Just a storm in a teacup?
The last guest was packing up as Wilf cleared the teacups away. He’d wash them as he wanted to keep them. He’d always liked the plain white crockery with just a subtle blue ring. While he wouldn’t need the full set of 25, he’d keep a few for his own use.
The hotel was quieter than it’d ever been. All he could hear was the gentle rustle of bags being packed and the rat-tat-tat of rain on the window.
Most people in Britain didn’t hear the rain anymore. They heard it for the first week, as it rushed down streets and splashed on their garden paths. They heard it after the second month on news reports proclaiming it to be the wettest winter on record. They still heard it in the summer, strumming off the top of BBQs that wouldn’t be opened again.
The rain had come like it always did – but this time it hadn’t left. It’d been over three years now since the storm started. Three years of constant rain, grey skies and wet feet. It made the news at first in a jokey, ‘and finally’ item.
But it slowly moved up the agenda. Floods came and crops failed. And so did tourism.
Not in the cities that had museums and indoor shopping centres, but in seaside towns mainly. The gift shops went first. Jack Robson’s place on the front had been going for three generations – all it took was 1,000 days of rain to shut it down for good. Then the cafes, amusement arcades and fun fairs. They all cleared out. The less people came, the more attractions closed, the less there was to see through the constant drizzle.
Wilf had held on longest. He’d tried everything from promoting his hotel to business folk to selling it as the last chance saloon. ‘Visit Britain’s last coastal hotel’, he’d declared on his social media site.
“Wet out again,” said May.
“What if we said it was haunted?” he asked his wife.
She rested her head on his shoulder and held his hand. She’d heard all his ideas. Despite the hotel’s beautiful architecture, shining reviews and excellent home-cooked food, they both knew the reason people came to the coast was because of what was outside, not inside.
“They’re almost done,” said May, nodding to the final guests upstairs. “Let’s give them a good send off.”
Wilf nodded. He was proud of the service he and his wife had provided over the decades. But scared of what was to come next for them. At 55, he wasn’t employable, and he’d not be able to retire on his savings. He could sell the place but he’d be making a loss, even on the price he paid for it 30 years ago.
“We’re off now,” said the guest.
“Did you enjoy your stay?” he asked.
The man nodded as May popped back in with a paper bag full of freshly baked cookies.
“I made these for your journey as you enjoyed them so much,” she said as she handed the bag to the guest.
His wife was already putting their bags into their top of the range 4×4. The roads weren’t too bad this week – the flood waters had died down a bit. Enough to give Wilf hope that maybe, just maybe, the rain was easing off, but not enough to clear the back roads.
“We’d like to come back next year if…” the man said.
“We’re closing. Tomorrow,” Wilf replied.
“Oh. That’s a shame. You’re the only hotel left in…”
“On the coast. I think,” replied Wilf.
“He’s been keeping an eye and ear on stuff. But we’re pretty sure we’re the last coastal hotel,” May said.
“That can’t be true,” the guest replied.
His wife clambered back up the steps to the open door, not bothering to shake the rain off her high quality mac. It dripped on the rain grate Wilf installed last year to stop the hallway from flooding.
Wilf just smiled at them.
“Honey, they say this is the last hotel open on the coast,” the man said.
“No, there’s Gordon’s in Bournemouth,” she said.
“Closed May 21. He held out well. They say there’s days in Bournemouth when it’s just mist and you can almost feel the sun again. But the numbers just aren’t there,” Wilf said.
The couple looked at each shocked, the man holding steaming biscuits, the women hidden in her head-to-toe mac.
“Car’s packed,” she said to break the silence. She started off towards the car. The hotel wasn’t her problem. No doubt, the rain caused issues that were personal to her.
“Thanks for the biscuits. And, well, good luck with whatever you do next.”
Wilf nodded. If he spoke he feared he’d cry. He couldn’t remember the last time he cried.
“Many thanks,” May said.
She shut the door behind them and went to the fire-place, putting more coal on. They’d be warm tonight.
“Tea?” she said as she headed into the kitchen, picking up the tea-cups Wilf hadn’t yet cleaned up.
Wilf stared out the window, looking in between the greys to find a lighter spot. When he found one, he’d investigate it for any signs of blue. He knew it was too late now. Even if the sun shone tomorrow they didn’t have the funds to open the hotel again.
It was over. But still, he thought, it’d be nice if the sun did shine for a bit.
He picked up one of the many estate agent leaflets that seemed to be gathering in the hotel. A young, happy man smiled at him from it. The sun was shining on him in the leaflet.
“Sun always shines in these bloody adverts,” Wilf muttered to himself as his wife handed him a fresh cup of tea in a freshly washed white cup with subtle blue trim.