The Corner Shop that Wasn't

Submitted into Contest #19 in response to: Write a short story about a shop that takes place over a span of years.... view prompt




It was one of those businesses that was always known as a Corner Shop, even though it wasn’t, strictly speaking, on a corner. Other inhabitants of Liston Road would generally not say, “I’m going round to Stowes,” or “I’m going round to the Post Office” or even just “I’m going round to the shop.” It was always the Corner Shop.

     It wasn’t as if it was the only shop on the long street running the length of the longest street in the coastal town, the one that was more or less parallel to the seafront. There were more shops that purely residential properties – the butchers and the bakers (though there was no candlestick makers!) and the haberdashers, and the shop that sold radios and gramophones and now even the odd television. It was a fairly open secret that though he was a patriotic man, Mr Mason didn’t only have that on his mind when he said “God bless the young queen!” But Stowes, the sub-Post Office, was The Corner Shop. Mr and Mrs Stowe’s only child, Rosemary (who hated being called Rosie) who was in her second year at Grammar School and already outgrowing the green uniform her parents had bought her when she passed her scholarship though they allowed for “growing room” often thought it was like two shops. The Post Office was a place of glass screens and scales that had to be carefully calibrated (Miss King her English teacher had praised her vocabulary when she used the word “Calibrated”!) and sheets of stamps and ink pads with little stampers, and it was always neat and organised and a place for everything and everything in its place. That was at the back. But at the front there was far more variety. Greetings cards and souvenirs, rulers and pencil sharpeners and any other item of stationery any reasonable person might need (they’d had to get Rosemary’s regulation tin box geometry kit from another shop, but in Rosemary’s opinion, anyone who went in for geometry wasn’t reasonable!) and postcards with pictures of kittens or Highland terriers between the views of the town, not to mention the soft drinks and sweets and cigarettes. Mr and Mrs Stowe didn’t smoke and had told Becky she was in Big Trouble if they caught her smoking before she was eighteen – after that it was her own business if she was that silly. They didn’t sell newspapers and magazines. There was already a newsagents on Liston Road, and you didn’t tread on other people’s toes. Anyway, though he was anything but an idle man, Mr Stowe wasn’t one of life’s early risers.

     Rosemary wasn’t sure if she liked being a shopkeeper’s daughter or not. She was expected to help out, but her Mum and Dad were very fair and she was always allowed free time and time to do her homework properly. And she got extra pocket money for it – there were far worse ways of earning extra pocket money! She could only just remember life before they took over the Corner Shop. Her Dad had been an engineer after he left the army, but he was injured in an accident at the Works, as he always called them, and though he recovered, he still was better off with a sitting down job. And they’d always fancied the idea of their own business. He was paid some compensation by the firm he worked for, and after a very stern interview with Mr Atkins the bank manager (he’d remarked that it felt like a mixture of being a spy being interrogated and a naughty school boy in the head’s office, but Mrs Stowe had said that was no bad thing and they had to make sure people were responsible before lending money!) got a loan to help out too. She was never quite easy about owing money, but told herself Mr Atkins wouldn’t have loaned it if he didn’t trust them. 

     Mr Atkins was right to trust them. The business thrived. Mr and Mrs Stowe seemed to have an innate flair for knowing what would sell. They did not reject the tried and trusted, but had an eye for new lines that would do well. And it was as if George Stowe was born to be a sub-postmaster. Every so often, someone came from Head Office to do a check, and strictly off the record, Mr Wormauld the auditor (whose name Rosemary had misheard as “Worm-Hole”!) once said that they were all relieved at Head Office. Mr Stowe’s predecessor, Mr White, had been a totally honest man, but his book-keeping and record-keeping were slipshod. In Mr Wormauld’s book, slipshod was unforgiveable.

     The Christmas season had been kind to them. They had hesitated about those snow globes with Santa in his sleigh that rained glitter instead of fake snow, but they had gone down a treat. But even though they were running low on stock, Mrs Stowe assured Rosemary she would still have the one they had said she could. A promise was a promise.

     Rosemary could never quite decide if she liked January or not. But that January was not like others. The East Coast Floods, they were to call them in Britain, when they turned into history. The North Sea, and the tides, and the rains, reminded people in all the countries that shared its shores that nature would always be in charge. 

     Liston Road turned into a dashing and crashing river. “Why weren’t we warned!” Mrs Stowe who normally respected authority exclaimed, “They must have known! They must have had some idea!”

     Rosemary had been born in the War, but of course she couldn’t remember it, but she knew that when sirens sounded it meant danger, and knew that once more people were being evacuated. They were lucky. The Corner Shop had a third floor, which they used for stock, and even in the floods they would be safe there. Mr Stowe waded through the rising water to tell their neighbours in the bookshop that they must come up to their third floor with them. They stacked the cigarettes and the sweet jars high against the walls, and huddled in the middle.

     This is what it must have been like in the war, and yet not what it was like in the war, thought Rosemary. Then people went down into the cellars to escape danger. Now we are going up into the heights! She told herself it was an adventure, but wasn’t altogether sure she liked adventures, not in real life, though she believed for sure that her Mum and Dad would keep her safe. It was strange, but at one and the same time she felt as if she had grown up in a few hours and she was a little girl again.

     The floods abated, the rains stopped, people counted the cost – and for some, it was a human cost. Not everyone survived those floods.

     The bookshop owners went back home, full of gratitude and saying that Mr and Mrs Stowe and Rosemary must pick books of their choice from the store.

     There was no point to saying that it might be a while before they could do that because, although they had managed to salvage some of the stock, there were piles of sodden pages that had once told sweet and scary and stirring tales that nobody would ever be able to read again.

     It was the same at the Sub Post Office. The sweets in the jars had survived, for the most part, though a couple lay broken on the floor, and the glass screen had protected the Post Office section from some of the damage, but it looked as if it had been hit by a bomb, said Mrs Stowe, who knew exactly what things looked like when they were hit by a bomb.

     “It would be a water bomb!” said Rosemary, and she didn’t mean it as cheek, and her Mum and Dad realised that and didn’t tell her off, but she knew herself, even before the words were out, that it wasn’t funny. 

     Her Mum was already starting on the practical stuff, getting out buckets and mops and working out what could be salvaged. But her Dad seemed to be in a trance, and then she realised he was in tears. This was something she didn’t know how to cope with. It was worse than the floods and worse than having to wait for her new book.

     “We gave it all we had and now it’s ruined!” he exclaimed, in an odd, choked voice she hadn’t heard before. Her Mum walked over to him. She was a small woman unless she had what she always just called her “heels” on, but his shoulders were hunched, and she could put her arms round them. “Come on now, love. None of that. It’s a blow, of course it is, but we’ve built it up once, and we can build it up again. Let’s book an appointment with Mr Atkins and have a word with the man from the Pru” (as they always called the representative of the Prudential Insurance who called every week). “The main thing is, we’re still here. We have each other. You, me, and Rosie.”

     And for once, as Rosemary joined them in a hug in the wreckage that could be rebuilt, she didn’t in the least mind being called Rosie.


“I still say you’ve overbought,” Marie Murchison shook her head, looking at the stacks of postcards of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, some of them in embossed gold and silver tones, that seemed to have taken over the whole stockroom, barely leaving room for anything else. Somehow they had still found room for piles of Tea Towels and mugs with the shy, plump young woman in the blue suit that their daughter Daisy frankly thought looked more suited to Maggie Thatcher, and her Prince. “It’s only four months to the wedding, and not all our visitors are ardent royalists.”

     “But they all love Lady Di,” her husband Tom insisted. “The old ones and the young ones alike. I bet they’re mad on her at your school, aren’t they, Daisy?”

     To tell the truth, fourteen year old Daisy herself was getting just a bit sick of the whole thing. Oh, Lady Di was very pretty and very nice and all that, but she wished folk would make their minds up. As long as she could remember it had been impressed on her that especially as she was a bright girl, though of course it would be lovely if she found a good husband one day, she must go to university and make the best of her education, and be grateful she was growing up in the 1980s. Now someone only five years older than she was was getting married to a much older man and everyone was acting as if it was all kinds of wonderful.

     Most people used words like “sweet” and “unassuming” about Lady Di, but her classmate Joanne was more blunt. “Let’s be honest, she’s thick,” she said, “Not an O-level to her name. She might as well get married young, and when a prince asks – well she’d be stupid to refuse!”

     “I thought you just said she was stupid,” Daisy pointed out. She wasn’t so sure. She had very ambivalent feelings about Lady Di. She didn’t worship at her feet the way some folk did, but she also thought that they under-estimated her. 

     Generally, Marie got her own way where the shop was concerned. Though they didn’t have hard and fast boundary lines, the shop was her territory, and the Post Office was Tom’s. He was no pushover. If anyone turned up to draw money from their pension book or their giro, and he didn’t know them, he remained very polite but was inexorable on the subject of ID. Later on, Daisy was to learn that it was called the “Broken Record” technique. But he was, in her opinion, far too open to persuasion from the “Reps”. At her instigation, they now bought all their Christmas and Birthday and “occasions” cards from a dusty warehouse on an industrial estate. But the Reps still came, and had tempted Tom with the Royal Wedding range. 

     Though she loved both her parents, Daisy was a bit of a Daddy’s girl. But on this, she had to admit, her Mum had a point. “I think perhaps you overbought a bit, Dad,” she said. Marie harrumphed and said that was like saying you were a bit pregnant. “Now if only we had some idea what she was actually going to wear at the wedding,” she sighed, “That would be different!”

     “Well, I reckon anyone who reveals that will be sent to the Tower,” Tom said. 

     “I wouldn’t mind dressing her,” Marie said, “That tall figure but with curves – you’d have to be careful but I reckon I could make her look good. Something simple and well-cut.” Marie had worn a mini-dress and white boots at her wedding. Daisy thought it looked fantastic, but her Mum said she’d regret to her dying day that she hadn’t listened to her Mum and worn what she now called a proper wedding dress. 

     Daisy’s little sister Frances (which, coincidentally, was Lady Di’s middle name) had slipped in. She had been a bit of a surprise arrival, but they all doted on her, even Daisy, though she could have cheerfully strangled her at times. Fran, as they called her, at five years old, already considered herself an aspiring fashion designer. “I could design Lady Di’s dress!” she exclaimed.

     “Go on, then,” said Marie, indulgently. She was privately glad that Fran, unlike Daisy, was a “girly girl”.

     Needing no second telling, she got out her drawing pad and her coloured pencils and felt tips, and happily applied herself to the task. 

     Well, there was no doubt that it was a very skilled drawing for a little girl her age, and her parents and sister praised it sincerely and said it must be pinned up on the kitchen wall.

     “But it’s lucky she’s not designing for Lady Di,” Marie said, after Fran was in bed. 

     A few months later, as Lady Di swept up the aisle with her voluminous puffy skirts and massive train, Fran, who was basically a nice child, didn’t say “I told you so” but couldn’t hide her triumphal expression. “You should have let me make some postcards, Daddy” she exclaimed, as the four of them made their way to the street party.

     And thinking ruefully of the stacks of unsold cards and the Tea Towels they’d probably be using until the next millennium, he could only agree.


     The general consensus was that if it really had been a Corner Shop and didn’t have (relatively) flourishing properties to the left and right of it, it would probably have been demolished long ago. It was an eyesore and it might not be that long before it turned into a health hazard. Things had started to go downhill way back in the early 1990s when the Post Office was “rationalising” and it stopped being a sub-office. It was easy to tell where the Post Office had been, even when the glass screens and the counter were taken down. It had had a brief incarnation as a video shop when video shops were already going out of fashion, and even briefer ones as a craft shop and a Pay Day lender. Everyone (well, except those who worked for it!) agreed that it was no bad thing to get rid of a Pay Day Lender on Liston Road – they were worse than charity shops and betting shops! – but if it were really better than an empty shop with the windows dust encrusting and the paint peeling and the roof showing warning signs of bowing? That was open to dispute.

     Someone had applied for permission to open a vaping salon, but the council (whose current head of planning was very anti e-cigarettes) decided that the town already had three and didn’t need another one.

     It was probably more an act of desperation that they accepted Soopa-Stores’ bid to open one of their convenience stores there. It probably wouldn’t last six months, but they decided to let them have a try. It was an up-and-coming franchise, and they had a reputation for being canny in choosing their locations for new stores. But nobody was perfect!

     Mr and Mrs Duda and their son Marek had even elected to live above the shop! Well, that was a turn-up for the books. Nobody had lived above the shop since – well, the video store days. And even they had a little bungalow as well. They ended up having to sell both. Perhaps Mr and Mrs Duda were right to be cautious.

     To everyone’s surprise, if the convenience store wasn’t exactly an overnight success, it did better than most had expected. People who had predicted its early demise suddenly reinvented themselves as those who had said that it had plenty in its favour – not least, yet another cutback in the bus service to the nearest big town, and when it did run it often (in breach of regulations, but apparent impunity) with coaches that more or less made them a no-go area, or at any rate, a dangerous obstacle course for the elderly, and those less steady on their feet.

     Mrs Patterson, who wasn’t prone to what she called flowery language, told Mrs Duda that it was a godsend to her. It was all very well folk telling her she was “only” in her 70s, and that was “no age” nowadays, and it was true her mind was razor-sharp, but her legs and her back didn’t seem to have got the message. Having a shop she could just potter up the road to made her feel as if she had got her freedom and her independence back. That was true, and was all she told most people.

     Marek, who was missing his own grandmother and had taken to the kind, no-nonsense old lady, told her that he slept in the room at the top, and he loved it. “There’s a lovely view,” he said.

     “There is indeed,” she said, “I wouldn’t have minded sleeping there – well –“ an unusually dreamy expression came over her face. “I did – for a couple of nights.”

     And it was as if the years slipped away in the blink of an eye, and Rosemary Patterson was back in the stock room, safe from the floods.



December 11, 2019 07:59

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