Home > The Bookshop on the Corner(2)

The Bookshop on the Corner(2)
Jenny Colgan

“You’re not in the best of moods this morning, are you, Griffin?”

“Could you two hurry it along a bit over there?” said Cathy Neeson, bustling in, sounding anxious. They only had the budget for the collection trucks for one afternoon; if they didn’t manage to load everything up in time, she’d be in serious trouble.

“Yes, Commandant Über-Führer,” said Griffin under his breath as she bustled out again, her blond bob still rigid. “God, that woman is so evil it’s unbelievable.”

But Nina wasn’t listening. She was looking instead in despair at the thousands of volumes around her, so hopeful with their beautiful covers and optimistic blurbs. To condemn any of them to waste disposal seemed heartbreaking: these were books! To Nina it was like closing down an animal shelter. And there was no way they were going to get it all done today, no matter what Cathy Neeson thought.

Which was how, six hours later, when Nina’s Mini Metro pulled up in front of the front door of her tiny shared house, it was completely and utterly stuffed with volumes.

“Oh no,” said Surinder, coming to the door and folding her arms over her rather impressive bosom. She had a grim expression on her face. Nina had met her mother, who was a police superintendent. Surinder had inherited the expression. She used it on Nina quite a lot. “You’re not bringing them in here. Absolutely not.”

“It’s just . . . I mean, they’re in perfect condition.”

“It’s not that,” said Surinder. “And don’t give me that look, like I’m turning away orphans.”

“Well, in a way . . . ,” said Nina, trying not to look too pleading.

“The joists of the house won’t take it, Nina! I’ve told you before.”

Nina and Surinder had shared the tiny row house very happily for four years, ever since Nina had arrived in Edgbaston by way of Chester. They hadn’t known each other beforehand, and had thus been in the happy position of being able to become roommate friends, rather than friends who moved in together and then fell out.

Nina lived in some worry about Surinder finding a serious boyfriend and moving out or moving him in, but despite a large number of suitors, it hadn’t happened yet, which was useful. Surinder would point out that there was no reason to think she was the only person this might happen to. But Nina’s crippling shyness and solitary habit of reading all the time meant they both felt reasonably sure that Surinder was going to get lucky first. Nina had always been the quiet one, on the sidelines, observing things through the medium of the novels she loved to read.

Plus, she thought, after another awkward evening chatting to the clumsy friends of Surinder’s latest paramour, she just hadn’t met anyone who compared to the heroes of the books she loved. A Mr. Darcy, or a Heathcliff, or even, in the right mood, a Christian Gray . . . the nervous, clammy-handed boys to whom she could never think of anything funny or witty to say really couldn’t compare. They didn’t stride over Yorkshire moors looking swarthy and furious. They didn’t refuse to dance with you at the Pump Room while secretly harboring a deep lifelong passion for you. They just got drunk at the Christmas party, as Griffin had, and tried to stick their tongue down your throat while bleating on for hours about how their relationship with their girlfriend wasn’t actually that serious really. Anyway. Surinder was looking furious, and worst of all, she was right. When it came to books, there simply wasn’t the space. There were books everywhere. Books on the landing, books on the stairs, books filling Nina’s room completely, books carefully filed in the sitting room, books in the loo, just in case. Nina always liked to feel that Little Women was close by in a crisis.

“But I can’t leave them out in the cold,” she pleaded.

“Nina, it’s a load of DEAD WOOD! Some of which smells!”

“But . . .”

Surinder’s expression didn’t change as she looked severely at Nina. “Nina, I’m calling it. This is getting totally out of hand. You’re packing up the library all week. It will just get worse and worse.”

She stepped forward and grabbed a huge romance Nina adored from the top of the pile.

“Look at this! You already have it.”

“Yes, I know, but this is the hardback first edition. Look! It’s beautiful! Never been read!”

“And it won’t be read either, because your reading pile is taller than I am!”

The two girls were standing out on the street now, Surinder so cross she’d piled out of the front door.

“No!” said Surinder, raising her voice. “No. This time I am absolutely putting my foot down.”

Nina felt herself starting to shake. She realized they were on the verge of having a falling-out, and she couldn’t bear confrontation or any form of argument at all. Surinder knew this as well.

“Please,” she said.

Surinder threw up her hands. “God, it’s like kicking a puppy. You’re not dealing with this job change, are you? You’re not dealing with it at all. You just roll over and play dead.”

“Also,” Nina whispered, staring at the pavement as the door swung shut behind them, “I forgot my keys this morning. I think we’re locked out.”

Surinder had stared at her furiously, then, thank God, after making the police commissioner face, had finally burst out laughing. They had gone down to the corner of their street, to a nice little gastro pub, which was normally overrun but tonight wasn’t too jammed, and found a cozy corner.

Surinder had bought a bottle of wine, which Nina looked at warily. This was normally a bad sign, the start of the “what’s wrong with Nina” conversation that generally began after the second glass.

After all, it was okay, wasn’t it? To love books and love your job and live life like that? Nice, cozy. Routine. Or it had been.

“No,” said Surinder, putting down her second glass with a sigh.

Nina composed her face into a long-suffering listening look. Surinder worked in a jewelry-importing office, running the books and the diamond traders. She was great at it. They were all terrified of her. Both her admin and her absenteeism skills were legendary.

“It’s not enough, is it, Neens?”

Nina concentrated on her glass, wishing the attention was anywhere else.

“What did the human resources officer say?”

“He said . . . he said there weren’t a lot of jobs left in libraries, not after the cuts. They’re going to staff them with volunteers.”

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