FICTION: Albert and The Labrador – 1, A Visitor

The dog arrived unexpectedly and uninvited late on a Monday night, or early one Tuesday morning, depending on how you look at it. Albert lived alone, by the sea, three miles away from the nearest village. He had never really been a dog lover. Years ago, there had been a dog. A little spaniel who was more Anna’s than his. In fact, the little dog had positively scorned him whenever Anna was there. However, when she went out to choir practice, or to visit her sister, or to do the shopping, the little dog would suddenly want to be friends. It would jump up on the sofa beside him, curling into a perfect semi circle and resting it’s chin upon his knee. It would stare unflickeringly at him with its hazel eyes before slowly letting its eyes close and starting to snore. Albert had been quite taken with the dog in those moments. But, it had died long before Anna and her heart break had been unbearable both for her to experience and Albert to see. They had decided there would not be another dog and then when Anna had died, it had not really crossed Alberts mind again.

Albert would not have chosen to live alone. He didn’t like silence, he didn’t like open spaces in his day and every moment he missed Anna. To cope with the gaping hole she had left he had devised a schedule packed to capacity. On a morning he would wake at nine, ever since retiring he had luxuriated in no longer having to wake early. He would go out in the garden to do his excercises, the very same ones his mother had taught him as a boy, promising if he did them every day he would grow to be a very old man and apparently, she had been right. He would go back inside to shower, then eat a bowl of porridge, he hated the taste but had promised Anna when his cholesterol had been high, that he would have porridge every morning. Just because he couldn’t see her, didn’t mean he wouldn’t keep his promise. From there he would watch a film, a western or a war film, sometimes he still enjoyed the silly romance films Anna had loved, concerned that if she was in the room she would be bored with the constant stream of men with guns. Then there was the three mile walk to the village and the trip to Mrs Bromley’s cafe for lunch. Mrs Bromley was a kindly widow who had taken Albert under her wing in those dark early days, when getting dressed without Anna had seemed ridiculous and impossible, let alone managing to make himself something to eat. Every day she would make him a sandwich, or soup, or something else. He never ordered, but trusted Mrs Bromley to pick something he would like. On Fridays, Mrs Bromley took a late afternoon break and they went across the road to eat fish and chips, Alfred thinking guiltily of Anna’s concern for his cholesterol. After that he would wander around the village, looking in the second hand bookshop and the DIY store. After his walk home, Alfred would read and listen to music before going to bed. On Sundays he lunched with Fr Stanley and a few other parishners, the numbers varied so there was always interesting conversation.

His week was full. But Alfred still struggled on Monday’s. When Anna had been alive, Monday had been laundry day. The whole house would be filled with the smell of fresh linen and Anna would move from room to room, her hair pinned on top of her head, her cheeks flushed. Every Monday Alfred slept in, trying to avoid the loneliness and the longing for the smell and the sound of Anna singing along to songs from the musicals.

That particular Monday, Alfred had walked along the coast as far as he could go, only turning back for home when the sun began to sink heavily into the horizon. By the time he got home he was starving, exhausted and able to crawl into bed to sleep without having to look at the empty spaces around him. At first, the noise had mixed in with his dreams, the scratching nothing but an irritation. Then the dog had barked and Alfred had had to admit he was awake and the noise was real and it was coming from downstairs. He turned on the lamp beside him, sighing heavily to see Anna’s side of the bed still empty, then he clambered out of bed. He wiggled his toes in the cold and then went down the creaking stairs.

The dog was crying now, whining and scratching at the front door.

“Alright, alright. I’m coming.”

He reached the front door and opened it to find a very handsome, slightly chunky black Labrador puppy sitting on his step. Albert looked out into the street, then back at the puppy whose head was tipped to one side, a bit of the red wood from his front door hanging from its lip.

Albert sighed, his eyes flicked up to the sky, “you’ve got to be kidding me, Anna.”

The puppy’s head tipped to the opppsite side.

“Right, well you’d better come in.”

The dog marched instantly into the house, tailing whirling, sniffing wildly as it trotted along the hallway. Albert turned to watch its progress, scratching his head for a moment before shutting the front door.

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