Eva Kennedy had just stepped into the cold March air when a watermelon rolled across the footpath in front of her.
‘Sorry ‘bout that, Eva love,’ a middle-aged woman called over. ‘It’s been trying to make a run for it all day, that one.’
Eva picked up the runaway fruit and passed it across to Brenda, who was surrounded by the remnants of her fruit and vegetable stall. There were boxes of cabbages and oranges piled high on the Camden Street footpath around her. Her son was dismantling the stall itself, loading the wooden trays into a van parked illegally beside the footpath, its interior light throwing out a dim glow.
‘Howya, Eva,’ Sean called from the back of the van. ‘Any chance of a pint together tonight?’
‘No chance at all, Sean. Haven’t you given up on me yet?’
‘Never, you’ve my heart broken, you know.’
Eva just laughed at him. Not even fourteen years old and he was already full of cheek.
She had just started pulling down the delicatessen’s security shutter when she heard someone calling her name. It was Mrs Gallagher, one of her favourite customers, walking quickly down Camden Street and waving a shopping list like a small white flag.
‘Eva, I’m so sorry,’ she said breathlessly as she reached her side. ‘I just couldn’t get away from work before now. Am I too late?’
‘Of course not, Mrs Gallagher. I wasn’t going home yet anyway.’ She pushed the shutter all the way up again and opened the front door, the bell giving its little ring as they walked in. The shop was warm, the air fragrant with the mingled smells of fresh bread, coffee, cheese and spices.
Mrs Gallagher gave an appreciative sniff. ‘Thank you for this, Eva. I’ve friends coming over for dinner tonight and I promised them some of your wonderful cheese.’
‘It’s no problem at all.’ Eva went in behind the counter, tied on an apron again and pulled on some gloves. ‘Ambrose and I are having a quick meeting after work in any case.’
‘Now, that’s the sort of meeting I’d like to have. I can just imagine what you two talk about. “What do you think of this cheese, Eva?” “Is this olive oil good enough?” “Are these chocolates chocolatey enough?”
Eva laughed at the envious look on Mrs Gallagher’s face. “That’s about it, actually. Now, which cheese were you after? We’ve your favourite here, this crumbly farmhouse one, or perhaps you’d like to try this new one? A smoked cheddar, from a small producer near Cork that Ambrose heard about. It’s something special, I have to say.’
Mrs Gallagher took a taste, then smacked her lips in pleasure. ‘Oh yes, I’ll have a good wedge of that, Eva, thank you. Where is Ambrose, by the way?’
‘In the Bermuda Triangle.’
‘Our storeroom. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times we reorganise it, things just disappear in there, never to be seen again.’
‘Sounds just like my filing cabinet at work. And tell me, how will Ambrose cope without you while you’re off gallivanting in New York with that young man of yours?’
‘My cousin Meg is coming up from Ennis to help out. She’s just finished a course at the Ardmahon House cooking school and really wants the work experience.’
‘Oh, that’s a marvellous place, apparently. I’ll have to ask her for some recipe tips. Now, let me think, can I have some of that camembert? And some of the blue vein as well, while you’re there.’
Eva had just taken out the wheel of camembert when she heard the front doorbell ring. She looked up, her smile fading slightly at the sight of a red-faced elderly woman. Mrs Lacey. The Terror of Camden Street.
‘I know it’s after six, but you’re still here, so of course you can serve me,’ Mrs Lacey said loudly as she rummaged in her bag. ‘It’s ridiculous the hours you shop people keep. You should be suiting us, your paying customers, not yourselves, if you ask me, Eva.’
Yes, Mrs Lacey. And may I say how especially toad-like you look today. A pound of our finest dried flies, was it? Or some of this pond slime flown in fresh from Galway this morning? Perhaps you’d just like to flick that long toady tongue of yours over the counter here and serve yourself?
‘I’ll be with you in just one minute, Mrs Lacey. Just as soon as I finish looking after Mrs Gallagher here.’
Mrs Lacey stared at the other woman as if she had magically appeared out of nowhere. ‘But I’m in a hurry. Where’s that uncle of yours? Surely he can serve me?’
What a good idea, Eva thought.