By Megan Buxton
Tess hopes she has packed everything they’ll need in the new caravan. Bob was at the club last night, saying goodbye to his mates. By the time he came home he could hardly stand let alone make decisions about packing.
Now he’s hitching the van to the new four-wheel drive. Tess looks at the car, squat and pugnacious, and misses her little hatch-back.
‘Silly to keep it love,’ Bob said. ‘It’ll be sitting in the garage for six months doing nothing. May as well sell it and use the money on the trip. And we’ll only need one car when we get back – now we’re retired.’
Tess shudders at the thought. Bob looks up from the couplings and glares.
‘Nice for some,’ he says. ‘Started the holiday already I see.
She climbs into the car, lips thinned. The door slams and the seatbelt is yanked across, the tongue jammed into the buckle.
‘Steady on Tess, old girl. Treat the car with a bit of respect, eh, love.’
Tess takes a deep breath.
‘Well. Here we go, eh love. Trip of a life time. All our dreams coming true.
Tess thinks of Paris, Rome, the wonders of Europe. Someone’s dreams are coming true at any rate.
An hour later they slow down, along with all the other northbound traffic. Tess looks ahead and sees dozens of vans in the line, inching along like giant silver snails.
‘A caravan of caravans,’ she mutters.
‘Eh, what, love?’ says Bob. ‘I thought this new bypass was supposed to speed things up. By the way, did you pack my hand surfer?’
‘Jesus, Tess. I’ve been looking forward to using it. I love that thing.’
Yep, thinks Tess. He loves it so much he hasn’t touched it for five years.
Silence in the cabin. Tess gazes ahead at the white lines dissolving in the liquid shimmer of the road.
She thinks of the aluminium siding of the van, sucking in the heat, storing it up to torment her throughout the long night. They didn’t get the air-conditioning.
‘No need for that, love. We’ll be sitting in the annexe, enjoying the sea breeze.’
Bob begins to whistle. He calls it whistling anyway; forcing air between the gaps in his teeth, the tunes unrecognisable. The sound slices through her like a paper cut.
‘What are we having for tea, love?’
Tess groans at the thought of cooking in the hot box on wheels.
‘I thought we might go out,’ she says. ‘By the time we arrive and set up it’ll be late.’
He looks crestfallen. ‘Oh, no love. First night in the new van. We’ve got to christen the new equipment.’
What’s with the ‘we’ she thinks. You’ll pour a beer and relax while I cook. Same shit as home, just a different location – and more difficult.
They pull into a petrol station.
‘Stop, revive, survive,’ parrots Bob, returning to the car with an ice-cream and a packet of chips. ‘Didn’t get you anything, love. I know you’ve gotta watch your weight,’ he beams at her as the fast-melting ice-cream drips onto his paunch.
He crunches on the chips as they drive, slurping the salt off his fingers after each one.
Tess thinks about the journey ahead.
Six months of caravanning. Six months of caravan parks. Six months of amenities blocks with tinea –infested shower stalls and using toilets after someone with terminal digestive problems. Six months of Bob at close quarters.
In a couple of hours they’ll be in Port Macquarie. Tess gets out her phone. Google tells her there’s an airport there. With a few clicks she could book a flight home and another to France. She’d be packed and on her way before Bob gets back from fishing. She hopes her passport is still valid.
Bob reaches across and pats her knee.
‘This is going to be so good,’ he says. ‘And there’s no-one I’d rather be travelling with. You know that, love?’
Tess sighs, puts away her phone and stares through the windscreen at the long road ahead.