Today’s post is a story triggered by a recent short trip I took in my camper van.
End of the Road
I had driven for miles along a gravel road to the remote campsite. Parked up and plugged into the power, I sat in my camper-van reading, enjoying the quiet. My dog snoozed on her blanket after our leisurely walk through farm paddocks to the beach, where she’d romped in crazy circles chasing the few sea birds.
As the skies began to turn grey, a large camper slowed then stopped on the gravel road. A gaunt, grey-haired man climbed out of the van, wandered through the gate, looked around and shook his head. He yelled something over his shoulder to a woman exiting the vehicle on the passenger side. She joined him. I sighed as I closed my book and pulled on my shoes. My solitude had ended.
‘Hiya,’ I waved to them.
The man turned toward me. ‘What sort of a Mickey-Mouse place is this? No signs, no directions, in the middle of nowhere,’ he threw his arms in the air. ‘How do you even book in?’
‘There is a place with a sign on the gate back down the road. Drive up the driveway and pay the woman at the house,’ I offered.
‘I don’t fancy driving this huge bus up some narrow driveway,’ the woman chipped in.
‘There are phone numbers on the sign you could try,’ indicating the large sign at the front. ‘But they didn’t work for me, so I went to that house.’
‘We didn’t plan to come here. We were headed for Wellsford. Miles of driving on gravel, windy roads out of our way. Bloody GPS.’
‘You’ll find it’s worth your while, it’s so peaceful. You can walk to the beach along a farm track, and there’s cute llama’s through the fence there, and the facilities are top-notch.’
‘Ain’t interested in walking to some beach or petting some stupid animals with ridiculously long necks. Been travelling for two weeks and we just want to get home, not be stuck in some god-forsaken place at the end of the road.’
I shrugged. ‘It is lovely here,’ I feebly offered again.
‘How do you get into this place? Does it even have power sites?’
‘Of course, there is power, see those white poles? Come through the gate, round the cabins and down to the flat.’ turning away, I returned to my camper.
The couple got in their van, drove in and parked on the flat. Snuggled under my blanket, I returned to my book. My concentration was lost. Fancy arriving at an idyllic place like this, owning a top-of-the-range vehicle like theirs and being so grumpy, so unappreciative, my inner dialogue mumbled.
Later that evening, I encountered the woman in the kitchen. With her back to me, she was busily washing a stack of dishes, slamming them onto the bench with force. I asked, ‘So, where have you driven from today?’
‘Manganui,’ she replied without turning.
‘A long drive for you both.’
‘Yep, and we had no intention of ending up here in the middle of bloody nowhere. We just want to get home.’
‘And where’s home?’
‘Been to Manganui before?’
She nodded, slamming another dish to the pile.
‘Manganui’s a beautiful spot.’
‘Yep. We got married there. That’s why we went, filling my husbands bucket-list before it’s too late.’
Wishing I’d never started this conversation, I tried another tack. ‘Your van looks pretty impressive, especially compared to my humble, old thing.’
‘Yep, cost a fortune. Not my idea, not my idea at all,’ the woman shook her head. ‘That’s the reason why I’m still working.’
‘Still, it must be really comfortable, and …’
‘Soon as he pops his clogs, I’ll be down-sizing, to something more suitable.’
Her husband entered the room, wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown. With a towel draped over his arm, he clasped a sponge bag. ‘You not done yet?’ he barked at his wife.
Ah, my chance to leave, so why didn’t I?
The wife pulled the plug in the sink, turned and glared at her husband.
‘I’m taking a shower. I presume there are showers here?’ the man nodded in my direction.
‘Sure, through there,’ I pointed.
The woman began to dry the dishes. ‘Don’t mind him,‘ she said, facing me now. ‘It’s the morphine. He’s pretty morose by the end of the day.’
‘Oh,’ I stammered. ‘Must be tough for you both.’
‘Not exactly what I signed up for, but what can you do?’ her face softened.
‘You fancy a cup of tea or coffee?’ I asked. Why did I ask that? Why didn’t I leave?
‘Neither. A glass of wine is what I fancy. I’ve got a bottle of red in the van. You’ll join me, right?’ a statement, not a question. She threw down the tea-towel and bustled out of the kitchen.
Finding wine glasses in the cupboard, I placed them on the table.
‘I’m Kathy,’ I said when the woman returned, offering my hand.
‘Sybil and old grumpy-boots is Dennis.’ Sybil didn’t shake my hand. She poured the wine, and we sat in the plastic chairs.
Neither of us spoke. I sipped my wine.
‘What line of work are you in, Sybil?’
‘I do the books for a large international company, mostly working from home.’
‘Oh, that’s handy for you. I work part-time…’
‘Yeah,’ she snorted. ‘No escape from my invalid husband, always doing his bidding. Get this, do that, help me with whatever.’ She gulped her wine.
‘Has he been ill long?’
Dennis, returning from his shower, stood by Sybil’s chair. ‘How long do you plan to be sat here supping that poison?’
Sybil ignored him and refilled her glass.
‘Do you want to join us?’ Sybil glared at me. Dennis mumbled inaudibly and left the room.
Sybil laughed. ‘Dennis doesn’t approve. Here, have another.’ She poured wine into my glass.
‘Let me tell you about my dear sanctimonious, saintly husband.’ Sybil spat, gulping more wine. ‘Six months ago, he begged me to forgive him for running off with his tart and implored me to let him back into my life. Hah, he apologised for hurting me. I weren’t hurt, I was humiliated.’
Like a rapidly flowing river, Sybil’s words flowed without pause, spluttering over the jagged rocks of infidelity throughout their lengthy marriage. The waters bumped against the moss-covered banks of their pretentious, moneyed life – grand houses, luxury cruises, expensive education for their progeny, membership to exclusive clubs. The river flowed, disgorging itself in the vast sea.
‘And here we are, at the end of the road. We’re practically penniless and completely barren of any emotion for each other.’ Sybil slunk low in her chair, her face rigid as if carved in stone.
‘How long had he been with this other woman?’
‘Five years, and he returned to me, a pauper.’
‘You mentioned morphine earlier. I’m assuming you administer the morphine to manage the pain?’
‘From what you say, I glean that you’re having a pretty shitty time, but you’re in control. Eventually, your husband will die, it’s the end of the road for him, right?’
‘But you’re in control of the morphine?’
Sybil looked me in the eye. Her face relaxed into an almost smile.
‘Are you suggesting I accidentally …’
Throwing my arms wide, I replied, ‘I’m not suggesting anything.’
I supped the rest of my wine. ‘Goodnight’ I said, ‘And good luck.’ I left the room. It had begun to rain.
Heavy rain persisted throughout the night, my sleep was fitful. Waking late, I prepared my van to leave.
As I drove slowly across the wet, soggy grass, the door of the big camper opened. Sybil, in a flimsy night-dress, stumbled down the steps of her camper. Taking a few wobbly steps, she frantically waved her arms in my direction.
I drove away.