a psychological novel by
Alex K Delph
Set in Dublin 2021
About two dogs, and the people around them
With the spotlight riveted on being an outsider
In this jaw-dropper Alex K Delph explores the physical solitude of Londoner, George Wilson, and the stark psychological aloneness of Sandymount-born Clara Browne, amidst the sinister presence of Ben McDuff whose darkness threatens them all
Doberman, Joshua Daniel
German Shepherd, Sofia Guaico
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or be transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owners, 'dogs in dublin' eMagazine and author Alex K Delph.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Please note: Alex K Delph
writes fiction for adults.
'dogs in dublin' eMagazine
publishes 'Perception' on a
designated adult fiction page.
Crisp Thursday morning, 0720 hours. Clara picks up her six inch Smart phone and hits the ‘Met Eireann’ icon in her favourites.
‘Early frost will clear... dry, cold day with some sunshine.’
‘Good for Edwin and me’ she thinks. She only looks at the forecast for ‘today’ and ‘tonight’ for Dublin, assiduously avoiding the outlook for the rest of the first week of March. The child in her likes to be surprised. When suddenly, the tapping sound of the workmen starting up again across the road, causes her to brush her clothes more brusquely before carefully placing them to warm before dressing.
Edwin is in the garden indulging in an early morning mooch after a hearty breakfast of expensive dry food. Of course he would have liked more but Clara keeps a close check on his weight. His dense, thick undercoat tries it’s best to confuse but she has the measure of him now. As he avidly scents out the fox, the squirrel, the neighbour’s cat and whoever else was hanging around the hedgerows of the long, mature garden last night, her clothes are warming on the oil-filled heater that is switched on full, tapping from time to time, in her otherwise quiet room.
Edwin spends most of his time in the house in her room. However, aware of how important socialisation is for a young dog, with people and with other dogs, Clara negotiated a place for him in whatever room they dine in each evening. Paul reluctantly agreed but only on condition that the dog is restrained. A strong steel hook with four screws was secured into the six inch high skirting board of the dining room, study and snug. In each room Paul selected a location as far away from his seat at the dining table as possible. Clara would have liked Edwin at her feet as she ate but was grateful for the concession. She trained him not to expect food from the table. Thankfully, in her room no shackles apply.
She dreads relinquishing the warmth of her fluffy animal-print dressing gown these days. On the five days that she doesn’t shower, a baby-wipe suffices to clean each armpit. She misses the regular type that preceded the biodegradable version. Now it’s a challenge to clean thoroughly with something that degenerates into a ball almost on touch. A generous spray of deodorant is applied. The tapping from the street gathers momentum. A shiver runs through her. It has reached the point that any tapping sound now unsettles Clara. She feels the urge to retreat from its hypnotic force, seeing it as a prelude to something dark and foreboding.
Yesterday, she and Paul were in Sandymount visiting her nonagenarian, yet admirably independent, mother. Until a month ago, a long established post-visit heaviness would stay with Clara for two or three days, after spending about two hours in the red brick mid-terrace house on Sandymount avenue where she grew up. She shakes herself. ‘Thanks to Paul, a man with the courage of his convictions, I can now walk away with only the sadness of an unhappy childhood’. Her heart fills with gratitude for the man who stands up for her. ‘Without that, everyone is a lost soul’ she utters.
‘Paul feels a truly benevolent uncle to me for the best part of two decades now’ Clara acknowledges aloud to the empty room. She didn’t fully realise it at the time but now she knows that she saw him as a safe pair of hands after the turbulence of her life beforehand. In effect, she was fifty before she could say that she truly knew who she was. Four decades of decreasing levels of being lost in the world certainly have taken their toll.
‘You felt condemned, behaved condemned without knowing it and ultimately were condemned for that. The cycle of condemnation’ explained the psychotherapist with sensitivity to the somewhat bewildered Clara.
Clara started working in Watson and Watson Accountants as PA to old Watson when she was thirty-two. On her first day she could hardly squeeze past the workmen digging up Harcourt street to climb the wide granite steps to the large, heavy four-panelled door. The pounding of her heart threatened to overpower her as she waited for the door to be answered. A cantankerous man with a heart deeply buried somewhere sums up old Watson. Paul, a senior accountant with the firm, made a policy of throwing a humorous comment her way whenever he could find a plausible excuse to pass by the heavy oak desk, just outside Watson’s office. One thing slowly led to another and before long they were dating surreptitiously. Paul didn’t want anyone in the firm to know until he was ready to tell them.
Three years later Clara Ferguson moved into Paul’s house in Ranelagh as Clara Browne. Little changed for Paul. At first she thought that it was just a case of taking time to settle into his established way of life. Gradually, the house became a safe place for her to be but never her house. Despite that, for the first time in her life she was in an environment where she felt accepted, where she could develop into her true self. It was several years before she could admit it to herself that she felt lonely in the marriage. Even then, she believed that she was to blame. ‘Paul provides me with a positive place to live, a comfortable lifestyle’ she admonished herself. Just the way she used to pummel herself in Sandymount decades before.
Clara gently removes the red frilly panty from the heater and luxuriates in the warmth as it slides up her legs. Rosewater body powder is shaken and the laden powder puff quickly applied to inner thighs, crotch and bottom before pulling up the lacy brief. Another shake of the body powder to deliver more of the light, delicately fragranced dust which she applies under each breast. She gently picks up the light, black satin, with wafer-thin lace panel, lingerie bodysuit from the heater, feeling the familiar delicate touch of the warm fabric as she pulls it over her head, carefully shutting the two fasteners at the crotch. A quick glance in the mirror.
‘The right underwear works wonders for the appearance of an aging body’ she smiles with satisfaction. ‘No one sees it except Edwin at bedtime but it makes me feel so good’ she concludes.
‘Alan took me to the physio on Monday. Such a dear boy’ she recalls her mother’s trite ‘welcoming’ words of yesterday as she tapped her fingers against the mahogany table in her sitting room. As accustomed as Clara is to hearing the countless affirmations of her brother, it still chokes the flame in her, that has always been there, to want to connect in a real way with her mother. As Clara pulls on her cropped grey-knit jumper a waxy wave of sadness passes over her too. For a moment, she is back in Sandymount avenue, aged eight. Her little legs pacing around the back-garden crying out quietly ‘nobody likes me and nobody loves me’. The slow, steady rhythm of the mantra was a regular event in her childhood. It continued until her father would eventually come out and put his arm around her. ‘Everyone loves you Clara’ he used to say. Instantly, she melted into his arms. The child wanted desperately to believe it. Deep down, in a place that she didn’t understand then, the little girl did not feel loved though. In a few days, the mantra would resurface again.
As she removes her two-tone winter tights from the heater Clara remembers just what a ‘dear boy’ Alan always was. Although two years her junior, how the destructive Alan was cherished in the Ferguson household. Clara recalls being endlessly reminded of the time she bit his toe when he was a baby. Now, she pinpoints this event as the turning-point for her. ‘Something just had to be done about the feisty personality of the two and a bit year-old Clara’. Her ‘knowledgeable’ father believed that he had the right to actively curb, on a daily basis, the zesty traits in the toddler that were unacceptable to both he and his wife. ‘It’s for her own good’ he was reassured by her mother whose young daughter reminded her far too much of her own somewhat flamboyant father.
‘You would have only needed one person to step in to stop it’ the words of the psychotherapist still haunt her.
She returns her gaze to the white tube of heal balm in her hand now. She squeezes the plastic tube and rubs a generous amount into both feet before inserting them into the grey socks of her trendy black tights. With the arrival of Edwin, her footcare has become a priority!
Freya, her sister was born the month before Clara started school. From Clara’s perspective, the explosive intrusion, caused by the untimely entry of a baby into the red-brick mid-terrace, seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back in the young child. She shivers now as she pulls up the ribbed black tights with grey over-the-knee sock-effect.
On her first day in school she stood in the middle of the school yard alone. The tapping sound of the skipping ropes against the ground all around utterly overwhelmed her. She felt paralysed. Her father, who was the Principal of St Matthew’s national school, sent two children from his class out to play with her. ‘It’s normal for children who have had their personal development interfered with from a very early stage to exhibit social reticence’ the psychotherapist proclaimed two years ago. This came as a great relief to Clara who had long ago attributed her social inadequacy to a fault-line in herself. It’s only in recent times when, under the umbrella of a psychotherapist’s practice, she had to feel that feeling again.
It all happened during the late menopause shut down in her. Clara was horrified by the apparent disappearance overnight of her usual defences on which she had come to depend heavily. In the new year the intensive heaviness started to build up in her gradually over a number of weeks, at first almost without her knowing it. Hitherto, Clara thought she knew herself well. Now, she was bewildered by the enormity of what she was feeling. The only thing she knew was to let it happen, whatever it was.
‘When it happens, resist nothing’ the dogmatic words of the professional resonated persistently within the fragile woman kidnapped by the natural process of menopause.
How she struggled through those days and weeks with Edwin. Regardless of the inexplicable wretchedness that was engulfing her, she had to walk him daily. It was on a Saturday morning walk, the 30th of January 2021. She and Edwin were by the weir, lost in the thunder of the heavy falling river, when without warning Clara began to sob. Now, tight-chested, the heaviness within became so oppressive that it was as much as she could do to remain standing. Then, transfixed in the spray rising from the crash of water on rock, she was back in the school yard, watching the other children playing around her, hearing the deafening tapping of the skipping ropes.
Brutally it came to Clara that she was feeling now, the excruciating sensation that she felt at four. Paralysed again, struggling to stay erect beside Edwin, absently rubbing his ear, seeking some comfort there. The warmth and strength of his body against her legs seemed to empower her. The dog raised his long neck. Looking into the depths of his brown eyes she acknowledged aloud
‘something awful happened to me in my early life’.
Instantly, the oppressiveness that had been inflating for weeks within, burst like a balloon. Edwin took charge. The fog remained heavy on the ground by the river bank. As they returned home on auto-pilot, the traumatised, unburdened Clara wondered how a child of four could have handled that feeling?
Now, Edwin startles her into the present by thrusting his square-cut muzzle against the window pane. She lets him in.
Forty minutes later, Clara is applying red lipstick. Edwin is lying on the wooden floor beside her sensing the imminence of a long morning walk. ‘Almost ready delicate’ she calls out humourously, taking in the sheer strength of his jaws, touching the black nose gently with her index finger.
‘Well, what do you think of the aging funky me today Ed?’ Edwin glows.
‘I wish others could see me as you do Edwin’ she added stoically.
In the mirror, black eye-liner highlights rich grey eyes. She runs a hairbrush through thick, well cut, short ice-blonde hair, sporting V-shaped locks, with an exaggerated generous sprinkle of tresses left on top to give a messy effect. She used to change her hairstyle regularly but since Fred, in Peter Marks, hit on this one ten years ago, she has remained constant.
‘The hair must work with the aging face’ she explains to Edwin whose nose is now lost in the fleecy fabric of her black mini-skirt. A spray of ‘Si’ perfume before pulling on a navy blue, short, down-filled jacket with mini zips on each side at the back, cleverly designed for comfort in the saddle, a legacy of her horse riding days.
Horses. Seems like another life now. Clara’s passion for horses far out-weighed her equestrian skill. She would get into a stable with any horse. Her parents were resolute against her taking lessons as a young child considering horse riding a high-risk activity although her grandfather, on her mother’s side, was a keen horseman and hunter. Understandably, this prevented Clara from ever achieving even reasonable success on horseback in later life. It didn’t stop her trying though.
It was on a hack in Brennanstown yard that she first bumped into Ben McDuff.
‘You’re Clara Browne’ he quipped from his tall, black stallion. ‘Paul used to handle my accounts in Watson & Watson before he retired. I saw you with him at a Christmas bash hosted by Watsons many moons ago’ he added.
‘Ben McDuff, McDuff Architects, Donnybrook, how do you do?’
There was something about the glint in the man’s eyes as he gazed down from the beast that excited her eight years ago. She remembers the exchange as though it happened yesterday. The tapping of his horses’ hooves against the hard ground dominating her recollection as then he was off galloping around the open field, in full charge of his powerful mount. Clara marvelled at his control. The little green monster which seldom comes on stage in her looked on.
‘What I would give to be able to ride like that’ she thought.
Chiding herself for being ‘small’, she looked down at the white body of Kelvin, the safest horse in the yard, and the only horse she could ride.
‘Fear is such a debilitating thing’ she cried ‘the horse instantly senses it in me so no matter how much I want to beat it and I do, it’s really a non-starter’ she sighs.
Secretly flattered, Clara reflects on the fact that this handsome, confident, competent man had noticed her, not to mention remember her name, at a Christmas party in Watsons probably a decade previously, as Paul retired at sixty-five. Amidst the clatter of the other horses against their feeding buckets now replenished, just being in the company of the architect, for the briefest of time today, filled her to bursting point with a dizzy, warm glow that she hadn’t felt for a very long time.