The coco pinchard boxset.., p.16
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.16

           Robert Bryndza

  Yours faithfully,

  Coco Pinchard (Allotment 17)

  Monday 8th June 11.33

  TO: [email protected]

  I don’t think Len will press charges for you handbagging him, but I received a stern email from Agatha Balfour, summoning me to attend a meeting of the Allotment Association on Friday.

  In other news, I went to see Mr Spencer this morning. Neither Daniel nor I have objected to wanting to divorce, so I will get my decree absolute and be officially single this time next week.

  Tuesday 9th June 08.33

  TO: [email protected]

  Meryl was on the phone asking what I would like for my birthday next week.

  “Goodness,” she said. “You’ll be fifty before you know it, doesn’t time fly?”

  I asked for a voucher and put the phone down. She knows I am only going to be forty-two.

  Wednesday 10th June 15.06

  TO: [email protected]

  I know our legal representatives have advised us against communicating, but I am concerned about Rosencrantz. He has been behaving very oddly. He took me out for an early birthday lunch today, and it wasn’t just any old lunch; he took me to La Relais De Venise L’Entrecote, the incredible steak restaurant on Marylebone Lane. He pulled out my chair for me, he paid the bill, and when an old lady walked slap bang into the plate glass window of the restaurant, he didn’t, as I would expect him to, point and laugh but he ran to help. I am worried about this behaviour. Has he said anything to you?

  Thursday 11th June 10.14

  TO: [email protected]

  Do you want to go to Slovakia next week? Marika is on half term and she has invited us to stay at her mother’s house in the country. I did ask if it’s the same house where she was snowed in at Christmas, and had diarrhoea from drinking the swimming pool water. She said yes, but the weather is hitting thirty-eight degrees so the pool will be much more enjoyable. Can you come?

  She has invited Rosencrantz too, as he is on another reading week, but he has said he wants to stay and work at the bar.

  Thursday 11th June 18.16

  TO: [email protected]

  I had my hair cut this morning. I went to the really posh place on the posh end of the high street, near the button shop. I saw the senior stylist. (In my experience the only time I have ever known a gay guy to revel in the title “senior”.) He gave me a completely different look, a cut that is wonderful but low maintenance and a warmer blonde colour, which does, as he promised, take years off me.

  I have also lost 7 lbs. Maybe it’s all the work at the allotment. I try not to buy into all this size rubbish, but I managed to get a beautiful green Per Una skirt from Marks, in a size twelve. I don’t know how it can have happened. I have been borderline fourteen/sixteen for years. A fifteen you might say.

  Chris can’t come to Slovakia. He has been ordered by his mother to attend his grandmother’s surprise ninety-seventh birthday. Which begs the question; isn’t Chris old enough to do what he wants? Moreover, isn’t a surprise party for a ninety-seven year old a bit risky?

  We are booked on a flight out on Saturday morning at five-thirty.

  Friday 12th June 22.00

  TO: [email protected]

  I decided to wear the new skirt with a tight black top for the Allotment Association meeting. I also attempted to recreate what the hairdresser did with my hair which kind of worked. I figured the Association members would all be in gardening gear, and it would give me a little status to look polished.

  Agatha has one of those lovely old mews houses by the park; four storeys, black railings and a brown plaque on the brickwork, announcing that in 1812 some anthropologist was born there.

  I arrived as the meeting was starting. There were twenty old gits squashed on sofas and dining chairs in Agatha’s knick-knack laden living room, and also Len and Adam! I hadn’t expected to see him. He is the secretary, and was sitting in on the meeting, taking notes. He mouthed “Hello”. He was dressed beautifully in dark jeans and a white jumper. The jeans were designer skinny and, on his muscly legs and with a Dolce & Gabbana silver belt, they looked great. His thin white jumper was ever so slightly see through. His dark muscles under the white were striking.

  Then the penny dropped. Adam is gay. He must be! He’s so good looking, clean and tidy. That girl up the allotment could have been his fag hag, and Allotment Association Secretary? Must be gay. I was lost in this revelation when I realised Agatha was talking to me.

  “Pardon?” I said.

  “It has come to our attention that you may be abusing your right to an allotment,” she said, looking over the top of her owl glasses. “Why were you in your shed at one in the morning last Saturday?”

  “She was boozing with ‘er poncy mates,” said Len, who was still dressed in his outdoor clothes. “I caught one of ‘em squatting down doing a piss on the path! Then she coshed me over me ‘ead with ‘er bag!”

  “I wasn’t the one with the bag,” I added quickly, as Adam was scribbling all this down.

  “Mrs Pinchard,” said Agatha screwing up her face. “Drunkenness, violence and public urination are a dreadful habit of the young in this country. You’re obviously not young, so, pray, what is your explanation?”

  I gulped and looked at Adam who was still writing.

  “I understand you are a writer, Mrs Pinchard,” said Agatha. There were several smirks amongst the association members. “How would you creatively describe this night-time jaunt?”

  I got to my feet, determined to give Adam something positive to write, and wipe their smirks away.

  “In my capacity as a writer,” I said, “I have just received a grant from the Arts Council.”

  Adam looked up. Agatha adjusted her glasses expectantly.

  “A performance grant,” I added, clueless of where this was going. “What you witnessed was a rehearsal for a piece of street theatre, called Fruit Picking.”

  “Fruit Picking?” echoed Agatha.

  I cursed myself. Why didn’t I just admit that we were all pissed?

  “Yes,” plunged on. “Fruit Picking In The Moonlight.”

  “And the Arts Council funded this, because…?”

  “Its focus on eating local produce, and that this is one of the finest kept group of allotments in London.”

  “What about the girl pissing?” said Len.

  “Well, I may have to cut that scene. Thank you for your feedback,” I said.

  Len snorted. There was a silence. Agatha’s old grandfather clock ticked and Adam’s pen made a scratching sound as he wrote. The old gits looked as if I was bindweed, something I know they all despise.

  Agatha looked around with a smirk on her face,

  “Well. You certainly are… theatrical. Tonight is an official oral warning, Mrs Pinchard. Of course, we are all excited to see this wonderful play. You will have to tell us when the premiere is… Now,” she said, “Alan wants to discuss potato blight.”

  I excused myself, feeling like a supreme idiot. Everyone ignored me, apart from Adam who gave me a wink. He gets me. He must be gay! As I left, I caught sight of his writing – beautiful, flowy and definitely gay.

  It was still warm when I got home, so I opened some wine and sat in the garden. I was on my third glass when the phone went.

  A voice said, “Hi, it’s Adam.”

  I sat up in my deckchair, surprised.

  “Sorry if this is a bit naughty,” he said, “I got your number from the contact sheet.”

  I asked if I had left something at Agatha’s. He said no. There was a silence.

  He cleared his throat and said, “If you’re free Monday, do you want to come and see La Cage Aux Folles? In the West End.”

  “You are gay. I knew I’d worked it out tonight,” I said. “It was the jeans that did it.”

  I poured some more wine. The line went quiet.

  “Er,” he said, “I’m not gay.”

not?” I gulped. “So who was that girl, Holly?”

  “My daughter,” he said.

  “But you’re… and she’s…”

  “Yes, I’m black and she’s not.”

  He explained that his ex-wife is Irish and they’d had Holly when they were fifteen. I asked him why he didn’t say this.

  “Would you go into that much detail with someone you’d only just met? Besides, you didn’t give me the chance. You ran off to feed your cat,” he said. “What’s it called?”

  “My cat?” I said, scrabbling round for a name. “Um. Coco.”

  “You named your cat after yourself?”

  “No,” I said, cringing. “He’s Coco Pops, like the cereal, and I’m Coco Pinchard.”

  I could tell he thought I was barmy.

  “Right,” he said. “These tickets, for Monday…”

  “I’d love to go out on Monday,” I squeaked.

  “What time?”

  He said he would pick me up at seven. I suddenly remembered.

  “Monday? I can’t. I’m going to Slovakia for my birthday.”

  “Slovakia?” he said, confused.

  “Well, it used to be Czechoslovakia then it divided, so maybe that’s why you haven’t heard of it. It’s only been around for a few years.”

  “No, I’ve heard of it,” he said.

  There was another silence.

  “Well, maybe another time,” I said, now wanting to die.

  “Yeah, maybe.” He sounded like he really wanted to get off the phone. He wished me a good trip and hung up.

  I actually had to chew on the cushion. How utterly, utterly mortifying, and annoying. He is straight and he fancied me.

  I don’t even know who I am these days. All these lies, I keep digging myself deeper. So much of the time Daniel used to drive me mad, but I realise now how he grounded me. I miss coming home and having someone to talk to about all the craziness in my head. Now I am on my own it’s seeping out, into my life.

  Sunday 14th June 12.33

  TO: [email protected]

  Can you do me a favour and check on Rosencrantz whilst I am away. He is working himself into the ground with classes and his job. Just give him a buzz and remind him to eat and sleep. Thank you.

  Monday 15th June 23.45

  TO: [email protected]

  It’s official. I love Slovakia. Why did no one tell me about it? You hear about Poland and Croatia, but not Slovakia. We boarded our Ryanair flight in the grey at London Luton and, two hours later, we landed in tropical heat.

  Bratislava Airport is so people-friendly. We walked off the flight, through a tiny arrivals hall and out, no endless miles of corridors or park ‘n’ rides.

  Marika’s sister, Adrianna, was waiting for us and took us back in her Jeep. We zoomed along a quiet motorway framed by blue and purple mountains, past fields of corn and sunflowers – so many sunflowers. Adrianna put the roof down and drove fast. With the wind in our faces, I felt a weight lift from me. I don’t know why Marika ever left this place.

  Adrianna speaks English almost as well as Marika. She is just as beautiful as Marika, but with a mass of long, black curly hair.

  The village is very different from the barren hellhole I imagined last Christmas. It’s a row of seven little cottages, each with a lush garden full of fruit trees; plums, apricots, pears and grapes, all well on the way to ripeness. The surrounding fields are full of giant sunflowers swaying against the perfect blue sky. Across the road, shimmering in the heat, is a derelict old mill and a little stream.

  We turned into a long wide, driveway running down the side of the house. At the end was the garden with a swimming pool and a large outhouse where I could hear chickens squawking. A huge woman in her early sixties emerged from the doorway carrying a flapping hen by its feet, and placed it on a tree stump. She wore a voluminous flowery dress and had a short bob of tight black curly hair. I thought she was raising one of her huge arms in greeting, and then I noticed she was holding an axe, which she brought down on the hen. There was silence and she held up the headless bird, pulling out its feathers with her free hand.

  “Why does she have to do that now?” asked Marika, embarrassed. “She must have heard the car.”

  The woman was Marika’s mother. She wiped her hands and came towards us, grinning widely.

  “Moja Zlata!” she shouted and grasped Marika’s face and kissed her.

  “Maminko!” Marika shouted, grabbing her mother’s hands away from her face and hugging her. I noticed Marika’s arms didn’t quite make it all the way round.

  “This is my mother, Blazena,” said Marika.

  Blazena grinned and gave me a gut-busting hug.

  “Dobry Den,” I said.

  I had been practising the Slovak for hello in the car all the way. Blazena looked delighted and began jabbering away to Marika. Adrianna translated.

  “Mum says she is the only farmer’s wife for miles yet she gives birth to Marika, the vegetarian. She says she has saved Marika some acorns from last year’s harvest.”

  I laughed, but Marika was already giving it back to Blazena, something to do with killing the bird.

  Adrianna suggested we take the bags inside, as they could be here for a while. She took me to my room, which, like the rest of the cottage, is full of dark, carved wooden furniture and lots of lace. When I had unpacked, I went into the kitchen where Blazena was pouring shots of something called Slivovica, a plum brandy.

  We clinked and the three of them downed in one. I took a smaller sip and it instantly filled my chest with a smooth warmth. Blazena had gutted the chicken and was pounding out the meat with a mallet. Within minutes, she had wafer thin pieces of chicken, which she expertly dusted in breadcrumbs before dropping them in oil.

  “Those schnitzels, they’re so thin!” I said.

  “She always imagines my father’s face when she makes them,” said Marika.

  I laughed.

  “In England you have marriage guidance counsellors, in Slovakia we pound schnitzel,” grinned Adrianna.

  I thought I might have to try it.

  We sat by the pool for a lunch of schnitzel, salad, potatoes and beer which was just about the most delicious thing I have ever tasted, and then with the temperature threatening forty degrees, Marika said we should sleep.

  Three hammocks were hung in the shade by the pool, and after some persuading I agreed to give it a whirl. I didn’t think I’d be able to nod off, but once I had climbed in, and over the feeling of being like a suet pudding in a drawstring bag, I dropped off easily.

  We must have been tired because we slept for six hours. I woke up to the soft splash of Marika leaping into the pool. The sun had sunk down behind the cottage but, even in the burnt orange, it was still hot. Adrianna brought cold beer and we watched Marika swim.

  “Is she okay?” said Adrianna.

  “Yes, and no. Life in London seems to be getting harder and more expensive.”

  “I wish she’d come back,” said Adrianna, “but she has the city in her blood and coming back here would be…”

  “This place is wonderful.”

  “We have everything and nothing… Life is hard and you can’t live on a view,” said Adrianna.

  We stared out at the range of mountains, topped with snow and vanishing in the haze. Blazena came out with more beers and heaved herself into a hammock. She asked if I swam but I said I didn’t want to put on a swimming costume.

  “She thinks you are an attractive woman,” said Marika translating. “She says you need to believe you are beautiful.”

  “Oh,” I said blushing. “She’s only being polite.”

  “She’s not,” said Marika, treading water in the shallow end. “Mother doesn’t lie. She was the only one who told her sister she looked fat on her wedding day.”

  Blazena nodded.

  “She told her she looked like a pregnant pig,” translated Adrianna.

  I didn’t know what to say to that, and luc
kily a car pulled up in the driveway. It was Adrianna’s husband, Stevko. He is dark-skinned, works in construction, and has the body to show for it.

  “Famous author Coco Pinchard,” he said, jumping out of the car and kissing me on both cheeks.

  “Oh, I don’t know about that,” I said, flushing red.

  “I’m not going to translate anything negative you say about yourself,” warned Marika.

  Stevko lit a barbecue and we sat drinking Slivovica as the sun went down. It didn’t take long for Marika to tell them that, as of tonight, I had become a single, forty-two-year-old woman.

  “We should make you a party,” said Stevko.

  They all jabbered in Slovak, then Marika said excitedly, “We’ll do it tomorrow night. They’re going to invite Zobor!”

  “Is that a man or a woman?”

  “A band,” said Marika. “They’re huge in Slovakia, the lead singer lives in one of the cottages two doors away. It’ll be a great party!”

  We stayed up chatting and planning. Just before midnight, Marika checked her watch and said something to Adrianna, who disappeared and came back with a big firework. She put it at the end of the pool, lit it, and ran back to us. Coloured jets began to fire up into the sky.

  “You’re officially single,” said Marika. “And it’s your birthday!”

  Blazena poured more Slivovica and we drank as fireworks shot into the black sky.

  “To happiness and the future,” said Marika and we clinked our Slivovica glasses.

  I told them the story of the past few months. They all agreed that Daniel is an idiot. Blazena marvelled at how restrained I had been when I found Daniel with Snow White. She told me that when she caught Marika’s father with another woman, she pushed him into the well, and sat on the lid for the whole night!

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