An off-white circle rising to a point above me, like a private heaven. The wooden pole stands tall and firm in the centre, holding up the sky.
I’m half awake, seeing the pink light of dawn on the canvas. The film of dew coalesces and runs down each crease – little mini-rivulets.
It’s damp, cold. The duvet is almost sodden where it touched the tent wall overnight. I clear my throat and sniff, feeling the heaviness in my chest.
Long, lazy lying, feeling my bladder grumbling with gradually increasing intensity.
I stumble up, pull on yesterday’s clothes and a pair of wellies, and unzip the door. Stooping out onto the wet grass, I smell the damp, yet still warm ash of yesterday’s fire. I poke it with a stick, throw on some kindling from beneath the tarp, and fan it briskly with a plastic plate. First, a reluctant reed of smoke rises, then orange flame. Hopefully that will catch while I wander off to pee in the hedge.
I’m awake – or am I? My ears are buzzing, vibrating. It’s like some ghost has grabbed my head and delivers a flow of uncanny energy to my skull.
The desert is dark and statuesque through the windscreen and cold-misted panes.
Suddenly, I’m somersaulting into the air, through the gold roof. I’m spinning. The ears buzz, buzz. Then, whoosh, like retracting tape measure, I’m sucked back in, still shaking, back in my sleeping bag on the down-folded rear seats.
God, I must be tired.
I clunk open the door, swivel into my trousers, and pull on shoes. The road is silent. My pee hisses onto the sparse vegetation of the verge, arced stream briefly refracting the light of stars.
What is it – maybe 2am? Breakfast time. Granola – same as dinner. I shake out a big handful and let it filter out between forefinger and thumb into my upturned mouth. Brushing the crumbs off on my thigh, I settle into the driving seat, and turn the ignition. Engine softly wakes, and headlights illuminate the upcoming stretch of highway.
We are anchored in the moonlit bay. Path of the moon reflected on calm water. Lights of the not-distant marina oranging the sky above low hills.
Nearby, masthead lights of our neighbours sway gently. I clamber up into the cockpit, easing through the hatch, treading carefully in the unfamiliar insolidity of footing. Holding on to what’s-that-called, the wire that supports the mast, with one hand, peeing over the side, arc of fluid capturing moonlight like a nocturnal rainbow. Having a wee tinkle to myself, adding minutely to the sea’s foam.
The salt smell of the water. The smokey taste of whisky from down below, lowered voices while winding down conversation with Andrew, Susan asleep on his shoulder on the foam-cushioned bench. The dated wooden interior boasts cubbyholes labelled “Cocktails” and “Snacks”. Andrew proudly produces ice out of a thermos flask.
An increasing feeling of elation, discovery, possibility – these western coves and islands, all accessible by sea, by floating hideaway, rocking to sleep in new and beauteous places each night. Dinghies with outboard motors or elegant oars. Smoking mackerel on gravel beaches, crouched in the wind-shelter of outcropping shoreline rocks. Scrambling into nettle-guarded caves doubtless frequented by ancestors over millennia.
The yacht, basic, ageing, but honestly herioc, becomes my new dream. Before I’m 50, can I be worthy and capable of this?
It glugs and almost somersaults out of my hands like a slinkee. I grasp the obscene pink plastic tightly.
At the filling stage, first emptying the air, and holding the neck at right angles to avoid spurting, scalding, volcanic projection of searing liquid. I feel the steam sting my eyes with rubbery hotness.
It’s there in the centre of the bed, radiating like a hot, hidden heart, bringing discomfort and sweat and sleeplessness. She needs it, wants it, but I sweat and fret, throwing up barriers of down to shut out its influence. Sweat sheens my back and drips wetly onto the damp sheets.
Waking up with taste of staleness – “badger breath” – and excessive thirst. The heat has boiled away all hydration overnight. I lie uncomfortably worn out, postponing, before swivelling out and staggering in search of a pint glass of water, and a pee.