A New Chapter

by Mary Keyser

Email: mary.keyser@ntlworld.com

The bookshop nestled incongruously between Elle’s Fashions and Francine’s Shoes. It was a tall, thin building with peeling green paint and a grimy wooden door. Bars on the small windows added to its lack of charm. In the upstairs flat, Aloysius Scurvy paused as he bent to feed the cat. Someone was knocking on the locked door of the shop. He glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. They’d have to wait - he never opened before half past. Aloysius stroked the cat’s dusty black fur and murmured endearments, but it soon picked its delicate way across the untidy room and sat on the windowsill, washing itself.

Dressed in brown corduroy trousers, yesterday’s striped shirt and a woollen cardigan, Aloysius carefully descended the spiral staircase to the shop, patting his tousled hair into rough order as he went. Again, the front door rattled. This time Aloysius slowly drew back the bolts and waited for the first customer of the day to enter.

‘What a bleedin’ dump!’

Aloysius raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. He ponderously made his way to a bookshelf and adjusted a few volumes. Soon he was lost in his stock, selecting which book he would read today. Usually he settled into the cracked leather armchair in the corner, but his young customer intrigued him. He was all for plain speaking and wondered what would come next.

‘I’m here then. What d’you want me to do?’

‘In what way?’ asked Aloysius a little nervously.

The girl sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. ‘Candy Phipps, local Comp, work experience.’

Now Aloysius remembered. They’d begged him to take someone and, thinking he’d get a robust young lad to move his stock around, he’d agreed with alacrity. He took in the small, emaciated girl in front of him. As she reached up to pull the hair off her face, her tiny pink T-shirt rode up, revealing a tummy as flat as a board and a sparkling gem embedded in her belly button. Politely averting his gaze, his mind whirled with questions. What could he give her to do? Was it too late to back out from the scheme? Did she make tea? This last question brought him back to safe ground.

‘You can make the tea,’ he said. ‘Out the back, through that door.’ He nodded towards a dark recess.

Candy slouched towards the door. Within seconds, she was back. ‘No way. That’s an ’ealth hazard out there.’

Aloysius shrugged his shoulders and settled down with Martin Chuzzlewit. Out of the corner of his eye, he was aware of Candy, squatting on the floor, busily texting messages on her mobile phone, an iPod plugged into her ears. They passed a pleasant day with no customers to intrude on their activities. At four, Candy gathered her things and made for the door.

‘See ya tomorrow.’

‘I won’t open the door before half past.’

Dead on half past, the shop door rattled open and Candy manoeuvred her way in, a backpack impeding her progress. Nodding to Aloysius, she went through to the back and he could hear water running and her thin, tuneless voice singing softly. Aloysius busied himself with unpacking a small order that had been delivered the previous week, then selected another book to read. As he settled into his armchair, Candy sidled over to him bearing a mug of steaming tea. A little spilled onto the carpet as she put it down on the floor next to him. She didn’t meet his eye, just disappeared through to the back again. Gratefully, Aloysius drank his tea; he couldn’t remember the last time someone had made him tea. He returned to his book, aware of noises from the kitchen area.

Then, ‘I’m off for me dinner.’ Candy yanked at the ill-fitting door and flounced out.

Hungry himself now, Aloysius made his way through to the back intent on seeing if there were still biscuits in the old rusting tin. He couldn’t believe what he saw. The surfaces were clean and tidy, as was the sink. The small amount of crockery and cutlery gleamed. He looked into the small courtyard and saw a couple of tea towels and a dishcloth fluttering on the washing line. Amazing! As he reached for the biscuit tin, he knew the birds had been luckier than he was going to be.

When Candy returned after a very long lunch hour, Aloysius thanked her for tidying up. He watched as she transferred cleaning materials, bleach bottles and washing-up liquid back into her backpack.

‘I bought these. Want one?’ She opened a pack of Jaffa Cakes and held it out to him before settling down with her mobile phone.

The next morning, she rattled through the front door. Aloysius guessed she’d be on time and had hurried to make sure he was open for her. Hopefully, she’d be making tea again. Today, she had no backpack, just a thoughtful look.

‘Don’t get many customers, do you?’ she said.

‘They can intrude on my reading,’ he retorted, smiling.

‘What I mean is,’ as if to a five-year-old, ‘it’s your business, innit?’

Sensing she had something on her mind, Aloysius asked, ‘Have you any suggestions, then?’

‘Might ‘ave. I’ll let you know. That there cat. Does he always sleep on the windowsill?’


‘Good. That’s all right then,’ she said enigmatically.

‘Any chance of a cup of tea?’ asked Aloysius hesitantly. ‘Stuff that! I’m busy.’

Lunchtime found Candy kneeling on the floor in front of the window, surrounded by books. She selected a few at random and arranged them next to the sleeping cat. Each one had the word ‘cat’ in the title. When she was satisfied, she darted outside to look at the effect, then back in again to make a few adjustments. Finally, she was happy and addressed Aloysius.

‘I’ll get tea now. You can put them other books back.’

He did as he was told, then drank his tea. Looking out of the window, he saw a small group had gathered. They were pointing to Candy’s display and smiling. The door opened and more customers than he usually saw in a week crowded into the small shop. Candy’s handiwork was certainly a crowd-puller.

The next day was the same and Aloysius had to order further supplies.

‘I’ll change the display,’ said Candy that afternoon. She was enjoying herself; it was far better than minging school. Deciding to give the travel section an airing, she pulled out books about places she had only ever heard of in Geography classes.

‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ said Aloysius, happily changing roles. ‘I’ve been there,’ he added as Candy produced a book on Southern Italy. ‘And there.’

While they drank their tea Aloysius recalled his travels abroad, telling Candy of some of his adventures. ‘Are you interested in travel?’


When Aloysius counted up his takings, he couldn’t believe how much there was. He’d never sold this many books before. On reflection, he realised he’d enjoyed the last few days and would miss Candy at the end of the week.

When Friday came, Candy once more changed the display. Aloysius smiled as he saw the titles she’d chosen: David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Pickwick Papers ... Thinking she’d chosen them in deference to him, he murmured, ‘That was a kind thought, choosing my favourites.’

She frowned. ‘I chose them ’cause of the covers.’ Holding out a blood-red leather-bound Great Expectations, she added, ‘Pretty, aint they?’

The steady stream of customers kept Aloysius busy and the time passed quickly. Candy, keeping to her usual haphazard routine of working hours, pushed past him. ‘See ya.’

‘Candy, just a minute.’ He felt unaccountably sad that he’d never see her again. They did have some sort of rapport, albeit a near-silent one-sided one. She waited impatiently. ‘I hope things work out well for you. Thank you for helping here. I’ll give a good report of you to the school.’

‘Daft sod. I’ll be back again Monday.’ She disappeared up the road.

Ringing up the total for the three Dickens’ volumes he’d just sold, Aloysius reflected that he’d spend the weekend cleaning the shop. When Candy came in next week, she wouldn’t have to sit on a grubby floor to listen to her music and text her friends. He’d get in a fresh supply of biscuits, too.

Aloysius was filled with sunshine. He hadn’t had anything nice to look forward to for a very long time. He was going to make the most of it.

©2006 Mary Keyser

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