The coco pinchard boxset.., p.90
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.90
 

           Robert Bryndza

  “I’m terribly sorry,” she said, then, giving me a twinkly little smile, she picked up her bag and scuttled off.

  I finally found Daniel outside Hamley’s. He was lying in the back of an ambulance. His shoe and sock were off and the ankle on his left foot was twice its normal size. A rather brusque middle-aged nurse was bandaging it up.

  “I fell, Cokes,” he whimpered. “I tripped over a display of Scottish Barbie dolls and went tumbling down the escalator.”

  “He’s lucky he didn’t break his neck,” said the nurse. “This isn’t what Christmas is about! I think you’re going to have to go to hospital and get that looked at. It’s a bad sprain.”

  Daniel sat back and took a deep breath.

  “This will cheer you up. I got the last one!” I said, holding up the plastic bag with a grin. I opened it and pulled out… A SYLVANIAN FAMILIES TREEHOUSE!

  “What the FUCK!” I shouted. The nurse looked horrified.

  “Have you been drinking?” she asked.

  “No, I’ve been conned!” I looked in the bag in disbelief. I was sure I’d picked up a Tracy Island. Then I remembered… The little old Sylvanian Families lady… she’d bashed into me.

  “That bitch must have switched it!” I shouted.

  There was a silence from Daniel and the nurse, and then a policeman appeared – the one who had grabbed my sleeve.

  “Right, that’s it! You, OUT!” cried the nurse.

  “Causing trouble again, madam?” the policeman said.

  I didn’t wait to find out what would happen next. I ran for it. I steamed down Regent Street, through crowds of Christmas shoppers. I didn’t stop until I rounded the corner to Oxford Circus. I looked back. No one was following.

  The house was warm when I got in. I followed the sound of voices and laughter through to the living room. A fire had been lit, and Rosencrantz was standing in front of the television. Sitting on the sofa were Ethel, Chris and Benji. Chris’s new boyfriend was dark-haired, lithe, and incredibly handsome. Rosencrantz was conducting them as they sang.

  “I’m the bestest and wisest man,

  Ten times better than Peter Pan,

  I’ve got lots of Frankincense,

  I got it on offer for fifty pence,

  Is that Jesus in his pram?

  He looks like a lump of boiled ham!”

  “Mummy, I just taught everyone my brilliant song!” shrilled Rosencrantz when he saw me.

  “’Ere Coco, I also taught ‘im one of mine,” said Ethel. “Go on, love.”

  Rosencrantz didn’t need encouragement and he launched straight into it.

  “I’m not a pheasant plucker, I’m a pheasant plucker’s son,

  And I’m only plucking pheasants, till the…”

  Rosencrantz tailed off as he noticed the Hamley’s bag I was holding.

  “Mummy! What’s in the bag?” he shrieked, running over and hugging my legs.

  “Oh, nothing,” I said holding it up high, out of reach.

  “Yer mum’s bin shoppin’ for Father Christmas,” explained Ethel. I shook my head frantically.

  “Oh? What? You ‘aven’t?” asked Ethel.

  It was too much. I burst into tears and ran upstairs. On my way up I heard Ethel say, “Woss up with ‘er? Is it me song? It’s not as if I taught ‘im the rude version!”

  Chris came up and found me a few minutes later. He was carrying a large mug of mulled wine. It smelt delicious.

  “Cokes? Hun?” he said, knocking on the bedroom door. He came in, handed me the steaming mug and sat down on the end of the bed. I told him what had happened, ending with running away from the policeman.

  “Blimey. Talk about shopping madness…”

  “This isn’t what Jesus had in mind, is it?” I said.

  “Well, technically, Jesus was born in February, wasn’t he? And he was Jewish.”

  “I don’t mean that. Christmas should be a time for caring and sharing. I’ve left Daniel in an ambulance on Regent Street with a sprained ankle! And what for? A miniature treehouse full of plastic rodents!”

  I sat up and showed him the contents of the Hamley’s bag.

  “What are Sylvanian Families?” asked Chris.

  “Badgers, and otters, and bears…”

  “Oh my,” finished Chris. “Sounds like a busy night at the Vauxhall tavern.”

  “Be serious,” I said, sipping at my mulled wine. “Ooh that’s good, that’s strong.”

  “Why else do you think Ethel is teaching her four-year-old grandson I’m not a pheasant plucker? She’s on her fourth mug,” said Chris.

  I laughed. He went on,

  “And Benji has been helping Rosencrantz run through his lines for the Nativity play. He knows them all, and everybody else’s… I know we’ve only been dating for six days, Coco, but I think he’s the one. What do you think of him?”

  “He’s gorgeous, Chris. I’m so pleased for you.”

  “He’s perfect. And I can’t think of a thing I don’t like about him. And his body is just amazing. He’s so flexible, he can put both legs behind his h—”

  The phone began to ring downstairs.

  “I’ll get it, you lie there and de-compress,” smiled Chris.

  He came back a few minutes later.

  “Daniel is on his way back in a taxi. He asks if you can come down to the door in ten minutes, with cash. His wallet went missing in the Hamley’s melee.”

  I sighed and downed my mulled wine.

  “I’ll get you a refill,” winked Chris.

  Sunday 20th December

  Daniel has a badly sprained ankle. The nurse told him to go home and rest up for a few days. Chris and Benji helped me to get him up the stairs last night and into bed, I then elevated his foot with a pile of old magazines and administered two paracetamol and a glass of brandy, but it didn’t seem to help. He was in so much pain. With that, the Tracy Island disaster and the ongoing worry about work next week, I didn’t get any sleep beside him.

  I’d agreed to go over to Chris’s house today and meet Benji properly. Daniel said his foot was giving him agony, and he told me to take Rosencrantz.

  “Are you sure you don’t want me to stay with you?” I asked.

  “No. You go and have fun, Cokes. Mum said she’d pop round. She can look after me properly,” said Daniel.

  I was tempted to ask what he meant by properly? But I didn’t have the energy.

  Ethel arrived at two, and only added fuel to the fire by indulging Daniel’s groans and mopping his brow. She’d brought an old Blue Peter advent crown with balding red tinsel, and proceeded to put it on the bedside table and light the fourth candle.

  “Remember this, Danny? You made it when you were little. I thought there should be at least one Christmas decoration in the ‘ouse,” said Ethel.

  Instead of being Christmassy, it gave the bedroom the air of a nineteenth-century sick bed.

  “You go on, Coco. Go ‘an ‘ave a booze up with Chris. I’m ‘ere fer Danny,” said Ethel, pulling up a chair to sit by the bed.

  “We’re not having a ‘booze-up’. I’m only going for an hour, and Rosencrantz wants to go too,” I insisted.

  I looked to Rosencrantz for support.

  “Yes, I’m coming too, Mummy! I want to see Uncle Chris’s tree!” he cried.

  I bundled him up against the cold air and we walked round to Chris’s through Regent’s Park. It was only half two, but the afternoon was beginning to fade and a few ducks were splashing around in the lake.

  His house was a blaze of fairy lights when we arrived. The path down to the front door was dotted with dwarves dressed in Santa outfits, the thatch roof was lined with blinking fairy lights, and a wreath on the door said, ‘Happy Holidays!’

  When Chris opened the door warm air and the smell of mulled wine rushed out.

  “Come in,” he said morosely.

  On his hall table was a huge Nativity scene, which on closer inspection I could see was filled with miniature china figurines from
Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Belle and the Beast were standing by a manger and lying amongst the straw was Chip, the little teacup.

  “Isn’t baby Jesus supposed to be in the manger?” said Rosencrantz, as I helped him out of his duffle coat.

  “And what are the Aristocats doing beside the manger?” I asked.

  “My house has been hijacked by Disney,” grimaced Chris. We followed him through to the living room. There was a crackling fire and, beside it, a giant Christmas tree. Disney characters adorned every bauble, and Tinkerbell was on top of the tree waving her magic wand. There were little ornaments of Mickey and Minnie Mouse all along the mantelpiece. On top of the TV was a huge snow globe, and inside was the magic castle from Sleeping Beauty.

  “Where’s Benji?” I asked, as Chris started crashing about in his drinks cabinet.

  “I don’t know, and I don’t care. We had a huge row and he stormed out,” he said, pulling out a huge bottle of Grey Goose vodka.

  “Why? Chris, what’s going on?” I asked.

  “I came back from the gym this morning to find the house like this. Benji had done it for me as a surprise,” he said, slamming down the bottle.

  “I think it’s quite nice!” cried Rosencrantz, pulling at a bunch of helium balloons floating lazily by the ceiling which had The Jungle Book characters on them.

  “Yes. I suppose I should think it’s nice,” said Chris looking around the room with a shudder.

  “Are all these decorations his?” I asked, noticing a huge Winnie The Pooh, Tigger and Eeyore sitting on the sofa opposite all dressed in Christmas outfits. Chris pulled out two crystal cut glasses and poured us each a large measure.

  “Of course they’re all his! All my lovely Conran decorations are still in the attic… Cokes, it’s everywhere. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in the downstairs loo. A twenty-five-piece Fantasia china dining service in the kitchen. A hundred and one Dalmatians, plus Mr and Mrs Darling and Cruella De Vil on the shelves in the library!” He came over and handed me a vodka, then lowered his voice saying, “There’s even a miniature dolls house in my bedroom which plays ‘It’s a small world after all’ on a loop! What man can maintain an erection with ‘It’s a small world after all’ playing in the background! ”

  I tried to suppress a laugh.

  “It’s not funny, Cokes!”

  “I know, I’m sorry. Didn’t you know Benji was a Disney fan?”

  “No! He never mentioned it on our first date.”

  “Why would he?”

  “Still, look around. Is this normal? He’s… He’s…”

  “A Disney fetishist?” I said.

  “Yes!”

  We clinked glasses and he took a big gulp of vodka.

  “Surely there are worse fetishes, Chris? And you’ll sort it out. You’re both going on a cruise – you’ll only have to look at all this for a day or so. Then you’ll be off.”

  “I hope so. The alternative is spending Christmas with my family. My sister’s just been dumped by a bloke mother disapproved of. I refuse to give her the satisfaction that my relationship is over too,” he said.

  “Your relationship with Benji is not over,” I said, adding, “Who was your sister going out with?”

  “Some investment banker. He got bored and left a message on her bleeper that it was over. She booked into The Ritz and tried to kill herself.”

  “That’s awful! Is she okay?” I asked.

  “She’s fine. The stupid girl jumped out of a ground-floor window. The only thing she broke was her padded hairband. No, it’s going to be okay. I’ll just have to learn to cope with Benji’s Disney fetish.”

  I sat on the sofa and a cushion began to play ‘Be Our Guest’ from Beauty and The Beast.

  “Oh!” I cried leaping up.

  “Every cushion plays a different tune,” said Chris morosely, throwing it behind the sofa. “I’ll be counting down the hours until we’re cruising through the Caribbean islands.”

  “I can’t wait to open my Tracy Island!” piped up Rosencrantz as he twiddled the baubles on the tree.

  “Shit!” I mouthed to Chris.

  “Oh, that reminds me. Dad’s been in touch,” said Chris in a low voice.

  “Yes?” I said eagerly.

  “Not good news: your island is like gold dust apparently. They’ve been changing hands on the black market for hundreds of pounds. He’s going to keep an eye out, but don’t hold your breath.”

  We stayed for a couple of hours, then Benji returned and it was all a bit frosty so I said we’d head back home.

  “Will I see you at Christmas, Uncle Christopher?” asked Rosencrantz.

  “I’ll see you tomorrow,” said Chris. “I’m coming to watch you in your Nativity play.”

  Rosencrantz beamed. “Yay!”

  “And I’m coming too,” said Benji pointedly, looking at Chris.

  “It will be lovely to see you both,” I said.

  “Although please don’t be disappointed,” said Rosencrantz seriously. “Mary and Joseph have no chemistry…”

  Chris and Benji looked at me and we all laughed.

  “What? It’s true!” insisted Rosencrantz. “I overheard Miss Mears talking to the Headmistress.”

  As we walked back home in the dark, Rosencrantz asked what it meant for Mary and Joseph to have no chemistry. Before I could stop myself I said that they didn’t have a chemist’s shop near them in Bethlehem. Then we saw two very posh ladies whose little dogs had decided to have rampant sex by the pond.

  “What are those doggies doing, Mummy?” asked Rosencrantz.

  “They’re doing the conga,” I said.

  “That’s a bit different to how we did it at my birthday party…”

  “Yes, dogs, um, do it differently because they don’t usually have any music,” I said.

  He seemed satisfied and we carried on past the two posh ladies who had given up trying to separate their dogs. It made me think, why do we lie to kids all the time? That was the third lie I’d told Rosencrantz today. Did it really protect him, lying? Although the Tracy Island lie was justified because I was determined to get him one for Christmas. As far as the dogs were concerned, I didn’t want to have to go into the birds and the bees, not yet. And as for Mary and Joseph, well, life was too short to worry about two little kids who can’t act.

  And who’d want their child to go into the acting profession anyway?

  When we got home, Ethel met us at the door. The house was in darkness. I flicked the light switch but nothing happened.

  “Has there been a power cut?” I asked.

  She looked terrified and grabbed me, whispering, “Yes! And iss Danny! I think ‘e’s possessed, Coco!”

  She was wearing her plastic rain hood indoors and clutching her little crucifix.

  “What?” I said.

  “’E’s been babbling nonsense for the past hour, well, not the usual shite, real nonsense…”

  Candles were dotted about, casting a dim glow, and we followed her upstairs and into the bedroom. Daniel was lying in bed. His skin had a horrible grey hue and he was soaked in sweat.

  “Oola baloolaer ranticfah!” he murmured. “Wooohoo pallooo!”

  “’E’s talkin’ Latin, Coco,” said Ethel. “’E must be possessed, cos ‘e failed the eleven plus. ‘E never did Latin… only woodwork.”

  “He sounds delirious,” I said.

  Ethel went to the end of the bed and lifted the covers.

  “No! Look. A face ‘as appeared on the bed sheets! It’s Jesus!” she hissed with wonder in her eyes.

  I joined her and together we peered at the spot she was indicating on the sheet. There was a black stain, an eerie, angular pleading face with long hair. Beside it Daniel’s foot was propped up on the pile of magazines, looking puce and hugely swollen.

  “Cantoono baramshifah!” gurgled Daniel menacingly. “Rambabba-booba!” The candles flickered on the Blue Peter advent crown.

  “Mummy, I’m a bit scared,” said Rosencrantz
grabbing at my leg.

  The candles flickered again and Daniel groaned. Suddenly all the lights came back on. I peered closer at the face on the bed sheet again.

  “That’s not Jesus, it’s Yoko Ono,” I said.

  “Eh?” said Ethel.

  “Did you move the pile of magazines?”

  “Yeah. Danny was ‘avin cramp,” she said.

  I gently pulled out a magazine from the bottom of the pile.

  “Look. It’s the ink from the Radio Times,” I said. “It’s transferred onto the bed sheet.”

  Sure enough, it was an article and a picture of Yoko Ono. Ethel seemed to blame me that her son wasn’t possessed, and got very huffy.

  “Can you blame me fer worrying?”

  I went to him and felt his head. He was burning up.

  “He’s definitely delirious,” I said. “I think we should ring the doctor.”

  The doctor came reluctantly, but when he saw Daniel and the state of his foot, he called for an ambulance. We followed to the hospital and waited for several hours in the busy waiting room. Ethel kept repeating, “I told yer it was bad. Didn’t I?”

  “Okay, let’s just wait and keep calm,” I said, glad that Rosencrantz was out of earshot. He was blissfully unaware and playing on an activity centre in the corner of the waiting room.

  When a doctor finally came out, he told us that Daniel had broken his ankle and had an infection.

  “’E’s not gonna die?” asked Ethel.

  “No. We’ve set the bone and given him a cast. He’s also on intravenous antibiotics,” said the doctor. “We’ll be keeping him in overnight for observation.”

  “Thank you, Doctor, praise the Lord. ‘Is wife ‘ere, she didn’t think it was anything serious, but I… all I can say is that I probably saved ‘is life!” exclaimed Ethel.

 
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