The coco pinchard boxset.., p.91
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.91

           Robert Bryndza

  I bit my tongue.

  “Can we see him, Doctor,” I asked through gritted teeth.

  “Of course, but he’s very tired,” said the doctor.

  He took us through to the ward where Daniel lay looking a little better. But his leg! He had a plaster cast from his knee down to his foot! It was hung from a loop attached to the ceiling. I felt a sudden rush of love for him. There was a brief tussle between me and Ethel, but I made it to his bedside first so she had to scuttle round to the other side.

  “Hello love,” I said, smoothing his dark hair down. “I thought you were being over-dramatic… I love you.”

  “It’s okay, Cokes. It’s going to be an interesting Christmas, eh?” he said, smiling weakly.

  “We’ll all be there for yer, Danny. Meryl an’ Tony are comin’ down, and little Rosencrantz is ‘ere,” she said, leaning in front of me and stroking his hair.

  “I’ll be there too,” I said.

  “Blood is thicker than water though, Danny,” said Ethel.

  And no one is thicker than you, Ethel, I wanted to say, but I bit my lip.

  We stayed with him for a while, competing for who had the best bedside manner. Then Daniel asked Ethel if she would take Rosencrantz home and put him to bed. Ethel was a bit put out at this, but capitulated, and after Rosencrantz gave Daniel a big hug, they left.

  “Go easy on Mum. She had a fright,” said Daniel.

  “I had a fright too,” I said. “You know, I’ve tried until I’m blue in the face with your mother…”

  “She’s old, Coco.”

  “She’s not really that old, Daniel.”

  “Yeah, but she’s lonely. Dad’s been dead a long time. Meryl lives up in Milton Keynes. I think she feels I’m all she’s got.”

  “Well, just remember you’ve got me and Rosencrantz too. Everything seems to be getting out of control. The most important thing is our health and our happiness. Look, I know this is difficult, but can we talk about your mum…”

  There was a soft sound of snoring, and Daniel was asleep.

  “Every time I try to talk to you about Ethel, you fall asleep,” I said.

  I stayed with him for a little longer, then I kissed the top of his sleeping head and left.

  When I came out of the hospital, a Salvation Army band was huddled under the awning playing ‘Silent Night’. The sound of the brass instruments was so rich and warm, compared to the cold evening. I lit up a cigarette and stopped and listened for a while. It was the song Dad always put on the record player as we decorated the tree. I was overcome with sadness, and anger. Sadness that my parents weren’t here to see Rosencrantz grow up, and anger that they’d left me.

  When I came back the house was quiet. I went upstairs, and Ethel was coming out of Rosencrantz’s bedroom. She was holding a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in one hand and an ashtray with three cigarette butts in the other.

  “What are you doing?” I asked.

  “I just read Rosencrantz a story; ‘e was out like a light,” said Ethel.

  “No, what are you doing with that ashtray? Were you smoking in his bedroom?”

  “No, I weren’t smoking in ‘is bedroom!” she hissed.

  I followed her down the stairs.

  “Then why are you carrying the ashtray?”

  “Iss my ashtray! I was tidying up. Something you’d know all about if you was even a little ‘ouse proud! When did you last push the carpet sweeper round?”

  “No! You do NOT get to speak to me like that in my house!” I hissed back.

  “Oh gawd Coco, take it out on me!”

  “Take it out on you? That’s my son!”

  “An’ my grandson! An’ I would NEVER smoke in ‘is room!” she said.

  “Oh really? I know for a fact you smoked like a chimney when Daniel and Meryl were babies. Daniel told me you used to balance an ashtray on his head when you breastfed him.”

  “You watch yer mouth, Coco! We didn’t know ‘ow bad smoking was back then!”

  “In all his baby pictures the top of his head is completely flat!”

  “That was the forceps!” she snarled. We glared at each other, then she went on, “If I’m such a bad mother, why was I the only one with Danny? I knew ‘e was in a bad way! I knew it were more than a sprain. You were off gallivanting with that Chris!”

  “You also thought he was possessed by the devil! Or Yoko Ono. You’re obviously too bloody thick to tell the difference!”

  We had reached the front door now. Ethel grabbed her coat off the peg and dragged the door open.

  “Where are you going? It’s eleven o’clock at night?” I said.

  “Well, I’m not stayin’ ere! To think of all I’ve done for you!”

  “What have you done for me? You’re always here, criticizing and making snide comments!”

  “I’m good enough whenever you want a babysitter though, ain’t I? You know I’ve got a life too!”

  She stomped off to the gate.

  “Ethel, please, it’s late… Stay and let’s talk, sensibly.”

  “I know when I’m not welcome! You think I’m muck, don’t yer?”

  “I do not think that!” I shouted.

  A taxi was rounding the corner; she flagged it down and got in. I watched it drive away into the cold night. I came back in and closed the door.

  I went upstairs to Rosencrantz’s room. His small form shifted under the blanket. There was a faint smell of cigarettes, but I couldn’t tell if it was coming off me. I opened his window a little and let some air in. The moon was high in the sky and frost glittered on the rooftops stretching out across London. I put my head against the window frame and drank in the silence. Very softly the opening strains of ‘Silent Night’ floated on the breeze from next door. When it got to “All is calm, all is bright”, there was the sound of a needle being yanked off a record. Then I heard Mrs Cohen shout, “Stop playing that rubbish and help me find the candles for the Menorah!”

  A row started up so I closed the window. I went to Rosencrantz’s bedside and looked at him sleeping peacefully, his beautiful little face lit up by the moonlight.

  “Do you know how much you are loved?” I said softly. “I would die for you. So would your Dad, and, I hate to say it, your Nan too… I wish that meant something to you right now. But you’re lucky to be young enough not to know heartbreak, or loss, or pain. I’m doing everything I can to get you Tracy Island. I just hope that it doesn’t break your little heart if I can’t.”

  I kissed Rosencrantz and came downstairs. Apart from Ethel’s Blue Peter advent crown, you wouldn’t know it was Christmas in the house. I came into the kitchen and made myself a cup of cocoa. I slumped into a chair and pulled out a pad and a pencil to see what needed to be done before Christmas:

  Find Tracy Island urgently!!!!

  As an absolute last resort, find Blue Peter plans to make Tracy Island.

  Make Rosencrantz’s Nativity play outfit, wash bed sheet and tea towel, also hunt down gold curtain tie-back which will make a good belt. (Is the school supplying the wise men’s gifts? If not who sells Frankincense? Debenhams?)

  Buy a nice real Christmas tree of aesthetically pleasing proportions and decorate. Decorate house.

  Buy all Christmas food/booze and other presents.

  Check fold-up Z beds for when the in-laws come to stay, and throw away faulty one. If Daniel’s sister Meryl gets trapped in folding contraption like last year, I will never hear the end of it.

  Visit local library and look for self-help books about coping with awful mother-in-laws. Also hide the Christmas Radio Times before Ethel gets to it with her highlighter pen.

  Buy blank videotapes, which can be used as a bargaining tool if we have a clash of Christmas TV programmes. Work out how to use video recorder.

  Buy crackers.

  Try not to go crackers.

  Replacement bulbs for fairy lights.

  Buy Pic N Mix from Woolworths for carol singers.

  Find nice Chris
tmas music cassette.

  Present for Rosencrantz’s teacher?

  Who is Rosencrantz’s teacher? Ugh. Am a terrible mother.

  Then the pencil broke. I put my head on the table and burst into tears.

  Monday 21st December

  I woke up this morning with my head on the table, fully-dressed. I had been dreaming I was on a beach. I could feel the sun warm on my face, but now I could feel my face was stuck to something. I opened my eyes and saw it was the Argos Christmas catalogue.

  “Mummy, shouldn’t I be at school?” I heard a voice say.

  I turned to see Rosencrantz in the kitchen doorway. He had got himself up and dressed, and it was eight o’clock. Everything came flooding back to me: Daniel was in hospital… the row with Ethel… Rosencrantz had to be at school… I had to be at school… Tracy Island… Christmas still had to be assembled.

  “Shit!” I said. “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!”

  “Mummy, you shouldn’t use those words,” he said.

  “Yes, they’re only for mummies to use,” I agreed.

  I grabbed my purse and my keys and drove him round to school. Luckily, I looked like all the other mothers on the school run – harassed and bedraggled, and several of them were still wearing slippers. I came back home to grab the rest of my stuff when the phone rang. It was Meryl.

  “Hellllooooo Coco!” she trilled. I could hear Nat King Cole in the background singing ‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’.

  “Meryl, I can’t stop. I’m on my way out to work,” I said.

  “This is just a quickie, Coco. I won’t keep you. I wanted to ask if you have a memory foam pillow?”

  “I thought you said you were getting me and Daniel bath cubes for Christmas?”

  “Yes! Of course we are. No, this is a memory foam pillow for Tony, he’s suffering terrible whiplash.”

  “Did he have an accident in the hearse?”

  “No, he went a bit overboard doing the funky chicken at the Rotary Club Christmas dinner and dance… If you ask me he was playing to the crowd, but the only people he comes into contact with at work are dead, so I let him have his moment in the sun.”

  “Meryl, I’m late for work—” I said.

  “Okay working girl, can you put Daniel on?”

  I quickly told her everything that had happened.

  “Oh Coco, that’s awful,” she said. “Well, look, I can help ease the burden…” I thought she was going to say that she and Tony wouldn’t be coming to stay for ten days, but instead she offered to talk to Mandy at Handy Mandy Crafts, her local craft shop.

  “I could help you make Tracy Island!” she added excitedly. “Now I’ve mastered Batik and finger puppets, I’m dying for a challenge—”

  “Meryl I’ve got to go,” I said.

  “Righty-ho. Well, keep me in the loop about Daniel, I’ll bring that pillow for Tony, and start to brainstorm Tracy Island… byeeeee!”

  I got to work at nine o’clock. Marika, God bless her, had somehow managed to take the register for my class and get them seated for assembly in an orderly fashion. She’d saved me a chair beside her at the side of the hall.

  “Thank you,” I whispered as we took our seats and The Ripper appeared at the front. She smiled and handed me a tissue.

  “You’ve got ‘sogra’ written on your forehead,” she murmured.

  I grabbed the tissue and scrubbed at it.

  “All gone?’ I whispered. She nodded. “I fell asleep on the Argos catalogue,” I added.

  I didn’t get to hear her response because we all stood for the first hymn, ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’.

  The rest of the day was a crazy blur. All the teachers bunged on videos for their classes to watch and we took it in turns to keep an eye on the kids whilst we tried to organise our lives. I nipped out to Debenhams and bought a pillowcase and tea towel for Rosencrantz’s Wise Man outfit. I checked the toy department, but was laughed at when I asked if they had any Tracy Islands.

  I bumped into Mr Wednesday, the handsome art teacher, on one of his rare visits to the staffroom and he kindly said he would photocopy me the Blue Peter ‘make your own’ Tracy Island plans. He’s very rugged and tanned with a shock of dark hair. He smells delicious and carries a leather satchel with a selection of Koh-i-Noor pencils poking out, and I sometimes see him sharpening one with a Swiss army knife.

  “Come and see me in the art room,” he grinned, his white teeth contrasting with his black stubble.

  “Yes, I will,” I said, feeling rather overwhelmed by him.

  At lunchtime I phoned the hospital who told me that Daniel was doing well and could probably be discharged tomorrow. I said to tell him I would visit after work. Marika had asked if I had a moment before I left, but I completely forgot and dashed off as soon as the bell went for the end of the day.

  I picked up Rosencrantz from school and took him straight over to see Daniel. He was sitting up in his hospital bed and looked almost back to normal.

  “Daddy!” Rosencrantz yelled and went to jump on the bed.

  “No!” said Daniel, and I grabbed him quickly before he could land on his cast.

  On the bedside table, I noticed there was a huge bowl of fruit, a giant ‘get well’ card and several bottles of Lucozade.

  “Mum’s been here most of the day,” said Daniel. “Got me a lovely card too.”

  I realised I hadn’t brought him anything. I also realised the time.

  “I’m sorry, Daniel, it’s been a mad day, and we can only stay for a few minutes…”

  “I’m due on stage tonight,” said Rosencrantz proudly.

  “Yes. Break a leg son,” said Daniel. “I wish I could come and see you!”

  “Don’t break a leg, Rosencrantz. I couldn’t cope with you both in plaster,” I said.

  “Mummy, break a leg is just a figure of speech. It means good luck before a performance.”

  Daniel and I laughed.

  “Bye Daddy!” he yelled and gave Daniel a kiss.

  “See you tomorrow, love you,” I said, pecking him on the cheek.

  “Yes, Cokes, love you too,” he said.

  When we got home, I assembled Rosencrantz’s Wise Man outfit and got ready for the Nativity. He looked so adorable! I got changed and then we drove over to the school. Chris and Benji were waiting for us outside and when Rosencrantz saw them he suddenly got very scared and tearful.

  “Mummy, what if I forget what I have to say!” he said, the panic on his face.

  “You won’t forget,” I said. “You know your lines better than anyone. And you know all theirs too!”

  “Yes, Rosencrantz. Just take a deep breath and enjoy it,” said Chris.

  “But what if I do forget?” asked Rosencrantz, wiping away the tears in his little eyes with the corner of his Wise Man’s tea-towel headdress.

  “Then improvise,” said Benji.

  “What does that mean?” asked Rosencrantz.

  “You know the story so you can make up something that fits,” said Benji.

  “You’ll be fine, you’re the best little actor I know,” said Chris, giving him a hug.

  I took Rosencrantz round to the classroom and reluctantly left him with Miss Mears. Then we took our seats in the school hall front of the stage. It looked magical. Fairy lights and paper lanterns hung from the ceiling, and the scenery on stage was an image of the mountains of Bethlehem, with a star in the sky. When Benji went off to get us all a cup of mulled wine, I asked Chris if things were okay between them.

  “Yes, we made up when he came home, three times. I can think of worse things to be obsessed with than Disney... He could have wanted me to pee on him!”

  A rather posh lady next to us choked into our mulled wine. Chris didn’t seem to notice and carried on,

  “How are things with you? By the way, where is Ethel?”

  “Good point,” I said. “I thought she’d be here…”

  “Here, use my mobile phone?” offered Chris, retrieving it f
rom his long coat and pulling up the aerial.

  I dialled Ethel’s number and she answered after a few rings.

  “Oo is it?”

  “Ethel, it’s me. I’m at Rosencrantz’s Nativity play. Where are you?”

  “Well, as far as I remember, I’m not welcome!” she snapped and hung up. I stared at the phone in shock.

  “She’s not coming,” I said to Chris. “She can hate me all she wants, but Rosencrantz wants her to be here.”

  Then Benji appeared with the mulled wine and the lights dimmed so I didn’t get to say anymore.

  There was a pause. Then the music began, and a spotlight came on up on a rotund little redheaded girl wearing a pillowcase and tinfoil angel wings, who began to narrate the play.

  The children were all very sweet, but I think Miss Mears took it all a bit too seriously with the live Dulux dogs around the manger, and we had no idea that Mary was going to give birth to a real live baby.

  “Ouch. And she did it without gas and air,” whispered Chris when the tiny girl playing Mary was presented with a very large thirteen-month-old toddler, who apparently belonged to one of the school dinner ladies.

  We all gave a squeal when the Wise Men arrived.

  “Rosencrantz looks the best, like a tiny Arab,” said Chris.

  “Is he wearing a curtain tie-back from Debenhams? I love their living room range,” added Benji.

  “Yes,” I said, welling up with pride.

  And then Rosencrantz started speaking!!!

  “On this special night, under a banker of stars,” he began. He took a breath… Then there was silence. Rosencrantz froze. There was a shuffling of feet and several people in the audience coughed.

  “Did he mean to say ‘bank’ of stars or ‘blanket’?” I whispered.

  “It should be blanket,” whispered Benji.

  “Ummm,” quavered Rosencrantz, biting his lip. The silence went on.

  “Where’s the bloody prompt?” I hissed.

  Chris grabbed my hand. Rosencrantz looked around at the silence. His bottom lip trembled. Tears came into his eyes.

  “You know your lines,” I whispered loudly, smiling and trying to catch his eye to reassure him.

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