Home > The Bookshop on the Corner(11)

The Bookshop on the Corner(11)
Jenny Colgan

She swallowed, then turned back again and inspected the controls. It looked like a normal car, except everything was much farther away. She fumbled under the seat for the release, and moved a little closer to the huge steering wheel. The gearshift too was massive and unwieldy. There wasn’t a rearview mirror, and the side mirrors just scared her sick.

She sat there for a moment in silence. Then she glanced toward the pub, where the men were standing staring at her, and felt a new wellspring of iron in her heart. Leaning forward, adjusting the mirrors and making sure at least five times that she was in neutral, she put the key in the ignition and turned it.

The noise it made was a huge growl, an awful lot louder than the Mini Metro. An awful lot louder than anything. Nina saw a flock of birds rise up over the houses and spiral into the air. Holding her breath and saying a silent prayer, she moved into first, put her foot very carefully on the accelerator and pushed down the heavy hand brake.

The van jumped forward and immediately stalled and stuttered to a halt. Nina thought she saw the men laughing outside the pub and narrowed her eyes. She turned the key back and tried again. This time it moved smoothly into gear and she took off into the square, bouncing on the cobbles.

Not knowing exactly where she was going, she turned left down the first wide street she came to, and within moments found herself rumbling up the hill toward the moors. The van was a lot nippier than it had first appeared. Nina changed down into second and held on for the ride. She’d never driven so high up before. She could see right out to sea over the crest of the hill; there were great tankers arriving—from the Netherlands and Scandinavia and China, she imagined, bringing in toys and furniture and paper, and taking oil and whiskey back the other way.

A huge red truck drove past her and honked loudly. Nina jumped in her seat before realizing it was just a friendly greeting between trucks. As she rounded an unusually sharp bend, a tiny zippy sports car nipped in front of her and raced off, which also gave her a fright. Shaken, she parked up in the first turnoff she came to and gripped the steering wheel tightly. She noticed that her hands were shaking.

She wound down the window and gulped in several breaths of bracing fresh air until she felt a little better. Then she jumped out of the cab, scrambled down to the grounds and took a proper look around.

The problem was, Nina thought, kicking the tires, she didn’t really know enough about vans to know if this one was any good. She wasn’t even sure you were meant to kick the tires, although there was a certain satisfaction to it, especially when the tires were as big as these. They didn’t seem bald, though. And she managed to open the hood, even though she didn’t know what she was looking for. Nothing was rusty, and there was oil in it; even she could check oil.

Inside, the back needed a bit of a cleanup, mostly straw removed, but that was fine. It was easy to see how the shelving would go in, and how the little seating area could work at the back; and the side door opened perfectly, with the set of steps unfolding smoothly.

In fact, as Nina went on with her inspection, she started to get excited again. Suddenly she could see it all in her mind’s eye. Parking up somewhere like this beautiful turnoff. Well, maybe not a turnoff. Somewhere in town, where people could get to her. Painting the insides colorfully, filling the shelves with the very best of everything she knew. Helping to match people to the book that would change their life, or make them fall in love, or get over a love affair gone wrong.

And for the children, she could show them where to dive into a crocodile-infested river, or fly through the stars, or open the door of a wardrobe . . .

She sat gazing at her fantasy, imagining it bustling and filled with life and people coming up to her saying, “Nina, thank goodness you’re here; I need a book that will save my life!”

She slammed the door shut excitedly.

Yes! She could do it! She thought back to how she’d felt that morning. She would show that old guy in the pub! She would buy this blooming van and make a success of it, and everything would be absolutely fine. She was so excited that she only stalled four times on the way back to the village, got lost once, and spooked a horse, which made the posh-sounding woman riding it curse her in an extremely non-posh fashion that rang in her ears all the way back down to Kirrinfief and, she was pretty sure, would traumatize the horse far more than the van would have done.

“I’ve changed my mind,” said Wullie when she parked carefully outside the pub. “It’s not for sale.”

Nina stared at him, aghast. “But I managed to reverse it and everything!”

This wasn’t strictly true, but she’d looked at where the reverse lever would go and reckoned she could handle it, as long as nobody was yelling horse abuse at her.

“I don’t want to sell it.”

“That’s just sexist!”

“It’s my van, and I don’t care.”

Wullie turned and looked about to stomp off out of the pub.

“Please,” said Nina. “I have plans for it, and there aren’t any others I can find for sale that are just what I need, and I’ve come all this way and I’m really going to look after it.”

Wullie turned around and Nina’s heart leaped briefly.

“Naw,” he said. And he let the door bang behind him on the way out.

Chapter Six

Nina sneaked a glance at Cathy Neeson, who was sitting on the end of the interview panel with her arms folded and her face giving absolutely nothing away. Would it really hurt her to smile? thought Nina. She was doing her best, in the new black tights she’d splurged on, trying to make her hands look calm and relaxed rather than squirming them on her lap. Just a little glimmer of recognition? Although she hadn’t studied that hard for the interview, nobody knew the ins and outs of the books better than she, the ordering and filing systems and everything that went into making the library work properly.

(She couldn’t know that Cathy Neeson had forty-six interviews to sit in on this week, for only two jobs, both of which she was under orders to give to lively young people who could shout a lot, looked nice in the pamphlets and would work for next to nothing, and although she’d argued about it at the top level till she was blue in the face, she could do absolutely nothing about it. Top management was completely safe. New, young, cheap hires who would do anything were coming in. It was the middle ranks, the professional, clever book people, who were simply no longer required.)

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