Short story: Chez Celestine

Madame Lafarge sized up the high street as she waited at the traffic lights in Leadenham. Wide pavements, neat stone faced buildings, small shop frontages. But the stone cross in the market square was disfigured by the presence of a cheap blue plastic neon sign with fish n chips on it. Tsk tsk she muttered, patting her bun. She scraunched the gears in her Citroen Kangoo and the car leapt forward eagerly, farting it’s exhaust noisily. Then she spotted the lease sign. She swerved abruptly into a spare parking space between a mud splattered range rover and a scratched Nissan micra with an L plate.

This could work she thought. A small shop frontage, a wooden door covered with thick black paint. Inside the cobwebbed window were dog beds and cat scratching posts on a bed of sharp plastic grass.

She closed her eyes and saw the future.

The shop, Chez Celestine, opened on a crisp November morning. It had been three months of plaster dust, stripping and painting, endless trips to source tiles, cabinets, rustic furniture and commercial ovens, but it was now done.  

In the window were tall wicker baskets for the pain flute and a little oblongs of flaky pain au chocolat, slender  pain flutes with a crisp crust  and the wider batons of golden yellow  in wicker baskets. 

By seven thirty the pain flute was out of the oven, and neatly displayed like cricket bats in a tall wicker basket for the good folk of Leadenham to view. Alongside were homely pain de champagne, itself a little like Madame’s trademark chignon bun. The display took a nod to Celestine’s cafe style of the Montgesty bakers with a chic Parisian edge. Behind the glass domed counters were the patisserie. Open tarts of fresh strawberry mountains, nestling on crème patisserie and glazed with a clear shining gloss. There was dark chocolate torte decorated with chocolate shavings, frangipan biscuits with jewelled peel of lemon and orange studded with hazel nuts and frozen in chocolate.

The tables were decorated with zingy gerbera and the smell of roasting coffee with a burnt undertone of cinnamon and spice and the yeasty promise of rising bread enticed the first customer into the shop. She was a stout woman with flat lace up shoes, dressed in a thick green woollen coat.

She came in and looked intently at the stripped floorboards, raised an eyebrow at the turquoise and black wallpaper of songbirds and then smeared a finger over the metal cafe tables as if looking for dust. She then examined the cakes and flaky pain au chocolait and yellow curved croissants behind the counter with a small frown and expression of bewilderment.  

‘Good Morning – what can I get for you?’

‘Hello, well, you’ve been busy.’

‘Yes, I have. It’s been a long job’

‘I can see that – it’s been transformed beyond recognition.’

‘Thank you’

The customer sniffed and Madame Laforge was not clear if this was in fact a compliment.

‘Well I wanted some bread. You do have some I take it?’

‘What style of bread Madame?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘As you call it, would you prefer a keeping loaf like pain de champagne or as you English say, some French bread. Fresh and tasty, like the baton, or the pain flute, but not so good for keeping’ Madame Lagarge gesticulated with a dainty finger to the different types of loaf.

‘Well I suppose I could try a keeping loaf.’

‘A good choice, you won’t regret it’

‘That’s as maybe – but I’ll need to go to Alf’s for the usual. Sliced. My Tony’s not going to change now.’

‘Well, perhaps you may like to try a pain flute next time?

‘It looks a little hard on the teeth, I suppose it would be alright with soup’

‘Exactiment Madame, a good choice’

And with that her first customer left and Madame Lafarge realised how hard she was going to have to work in this small town. Montgesty, Montgesty, Mongesty she sighed. 

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