The kettle had been boiling over when Claudia was unlocking the front door of the shop that day, and the water had spilled onto the bench and onto pages 97 and 98 of Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”.  Claudia had taken the book from the Classics shelf and felt glad that at least it was a second hand bookshop that she owned; at least she could still sell the books after she’d spilled strawberry jam or coffee on their pages.  She loved every book in her shop and said a quiet goodbye to each one when, on the rare occasion, someone bought one.  But her love for books didn’t cure her clumsiness.  She’d lost count of how many of her books had gone to a watery grave as she fell asleep in the bath.

 

Despite not having had a customer for three full days, nor making any more money than she would have paid herself, if business was good, Claudia made sure she opened the front doors and put out the sandwich board – “Books Bought, Books Sold”, at precisely 9am each day.  She felt hopeful that someone would notice.  Surely someone, in this town of 20,000 people, woke up one morning and thought ‘I’ll go into the bookshop today’.  It was important that that person, if they wanted, could cross the threshold at the advertised opening hour of 9am.

 

Claudia’s shop had been a house once, it was obvious.  The front door of the terrace led directly down a long hallway, with all the rooms on the right.  The front room was large, with a high ceiling – it had once been two rooms, Claudia thought.  Someone had taken out the middle wall.  There were two fireplaces, two doors and two ceiling roses.  There were two more rooms out the back, one she used as a storeroom and the other had a sink and stove in it. 

Not sure where this bit will go –

Claudia stared at her hands, one resting on top of the other the way they’d been told to hold them during school assemblies.  Her top hand was shaking, slightly, as if it was just a little too cold.  Her heart sobbed, with a depth that reminded her of a heavy wooden table being dragged across floorboards.  Long, mournful strokes, deep, gutteral wails.  She tortured herself with visions, visions of him curled up, on his side, one arm firmly around the waist of –her-, pulling her in to him.  He buried his face in the back of her neck.  Claudia knew this was unlikely to be happening at this very moment, but she mourned it as if the two of them were laid out in front of her, in this very room.  It was most likely that he was sitting on his back step, not missed by her, she who slept the sleep of the oblivious. 

 

The reality of the situation had slapped her in the face from the very beginning, from the first day the bell had jingled and he’d stuck his wet head into the shop, hair plastered down over his temples by the rain.  She knew that.  She knew she’d pulled the wool over her own eyes.  But she was seething, boiling with the anger and frustration – he had not played the game fairly.  He had not filled the role of a married man.  He was her accomplice in her own heartbreak.

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