The coco pinchard boxset.., p.92
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       The Coco Pinchard Boxset: 5 bestselling romantic comedies in one!, p.92

           Robert Bryndza

  “Improvise!” whispered Benji, equally loudly.

  Rosencrantz tried to see past the bright lights to where we sat.

  “Yes, improvise Rosencrantz!” hissed Chris.

  “Sing your little song,” I said, more loudly.

  Rosencrantz gulped and seemed to compose himself. He took a deep breath and said,

  “I’m not a pleasant fucker, I’m a pleasant fucker’s son,

  And I’m only fucking pleasant ’til the pleasant fucker comes!” he beamed and handed the Frankincense to Mary.

  The next little Wise Man stepped forward grinning and started, “I’m not a pleasant fucker, I’m—”

  The curtains suddenly began to whirr shut, sweeping together at speed and, in their haste, dragging over the microphones on stands at the front of the stage. There was a crashing, echoing sound and then feedback. The headmistress leapt up from her seat, and told everyone how wonderful it had been and refreshments would be served outside the hall.

  Myself, Chris and Benji helped ourselves to another plastic cup of mulled wine and waited for Rosencrantz to emerge. We were given a wide berth by everyone in the hall. No one said a thing. As if what Rosencrantz had said was supposed to be in the script, and people were politely ignoring this radical bit in the story. Rosencrantz came out, still in his costume, and ran to me and cuddled my legs.

  “I’m sorry Mummy, I think I got the Pheasant Plucker rhyme wrong?”

  “Yes, but never mind. Maybe you should have sung your made-up song, I’m the best and wisest man, ten times better than Peter Pan,” I said.

  “It was the only thing I could remember,” he said, sadly. “Did I let you down, Mummy?”

  “Of course not!” I said, crouching down to hug him.

  “It was scary up there, Mummy…”

  I noticed we were getting haughty looks from the Headmistress. I got up to go and say something to her, but Chris grabbed my arm.

  “Come on Cokes, let’s go. Your mouth will only make things worse.”

  Outside on the street we said goodbye to Chris and Benji.

  “We’ll try and phone you from the cruise ship,” said Chris.

  Several parents walked past us and stared at Rosencrantz, the little foul-mouthed Wise Man. An elderly bloke with a kind face stopped and told us how much more interesting the Nativity had been this year, then walked off into the dark with his wife.

  “What did I do?” asked Rosencrantz in wonder.

  “You went down in Nativity play history Rosencrantz,” said Benji. “I’d kill for an audience to go away remembering me like that!”

  Rosencrantz tilted his head up to me, peering from under his bobble hat.

  “I don’t understand, Mummy? I thought I made a mistake,” he said.

  “I’ll tell you when you’re older,” I said, squatting down to give him a kiss. Chris squatted down too.

  “Have a fabulous Christmas, Rosencrantz,” he said. “What do you think of Scalextric? I’ve heard they are really cool…”

  “What’s a Scaleytrix?” he said.

  “Oh, well it’s… um, something to do with travel?”

  “Electric car racing,” I said, saving Chris.

  “Yeah! And I hear that Father Christmas has plenty in stock!” he added.

  “No. I want Tracy Island and I’ve written to Father Christmas weeks ago. As Nan says, if you want something you have to book it well in advance. Where is Nan?”

  “She, um, wasn’t feeling well,” I said.

  “Shame, cos I really, really wanted her here. Just as much as I really, really want Tracy Island,” he said. “FIVE…. FOUR…. THREE…TWO… ONE. THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!”

  He went tearing off round the school car park, his gold curtain tie-back belt dragging along behind him. Benji and Chris looked at me sympathetically.

  “I’m going to have to make it,” I said. “I’ve got the Art teacher, Tom Wednesday, to give me the plans.”

  “Yes, Tom Wednesday,” said Chris. “Bit of a dish, Benji.”

  “Ooh. What does he look like?” asked Benji.

  “He’s dark and quiet. Tall. Rolls his shirt sleeves up and has lovely arms. He’s very much like the kind of man who you see in The National Geographic magazine, advertising precision watches, or steering a ship,” I said.

  “Ooh, an intrepid explorer,” said Benji.

  “Yes, do you think he wants to explore you? Intrepidly, Cokes?” joked Chris.

  “I’m married,” I said. “And he’s… he’s… Mr Wednesday.”

  “He could be Mister Any-day-of-the-week for some lucky lady,” said Chris. “He owns his own yacht, Benji!”

  “Oh! You could be Tom Wednesday’s Girl Friday!” cried Benji.

  “I doubt it. Right now I feel more like Gayle Tuesday…” I said.

  I bade them farewell and Rosencrantz and I headed home.

  When we arrived at the front door, an ambulance was parked by the kerb and a paramedic was helping Daniel out.

  “Daddy!” shouted Rosencrantz.

  Daniel grimaced in pain as he stepped down onto the pavement. He had a paper bag containing his things under his arm.

  “I’ll leave him with you then,” said the paramedic. He got into the ambulance and drove off.

  “Didn’t they give you a crutch?” I asked, as Daniel stood there in his pyjamas resting his huge cast on the kerb.

  “Oh bugger, it was in the ambulance,” he said. “Where’s Mum?”

  “She didn’t show up,” I said.

  “That’s odd. She said she was going. Didn’t you offer to give her a lift?”

  “No. She gets the bus everywhere.”

  “It’s late, Coco. So she missed the Nativity?”


  There was a silence. He grabbed my arm and we made it slowly up the steps to the front door, his leg with the cast lurching, and our little Wise Man following with the paper bag.

  When we got in, I told Rosencrantz to get ready for bed. Daniel slumped on the sofa and we had a huge row. He thought it was my fault Ethel didn’t feel she could come to Rosencrantz’s school Nativity! Halfway through the row Daniel began to grimace.

  “What is it? Do you want painkillers?” I asked.

  “I’ve got a crazy itch,” he groaned, rubbing at the plaster cast.

  “Do you want me to get you a knitting needle?” I asked. Then I realised I never knitted. I went through to the kitchen and grabbed a few bits of cutlery, a pencil, a ruler and the barbecue tongs. When I got back in the living room, Rosencrantz had changed into his pyjamas and was trying to help.

  “What about a ruler?” suggested Rosencrantz.

  “Try this,” I said, handing a rather short ruler to Daniel.

  It wasn’t big enough, nor were the cutlery items. We spent an hour trying to find something to scratch Daniel’s itch, but nothing was long enough. Not even the barbecue tongs, which, with difficulty, I bent out to their full length. Then Rosencrantz went to bed and the row restarted about Ethel. He refuses to believe the woman is capable of doing wrong.

  Daniel ended up sleeping downstairs on one of the Z-beds. I came upstairs, checked on Rosencrantz, and then got in bed alone.

  Just before I went to sleep I remembered Mr Wednesday had something very long: the rod he uses to open the skylight in his classroom. It would fit perfectly down the side of Daniel’s plaster cast.

  Tuesday 22nd December

  I was late again, and Marika covered for me, again. I did have two very good reasons: an invalid husband who needed help to wash and dress, and a four-year-old son who’d said the F-word four times during a primary school Nativity play.

  When I dropped Rosencrantz off, I went into school to assure the Headmistress that it was a silly mistake, that Rosencrantz didn’t even know what he was saying, and that it wasn’t the beginning of a darker pattern of behaviour.

  Thank God it was the last day of term! There was such a nice atmosphere at school. The death knell of a redundancy had failed
to chime, so I was now certain The Ripper had just been scaring me into handing over Tracy Island. In the morning after registration, the kids all went to the assembly hall, again, to watch films. The teachers took it in turns to nip out for a last-minute errand, a fag and a coffee, but in my case I went to find Mr Wednesday to get the plans for Tracy Island. I’d been told he was in the art room firing the jugs, fruit bowls and ashtrays made by pupils.

  The art room was tucked away at the back of the school buildings. When I walked in, the lights were off. I moved past dimly-lit easels set up around a now-dismantled still life of driftwood and leaves. I could just make out paintings and drawings lining the walls, and there was a sink in the corner, completely filthy from endless dirty paintbrushes. At the back was a glass partition and, behind it, almost in darkness, the giant grey dome of the kiln hummed.

  As I got closer I could feel the heat rolling across the room. I jumped when the door of the kiln opened, and a bright square of orange lit up the art room. Mr Wednesday stood there, stripped down to his waist, and bathed in the glow. Sweat shone on his quite remarkable torso. How does he get so muscly doing fine pencil drawings? I thought. He noticed me and closed the kiln, bathing us in darkness.

  “Hello, Mrs Pinchard,” he said, coming round the glass partition and wiping sweat off his face with a muscly forearm. “Sorry,” he added, indicating his lack of shirt. “It gets so bloody boiling when the kiln is on.”

  “Oh, it’s okay,” I said.

  I was glad it was quite dark, so he couldn’t see that I was blushing. He went over to his desk and started to rifle through piles of paperwork. He flicked on a lamp. I went and joined him. His battered leather satchel was on the side, and next to it was a picture of him grinning beside a large sailing boat. He was wearing shorts and a white woolly jumper, his thick, dark hair being blown to one side by the wind.

  “Is this your boat?” I asked.

  “Yes. Odessa. She’s my saviour from work. I’m hoping I can take her out over Christmas, if it’s not too choppy.”

  “She’s beautiful. I’d love to go down on her…” I froze when I realised what I’d said. “I mean, of course, to go down into her bows, you know, inside her, it, the boat—”

  “It’s okay, I know what you meant,” he laughed, still searching around on his desk, “Ah. Here we go.”

  He picked up the photocopy of the plans for Tracy Island.

  “How many pages is it?” I said, dismayed.

  “Eleven. But if you go through slowly you’ll be fine. There’s a list of all the materials you need at the back.”

  He flicked through the plans, but they slipped from his hand and fell to the floor, sliding in all directions across the waxed parquet floor. We both went off in different directions to retrieve the pages.

  “Here, I’ll staple them,” he said, moving back to his desk and putting them in order. I spied a sheet we’d missed under the desk, and ducked down to retrieve it.

  The fluorescent lights suddenly came on, flicking separately until they lit the room in unison.

  “Mr Wednesday,” said a female voice, “why did you have the lights off?”

  I crawled out from under the desk, emerging at the flies of Mr Wednesday’s trousers. He was still naked from the waist up. Miss Bruce took one look at us, cried “Disgusting!” and left. Her clumpy court shoes thudding rapidly away to silence.

  “I’m so sorry,” said Mr Wednesday, “that must have looked really suspect.”

  “Yes, don’t you worry, you’ll be the hero. I’ll be the one who’s known for doing goodness knows what to the Art teacher under his desk.”

  “And you were just talking about going down,” he joked.

  I stood up and our eyes met. I suddenly wished I could step out of my life. Spend a week with this handsome, thrilling man on his boat. Very slowly he leaned in to kiss me.

  “I’m married, I’m sorry,” I said, pulling back and shaking the thought away.

  “I know. It’s a shame, because you’re really beautiful,” he said softly.

  I looked up into his eyes, which were a remarkable shade of blue. His bare chest was still damp with sweat.

  “Thank you,” I said.

  “What for?”

  “For making me feel like a person. Not a crap teacher or a crap mother or a crap daughter-in-law and wife.”

  “No one needs to know,” he said softly, leaning in to kiss me again.

  “Sorry. No,” I said.

  I took a deep breath, turned and walked quickly away, closing the door to the art room behind me.

  I went straight to the ladies loos and splashed cold water on my face. My heart was pounding. Did that just happen? I thought. As I pulled out one of those horrible rough paper towels to dry my face, a toilet flushed and Marika emerged from a cubicle.

  “Hello. You all right?” I said.

  She looked like death. Pale with huge bags under her eyes.

  “Electricity still isn’t back on,” she said. “I haven’t slept.”

  “Or eaten, by the look of it.”

  She turned on the warm water and put her hands under. Steam rose up and misted the base of the mirror; she kept her hands there, seemingly to thaw out.

  “I’ve been meaning to say thanks, for all the help with covering my absences,” I said. She smiled, still warming her hands under the water. “And, what are you doing for Christmas?” I asked.

  “My Christmas or your Christmas?”

  “How do you mean?”

  “We celebrate it on the twenty-fourth in Slovakia,” she said.

  “Oh, I didn’t know. So what are you doing?”

  “I’ll be at home,” she said, without a trace of wanting pity.

  “Do you want to come to mine after work? You can have a shower. I was going to get fish and chips… ”

  “No, you’ve got so much to do and you’ve got a family,” she said.

  “You could sleep on the sofa. Oh, actually Daniel’s downstairs on the Z-bed…”

  “I can get the last tube home from yours,” she smiled. “Thank you,”

  “So that means you’ll come, after school?”

  “Yes,” she grinned.

  The rest of the day went by like a flash. Miss Bruce was nowhere to be seen in the staffroom at lunchtime. The school nurse had sent her home after having ‘a funny turn’. When I’d done afternoon registration, each of my kids presented me with chocolate. I had thirty boxes. I was incredibly touched. Damian Grange had managed to get a very good pirate copy of Terminator 2, so I put it on the video player in my form room and I opened some of my chocolates to share with the kids.

  “You know, you’re actually quite cool, Miss,” said Kelly Roffey. Coming from Kelly Roffey, it was quite a compliment.

  When the bell rang at three-thirty I waved goodbye to the kids, and went through to the staffroom, where plastic cups of lukewarm wine were being passed out by Mrs Carter.

  “Cheers, and thank God it’s the end of term,” she said downing hers in one, adding, “Right, I’m off, I’ve got Five Tracy Islands to make!”

  “And here’s to Miss Bruce!” added Mr Gutteridge raising his cup.

  “Why are you toasting her?” asked Marika, joining our group and taking a cup of wine.

  “She’s gone and taken early retirement after all,” explained Mr Gutteridge. “I saw her on the way to the Art department earlier, and she seemed fine… Then, all of a sudden, she’s been in to see the Headmaster and tells him she’s going. She took a train to Whitstable.”

  “What’s in Whitstable?” I asked.

  “Not Tom Wednesday; I think she rather held a candle for him. God knows what happened in the Art room,” said Mrs Carter winding up her scarf and pulling on a pair of warm gloves.

  “But she’s old,” said Marika.

  “You’ll be old one day too,” mused Mr Gutteridge, swilling the dregs of his wine round then knocking them back. “Creeps up on all of us.”

  “So no one’s being made r
edundant?” I asked.

  “No. Merry Christmas,” said Mr Gutteridge, mournfully slopping more wine into his cup.

  We finished our wine, wished everyone a happy Christmas, and then I drove Marika back to the house.

  “You live here?” said Marika as we pulled into Steeplejack Mews. She craned her neck at the size of the houses.

  “It was Mum and Dad’s house,” I said. “I got it when they passed away. Did I tell you that Daniel has been in hospital?”

  We pulled up near the front door, and parked outside was a hearse.

  “Oh my God,” I gasped.

  “What? He’s dead?” cried Marika, going all wide-eyed.

  “What? No! It’s my in-laws…”

  “They’re dead?” said Marika.

  “No. They’re here.”

  “I still don’t understand,” shrugged Marika.

  I explained that Meryl and Tony run a funeral parlour in Milton Keynes and that they are too tight to buy another car so they go everywhere in the hearse.

  “They always get into rows with the management at Sainsbury’s when they take up two parking spaces,” I said.

  “Maybe I should go home,” said Marika, nervously.

  “No. You are my friend. They’re the ones who’ve arrived a day early,” I said.

  When we opened the front door I nearly bashed Daniel’s leg. He was sitting at the bottom of the stairs with his cast sticking out in front. Tony was sitting two stairs up playing snap with Rosencrantz. All the other doors leading off the hallway were closed.

  “Snap, Uncle Tony!” cried Rosencrantz.

  “Bloody hell,” said Tony. “Ah Coco.” He squeezed down the stairs, past Daniel to give me a lingering hug. His red face leered over Marika. “And who is this lovely young lady?”

  “Marika Rolincova,” said Marika, offering her hand.

  Tony bent down and kissed it. He stood back up but kept hold of her hand.

  “Do I detect an accent?” he said.

  “Yes, Slovak.”

  “Ah, Czechoslovakia,” said Tony, getting all bug-eyed and excited. “Our knives and forks all have ‘Made in Czechoslovakia’ written on them. Is it written somewhere on you?”

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