The alarm went off with a sharp beep. Tim opened his eyes with a sigh. He pulled the blanket around his skinny body; he was shivering, even with all his clothes on. Grey light came in through the gap in the curtains and gave the room a sickly aura that complimented the feeling in Tim’s stomach. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and ran a hand through his greasy hair. He looked around the room. He could see condensation on the walls. This caravan was like an ice box. The walls were of thin plywood like a cheap coffin.
He could stand the bedroom no more and flung off the bed sheets and ran shivering into the bathroom to shower. The warm water was comforting. He never wanted to leave the shower–as soon as he did it meant the day had begun and he’d have to see those idiots again and start another day of work.
He dried himself with the same towel he’d been using for two weeks. It smelt damp. He brushed his teeth whilst staring at himself in the mirror. He brushed his teeth obsessively these days, sometimes up to five times a day. She’d always stressed the importance of dental hygiene.
After finally lighting the gas stove with a bit of tissue paper lit from the boiler Tim sat down on the old sofa and waited for his eggs to boil. Three eggs and two pieces of toast, the same as yesterday. He was cold and couldn’t get the fire to work.
After breakfast he got changed into his work clothes. He didn’t bother to change his underwear anymore. His clothes were cold when he took them off the hangers, just like everything else in this trailer. His jumper had a hole in it.
At 8:45 he stepped outside for another monotonous day of cleaning. He walked through the grey morning to his boss’s trailer and had to wait for ten minutes for him to appear. The other workers arrived. Three short girls came up and stood telling jokes whilst they waited. Tim judged the jokes to be of varying successes but all three girls met each one with guffaws of laughter, even if it had been their own joke. Tim decided to offer one, “How many eggs does it take to make an omelette?” Blank faces.
“One because one is une oeuf.” Still blank faces.
“You know, as in ‘enough’, ‘une ouef’, one egg? Its French. Oh, come on, we’re in France!”
Before the girls could reply, the trailer door opened with a bang and a small man stepped out and stretched and grinned as though this dreary May morning was the start of the best day in the whole wide world.
“Morning, Jim” the trio chorused. Tim didn’t say anything.
“Good morning, guys!” He replied in a Scottish sing-song. Jim was the boss. He’d risen to that lofty position at just twenty six years of age. He was short and thin with greying hair and missing teeth. Jim was on the up and up, and if he stuck to his guns who knew where he could be in another five, ten years?
“Isn’t it a glorious day? I hope you’re all ready for another day of cleaning?”
“Yeah, can’t wait Jim.” One of the girls deadpanned.
“That’s the spirit, Becky!” said Jim.
They walked around the campsite and Jim showed them which trailer they’d each be cleaning that day. Eventually it was just Tim and Jim left. They didn’t speak. As soon as Tim was left alone inside what would be his trailer for the day he let out a sigh. It was a mess. The kitchen utensils were everywhere and there was rat poison all over the floor. Tim climbed over a collapsed card table and into one of the bedrooms where he turned on his personal stereo and fell asleep.
What the hell was he doing here? He left England three weeks ago with the promise of an exciting summer job in the French Vendee region. He couldn’t stay in England now; it would depress him too much. This was going to be what he needed: a break, something to keep him busy, a job to see him through summer and a foreign climate to maybe give him a nice healthy tan.
The truth was a great disappointment. He was working cleaning caravans so English people could come on their summer jollies and subject their families to mediocre holidays that could quite possibly ruin their children’s lives and crush their spirits. There was a lot of work to do cleaning ahead of the arrival of these tourists, but it was monotonous and there was nothing to occupy Tim’s mind.
The campsite was on a hilly outcrop next to the sea which put it in a perfect position to enjoy the freezing sea breeze. The beach itself was a miserable collection of black cold rocks with gravel instead of sand to sunbathe upon. The nearest town was a good hour’s walk away and all the shops were far too expensive for Tim. Even the supermarket. For the last three weeks Tim had been living off bread, pasta and cheese. Surprisingly he didn’t miss other foods and he’d forgotten what chocolate tasted like.
Tim thought you could see everything there was to see in the town in an afternoon and be quite happy to never go back there again. Despite this, a trip to town was the highlight of Tim’s day as it got him away from the campsite. Away from cleaning a caravan all day, sitting around inside a caravan, talking about cleaning caravans and sleeping in a damn caravan.
He hardly got chance to go into town as he often didn’t finish cleaning his caravan until it was night time and everywhere was closed, no matter how quickly he worked. Tim’s day off was a Sunday and so again everywhere was closed. On these days he walked along the beach amongst the topless middle aged women. When the sun was out he sunbathed and always got burnt.
The reason he never finished work until it was too late was the lists. There were endless lists. Jim would check the caravans over and write a list of corrections. And then another list of corrections to the corrections and so on and so forth. ‘Dirt on the underside of the sink, just round the back’ and so on.
On the first day Tim had wanted to blow his brains out. Either his own or Jim’s. He considered hitchhiking to Paris and from there back to England. At least then he’d be able to actually practice some French, not like here in this dreary little patch of England. He was driven to the edge of despair when Jim had checked the trailer’s windows and suggested using a tea spoon in the window frame to get it just right.
“Tim, I suggest using a tea spoon to get in the edges of the frame to get it just right.”
“Right, Jim.” Said Tim, clenching his fists.
“And that dust on the bottom of the back of that curtain will have to go. When people come in here we want them to stop and go ‘wow!’”
Tim didn’t think anyone had ever walked into a trailer and said ‘wow!’
“I don’t think anyone’s ever walked into a trailer and gone ‘wow!’ Jim.”
“It’s not a trailer it’s a mobile home Tim and I’ve seen people be amazed by our trailers, that’s what keeps them coming back on holiday with us.” Tim wished they wouldn’t keep on coming back on holiday there so he didn’t have to clean window frames with tea spoons.
In the evenings they all sat around in someone’s trailer doing a lot of nothing. At first they’d had communal meals but eating with Jim every night could have driven them all to suicide.
“Yes, did I tell you about the time I spent four months in a Buddhist monastery near Newcastle? We learned to live in the ‘now’, not to always look forward to the future. Yous should try it when you’re cleaning.”
“What we should think about how much we enjoy the cleaning?” asked Becky with an arched eyebrow.
“Exactly, then it’d be fun.”
Each day one of the other two girls, named Crystal complained to Tim about the meals and how they always came back to talking about cleaning.
“If someone mentions cleaning again I’ll kill them, I swear, I mean it!”
That night as conversation ran thin Crystal filled a gap with, “Jim can I have more blue spray tomorrow because I used all of mine on the shower door earlier today?”
“Crystal don’t you know you’re meant to use pink spray on the shower door?” Jim replied.
Everyone was glad to see the end of the communal meals. From then on they slowly secluded Jim from their caravan evenings by turning out their lights when they saw him coming. From then on they spent their evenings drinking cheap wine. But after a while they stopped giving Tim any as they realised he had no money to contribute. He bought his own beers once from the supermarket. The cheapest he could afford and they turned out to be non alcoholic shandys. His French was declining.
The days rolled monotonously on for Tim until one night after the wine had run out, Becky’s phone rang. Tim’s stomach rammed its way into his throat and threatened to force its way out through his mouth. Becky passed him the phone.
“Tim, it’s your girlfriend.”
“Thanks. She’s not my girlfriend though.”
Marie was one of the reasons he’d taken this job in France. She was also the reason he couldn’t stay at home where he was unable to turn a corner without being tormented by ghosts of their relationship. She was the reason his thin body was shaken by sobs everyday as he cleaned caravans listening to The Beatles. She was the reason why he broke down mid clean to cry and dribble snot down himself and murmur, “I miss you, I miss you.” And she was the reason why when Tim sat and watched the sea crash into shore, it seemed as though every wave was a wave of despair washing over his spirit.
Whilst he spent his days in sorrow cleaning mould out of fridges, she danced in Paris. He thought about her all the time. Every night she’d be up on the stage in the spotlight dancing with perfect grace, turning and gliding for the thousands of eyes that watched from the darkness of the audience. She sparkled and shimmered and smiled that perfect smile from behind her make up. The two of them did not exist together in Paris.
Paris was full of romance and golden avenues. It was sculpted out of fine architecture and winding streets. It was a place of cafes, bicycles and aperitifs. It was the home of dancers, models, artists and writers and Tim was completely taken in by these romantic lies. He saw himself living there, working away in a loft apartment, looking over the Seine: the next Hemingway.
However, in the last three weeks he hadn’t written a thing. He sometimes had flashes of inspiration for a letter to send to Marie but he never wrote them. The same way he never told her all the things he sobbed to himself everyday. How he loved her more than anything. He felt lost without her, stuck in a job he hated. She was all he cared about. Could he please come to Paris and be with her? He’d be so quiet and helpful, he’d be no trouble. She wouldn’t even need to spend a lot of money on him because he was used to just eating eggs and bread and pasta and he couldn’t even remember what chocolate tasted like. It didn’t even matter if she got pregnant. He’d be happy to marry her. There was nothing he wanted more than her.
He poured his heart out to himself everyday but for some reason he never told her any of this on the phone. They could only speak every now and then and Tim couldn’t contact her as he had no phone and so had to borrow Becky’s to receive calls.
The last time they had spoken he had been sitting in the cold wind watching the lonely sun set across the beach. The phone rang and instead of saying what he wanted he went along with the small talk.
“Hey, how are you? I’ve been ….”
“Hey guess what?” Marie cut in excitedly.
“I’ve bought one of those cute little pug dogs!”
“Oh wow, that’s cool.”
“You always said they’re ugly! But they’re so cute. She cost me nine hundred Euros but she’s so worth it!”
“Whoa, that’s more than 2 months wages for me.”
“I know, but she’s so cute!”
“I can’t believe I’m cleaning for nine weeks to earn that money and you’ve spent it on a dog. But I suppose you deserve it, you’ve been working hard.”
When he told her he hated the job and she’d replied almost nonchalantly,
“Come to Paris.” His heart almost stopped, but before it could she continued, “but I suppose you could only stay for a few days with the amount of money you’d have.” Tim thought she sounded sad when she had said this last part.
Since that conversation they hadn’t spoken in a week and now she was calling him on this night when the wine had ran out. Tim stepped out into the night to answer the call.
“Hi” she answered almost shyly. Tim fell in love with her all over again and had to swallow before he replied, “Hi.”
“I miss you Tim. I’m sorry, I thought I was okay on my own, but I miss you. No one compares to you.”
It seemed to Tim as though the sun had just come out in the middle of the night.
“Marie, I’ve imagined you saying that to me over and over everyday. I miss you so much too.”
Thoughts of a wild reunion were sprouting in Tim’s mind like roses. He could go to Paris and be with her.
“I just needed to talk to you. I might come and see you in the Vendee in a few weeks.”
Tim took a chance.
“I can see you now, just say it and I’ll come to Paris tomorrow and stay with you.” It was hard now to control his voice.
“Tim you couldn’t stay, we discussed this, I can’t support you. But I want to see you, I’ll come in a few weeks.” Tim’s hope had died and the conversation ended shortly afterwards with no resolution to his sorrow.
He returned the phone and headed off to his caravan. On the way back he passed Jim walking alone in the dark,
“Alright Tim, make sure you’re up bright and early tomorrow, there’s lots of cleaning to be done!” Tim didn’t reply and when he got into his caravan he went straight to bed.
When he awoke the next morning it was with a sense of hope. He wasn’t afraid to get out of the shower and when he brushed his teeth in front of the mirror he realised he was looking thin. His breakfast tasted bland and he longed for something different. All day long he hardly noticed what he was doing. His mind raced with possibilities. How much money would it take to get to Paris? What would she say if he just turned up? He was sick of living like this. Living a grey life here, trying to forget her but instead drowning in his sorrow.
If he had really come to France to follow her (and he wasn’t sure if he had or not) then he should go; leave tomorrow and not come back, go without even saying goodbye to these idiots. Feed Jim rat poison or push him from the black rocks and into the cold sea. That night he slept restlessly and woke shivering throughout the night. That night he pleaded to the darkness for Marie to call him again. This time he wouldn’t be such a coward. He’d tell her all he wanted to.
It was on the second day after she called that Tim made up his mind. He was on his fifth cleaning list and Jim was trying to advise him.
“Tim, do you remember what I said about using tea spoons on the window frames? They really help. Look, I’ll show you.”
Tim wanted to tell him where to put the tea spoons but instead he waited until he left and then ran form the caravan and stole Jim’s bicycle from outside his trailer and biked along the shore and into town as fast as he could.
At the train station Tim bough a one way ticket on the first train to Paris the next day which was at 5:43 and cost him fifty-nine euros, which was almost all of his money. When he left the station and headed back outside to cycle back he found that someone had stolen Jim’s bike. Tim smiled a little smile to himself and began the long walk back.
By the time he arrived back at the campsite it was almost nine p.m. and he could easily avoid Jim who would most likely be alone in his mobile home. Tim went straight to his own caravan and packed his backpack. Then he cooked all the eggs he had left and had a big plate of scrambled eggs on toast. Just as he was about to go to bed there was a knock on the door and when he opened it he found Crystal and Becky there.
“Heya, you okay? You not coming round tonight? We’ve got a box of wine we’re going to drink.” said Becky.
Tim didn’t fancy watching them drink cheap wine.
“No thank you, I’m going to have an early night.”
“Early night? It’s not even ten yet. You just had enough of Jim and cleaning?” asked Crystal.
“Yes, I bloody have.” said Tim and he shut the door.
That night Tim slept perfectly and woke full of energy at 4am. He showered and ate the last of his bread. He left the dirty dishes. Let someone else clear them up. He considered leaving a witty goodbye note for them to fin, perhaps, ‘Thanks for nothing’ or some retort about tea spoons, but in the end he decided against leaving a note. He opened the caravan door quietly as though someone might be listening and he stole quickly through the campsite.
Soon he was out onto the path by the beach, hurrying along under the stars. The moon hung high and pale and its rays painted him silver like an early morning ghost. He hurried past the black rocks and crashing sea and past the lonely lighthouse, its beam like a prisoner of war camp searchlight splitting the early morning air.
After what seemed like an incredibly short while later, he was at the train. He got on board and sat in anxious unease waiting for it to start. When it did it felt like a spear of happiness. In his head, marching bands were playing and fireworks erupted and the shiny silver train sped towards Paris, where he was going to find her and tell her all of the things he had been too much of a coward to tell her before.
Thomas Ward is soon to graduate from Newcastle University with a BA in English Language and Literature. He has been published in Alliterati and awaits feedback on his first novel. As well as writing he likes to travel, play music, watch films and fantasise about fighting sharks and the inevitable zombie apocalypse. He has a tumblr at www.renegadeviper.tumblr.com
© 2012 Thomas Ward