Miss Murray's Sweet Shop

Miss Murray's Sweet Shop

A Story by Pat

This is an excerpt from "Back to Buckhaven and Other Short Stories" -- a compilation of short stories, each of which takes place in the east neuk of Fife, Scotland, where I was born and raised.


            The little shop had stood at the corner of Randolph and High Streets for more than forty years. In all that time, very little about it had changed. Its windows were of beveled glass squares, shaded by a faded tartan awning. The front door had been a dozen different shades of brown over the decades, but it had always rung the same tinny, brass bell when it was opened or closed. Inside, the store’s shelves were lined with glass jars, sort of like an apothecary. But the jars were filled with sweets and labeled accordingly. Turkish DelightCandy-coated Caramels…Miniature Flakes…

            The wide wooden counters of the shop were covered with an assortment of newspapers and magazines…dailies, weeklies, monthlies, in no particular semblance of order. But Miss Murray, the shop’s proprietress, knew precisely where everything was. She had inherited the little sweet shop from her mother, and for the past fifteen years, she had run it all by herself, with just an occasional helping hand from a cousin on her father’s side. She’d unroll the awning and open the door by eight o’clock in the morning and not close up shop until after six. Like all other businesses on High Street, the little store locked its doors from noon until one o’clock to allow the shop people to have dinner. Miss Murray usually crossed the street to the tea shop and had a meat pie or sausage roll, followed by a freshly brewed pot of tea.

            Now, if Miss Murray knew more about something other than selling sweets and periodicals, it was people. She had been studying them for years and had become quite proficient at judging human behavior and habit. Body language was her particular genre of expertise. She noticed things about the way people carried themselves and how they interacted with others. If she had not been a shopkeeper, she decided, she would have made a fine psychologist.

            She couldn’t quite remember the first time she’d noticed him. But it was sometime in winter, for she’d been quick to take note of his cashmere overcoat and oxford tie peeking from beneath it. If his dress and brown leather briefcase weren’t enough to deem him a rather successful professional, the young man’s manner would have stated so, Miss Murray had decided. He was self-assured and comfortable, with an air of command about him. She liked how he never browsed over the papers, but reached for the same Fife Free Press each day, always having a threepenny bit ready to pay for it.

            He popped in at about the same time each morning and sometimes again in the afternoon. He most likely took the High Street bus back and forth to work, Miss Murray had deduced from the young man’s schedule. There was a sheltered bus stop a few doors down from her shop, directly in front of the bakery. About every fifteen minutes, buses bound for the business district of Kirkcaldy would stop there. If the young man did come back in the late afternoon, it was usually to purchase a news magazine and a quarter pound of treacle toffee. The man was always pleasant, always thanked Miss Murray for her attention, and, since his smile flashed a set of perfect teeth, she had concluded that the sticky toffee must be for someone else.

            She knew nothing more about him. Not even his name. And it didn’t matter. Until Miss Murray noticed the young woman. She was slim, with shoulder-length flaxen hair cut into a neat bob. She wore just a little makeup, mostly to darken her lashes, Miss Murray had observed. Dressed in business attire, the young woman would dash into the shop most mornings, snatch up a Leven Mail and dash out again. She seemed to always be late or in a dreadful hurry and Miss Murray concluded that if she were someone’s secretary, she was probably not a very punctual one. Yet there was something appealing, almost refreshing about her.

            The young woman had dropped a sixpence on the shop floor once and a schoolboy had tugged at her sleeve in a bid to return it to her. She’d smiled and let him keep it. That simple act of kindness told the shop owner a lot about her customer. That, and the fact that she took care of her shoes.  People who polished their shoes kept their houses clean, Miss Murray believed. Not once had she noticed scuffed toes or heels " or a ladder in her stockings, for that matter. For someone who was always in a rush, the young woman was, well, tidy. And Miss Murray respected that.

How on earth she’d decided that the successful business man and the tidy young secretary would make a perfect couple, she truly had no idea. Perhaps it had been a slow day in the shop and she’d had too much time to daydream. Or perhaps she was simply getting old and her mind had taken to vicarious flights of fancy among matters of the young. But once the idea had taken hold, it simply would not loosen its grip. She would, she’d determined, manipulate a meeting between the two.

© 2010 Pat

My Review

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the tone set by your words is very simple and endearing. my personal tastes lie beyond that and desire more of a fringe, however I did find your work to be functional in most regards. I love your idea of a series of shorts that take place in the same village. And if your writing here is an example of the rest, I think it might be an interesting counter point to Irvine Welsh who did much of the same in Trainspotting, Ecstacy, and the Marabou Stork Nightmares..only his characters where heroin addicts, gangsters, and criminals.

A note for your consideration: your sentence structure and syntax may be greatly improved by removing some of your passive verbs. an example would be:

"The little shop HAD stood at the corner of Randolph and High Streets for more than forty years. In all that time, very little about it HAD changed. "

had, were, and was are all passive verbs and tend to remove the reader from the immediacy of the piece...basically they are dead weight. I feel changing some of your sentence structure would plop the reader right into Miss Murray's lap instead of hold her at a distance. so that the above sentence were changed to:

"In forty years, very little had changed at the little corner shop on Randolph and High Streets."

this allows also for word economy, as a former editor, I am certain you understand the importance of that!!!

ANyhow, thanks for posting and viva la

Posted 14 Years Ago

0 of 1 people found this review constructive.

May I correctly conclude that "Back to Buckhaven" has been published, and this is more or less a forward to that book? I was engrossed by the characters you introduced, so much so that I now want the story to begin. We know a little bit about Miss Murray, a little bit about the secretary, if such she is, and somewhat more about the gentleman. What goings-on may we anticipate? Is it your intent to publish additional chapters from that book, or merely to leave us dangling in panting anticipation?

Posted 14 Years Ago

Well gr. Now I have to buy your book. I like how the story is geared for a specific audience - detailed, but not overly flowery so much that the reader has to stop reading and actually think about what's trying to be said. It's involved in a personal-enough way. I liked the line "she had run it all by herself, with just an occasional helping hand from a cousin on her father’s side". No name - no overattached details. Just right!

Posted 14 Years Ago

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I wonder what happens next. By the way, the execution of this story is simply amazing, mom. I hope to someday become as great a writer as you are! Love, Joe

Posted 14 Years Ago

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4 Reviews
Added on February 12, 2010
Last Updated on February 12, 2010
Tags: Scotland, Fife, Buckhaven, women's fiction, fiction, short story, short stories




I am a former magazine editor (Pyramid Publications) and a former Associate Fiction and Book Editor at Cosmopolitan magazine. I co-authored a coffee table book entitled, "Orange County: A Chronicle .. more..