Summer at 23 the Strand

By: Linda Mitchelmore

Chapter One



‘I’ll just check your details.’ The clerk behind the desk in the tourist office on the seafront spoke without looking up. Martha, peering out from under the rim of her black straw hat, held her breath. Would the woman detect a lie? A false address? Not a fictitious name as such but not the one the world knew her by? ‘So, that’s Martha Langford? Eighteen Staplethorpe Avenue, Brighton? Right? From one seaside resort to another, eh?’

‘Yes to all that,’ Martha said.

‘Well, you’ll just love it here in Hollacombe, I’m sure. A proper little home from home is how our guests describe Number 23. Here’s the key. You’ll find your chalet is about five hundred yards to your left as you leave this office. One double bedroom, one sitting room with sofabed cum galley kitchen, one loo with basin and shower. All breakages to be paid for. No barbecues on the wooden deck, I’m afraid, because the chalets are wooden. Fire risk, and all that. To be vacated a fortnight from today by 10 a.m. to give the cleaner time to turn it all around before the next occupants. The key with the luggage-label tag on it to be posted through the letterbox here if we’re closed. Any problems—’

‘I’ll sort them,’ Martha interrupted. The last thing she needed was to have to come back here and, possibly, have someone else turn up at Number 23 The Strand to sort out whatever problem she might have. Just standing here, listening to the clerk reciting what she must have recited hundreds of times before, was giving her goose bumps. The sooner she got out of here the better.

‘Of course, this could be the last season this particular chalet is let because it’s up for sale,’ the clerk said as though Martha hadn’t spoken. ‘It’s owned by the local authority at present, as are a couple of others and they need to cut costs, so they’re up for sale too. The others are privately owned by locals who keep them for their own use at weekends and in the school holidays, although some do rent them out to holidaymakers. There’s not been a lot of interest in Number 23 so far but it’s early in the season. Any questions?’ The clerk cocked her head to one side questioningly.

‘Can’t think of any,’ Martha said, perhaps a bit too sharply, which is what happens when one’s nerves are on end. She didn’t want to be rude but she had to go.

Well, Martha thought, as she closed the door of the chalet behind her, what a lovely surprise. She’d glanced at the photos on the website when she’d booked, of course, but she hadn’t studied it in much detail. It was bigger than she’d been expecting – more ski chalet than beach hut, perhaps a bit boutique hotel – and just as the lady in the tourist office had said, a little home from home. And so very clean. A nest. Martha felt the welcome of it wrap around her, warm her. The boarded walls were painted a soft shade of yellow, like vanilla custard, with a frieze of stencilled scallop shells in deep turquoise where the walls met the ceiling. Pretty, cotton curtains with blue and yellow sailboats hung at the windows in the double bedroom and living room. The cream, linen-covered sofabed was piled with large and squashy cushions in various shades of yellow and blue, and two small but matching armchairs had biscuit-coloured fleece throws draped over the arms, for colder days perhaps. The duvet on the double bed, covered in a turquoise, jacquard-style pattern, was thick and sumptuous, and the pillows large, plump and inviting.

‘All very Eastern Seaboard,’ Martha said out loud. ‘I love it.’

Some of the tension she’d been carrying with her was beginning to seep away. Yes, she’d made the right decision coming here. It was as though this chalet had been waiting for her. She patted the duvet, her hand almost disappearing in its sumptuousness.

‘And I could lie down on you right now,’ she laughed, surprising herself with that laugh because she hadn’t laughed for weeks now. But she couldn’t flop down on it just yet. Martha drew her breath in and then let it all out again slowly, her shoulders dropping as she physically relaxed. Yes, it felt good here. It would give her space and time to rethink what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. But first, she just had to do something with her hair.