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삼성물산건설부문_이색캠핑장_1

‘Don’t be scared,’ he says. He pulls the zip around them both. There’s hardly any room but he makes himself comfortable. Slips his arm around her waist, and finds her hand in the dark. He rubs it, squeezes it. Tries to give warmth or receive it from her. He lifts her hand to his face. Breathes in her favourite soap. Kisses her fingers. Squeezes again. Finds her ear with his lips: ‘Sweet dreams,’ he whispers. He peers up through tiny gaps in the overstretched canvas, while seeds of light shine above them like emerging constellations on a cold clear night.

***

Carl was seven when he first went camping. He’d taken ten of the tallest bamboo canes from the back of the garage. Had to wash them down first, with a bowl of warm water and a squirt of washing up liquid, as they were still caked in mud from holding up the heavy headed sunflowers through the long wet weeks of spring. His dad helped him find a spot on the left side of the garden. Said it was because he’d get more of the evening sun, but when Carl thought about it years later, it was also the perfect place for nervous parents, looking out of the kitchen window.
He asked his dad whether he could borrow a tape measure to work out how far to space the bamboo canes, but his dad laughed and explained the concept of educated guess work. An educated guess wouldn’t be too hard, he reckoned. He’d stake his canes thirty centimetres apart. He knew how big this was because of the ruler in his drawer at school.

His mum leant him the picnic blanket that was also the car blanket as it was old and had a great big red wine stain on it from when his aunty Lynda had knocked over a plastic cup on a birthday picnic. He’d been too young to remember but it was one of those stories that came out along with the blanket, like the one about the Royal Wedding mugs getting broken when, as a small child, he’d crashed them together like a pair of cymbals: Dad had gone mad at Mum for letting him play with ornaments.

He spread the picnic blanket as far as it would reach, and although it didn’t go right up to the bamboo canes, there was still plenty of room for him to sleep. Next he got the thick brown blankets from the hidden drawer under his mum and dad’s bed and draped them over the sticks so they made a roof as well as touching the floor. Mum let him use the pillows from the spare bedroom, but Dad said he had to tie them in bin liners, otherwise the house would end up as damp and smelly as a university flat. He took one of the sleeping bags from on top of the spare room wardrobe, and his teddy bear, Beano, and Swallows and Amazons, and a torch, and his mouth organ, and a flask of hot tea. His mum gave him a family sized chocolate bar, and an apple, and a sausage roll, and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. He also took a pencil and notebook. Took a large white rubber that looked like a bar of soap.

It was great at first. He started to write a story about a brave little boy who lived in the woods and almost got killed by a bear. Then he ate the sausage roll, drank a bit of tea, and went for a wee on the compost heap. It was just dark enough for the moon outside. Inside his tent it was almost black. He played a few notes on his harmonica but it sounded spooky so he shoved it inside his sleeping bag. When he shone his torch around the tent it cast a shadow of Beano that made it look like there was a real bear outside, and he wasn’t sure he was as brave as the Carl in his story, so he shone it on his hand instead, and it was all red. He wondered whether the red was his actual blood. He thought about the blood pumping round his body like they’d learnt about in science and he wondered whether, if he took the torch away from his hand, the blood might forget which way it had to go. And if it did, would the rest of his blood think the rules had changed and head as fast as it could for his welly boots? His feet would be massive, like Ronald MacDonald’s, and the rest of him would become a skeleton. Once, when he was little, he’d seen one on a Scooby Doo programme and dreamt it was Dad. He’d had to creep into Mum and Dad’s room and cuddle up to Mum, and wouldn’t sleep in his own bed for over a week. Mum said he wasn’t to watch anything scary ever again.

His arm was starting to ache, and he thought he should probably ask his dad about the blood before moving it, but he wasn’t sure how he’d open the tent without using his hands–

‘Who’s there?’ Carl shone his light outside. ‘Who’s there?’ he asked again, in a voice that was meant to sound like his dad. He thought he heard an owl hoot and remembered what Miss Bartlet said in class: that an owl had predicted the death of Julius Caesar. And he wondered whether it might mean his own death or would it be his mum or his dad. And he wondered whether it was best if it was Mum, as Dad would be brave, or whether it should be Dad because Mum still sat him on her lap sometimes, and let him dip chocolate biscuits into her coffee when it was way past his bedtime.

‘Who’s there?’ he said a third time, as he heard another rustle. ‘Don’t be scared,’ he whispered to Beano, and pulled up the sleeping bag over them both. Then the flap moved, and Carl was just opening his mouth to scream when a voice said, ‘I’ve brought you a Horlicks – how about you come inside and drink it?’ And Carl said, ‘But Mum!’

‘You don’t have to if you’re happy here,’ she said.
And Carl said, ‘No, it’s okay, I’ll come.’

***

Carl laid out the poles side by side in height order, making sure to peg the corners first. Next he slid each pole through the sleeve that coordinated with its colour, and clipped in the pins, one by one.

‘Jen, it’s going to take two of us to stand it up.’ He watched her drop the apples he’d brought for later. One of the other girls picked them up and began to juggle – not nearly as well as Jen. He’d met her at orchestra practice the year before. Had first noticed her when she licked her clarinet reed to wet it, even though their music teacher went on about the acid in saliva – how it degraded the cane.

Jen unzipped the doorway and crawled into the tent. ‘It’s just like being inside a hot air balloon,’ she shouted, even though he could easily hear her.

‘Come on, Jen, I need your help with the poles,’ Carl said, watching her outline on the red fabric. It magnified her shadowy figure as she explored the inside space.

There were twenty-two of them at the campsite, celebrating the end of their GCSEs. The day had passed in water bombs, jumper-goalposted football, and mini-pedicures. Before it got dark someone lit a fire and they sat in a circle, as close to the flames as they dared. One of the girls had a guitar, and another pulled out three bags of pink and white marshmallows.
Carl pointed upwards: ‘That’s Venus,’ he whispered to Jen.
‘It just looks like a star,’ she replied, cracking open a can of lager and pouring in blackcurrant squash.
‘A bright one though,’ said Carl, ‘Only the moon is brighter.’ He took a sip of the drink she’d passed him. ‘It’s named after the Roman goddess of beauty.’ He looked at Jen: ‘And love.’ They sat in quietness for a moment, watching the night sky.
‘Here you go, lovebirds,’ said Steven, a boy from Carl’s geography class, offering toasted marshmallows on burning hot forks.
Jen took a bite. Steam escaped from her mouth as she wafted her hand in front of it. She spat the bubbling mess into her hand: blew on it. Put it back in her mouth, and grinned. Wiped her hand on her jeans.
‘You’re disgusting,’ Carl said, but took her hand anyway. Pretended it was the gluiness that made him hold it so tight. The guitar girl started playing, and though he mouthed the words to all the old songs he remembered from cub scouts, really he was thinking about later. Because what if they made a baby? Would her parents still let him go up to her room? And how would he afford all those nappies and milk and those do-up vests? What if it grew in her tubes instead of where it was supposed to? Women could die from that – he’d learnt about it at school.

‘Did you bring them?’ Jen asked, pushing their sleeping bags together.
‘I bought three,’ he replied, ‘extra safe.’ And she shone the torch so he could see to unwrap one.
‘Not on me,’ he said. ‘Don’t shine it on me.’ And she laughed and said, ‘Are you joking?’
‘Course I am,’ he said, but he repositioned himself slightly so his cock was out of the light.
‘Aren’t you going to tell me a bedtime story first?’ she asked.
‘No chance,’ he replied, trying not to remember the stupid one he’d written when he was just a little kid.
‘Are you sure about this?’ he asked.
She giggled and undressed first. He carefully laid a towel on top of the sleeping bags: he’d heard there might be blood.

‘Here he comes,’ said Darren. They’d been paired together in physics: ‘Carl. Carl! Did you let her play your flute?’
Carl turned on the tap and began filling an empty Coke bottle with water.
‘Did the pair of you make music together?’ said Steve. ‘Hope you got your fingers properly over the holes.’
‘Bet you didn’t even pop her cherry,’ said Philip, lighting two cigarettes at the same time and passing one to Darren.

Carl turned around: ‘Course I fucked her.’ He felt himself flinch at the harshness of the ‘U’ sound. Felt his top lip snarl, just on the right side, the way his mum’s had done that one time he’d heard her utter the word.

Everyone ate breakfast together. White bread sandwiches: bacon fried in fat with crispy edged egg, and coffee with powdered milk that needed at least three sugars to take away the taste. When Jen came over, Carl looked at Philip, then at Darren, and for a few seconds it felt like his bowels had curled themselves round his other organs and squeezed. But they were too busy telling the vegetarian goths that the eggs in their sandwiches were really chicken abortions. There was some kind of argument about whether the abortions were actually just chicken periods, and a lot of eggy bread ended up on the grass.

Jen went back to the tent to braid her hair, while Carl helped clear up the breakfast. He was just squeezing ketchup on a spare half-sandwich, when he heard someone screaming: Jen. He dropped the bread and ran towards the crowd. Saw Darren first, waving something over the top of his head. It couldn’t be Jen’s bra.
‘Give it back,’ Jen screamed.
‘Darren, don’t’ be a dick,’ shouted a girl Carl hardly knew.
‘Look what Jennifer’s been up to,’ Darren sang out to his eager audience.
As Carl got closer he saw it was the towel he’d laid underneath them – streaked in browny blood. He ripped it from Darren, pushed him in the chest, daring him without speaking. But Darren just laughed. Said, ‘We thought you were bullshitting, mate; nice one.’ Rubbed red sauce from his top.
‘Jen!’ Carl turned to her. ‘It wasn’t like . . . I didn’t . . . please, Jen.’
She called him the C word and left without him: the only time in twenty years they’d almost broken up.

***

‘Good evening, Mr Bridesman,’ the taller of the two men says to him.
‘Carl,’ he replies, wondering how they could ever have been trained to call the occasion ‘good’. Their somber outfits don’t seem quite serious enough, somehow: fancy dress hats and shiny waistcoats. He spies a pinch of fluff on the sleeve of one of their jackets and mentally reaches out to dust it off. Wants to yell at them, ‘If you’re going to do all this then why not do it right?’
The small one’s talking, handing him leaflets on practical matters. Handing him a business card. Handing him a smile that’s bordering on too much.

He finds himself showing them into the lounge. Sees their eyes take in holiday trinkets: the Balinese gods, the wooden mask from Mexico. The grey stone whistle from their honeymoon in Rome.
‘If you’d just like to wait in the other room,’ the taller one says, glancing in the direction of the sofa where Jen is lying, then nodding towards the door.

But Carl doesn’t leave. He can’t. He hasn’t told them, yet, that he’s already washed her hands and face – used that special stuff she buys that doesn’t just wash but moisturises too. That he didn’t just use the squirty stuff from the bathroom, even though it smells like peaches and cream. He hasn’t told them how he carefully poured a quarter of a capful of Listerine into her mouth, using a flannel to keep it from dribbling down her chin and pooling into the dips of her clavicles. That he’s unhooked her favourite earrings – tiny gold hoops that at first he’d thought would have to be broken to be removed, but realized they fit inside themselves so it’s almost impossible to see the join. He wants them to notice her pyjamas – new ones. He’s put a crisp hanky in the breast pocket, even though she usually just shoves toilet roll up her sleeve.
‘Carl?’ the short one says.

Carl looks at her hair, scraped into a neat ponytail. He needs to tell them it was him that did it; used a hairbrush and grips. Because when she sleeps with it down she wakes in the night full of strangling dreams, and he has to calm her: put on the night light and find her blue scrunchie. Get her a glass of water and her painkillers. Tuck an arm around her skinny waist and let her put her freezing feet between his thighs.

‘Carl, if you’d just like to–’ the man speaks again, placing a hand on his arm.
Carl opens his mouth and closes it again. He hasn’t told them that he’s changed her knickers, despite the fact they were covered in shit.
‘Carl,’ the taller one says, softly.

He wonders how they’ll know that her left hip is the bad one so there’s a special way you have to move her. And that someone from the salon came and French-manicured her fingernails a week ago, so they’d better watch their designer suits. He wonders if he should tell them that although he’s stuffed her knickers with a wodge of toilet roll he can’t be sure she’s completely done.

They usher him into the hall: don’t accept tea. He hears odd words: ‘so young’, ‘a pity’, the one he’s come to think of as the ‘C’ word: cannot bear to form it in his mind. He finds himself in the kitchen. Puts on the kettle on anyway. He gets out two cups and puts one back again: the one that says I’m Writing. Jen bought it as a joke, after his mum told her the story of the little boy, Carl, who saw off a bear with only his shadow and a torch. He gets out a tea bag. Puts it in the cup. Heads back along the hall to the lounge.

They work quietly. He can hardly hear anything now: muffled voices, movements, a zip. The door opens. They start asking him about access.

‘Can we back the ambulance up your drive?’ the tall one says, closing the door behind him.
‘Ambulance?’ Carl says.
‘Our . . . our vehicle,’ the short one replies. ‘We’re out front at the moment. But when we bring her out, it might be best for a little privacy.’
‘Oh,’ he says, and ‘yes.’ And he finds himself explaining, perfectly ordinarily, that the back gate isn’t locked but it might be a little bit stiff. How you have to lift it, not just pull it. And to put the brick against it once it’s open, to stop it swinging shut.
‘We won’t be five minutes,’ the man says. ‘You stay inside and keep warm.’

Jen always leaves the lounge door open. It looks funny closed, not like their lounge. Their lounge door is always open. Jen likes it that way. He opens it a crack. Just so it feels like their lounge. And once it’s open, it feels alright to go in.

He’s never seen a body bag before. It looks just like a holdall; the kind of gym bag used by men whose shoulder muscles blend into their necks. He wonders what would happen if he unzipped it just a fraction. It’s like the first time he vacuumed their brand-new loop-weave carpet and just stood and watched the edge unravel when the hoover snatched up a thread. He thought she would look different somehow; tranquil maybe. But she’s no more ready than before. If he just touches her face, maybe he can hold on to it for a lifetime. Wonders how he’ll ever let it go. The bag seems even bigger on the inside, maybe even big enough for two.

‘Don’t be scared,’ he says. He pulls the zip around them both. There’s hardly any room but he makes himself comfortable. Slips his arm around her waist, and finds her hand in the dark. He rubs it, squeezes it. Tries to give warmth or receive it from her. He lifts her hand to his face. Breathes in her favourite soap. Kisses her fingers. Squeezes again. Finds her ear with his lips: ‘Sweet dreams,’ he whispers. He peers up through tiny gaps in the overstretched canvas, while seeds of light shine above them like emerging constellations on a cold clear night.

Rhoda Greaves

About Rhoda Greaves

Rhoda Greaves is a PhD Creative Writing student, dog blogger, and Mum. She won second place in the flash fiction competition Flash500 (2011), was longlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize (2012), and shortlisted for the Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Prize (2013). Her work is up coming for publication at The View From Here.

Rhoda Greaves is a PhD Creative Writing student, dog blogger, and Mum. She won second place in the flash fiction competition Flash500 (2011), was longlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize (2012), and shortlisted for the Fish Publishing Flash Fiction Prize (2013). Her work is up coming for publication at The View From Here.

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