Home > Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #1)(11)

Little Beach Street Bakery (Little Beach Street Bakery #1)(11)
Jenny Colgan

The woman grunted as if this was a huge chore, and barked, ‘Cheese, cheese an’ ham, cheese an’ ham an’ pineapple?’ at her.

‘Um, the last one, please,’ said Polly, wondering if she’d inadvertently done something offensive. But the sandwiches were cheap.

The woman sighed heavily and turned round.

‘Got to warm up toaster.’

Polly glanced at it. It was blackened and looked utterly filthy. She was beginning to regret the entire enterprise. Those friendly fishermen had made her feel fleetingly optimistic about her new home, but this was bringing her down again.

She glanced around awkwardly. The cabinets could do with a bit of a clean, too. The woman lugged her huge bulk over to one and picked up a soggy-looking pre-prepared sandwich, which she slapped into the toaster. Polly speedily changed her mind as to how hungry she was.

‘So, I’ve just moved here,’ she said brightly, trying to do her best. A positive mental attitude, that was what she needed. ‘It seems really nice! I was in Plymouth before.’

The woman stared at her rudely. ‘Right. So you’re here to push up our property prices, keeping local people out?’

‘No!’ said Polly, surprised. ‘Ha. No, it’s not like that at all. I’m… er, I’m taking some time out.’ She was trying this phrase out on people, and almost everyone got what she was aiming at and didn’t enquire too much further. ‘Then, you know, I’m going to start looking for a job.’

The woman sniffed and checked the toaster. ‘Well you won’t find one of those. Nothing for incomers to do round here. We’re not one of your pretty-pretty towns, you know. We’re for our own folk here.’

Polly raised her eyebrows at this, but simply took her sandwich, paid, and said goodbye. The woman didn’t answer until she was nearly at the door.

‘But you can still pay the rent?’

Polly turned back, surprised.

‘I’m Mrs Manse,’ said the woman, huffily. ‘I’m your landlady.’

Polly took the sandwich down to the other side of the harbour, away from her own place and the boats, and closer to the causeway. The wind was still blowing, but the wall provided some shelter. There was scarcely anyone about. To her right she saw a fishing boat chugging noisily out to sea, thick black smoke coming from its little funnel, a flash of yellow overalls visible on the bow. She took a bite of her sandwich. It was cheap, nasty, horrible bread, plasticky cheese, tinned pineapple. Somehow, it was also rather comforting.

Mrs Manse hadn’t said any more after that, but she hadn’t had to, reflected Polly rather glumly. That chilly warning had been enough.

She gazed out to sea, pulling her coat around her to keep herself warm. She needed a plan. Okay, positive thinking. So it was going to be hard to get a job that required her to turn up on the mainland at the same time every day, because of the tides. Yes, everyone had told her that and she had chosen to ignore it, but surely she’d figure something out.

In retrospect, she realised that she’d kind of imagined herself somewhere round here – she had accountancy skills, marketing experience, maybe a little local solicitor or something would take her on till she got going again. But now that she’d seen the town, that seemed a little less likely. Okay, a lot less likely.

Well, she had to be realistic about it. Maybe she’d let herself get carried away by the romance of living on a tidal island. But it was a short lease. She would find a job in town and move back. Of course she would. And until then she would use the peace and quiet to help her recover. That was the plan, remember? To slow down, chill out. Take deep breaths of salty sea air. Panic wasn’t going to help.

She finished up her lunch and gave the rest to the seagulls, who made a huge racket dive-bombing to the greasy bread.

Well. She was going to take things one day at a time. Once she’d thought years ahead, and look where that had got her. All her business plans and life schedules had come to absolutely nothing. You never knew what was behind the next door. But she knew what was behind her own new front door – a horrible mess that needed cleaning up pronto.

She smiled when she saw that Kerensa had put a ridiculous pair of rubber gloves with fake fur at the wrists in the box for her, as well as, at the bottom, a little bottle of ready-made gin and tonic, with a note round the top saying ‘Drink Me’. Polly went to work with a will, scrubbing the horrible old kitchenette units thoroughly and swearing to herself. Couldn’t that woman at least have put laminate veneer on them?

The bathroom had a grimy white suite that she guiltily attacked with powerful stain removers. At least there was a bath, she thought. One apartment she’d looked at had had a shower unit with a bed on top. Life when you were skint came down to taking your pleasures where you could find them, she decided.

The floor of the little bathroom, with its roof hanger for drying clothes, was filthy old rutted linoleum, but three rounds of scrubbing revealed a perfectly serviceable black and white pattern, and the frosted glass cleaned up to let in some of the afternoon light. The bedroom was small, but quiet and calm, and again she scrubbed the window, taking down the nets then cursing when she realised that of course she didn’t have a washing machine.

It wasn’t that her parents had been wealthy – in fact, she couldn’t have gone back to her mum’s even if she’d wanted to, as her mum lived on a tiny fixed income in a one-bedroom flat on a housing estate in Rochester – but she had never, ever, even as a student, lived in a house that didn’t have a washing machine.

I am not going to cry, she told herself, wondering if Mr Bassi and Mr Gardner had made away with their smart Bosch yet. I shall make a pile and find a launderette like plenty of people do all the time. Every day. I’ll pretend I’m on EastEnders or something. It’ll be great. GREAT.

She continued into the main room, feeling herself grow warmer with the exertion – which was a good thing – and as she leant out at an extremely dangerous angle to wash her filthy, salt-stained front windows, she noticed the clouds slowing down and the rain falling on one stretch of the ocean far away, like its own personal patch. She gazed out on to her new landscape and wondered: choppy waters? Calm seas?

She boiled the kettle and poured hot water into her favourite Scrabble mug. The mug had cost seven pounds. Suddenly that seemed like a ridiculous amount to spend on a mug. Had she even noticed? Had her life changed so very much? There was a small weekly amount forthcoming from the receivers, so she wouldn’t starve – very small, barely better than benefits – and it was possible that they might make a little money from the flat after everyone had been paid off. Maybe. It probably wasn’t worth counting on. For the last few months Chris hadn’t even let her see the accounts. It had come as a shock to realise how bad things really were. She should have insisted. Oh, she should have done a lot of things.

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