Authors: Christina Jones
Tags: #Fiction, #General
And when she hadn’t been whizzing off in the snazzy sports car catching up with friends, she’d admired Dora Wilberforce’s garden and praised her ginger beer, given Part-Time Pearl some herbal concoction guaranteed to help ‘her poor ole feet’, had charmed everyone in the local shop-cum-post office, and had a geriatric fan club hanging on her every word among the Yee-Hawers and had promised to come along to their next dance night.
And, most importantly, she appeared to have kept her word and not breathed a word about Erin’s clearly ‘outdated’ wedding dress. The whispered and delivered with a smile slight still rankled.
Sadly, the Nalisha–Kam
thing didn’t appear to be happening, although he had taken her out – much to Bella and Sophie’s chagrin – on a couple of evenings, but Erin still lived in hope.
But Erin wasn’t going to think about Nalisha today. Today was Saturday. Jay only had morning surgery, and she’d be working until two o’clock, so they’d have the rest of the afternoon free. They’d made an appointment at the Swan with Abbie, the hotel’s wedding organiser, to make sure all the last-minute touches were in place.
And then, three weeks today … Three weeks today …
Erin munched her toast as she danced again round the sun-dappled kitchen. Nothing, not even Nalisha-the-cow, could possibly mar her happiness on a day like today.
Their wedding, Erin knew, going to be perfect. She’d been so silly to worry about it.
All she had to do now was lovingly return the fabulous shoes to their cream satin box, shower and dress, and pop to the Old Curiosity Shop and in a very few hours, she and Jay would be with Abbie at the Swan making sure their final arrangements were still all in place.
And three weeks today …
Erin was still chanting the mantra when she walked into the shop.
She stared in horror. Uncle Doug, looking wild-haired and wild-eyed, was heaving a dusty and moth-eaten chaise longue into one corner. The rest of the shop floor had been miraculously cleared, and all the furniture and books and ornaments were stacked round the edges.
gone mad? Where’s all the stuff gone? Are you planning to have a party in here? Have you been here all night? And what the hell is going on?’
Doug stopped in his heaving, dropped his end of the chaise longue, straightened up and wiped the sweat from his face. ‘Way too many questions. And actually I’d hoped to have it finished before you came in.’
‘Have what finished exactly?’ Erin stared round the shop in amazement. ‘Oh, no – you haven’t been to a house clearance without telling me? We’re not going to have an entire threebedroomed house’s junk in here again, are we? Last time you did that no one bought any of it and it cost us a fortune to hire someone to take it all away again, and –’
‘Even more questions. You should be in investigative journalism.’
‘Just tell me what’s going on.’
‘Right. Well, I’ve had a little internet delivery.’ Doug puffed. ‘You know I like the odd dabble in and out of the eBay shops – well, this deal was too good to pass up under the circumstances. Got it all for next to nothing.’
Erin winced. She’d heard those words – or similar – many, many times before.
‘OK – so what is it and when’s it arriving?’
Doug looked slightly shifty. ‘It’s already here. Out the back in the yard. That’s why I haven’t been to bed. They wanted to make an overnight delivery. Big lorry, you see. Less disruption for the village. I’m surprised it didn’t wake you.’
‘I slept like a log, didn’t hear
a thing – but it must be furniture.’ Erin frowned. ‘Otherwise you wouldn’t have cleared all this space. Do we really need more furniture, though? We make more money from the tourists buying nick-nacks and the out-of-print books and general collectibles. And the locals who come here to buy furniture are few and far between in the summer. So, why …?’
‘It’s not furniture.’
Erin’s heart sank. If it wasn’t furniture, what on earth could Uncle Doug have bought that needed most of the shop to house it?
She looked sternly at him. Oh God – not a menagerie of stuffed animals? Or a train set? A whole model railway layout that needed all the floor space? She wouldn’t put that past him.
‘There’s something you’re not telling me – oh, and you said “under the circumstances” … what circumstances?’
Doug smiled. Guiltily. ‘Ah, well – do you remember we said that coming up to your wedding it might be a nice idea to have a little Indian-themed window display?’
‘Mmm. I remember saying that I’d happily go along with it during my wedding week but not before, and anyway, the blue and white china still looks lovely, and we’ve sold loads to the browsers, and I really don’t want to spend this morning changing the window display again and …’
‘You won’t have to. Not yet anyway. This, um, new consignment is just for the interior of the shop. Not the window.’ ‘Tell me what you’ve bought.’
Doug smiled again. Erin still thought he looked very shifty. ‘Well, I thought, now Jay has both Kam and Nalisha in the village, it might be nice to show our solidarity.’
‘What-have-you-bought? Something Indian,
obviously, but what? No, no, don’t bother. I’ll go and have a look myself.’
Too late, she thought, forcing her way through the piled-up cabinets and chairs and rickety tables to get to the storeroom, and through that, out into the yard.
The sun, beating down across the uneven rooftops, dazzled her for a few seconds. She blinked. All she could see in the yard were lots of tall white pillars.
What the heck? Had Doug bought an online Indian temple? A do-it-yourself shrine? She blinked and stared again. No, no, not pillars … Not smooth enough. Too lumpy. Lots of individual tall lumpy things, most of them at least as tall as she was and some even taller, all covered in white sheets.
‘Erin.’ Doug appeared behind her. ‘I really didn’t want you to see this until I’d got it organised properly. Don’t touch the sheets, love. Please.’
Ignoring him, Erin twitched back a corner of the nearest sheet. And yelped.
‘It’s a life-size Marc Bolan!’
‘No, actually, it isn’t.’
‘It is! Look at the black curls and the eyeliner! Why the hell have you bought a statue of Marc Bolan?’
‘Er, actually, I think that might be Krishna. I need to refer to the accompanying catalogue to be sure, but yes, it looks like Krishna.’
‘It looks like Marc Bolan.’
‘Yeah.’ Doug surveyed it with his head on one side. ‘Yeah, I can see the likeness now you mention it.’
‘Once again, why have you bought a statue of Marc Bolan?’
Marc Bolan. It’s Krishna.’
‘And the others?’ Erin gritted her teeth and clenched her fingers tightly into her palms, staring at the collection of white shrouds. ‘A full line-up of the Sweet? The Glitter Band? Mud?’
nineteen seventies glam rockers, love. They’re gods and goddesses. Indian gods and goddesses.’
‘Not him, no. Just Indian. Erin, don’t touch the sheets. Don’t …’
Erin glared at him and stalked round the yard crossly whipping back the sheets.
She stared at the collection of larger-than-life-size plaster figures with mounting horror. Gaudily painted in vibrant colours, their flowing multilayered saris and ceremonial robes adorned with lots of golden painted jewellery and much glittery embellishment, they towered above her. And she even recognised some of them.
Ganesh, Lakshmi, Shiva and Vishnu she knew. Even Krishna, now she realised it wasn’t Marc Bolan. All these were displayed in tiny shrines in Jay’s cottage, gifts from his parents when they’d visited various temples. Erin loved them: loved their made-up faces, and their beatific smiles and their ornate rainbow clothes. Loved the flowers and animals scattered at their feet. Loved the stories behind them. Loved their links to Jay’s gentle cultural and religious heritage.
But the ones in Jay’s cottage were small discreet figurines, a couple of inches high, not mostly nearly six feet tall, and not so many of them.
She counted the statues quickly. Eighteen.
‘We can’t keep them. You’ll have to send them back.’
‘I can’t.’ Doug rattled various sheets of paper. ‘Er, it’s a done deal. Um, I was expecting them to be a lot smaller – you know, like little ornaments, and I thought they’d look lovely in the shop window with a lot of sari silks and some golden bowls and –’
‘You didn’t think to check on
the sizes?’ Erin knew she was in danger of becoming hysterical and tried very hard not to screech. ‘When you ordered them?’
Doug looked abashed. ‘I thought the measurements were in centimetres, and I don’t do metric, as you well know. I did think it was a bit odd that they said they’d deliver, as most things go in the post, but as it was a free delivery I wasn’t going to quibble and …’
Erin counted to ten and exhaled slowly. The sun hammered down on the top of her head.
Stay calm. Stay calm.
‘So, what exactly do you intend doing with them? Given that you can’t return them, no one is going to want to buy them, and you
put them in the shop.’
‘Of course I can put them in the shop.’ Doug tried another sheepish smile. ‘That’s why I’ve cleared all the space. Why can’t I put them in the shop?’
‘Because I’ll bloody resign and leave you to do your own accounts, that’s why! Look at them! They’re more than human-sized and some of them – like Ganesh – are also quite … well … fat. And there’re eighteen of them! That’s like having eighteen very tall, chunky people standing in the middle of the shop! We can’t move when there’re three in there! We won’t be able to get any customers in and you’ll go bankrupt in a week!’
OK. Calm down. Calm down. And breathe.
Doug looked a little shocked at the outburst. ‘Hardly, love. That’s why I cleared the space, though. So there’d be room for the customers if the statues all stood in the middle.’
‘And do what? Stop any customers
we might have, the ones who aren’t breaking their necks to own a life-size statue of an Indian god that is, seeing what else we have in stock? Actually buying something?’
‘Well, no …’
‘What –’ Erin was now on a roll ‘– was the point of me spending all last winter having the website designed? Getting us linked to all those telly show antique and collectible sites? Getting listings on all the Berkshire tourist trail sites with the coach tour companies? It’s worked miracles for the business, but we’ll be a laughing stock if all the customers find when they get here is a whole coterie of Indian idols!’
Doug sighed. ‘Don’t keep shouting at me. OK, I might have made a bit of a mistake …’
A bit of a mistake
? No, being stupid enough to lose Gina was a bit of a mistake – this is a bloody disaster!’
‘Calm down, love. It’s not that bad.’ Doug looked slightly worried. ‘Look, why don’t we get them inside and just see how they fit? We might be able to integrate them somehow.’
‘Integrate them? Give me strength! And just how do you think we’re going to get them inside? They must weigh a ton. How many people delivered them?’
‘Um, about half a dozen or so. Quite big blokes they were, too.’
‘And where exactly do you think you’re going to get another half a dozen or so people to help you move them from the yard into the shop?’
‘I thought I’d ask round the village. And Callum’s here, so he can help.’
Callum Prior, an adenoidal teenager with blank eyes, a baseball cap and his jeans hanging halfway down his backside, was the Old Curiosity Shop’s Saturday boy.
Erin sighed. ‘Most people in this
village are even older than you are. Anyone daft enough to say yes will end up with a hernia or heart failure or both, especially in this heat. And Callum can’t manage this lot on his own.’
‘I thought we could ask Jay – and some of his friends – and Kam, of course. They’re all young and fit and strong.’
Erin sighed. ‘Jay and Kam will be at work until lunchtime, and we’re going out this afternoon, and anyway, we really, really don’t want all these, er, statues in the shop, do we? Oh, for someone usually so astute in business, someone who can turn a profit on almost
, you’re just plain daft sometimes.’
‘So I’ve been told.’ Doug surveyed the statues sorrowfully. ‘Well, if they have to stay out here for the time being, maybe we could make them into some sort of feature. You know, like a sort of visitors’ shrine?’
‘Why? We need the yard for deliveries and stacking up reclamation stuff. And even if the tourists did suddenly decide they wanted to look at eighteen Indian gods and goddesses – though God only knows why they would – there’s bound to be some sort of health and safety issue about letting people wander about in a delivery yard.’
They stared at one another. The yard was unbearably hot. The statues were giving off a rather unpleasant old-paint musty smell.
The doormat bell rang, echoing distantly through the shop and out into the yard.
‘Hello!’ A female voice called from inside the shop. ‘Anyone at home?’
Bugger, Erin sighed. A customer. She raised her voice.
‘We’re out here in the yard. Just coming … no, don’t come
through here – oh … Nalisha.’
Nalisha, wearing a pink and silver sari, blinked batwing eyelashes in the sunshine. ‘Ah, here you are – why’s the shop so empty? I just thought – Oooh, wow! Awesome!’
Erin pulled a face.
Nalisha sashayed between the statues making little chirrups of excited pleasure.
‘Lovely, aren’t they?’ Doug said cheerfully, making puppy-dog eyes at Nalisha, and obviously delighted to have found an ally. ‘I was just saying to Erin that –’
‘Lord Krishna,’ Nalisha breathed, stroking the solid black curls, ‘with butter on his fingers. Exactly right. And –’ she moved round the towering figures, cooing blissfully ‘Lord Vishnu, oh, and Matangi, the Dark One. Oh and there’s Lakshmi! Isn’t she gorgeous? Oh, they’re simply fabulous! I haven’t seen anything like this outside the temples. Where on earth did you get them?’