• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 01

One Thing at a Time

"You're not leaving it out there?"

Shirley's a worrier. She was against the idea of a work experience kid in the first place, and Julie's only confirmed her suspicions. The reality of Julie has tested my philanthropic principles.

"It's fine," I said. "It's bringing people in."

Two middle-aged women in honest-to-goodness hats had been in to complain by ten o'clock. I tried to keep my eyes from flicking to their headgear, tried not to be distracted from polite apologies, to keep my mind on customer service. Julie, on the other hand…

"Are you off to a wedding?" she'd asked the first woman. Which, in fairness to Julie, wasn't rude. Not like the silent glare she got in return. "Funeral? Horse race?"

"Julie, why don't you see if there's something you can do in the back room?" I'd said without looking at her, and smiled across the counter at a face I'd have happily slapped in former, less restrained, times.

Now Shirley stood by the window, fiddling with her reading glasses and watching the A-board on the pavement as though it might turn and launch itself through the glass any minute.

"She's missed an apostrophe," she said.

"One thing at a time, Shirley." We might get some pedants in later to pick us up on that, who knew what dip pens and Edwardian napkin rings I might be able to sell them.

"I've done it," Julie announced from the inner doorway, but didn't stay there long enough to tell us what.

"You go," said Shirley. "I daren't look."


One Thing at a Time

"We all have to start somewhere. Give the kid a chance."

I turned away so Shirley wouldn't see the set of my jaw, and walked through to the back room.


Clearly I'd been quiet too long for Julie's liking, but I didn't know what to say. Hadn't decided whether to be furious or not. All the shelves of ornaments, trays of cutlery, stacks of paintings propped against the walls had been jumbled up.

"What have you done?" I asked at last, breathy but audible.

"Rearranged stuff." She's a literal girl, is Julie.

"I can see that," I said, "but how? Why?" And then I took Julie into account and said, "By what system?"

It made a sort of convoluted sense, once she'd explained it a couple of times. The young bride who'd used these violet-sprigged cups and saucers in 1910 could have become the woman who bought this painting of Spring flowers from a local artist thirty years later. The child with this Victorian toy boat could have grown up to build this fine-rigged sailing ship in middle-age.

"It all belonged to somebody, Shirley," I said as I guided her through the door. "As Julie correctly pointed out on her imaginative sign." Julie beamed and Shirley didn't look convinced. "Figure out who, and you can sell their whole lifestyle." Now it was Julie's turn to look dubious, but one thing at a time.