The elderly owner, not afraid to wear mis-matched clothing, of “Books Galore” was always a pleasure to see. Her top was a flowery number, with printed daffodils and her trousers a bright purple. She always greeted her customers with a flushed face and a friendly wave.
Elizabeth had spent a lot of time there, in the last few days.
She was looking for a recipe book, and Betty always seemed to have an eclectic selection. Within an hour of arriving in the shop, every available space covered in books of all shapes and sizes, Elizabeth had not only found what she was looking for but added a few more to her collection.
‘That will be four pounds fifty dear.’
Elizabeth smiled, this shop was a tiny piece of heaven, wrapped in an untidy bow.
She handed over a five-pound note. ‘Keep the change.’
Taking the coin she was about to give Elizabeth, she put it in a pink charity box with a hand, which was holding out its palm, hovering over the top was the name “Refuge”.
‘That’s for a good cause,’ Elizabeth said.
‘Yes indeed, you would have thought things would have changed since my day, but it still goes on.’
‘Your day?’ Elizabeth found herself asking.
‘Domestic violence was part and parcel of being married dear. In those days asking for a divorce wasn’t even thought about and the woman was always in the wrong. Not that I would have accepted any man to hurt me, but I knew plenty of others.’
‘I bet you did.’
‘It was just the times we lived in. Most of the time they didn’t reveal their true nature until the poor woman was married to them. My friend, Janet, she had a tough time with her husband. Horrible man, he were, and no tears were spent when he had his accident at the factory.’
‘Good men are hard to find.’
‘They are love, but my hubby, Jack, he was a gem of a man. He used to be a paratrooper in the army, but never used his anger on me and our kids. A gentle giant he were and no mistake.’
‘My dad too, he left when I was about five years old. He couldn’t put up with my mum’s moods any longer. She was a vile woman. I used to think it was my fault my dad left, but he recently got in contact with me. He said he tried to get the courts to let him keep me, but in the seventies, you were meant to be better off with your mother.’
‘True, times have changed on that part, and you can’t blame one apple and throw away the bag.’
Elizabeth grinned – this woman was full of these funny sayings that she had never even heard of.
‘You don’t mind me saying dear, but you look awful familiar.’
‘I must have a familiar face that’s all,’ Elizabeth said.
‘I know, you’re Elizabeth, that woman from the Martha Whitman trial.’
‘Sorry, I can go if you want. I would understand if you didn’t want me in your shop.’
‘Why would you want to do that? From what I can understand, you probably had to suffer his temper too.’
‘I wish I hadn’t given evidence now.’
‘What’s done cannot be undone love.’
‘I know, and Martha, well we talked the other day and I feel better for it.’
This woman, no bigger than four foot nine, was someone she could talk to easily. She was reminded of an old schoolteacher, with oversized glasses, and a heart to match.
‘It’s a blooming crime, her being in prison, do you reckon she’ll appeal?’
‘I can’t really answer that . . . I would, but it’s Martha’s business.’
‘Too nosy for my own good I am, no worries love, but you tell her from me, she has to stand up for herself and there’s plenty out there rooting for her.’
‘I’ll tell her.’
Elizabeth looked up at the clock, on the wall above the counter. ‘Is that the time? I’ve got an appointment at the estate agents.’
‘It were nice chatting to you.’
‘And you . . .’ Elizabeth was about to go when something popped into her head. ‘Before I go, I just wanted to ask, about the shop next door. I keep walking past it, and it has a for sale sign in the window. Do you know if it’s still for sale?’
‘As far as I know, yes, it is. Why do you ask?’
‘I don’t know, but my house has had some viewings, can’t afford the mortgage payments. I was thinking of buying it, but it’s daft. I don’t know the first thing about owning a business.’
‘Neither did I and look at me now.’
‘I’d better go, the estate agent left a message earlier, hopefully it’s good news.’
Elizabeth dashed out of the shop and looked to the painted-out window next door. She stepped closer to the building and peered inside. The floor was empty, apart from the odd newspaper littered on the floor. The counters, covered in a thin line of dust, needed a thorough deep clean.
For sale, £150,000 or nearest offer. Sheldon’s Estate Agents. She stared at the sign and took out a pen from her handbag. Their number followed, but Elizabeth was going there anyway. £150,000 would have seemed a lot of money, a year ago, but with the sale of her house it was possible.
Did the flat come with the business? If it did, then she would have somewhere to stay as well. All her ideas were crashing into the walls of her mind like a metal ball in a pin ball machine. Lights flashed, as each new idea added to its high score.
She wrote down the details, and with one last look at the vacant shop, walked down the high street towards the estate agents. In her head, she was totting up all the funds she could put into the venture.
As the sun’s rays became a little warmer, Elizabeth took off her coat, and hung it over one arm. She meandered around other people, on their way to work, and parents taking their children to school, with a lightness around her soul.
The more she thought about buying the bakery, the more she thought about the future. Her future. No longer would she be worried about where life would take her. A beacon called Martha had shown her the way.
She stopped short of the entrance.
Where were Martha’s dreams? She was stuck in prison, for what could be the rest of her life, and she was part of the reason for her prison sentence. How could she even think of success, when she lost her chance of being with her family?
Yet, Martha had forgiven her, even if she couldn’t forgive herself.
‘Stop being so stupid, stop saying sorry,’ Elizabeth whispered, and walked inside the estate agents.
‘Hello, Miss Lacy, I was about to ring you. We’ve had an offer on your house this morning.’
Elizabeth sat down.
The young man opposite her, didn’t look old enough to have left school, but wasn’t that the way sometimes. It wasn’t that they were getting younger, but she was getting older.
‘£300,000 it is a little less than we would like, but I know you said money wasn’t the issue.’
Elizabeth mentally worked out how much of her mortgage she had left, £170,000 from the sale as profit. It was more than enough to buy the bakery, and some left over for renovations, which probably would be needed.
It would be tight, but possible.’
‘Can you ring them? I want to accept their offer.’
‘Of course, I will do that now.’
Minutes later, Elizabeth was talking about solicitors and deposits.
‘Before I go, I wanted to ask about “Giles Bakery” on London Road. Is it still for sale? Does the flat go with it?’
‘Yes on both counts, why do you ask?’
‘How much are they wanting for the property?’
‘£150,000 but I am sure they will take a little less. It has been on the market for about a year now, but the climate the way it is.’
‘I want to make an offer,’ Elizabeth said.
The estate agent didn’t even blink. ‘How much?’
Elizabeth thought about what she could do. Confidence welled up inside her like bubbles from a fizzy pop bottle, which had been shaken up. If she asked for less, maybe they would accept it and she would have a little bit more money to play with.
‘Can you put in an offer for ten thousand less? If they can’t take that, I will offer the full asking price.’
The young man’s hand hovered over his mobile. ‘Do you want me to ring them now.’
A phone call later, Elizabeth and her offer, ten thousand less than the asking price, was snapped up. Life had thrown her a bunch of lemons, but she would make a brilliant batch of lemonade with them.