They got back from holiday in Crete two weeks ago and since then
life has been a struggle. It was their first holiday in four years and
it had almost broken Frank. Molly, his fat ankled auburn haired partner
since secondary school had insisted that they 'get away from it'
although as soon as they unpacked their suitcases in the hotel room he
realised it was her he needed to get away from just as much as the
murky business world which he had grown to hate so much. In their
swimming costumes though they soon felt closer to one another again.
They laughed and kissed and stayed up all night just as they had done
all those years ago under their parents roofs when they pretended to be
doing homework, maintaining that all of those sleepovers were
In sun-soaked Crete, Frank and Molly reached previously unknown highs,
which could not be matched back in their one bedroomed flat in
Harrogate. When they were in the Jacuzzi in the hotel health spa they
vowed not to argue as much as they had done over the last year. By the
time they towelled each other down they had sorted through all the
problems and they celebrated with a bottle of wine in the bar. At the
seafood restaurant they confided in each other about all the things
that they felt needed changing in the relationship and on the moonlit
walk home, full of shrimps and lobster they laughed while recalling
arguments that had been so painful at the time and vowed that the
tricky start to their marriage was over and from then on it was going
to be as clear as the sky that night, it was going to be as smooth as
the sea which they took their shoes off and walked through.
Within twenty four hours of the plane landing back down at Manchester
Airport, tea bags had been left in the sink, the lightbulb on the
landing still hadn't been replaced, they both fidgeted too much in bed
and it was 'all Frank's fault.' Some of their friends were still to
receive their postcards when Frank was sleeping in the spare room after
'something said while drunk.'
He shares a desk with Angus, a reluctant confidante who has mastered
the art of pretending to listen and simultaneously pretending to do
work while actually just trying to break his own highest score on
Pinball on his Laptop. He didn't admit that Frank's desk being empty
had meant work was less enjoyable over the two weeks he had been left
alone in the office. Didn't admit it, because it wasn't true. He sat
there letting his colleague pour out his emotions, he guessed he just
needed to get things off his chest and everything would be fine. Frank
believed he needed intense psychotherapy. They tended to find the
middle ground and went for a pint at lunchtime.
'I'm not happy Molly.'
As soon as the words came out he regretted it. Maybe this kind of
approach worked for Angus, but not for Frank Fox. The despondent look
on Molly's sun-tanned face made him want to rip the boiling kettle from
the wall and throw scolding water all over himself.
'Frank, I'm not getting into an argument over breakfast.'
'It's not about breakfast.'
Frank attempted a wry smile in a vain attempt to restore normality to
the morning and make light of his admission of discontent. The scowl on
Molly's face told him it was going to be a long day.
'I'm just not interested. I want to eat my toast in silence. I want to
drink my coffee in silence. And then I want to drive to work with as
few people cutting into my lane as possible, have as few customers as
possible and then come back here as late as possible.'
'But when you do get home?we need to talk. Angus says we should
'If Angus heard you say what you said the other night, I don't think he
would be so eager to provide his sympathetic ear.'
'Molly, please tell me what is bothering you so much. Please tell me
what I have done wrong!'
He clasped his hands together, pleading with her. His eyes opened as
wide as they could, imploring her to look at him with some emotion
other than hatred.
'I've told you I never want to talk to about that night again. I've
also said I want to eat my toast and drink my coffee in silence.'
Molly put her shoes on, glared at her husband, and Frank feared she was
going to throw her coffee mug at him. Her face made him want to rip the
wallpaper from the wall and set fire to the furniture.
'There's a Starbucks down the road from the shop. I'm going to get a
coffee from there. Does that give you any idea of how little I want to
be here right now?'
Molly didn't go to Starbucks. It had been an idle threat which she knew
would hurt her partner of nineteen years. Instead, she just opened up
her Art Shop at the 'trendy' end of Harrogate, alongside a record shop,
a theatre and a caf? selling bagels and home made soup, all of which
struggled to attract browsers, never mind customers, just as much as
she did. Molly worked alone, she used to employ an Italian art student
who was popular with the ladies and the cause of the first of her mid
life crisis's. He soon left though, taking with him Molly's faint hopes
of a Latino toyboy, the majority of her equally hormonal customers and
?250 from the till. Within minutes of switching the 'closed' sign to
'open' she contemplated reversing it again, the thought of customers
repelling her, but due to their financial position, particularly after
a holiday in Crete, she was forced to admit the only option was to stay
open all day. The prospect of selling anything more than a 79 pence
paint brush seemed like la la land. She sat behind the counter and
stared. The negative frame of mind she woke up in grew progressively
worse. She always tended to wake up in a bad mood, but that morning in
particular she had woken up on the wrong side of bed and trodden over
shards of glass, blood, skulls, razor blades, dead animals and
landmines just to get to her wardrobe.
Hate was on her mind and the only thing that distracted her all day
long was the tinkle of the bell announcing the arrival a customer. A
balding, smiling forty year old with a pullover and a crumpled piece of
paper in his hand, who looked quite taken aback to be told to 'Clear
off, we're closed' by the deranged auburn haired woman behind the
counter. He argued he only needed one thing but she accompanied him out
of the shop and slammed the door behind him. He stood on the pavement
as he saw the sign flipped to close and heard her double lock the door.
She went into the store room, slumped down and cried.
Kevin walked back to his car, a mixture of shock at being escorted out
of the Art Shop he'd been going to for twenty years and worry for the
tear stained woman who had done it. Most of all though, he was
concerned about Emily. He was only allowed a half hour dinner break, he
didn't have time to look anywhere else and couldn't think of any other
shop in Harrogate that would have been able to help him. The Art Shop
near the caf? selling home made soup was where he had always gone, not
that it was anything special. For an art shop the decor was bland, the
walls a murky yellow and the knot holed floorboards decaying. Despite
it being the only art shop in Harrogate their were rarely customers in
the shop, it was always the woman with auburn hair behind the counter,
sometimes reading a paperback, sometimes pencilling landscapes on the
canvas by the desk, sometimes mixing paints or water-colours, but most
of the time just sitting there staring vacantly at the peeling,
unappealing walls. She always wore cardigans, even in the Summer. She
seemed to take no care in her appearance at all. Kevin sat on the kerb
outside the shop hoping that giving her five minutes would cool her
down and he could buy the plasticine for Emily, but was pessimistic, as
he was about most things. He peered through the window but could see
He used to go The Art Shop when he was a student. It had different
owners then. He met Crystal at art school and the two of them would go
there on an almost daily basis. She taught him how to sculpt, how to
paint portraits, how to model using clay. In return, he would pay for
it all and carry all the materials to the boot of his car. After
Crystal came Denise and contact with The Art Shop was temporarily lost,
as she had absolutely no interest in anything artistic and soon enough
even less interest in him. But after a happy marriage to Steph and an
even happier divorce he had the time to reacquaint himself with these
things that made him happy in life. Seventeen years of going to The Art
Shop cultivated in him being told to 'Clear off.' The doors showed no
sign of reopening and with storm clouds gathering in the sky, Kevin
clambered into his car and drove steadily back to work, beating himself
up that he had let his daughter down, desperately trying to think of
other places where he could buy Emily's plasticine. He came up with
Emily ran away from school when Mrs Briggs shouted at her for being the
only one not to have any plasticine. She shouted so much her face went
red and she took her glasses off and sat down. No-one had ever been so
horrible so she ran out of the door and kept running. She had cried
last night when her dad came home from work and told her that the lady
in the shop didn't sell plasticine. He took her round to Tracy
Simpson's house to ask if she had any spare but she said no. She cried,
but her dad tucked her into bed and said it would be okay. He was
wrong. She stopped running when she got to the park, it hadn't been her
intended destination but seemed as good as anywhere and it was empty,
for once she had a free reign But there was no-one to push her higher
on the swings and she only liked the roundabout when her dad was there
to make it go fast. She climbed on the climbing frame and when she got
to the top, stayed there. Up there, with the expanse of the park in
full view, she realised what she had done and started crying.
'What's your name?'
'Emily.' A man in a suit walked onto the tarmac of the park.
'Are you with anyone?' Emily shook her head.
'I'm lost' she whimpered and the man had to take a moment until he
properly deciphered the words.
'Do you know your telephone number? A number I could ring to speak to
'Mum doesn't live with me. I live with my dad.'
'Where does he work?'
'In an office. Where do you work?' a smile emerged on Emily's tear
stained face, she stopped crying and climbed down the climbing frame
and stood next to where the man was stood.
'I work in an office too.' Emily sat on the grass, crossing her legs.
The man did the same and looked straight into her eyes.
'You can't stay here Emily. Neither can I. You'll get us both into
trouble. I'll take you to your school.' Emily shook her head.
'Will you push me on the roundabout? Fast?'
'Look Emily, it's not right for me to be here right now. Little girls
should not be in parks alone. Nasty men come to parks. Now tell me the
name of your school or your dads name and we will sort you out. You're
not in any trouble.'
Emily shook her head.
'I have to go back to work. But I'm not going to leave you here. Will
you walk with me and I'll get somebody to look after you. My wife can
sort you out while I go to work.'
The man dialled a number into his mobile phone, walking out of the
park, while Emily happily skipped behind.
'Molly, it's me. Are you at the shop?'
'Can I do painting?'
'I'll get you some paper and crayons. But you can't stay here for too
long. We're trying to find the school you go to.'
Molly looked on the shelves for a cheap packet of pencil crayons and
put the 85 pence in the till from her own pocket. She set up a little
chair and table in the stockroom and made her a glass of orange juice.
At first it was a nuisance having her there, an inconvenience she could
do without. But looking over her shoulder at the scribbled crayoned
pictures of 'me and my dad,' 'me and my house' and the particularly
detailed 'me and my dad and my house,' all of them proudly signed by
Emily with every letter a different size and the E and the Y the wrong
way around. The phone went and Molly reluctantly answered, but when she
heard Frank's voice they had the longest conversation since the one
that lasted all night in Crete. There was something about the both of
them which added sparkle to the conversation and they agreed to go to a
restaurant for dinner in the evening, instead of having the regular
something on toast.
As Emily's dog, goldfish and friend Tracy Simpson had been added to the
pencil crayoned ensemble, Molly walked into the storeroom to disturb
'Emily, I've been phoning around the primary schools asking if they've
had any little girls running away who match your description. I'm
sorry, but it's time to go back. You can take your pictures with you.
Mrs Briggs says she's looking forward to seeing them.'
Emily put the pictures into her backpack and skipped into the shop,
happily putting her coat on that Molly held out for her. Molly,
suddenly reluctant for her to go went onto the street and shut the shop
early for the second day in a row. They walked to school where Emily
chattered happily. When they got to the school she stopped and produced
a picture from her bag.
'It's of you, working in the shop.' Molly took it off her, looking at
the picture, smiling at the almost back to front signature. She was
about to say thank-you and give her a hug when she saw something lying
at the top of the bag.
'Did you take that plasticine from the shop Emily?'
'We're making things with it after playtime.' Emily said and ran away
to her friends playing in the playground. Molly turned round and walked
back to the shop. She blu tacked the picture up above the counter,
looked at it and smiled. Then she tore it down, crushed it in her hands
and threw it in the bin.