“I’d like to buy a happy ending,” she said, laying the battered paperback on the high wooden counter, beside the stuffed alligator.
“I see.” The shopkeeper riffled through the pages. “Nice cover, by the way.”
“You’re not supposed to judge by -”
“So, let’s see what we’ve got…sixteen years together, children entering the unattractive teenage phase, husband probably playing away – excuse me, definitely playing away – persistent ill-defined unsatisfied feeling.” He squinted through his rosy-pink monocle at the blank back pages. “Don’t worry; it turns out all right in the end.”
“Oh, yes. You go in your sleep, one afternoon about fifty years from now. Happens in
a nice nursing-home by the sea, very clean, hardly smells at all. It’s very peaceful,” he said defensively, seeing the look on her face.
“That’s not a happy ending!”
“Madam, I think you’ll find that’s exactly what it is. You should see what your ex-husband -”
“But – but I wanted to sell cupcakes!”
He laid the book on the counter.
“What is it with women in their late thirties and cupcakes? There’s a universe of possibilities out there. You could become a rock-star, or a spy, or an architect, or open a freak-show. Or you could stand for Parliament. But no; always with the cupcakes. And if it’s not cupcakes, it’s disturbing wall-decorations made from up-cycled baby-clothes. It’s very disappointing.”
“I can’t help it,” she apologised. “It’s the way I was written.”
“Well, we won’t have any cupcake businesses available for the foreseeable future. It’s the recession. We’re all having to economise.”
“Isn’t there anything you can do for me?” she pleaded.
He looked at her book again. “Cupcakes aren’t right for your idiom any more. These days, it’s all about the painful compromise.”
“Why does the compromise have to be painful?”
“Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” He studied the blank pages again. “We can shoehorn in some moral ambiguity around page one hundred and fifty. How about an unsatisfactory affair with a married man? You might be able to escape through there.”
“Is he good-looking?”
“What does he do for a living?”
“Unfortunately you’ll glaze over every time he tries to explain.”
“Will he take me to Paris?”
“Then I’m not interested,” she said firmly.
“I’m afraid it’s the best I can do.” He rummaged beneath the counter. “Unless you’d like an orange?”
“Why on earth would I like an orange?”
“Why is a raven like a -”
“You already made that joke,” she pointed out. “And intertextuality gives me a headache. Have you got any apples?”
“I’m afraid oranges are the only fruit I have today. Sorry.”
“You’ve been very unhelpful,” she told him, pulling her coat around her like armour. She snatched up her book and left.
“You messed that up good and proper,” said the stuffed alligator. The shopkeeper sighed and shuffled. The alligator sniffed, and devoured the orange.