The coco pinchard boxset.., p.83
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.83
 

           Robert Bryndza

  ‘Daniel… Have you finished with my funnel?’ She grinned. ‘The landlord needs it back.’ Daniel went over to her.

  ‘Could her skirt be any shorter?’ I muttered as she put a hand on his arm and took back the bottle with the funnel. She pulled out a sprig of plastic mistletoe and held it above their heads. Daniel did that faux if I must shrug I’ve seen men do when they’re confronted by a pretty girl, and leant in for a kiss – on the cheek admittedly – but rage boiled up inside me.

  ‘Daniel, your sister is waiting and so am I!’ I snapped, sounding horribly like my mother. Daniel came running back with lipstick on his cheek. Meryl looked at us both with a wry smile and we got into the car, me in the back. As we drove off, the barmaid was still standing at the edge of the kerb. Her pointy little breasts were poking through her tight little blouse. ‘So, we’re all good?’ said Daniel.

  ‘Who was she?’ I said.

  ‘I dunno, a barmaid,’ he grinned.

  ‘Well…’ I huffed and stared out of the window. Meryl glanced at me out of the corner of her eye and handed Daniel a tissue. He grabbed it and scrubbed at the lipstick.

  ‘She was just being nice,’ he said.

  ‘It’s fine,’ I huffed trying to sound carefree. I was coming across badly. I wanted Meryl to like me.

  London was very drab, everyone looked bored and pale struggling under the burden of shopping bags and the decorations seemed flaccid. The tinsel strung along Oxford Street was thin and drooping like the elastic that had gone on a large pair of pants.

  ‘What are you saying about a large pair of pants?’ asked Meryl. I’d been talking out loud.

  ‘That’s just Coco,’ grinned Daniel grabbing my hand. ‘She’s very creative; she’s going to be a writer.’

  ‘Well I write, so I am a writer,’ I said.

  ‘Oh. What have you had published?’ needled Meryl.

  ‘Nothing yet,’ I said blushing.

  ‘I’ve read her stories, she’s great,’ said Daniel.

  As we got closer to his house I realised how ridiculous I was. I’d run away from my mother as if I was ten years old. I should have just told my parents about Daniel, and then had him over for a cup of tea – or arranged to do something properly with him.

  When we’d crossed the river south, I noticed how run-down the houses were becoming, brickwork blackened from hundreds of years of coal fires, and there were kids on swings, mothers in curlers with housecoats poking out under their winter coats. Meryl turned into a street with a broken sign and parked by an end-of-terrace house. It was almost dark and many of the houses had switched on their Christmas lights but still hadn’t drawn the curtains.

  We didn’t walk up the front path to the door, but swung round the side of the house and Daniel reached up and undid the latch on the back gate. We went through and down a long dank passage between the two rows of terraced houses. We came to another gate and Daniel reached up again for the latch. It opened onto a concrete yard that can’t have been more than eight feet square. There was a coal house with a spade resting outside covered in a fresh layer of coal dust. A bit in the corner was fenced off with some twisted chicken wire, and inside was the most enormous turkey! His black and grey plumage was stunning and glinted as he scrabbled about in the dirt with a powerful red-clawed foot. Standing beside the pen was a woman, similar in height to Meryl. I’d say she was in her fifties. She had jet-black hair (obviously dyed) and swept back from her face in a little beehive. She had on those pointy glasses from the 1970s and a winter coat over a flowery housecoat.

  ‘I din’t expect you back so quick,’ she said quickly closing her coat and putting her hand up to her mouth.

  ‘Thas' alright, Mum,’ said Daniel. ‘This is Coco.’ I held my hand out.

  ‘It’s lovely to meet you Mrs. Pinchard, you’ve got a beautiful home.’ I don’t know why I said that, I was so nervous.

  ‘’Ow do you know?’ she asked suspiciously, her hand still in front of her mouth. ‘’Ave you ’ad ’er up in yer room? Danny, what ’ave I told you?’

  ‘Mum! No,’ said Daniel. ‘No. Coco’s just being nice,’

  ‘Yes, what I meant is that… Um…’ I cast my eye around to find something to compliment, but the squalid back yard made it hard. ‘You’ve got a lovely turkey…’

  ‘Yeah, ’e is lovely…’ she said dropping the accusing tone. ‘By rights ’e should be dead an’ plucked but ’e’s… clever, sensitive.’

  I could see her point, turkey’s usually have cruel little eyes, but this one had a soft mournful stare.

  ‘I call ’im John-Paul,’ said Mrs. Pinchard.

  ‘After the Pope?’ I asked, wondering if Daniel came from a strict Catholic family.

  ‘No! Not ’im… John Paul Belmondo.’

  ‘The French actor?’

  ‘Ooh yeah, ’e’s lovely. If I were a few years younger I’d bugger off to France for the chance to meet John Paul Belmondo.’

  Meryl rolled her eyes. I put my hand out and John Paul the turkey let me lean in and touch his feathers, which were so soft. He sniffed at my hand and then looked up at us again with his mournful eyes.

  ‘Meryl, Danny, I think we’re jus’ gonna ’ave chipolatas tomorrow,’ said Mrs. Pinchard.

  ‘I’m on a diet mum, I told you,’ said Meryl moving past to the back door.

  ‘As long as we get pud, I don’t care,’ said Daniel. ‘Come on Coco, let’s go inside.’ Mrs. Pinchard got all flustered and told us to wait in the yard whilst she cleared up.

  ‘It’s really no problem,’ I said, but she bustled off and Daniel followed her inside closing the door. I just caught her saying, ‘You din’t even give me a chance to put me bloody teeth in!’

  I looked up at the row of terraces. Lights were going on and tantalising smells of baking wafted over the fences towards me. The snow began to fall more heavily and John Paul shifted on his huge feet and leaned into me from his side of the chicken wire. I know it’s an odd thing to say about a turkey, but he really was sweet. I undid the latch on the makeshift little gate and I went into the pen. He let me gently brush the snow off his shiny black feathers, and he put his beak in my pocket then nibbled at one of my buttons. I thought guiltily of the rows of turkeys I’d seen earlier in the walk-in freezer.

  ‘How could anyone eat you?’ I said. He stopped nibbling and rested his head against my jacket blinking. I had never suspected this morning, that by the afternoon I’d be talking to a turkey in Daniel’s back garden. I noticed there was a little wooden shelter in the corner of the pen and I fluffed up the pile of straw underneath it and John Paul walked over and made himself comfortable. Suddenly the back door opened and Daniel said I could come in. I gave the turkey another cuddle and followed him indoors.

  The back door led into a small and beautifully clean kitchen decorated in orange and black patterned wallpaper. Blue Formica cupboards and work surfaces lined the walls and a matching blue Formica table filled the centre of the room. There was a warm smell of freshly-baked fruitcake mingled with gas from the stove that had just been lit. Daniel’s mother was now wearing a smart blue dress and a cream cardigan, she also had her teeth in. She put a kettle on the gas and pulled out a tea caddy. Three Cadbury’s advent calendars were propped up on the windowsill above the sink and there was tinsel strung around the glass lampshade, which hung above the kitchen table.

  ‘Have a sit down,’ said Daniel. ‘Cup of tea?’

  ‘Yes please,’ I said pulling out a chair.

  ‘Not that one,’ snapped Mrs. Pinchard shoving the chair back in. I noticed a small tear in the plastic of the seat cushion. She pulled out the chair opposite.

  ‘You get the view outside,’ she said. I nodded and sat down, the snow was now swirling in eddies outside the window.

  ‘You must be used to a much bigger place,’ said Daniel helping me out of my coat and hanging it by the back door. I noticed his mother smoothing back her hair in the reflection of the boiler as she busied herself drying teaspoons
with a tea towel.

  ‘This is nice, cosy…’ I enthused. I didn’t know if that was a compliment or not, but I meant it. It was a lovely, warm and friendly place. Mrs. Pinchard carried on getting the tea ready. I had the feeling she didn’t like me. Daniel went to the cupboard and started pulling down some mugs.

  ‘Sit down Danny,’ she ordered. ‘She’ll ’ave a cup an' saucer, like we usually ’ave!’ She put the mugs back and left the room. Daniel reached across the table and grabbed my hand.

  ‘I don’t think your Mum likes me,’ I whispered.

  ‘No. You’re getting the best crockery, this is good,’ he grinned. ‘We never use it,’ he added with a whisper.

  ‘’Ere we are,’ said Mrs. Pinchard coming back in with a tray of china cups, a milk jug and sugar bowl. ‘I ’ad it out this morning for elevenses with friends.’

  Daniel grinned at me and shook his head. I noticed a small fireplace under a mirror in the corner, wood and coal were built up neatly, with some newspaper and ready to be lit. Meryl came in and threw the post on the kitchen table. She grabbed a box of long matches and struck one. She lightly touched it to the newspaper and the fire burst to life, blazing within seconds.

  ‘My Dad is hopeless at building fires,’ I said breaking the silence. ‘He’s there for ages feeding it with wood and re-lighting it. That’s a great fire. Did Mr. Pinchard build it?’

  ‘You mean, Danny? Yes, ’e did,’ said Mrs. Pinchard. The kettle began to whistle and she lifted it off the stove and poured a little hot water into the teapot.

  ‘No, I meant Daniel’s father, Mr. Pinchard.’ I added. She swilled the hot water round the teapot, warming it up, and then tipped it into the sink with a practised move.

  ‘’Ow long ’ave you two been stepping out?’ she said spooning tea leaves into the pot.

  ‘Mum, I told you, me and Coco got together in September.’

  ‘Well, it can’t be that serious if yer didn’t tell ’er yer dad’s dead!’

  ‘Oh. Oh, I’m sorry,’ I said.

  ‘I don’t like to talk about it,’ said Daniel squeezing my hand apologetically

  ‘’E died twelve year ago. Silly bugger went ’an got ’imself run over by a bus,’ said Mrs. Pinchard. The kettle came back to the boil and began to scream. I didn’t know what to say.

  We sat as Mrs. Pinchard filled the teapot, then brought the cups over. She thumbed through the post and opened an envelope containing a Christmas card.

  ‘’Ere, speak of the devil, iss a card from Alf Watson, the bloke who dug yer dad’s grave… ’e sends me a card every year.’

  ‘How morbid,’ said Meryl sitting beside me.

  ‘’E’s got a son, Tony, works as ’is assistant. ’Ere, Meryl, why don’t I give Alf a tinkle. Maybe you could go up the Odeon with Tony one afternoon?’

  ‘I’m not going to the cinema with a gravedigger’s assistant!’ said Meryl indignantly.

  ‘Why not?’

  ‘For starters we have nothing in common,’ said Meryl.

  ‘’Is dad dug your dad’s grave!’ said Mrs. Pinchard.

  ‘I don’t believe you Mum!’ shouted Meryl.

  ‘Well, yer not getting any younger my girl. You need to get yerself married orf. An’ there’s good money in death. You gonna work for that Doctor forever?’

  Meryl got up in tears and stormed out slamming the kitchen door. Mrs. Pinchard seemed unperturbed and turned her attention to me.

  ‘So, Coco,’ she said pouring the tea. ‘Yer at University with my Danny.’

  ‘Yes, I am. I’m studying English Literature.’

  ‘What yer gonna do with that when yer leave?’ she asked, handing us cups and sitting down on the ripped chair.

  ‘I’m going to be a writer.’

  Mrs. Pinchard nodded.

  ‘And what does yer dad do? If e’s alive that is?’

  ‘Her father owns a butcher’s,’ said Daniel. Mrs. Pinchard suddenly looked interested.

  ‘Oh, well thas very nice. A butcher, I’d like a butcher in the family.’ Then she actually smiled at me. ‘Iss lovely to meet yer Coco.’

  This was good! She suddenly seemed to have warmed to me. The happy moment was interrupted by a knock at the back door and a voice said,

  ‘Cooo-eee!’ An older lady in a housecoat and hairnet poked her head round the door.

  ‘Who’s that?’ I said quietly to Daniel.

  ‘Mrs. Roberts, the next door neighbour.’

  ‘Ooh sorry Ethel, I didn’t realise you ’ad company…’ said Mrs. Roberts.

  ‘Don’t worry love, come in. ’Ere, this is Danny’s nice new girlfriend, Coco. ’Er dad’s a butcher!’

  ‘Nice to meet you love,’ said Mrs. Roberts.

  Mrs. Pinchard called me his girlfriend. She approved!

  ‘I won’t keep ya, Ethel,’ said Mrs. Roberts. ‘I just wanted to see John Paul Belmondo all trussed up for the oven. I don’t know ’ow yer did it… ’

  ‘What love?’ said Mrs. Pinchard cutting the fruitcake.

  ‘I don’t know how you slaughtered that sweet little turkey.’

  ‘No I can’t bring meself to do it…’ said Mrs. Pinchard.

  ‘Oh, I thought ’cos ’e’s gawn?’

  ‘What d’yer mean, gawn?’

  ‘John Paul, the turkey ’e’s gawn! ’E’s not in the yard. Both gates are open!’ said Mrs. Roberts. It suddenly dawned on me. I’d left the gate open.

  ‘Oh no… I think it was me,’ I said.

  ‘What?’ said Mrs. Pinchard.

  ‘I left the gate open!’

  ‘What the bloody ’ell did yer do that for!’ shouted Mrs. Pinchard. Everyone leapt up and we jostled outside. A thick layer of snow now covered the yard. The moon had come out and it was so bright. The gates were indeed open. John Paul Belmondo was nowhere to be seen.

  ‘That was me Christmas Turkey!’ shrilled Mrs. Pinchard. ‘Six months of saving in the Christmas club!’

  ‘I’m so sorry,’ I said. ‘It was an accident.’

  ‘And I left the other gate open,’ said Daniel helpfully.

  ‘Well yer both bloody fools!’ she shouted.

  We split up and searched the length of the road out front, and the neighbours’ gardens calling out, ‘Jean Paul Belmondo,’ like a bunch of depressed fans of French new wave cinema. But no turkey came trotting up. I felt terrible, not only had I lost them their Christmas lunch but Mrs. Pinchard was mourning the loss of a beloved pet. When we re-grouped in the back garden I saw it was almost seven o’clock.

  ‘Daniel,’ I said awkwardly. ‘I’ve just realised I should get home… I don’t know what to do about this?’

  Mrs. Pinchard was still ranting to Mrs. Roberts saying, ‘The poor bugger is long gone, knowing this lot round ’ere. ’E’ll be in someone’s oven, I’ve no doubt.’

  Daniel went over to his mum and she broke down in tears with her head on his shoulder.

  ‘Oh Danny, why did yer ’ave to bring…’

  ‘What?’

  ‘No, It’s not ’er fault, I’m sure she’s a nice girl…’ she burst into tears again.

  ‘Do you think your dad has a spare turkey?’ said Daniel over his mother’s shoulder.

  ‘We’ve got nothing to eat tomorrow,’ sobbed Mrs. Pinchard. ‘Only five chipolatas and box of Quality Street…’

  I thought of the pantry at home, filled to bursting with meat and fresh food. I then pictured our dining room: lots of space and a huge table.

  ‘Come to my house for lunch tomorrow,’ I blurted. ‘The three of you,’ I added, as Mrs. Roberts from next door seemed to think she might get an invite too.

  ‘We’d love to,’ said Mrs. Pinchard suddenly regaining her composure. ‘What time does yer dad carve?’

  Daniel looked shocked. ‘Hang on Coco, are you sure. Your house, in Marylebone?’

  ‘Course she’s sure!’ said Mrs. Pinchard.

  ‘Yes. Course,’ I said, but inside I was panicked at what I’d just offered.

 
Shall I give yer mum a tinkle?’ Said Mrs. Pinchard. ‘See if she wants them chipolatas?’

  ‘No, it’s fine. Look we eat at one, so why don’t you come for midday?’ I said the colour draining from my face. All Mrs. Pinchard’s tears for John Paul Belmondo had vanished, and she hurried inside.

  ‘Meryl!’ she yelled, ‘make yerself useful and plug in the Carmen rollers! We’re goin' up west for Christmas lunch!’

  I was left with Daniel in the moonlight.

  ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ he asked. He pushed my hair away and leant in and kissed my neck.

  ‘Yes. I love you,’ I said. ‘And I want your mum to like me too.’

  ‘You are the most amazing woman. I love you,’ he said. His brown eyes glinted in the moonlight and I wanted him so bad. He kissed me softly.

  ‘Why don’t you stay here?’ he asked, smiling.

  ‘What? Tonight? In your room?’

  ‘No. I don’t think my mother would approve of that… even if you have invited her over for Christmas lunch. No, you can have my bed, I’ll have the settee and then when everyone is asleep, I’ll stealthily climb the stairs…’

  ‘Avoiding the creaky ones…’

  ‘Yes avoiding the creaky ones,’ he grinned, ‘and I’ll ravish you in my bed…’ I could feel him getting stiff. I looked around but there was no one to see us.

  ‘Jeez the thought of doing you under my poster of The Smiths,’ he growled

  ‘You like The Smiths?’

  ‘Okay - the Electric Light Orchestra,’ he admitted. I laughed.

  ‘No I should go home,’ I said. ‘I need to sort things out for tomorrow… tell my mother.’

  ‘Well you won’t get a train or a bus on Christmas Eve. I’ll drive you.’

  ‘Can you drive?’

  ‘I haven’t passed my test, but yeah. And who’s going to check on Christmas Eve?’

  Daniel went inside and grabbed Meryl’s car keys. We scraped the ice off the windscreen and set off towards the river. It was an adventure; the roads were completely empty with snow swirling in front of us. We crossed the river at London Bridge, and the Thames spread out on either side. Tower Bridge was all lit up and several of the barges on the river had sprouted Christmas trees. We zoomed along the Embankment, and then we were on Regent’s Street under a canopy of Christmas lights. People were everywhere, spilling off the pavement and crossing in front of the car, rushing to get home, heads bowed against the wind and snow, now a mix of colours reflecting the lights above.

 
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