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Jan/Feb 2006 Spotlight

Swing Naked

by Ian Duncan Smith


The caravan was never meant to go anywhere. It was a long-chassis, cream and brown affair, camouflaged by moss on the end of a row of almost-touching caravans by the perimeter fence. Broken culverts and wooden pallets had been stacked next to it and then abandoned.

No construction was taking place in the rain. No digging, no filling, no movement of any trucks, like one of those sci-fi moments where everyone freezes and then disappears.

I knocked on the caravan door. A man opened it.

"What do you want?"

"I believe you've got something for me, sir."

"Is that what Mr. Robertson told you?"

"That's what he told me. He said you have something for me, sir."

Then he lightened up a little, and laughed.

"I have a rungless ladder, son. Will that do?"

I stared at him. I was in no mood for his jokes. He looked up and down at me. I looked up and down at him, and then he scratched his chin.

"Come on in, son. Come on in. Mr. Robertson is right. I do have something for you."

I stepped onto the breeze block and ducked through the caravan door. A wavering generator was running the light show, nothing more than a single bulb glowing over the sink. It fluctuated as though it was going to explode. Pans, black against a yellow slick, were steaming in the sink. A TV on the dining table was playing Mastermind, keeping a plate of sausages warm on top.

He parted a red, white and blue bead curtain, and I followed him. There was a two-bar electric fire and a horseshoe arrangement of beige seats under orange curtains. The windows streamed with condensation. He lifted a long cushion off the seat at the front. There was a veneered chest underneath.

"There you go now. Let me see what I've got for you. Come in a bit closer, son, and bring yourself over here. Stand there."

He pointed to a darkened piece of carpet by the fire. I put my hands in my pockets and moved forward. I stood on the darkened piece of carpet, feeling the heat from the fire. He leaned the long cushion against the window and lifted the lid of the chest. He looked inside, turning over the contents. He pulled out a wide-brimmed hat, brushed it with the back of his hand, and put it on.

"What do you think?"

"I think the place stinks."

"How about an ochre shirt with tassels?"

"Hell, why not? You're already wearing the hat."

He looked as though he was on a film set, or about to go fancy dress. He pulled the ochre short over his vest. He leaned over the chest again, and held up a shoelace tie. He pulled that down over the brim of his hat, and threaded it under the collar of the ochre shirt.

"Now, don't you move from that spot, son. What do you have for me?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Mr. Robertson owes me, and my father, and his father, and his father before him, down the line. You tell him that."

"I'm telling him the place stinks, sir."

"There's no point Mr. Robertson keeping this show on the road if he has nothing for me. He pays me, and he owes me. Sons of sons, down the line. I don't think you'll be leaving just yet. What do you have for me?"

"Nothing."

The man smiled. The smile was scooped out of his face. He lifted a gun out of the chest, pointed it at me, and fired.

Either the gun fired blanks, or he was a very bad shot, but I wasn't hearing too much at that point. I turned away and jumped out of the open door. I ran back to the office.

Mr. Robertson was sitting out the rain on a plastic chair in the portable hutch he called an office. I stood outside trying to pull the locked door open. The cabin shook. I could see him inside, laughing. There was no end to his pitiful humour.

"How did you get along with your man in the caravan? Did he find a slotted soup spoon for you, then?"

"You should get over there and see him some time."

"What's the point me seeing him? I see him every day."

"He says you've got something for him, so you'd best get over there now, because the way I see it, he'll be coming over here, anytime."

Mr. Robertson stopped laughing. He stared out across the expanse of water-filled gravel. The man from the caravan was walking towards him, looking like he'd just stepped out of the bath, swing naked, ruining Mr Robertson's otherwise perfect morning.

 

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