The Bookstore on High Street

Submitted into Contest #27 in response to: Write a short story that takes place in a quaint, idyllic, English village.... view prompt



It was 6:58 in the morning. The low sun was in an ombre of light pink, orange, and yellow, and soft mist was rising from the fields. Miriam locked her front door behind her as she quietly walked to her car. A small brown rabbit scuttled out from underneath her light blue Volkswagen Beetle.

The ride to work was a quick one, as always. Miriam owned a bookstore complete with rows and rows of new, old, and rare books. She had, a few years prior, added a small coffee shop in lieu of the Comedy of Manners section. Too large of a section devoted to too small of a genre, she had learned.

Miriam made herself a hot caramel latte, her favorite drink. The shop wasn't set to open until 8:00 sharp, but she always gave herself some extra time in the morning to wake up. Her life was quite relaxing, just the way she liked it. She loved reading about exciting, desperate lives, but she enjoyed keeping that separate from herself. Boring to Miriam was ideal and preferred over interesting.

Once 8:00 rolled around she promptly unlocked the front door and flipped the closed sign around to open. She never really got any customers until 9:30 at the earliest, but she liked to give early birds the option to beat the crowds. Not that there were ever any crowds in her shop. Miriam had quite a few regulars, but she rarely had anyone new come around.

Her first customer, as usual, was old man Vernon, as he was lovingly known to all of their small village. He came in his ancient tweed jacket, smart brown trousers and his house slippers on. He had a folded newspaper in his hand an, by the looks of him, he was angry. As usual.

"Miriam, my dear, have you heard about this?" was his characteristic greeting. He frequently told anyone who would listen about the latest thing happening in the neighborhood. He was always somehow in the know, and if he wasn't, he made it his business to get there.

"Can't say I have, Vernon. Care for a coffee?"

"Yes, yes, of course. My usual, if you please."

"Now Vernon, your wife was in here just last week saying that you needed less sugar in your coffee. Doctor's orders, she said."

"Pah! My wife doesn't know sugar from salt. She's having me refuse all of my favorite foods these days. Besides, she's on vacation with the girls this week, she'll never know. The way I see it, I'm on vacation as well. My usual, please, Miriam."

"Well, alright. But this is our little secret, Vernon, don't go blaming me when your wife comes home."

"Won't say a word." He smiled and made to lock his lips. "Now, let me tell you what's happened.

"So you know that I've been telling you about Mr. Hall's front yard, the one across my lane, you know the one, yes? The one with all of the vile trash and garbage just lying about? Well, I called the authorities ages ago, at least half a year has gone by now, and as of last week, they've yet to do a thing! They spun me some story, saying that as soon as another neighbor calls, then they'll look into it. Said they needed multiple complaints to start an inquiry. What rubbish, I said! I told them so myself, I did. Everyone on my lane is too afraid of confrontation, even when there's a problem! Thank you very much, my dear," he said as Miriam handed him his coffee. He reached for his wallet and pulled out a few coins, putting them on the counter. He sat down on one of her red armchairs and sat his coffee on the white marble coaster on the dark wood table next to him.

"And so finally, finally, someone else had complained! I suppose that two complaints are enough, but just one isn't? What hogwash!"

"How messy is Mr. Hall's yard, Vernon? Is it just atrocious?" Miriam sat down in the armchair across from him.

"Miriam, my dear, it's horrible! Just despicable. Weeds simply everywhere, trash thrown out front without a care in the world! I shudder to think of what the inside must look like judging from the outside. And of course, you should know that I've been speaking to the neighbors quite incessantly, nearly begging them to file a complaint themselves to further my cause. But no, of course they're all too afraid of the repercussions. I, I tell you, am certainly not afraid. I fought in the war, fro Christ's sake, do you really think that I'm afraid of upsetting some lowbrow wimp? To hell with Mr. Hall and his vile front lawn!"

"Now now, old man Vernon, that type of language is quite unnecessary this early in the morning!" Martha Webb had just walked in, book in hand. "Miriam, I wanted you to add this book to your collection. I've just finished it, and it was beautifully written. You'll have to read it yourself to decide first, of course, but I thought it would be a wonderful addition to your shop."

"Thank you very much, Martha, I'll be sure to add it to the list."

"Now wait just one moment! I haven't finished telling my story. Don't make me shove off like an old man, Miriam!"

"But you are an old man. It's even in your name!" Martha teased.

"Be that as it may, I was telling my story before you decided to pop right in. I have a mind to finish it, so you may as well listen as well."

"I'm all ears," Martha sat in a plush royal blue armchair, just beside Miriam. "I assume it's about your poor old neighbor, Mr. Hall."

"Poor?! The man's a scoundrel!" Old man Vernon yelled with enthusiasm.

"Haven't you heard? His wife left him just over six months ago. For a younger man," she dramatically whispered. "A much younger man, in fact. He hasn't been himself as of late. And now even his own neighborhood has turned against him. He's got to get his house sorted out by month's end or he'll be kicked to the curb!"

"Well how is that my problem? If the man wasn't so damn elusive then maybe someone on the lane could have helped him get on. Hasn't he got any children to check on his welfare?"

"They have three children, but, can you even believe it, they all moved over to the states? Bloody Yanks," Martha shook her head. "Just a pity. From what I hear, they don't even know that their parents split! Imagine keeping such a big secret? So the poor old kids don't even know that they should be with their father. But what I say is that they shouldn't have left in the first place. If they had stayed on their original soil, then they'd be in the know." She nodded.

"I still can't see how any of this is my problem! The lawn is atrocious. Have you seen it, Martha? I shouldn't be subjected to that monstrosity every time I go out to walk my dog. It's just vile!" He repeated.

"Oh bloody hell, have I walked in on old man Vernon complaining about something again? Why are you everywhere that I need to be, old chap?" Shirley Cooper walked in next. "Sorry to bother you, Miriam, but I'm simply desperate for a coffee. Two scoops of sugar, no cream, if you please. I suppose I've just followed Vernon from the grocery store, where he was complaining endlessly to the poor cashier. That boy was no more than sixteen, you old goat, why are you bothering the young thing with your elderly problems?"

"I was just letting him in on what's to come! I thought I was on top of the world at his age, I just wanted him to come to reality is all!"

And so the day went. Vernon stayed for a few hours, as usual, buying three coffees, last one always on the house, before leaving just after lunch for his midday medications. Shirley stayed for just under an hour, leaving promptly after Joan Ellis walked in. With bad blood between them, after Joan flirted heavily with Shirley's husband at last year's Christmas party, Shirley left with a dramatic flair. More and more of Miriam's regulars came and went, and soon it was time to close up shop.

On the way home, she smiled to herself, and knew that tomorrow would be just them same. As will the next day, the next day, and even the day after that.

February 02, 2020 01:40

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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