Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Downland: part eight

As the hedgerows lining the road began to recede, Ridler could see the light at the entrance to his own landed estate: Deanland Caravan Park. And, passing through the symmetrically arranged white, beige, and beryl boxes, he found his own aluminium castle, his own Firle Tower: a 1951 Fairholme Romeo caravan. Through the net-curtained window, in the lit interior – the mantle of the bottle gas light shining brightly – he could see Gladys; reading glasses on, rollers in, reading Reveille. He could hear the low murmur of the radio set; home service or light programme? He could not tell. Probably the light programme. The Clitheroe Kid would have been on earlier. Gladys was persisting with it, despite refusing to find it funny because it had replaced her beloved Educating Archie at the end of its series. Every time that ventriloquist’s dummy had been left in a taxi or on a train she had worried herself into a frenzy. Ridler blamed himself; they had never had children. On the cover of Reveille was a picture of Elvis Presley, home on leave from the army. He knew that Gladys must be looking again at the spread of pictures of Presley posing in his colonial mansion and at the RCA recording studios. She had been just as interested earlier in the year when there were stills of him having his conscription haircut. The superficiality of the quiff and hips of this rock ‘n’ roller struck him as pretence compared to what he had done. Ridler had indelibly marked himself and, only fifteen years before, he had become the world’s highest paid showman. And it had led to here: a caravan near a village in the shade of the Downs. The trail of exile and exhibition, the path of failure and desperation, the sunlit peak of equilibrium and acclaim – it led to here. He took off his jacket, held out his bare forearms and examined his striated skin with its broad African equid brindling. He pushed down the handle with his tattooed hand, pulled the door out towards him and went in.

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