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Nelly Harwood Nelly Harwood
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She had a friend.

From a series of stories, all linked by a theme, a place,a character or an object.

Sharon knew it must be nearly 10.30 when she heard the familiar tapping of Jim’s walking stick and saw him shuffling into the shop.

“How do?” he said.

He pushed a net of potatoes to the side, pulled out the old kitchen chair the mini-market kept for its elderly customers and sat down heavily.

“Paper?” she said. “What’ll it be today?”

He turned sideways a little and looked at the range on offer.

“All got the same headline an’t they?” he said.

Sharon shrugged.

“Big news I s’pose. Not every day the King dies.”

Jim snorted.

“King? What y’ talkin’ about? Some tuppeny-‘appeny singer. Probably drugged up on all sorts….What sort of a King is that?”

Sharon laughed. “That’s why I love you comin’ in here Jim. Puts us all to rights. Be careful what you say today though. Lots of folk are comin’ in upset about Elvis. They want to read about it…an’ I’ll get in trouble if you put ‘em off.”

Jim smiled at her. “’Nough said Lass. I don’t want you getting’ your ear bent!”

“Now,” she said. “While it’s quiet….brew?”

Jim rubbed his hands together. “Now then. That’d do nicely. Just the one sugar.”

Sharon grinned. “I think I know how many sugars you have. I’ve been making you a cuppa every day for at least eighteen months.”

Jim nodded slowly, only half listening and staring at his crossword.

The next customer had a huge basketful of food. The handle cut into the ample flesh on her arm.

Jim gestured to the basket, pointing at the cereal.

“What’s that then Joanie?”

“Special K,” she said. “’An’t you seen the advert? For grown up people who don’t want to grow anymore?”

Jim lifted his walking stick and gently prodded the cereal to the side and pointed at the three Marathon bars underneath. “So who’s that for?”

She threw her head back and laughed. “You don’t bother with cereal then Jim?”

“Not me,” he said. “I go to work on an egg. ‘Cept I’m missing out the work stage these days.”

He looked back down at the paper. “European city with zero birth rate,” he said.

Joanie shrugged. “How many letters?”

He looked at her over his glasses. “Would that make a big difference?” he said.

She laughed again. “You’re right…not a chance of me getting it. What about you Sharon?”

Sharon was ringing the food through the till and stopped for a moment, a tin of beans in her hand.

“The Vatican,” she said.

Jim grinned. “That’ll be it! No flies on you is there!” he said. “And that reminds me…” He reached into his orange holdall and pulled out a book, the binding was navy-blue with worn gold writing on the spine.

“What is it?” Sharon said.

“You know…that crossword the other day. Dickens.” She must have frowned because he went on. “You said that you’d not read any.”

Joanie took the book from her and thumbed through its flimsy pages before handing it back.

“Oliver Twist. Looks a little serious. I like a bit of Mills and Boon me.” She hauled her shopping across the counter and left them.

“You can do better sweetheart,” said Jim.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

He opened his hands and looked around as if in explanation. “This….this min-market place. Jackson’s as it was when I was young.” He looked around the shop, suddenly nostalgic.

“It was a different sort of place then. People had time to talk.” He said.

“What d’you think I’n doing you mangy ol’ bugger! I’ve been talking to you for half an hour.” Sharon said.

The door was pushed open and interrupted them. A small, thin girl walked in. She wore an old blue cotton dress, too long for her and baggy under the arms. Hanging from her shoulder was a duffel bag with huge pink and purple flowers.

“Tracey,” said Sharon.

The small girl smiled shyly and glanced sideways at Jim.

“And what can I do you for you?” She asked the question but she knew the answer.

The girl slid the thin ropes off her shoulder and lifted the bag into the counter in a fluid, practised movement. She waited, studying the worn red Formica of the counter.

“Did your mum send you?” asked Sharon.

The girl raised her eyes for an instant and then nodded.

“Cider?” said Sharon.

Another nod.

“And twenty Embassy?”

And again.

“What’s up? Cat got your tongue?” Sharon asked.

Tracey smiled.

“That’ll be 96p please,” said Sharon.

The girl looked at the money folded in her hand and then held it towards Sharon. She had 90p.

“Cigarettes have gone up Tracey.”

Sharon looked across at Jim and then back to the girl.

Putting the things in a bag she said, “Tell your mum to come herself next time. You know that I’m not s’posed to let you buy them.”

They watched the girl leave.

“That’s what I’m sayin’,” said Jim.

“Not following you,” said Sharon.

Jim waved his hand in the direction of the freezer cabinets. “You could be like Joanie, and like Tracey’s mum. Stuck in here all your days.”

“Since when did you become my dad Jim? I’m nineteen. What’s wrong with my life anyway? What did you do that was so different.”

Jim picked up the book and tapped its spine against the counter. “This ‘un knew about people like me and you.”

He smiled as he folded his newspaper away. “You’re right. It’s not like I ever did anythin’ special. I did my bit, not asking for thanks mind, Then married to Gracie and work. Nothin’ spectacular, nothin’ dazzlin’.”

He pushed on the stick and stood up. He bent forwards and concentrated on the coins in his hand and yet Sharon couldn’t shake off the sensation that he was watching her carefully.

“That’s just it Sharon. I didn’t do nothin’…I just did what I had to….” He pointed to the book, “he taught me that.”

He counted the coins out, slowly as if making a tally of the years.

Sharon took the coins from him and for a second held her hand in his. “I’ll read it Jim. I’ll read it…and then I’ll talk to you about it.”

“There’s night classes…there’s training schemes…all suited to a bright lass.”

“Slow down ol’ man,” she smiled. “It might be more like your crossword….one step at a time.”

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