The coco pinchard boxset.., p.7
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.7

           Robert Bryndza

  “You must get them,” said Lizzie, “and come back for us!”

  Rhydian walked me outside to the pavement. We stopped by the window awkwardly. Then I heard a squeaking sound. Lizzie was at the window and was looking through a smiley face she had drawn in the condensation. She gave her dad the thumbs up and he leant in for a kiss. My stomach contracted in a panic. I pushed him away and threw up spectacularly over the bonnet of a parked Mercedes. Their faces fell in disgust.

  Rhydian produced a tissue, saying, “Well, this has been, um, lovely.”

  Lizzy’s face, still at the window, was now boiling with tears. I just ran for it and didn’t stop until I reached Leicester Square. Maybe my vomit saved me. I haven’t heard from him.

  Monday 24th February 16.18

  TO: [email protected]

  Hi love, tried to ring but you’re not answering. You must be in mime class. I know they are very strict about you not speaking. Your nan has been taken to Casualty after a nasty fall. I don’t know much else. I am on my way to the hospital. The key is under the wheelie bin. If you’re hungry, I’m afraid all we’ve got is Wagon Wheels…

  Monday 24th February 21.33

  TO: [email protected]

  Answer your phone! I have left you three messages. Your mum has had to have an emergency hip replacement at The Aldgate East Hospital in Whitechapel. The surgeon says it went well. I was with her when she came round from the anaesthetic. She had a fight with Mrs Burbridge at the nursing home over who was going to call the bingo balls. It got physical and Ethel fell/was pushed off the stage. I asked her if she reported it to the manager, but she is still going on about not being a grass.

  Tuesday 25th February 15.04

  TO: [email protected]

  I took your mum some nicotine patches this morning; she said that she would prefer them to grapes. When I got there, she was very pale and in a lot more pain than yesterday. The nurses don’t seem bothered. They were all huddled round a computer playing The NHS Sims, looking after virtual patients.

  I phoned Mrs Braun at the Rainbow Nursing home, and she says Ethel will no longer be welcome as a resident when she is discharged from hospital. I asked why. Mrs Braun says when she tried to break up the fight Ethel, called her a “potato-faced Kraut”. I said she has called me far worse, but Mrs Braun said that they have a zero-tolerance racism policy.

  I then phoned Meryl. She had to bellow above the noise of her food mixer as she’s knee deep in royal icing, making a four-tier wedding cake, and can’t visit before the weekend. Tony can’t either. He has a backlog of coffins due to a local outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

  I told her that your mother will be homeless when she gets out of hospital, but she said she had to go, and put the phone down. We need to sort this out.

  Wednesday 26th February 15.01

  TO: [email protected]

  Chris came with me to the Rainbow Nursing home. Ethel’s room had been emptied. Three drab suitcases and a hatbox sat waiting in reception. There was no note or message. The teenager on the desk informed us that Mrs Braun had gone to visit her sister in Berlin.

  Mrs Burbridge hasn’t been evicted. We saw her through the window of the residents’ lounge surrounded by pensioners. There was laughter and music playing loudly and the sun was glinting off her smooth, bald head.

  Thursday 27th February 21.34

  TO: [email protected]

  Rosencrantz came along to Whitechapel for evening visiting. I was shocked how Ethel’s condition had deteriorated. They have moved her into a stinking ward full of old women moaning in the gloom. The lone nurse on duty was engrossed in a book about alternative medicine.

  When we reached Ethel’s bed, she was waxy and delirious. We tried to give her some water but her body tensed up and she began to shake. I shouted for the nurse, and seeing Ethel, she pressed an alarm. Within seconds, a team of doctors sped in and swished the curtains around her bed. We were asked to wait outside in the corridor. After a long hour, a consultant came and told us Ethel had had a cardiac arrest. They managed to revive her but she is unconscious and on a ventilator. I had to play twenty questions but he finally admitted that it might be the MRSA superbug, brought on by her wound not healing.

  “So nothing to do with that filthy ward?” I said.

  The consultant said Ethel was being moved to intensive care and then he had to go.

  Meryl and Tony are coming down early tomorrow morning and Daniel is on standby for a flight home.

  Friday 28th February 03.30

  TO: [email protected]

  I can hear music coming from your room, can’t you sleep either? You fancy a hot chocolate?

  Friday 28th February 10.06

  TO: [email protected]

  I phoned the hospital at 7am. Ethel is still unconscious, but stable. At 8.30am, Meryl and Tony were on the doorstep in cycling gear with windswept hair. They had biked down in the freezing rain.

  They were acting with forced gaiety. Meryl was barely through the door when the bicycle clips came off, the rubber gloves went on, and she was cleaning my oven. Tony pulled a brick out of his bum bag saying he’d brought it to drop into my cistern to save water. As he disappeared up the stairs, I lit a cigarette and watched Meryl.

  “You okay?” I said.

  “Yes, thank you,” she said, scrubbing furiously. “Just a little saddle sore but apart from that…”

  She burst into tears. I went over and gave her a hug.

  “What will I do if…?” she sobbed.

  Tony came downstairs. I signalled him to come and hug her but he went very red saying, “Ah, I’ll just um…” before scuttling into the garden.

  I poured us each a large brandy, and for the first time ever, she’s not cooking or cleaning. We’re sat watching an episode of Sex And The City. I think it’s cheered her up a bit, although she’s had to keep asking me what a lot of things mean.

  Daniel lands at nine tonight.


  Sunday 1st March 09.45

  TO: [email protected]

  Daniel knocked on the door at 10pm. He was surprised I hadn’t picked him up from Heathrow. He had a tan, a small ponytail and was sporting some woven cloth bracelets around his wrist. Everything about him screamed mid-life crisis, including the faux American accent. I managed to be civil for about fifteen minutes, until he thanked me for saving him some cold fish fingers under “ah-loo-min-um” foil.

  “You’re a Londoner, Daniel, from Catford.”

  “But in America I can be whaddever I want,” he said.

  “Can you stop being a dickhead then?” I snapped.

  He slept downstairs on the sofa. Meryl tried to instigate a big jolly cooked breakfast with Daniel this morning. I stayed upstairs with a couple of Pop-Tarts and Rosencrantz stomped off to college with a cold “hello” and a Fruit Corner.

  M + T have gone on ahead to Whitechapel on the tandem. Daniel and I are waiting for a taxi. I feel like I am trapped in an Ingmar Bergman film. I’m looking out into the grey drizzle whilst Daniel plays mournfully on the piano downstairs.

  Monday 2nd March 16.30

  TO: [email protected]

  Nothing has changed. They have put even more machines around your nan’s bed so now only two of us can be in her room at a time. I’m sharing shifts with Tony and your Dad is going in with Meryl. It doesn’t look promising.

  Tuesday 3rd March 19.00

  TO: [email protected], [email protected]

  I held Daniel’s hand on the way home in the taxi tonight. The latest news from the consultant is bad. He doubts Ethel will ever wake up; she was starved of oxygen for twelve minutes.

  They have placed electrodes on her temples but there was little sign of brain activity, not even when we put on her favourite, The Jerry Springer Show. The hospital has started talking about the “option” to switch off her ventilator.

  Rosencrantz ha
s just come home from classes and lit up one of my cigarettes. I didn’t say anything. Ethel would be proud, her saying has always been “Cigarettes maketh the man”.

  Meryl is mopping the kitchen floor. Again. Tony is outside in the gloom oiling the tandem and Daniel is playing some dark dramatic Rachmaninoff on the piano.

  Wednesday 4th March 23.56

  TO: [email protected], [email protected]

  Thank you for the lilies that you both sent. Ethel would have loved them, but flowers aren’t allowed in Intensive Care.

  When we got back from the hospital tonight, we opened some wine and all sat in living room looking at old photos of Ethel. She was scowling in most of them, even the ones from her own wedding. The only picture we found of her looking happy was taken in 1949, when she won a ballroom dancing competition at the Catford Working Men’s Club. She looked like a different person, young, beaming in a slim elegant gown next to Daniel’s dad. I asked them why she never smiled.

  Meryl told us Ethel had had all her teeth out in the fifties and that the false ones she was given were too big.

  “Why didn’t she get smaller ones?” asked Rosencrantz.

  “Couldn’t afford to,” said Daniel. “Then when Dad died and left her with two small kids and no money, life was hard. I suppose she got used to not smiling.”

  The hospital had been pushing us all day to make a decision about turning off Ethel’s life support. After more tests, it is almost certain that she will never wake up. We opened more wine and it felt like a horrible version of jury duty, discussing the pros and cons of keeping Ethel alive. In the end it came down to the fact that she told us on many occasions, “If I’m a vegetable, switch me orf, don’t faff, and don’t waste the ‘lectric bill dithering.”

  A cloud descended over the room as we realised we had made the decision.

  Meryl, Tony, and Rosencrantz drifted off up to bed; Daniel and I were left alone. One lamp was glowing and the fire was beginning to die down. The rain rattled on the roof. He leant over and topped up my wine glass.

  “Could I get some warder?” he said.

  “Oh Daniel, drop the accent,” I sighed. “You sound like a bad Cliff Richard impersonator.”

  I went into the kitchen, and when I came back with a glass of water, he was crying. He took a long drink and wiped his eyes.

  “I thought Mum would live to see her fourscore and ten.”

  I put my arm around him.

  “You want to know why I did it? Why I cheated on you?”

  “We don’t need to do this now,” I said.

  “I don’t want to end up like my mother. Bitter, miserable and never achieving anything,” he said.

  I asked him how shagging a twenty year old would help him achieve something.

  “She needed me.”

  “I didn’t need you?” I said, hurt.

  “Yeah, I’ve gone and you’re fine.”

  “I am not!”

  “Mum said you’ve been living the life of Riley, out on the tiles with Chris and Marika, enjoying this house, which I could never have bought you, no matter how hard I toiled.”

  I went to protest, but I realised Ethel wouldn’t be able to defend herself ever again. Damn, I thought. Even on her deathbed she’s getting one up on me.

  “I’m just… nothing,” Daniel said, and began to sob.

  I sat beside him.

  “Do you know how proud I am of you?” I said. I stroked his hair and held him close. “I need you so much.”

  He pulled away, looked into my eyes, and kissed me. It was like a switch being flipped in my stomach, flooding me with heat. Before I knew it, we were racing up the stairs, tugging off our clothes and having the most passionate sex in years. Afterwards I lay in his arms on the bare mattress of our old bed. He traced his finger slowly down my stomach.

  “Coco,” he said, staring into my eyes.

  “Yes,” I said breathlessly, his finger tracing lower.

  “I want you to do something for me.”

  “Yes?” I whispered, closing my eyes.

  “Would you switch off my mother’s life support machine?”

  I pushed his hand away, got up, and scrambled for my clothes.

  “What?” he said. “Meryl says she can’t, she won’t let Tony and I couldn’t… Please?”

  I struggled into my jeans. “Why did you have to ask me now?”

  “Well,” he said, tapping his watch as if we were late for the theatre.

  I pulled on an old t-shirt. He lit a cigarette and passed it to me.

  “Please,” he said. “I would do it for you. Please.”

  I couldn’t say no to his pleading face. I said I had to go and came back to the spare room. I cannot sleep. What have I done?

  Thursday 5th March 14.30

  TO: [email protected], [email protected]

  We got to Whitechapel at eight this morning. There is nothing more depressing than a shabby Victorian-era hospital on a cold grey day.

  When we arrived at Intensive Care and saw Ethel, I knew that we were making the right decision. She was dressed in a fresh gown. A nurse had just finished bathing her. He was a nice chap but he had very bony fingers. Ethel hates bony fingers, they give her the creeps.

  The fluorescent light fizzed and the rhythmic sound of the ventilator sucked air in and out of her lungs. Her fringe had been combed off her forehead, which she would have hated, and without her teeth, her scowl was sunken and diminished.

  “I think we should all like say something, before we do this,” said Rosencrantz.

  We took it in turns. Rosencrantz went first and told her he loved her. He said that he would endeavour to sleep with Rupert Everett, like he promised her he would.

  “I always thought you would live like long enough for me to like tell you all about it,” he said.

  There were raised eyebrows from everyone. Tony went next, and promised her coffin would be of the best quality.

  “We’ve got a marvellous selection in at the moment, cherry, maple, oak, all with lovely brass features. Goodbye.”

  Meryl went next. She was crying so much she could barely speak, so she just kissed Ethel on the cheek. Then it was my turn.

  “Ethel,” I said, “goodbye. I know we have had our differences but I hate that this has happened to you… and in case you can hear, they asked me to press the switch. I didn’t volunteer.”

  I took her comb and combed her fringe back over her forehead, just how she always wore it.

  Daniel went last, and if I’m honest, he did go on a bit, giving a long lament that she will never get to see him realise his full potential. I half expected Ethel to open one eye and croak, “Pull yerself together, yer big girl’s blouse.”

  The consultant was getting twitchy, as this had gone on for some time. He gave me a nod, and I walked over to switch off the life support. I was confronted by a confusing array of plugs. The hospital hadn’t said exactly what I had to do, and I didn’t feel like I could ask. I took a deep breath and pressed a switch. A pedestal fan by the bed sprang to life and swirled all Ethel’s get well cards off the bedside cabinet. The second switch turned on the television and the opening credits of This Morning boomed out.

  “Excuse me,” said Meryl to the consultant, as if she were lost in Sainsbury’s, “could you direct my sister-in-law to the correct switch?”

  I felt an inappropriate laugh rise up in my chest, which burst out. They all exchanged scandalised glances.

  Apologising, I took a deep breath and pressed the correct switch. The ventilator filled her lungs one last time and slowly wheezed to a stop.

  “Her chest is still rising!” cried Rosencrantz.

  “This is sometimes normal,” said the consultant kindly. “Many patients do carry on breathing for a few minutes.”

  “So right now she’s like dying?” said Rosencrantz.

  We all looked at Ethel. She had a serene scowl on her face. Meryl gave a deep sob so Tony and me to
ok her out, and Rosencrantz and Daniel followed. We had no interest in seeing what little colour Ethel had left drain from her face.

  We went down to the cafeteria, ordered coffee, and sat staring into space. I don’t know how long we had been there when the consultant appeared at our table.

  “It seems Mrs Pinchard is breathing unaided, and with a stronger pulse,” he said. “Now, this is an awkward crucial time, it could go either way, but she has shown stronger life signs in the last hour. Much stronger than we’d expected.”

  We are still at the hospital. Ethel has now been breathing unaided for four hours. Meryl is in on the phone trying to get in touch with the Steakhouse we had booked for a memorial lunch. Tony had put down a deposit of fifty pounds. He is pacing up and down saying, “I know this is an emotional time, but fifty pounds is fifty pounds.”

  Friday 6th March 11.09

  TO: [email protected], [email protected]

  Ethel has now been breathing by herself for twenty-four hours. The thought of arranging a funeral had been bad enough, but now we are trying to prepare for what Ethel will be like if she wakes up. She could have serious brain damage.

  When we got back last night, I went outside with Daniel to share a cigarette. We both squeezed onto the shed step at the end of the garden and looked out across London. It was clear and we could see for miles. Daniel pulled me into his coat.

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