Home > The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris(3)

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris(3)
Jenny Colgan

“It’s not all right, love. It’s not all right at all.”

- - -

Over the next few days, I seemed to fall asleep on and off and at completely random moments. Dr. Ed—yes, really, that’s how he referred to himself—was my named specialist. Yeah, all right, I know he was a doctor and everything, tra la la, but you can be Ed or you can be, like, Dr. Smith or something. Anything else is just showing off, like you’re a doctor on telly or something.

I think Dr. Ed would have LOVED to have been a doctor on the telly, looking at people who’ve got two bumholes and things. He was always very smartly turned out and did things like sit on the end of the bed, which other doctors didn’t do, and look at you in the eye, like he was making a huge effort to be with you as a person. I think I preferred the snotty consultant who came around once a week, barely looked at me, and asked his medical students embarrassing questions.

Anyway, Dr. Ed shouldn’t have been so chummy because it was kind of his fault that I was even there. I had slipped at the factory—everyone had gotten very excited wondering if there was some health and safety rule that hadn’t been followed and we were all about to become millionaires, but actually as it turned out it was completely my fault. It was an unusually warm spring day and I’d decided to try out my new shoes, which turned out to be hilariously inappropriate for the factory floor, and I’d skidded and, in a total freak, hit a vat ladder and upended the entire thing. Then I’d come into the hospital and gotten sick.

“A bug tried to eat me?” I asked Dr. Ed.

“Well, yes, that’s about right,” he said, smiling to show overtly white teeth that he must have gotten whitened somewhere. Maybe he just liked to practice for going on television. “Not a big bug, Anna, like a spider.”

“Spiders aren’t bugs,” I said crossly.

“Ha! No.” He flicked his hair. “Well, these things are very, very tiny, so small you couldn’t see a thousand of them even if they were sitting right here on my finger!!”

Perhaps there was something misprinted on my medical notes that said instead of being nearly thirty-one, I was in fact eight.

“I don’t care what size they are,” I said. “They make me feel like total crap.”

“And that’s why we’re fighting them with every weapon we have!” said Dr. Ed, like he was Spider-Man or something. I didn’t mention that if everyone had cleaned up with every mop they had, I probably wouldn’t have caught it in the first place.

And anyway, oh Lord, I just felt so rough. I didn’t feel like eating or drinking anything but water. (Dad brought me some marshmallows and Mum practically whacked him because she was 100 percent certain they’d get trapped in my throat and I’d totally die right there in front of him.) I slept a lot, and when I wasn’t sleeping, I didn’t feel well enough to watch the telly or read or speak to people on the phone or anything. I had a lot of messages on Facebook, according to my phone, which someone—Cath, I was guessing—had plugged in beside my bed, but I wasn’t really fussed to read any of them.

I felt different, as if I’d woken up foreign, or in a strange land where nobody spoke my language—not Mum, not Dad, not my friends. They didn’t speak the language of strange hazy days where nothing made much sense, or constant aching, or the idea of moving being too difficult to contemplate, even moving an arm across a bed. The country of the sick seemed a very different place, where you were fed and moved and everyone spoke to you like a child and you were always, always hot.

- - -

I dozed off again and heard a noise. Something familiar, I was sure of it, but I couldn’t tell from when. I was at school. School figured a lot in my fever dreams. I had hated it. Mum had always said she wasn’t academic so I wouldn’t be either, and that had pretty much sealed the deal, which in retrospect seems absolutely stupid. So for ages when I hallucinated my old teachers’ faces in front of me, I didn’t take it too seriously. Then one day I woke up very early, when the hospital was still cool and as quiet as it ever got, which wasn’t very, and I turned my head carefully to the side, and there, just in the next bed, not a dream or a hallucination, was Mrs. Shawcourt, my old French teacher, gazing at me calmly.

I blinked in case she would go away. She didn’t.

It was a small four-bed side ward I’d been put on, a few days or a couple of weeks earlier—it was hard to tell precisely—which seemed a bit strange; either I was infectious or I wasn’t, surely. The other two beds were empty and over the days to come had a fairly speedy turnover of extremely old ladies who didn’t seem to do much but cry.

“Hello,” she said. “I know you, don’t I?”

I suddenly felt a flush, like I hadn’t done my homework.

I had never done my homework. Me and Cath used to bunk off—French, it was totally useless, who could possibly need that?—and go sit around the back field where the teachers couldn’t see you and speak with fake Mancunian accents about how crap Kidinsborough was and how we were going to leave the first chance we got.

“Anna Trent.”

I nodded.

“I had you for two years.”

I peered at her more closely. She’d always stood out in the school; she was by far the best dressed teacher, since most of them were a right bunch of slobs. She used to wear these really nicely fitted dresses that made her look a bit different. You could tell she hadn’t gotten them down at Matalan. She’d had blond hair then…

I realized with a bit of a shock that now she didn’t have any hair at all. She was very thin, but then she always had been thin, but now she was really, really thin.

I said the stupidest thing I could think of—in my defense, I really wasn’t well.

“Are you sick then?”

“No,” said Mrs. Shawcourt. “I’m on holiday.”

There was a pause, then I grinned. I remembered that, actually, she was a really good teacher.

“I’m sorry to hear about your toes,” she said briskly.

I glanced down at the bandage covering my right foot.

“Ah, they’ll be all right, just had a bit of a fall,” I said. Then I saw her face. And I realized that all the time people had been talking about my fever and my illness and my accident, nobody had actually thought to tell me the whole truth.

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