Men Who Live in Caravans — Ray Newman

It is Saturday morning when Wayne hears a knock on the caravan door.

He is awake but still in his slippers. He coughs, spits into a tangled tissue, and opens up.

It is Jim. Waxed jacket and wellies. He scratches his short blonde hair and rubs the wet end of his nose with two fat fingers.

‘Alright, mate. Need you out the field for summer,’ says Jim. There’s no apology implied, that’s just how it is.

‘Oh ah? Right on,’ says Wayne.

He lifts a skinny roll-up with a shaky hand and puts it behind his ear, losing it in his thick grey hair.

Jim’s never judged. As long as he gets his rent, and Wayne keeps his head down, he doesn’t care about anything that’s happened in the past. Jim talks to him like one man to another.

‘You can stay until March, like, as long as you move behind the barn,’ says Jim. ‘I’ll lend you the Peugeot.’

‘Right on, Jim, no problem. I’ll come down and get the car directly, then.’

‘I’ll only charge you a tenner a week for that pitch.’

‘Sound, cheers.’

When Jim has gone, Wayne looks at the open field and kisses his teeth. He likes the campsite. Air and light. Somewhere he can pretend he wants to be.

It takes half an hour to drag the caravan from the concrete hard standing, across the boggy grass and into its new place, beneath the bare black branches of a twisted apple tree.

That night, as he lies on his back watching the portable TV, smoking one roll-up after another, Wayne feels the weight of the darkness outside. The moon can’t reach him. He can’t hear the road and misses it. It’s as if he’s been launched into space in a capsule.

On Sunday afternoon, Graham comes – Wayne’s brother. Brings some baccy. Packet of biscuits. Roast dinner on a chipped plate covered with cling film.

‘Keeping well?’ Graham says, shaking his keys in the pocket of his jeans, already thinking about leaving.

‘Not too bad, mate, not too bad. Yourself?’

‘Yeah, not too bad. Remembering to eat, are you?’

‘Had a kebab last night. Jim’s missus brought something round for tea the night before.’

Wayne doesn’t like the way Graham looks at him. Pity, worry, superiority. All because Graham has never been divorced and always has an ironed shirt and a hot dinner.

‘Freedom, man,’ says Wayne, answering an unasked question. ‘Gonna hit the road this summer.’

‘Where to?’

‘Wherever the wind takes me,’ says Wayne, thinking to himself: wherever will have me.

They stand in silence as the apple tree thumps on the roof and the caravan creaks in the gale.

‘Best be off, then,’ says Graham. ‘Look after yourself, mate.’

‘You too, take care, bye then, love to Kathy, right on, then, see you later, bye.’

Waving Graham off he slams the door shut.

He waits for a moment, swaying on his feet.

Then he tears the clingfilm from the plate and eats the meal with his fingers, cramming slices of pork into his mouth. When the plate is empty, he licks it clean of gravy. Panting, queasy, he drops the plate into the sink. It cracks in half.

Monday. He wakes in darkness. It is raining and the gale has got worse. Storm Johan they’re calling this one. It makes the walls of the caravan vibrate and the window seals whine.

He sits on the edge of the bed, coughing, and rolls a cigarette. He smokes it, stares into dark blue.

They’ve offered him a shift at the warehouse which means he needs to shave and wash. Here, at the back of the barn, he can’t connect to the campsite taps, but there’s enough in the big plastic water tank under the sink for a cup of coffee and an all-over wipe with a flannel. The water is stale and cold.

The bus goes from the stop on the main road at seven thirty and is sometimes early. He can’t afford to miss it. He’s there, ready, from seven twenty. Today, it comes late.

He sits on the top deck staring through clear tracks in the condensation. Between the village and town he counts five caravans and four old campervans, in fields or laybys. Plenty of pitches. No problem.

That night, he gets off the bus two stops early and walks along the road in the dark. Cutting off onto the Old Taunton Road he passes a farm. Lights on in the house, horses in the field, the stink of cows.

Ignoring a ‘Beware of the dog’ sign he walks up the path and knocks on the door.

A woman opens it. She has dark hair, roughly tied back, and is wearing a tatty woolly jumper, black jeans and Crocs.

‘Don’t need labourers this time of year,’ she says, already trying to shut it in his face.

‘No, what it is, is I’m looking for a pitch for my caravan for the summer. I’m up at Jim Turner’s place but he needs me out by spring, like.’

She holds the door open, a crack.

‘How big’s the van?’

‘Single axel.’

‘Just you, is it?’


He knows what she wants to know: will he be bringing friends?

‘I’m not a traveller or nothing. Just like living in the country. Fresh air. No ties.’

She chews her lip, thinks for a second.

‘I’ll have to check with my husband and get back to you. Should be something in one of the paddocks, up by the motorway,’ she says. ‘Twenty pound a week alright?’

‘Should be OK.’

‘Got a phone number?’

He gives her the number for his old Nokia, and his name, and she enters it directly into her phone as he recites.

‘Alright, Wayne, I’ll get back to you tomorrow, probably.’

On Tuesday, with no shift to work, Wayne sleeps in. When he wakes, though the clock says it’s 11:30, it is still dark in the caravan. He wonders if the world has ended. The idea doesn’t scare him. It would save him a lot of trouble.

He smokes in bed, thinking of nothing in particular, except to wonder about the strange darkness, but without the urge to get up and investigate. He drinks a can of cider. He reads twenty pages of a thriller he got from the bookcase in the porch of the church.

At 12:30, daylight still hasn’t come, and his head has cleared, so Wayne goes to the door and tries to open it. It resists, barred.

He peers through the six-inch crack and understands: Storm Johan has broken or bent the apple tree so that it covers the caravan like a huge, crabbed hand.

He reaches through the gap and fastens his own hand around a branch, yanking until it snaps and falls. Now when he pushes, the door opens, just, scratching and catching on bark and lichen as it goes.

The cries of rooks sound out across the Levels and a cold wind blows his hair about his face. He takes a deep breath, like a released convict outside the gatehouse of a prison. The rotten stench of the stagnant rhyne that runs behind the field catches in his throat. Fertiliser run-off, rotting vegetation.

Leaving the door open, he collapses back onto the bed.

He checks his phone: no call from the farmer up the road yet.

He gets dressed – vest, T-shirt, fleece – and drinks another can of cider.

Then another can of cider.

Then another can of cider.

Jim calls on Wednesday, announcing his approach with swearing and the clatter of wood on wood.

‘What’s on, Wayne? You should have told me about the tree. I’d have got one of the lads to come and cut it back.’

‘Oh, I don’t mind it.’

The tree has fallen lower again, though, and has reached across to meet the barn, forming a canopy overhead. Standing on the step in slippers, sagging trousers and an old work jacket, Wayne also notices that the caravan has begun to sink into the black, liquid mud.

‘Came to say, someone was asking about you yesterday. Jude from up at Bullen Farm. I told her I didn’t know much about you, didn’t go into no detail, like. Said you’d never been no trouble here.’

‘Right on, Jim, ta,’ says Wayne, but feels a shiver in his chest.

‘She’s probably asking around all over, though.’

Wayne acknowledges this with a wordless sound and scratches his stubble.

‘It was all a long time back, mate,’ says Jim. ‘Be alright.’

After a night shift at the warehouse, on Thursday morning, Wayne calls at Bullen Farm again. This time, two black Labradors are in the yard and circle him, barking.

He can see two men in the big barn and can see that they’ve seen him. He waves.

One of the men, the larger, crosses the yard with his hands in the pockets of his overalls. He’s fat and red faced, about forty.

‘Can I help you?’

‘I talked to Jude about a pitch for my van the other day but she never called me back.’

The farmer looks Wayne up and down.

‘No chance, sorry. We don’t need the hassle.’

‘How do you mean, “hassle”?’ says Wayne and hears the edge in it he’s worked so hard to dull.

‘I don’t want any trouble, mate,’ says the farmer, stepping back and holding up his hands.

‘No, see, I done my time for that, and I don’t drink no more anyway,’ says Wayne, knowing there’s a four-pack of cider in his rucksack.

‘No hard feelings,’ says the farmer. ‘Just, like I say, there’s no pitch going this summer.’

The dogs have come closer, taking up protective positions either side of the farmer.

The other man in the barn calls out: ‘Everything alright?’

Wayne works his right hand, open and closed, open and closed, and then, turning suddenly, walks away. The dogs follow him out of the yard and into the road.

When he gets to the caravan, he can’t open the door at all. The weight of the apple tree is now completely upon it, and the frame has buckled. He punches the wall, cutting his hand. Sucking blood from the knuckle, he walks round to the end and opens the large window. He pushes his rucksack through, and, grunting, climbs in after it.

Something in his back seems to crack.

For a few minutes he can’t move. He lies on the bed, boots protruding from the window, wincing and groaning into the dirty bedclothes.

The pain eases, then passes, mostly.

On Friday, he wakes before dawn, sitting up straight, shivering.

Rain is thumping on the roof and trickling through a new crack in the fibreglass, making a slap slap slap on the sodden carpet.

‘Shit, man, time to hit the fucking road,’ Wayne says into the darkness.

His thumbs move effortlessly over his yellow fingertips, forming a cigarette. He licks the edge of the paper, seals it, puts it behind his ear.

The caravan creaks.

He moves to get out of bed and freezes.

The pain in his back isn’t in his back, now. It is in his chest and neck. Rigid, in agony, he falls to the floor.

As his eyes close, he feels himself sink through the wet carpet, through the broken shell of the caravan, into the black mud. He is sucked in, sucked down, until his mouth and eyes fill with dirt.

Above him, the tree closes its palm to crush the caravan. It pulls hard with its roots, taking Wayne, taking the waste metal, the mouldy carpet, under the earth.

Saturday. Graham approaches the caravan with a cling film-covered plate. He knocks on the door. No answer. He knocks again.

Ray Newman is a writer and editor, whose non-fiction appears under the pseudonym Ray Bailey. His crime novel The Grave Digger’s Boy was published in 2019, and a self-published collection of ghost stories, Municipal Gothic, came out in 2022. He lives in Bristol. Twitter: @MrRayNewman