In the time that Alfred’s been resident in Gwyther House, he’s observed the consequences of many depredations: the Great War, Spanish Flu, the Wall Street Crash, the Second World War, rationing, the global financial crisis, austerity and climate change. Covid-19 causes him little alarm. Alfred is self-centred, entirely self-sufficient and dead.
It’s winter and Gwyther House, an isolated cavernous granite Gothic pile, situated on an escarpment overlooking the North Sea, is battered by evermore extreme storms. The house is cold: peat no longer burns in fireplaces; a perpetual fog is buffeted by gusts of wind rattling through casement windows and doors both night and day. Alfred is impervious to Gwyther’s physical hardships and unaware that his home is up for sale. He assumes it’s his forever, given the Gwyther family all died out
The grand entrance hall, bedecked with shields, moth-eaten flags, rusting armour plate and swords, is also home to Declan, a massive stuffed Irish wolfhound. Each day, Alfred carefully brushes Declan so that his coat is dust free. In a drawing room, a family of nine Staffordshire ceramic dogs are arranged in a tableau. The young pups stare at their parents, their eyes bulging with adoration, whilst the sire remains haughtily disdainful and the dam wistfully humble. One of Alfred’s pleasures is dusting the dogs, who hum with pleasure at his care.
With the storm at its height, a gale force wind distracts Alfred from the dogs. Concluding that the front door must have blown open, he hurries to the entrance hall to discover a man trying to force the door shut while a woman attempts to tidy her dishevelled hair in an old spotted mirror.
With the front door finally shut, the woman complains, This bloody thing’s got mirror rot.
We’re not buying the mirror, Madge. We’ll have to gut the place if we’re going to create a five star country hotel, Stuart says.
Have you seen this hideous stuffed dog? Madge asks. Gives me the creeps.
I’ll chuck it outside when the wind drops, Stuart replies.
Like hell you will, Alfred shouts.
Amazing place, isn’t it? Stuart says.
If it wasn’t going for a song, I wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole, Madge moans.
A song, is it? Alfred mutters as he hurries back to the Staffordshire dogs.
In the drawing room Alfred explains the situation and asks the dogs to help.
Moments later, Madge and Stuart enter the drawing room. The dogs, arranged in front of the terrace doors, discordantly sing, How much is that doggy in the window, The one with the waggily tail. Woof! Woof!
Madge screams and grabs Stuart’s arm. Turning to flee from the singing dogs, she finds the door barred by a growling Declan.
Unseen, Alfred flings open the terrace doors.
Out that way! Madge shouts, dragging Stuart with her.
Outside, Alfred laughs as he watches their car speed away. Bastards! They won’t be back. The dogs sing, Oh I do hope that doggy’s for sale. Woof! Woof!
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.