The coco pinchard boxset.., p.79
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.79

           Robert Bryndza

  ‘We’ll both come,’ I said. ‘Just sit tight, we’ll be there as soon as we can.’

  I came off the phone and told Rosencrantz. We just couldn’t believe it. He pulled us together and we left the house ten minutes later. It took an hour to drive over to Lewisham.

  I kept thinking how I’d wanted Ethel to see my baby, and come to the farm.

  Daniel was sitting in the hospital waiting area. He had in his lap a huge clear plastic bag with Ethel’s pale shiny handbag, her gold necklace and her teeth. Rosencrantz took the bag from Daniel and turned it over in his hand.

  ‘The car didn’t stop. Hit and run,’ said Daniel tonelessly. ‘They’ve got the bastards on CCTV though.’

  None of us knew what to say. We went to the cafeteria and sat with plastic cups of disgusting tea. We were silent for a long time.

  ‘I didn’t get to tell her Jennifer was pregnant,’ said Daniel. ‘She’ll never know.’

  Rosencrantz put his arm round his dad.

  ‘What happens now?’ I said.

  ‘There’s going to be an inquest, they have to keep her body… I don’t know when there can be a funeral. Which will be complicated.’

  ‘Let’s not think about that now,’ I said. ‘Where’s Jennifer?’

  ‘She’s at Abbey Road, playing for a film score.’

  ‘When will she be finished?’

  ‘Later this afternoon.’

  ‘Do you want us to drive you home?’ I asked. He nodded.

  We all got back in the car and Rosencrantz drove us across London. It was hot and busy and I desperately wanted the car journey to be over. Finally we reached Baker Street.

  ‘I’ll get out by Regent’s Park love,’ I said. ‘I need to be at home, because of… well.’

  ‘Yes Cokes. Look after that baby,’ said Daniel. He gave me a long hug, and I told him to call me any time. Rosencrantz said he would be back soon and set off with his Dad for Hampstead. I watched them drive away, and slowly shuffled off towards home. I was exhausted by the time I got to the entrance of Regent’s Park, so I sat down on a bench.

  I thought about everything that had to be done when someone died. We’d have to phone Meryl and Tony, I’d have to tell Adam. Ethel’s things would have to be collected. And a yawning hole had opened up in my life.

  Rocco came running up to see me when I got home. I closed the front door and leant down to cuddle his soft fur.

  ‘’Ere ’ow long ’ave you ’ad my bloody salad spinner?’ said a voice. I looked up. Ethel was standing in the hallway holding out a faded red plastic salad spinner.

  ‘Ethel?’ I said collapsing back against the front door.

  ‘Oh gawd, there’s no need to be a drama queen. Just say you nicked it, iss fine.’

  I stared at her open mouthed.

  ‘What? Okay, this is the last key,’ she said walking up to the hall table and slapping it down. ‘But for once I’ve got me reasons. You’re about to move ’ouse and who knows what you’ve got that belongs to me…’

  I started to cry.

  ‘Oh blimey. Coco love, I know it’s yer ’ormones but I ’aven’t got time for tears… I tell you I’ve ’ad a gut full. That bloody Kim Jong Lill went on a kleptomaniac spree this morning. Went off with me ’andbag, me purse and a load of me clothes. I tell you, if I see her she’s dead…’

  Ethel could see my tears weren’t stopping.

  ‘Oh Ethel you’re alive!’ I cried and threw my arms round her neck hugging her tight.

  ‘Course I’m alive… but I ain’t no lezzer!’ she said pushing me away. I recounted everything that had happened, Daniel identifying her body in the morgue. She stared at me open mouthed.

  ‘Well thas’ charming! ’e can’t tell ’is own mother from a thief lying on the slab…’

  ‘What? He’s devastated Ethel.’

  ‘Not devastated enough to recognise ’is own mother! ’E thought I was bloody Kim Jong Lill? Forty-five years I’ve been ’is Mother, and ’e mistakes me for a thieving fuckin’ Chinese woman!’

  I was still shaking from the shock, when water came gushing out from between my legs. I lifted my skirt and was speechless.

  ‘Well I’m a dead China woman, and yer waters ’ave just broken!’ said Ethel.

  ‘No no no no no,’ I’m not ready!’ I cried.

  ‘Thas’ a bit late love. You should ’ave said that to Adam nine months ago!’

  ‘No! Everything is still here, there’s no bathroom in the farmhouse!’

  ‘Iss okay love,’ she said realising what was happening. ‘’Ave yer contraptions started?’

  ‘Yes. Shit, I just felt one! It’s like Take a Break.’

  Ethel, being a huge Take a Break fan, and never missing an issue, knew exactly what was going on.

  ‘Oh Lord. Right where’s yer bag?’

  ‘It’s there by the door.’

  Ethel picked up my overnight bag.

  ‘You be a good boy Rocco, we’ll be back soon,’ she said patting him on the head. She helped me outside. I leaned on the wall as she locked the door.

  ‘I’m going to go an’ find a taxi,’ she said, and moved off quickly to the end of the road. I had to bend over the wall to steady myself. A few minutes later she came back.

  ‘None of ’em want to take a pregnant woman!’ shouted Ethel, as a taxi drove away with its light still on.

  ‘You didn’t have to tell them I’m pregnant!’ I shouted.

  ‘Iss bloody obvious yer pregnant!’ she said pointing at my bump and wet skirt. ‘An even if they don’t twig, what do I tell ’em? You’re a fat woman ’oose pissed ’erself?’

  A brown Volvo pulled up by the kerb in front of the house. Mr and Mrs Cohen got out.

  ‘’Ere, Mister Conan, ooooo!’ shouted Ethel. She ran to the Cohens’ car and leant in the window. ‘Coco’s waters ave broken. We need a lift to the hospital!’

  The Cohens had just returned from yet another a trip to France and their Volvo was full of wine and cassoulet.

  ‘Is it urgent?’ asked Mrs Cohen peering out at me.

  ‘Course it’s bloody urgent, she’s ’avin contraptions!’ said Ethel. Before they could say anything else Ethel opened the back door and helped me in.

  It was an awkward journey to the hospital. Any time spent around the Cohens is awkward, but this was more so because I was leaking where my waters had broken. Ethel surreptitiously found a Carrefour carrier bag, and pushed it under me.

  As we zoomed down Portland Street, I phoned Adam, Rosencrantz, Marika, and Chris but no one answered. I left panting messages that I had gone into labour.

  ‘Shouldn’t you ring your midwife?’ asked Mrs Cohen nervously when I worried that the baby’s head was coming.

  ‘Shit! Yes!’

  Midwife Justine answered after one ring. She sounded just as nervous and excited as I did.

  ‘Mrs Pinchard, I’ve just got one more lady to see and I’ll be there,’ she said.

  We pulled up outside the hospital and clambered out of the car, completely forgetting to thank the Cohens. Ethel lugged my bag, I lugged myself, and collapsed in a wheelchair when we got through the electric doors.

  And then, embarrassingly, I felt fine. A kind porter wheeled me up to the maternity unit. I was whisked into a cubicle, and a bored midwife examined me and said I was six centimetres dilated.

  ‘Woss that in inches?’ asked Ethel.

  ‘What does it matter?’ I said.

  ‘I can’t do centimetres! Iss’ double Dutch to me,’ said Ethel. ‘I’ve only just worked out ’ow to buy a few slices of cold beef in grams, bloody European Union!’

  The bored-looking midwife was staring at us, trying to work out our relationship.

  ‘She’s my mother-in-law,’ I said.

  She nodded sympathetically. Then midwife Justine came bundling in and found me a bed in a private room. She handed me a hospital gown, and as the amniotic fluid was starting to congeal on my legs, she pointed me in the direction of the shower.

/>   When I came out, wearing the horrible backless gown, Ethel was unpacking my bag.

  ‘What do yer need a plant spray for love?’ she asked. ‘The only plants I see are plastic?’

  ‘It’s for me, to be spritzed with…’

  ‘Gawd in my day you didn’t get spritzed. They gave you a stick to bite down on!’

  Just then another contraction hit me. Midwife Justine was on hand to time them with her little watch.

  ‘Where’s Adam?’ I grizzled.

  ‘I’ll go an’ see if I can phone ’im,’ said Ethel.

  For the next hour I alternated between feeling normal enough to sit up in bed and play I Spy with Ethel, and then doubled over in the most agonising pain. During a quiet moment Ethel was saying,

  ‘I spy with my little eye something beginning with D an’ R!’

  Daniel appeared in the doorway with Rosencrantz. They both looked between Ethel and me in shock. Then Daniel’s eyes rolled back into his head and he collapsed on the floor.

  I hadn’t got round to telling them Ethel was alive.

  Daniel was placed on the next bed in the delivery room and was unconscious for two contractions, which didn’t seem like long. All I could think was the baby was coming and Adam was nowhere to be found. When Daniel came round Ethel let him have it.

  ‘To think you couldn’t even identify yer own mother on the slab! Yer own flesh and blood!’ After ten minutes midwife Justine had Daniel and her removed. She then checked how far gone I was.

  ‘You’re still only six centimetres dilated,’ she said. ‘We might have a little longer to wait.’

  ‘Are you thirsty Mum?’ asked Rosencrantz. I nodded and he went off to get me some Lucozade.

  After a few minutes Meryl and Tony appeared.

  ‘Hello Coco! How are you doing?’ trilled Meryl.

  ‘I’m in labour,’ I said.

  ‘Now Coco are you wearing paper knickers?’

  ‘No,’ I said clamping my legs shut even tighter.

  ‘Just bear that in mind because Tony is here.’

  ‘What do you mean Tony is here?’ I said. ‘This is a maternity unit. If you don’t want him to see anyone’s vagina, send him away!’

  ‘Has she had any gas and air?’ asked Meryl.

  ‘No,’ said midwife Justine.

  ‘Ooh, you’re the girl who was at the baby shower-intervention. I did like your father and his cunning stunts!’ cooed Meryl.

  Justine flashed her Wallace and Grommit grin. Meryl grabbed my birth plan off the cabinet beside the bed.

  ‘Coco, you’ve hardly written a thing here,’ she scolded. ‘I had my birth plan laminated,’ she said to Justine. Just then Rosencrantz returned with a bottle of Lucozade. Meryl saw it and shuddered, recounting the story of the student doctors examining her, and how she thought the man from the drinks trolley had a feel too. Justine’s eyebrows shot up into her hairline.

  ‘Now Coco, have you changed your mind about a water birth, because I have brought a spare bikini top… Isn’t it silly you can’t just buy the top and not the bottoms?’ said Meryl.

  ‘I’m fine,’ I said.

  ‘Jolly good. Well if nothing is happening yet we’ll nip off for a cappuccino, come on Tony.’

  They left the room. Midwife Justine rounded on me.

  ‘Oh my God! She’s the crazy birth plan woman!’

  ‘No she’s not,’ I said.

  ‘Come on Coco, she just said verbatim what’s written on that birth plan. Why didn’t you tell me? Do you know it’s been shared online over 55,000 times? This is the equivalent of a religious person meeting the author of the Dead Sea Scrolls!’

  Another powerful contraction rolled over me and I began to scream. Rosencrantz came back in with Ethel and Daniel.

  ‘Where is Adam?’ I cried through gritted teeth. ‘I want Adam!’

  ‘He’s stuck on the M25 Mum, he’ll be here as soon as he can…’

  An hour later I was still only seven centimetres dilated. The room was now full of midwives; six in total. They were all trying to look busy but actually gawking at Meryl who was spritzing me with the plant spray.

  ‘I must say University College hospital is very good,’ said Meryl. ‘When I gave birth, I was left on my own several times. No one could give me any answers. They never told us that the birthing pool was so shallow. My husband Tony spent a fortune on a life jacket!’

  The midwives glanced at each other and suppressed a laugh.

  An hour later Rosencrantz came back to say that Adam was off the M25 and on his way into London.

  Another hour passed and the pain kept coming and going… Wave after wave of contractions… A doctor came and peered between my legs… He muttered something to midwife Justine.

  ‘You’re ten centimetres Coco! It’s time to push!’ she announced.

  ‘Oh my God where is Adaaaaaaaam!’ I grizzled as my body took over and I started to push.

  ‘I’m here, I’m here.’ Adam ran in and I was overwhelmed to see him. He was dressed in his old ripped jeans, a tight black t-shirt, and he had smears of grease on his strong forearms. He looked gorgeous.

  ‘I’m here Cokes,’ he said. He kissed me on my now purple forehead as I pushed with all my might.

  ‘Okay Coco, now rest for a moment, rest,’ said Justine. Adam took up plant spray duties as I tried to catch my breath.

  ‘What did I miss?’

  ‘Ethel died, and came back to life… Meryl is classed as a celebrity by the Royal College of Midwives… and I’m scaaaaaaaaaaaaared!’

  Another contraction hit me like a thunderbolt.

  ‘Push Coco PUSH!’ said Justine. I crushed Adam’s hand as I pushed as hard as I could.

  ‘Okay, he’s coming, I think maybe one more push,’ said Justine. I panted and heaved. Adam went to look at what was happening.

  ‘No!’ I said. ‘No! Stay by my head.’ Adam grinned and grabbed my hand tighter.

  ‘Oh my God, I can feel it coming!’ I shouted.

  ‘Okay Coco I think this is the one!’ said Justine. ‘I need you to push with all your might, don’t stop pushing!’

  Time seemed to slow down. It was as if for the past eight-and-a-half months I had been on a roller coaster ride… clank, clank, clank, clank… climbing up the track, shuddering and jolting along. Now I had reached the top and I could see the drop. I was about to be pulled along by the force of nature. My life was about to change forever. I took a deep breath, threw my head back and let out a screaming roar from the very depths of my soul. The pain was incredible. I felt myself stretch unbearably and then a release. I breathed. And then there was the sound of a tiny baby screaming.

  ‘It’s a girl!’ said Justine.

  ‘A girl?’ we both said.

  ‘Sorry, I mean a boy… sorry! I was so overwhelmed.’

  A tiny brown body was lifted up, covered in goo. From the back it looked like one of those tinned Fray Bentos suet pies before you put it in the oven. He came towards me still gooey, and I put out my arms and felt the weight of him on my chest. I looked into his brown eyes and his tiny screaming face and I was hit by a powerful feeling of love.

  ‘I want to call him Adam, after his Dad,’ I said. Adam puffed up his chest and looked all gorgeous and proud.

  ‘Yeah, let’s do that,’ he said. ‘Hello Adam.’

  Little Adam stopped crying and stared at us.

  A little while later I’d been cleaned up, and everyone came in to see us. Marika and Chris arrived as little Adam was just being weighed.

  ‘Where’s Adam?’ I asked midwife Justine.

  ‘’E’s sitting beside you, you plonker,’ said Ethel.

  ‘No, baby Adam?’

  Everyone approved of our choice of name. Justine brought him back, sleeping now. Everyone cooed at his tiny fingernails and wisps of black hair.

  ‘Oh wow,’ said Chris. ‘His eyes are like jewels.’

  ‘He’s beautiful,’ whispered Marika.

  ‘It’ll be your turn soon M
arika,’ said Ethel. ‘An’ you’ve got to push two out!’

  Midwife Justine then ran me a bath. She gently lay little Adam on my chest and his little legs wiggled in the warm water. He reached out and closed his tiny hand around my finger and stared up at me with his big brown eyes. I was overwhelmed with love.

  We left the maternity unit a few hours later. It was bizarre to have staggered into the hospital in pain and fear, and then exit later that evening overwhelmed with love and cradling a tiny human being. I was exhausted and sore, but I refused the wheelchair and insisted on walking. We all crowded in the lift down to the ground floor. Adam had his arm protectively around me, and we all just stared at Little Adam sleeping. The lift stopped, and an elderly couple got in.

  ‘What a beautiful baby,’ cooed the old lady. I looked down at Little Adam, I don’t think she was just saying that… He really was beautiful.

  ‘He’s five pounds, four ounces,’ I said proudly.

  ‘Why do them prats in Europe make us weigh bananas down the market in grams?’ asked Ethel, ‘but newborn babies in pounds and ounces?

  ‘It’s bloody Europe Mum…’ said Daniel.

  ‘Yes!’ agreed Meryl. ‘I asked for a pound of apples at our local market in Milton Keynes. By the look on the market trader’s face, you think I’d asked for marry-jewana!’

  The elderly couple nodded in agreement.

  ‘Five pounds, four ounces is two thousand three hundred and eighty one point three six grams,’ said Tony working it out on his phone.

  ‘Ooh thas’ a lot of bananas Coco,’ said Ethel. Marika smiled and gave my hand a squeeze.

  Considering Little Adam’s weight and the size of his head, not freakishly huge, but still a little human head, I can’t believe I managed the birth with only one stitch. I’d confided my worries to Marika as she was helping me pack to leave the maternity unit.

  ‘No no no no no,’ she’d said, folding a mound of baby grows. ‘You have just given birth, Coco. You’ve given life! You’ve made another being. Rejoice! Don’t you dare get hung up about bucket fanny.’

  Midwife Justine had been very sad to see me leave.

  ‘You were my first, Mrs Pinchard,’ she said. ‘The first baby I delivered…’

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