Tales From a French Campsite – short stories
It had been an inauspicious start, a few banal comments in French. Rose could only manage a couple of phrases.
‘The swimming pool is open?’
The man nodded. He opened the white wooden gate to let her in and then she was alone looking on to the smooth surface of the water. It was even warm and as she slipped into the pool she felt a self righteous glow. Swimming up and down she imagined all the people scurrying around the campsite under umbrellas and see through plastic macs. The rain pattered gently on the water making bubbles rise and swirl. As each one burst another appeared; a good sign she thought.
For a while she swam smoothly up and down, up and down, from one end of the pool to the other. A brief spell of solitude before the owner of the site, a short, fat, bald man came bustling in self importantly carrying a screwdriver. Her friend from earlier accompanied him carrying a wooden pole with a net, his Elvis Presley quiff standing up proudly in the rain. It was clear nothing would move his hair or his piquant pencil moustache.
The owner leant over the pump with his large screwdriver and tinkered with the machinery. Meanwhile Elvis poked his long pole into the water in a desultory manner, a weak gesture at cleaning the pool of yesterday’s debris: leaves, pieces of paper, congealed tissue. Yesterday’s debris was in the sky. Dense grey clouds rolled over. But there was no electric storm of the night before: no slap and crack of thunder.
The fat controller departed, clearly disgruntled, carrying his screwdriver. Elvis now finished cleaning the pool and left, closing the white gate behind him. Rose was completely alone again. She breathed a sigh of relief. She always felt she ought to make conversation even though she knew it was not expected. And after all what could she say?
Once again she had the pool to herself. If it had been hot the water would have been full of adults and children vying for space. But today the pool was a blank canvas stretching ahead of her, as she swam she left a trail of ripples marking her route. Rose turned over and lay on her back, raindrops prickled her eyelids and made her blink. It was a perfect time to swim. After all she couldn’t get any wetter.
Her mind floated back to the night before. She’d been woken by a crack of lightening, splitting yellow across the sky, and seconds later a bolt of thunder, so loud it was as if it were inside the tent with her. Then the rain began pelting down. She was sure they would flood. Perhaps they would slide down the riverbank and bob gently away. She had put her arms around Oscar as another crash shuddered through her. He had muttered and stirred in his sleep but had not woken up. No comfort there she thought.
Now the rain spattered her face; she slipped onto her stomach and swam to the pool’s edge. Her towel was hidden under a chair and she wrapped it around herself, there was no point in trying to get dry, the steady drizzle was relentless. A bowl of Heinz tomato soup would be perfect now; just as she used to have on the beach in Cornwall after a chilling Easter swim. She was suddenly back sitting in the womb of the family car eating chocolate cupcakes whilst the rain drummed on the roof. She wanted to cry. She missed her mum and dad so. It seemed ridiculous that she was now grown up and was supposed to know best.
We scurry around too much Rose thought as she watched people rush hither and thither across the campsite trying to avoid the rain. She opened the white picket gate and began to walk back to the tent. Her skin tingled and glowed from the cold. She would have a hot shower and then she would stretch on her bed and lie fallow; listen to the rain drumming on the canvas, dream of tomato soup.
That evening the whole family headed for the camp café for homemade pizza, they were particularly good ones cooked in wood burning ovens. The café was full and the glass was steamed up from the heat. Elvis was there again serving with dexterity but he had time to flash her a smile. She raised her hand in a wave. His natural instinct was to wave back and as he did so the plates in his hand slid from his grasp. They crashed to the floor. White china and olives, pieces of cheese and dough flew everywhere.
That was my fault Rose thought and she hid her face in her menu.
‘Are you alright?’ Oscar asked.
‘Fine,’ she said. ‘I’m fine.’ And she got up to help Elvis pick up the pieces.