Home > The Bookshop on the Corner(5)

The Bookshop on the Corner(5)
Jenny Colgan

“Does that sound crazy?” said Nina.

“Yes,” said Griffin.

“Mmmm,” said Nina. “What are you going to do? Are you going to apply to comic shops and illustrators and stuff?”

Griffin looked embarrassed for a moment. “Oh,” he said. “God, no, not really. No. I’ll probably just apply for one of the new jobs. You know? For safety? As a knowledge facilitator.”

Nina nodded sadly. “Yes, me too.”

“I’ll never get it against you,” said Griffin.

“Don’t be daft, of course you will,” said Nina, glancing down at the paper again, feeling an awkward flush pass through her. She focused on the ad. “This van is miles away, probably.”

Griffin leaned over her to look at the ad, then shook with laughter.

“Nina, you can’t have that van!”

“Why not? That’s the one I want!”

She modified what she was saying.

“That’s the one I would have wanted.”

The van was white, boxy, old-fashioned, with big headlights. It had a door toward the back of one of the sides, with a little set of metal steps that folded out. It looked retro and rather lovely, and best of all, there was plenty of space for shelving inside, a leftover from the bread van it had once been. It was gorgeous.

“Well, good luck,” said Griffin, pointing at the small print. “Look! It’s in Scotland.”

Chapter Three

Cathy Neeson had everyone in individually to look at “core skills development.” It wasn’t an interview. Of course it wasn’t. What it was, truly, was cold-blooded torture, but of course nobody could say that. Nina was quivering with nerves by the time she got into the room.

Cathy looked up as if she didn’t recognize her (which she didn’t, as she had a child with whooping cough whom she’d settled at 3 A.M.), which didn’t fill Nina with confidence. She glanced quickly at her notes.

“Ah, Nina,” she said. “Nice to see you.”

She looked again at her paperwork and frowned slightly.

“So, you’ve enjoyed working at the library, yes?”

Nina nodded. “Yes, very much.”

“But you must be excited by our new direction, no?”

“I found the team-building course really helpful,” Nina said. To be honest, she had thought of little else since. Of how the van might look, parked, inviting and sparkling, and what she might put inside, and how big a collection she would need to have a good chance of stocking the kinds of things people might like, and where she could source other secondhand books when the library had been totally cleared, and . . .

She realized she’d drifted off and that Cathy Neeson was staring at her intently.

(Cathy Neeson hated this part of her job so much she wanted to stab it. The idea was to gently dissuade unsuitable candidates from applying and save the interview process some time. But the truth was, Cathy wasn’t sure the noisy Apprentice-style kids who seemed to get all the jobs these days were what they really needed. A nice manner and a level head would surely get you much farther. But that didn’t cut much ice with the big cheeses, who liked flashy mission statements and loud, confident remarks.)

“So are you still thinking of applying?”

“Why?” said Nina, a look of panic crossing her face. “Shouldn’t I?”

Cathy Neeson sighed. “Just think about how your core skill set would fit in,” she said blandly. “And . . . good luck.”

What the hell does that mean? thought Nina, stumbling up to go.

Nina was still obsessing over the small ads for vans when she ought to have been preparing for the interview, but couldn’t find anything even vaguely as nice as this one elsewhere. It just felt right, with its funny little nose and its curved roof. There was nothing for it. She was going to have to go to Scotland.

Griffin came up behind her, squinting.

“You cannot be serious,” he said.

“I just want to have a look,” she protested. “It’s just a thought.”

“Time’s running a bit short for thoughts,” said Griffin. “Uh, could I ask you something?”

“What?” said Nina, instantly wary.

“Could you look over this application for me?” He looked shamefaced.

“Griffin, you know I’m going for the same job!”

“Uh-huh. But you’re so much better at this stuff than me.”

“Well, why wouldn’t I totally just tell you all the wrong things to write and make you put in a really terrible application?”

“Because you’re too nice to do that.”

“Maybe I’ve just been lulling you into a false sense of security.”

“For four years?”

“Maybe!”

“Nah,” said Griffin, with a complacent look that made Nina want to spill her coffee on him. “You’re too sweet. Too sweet not to help me, and too sweet to drive a truck.”

“You reckon?” said Nina.

“Yup.”

He pushed over the forms. “Could you just take a look at it? Let me know? Come on, they’re interviewing us both anyway. Might as well help out your illiterate chum.”

Nina looked at him. She knew her session with Cathy had not gone well. It was almost like she was sabotaging herself by helping Griffin. On the other hand, he needed help . . .

With a sigh, she took the application and plunged deep into impenetrable paragraphs about multimedia, moving forward, and crowd-sourcing content. The more she read, the more depressed she felt. Was this what the world wanted now? Because if it was, she didn’t know if she had it. She tried to help Griffin with some of his more incomprehensible sentence structures, but she couldn’t help comparing all this stuff about paradigms and envelope-pushing and sustainability targets with her own application, which had short, neatly typed paragraphs about libraries being the center of their communities and how reading helped children fulfill their potential. This had, she could see, much grander ambitions.

She sighed and looked at the ad again.

The van was long, not unlike an ice-cream truck, with an old-fashioned frontage. The pictures of the interior revealed it to be completely empty, with enough space—she’d actually drawn a model of it on some paper—for plenty of high shelving down each side, plus a little corner seating area where she could have a sofa, and maybe the children’s books . . . a couple of bean bags . . . She found herself staring dreamily out of the open window into the noisy Birmingham evening.

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