The naked man walked past without a care in the world. He smiled and waved. Instinctively she smiled and waved back, English courtesy always a fallback when nothing else came to mind.
It was one of those blink-and-miss-it moments; when he disappeared through the trees, she wondered if the man was really naked, or was her imagination feverish enough to strip him?
“A naked man just walked by,” she said.
“Hope you said hello,” he said, hammering down the last of the tent posts. He wanted to keep the banter light. Hell, it was great they were having banter and not broken bites that came out snide and snipping in the other’s ears.
This trip was what they needed. A break from the clogging mouths and prying eyes of friends seemingly intent on breaking them apart. So a couple of nights camping by a lake in the first bursts of summer was the perfect way to bring a bit of sun back into the year. What could go wrong?
“I’m serious. He was really naked. Full blown starkers.”
“Well it is the countryside.”
She sighed. Had she imagined it? Did it matter? The lake was huge – 16 miles hike round – plenty of room for hundreds of campers to share without hearing a neighbour’s stereo.
If he was naked she probably gave him a far greater fright. They’d only just rocked up in the last hour, so he could’ve thought he had the place to himself. His smile was just a show of bravado.
She smiled with him. Poor love, probably running off to make himself a cup of tea and calm down. She turned back to the task of unpacking their stripped-down home from home.
It didn’t take long for the smile to turn again.
SHE TOLD HERSELF NOT TO LOOK DOWN, SO HER EYES LOCKED WITH THEIRS WITH A RICTUS GRIN THAT HURT
“Jesus Fucking Christ, you forgot to pack the Kiplings!”
The first meal out wasn’t going well. After settling down, they soon discovered what was left behind. Their camping routine had been repeated so many times they sleepwalked through the morning routine of loading the van. As such, the secondary ritual of the blame game was starting up.
“I thought you packed it. You were doing the food and booze.”
“I left them on the side, with the…” Had she left them on the side? Or was she visualising the boxes there because she wanted it to be true? Once the red mist rose it was hard to tell sometimes. She took a breath. They were only Fondant Fancies, Cherry Bakewells… Jesus Shit, she wanted them.
He didn’t know what to say, he didn’t know what he’d done wrong. He was pretty sure it was about something else, but he didn’t know what and there was an ever-growing checklist of bloopers to tick through.
“Well it’s done now. Maybe they sell them at the store.”
“Maybe they sell something better.”
“There is nothing better than Kiplings.”
They laughed, although there was discomfort in the tone. Sometimes it had to be forced, if that’s what it took – playing for an invisible audience put you on best behaviour until it got better.
“Hope you’re settling in ok.” They both jumped and turned, ashamed their private contretemps may be public. The brief pang didn’t last long.
The man and woman wore broad, welcoming smiles and that was all. Nude, starkers, bollock-o and proud. Too proud. She told herself not to look down, so her eyes locked with theirs with a rictus grin that hurt.
SOMETHING OF THEIR RUDDY ENGLISH CHEER BROUGHT BACK YOUTHFUL MEMORIES OF A SAUCY POSTCARD ON A REVOLVING SEAFRONT STAND
“Ah yeah, there’s always something we’ve forgotten,” he said. “Murphy’s whatever.” He tapped the side of his head.
She looked at him. He didn’t seem to acknowledge that the friendly, middle-aged, pot-bellied couple were both naked. Was she hallucinating? Were cocks and breasts everywhere a conjuring of repressed desire? What would Freud say?
“Haha, always the way,” the naked man said. “Not enough can openers and too much wine, is what Marge says.”
“I do, I do,” said Marge. “And let’s not even get started on the suncream. Never enough of that to go round.”
I bet there isn’t, she thought. Their skin was lobster-pink from sun and afternoon wine; something of their ruddy English cheer brought back memories of a saucy postcard on a revolving seafront stand. They just needed a bushy moustache and yellow spotted sunhat to complete the picture. She didn’t say anything, forcing an uncomfortable silence on both couples.
Marge broke the still by clapping her hands and chuckling. “Well, if you need anything we’re only next door.” She motioned through the bushes to the right.
“Absolutely, pop over for a drink when you’re ready,” said the man. “We’re a jolly crowd, always happy to meet fellow travellers.”
They both nodded. “Just got some things to sort out,” he said. “Maybe later.”
The couple’s smiles broadened. “That’s a date then,” said Marge. “Cheerio, for now.”
“Cheerio,” he said and waved. They both waited until they were sure the naked couple were out of earshot, then turned to each other.
“Honey,” he said. “I think we may be in a nudist camp.”
She looked at him. “Really? You fucking think?”