I want you to tell her to stop hiding my baccy!”
Ernest Plumb was one of Imelda’s regulars. He was a short, stocky man with a bellicose air, who trailed a pungent whiff of mothballs and pipe smoke in his wake. Since his wife, Joan, had died, he had come to see her every few weeks to continue the constant bickering that had been the mainstay of their forty-two-year marriage.
Imelda had tried explaining to Ernest that spiritual readings weren’t like telephone conversations. She couldn’t simply dial dead people and have a chat at will. Joan was no more cooperative in death than she had been in life. She only came through when it suited her, but today she did have something to say and Imelda struggled to suppress a grin.
“Joan says that she’ll stop hiding your stinking tobacco when you stop living like a filthy pig and wash the net curtains at the sitting room window. And she wants you to stop smoking your pipe in the house. She says that’s what your bloody shed is for.”
“It’s not like he uses it for anything else,” Joan grumbled. Imelda could see her standing behind Ernest with her hands on her hips.“ He’s no gardener—he wouldn’t know a daff from a dandelion. And as for DIY—he’s never so much as changed a light bulb. And he needn’t think I didn’t know about those mucky magazines he kept in there. Health and Efficiency my—”
“Perhaps if you just gave the curtains a quick wash and opened the window when you lit your pipe?” Imelda’s suggested compromise was not well received by either party.
“Those nets need a damn good boil wash, and when I say outside, I mean outside!” Joan was not to be swayed.
“I won’t be dictated to by a dead woman! It’s my house and I’ll smoke where I like.”
Imelda was pretty sure that he wouldn’t. Not if he wanted a quiet life.
Once Ernest had paid and left (and promised to return in a couple of weeks), Dasha leapt from the blanket where he had been snoozing, hoping for a walk. Imelda opened the door a crack and peered out. It was raining heavily, and on the distant horizon the sky and sea were almost indistinguishable from each other. Dasha tentatively poked his nose outside, only to have it battered by a barrage of raindrops. He swiftly retreated to his blanket, where he lay down with an exaggerated sigh. Imelda followed him and knelt beside him. He had been her constant companion since she had rescued him from a life on the streets, and never before had she loved a living creature so easily and utterly. She took his head in her hands and kissed his wet nose.
“Never mind, my boy. We’ll go later. How about I fetch you a sausage roll from the café?”
Dasha gently wagged his tail. Maybe the rain wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
Next door to Imelda’s booth, the café was heaving with both regular customers and day-trippers taking shelter from the inclement weather. The holiday season was over now, but coach trips and tourists kept coming for most of the year. The café was owned and run by Ruby Campbell’s sister and brother-in-law, Diamond and Jack, and Ruby was sitting at the counter drinking coffee and sharing the gossip from Larkins Holiday Park, where she worked as assistant to the newly appointed general manager.
“It seems like a daft time to appoint a new manager right at the end of the season,” said Jack as he drained some more chips from the fryer.
“The whole park’s being given a revamp, and Marty has been brought in to oversee the work.”
“Ooh, it’s Marty now is it? That’s a bit familiar,” Diamond teased her sister.
Ruby was excited by the changes. The holiday camp had grown tired and shabby, and guest numbers had dwindled over the past few years. Marty had ambitious ideas, including plans for a whole new program of entertainment. He had already booked a Wall of Death stunt motorcyclist for next season and had asked Ruby to help him seek out other new acts. She was both flattered and proud that she had been given more responsibility.
“I’ve found three sisters who do a mermaid act,” she told Diamond.
“They perform synchronized swimming to music in an aquarium, and their costumes are gorgeous!”
Jack could barely contain himself. “Shame there’s not four of them. They could call themselves Diana Bass and the Sardines!”
Diamond threw a tea towel at him, but he wasn’t finished yet. “Maybe I should offer my services. My Tom Jones impersonation is legendary. Our Gareth says I could moonlight as a professional doppelgänger!” he said, swiveling his hips.
“Your Tom Jones impersonation is only legendary for sounding nothing like him and our son is as tone deaf as you are!” countered his wife as she took two plates of eggs and chips from him and served them to one of the tables.
“There is someone in the family who can sing, though.” Diamond returned with a stack of empty plates and passed them over the counter to Jack, along with a chit for a new order of two bacon rolls and a pot of tea. “Jeanie’s got a lovely voice and she looks more like her mum every day.” Jeanie was their niece and the daughter of their late sister, Emerald. “She’s doing ever so well at her new job, according to her dad. Not sure how long she’ll stick it, though. She’s a live wire that one, and the secretarial college sounds a bit dull if you ask me.”
Ruby checked her watch and drained her coffee cup. Her lunch break was almost over. Diamond handed her a large slice of chocolate cake in a paper bag. “Here. Take this to have with your afternoon tea.” She winked cheekily at her sister. “You can share it with Marty!”
Ruby took the cake from Diamond, but she wasn’t going to eat it. She would save it to give to Treasure when he came home from school. He hadn’t said anything to her, but then he didn’t need to. She was his mother. She knew that something was wrong.
The bell above the door rang and Jack waved at the young woman who rushed in from the rain.
“Now this is exactly who you need to keep your guests entertained at Larkins!” he told Ruby. “Let me introduce you to the amazing Madame Burova—tarot reader, palmist, and clairvoyant!”
From The Moon, The Stars, and Madame Burova by Ruth Hogan, published by William Morrow Paperbacks. Copyright © 2021 by Ruth Hogan. Reprinted courtesy of HarperCollinsPublishers.
From the wildly popular bestselling author of The Keeper of Lost Things—an uplifting, slightly magical story about how it’s never too late to find out who you really are.
Madame Burova—beloved Tarot reader, palmist, and clairvoyant—is retiring and leaving her booth on the Brighton seafront.
After inheriting her mother’s fortune-telling business as a young woman, Imelda Burova has spent her life on the Brighton pier practicing her trade. She and her trusty pack of Tarot cards have seen the lovers and the liars, the angels and the devils, the dreamers and the fools. Now, after a lifetime of keeping other people’s secrets, Madam Burova is ready to have a little piece of life for herself. But she still has one last thing to do—to fulfill a promise made in the 1970s, when she and her girlfriends were carefree, with their whole lives still before them.
In London, it is time for another woman to make a fresh start. Billie has lost her university job, her marriage, and her place in the world when a sudden and unlikely discovery leaves her very identity in question. Determined to find answers, she must follow a trail…which leads to Brighton, the pier, and directly to Madame Burova’s door.
In a story spanning over fifty years, Ruth Hogan has conjured a magical world of 1970s holiday camps and seaside entertainers, eccentrics, heroes and villains, the lost and the found. Young people will make careless choices which echo down the years….but it’s never too late to put things right.
Women's Fiction Contemporary [William Morrow Paperbacks, On Sale: September 21, 2021, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9780063075436 / eISBN: 9780063075443]
Ruth Hogan describes herself as a “rapacious reader, writer, and incorrigible magpie” whose own love of small treasures and curiosities and the people around her inspired her first novel. She lives north of London.
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