October 20, 2017

Salty William: A Story

Out of the window on the left side he saw dusty and thick hills. Blue-green with mist and salty-smelling, they grew from the sea and slept down in to the land.

On the window from the right side he could see a dip with the cliffs of houses jutted up from brown soil and at night the lights bunched like collected yellow stars pulled to the ground and tied to the roofs, like balloons caught in trees.

 

William had been here for some days now and, as he woke up on this Sunday morning, he felt different from the way he had felt all the other mornings that he’d woken up here.

It’s not often in houses that you feel that can see the two views both opposite each other from your bed and this is one of the great things about a static caravan.

Other great things about caravans are that the walls are so thin you can hear almost word for word and sound for sound what is happening behind them. Their plastic disposable plate thinness lets out all sorts of sounds that a house wall would insulate from the outside world. The sounds of parents yelling at their children, the harsh sound of arguments, the dull moaning of the television programmes that people are watching, the wonderfully ambiguous sound of sex.

The whole caravan park is like a horizontal block of flats, each one is a room closed off from the others, but surrounding rooms can hear what is happening to their neighbours and everybody knows this. This gives the holidayers a strange feeling: since they could see and hear what others were doing and that others could see and hear what they were doing.  Some worried that they were available for viewing and judgement but others took the opportunity to release themselves from captivity. The caravan park was full of drunken, loud, sex-shouting, revellers and closed-door policing uptight holidayers. A very small handful took neither route but walked the gap and took their fun from both.

 

William woke up on this Sunday and the salt spray reached him all the way from the sea. It woke him up. The past few days had been full of a tiredness born of fresh air and city lethargy.

Now this Sunday salt had slapped his face and tickled his nostrils.

The strange feeling that had taken the others had taken him too but he didn’t police or get policed, he decided that since he knew hardly anybody there, that he should both respect them and take the piss. Whether it was the sea air, the clear sky brushed of clouds, the ambiguous feeling that both insured and stole his privacy or something else more cerebral that William didn’t know the name of, on that Sunday William didn’t care what people thought.

On that day he set out on an extended project with no particular theme or direction, apart from taking things as they appeared to him. Waking every morning at six (earlier than every other day before) he would assess the weather from his bed looking out of both windows and then he would eat and leave, opening the door and putting on his shoes, breathing in the crunchy air that was his energy, possibly the origin of his force and sustained him throughout the day.

 

At home William was a lazy bugger, working as little as he could and preparing food at the last possible moment and sitting on his backside all evening before lying on his back to sleep for the rest of the night. This sudden energy and verve had to have come from somewhere, because it certainly didn’t come from William himself. Until now William wouldn’t have got out of bed until the alarm clock went off three times at least. Now he was waking up and getting out of bed before the alarm was even starting off. Three days after that Sunday, William didn’t even bother setting the alarm.

This morning William walked out around the park. He saw people walking dogs, newspapers under arms and plastic bags sticking from pockets.

An older man was digging at the side of his caravan. He was probably an owner, William thought and he approached the man feeling that a little exercise would take away some of the dewy coolness that was in the air. He introduced himself to the man and asked the man if he needed any help with the digging. The man already had a dribble of sweat on his upper lip and down his sideburns and his body was evidently aching from the work. Maybe he’d been doing it for a few days now, but now that William was here, he wouldn’t have to; for a small amount of crispy cash. The man looked surprised at first but then smiled and nodded his head: “I suppose I should be taking it easy, my partner doesn’t like me to be out here doing this all the time, but who else would do it?”

William listened carefully and nodded. He smiled and took a spare shovel from next to the man and began to dig. The man watched for a minute and then went in to the caravan.

The glow in William’s limbs came from work and the feeling that he had let the old man have more of a holiday. The glow was fuelled by the idea that William would be finished soon and would then have the rest of the day off and that he had earned himself some money to drink away at the pub that evening.

Again, this was not like William at all. He would do as little work as he could in order to get by. Getting by was William’s way of life. If it involved physical work, he would avoid it as much as he could. Here, though, the prospect of work and the instant payment at the end, rather than an accumulated amount transferred in to his bank at the end of the month, made the whole thing seem much more interesting to William.

 

William met the old man outside of his caravan for two more mornings and took two more crispy notes off him.

The afternoons were spent lying in the sun on the grass outside the caravan or at the dusty pebble beach. Later on in the week, William would also use these afternoons for finding other sources of money, but these earlier days were spent in the same position as William would spent his afternoons at home.

 

The evenings were spent in the pub about ten minutes walk from the park.

There, fishermen would sit and talk about their daily expeditions out into the flat, endless plains of water and William would listen. William wondered about this pub because it seemed such a cliché; with the fishermen trading tales, it was like something from their own stories, an old story from a thick yellow book, covered with crusty tang and spoken with a mouth that’s breathed in roaring storm air and the thick clumps of sky from calm seas and stale land.

The drink made William want to tell stories himself but he didn’t have any to tell. And so he listened and made up his own stories in his head as the drink filled up his belly. He had enough money from his work to make up a lot of stories in his head and to absorb plenty more from the fishermen.

Why this pub seemed so pretend was unclear to William but it seemed to fit in with the whole babbling nonsense of the caravans and the whole loss of privacy and William’s own feeling that he was above it all. He was watching it all and finding what he could from it. Plucking what he needed from the situation.

William the seagull grabbed fish, or whatever he could find, and ate them. Everyone else just watched and laughed or watched and complained to their partner and/or the park authorities.

 

After helping the old man for the first three days, William had started to search for other means of employment and found other people on the park who needed help. One couple wanted a babysitter while they went for a coffee and a walk in peace for an hour or so. Another man needed help with cleaning his caravan; William cleaned it within an hour and took two notes off the man.

It was at this time that William decided to use his afternoons not for lazing about but for work as well. None of the jobs took longer than two hours at the most but William still took crunchy and clinky money from them all.

These days seem to me, and probably you, to be going on for a very long time; like his holiday was eternal, infinite amount of days seeming to fit into the smallness of a holiday of two weeks.

This is how it felt to William as well. It was a summer holiday of his youth coming back; the days were long, endless and full and yet too short to fit in all of his activities.

William despite being at the long end of being a teenager, felt young and free again; there was no end to his summer.

 

William took the first journey out of the park that he had had since he arrived there and went to the beach. Sitting there and watching the children playing, William noticed that the adults would sit in their own self-contained groups away from other self-contained groups of adults, while the children would play in gaggles that would become smaller and larger; like the waves, running up the beach, destroying the sandcastles and then, later, pulling sticks, pebbles and sand back with it.

William had noticed this in the pub at the park, the children running in groups around the pub and the adults sitting alone at tables, and at the caravan park, adults alone watching television or reading in the caravans while the kids ran and shouted, the entire park theirs.

In the park, William had felt the lack of the usual restrictions in everyday life, but now with the wind in his ears and the taste of sun on his lips at the coast, he felt that there had never been any restrictions.

He carried on with his work as if he had never known any other way.

 

One day, when he had gone into a shop next to the beach to buy a newspaper to get change for the laundrette, his mind was changed again by his surroundings.

The man behind the counter at the shop was reading the paper distractedly; he looked up quickly when William came in and then flicked his eyes back to the newspaper, worried in case the words on the page would run away while he wasn’t looking.

William grabbed the cheapest paper and handed over a taught ten pound note with it to the man.

The man took a great amount of time and effort to move aside his paper and looked hard at the price on the newspaper, then the ten pound note and then at William’s face.

“Haven’t got anything smaller?” the man asked.

“No, sorry. I want the change for the laundrette next door”

“Oh bloody hell! How many times do I have to tell the park authorities? I’m separate from them and I don’t give change for their bloody facilities. I’m going to ring them now and tell them to put a bloody sign up in the laundrette”

The man picked up his phone and looked out of the window behind him. He found the number for the reception emblazoned across a tinted window and dialled it.

The man spoke to someone, shouted at someone and carried on his harangue over the phone with William still standing at the counter waiting for his change or at least to be told that he could leave.

But for ten minutes William had to wait. More people came in and waited behind him. They tutted and sighed and looked at William as if it was him who was keeping them waiting while the sun was waiting for them outside.

The man finally finished and then looked at William, surprised that he was still there.

“Can I have some change then?” William asked, slightly irritated.

“Did you not hear what I was just talking about on the phone? Of course you bloody can’t. Now bugger off and go and ask the park authorities.

William walked away from the counter leaving the paper there but taking the tenner with him.

The man shouted something after him, but William was out of the door before any of the shout could be heard.

Whether it was the sea air, the clear sky brushed of clouds, the ambiguous feeling that both insured and stole his privacy or something else more cerebral that William didn’t know the name of; on that day William decided to do something.

 

Walking past the shop on the way back to his caravan, his arms loaded with wet washing, William saw that by the door there were small fishing nets, buckets and spades and beach balls.

They were there to entice small children and their parents in to buy them but they encouraged a different feeling in William. Not a buying feeling, something else.

Ten minutes later, William was back outside the shop breathing in the air before walking in.

He stepped inside, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and then he was strolling past the man again. The man briefly looked up as before and then returned his eyes to the paper in front of him. This was what William was waiting for; no recognition and then no shouting. He walked once around the shop and then towards the door. The man wasn’t watching and so William quickly and quietly grabbed a small handful of fishing nets.

He walked out quickly and then returned to normal speed as he got around the corner from the shop. He’d got away with it.

He got back to his caravan and then counted the nets; four all together.

Five minutes later William did the same thing and got another four. He also looked at the price and saw that the man was charging three pounds for a net.

Later in the morning, William returned four more times and all together grabbed eight nets, four beach balls and five buckets and spades.

He noted the price of all of them in his head; three pounds for the nets, three for the beach balls and five pounds for the buckets and spades.

William decided that he would charge two pounds for the nets, two for the beach balls and then four pounds for the buckets and spades and that he would take them all down to the beach and sell them.

 

That afternoon William sold all of the stuff and had another handful of papery money in his pockets.

He spent the evening down at the pub listening to the stories of the fishermen and making his own up in his head. The angry man spent his evening at home, wondering why he hadn’t remembered selling any buckets and spades, beach balls or nets when he seemed to have sold loads.

 

The next day William repeated the exact same thing and again sold all his stock. That evening, however, he spent selling sweets that he had taken from the shop to all the children who were playing outside of the park clubhouse.

He went to bed that evening tired and woke up the next morning swearing that he would have the day off.

After a brief walk around the harbour, he realised that it was going to be a beautiful day and that he would be able to sell loads if he went out.

Without a sense of reluctance or hesitation, he went to the shop three times and stole as much as he could and sold it all that morning and afternoon.  He made even more money than he did the day before.

 

Before long it was going to happen, as things will always happen I suppose.

The man at the shop realised that somebody was stealing his stock. It was the constant lowness of his stock and the fact that he saw family after family with the nets, buckets and spades and beach balls even though he had sold hardly any.

The news that there was a thief around stealing beach toys reached William very quickly and he realised that it wouldn’t be long at all until somebody linked the stolen stock with his abundant money and beach toy collection.

Whether it was the sea air, the clear sky brushed of clouds, the ambiguous feeling that both insured and stole his privacy or something else more cerebral that William didn’t know the name of: William decided to run to the hills around the park and, in particular, the cliffs right at the sea front.

 

William had constantly seen small black figures silhouetted against the golden sky and dusty hills around the park and decided that he wanted to be one of them. He liked the solitary image of them up there, away from everybody and the parks. They were icons, symbols to William and so he ran up a hill until the people sitting on the beach saw him as he had been seeing the other figures.

 

After that, nobody ever saw William again. Not up close anyway.

It’s nice, perhaps, to imagine William, dusty face and sandy shoes, salty clothes and sun-tanned lips living up there.

Like a spirit, people claimed they saw him up on the hills or cliffs, but they could never fully prove that it was him or not.

In the two weeks since his disappearance and now (because that is all that it has been) people have been attributing everything that has gone missing or has gone wrong to William. Caravan owners with missing cutlery say “Must’ve been William”, plants belonging to locals that have been blown over by the wind say that William must have been along their street, parents with crying children blame William for their child’s grottiness.

Seagulls crying have a strange noise. Sometimes they sound like babies, or sometimes like voices calling. Now children in the park tell younger children that the noises are William coming back for more things.

William’s name is still everywhere. How people found out his name isn’t known, but ever since I have arrived in this place, it is all I have heard.

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