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
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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.
George Wilson is intrigued by people who are not generally liked. It has been so for as long as he can remember. No one knows just how much ground work he puts into creating the misfit characters who appear in his novels. No one.
The rain is coming down steadily now. His sharp blue eyes follow the droplets slowly descending the old wooden window. He watches each of the four glass panes. Across the lane the weir is deserted. Heavy with overnight rain he can hear the distant thunder of the current as it drops.
Freshly showered after a wet early morning run with Hugo, a steaming mug of coffee snuggles in one large manicured hand while he gently strokes the dog’s head with the other. ‘What do you make of this old chap?’ The dark alert face looks up. ‘I’m under pressure from my publisher to deliver on this one by the end of April. That usually means May with good old Richard. Still, I need to find her soon. Jolly hard to find vulnerability walking around especially in an older woman!’ The dog turns away in the direction of the open fire which George carefully rekindles as soon as he gets out of bed in the winter. After the vigorous exercise Hugo likes nothing better than to stretch his long, sleek, powerful body out on the fluffy red rug and dry-off slowly. At least it used to be red. He watches his master.
George is biting into a fresh croissant that they picked up on their return earlier. Faded jeans cover long muscular legs well used to exercise. The over-sized loose-knit green pullover gives him a deceptively at-ease look as he sips his coffee while wading through new emails. The laptop makes it’s familiar inanimate noises as George curls up on the floral upholstered window seat to concentrate. All Hugo can see now are his heavy woollen socks peeping out from under the solid mahogany table.
The dog lifts his head in response to the sudden silence of the keyboard. George is gazing out the window now. The four of them used to come to Dublin every other year or so in Spring. Of course that was before the accident. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it but the old-world feel of the Shelbourne Hotel helped him to switch off, something he was finding harder and harder to do in London. Pops would give him an almighty thump on the back, declaring in that booming voice of his ‘you can’t ever stop being a policeman son.’ At least for him he never had to.
On the day of the rugby match his then wife Wendy and mother would lazily browse the shops in Grafton Street. To his pain the ladies didn’t always see eye-to-eye but it was another story when it came to shopping. On the crowded train out to Landsdowne road the reserved George would inwardly cringe as beloved Pop’s clipped tones resounded over the general din. ‘We have the upper hand this year son. No question about it. How much are you willing to wager?’ The sealing was always ten pounds. When England played a belter, they would spill noisily into the Shelbourne bar to guzzle a pint of bitter before re-joining the ladies. He gazes down now as the dog gently nuzzles his thigh. ‘Robust memories brought us here Hugo. Now it’s only you and me.’
George and the dog came to Weir Cottage in December 2020. After the long drive from London to Holyhead to take advantage of the tiny window of freedom between lockdowns, the white Volvo V60 Cross Country crunched on the gravel lane unannounced just a fortnight before Christmas. The wide, deep and tall boot of his new car meant comfort for Hugo on the Stena Line ferry to Dun Laoghaire. They travelled just before the new rules for pet travel kicked in. Next time on top of everything else, a trip to the vet ten days beforehand for an animal health cert will be mandatory. It was a spur of the moment decision. The sale of their Victorian end-of-terrace in Colliers Wood as part of the divorce settlement left him in rented realising how little he could get now in the area of London where he had lived all of his life. Besides, George was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the political landscape in England. His mate Stephen, now living in Dun Laoghaire, on whose boat he still occasionally crews, gave him the tip off. Weir cottage by the river appealed to him on the internet. Perhaps it was because their house was only a short walk from the river Wandle in Colliers Wood. The estate agent assured ‘the vendor is looking for a quick sale.’ He was chain free. Six weeks after he offered on the cottage they were in Dublin.
Feisty, military-minded Paul Browne is proud to be her witness. Not what he expected when he married Clara but then again neither did she. He can only admit it to himself but the truth is he is happy with the way things are now. Except for Edwin that is.
Having just fumbled before finally hitting the arrow to switch off the alarm on his old Smartphone, he allows his large burly body to sink deeper into the creaking king-size mattress. ‘Good to have something creaking that isn’t me these days’ he smiles. He is grateful to hear the rain battering against the large old twelve pane window in his bedroom. When it comes to heavy rain a gentleman’s agreement is always in place so no need to cancel. Of course now with the golf club closed even that doesn’t apply. It’s not that he doesn’t enjoy the game, he does. In fact it’s probably what he misses most in lockdown. It’s just that right now he savours the opportunity to linger on in the warmth.
Seven and a half decades ago he made his grand entrance into the world in the shabby Georgian mid-terrace near Ranelagh village. When his father died eleven years after his mother, he bought his sister out. At fifty it was his. As far as he is concerned it is a happy place to be. It has always been so. As a young chartered accountant doing the sums in Watson & Watson in Harcourt Street he felt under pressure to deliver probably for the first time in his life. Old Watson was a bit of a battle-axe. The steadiness in him quickly found comfort in thinking about the warmth that he would be going home to at the end of the day. How that always pulled him through even the most hard-hitting of meetings and they were certainly that. It was different after his mother died suddenly when he was thirty-four. Still, the bond between father and son matured in the vacuum and the house retained its beacon status for him. Now, long-retired, it still does.
He listens to Clara pottering around her room underneath. Soon she will be heading out into the rain with Edwin. Over the years he has stoically come to see himself as the uncle figure she needs. A strong protective instinct in him, that he didn’t even know he had, took over when she was ready to pack her bags. He shuts his eyes tightly. What he has come to understand is still shocking to him. There is some solace in the fact that she willingly accepted the blame. It makes him fervently want to look out for her. No one has ever looked out for Clara.
The impatient rattle of steel against radiator tells him that Edwin is now on-lead at the hall door. Paul listens as Clara climbs the stairs. Her step is heavy these days. The study door opens followed by the sound of the Irish Times hitting his desk. Then the click of the electric kettle. The shutters are thrown open. Finally, the switch of the oil-filled heater. He sinks deeper into the warmth of his bed. She looks out for him too. There is security in her dependence on him. The deafening bark of the dog shatters his bliss. They never kept animals in the house before Clara. In fact he is secretly afraid of Edwin.
At sixty Clara Browne still believes that the right man is out there. When she finally tumbled to accepting the soul-destroying truth about McDuff she tried hard to abandon the belief that has driven her life. But it wouldn’t go away.
The bluster of the early February breeze whips shut the partially closed heavy four-panelled front door before she can stop it. ‘Damn it’ she exclaims, instinctively checking for the feel of keys in her pocket. ‘Paul hates to hear the door slam.’ The self-assured Edwin looks up at her from medium-sized brown eyes. She strokes his long square-cut muzzle with a red leather gloved hand. Struggling to fasten the hood of her warmest dark raincoat on the doorstep, an involuntary shiver escapes. Edwin notices. The driving rain bounces off black wellingtons as she carefully shuts the gate behind them. ‘Better make sure the gate is shut tight after that slam Edwin!’ Her life revolves around the German Shepherd these days. Traumatised beyond words when Paul finally saw through the trappings of McDuff. ‘It will take you some time to absorb what I have to say to you Clara’ he warned in that kind compassionate way of his. That winter when she asked for a dog he agreed.
Thankfully the street is deserted of other dogs this morning. It’s always the same when it rains. Although trained to walk to heel, Edwin made it clear from the start that he likes to maintain a fast pace. She quickly scans the footpaths on either side for potential stress points. Now a young dog, he remains hard to hold-back when he meets a protagonist face-to-face. It’s only some dogs and some people that elicit a strong response from him. She tries to gauge from a distance. Only sometimes she gets it right.
It’s so much harder in the wind to manage Edwin. Even with the nose collar. As they turn onto open river the dog is blatantly pulling her along. Normally this would bother her. Today she’s just too weary to care. The swaying tall bare trees expose the other side of the river bank in winter. She likes to think of it as another world hidden only by leafy deciduous woodland for the rest of the year. The other day she even saw a Doberman jump out of the handsome Volvo station wagon and follow someone into the cottage. The front door is closed now as they pass by on the other side of the river. She registers the fact that the raised-ride-height car is parked to the side today. ‘It’s so good to see smoke spewing out of the chimney again’ she remarks to the close and dense thick double-coated back in front of her. The lamp at the window throws out a warm glow against the greyness of the rain.
The sharp wind is picking up again. Edwin chooses this moment to defaecate. Today her pocket zip refuses to open. In frustration she takes off a glove. Inside one black bag, the other litter bags are neatly opened and ready for use. A quick look tells her that she will probably need three. The rest she returns to the black bag and kneels down on it. Behind her Edwin’s curiosity gets the better of him. He plays with the red leather now hanging out of her pocket. Without the glove the icy bite in the air hurts her short, slim fingers. Carefully she removes all of the evidence. Two bags are enough. She tries to tie the handles with cold fingers and a gloved hand. At the same time, the wind catches the leather glove now on the path and pitches it into the fast moving river. ‘Damn’ she cries as she briefly watches the current carry it away, mentally calculating how far she will have to carry the black bag before she can dump it. She really needs two hands free to stay with Edwin today. ‘Damn, damn, damn!’ She really liked her red gloves. ‘I’m all over the place’ she calls out in exasperation to the wind. Only Edwin is listening.