Welcome lovely book people …
Today is my day on the wonderful ‘Christmas Cafe’ Blog Tour.
Please enjoy this extract ….
The Christmas Café by Amanda Prowse
With her eyes closed, Bea let the warm, morning breeze flutter over her face. She was in one of her favourite places, sitting on her folded sweatshirt at the base of a plane tree in Prince Alfred Park. It was the best place to visit in the sunshine; if she looked to the right, she saw nothing but the manicured green spaces that led to the vast, popular pool and in the other direction sat the majestic cityscape, where the Sydney Tower rose high, reminding her of a spaceship that had landed on a maypole. From her home, it was a brisk walk along Elizabeth Street that brought her here. Bea used the time to clear her head and escape the kitchen before service began. Now, as she sat in peace, letting her hand caress the grass, the sound of children’s laughter drifted on the breeze from the outdoor pool. It was one of the loveliest sounds she knew. Opening her eyes, she smiled, remembering when Wyatt was small and what it felt like to be woken by the slightest touch to her cheek. He would creep into her bedroom and place his tiny hand on her cheek. ‘Wake up, Mummy!’ he would breathe in her face. Time had proved there was no sweeter way to be roused from sleep. She watched a young mum run after her escapee toddler, catching her before scooping her up into her arms and showering her in kisses beneath her sun hat. The little girl squealed and wrapped her arms around her mum’s neck. Bea felt her stomach bunch with longing at the memory of Wyatt at a similar age. Life had been hard, but in some ways it had been the very best time, when he was little and was content to do nothing more than sit in her company, playing cards or being read to.
She tried to remember when he had stopped wanting to touch her. As a child he had happily plonked himself in her lap and kissed her face. Even as a teen there were hugs on arrival and departure, and an arm had occasionally been cast over her shoulders as they walked side by side along Manly’s promenade. She had loved those impromptu displays. It was as if he was proud of her, his young mum. Maybe it had stopped when he met Sarah, or when he’d had a daughter, as if he only had enough capacity to love two women properly. She couldn’t recall exactly and it didn’t really matter, the result was the same.
Bea glanced at her watch – it was time to be getting back, the lunch crowd would be arriving soon enough and she would be needed. As she trod the incline of Reservoir Street, feeling the pull on the back of her calves, she noticed that the vintage clothes shop opposite the café had strung Chinese lanterns in its window and placed a ‘Happy Christmas’ sign across the door. The sight of the decorations, as ever, put a smile on her face. Following their lead, she decided that later in the day she would dig out her own box of fairy lights from the basement, along with the one junk-shop find that only graced the café at Christmas time. This was a zinc-and-glass-framed photo of a white-capped Victorian maid lighting the thin candles on a rather sparse tree.
The girl’s expression was wistful, and to Bea it was as if she was wondering why it was that she had to do all the work, but couldn’t enjoy the tree or the cluster of gifts placed around its base.
Bea bustled into the kitchen, where Kim was bent over the counter-top, concentrating on weighing out couscous for the roasted veg and pomegranate salad. Bea started washing a large bunch of peppery watercress under the cold tap, feeling the soft leaves beneath her fingers as she delicately brushed them, thinking of the flakes of chilli-smoked roasted salmon that would sit on top of them in today’s sandwich special. She would whip up a spicy lemon-and-paprika aioli to accompany it, perfect for dunking chunky twice-cooked chips. The visualisation and mental preparation of the food she would serve bought her immense happiness.
Kim broke the silence. ‘Hey, boss, did you know you got a letter today? A proper handwritten letter, from Scotland? I’m dying to know what’s inside.’ Kim waved the cream envelope in her direction and propped it on the counter-top. ‘It arrived while you were out – I would have steamed it open and resealed it, if I thought I’d had the time.’ She winked.
‘From Scotland?’ Bea asked quietly as she switched off the tap and swallowed, slowly drying the greens in her hand. Her fingers trembled.
Bea dried her hands on a dishcloth, then wiped them down her pinny for good measure, before reaching for the envelope. She let her eyes rove over the spidery text and stroked the stamp with her thumb, hesitating before flipping it over and studying the back, which was blank. She wiggled her finger under the flap and eased it to the left and right, trying not to damage the envelope. She held her breath and twisted her body, so both the sheet and her face were averted.
Her fingers drummed on the Edinburgh postmark as her head filled with a lilting Scottish burr. It was the voice that had lulled her to sleep with stories of lochs shimmering in the sun and winding paths up mountainsides abundant with flowers. ‘The white heather is the rarest; they say it grows only on soil where no blood has been shed. It’s lucky…’ She remembered every word he had spoken, as if it was yesterday.
The Christmas Café by Amanda Prowse is published on 22nd October (£7.99, Head of Zeus) Amanda Prowse will be appearing at the Southampton’s Festival of Words on Tuesday 27th October, for more information visit http://www.sotospeakfestival.org/Amanda-Prowse-2/.
The book is available to buy from Amazon here http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Christmas-Caf%C3%A9-Greater-Love/dp/1784970379/ref=tmm_pap_title_0