Home > The Bookshop on the Corner(8)

The Bookshop on the Corner(8)
Jenny Colgan

The landlord looked up with a broad grin when she reentered.

“Ah, there you are,” he said, pushing across a loaded plate. There was a huge sandwich on fresh white bread with a thick crackling crust; in between were slathers of butter and some ripe, crumbly local cheese Nina had never tasted before, smothered in homemade chutney, with a crisp pickled onion on the side. She smiled to see it; she really was starving, and Alasdair’s face was friendly and kind.

Suddenly, together with the smooth beer, the meal made perfect sense, and she consumed it all sitting at the bar, her book propped in front of her.

Alasdair beamed approvingly. “I like a girl who enjoys her food,” he said. “That’s our cheese, you know. Got some goats up on the moor.”

“Well, it’s lovely,” said Nina appreciatively.

The door creaked open behind her and she turned around. Another old man, heavyset, with deep wrinkles around his blue eyes and an old hat entered the bar. He sounded gruff.

“Has that bus been through?” he said.

“Aye, Wullie!” said one of the other men. “Here’s your latest van buyer!”

Wullie looked at Nina and his cheery face turned suddenly grave.

“Youse are having me on?” he said to his jubilant companions.

“Uh, hello?” said Nina nervously. “Are you Mr. Findhorn?”

“Mmm,” said Wullie. “Aye.”

“I answered your ad.”

“I know . . . I didn’t realize you were a young lass, though.”

Nina bit her lip crossly. “Well, I’m a young lass with a driver’s license,” she said.

“Aye, I’m sure, but . . .” His brow furrowed. “I’m not . . . I mean, I was expecting someone a bit older, like. Maybe from a trucking company.”

“How do you know I’m not from a trucking company?”

There was a pause in the quiet bar. On the other side, underneath the taps, there was a kind of squirming, groaning noise, and Nina realized there must be a dog back there.

Wullie thought it over.

“Are you from a trucking company?” he said finally.

“No,” said Nina. “I’m a librarian.”

The two old men cackled like Statler and Waldorf, until Nina had to give them her special “silence in the library” look. She was starting to lose patience. Ten minutes ago she’d been all ready to call it off and go home. Now she wanted to show this stupid man she was perfectly capable of whatever he didn’t think she was capable of.

“Is this van for sale or not?” she said loudly.

Wullie took his hat off and nodded at Alasdair, who poured him a pint of something called 80 Shilling.

“Aye,” he said in a resigned voice. “I can let you have a test drive in the morning.”

Nina felt suddenly exhausted as Alasdair showed her up to a small, basic, but very clean and tidy whitewashed room with bare floorboards. It looked out over the back of the pub, away from the village and across the great dipping hills beyond, the sun only now making its way below the horizon.

There were loads of birds chattering around the window, but apart from that there was absolutely no noise; a distant car, maybe, but no traffic, no sirens, no garbage trucks or people shouting out on the street or neighbors having a party.

She sniffed the air. It was so fresh and clean it made her head spin. She swallowed a glass of tap water; it was freezing cold and utterly refreshing.

She had thought she would lie awake in the comfortable white-linened bed and draw up a list of pros and cons and things that might help her decide what she should do next. Instead, with the birds still singing outside the window, she was fast asleep by the time her head hit the pillow.

“What kind of sausage do you want?”

Nina shrugged. She didn’t know how many kinds of sausages they had.

“Whichever’s best.”

The landlord smiled. “Okay then. We’ll give you some Lorne sausage from Wullie’s pigs. That’ll be fitting.”

Nina had slept like the dead until something had woken her like an alarm clock at 7 A.M. Peering blearily out of the little dormer window, she had realized it appeared to be a rooster. She had dressed and gone downstairs, ready to try out the van for appearance’s sake before hitting the bus again and forgetting all about her little Scottish adventure. There must be bookshops and other places that needed staff. Maybe she’d start there. The money wouldn’t be as good as she’d been making, but she had never met a bookseller she didn’t like, and as long as she could still be around books, still be close by, surely that would be enough.

Breakfast, when it arrived, was a serious affair, a meal to be treated with respect. She sat at the polished table by the window, where she could see all the comings and goings of the village—schoolchildren running along in a free and easy manner in their bright red sweaters; tractors pulling trailers full of mysterious machinery; horses out for their morning exercise; and plenty of Land Rovers off and about their business.

Alasdair set down a huge bowl of porridge with honey and thick fresh cream, still slightly warm. This was followed by a plate of Lorne sausage, which turned out to be square and crispy and utterly delicious; golden-yolked eggs that tasted better than any Nina had ever had—she assumed they came courtesy of the chickens out the back; crispy bacon, black pudding, and triangular things that she thought were toast but turned out to be some kind of thin potato cake. After just a sandwich for supper, she realized she was ravenous, and polished off the entire thing. It was completely and utterly delicious.

“Get that down you,” said the landlord happily, refilling her coffee cup. “Wullie’ll be busy up at the farm till eleven, so there’s no rush.”

“This is amazing,” said Nina happily.

“You look like you could do with a meal,” said Alasdair. “A meal and a bit of fresh air.”

Nina had been told regularly since she was a child that she needed more fresh air, at which she would take her book and clamber up the apple tree at the bottom of their tatty garden, away from the car her father was always tinkering with but had never driven in all the years of her childhood—she wondered what had happened to it—and hide there, braced against the trunk, her feet swinging, burying herself in Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl until she was allowed back inside again. It was a good place to be because, she had learned, when people were looking for you, they never looked up, which meant that her two brothers couldn’t track her down to either rope her into one of their stupid war games or, when she refused, tease her for liking books so much and sometimes grab whatever she was reading and throw it to each other over her head until she cried. So she simply smiled politely at Alasdair.

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