Dewdrops outside mirror the condensation on their tumblers. It’s no use insisting on etiquette when the doom of failing refrigerators impends. And anyway, day drinking becomes quite magical when you start by sunrise and ignore the butler snorting cocaine from the matriarch’s urn. He yields the delicately engraved artefact to the clutches of his successor (the matriarch’s, too), whose nose is already encrusted, but lovely still. Her daughter would be next in line (etcetera, etcetera), hadn’t she decided to stick to G&T for now (until the bitter end of electricity).
The matriarch’s son is content with his unpatriotic choice of Calvados at room temperature, which will suit him just fine until the bitter end, period. He set up camp behind the master bedroom’s windows and waits for stray survivors to snipe, while secretly listening to Rita Ora’s latest (last) album. He bummed his sister’s slims and his niece’s phone, both of which barely ease his ever-gnawing disappointment in the world. He coughs, misses the shaggy squirrel, down by the fountain, and utters a flaccid curse he’d never used in front of mother.
Down in the garden, in between sizzling husks of limousines (last night’s entertainment), the squirrel scuttles away into the manor’s shadow. Grooms its whiskers, sniffs the air for more wheezy fly things. Hop-hop-hops, tail a wave, all around the north wing to its secret escape crevice. Nobody is left to spot, let alone repair. Right next to it died Gary, the final guard, giggling, handing out truffles to rodents and happily hacking away at the ironically reinforced fence. Strings of fabric are caught on the edges.The scene in the parlour remains unchanged: butler and heiress snorting, daughter drinking, staring into nothing (vaguely wondering where her phone went, perhaps). Downhearted, muffled wails drift from the next-door kitchen stove inside, which huddles the third sibling, imprisoned after coughing once or twice. He pauses. Holds his breath. A dirt-caked hand delicately brushes the stove’s copper. Lingers for a moment, feels the smooth, chill surface, before it withdraws and vanishes again. One beat, two. His wailing resumes.
There are dust bunnies in the corners and first signs of disrepair on the edges, but the staircase remains committed to regularity and the irrevocable order of things, protesting as peasant feet clumsily stain its Persian carpets. The corridor above has no such reservations and doesn’t care one bit.
Ora’s falsetto fills the air. Lost in it: Bedford. Eyes closed, cigarette stuck to his lower lip, rifle all but forgotten on the pillow next to his head. Fluffy belly peeking through the gaps between his shirt’s buttons. “Don’t mind me, enter if you like”, he says. “I didn’t want to intrude”, says the intruder. She’s in rags, more so after losing her sleeve’s hem to the fence. A small sacrifice.
“How did you get in here?”
She mock-looks around, shrugs.
“You seem to have lost your belief in locked doors.” “Are you sick?”
“Do I look sick?”
He props himself up, crosses his legs.
Her hair chopped closely to the scalp (that’s what passes for hygiene out there), her bones stretching translucent skin. Her nails bloody, her knuckles, too. A shotgun at her side, just as used and impaired. Her smile, though. Bedford offers his glass.
“So. How are things out there?” “Marvellous. I haven’t seen that many stars in my life. Haven’t spent that many nights next to romantic fires since I was a teen.”
“I always enjoyed camping.”
“Shame you miss out on all the fun.”
They pause. He beckons her towards a cushiony embroidered chair, which she ignores. Instead, she plants herself directly onto the bed, prompting some awkward drawn-out shuffling until he appears comfortable again. Her odour is devastating.
“Quite the room you have here.”
“Quite the house we have here, huh?”
“Yeah. I feel very sorry for you. You must’ve been filthy rich.”
“I don’t miss it that much. It’s a relief to not have to amount to anything.”
“Isn’t that what being born rich is supposed to buy you?”
Bedford sighs, looks her over in order to find a subject to transition to. Lingers on the aged sores on her neck.
“So you are sick”, he whispers.
She smiles gently. “Used to be.”
There’s a lot of commotion on Bedford’s face now, ripples of sorrow dashed with amusement and fear. If he comes up with a witty reply, it is stuck in his throat.
“The world is transcending, Bedford”, she says, and he’s not the least bit surprised to hear her say his name. “You’d see it if you weren’t locked inside this tomb. We all lost our possessions, our identities. Our people. But we don’t grieve, because now we have no battles left to fight. There’s beauty in that. I’m here to get you.”
“Not get get you. Leave this place. Be free of it.”
While the butler lies aesthetically passed out on the chaise lounge, Bedford’s sister enquires the possibility of infiltration through the chimney by trying to climb it herself. Irregular puffs of ash would call everybody’s attention towards her endeavour if there was someone left to pay any. The daughter retired to the kitchen to keep her unfortunate uncle company, who in turn finally stops his annoying bawl and settles for a soft sniffle. She doesn’t leave his side even as he sneezes.
Bedford halts in front of the broken fence. Birds are chirping. The squirrel makes its way across the field, with what looks like a bunch of truffles peeking out of its snout. The intruder’s palm against Bedford’s back, part reassurance, part command. He squats, sways a bit from all that Calvados, and ungracefully inches through the opening, careful to not ruin the last perfectly good suit he’ll ever wear.