Jack Mutant - Which Way is Down? (part thirteen)
By Jane Hyphen
It had been a few weeks since Jack had last seen Kayla. That was the strange thing, he’d gone from never seeing her before to seeing her everywhere then back to not seeing her at all. Perhaps it was because he’d been off school for a few days and missed Space Club and then she’d missed it the following week. He dare not mention her name to others or ask of her whereabouts for fear of invoking another undesirable physiological reaction.
The lack of her physical presence had only served to dock her entity permanently in his mind; he’d carved out a heated space for her, formed a groove on the surface of his brain in her honour. Despite all this he was unable to picture her face anymore, he’d worn her image out and the crystal details of her face had faded in his imagination to a mere blur but the blur of her was still more than enough to occupy his thoughts.
He’d mentioned to his mum the possibility that Dad would have nowhere to go once his job at the hotel ended. She had been dismissive at the first but as the days went on she had mentioned it a couple of times in passing, trying not to sound too interested although clearly she was concerned.
‘I wonder if he can claim housing benefit,’ she said scrolling through internet pages on her laptop. ‘It says here he needs an address to claim benefits and I don’t think he’s got one of those at the moment….looks like he’d only be eligible for a shelter.’
‘What, like a bus shelter?’
‘No Jack, not a bus shelter. A sort of hostel.’
‘A youth hostel?’
‘Mmm sort of but full up with men of all ages and….all dysfunctions.’
‘But dad doesn’t have any...dysfunctions.’
‘That’s debatable Jack.’
‘Mum! He’s not a drug addict!’
‘Would it be near here?’
‘I don’t know Jack. According to its website the hotel where he’s been working has already shut for the off season, it closed over a week ago.’ She turned to Jack looking serious, ‘Has he been in touch with you?’
Jack shook his head. ‘I’ll message him now. I’ve been busy with school work and things.’
‘You haven’t been yourself these last few weeks have you. Are you worried about him Jack?’
‘Yes...of course I am, he’s my dad. Are you sure he can’t come here for a bit, he can have my bedroom.’ Jack felt guilty suddenly. He’d avoided thinking about his father’s situation, instead filling his head with Kayla’s blur. It was as if the truth had been too hard to stomach so he’d avoided digesting it at all and it had all just sat there rotting inside him.
‘Just imagine if he’s somewhere in town...in a shop doorway. I could have walked passed him and not even noticed.’ Sometimes Jack’s mother said the worst things just to cause hurt, she couldn’t help herself. He waited quietly for her to iron out her insensitivity with another more positive comment as was her pattern. ‘Of course, he’s probably fine, found another job or stayed on at the hotel staff quarters for a bit, to clean the hotel, give it a lick of paint or whatever it is they do.’
A few days went by with no word from Dad and no sign of Kayla. Two of most important people in Jack’s life had seemingly vanished without a trace. He felt helpless, bloated with numb anxiety and unable to eat or sleep properly, lying awake watching the play of lights on the ceiling, what did they mean? Communications from another galaxy. Maybe it was Kayla Stella Nue trying to make contact, having returned now to her spaceship. Then a more conventional communication occurred.
‘Sorry son, I’ve just been sorting myself out, wanted everything to be right before I got in touch. I’ve found somewhere, it’s near you, twenty miles away or less.’
Jack was supposed to turn his phone off at bedtime, his mum often came in and checked but there was something about those couple of hours before midnight which made him feel close to his father. It didn’t surprise him when the phone vibrated, he’d been expecting it, indeed he felt almost that he had dreamt it just seconds before it happened. He pulled the duvet over his head and tapped out a brief reply. ‘Where are you, when can I see you?’
‘Tomorrow, after school, pick you up.’
Jack was tempted to ask his dad to collect him from school since that would negate all the fuss and communication with mum but the idea of the clapped out blue van turning up at school filled him with horror. There was a window of time after school but before she returned from work. ‘Pick me up at four.’
Twenty miles felt close. He drifted off to sleep, woke up smiling, something good is in the pipeline, he thought and it all came back to him. He checked his phone to make sure it wasn’t just a dream. It was Kayla now who seemed nothing but a dream. Dad was real and they were going to see each other. He coasted through the school day, rushed home, changed out of his uniform and scribbled a note to his mum, telling her he was meeting Dad, everything was fine and that he would probably be late home but not to worry. There was part of him that wanted to inflict a bit of suffering on her if only to punish her for speaking badly of his father.
The blue van turned up a few minutes early, the horn made a singular hoot, Dad turned his head smiling. He looked different, a little more unkempt than their last meeting with a beard and dressed in one of those thick, fleecy checked shirts. ‘There’s a national shortage of Monster Munch,’ he said handing Jack a tube of Pringles.
‘How’ve you been?’
They continued their journey in silence, both sated by the weight of each other’s company. The van drove on for several miles along an A road then on a country road and finally a winding, single lane. Jack stared out of the window studying the surroundings carefully. It seemed to him that the countryside which flanked either side of the track was not the sort of idyllic scenery often associated with rural life. It was more what could be described as rough country; woods darkened by smothering ivy and holly, odd piles of rubbish fly-tipped, lumpy fields littered with builders waste. They drove passed a large sign, ‘Nobby’s Fencing’ then through a car park with a few empty skips and a loading truck, on through another wooded area lined with towering log piles.
Dad slowed down as they turned into another parking area where there were some cars and four caravans, the sort with curved edges, greying white fibreglass panels, little curtains drawn. Two of them had lights on and cylindrical chimneys emitting thick grey smoke. It looked spooky, cold and isolated. Jack wasn’t sure he liked it this.
‘This is my luxury villa Jack,’ Dad parked up next to what was probably the shabbiest of the caravans. He removed a key from his pocket and struggled for several seconds to unlock the door. The evening light was fading fast and there were no lamps in the carpark. ‘Here we are...in. It might be a bit cold Jack. I haven’t got the hang of the stove yet, bit scared of it to be honest but Marcin says he’ll show me how.’
‘Marcin, he lives next door. Now...have a seat, I’ll get you a drink. I’ve got some sausage rolls in the fridge and yoghurt.’
Jack sat down on the folding bed, the duvet felt damp, he put his hand on it and couldn’t decide whether it was damp or just very cold. ‘It’s a bit small dad.’
‘It’s a lot bigger than my room in the hotel Jack. I’ve got everything here, a little kitchen, my own shower, those woods outside well they’re my garden.’
It seemed to Jack that those woods were the sort of place where terrible things had taken place or perhaps were yet to happen. These were not the beautiful woods at Grandad’s property, the ancient woods touched only by nature, these were corrupted woods, dark and foreboding.