Jack Mutant - Which Way is Down? (part fourteen)
By Jane Hyphen
‘Got a telly,’ Dad said as if it were something exciting and new. He grabbed the remote control, pointed it at a small screen in the corner of the ceiling, pushing the button several times until the news came on. ‘Have you told your mum you’re here Jack?’
‘I left her a note.’
Rain began to pelt upon the roof of the caravan leaving the television barely audible. Dad twisted and buckled in the constricted kitchen area trying to prepare a plate of food for them both. The crockery was brown and orange with a dated floral pattern rather like the little tied back curtains on the windows. It seemed to Jack that this caravan had been loved once, years ago, it had seen better days and probably better places too.
‘Sorry son, I’m not used to cooking, got all my food provided at the hotel.’
‘But what are you cooking?’
Dad shrugged. ‘Nothing really, just putting stuff together, assembling, a balanced meal sort of thing. Nearest supermarket is six miles away...and I haven’t got used to the oven yet.’
‘You could use the microwave.’
‘Yes...I will, just settling in at the moment.’ He handed Jack a plate with a sausage roll cut in half, a yoghurt, some sliced banana and three cream crackers spread with margarine.
Jack was starving, the cold plate of food tasted better than it looked, he ate whilst studying the interior of his father’s new residence, this was the first time he’d been inside a caravan. There were little wooden cupboards slotted in everywhere, between the windows and down the side of the L-shaped sofa bed, the kitchen seemed to have everything albeit in miniature, the floor was carpeted and there was a cosy looking stove although unlit. It was clear that Dad was yet to fully unpack his things, two bulging holdalls lay on top of each other on the floor.
‘Not bad is it, the toilet’s through there by the way, there’s a shower too.’ Dad pointed to a sliding door beyond the main entrance.
Jack suddenly thought about his mum and how she might be concerned about him, not knowing where he was, he didn’t really know where he was either and felt a little frightened since the sky was now fully dark and the rain hammering down with increasing intensity. He checked his phone, it was odd that she hadn’t even messaged him to check he was okay. No signal. ‘Dad there’s no signal here!’
‘No, not in here but if you go outside to the corner of the yard near the empty caravan there’s a slight signal there...here, take my torch.’
Jack looked out of the window, it was pitch black except for the yellow glow of the lights in the other two occupied caravans, a large stocky figure shifted back and forth across the windows of one. He didn’t like to ask his dad to come with him, it made him feel weak and childish yet it seemed so scary out there, like the opening scene of a horror film and he had a strong sense that his mum was terribly worried. What drama would he return to if he didn’t make contact?
He took the torch, switched it on, pulled down the flimsy metal handle of the caravan door and stepped down into torrents of muddy water towards the empty caravan which was grey, rotting, a shelter for unknown horrors. The ground around it was overgrown with looped brambles which tripped him and the tall spires of decaying clumps of nettle. Stooping to shelter his device from the rain and barely able to see he fumbled for his phone and spun around attempting to pick up a signal. The phone beeped just as he bumped into something which made him jump out of his skin; a metal brazier crashed to the ground and rolled across the muddy yard.
‘Oi! Who’s there?’ The large figure from one of the other caravans stood in his doorway shouting and shining a very powerful torch in his face.
Jack stood frozen like a rabbit in the headlights. ‘J..just trying to get a signal.’
‘It’s alright Mick, he’s my son,’ Dad called out. ‘Have you got a signal Jack?’
‘I had one,’ Jack said, trying to sound calm and strong but there was another sound now, above the teeming rain, a sort of panting. It grew closer and was accompanied by rustling from the woods, travelling at speed, it stopped suddenly, then there was snorting and sniffing. The fuzzy shadow of a large dog appeared and trotted around the yard, cocking its leg at the base of the caravans. It sniffed Jack’s legs and stopped suddenly as if it were about to growl or lunge or bite or something. ‘I’m coming back in dad.’ Jack shouted and made extended strides towards the relative safety of the caravan.
‘You alright, you look pale.’
Jack shut the door behind him. ‘It’s cold dad, I’m soaking….and there’s a big dog out there just loose.’
‘That’ll be one of Mr Clark’s dogs, must have heard the crashing noise and run from its kennel to have a look.’
‘Who’s Mr Clark?’
‘He’s the gaffer, the man I work for Jack, his house is just through the woods, great big house, he built it all himself...well that’s what he said.’
Jack sat quietly for a moment trying to recover from his fright and feeling stressed about not having been able to successfully message his mum. He wasn’t sure about this place or indeed the sound of Mr Clark and his dogs. The excitement he’d felt about having Dad so close by was beginning to be replaced by fear. Maybe Dad was better off in another hotel working as a pot wash again, at least he’d be living in a proper building.
If there was one thing Jack had learned in his short life it was that things could go from bad to worse. Life didn’t always shift from bad to better with the happy endings in story books and films. Bad to worse was common; the bad, it bruises you, the worse drills into you and stirs you up inside. For the first time in his life he suddenly felt responsible for his dad, would he be alright here, would he be safe?
‘What will you do here Dad, what is this place all about?’
‘It’s a sort of estate I suppose. We do all sorts, fencing, foresting, waste disposal, I’m going to learn to drive a skip lorry. We’ll be flogging Christmas trees in December, you can come and help if you like. Mr Clark said we need to rope in as much help as possible, apparently it gets crazy busy here.’ Dad got up and began to fiddle with the remote control again, flicking channels, he shrugged and turned it off. ‘Sorry son, I wish I had an Xbox for you.’
‘Don’t worry Dad.’ It took a certain amount of courage for Jack to ask his father to take him home. He hadn’t been in the caravan for more than an hour but if felt like an eternity and he was worried about the possibility that his dad might feel rejected, after all they didn’t get to spend much time together but this place and the lack of mobile signal was making him feel trapped and panicky. He kept trying to speak but then found himself holding his breath and just exhaling instead.
‘I think I want to go home now, I’ve got a lot of homework to do.’
‘Okay,’ Dad looked sad for just a split second, Jack noticed and it hurt him inside. ‘It’s not great here I know Jack but it’s a little place of my own.’
‘I know Dad.’
The car journey out went by much more quickly then their journey in. They drove passed the sign for Nobby’s Fencing in no time and away back into the civilised world of street lights and mobile phone signals. Jack began to feel much more at ease, he sent a message to his mum to say he was coming home. They chatted about school, dad asked to see the pendant he’d sent and Jack cursed himself for forgetting to put it on.
He sent several further messages to his mum to form a sort of buffer so that she didn’t explode with anger when he returned home. It worked, sort of, she wore a facial expression which told of recent anger, livid lines on her face, half relaxed now by exhaustion and she looked sort of sad like she’d lost of control of something and had become resigned to it.