Rain clung to the window, golden with light from the streetlamp. Looking up from her book, Joy was struck by how some drops were honeyed to the top, while others held the light in their bellies. Beyond the window, dusk was a deepening grey. The sun had not appeared that day. People complained in the dining room at lunch, and again at dinner. Yet the sun had been there all along, Joy thought. When the clouds thinned, it shone opaque, like frosted glass, softening the view of the buildings and reddening the pink camellias lining the paths.
Birds sent out low liquid notes as they settled in the tree outside. Joy listened to the blurry sound of a television further along the hall, and her neighbour on the phone in the room next door. Soon, the nurse would come with sleeping pills and help her change.
A van drove past sending a shiver through the raindrops. Joy blinked – she saw the yellow bubble-shaped caravan being towed across paddocks tufted with curious sheep. The caravan reached the bank above the beach, and started rolling toward the water. No, Joy gripped her book, and the image faded. Her hands ached with arthritis. There was another ache too, no, not quite an ache – more of a beat. The beat of waves on the beach when she’d lain awake on the narrow squab.
Joy had longed for those camping holidays as a child. She’d run over the paddocks to watch for the first glimpse of Bethany’s car towing the caravan along the gravel road. Salt collected in their bobbed hair, which turned stiff as wigs as days passed. Salt crystals in eyelashes flashing when the sun went down and they sat at the little wooden table softening balls of plasticine by the light of a kerosene lantern. When Bethany modelled a car, Joy built a garage. When Bethany made a bird, Joy built a birdhouse. When Bethany made a horse, Joy built a tall fence for its paddock.
“It’s not a sheep,” Bethany frowned. “This horse’ll jump any fence and gallop around the world.” Stung, Joy squashed the fence back into a ball. Bethany made galloping sounds on the tabletop with her fingertips. “You make a horse, too,” she said. “We’ll go together.”
War came, ending camping holidays. Joy left school at 12, worked on a haberdashery counter, married at 17. Children, bills, the mortgage never paid off. She’d got used to the wall clock for company at night, listening to its steady tock just as she’d once absorbed the beat of the waves. She began having dreams of yellow caravans moving across paddocks to settle along the beachfront. She wondered about Bethany. Had she galloped around the world?
As she sat on the sofa, gazing at the wet window, Joy smelt the sea in Bethany’s hair when they’d sat close plotting foreign journeys. She heard Bethany tapping out galloping sounds that melted into the rattle of the medications trolley coming down the hall. Joy’s eyes were closing, perhaps she didn’t need sleeping pills?
The caravans rolled further down the sand. Joy was sinking, but for a moment, she thought they’d slipped onto the water and floated away.