Week Five | 1,538 words
(This week was tough, so, as I am butting up against the deadline, I have decided to post a part one and finish this puppy another day. I am trying to reassure myself that it's better to write something rather than fail altogether, but I'm a bit annoyed that this one didn't sort itself out earlier. Oh well. I will try to get a headstart on next week.)
I had to check that she was breathing; thank God a tiny bird fluttered in her chest. I dragged her back into the caravan as quickly as I could and she let out a tiny groaning sigh. The cold sweat that had erupted as I’d watched her pulled down started to shift into sizzling rage. I lifted her to the sofa and tucked a cushion under her head. Her eyes closed, her face set into a deep frown, she looked as though she was in the midst of a puzzling dream instead of trapped in a shabby caravan in a remote and barely populated holiday park.
To stop myself from shouting at her I went to the tiny kitchenette and ran a tea towel under the cold tap. I twisted it, folded it up, and trotted back to lay it on her forehead. Her fingers twitched. I felt for her pulse again and the tiny bird was beating its wings in a firmer rhythm. I stroked her cheek and she hummed, shuddered, and then sobbed herself awake.
She pushed herself to sit up and pulled the tea towel away. With an angry shout she flung it across the room and then put her head in her hands.
“Didn’t you believe me?” the sizzling rage wanted to know.
“I cannot stay in here!” she shrieked back, and swayed in her seat. She wanted to go to the window and check outside, whilst at the same time fear and deep caution kept dragging her back to her seat.
I went to look. I twitched the net curtains and glanced at the patchy lawn that surrounded us, the neighbouring dilapidated caravans, and the bleak grey skies above. It didn’t look menacing. It looked dull. Just as it had done when we’d arrived.
Living with a mystery shopper has its perks. Occasionally Lisa is asked to secretly review hotels and restaurants, and I get to tag along for a free holiday or meal, and participate in the discreet appraisal process. But there are downsides too. Being invited to the middle of nowhere for a weekend in a caravan park at the arse end of November is not my idea of a good time. But you have to take the ups with the downs, and not every retailer visited by Lisa is selling something I’m excited to try.
And so I wasn’t buzzing with excitement when we drove up the twisting road to Flynnwell Caravan Park, and my mood didn’t improve as we pulled up by the reception lodge to check in. Lisa was on cloud nine. The worse the experience is, the more fun she has. I often tell her that it’s just as well I’m with her on most of these Mystery Shopping outings. Without me her feedback would be entirely negative. I don’t relish nitpicking quite to the same degree.
There was a skinny unwashed woman of indeterminate age at the reception desk. She gave us a bleak look and handed keys over without having to check a thing on her ancient computer. Clearly we were the only people turning up today and, from the way she dropped the keys into Lisa’s hand, we were nothing but an inconvenience.
“Thanks”, Lisa said with a grin, and the woman just stared harder. I had a feeling the nerves that connected her brain to her mouth had disintegrated from lack of use and all that was left was this blank expression.
We moved back to the car and Lisa jingled the keyring at me.
“Number 23. No directions. Let’s see if we can find this sucker.”
“I can’t believe this dump has 23 caravans,” I said.
“The numbers probably start at 13.”
I pulled the park’s flyer from the glove compartment and re-read it. The company that Lisa worked for had sent it along with their bible of questions. The facilities listed were few and laden with exclamation marks. The upside was an “entertainment centre” that served food and drink, the downside was that entertainment was “limited” from October through to March, and closing time was nine thirty p.m.
Lisa had pulled away and was slowly weaving down the park’s narrow road peering at caravan numbers.
“What a dive…” she muttered. She was right. The caravans were old and dirty. Paint was peeling. Rust was visible on the corners of the roofs, and the windows were all grimy. The roof felting had come free on one, and was flapping against the sides in the breeze, making sharp slaps in the cold silence.
ally we came to number 23, nestled closely between 21 and 25. 25 was at a tilt, and was the last van on the park. After that there was a low fence and brown fields as far as the eye could see.
“Well the neighbours look simply darling!” Lisa cried as she pulled to a stop. We got out of the car and walked up to the door of 23. There was a dent in the lower half and the number 23 in large brush strokes painted on the top half. I put my foot against the dent and it fit almost perfectly. Lisa and I shared a glance.
“I wonder where they stashed the bodies?” she whispered. I rolled my eyes at her and she opened the door. I ambled in to take a slow look round, while Lisa flew into action with her pen, notebook and camera. The caravan was actually nicer on the inside than I had thought it would be. There was definitely a little too much beige for my liking, but otherwise it all seemed clean and functional.
“Aha!” Lisa shouted.
“Whatcha got?” I asked, and found her in the second bedroom, kneeling on the unmade bed, a plastic parcel of sheets pushed to the floor.
“A toe nail!” she said happily, and gave a little bounce of joy.
“Ah, don’t worry, our bed is spotless. But if we have a domestic you’re sleeping in here. With the remains.”
Lisa’s sense of humour is not to everyone’s taste, but I quite like the odd reference to the macabre, and she enjoys the fact that I don’t balk with disapproval at everything she says. Contrary to what some of her friends and family think, she doesn’t do it for attention.
I went and put the kettle on whilst she finished her investigations, and found an agenda for November on the coffee table. This week Flynnwell was playing host to “Jimmy Fairweather” a comedian still listing a talent contest win of 2001 as his recommendation, “The Blue Scoots”, a country, western and blues band, and “Bingo!” which, the flyer informed me, was “£3 a round, pens extra”.
Lisa wandered back in looking a little dissatisfied.
“Toenail your only find?”
“I haven’t checked under the caravan yet,” she said, and I wasn’t sure whether she was joking.
“Well we can check out the entertainment centre in a bit,” I said, “try the local cuisine and watch a country, western and blues band.”
“One band? Three styles?”
“They are that talented,” I told her, and finished making the tea.
The entertainment centre was almost empty, but it was reassuring to see that the park had some other guests at this time of year. It was a large room with a short bar at one end and a narrow stage at the other. Between these two things there was a sad looking little dance floor, and then a scattering of tables and chairs squeezed into what space was left. At one table sat an elderly couple, the man all decked out in walking gear whilst his wife sat in a wheelchair, knitting. The man had slung a pair of binoculars over the back of his chair, so I guessed he might be up here for bird watching reasons.
The other table was taken by two adults and a young boy. The woman was wearing a fixed smile of “I am enjoying myself”, whilst the man was giving of heavy vibes of “I paid for this, so you WILL enjoy yourself”. The kid just looked bored.
Lisa snagged a couple of menus from the bar, and we found a table equidistant from the room's other occupants while they watched us carefully through sidelong glances.
“Shall we freak them out?” Lisa whispered, “you sit right next to Mr and Mrs Tweed, and I’ll cuddle up to angry Step-dad.”
“Don’t rouse the natives, darling,” I told her, and she stifled sniggers and turned to her menu. The options were limited unless you liked omelette.
Two soggy omelettes and a great deal of beer later, we were crying with laughter behind our hands as “The Blue Scoots” finished their set with a cover of Etta James’ “I Just Want To Make Love To You” played on a fiddle, a guitar and a synthesiser so old it only had one drum sound.
The barman had started giving us the evil eye during Jimmy Fairweather’s gloomy little set; Thirty minutes of jokes that alternated from being so racist they made us bark shocked laughter, to rambling observations of local life that meant nothing to us and never ended in a punchline.