station or the airport on time.’

‘Like now?’ I said. We’d run because we thought we were going to be late to meet my friends but then we got here on time, and now they were late.

‘I always worry when I’ve got a flight or a train to catch, so I decided to walk. Walking’s the best way to kill time. And it was Paris — a great city, the best, for wandering and watching, so they say, though when I get there I always find it too crowded and everything’s, I don’t know, already seen. Like I’m looking at pictures of the place and not the place itself, even though I am actually, literally there.’

‘I haven’t been there for ages.’

‘I went looking in shops just to get off the pavements. I liked the window displays, they always put such care into them, even if it’s only a chemist or a fruit and veg place, though when you go in there’s nothing but an unfriendly assistant. Clothes shops. Bag shops. Even if I’d wanted to buy something I wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Hat shops. Shoe shops. But then I wandered off the Grands Boulevards, found myself in one of the puces in Clignancourt or Saint-Ouen or somewhere near the Sorbonne, perhaps, I’m not quite sure how I’d managed to stray so far. A shabbier neighbourhood anyhow, not that there’s anywhere in the centre of Paris that’s exactly shabby, but you know, less glitzy, and there was this row of little shops selling prints, old books, pictures, frames, mostly junk, though everything had a hefty price tag.’

I wondered if we should have another coffee even though it was late and wished they served booze here, but she didn’t seem bothered.

‘I once went to a Pret in Switzerland where you could get a beer,’ I told her.

‘Will you remember them?’ she asked. ‘Will they remember you? How long has it been since you last saw them?’

‘Ages. I haven’t seen them for ages.’

‘You might not recognise them.’

‘They might not recognise me.’ I sent a text saying How will I recognise you? with a laughing emoji, but they didn’t reply.

‘So there I was,’ she said, ‘Looking through piles of old postcards, I love doing that, especially when they have writing on the back, even if I can hardly ever read it, just a name sometimes, or a little message. Who were all those people, that’s what I ask. Who were they? There were a couple of cardboard boxes under the table, stacked up on top of each other, both packed with photographs, mostly newer ones but a whole mix, some really old, dating back to the twenties, thirties, maybe, stiff cardboard frames, faded as soon as they’d been taken, then some from the fifties or sixties, smaller crimp-edged pictures of families out for the weekend, picnics, weddings. Weddings featured heavily. Back then they took pictures of things they thought should be memorable, the passages of life, that kind of thing.’

‘The things we think are going to be important.’

‘Yeah. But a lot of people sitting in cars, too. Not driving, just sitting behind the steering wheel grinning.’

‘There’s a picture of me and my brother like that, somewhere.’

‘Then there were all these seventies polaroids with boxy white edges and woozy colours, jug-eared children in bad knitwear. And then some from the nineties, unloved.’

‘How do you know they were unloved?’

‘You can tell. More time has to pass before they get interesting.’

Time wasn’t passing. We still had ages to wait, so I sent them another text and they still didn’t reply.

‘I wondered how the pictures had got there,’ she said.

‘House clearances.’

‘Broken relationships, no longer loved pictures of no longer loved lovers.’

‘Now they’d just get deleted.’

‘No more old photos.’

‘They’ll all be on hard drives somewhere.’

‘Bricked phones.’

‘You can never really delete anything.’

‘And then, and this is the thing, there was this clutch of photos of some grim-looking family event, and in among them, I was there. Me. There was a picture of me there.’

The lights went up to show the café was closing. I never know why they do that. You’d think it’d make more sense to turn the lights off. Everything went strangely bright.


‘Yeah. Me. Strange, but I didn’t find it that surprising at the time. Looking back on it, it’s obviously fucking bizarre. But. At first, just for a second, I wasn’t sure, couldn’t be. Someone who looked a lot like me, that’s all. So I looked more carefully, and it was quite definitely, absolutely definitively, me. I remembered the black jumper I had on, under that leather jacket I still have somewhere. I’m looking at the camera, so I must have known that someone was taking a picture of me. It wasn’t a stolen shot, a street photography thing, something someone had snapped of me sitting in a café or in a bar somewhere. Because that’s where I seem to be. You can tell by the lighting, and the people around me in the background, though their faces are out of focus so you can’t see who any of them are. I look like I was probably on my own. Or maybe with the person who took the picture. Who was someone who knew what they were doing — the focus and framing were perfect. I looked pretty good in it. Imagine a picture of me out there, I thought, unknown to me, and I was looking terrible. A stupid thing to think at such an odd moment, but.

‘I asked the man in the shop how much he wanted for the picture. Dix pour un euro, he said. I told him I didn’t want dix, I only wanted one. Un euro, he replied.

‘Regard, I said and pointed at the picture, C’est moi. I smiled, he smiled, but didn’t say more. I gave him the euro. I put the picture between the pages of my notebook so it wouldn’t get creased, then I put the notebook in my bag, and I left.’

‘What happened then?’

‘I kind of forgot about it.’

We decided to go out for a vape, or maybe we were still smoking then, because they clearly didn’t want us in the café anymore.

‘What’s that film?’ I asked. ‘The one where the guy starts getting pictures of himself through the post? I mean, someone is sending pictures to him, like, surveillance pictures. What is that film?’

‘I don’t know that one,’ she said. Then we were quiet for a bit.

‘Now that I think about it,’ she went on, ‘I’m not so sure that was what happened. If I think about it again, harder, I might have gone to Paris for a show, I’m sure it was Paris, that I am sure of, there was an exhibition there that I’d wanted to see but it was vaguely disappointing, very small, and all stuff that I’d already seen in books. Sometimes I just forget things completely. I think I might have been there with someone else as well, someone who knew the place and had led me to that row of shops in that particular area, knowing that would be where I could find what I was looking for. But for the life of me I can’t remember who it was. I’m not sure if it was that row of shops either. Maybe it was somewhere else entirely. What I do remember, though, now that I tell this story again, is that after leaving the shop I decided to do the obvious thing, the thing anybody else would have done, and I turned back, went into the shop again, and asked the man where the hell he’d got these pictures, this picture in particular. I held it up as I spoke.

‘He didn’t know. Je pas, he said. I don’t work here often, he said, just every now and then. I’m looking after the place for my uncle. I don’t know where he got them from.

‘Is your uncle around? I asked. Can I talk to him? En vacances, he said. Away for a month.

‘I went back to the box and carefully looked through the rest of the pictures to see if there were any more of me. This makes no sense, I thought. No sense at all. I hoped there’d be some from the same moment, to cast light on it, put it into context, to help me remember, perhaps, but more than that I found myself hoping there’d be other pictures of me too, other versions of myself, as a teenager, as a child, as a baby, as a grown-up. Maybe there’d be ones of me in the future. I thought there might be all of me in there, that all of my life might have ended up in a cardboard box under a rickety table in an upmarket junk shop.

‘There was nothing. I told myself I’d go back when I had more time, but I never did. I sat on the train, or the plane, maybe, and I looked at the picture again, really hard this time. How young I looked. How much time had passed. And here’s the thing — I felt I’d been reunited with my former self, that person I used to be, whoever she was, and it felt good, but at the same time, even though we’d been reunited, I had no idea who she was, who I was, where I’d been, what I’d done, while this young woman had sat there in a cardboard box, or had been off and had loads of adventures and done god knows what for all those years. When I got back home I slid the picture between two books on my shelves. Now I can’t remember which books. And I have quite a lot of them.’

‘Is that it?’ I asked. ‘Is that the story?’

‘That’s it,’ she said. ‘That’s how I remember it. That’s what happened.’

I went to have a look at the arrivals board, and it told me their train was due. We walked over to the end of the platform and watched it roll in. Late-night trains are often half empty, but this one was busy, and as the doors opened and people spilled out I scanned the faces coming toward me, trying to spot the friends I hadn’t seen for so long.

Walter Benjamin Stares At The Sea by C.D. Rose is published by Melville House

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