Was parked up. Right there on a lay-by off the old North/South Highway, the far western side of the country. And O but it was cold there. The seas were big. Turquoise in colour in winter — with the eleven days of this story taking place in winter and this was the eleventh day.
And the caravan not so old but it looked abandoned. By which I mean: ‘Quite broken.’ Rusted, well, not rusted, maybe, but with an appearance of rust. A semblance. All that salt water, you might say. All that cold weather coming in off the sea. The window had been knocked through by a stone and the door banged half on and off its hinge whenever the wind blew, and yes, the wind blew. Inside the caravan it was dark and wrecked and damp with cold. There was broken glass, a bit of sodden cloth on the table, some playing cards. This was, remember, the eleventh day.
On the tenth day the caravan stood next to a calm sea. There on the lay-by, beneath a pale blue winter sky. The gravel upon which it was sited was wet, gutted in places with puddles. The caravan on its blocks as though it had been there for years, for years it looked like. Years? Yes, as I say, it looked like that. A semblance of years, for sure. A ‘permanent fixture on the landscape’ one might describe it – one who lived in this part of the country, who knew its lonely roads and the beaches no one visited and the sea in which no one swam. ‘That caravan has been there for as long as I can remember’ that person might say. O really? O yes. For as long as I can know.
For the caravan – it has no wheels, only those four cinder blocks — so it’s not going anywhere. A holiday home then, once it had been. A place to go to beside the sea. White, with a crimson strip – but it wasn’t new. The unexpected sun shone on the chrome of its broken window, the surround of its flimsy door. That was on the tenth day.
The day before had seen a large storm. O large! Terrifying! O the waves were like walls! For there is nothing like them, those storms they get over there on the west, those old west coast storms! O nothing!
And the caravan just shuddered, had to. Just bore the storm out. Bore the weather, remember? Coming in through the window? In through the half open door? It was as though years passed. While the rain came down. While the wind battered at the roof. The playing cards blew about crazily, crazily inside. The Jack of Spades. Ace. A Red Seven. They flipped and turned. On the ninth day.
The eighth day was also windy. But not the same as the day before, for this day it was as though the wind were only practising, turning. It was only getting started. The boulders sat on the beach, they sat there. And the great logs that had been washed in from who-knows-where, how far-away… They lay there too, like waiting, while on the beach the wind practised, whistled up and down the pebble shore.
Not that there was anyone to see it, remember. O no. Just the caravan. On the eighth day. With something inside it, rattling.
Because on the seventh day an animal had got in. Through the broken window, or it came through the door when the door had been pulled wide open in a sudden gust. It ran across the floor and up the front of a cupboard. Some food had been scattered on the floor, on the bench, by the weather, by the wind, quite scattered. And maybe that had been what brought the animal in, had got it started. And O you wouldn’t have believed it – the brand names of that food! On the packets! Quite fancy? O yes! Tiny delicatessen crackers and pre-packed cheeses. Some silvery foreign tins. All this removed from a cardboard box in a small old fashioned caravan. On a lay-by, remember. In a place you can barely imagine in your mind less go out on a real road and see it. Cry: Look! For this is an abandoned caravan and yet here are wrappers saying ‘Fortnum & Masons’. ‘Zabars’. ‘Ladurree.’ Be careful the papers don’t blow outside, get airborne and come to float on that cold enormous sea.
On the seventh day.
Is what she might have said to him, when he suggested they go there again.
‘Be careful we might end up there’ she might have said. Parked up forever by the cold and frozen sea. ‘Be careful that if we go there’ she might have whispered, ‘to our caravan, we might never leave.’
And now it’s the sixth day and in the middle of the night the rain started, it fell. And the tablecloth, remember? It collected water like a bandage collects water. The tablecloth drawing water to it so that other parts might be dry.
O! O! O! the woman might have said, if she had seen it. ‘My beautiful tablecloth! Spoilt!’ And all for nothing — for damp is in the place, nevertheless. Nevertheless. And it’s wet and it’s cold here. And it’s midnight. And there is no moon. And the sound of the rain on the gravel, on the caravan roof… It falls. It continues to fall.
The day before was the fifth day and another of the almighty storms, wind now, all wind. The poor curtain fluttered at the window, ripped. There was nothing anyone could do. The cards were lifted from their places on the table. One here, lifted. One there. A whole pack of cards but nevertheless all of them are scattered. Fluttering in numbers upon the floor across the bench, the table. Ace. Jack. Red.
That was the day the door came off its hinge and wouldn’t sit square again to close. And O the noise it might make! Banging! Screeching! That thin, thin tin!
When the wind stopped, the day before, a seagull came to rest on the roof of the caravan. It seemed blown onto the roof of the caravan from across the sea. The sunlight played across its white feathers, caught the gold in its eye.
They used to enjoy looking at birds, the man and the woman. It was something they used to do, together sitting at the small table. Hearing a great screeching through the window of the caravan as great packs of gulls wheeled and landed on the beach and on the water.
Making sounds that were like crying.
Calling to each other, over and over, through the cold air.
Now there was only one bird. Looking out to the sea to where it had come from. Perhaps. Hoping to catch a glimpse of another. Perhaps. That it might call to it as the others had called.
That it might be heard.
And the third day was a day for crying. The day the boys came, put a stone through the glass. When they forced the door of the caravan and went right in. Unpacking the food from the boxes, exclaiming at the fancy papers of the packets of food.
Not a day at all but late on the night of the third day, this. After drinking in the pub in town. There was beer and then tequila and then getting in the car and driving fast, with broken lights, down that lonely road beside the sea. The youngest boy, perhaps, the one who saw the caravan as they flew straight past, who noticed it, caught sight, and said to the others, ‘Stop! Go back!’ and they did: Backing up hard into the lay-by and piling out of the car. Approaching the caravan. Breaking the glass. Reaching in to take the lock off, push through, force open the little door. O yeah! They say. O wow! O check this out! They push and press against the little walls. One unwraps a pretty chocolate, eats it. One pisses in the corner before leaving.
Yet on the second day all had been so tidy in the little home. Complete. The curtains drawn. The door shut firm and locked against – against… All kinds of unpredicted unpredictable? I like unpredicted though. weather. Snow on the mountains inland. Cold off the southern sea.
O be safe, little house. Be firm.
Sitting there, bright, in the frost, in the early morning. Of the second day.
Like you may sit there forever.
Waiting for them to come back to you again.
For that is what they loved to do, the man and the woman, whose caravan it was. They loved, more than anything, used to love, to return to that place. Return. Re-enter together by the little door. And wasn’t that first day just the kind of day that was perfect to come back to? The reason people keep caravans in the first place, keep little cabins by the sea? So to have a window onto all that sky? So to have a high winter sun, and enough heat in it, in the middle of the day, to remember summer?
‘O yes…’ he’d said to her smiling, drawing her gently out of the passenger seat of the car and into the wide air. ‘O yes, you see?’
For here’s the caravan, after all. It’s just the place to sit in. ‘Where we can be at rest, my dear. Remember? Be complete….’ So taking her, this very gently, by the hand and leading her, leading her…Towards the caravan door.
And ‘You see, my love?’ he says again. ‘You see? How gentle it can be here? You and I together…See?’
But didn’t see, himself, and couldn’t ever have predicted it — that the moment his back was turned, after putting her inside, seating her at the table with the pretty cloth that she had once stitched for him and hemmed… Could not have seen it nor predicted…As he went out to the car for the cardboard box of special foods, for the chocolates from Fortnum’s that she loved, or the caviar from Zabars that he spread for her on toast — that as he brought the world out for her to that lonely place, that she’d be gone…
Running off towards the sea like she’s a swimmer! Like it’s summer and she’s running to the sea –
Like she’s swimming and it’s summer –
And this some kind of other, very different sea.
So he drops the box, and starts towards her, out the caravan and down the empty beach – but she’s run so far away from him by now, in the seconds, moments, that he left her, that it’s like he’ll never catch her, that he’d spend his life in trying – for she’s running into air is what it’s like, that she would be the cold wind herself and all the cold air…
Whistling, empty. Down the pebbly shore. Of the empty sea.
But he does. He manages to get there. To where she is in the water, wading in so her skirts and her coat is sodden, he pulls her away….
And the story finishes – or begins – there, with the man and the woman at the edge of the sea, at a beach where no one visits, on the western side of the country… And the sound of the wind and the draw of the cold waves on the pebbly shore the only sound… And the man puts his wife back in the car and he drives her away.
The day before that with nothing in it. Nor the day before. Nor the day before.