You may have noticed that I've changed the cover of my upcoming book. It's so hard to get the right image. People do judge a book by it's cover and I wasn't sure the old cover was making the right statement about the book.
Lovers is all about the love affair of Charlie and Brenda. It began in a Soho blues club in London in the 1980s. Flash forward to post Covid London and a groups of strangers will meet and perhaps find love. Their stories are all connected to Charlie and Brenda in some way.
Here we meet Martha and this is an excerpt from the beginning of her story ...
Marta wasn’t crying because the little boy looked sad. He was happy, actually. Large eyes. The whites of them so white, she couldn’t help but notice them as she looked into the window of the music shop. She thought she saw grey flecks in the blues of his eyes, wondering if she was imagining the detail. After all, how could she be so sure, looking at him through a veil of tears and a shop window that reflected her pale face straight back at her.
The boy turned his head towards her, and Marta’s breath caught in her throat. She hadn’t meant to stare. The man at the counter rang up the sale and handed the hard case of a violin to the boy. Both he and his mother smiled and nodded as the man jumped from his stool and hurried to open the door for them. The boy clutched the violin case to his chest, chirping to his mother. Marta acknowledged that, like her, they were Polish. She heard the mother say, ‘Chodźmy,’ to her son. ‘Let’s go.’ Unlike his mother, the boy sounded very English, like any boy who’d grown up in London, she supposed.
As Marta watched them walk away, she felt a hand touch her arm. Turning, she saw the man from the shop beside her.
‘Are you okay?’ he asked.
That’s how Marta met Elliot, the first person who’d shown any kindness all day, though this wasn’t the first time she’d seen him. This rangy black man, skin the colour of a sweet chestnut, often sat next to the window behind the counter. Sometimes he fixed the shelves, sometimes he read a book, sometimes he played one of the many guitars on display in the shop. He only smiled when he had a customer. Otherwise, he looked sad.
‘Would you like to come in?’ he asked her. His voice was soft like honey spread over warm bread; it gave her a feeling of nostalgia. She welcomed images of a place she once loved, though in reality it was a place she would never go back to.
She stepped into Val’s Music Shop for the first time, but Marta knew, as she wiped the dampness of her tears away, that it wouldn’t be the last.
‘Come round the back,’ Elliot said, leading the way. ‘I’m making tea. Or coffee, if you’d prefer?’
‘Is it all right? I wouldn’t mind, actually.’
She followed him through a small dark corridor that led directly into a brightly lit storage room where the smell of polished wood, leather cases and something sweet greeted her. Not for one moment did Marta hesitate, walking into a back room with a man she’d never met, not officially, anyway. Something about Elliot made her feel safe, secure. She hadn’t felt like that in a very long time.
Without being asked, she removed the long purple cardigan she was wearing and shook out the fine sprinkles of rain from her dark hair. Marta had quickly combed her hair that autumn morning, dressing in flared jeans and a seventies style floral shirt with a large collar. Her wardrobe was filled with brightly coloured clothes. Items she’d picked up in the charity shops she loved to frequent, and where she’d spend hours trying on clothes. Every day she wore a dress or blouse, ablaze with colour. Like the bright coloured wings of a butterfly, she thought her clothes hid the aura of grey and blue that shadowed her for the entire day. She no longer had a job, and her rent had just gone up; in fact, she’d spent that very morning asking in the pubs, cafés and restaurants along the busy Shepherd’s Bush streets for work. Not being able to pay next month’s rent was not the only reason for the dark shadows. They were ever-present because of the things Marta couldn’t talk about. Things that were the root of her sadness and the reason why she’d wake from a dream she couldn’t remember, exhausted, haunted and ashamed all at the same time. Every morning she woke up empty, and every day she’d add more colour. Brighter. Louder. A scarf, a hat, strings of beads, some bangles.
Without interrupting her thoughts, Elliot boiled a kettle and put two mugs onto the large workshop table at the back of the room. He turned and held up a packet of PG Tips tea bags and a jar of instant coffee. Marta pointed to the coffee.
‘Black, no sugar,’ she said and settled onto a drum stool, the closest seat she could find without disturbing the chaotic structure of the room. The deep shelves on two sides of the room rose to the ceiling and were stacked with boxes, instruments and recording equipment for studios. There was a low rail behind her, next to the door, lined with acoustic guitars. In the centre of the room were more boxes and a few piano stools covered in cellophane, placed carelessly on the balding carpet. On the back table, where Elliot made her coffee and a cup of tea for himself, there was a classical guitar on its back. It had no strings on the fret board. Beside it were various tools, open boxes and pieces of recording equipment.
‘I’m Marta by the way,’ she said across the room, slightly raising her voice over the buzzing of the overhead light fitting, the hum of a small fridge, a radio playing quietly on one of the shelves and the clink of a teaspoon as Elliot stirred his milky tea.
‘Elliot.’ He put down the teaspoon and picked up the mugs.
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Warning - you may need a box of tissues when you read this story