Home > The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris(4)

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris(4)
Jenny Colgan

- - -

It couldn’t be though. I could feel them.

I stared at her, and she unblinkingly held my gaze.

“I can feel them,” I said.

“I can’t believe nobody told you,” she said. “Bloody hospitals. My darling, I heard them discuss it.”

I stared at the bandage again. I wanted to be sick. Then I was sick, in a big cardboard bedpan they left a supply of by the side of my bed, for every time I wanted to be sick.

- - -

Dr. Ed came by later and sat on my bed. I scowled at him.

“Now”—he checked his notes—“Anna, I’m sorry you weren’t aware of the full gravity of the situation.”

“Because you kept talking about ‘accidents’ and ‘regrettable incidents,’” I said crossly. “I didn’t realize they’d gone altogether. AND I can feel them. They really hurt.”

He nodded.

“That’s quite common, I’m afraid.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me? Everyone kept banging on about fever and bugs and things.”

“Well, that’s what we were worried about. Losing a couple of toes was a lot less likely to kill you.”

“Well, that’s good to know. And it’s not ‘a couple of toes.’ It’s MY TOES.”

As we spoke, a nurse was gently unwrapping the bandages from my foot. I gulped, worried I was going to throw up again.

Did you ever play that game at school where you lie on your front with your eyes closed and someone pulls your arms taut above your head, then very slowly lowers them so it feels like your arms are going down a hole?

That was what this was like. My brain couldn’t compute what it was seeing, what it could feel and knew to be true. My toes were there. They were there. But in front of my eyes was a curious diagonal slicing; two tiny stumps taken off in a descending line, very sharp, like it had been done on purpose with a razor.

“Now,” Dr. Ed was saying, “you know you are actually very lucky, because if you’d lost your big toe or your little one, you’d have had real problems with balance…”

I looked at him like he had horns growing out of his head.

“I absolutely and definitely do not feel lucky,” I said.

“Try being me,” came a voice from behind the next curtain, where Mrs. Shawcourt was awaiting her next round of chemotherapy.

Suddenly, without warning, we both started to laugh.

- - -

I was in the hospital for another three weeks. Loads of my mates came by and said I’d been in the paper and could they have a look (no, even when I got my dressing changed, I couldn’t bear to look at them), and keeping me up to date on social events that, suddenly, I really found I’d lost interest in. In fact, the only person I could talk to was Mrs. Shawcourt, except of course she told me to call her Claire, which took a bit of getting used to and made me feel a bit too grown-up. She had two sons who came to visit, who always looked a bit pushed for time, and her daughters-in-law, who were dead nice and used to give me their gossip mags because Claire couldn’t be bothered with them. Once they brought some little girls in, both of whom got completely freaked out by the wires and the smell and the beeping. It was the only time I saw Claire really, truly sad.

The rest of the time, we talked. Well, I talked. Mostly about how bored I was and how was I ever going to learn to walk properly again. (Physio was rubbish. For two things I had NEVER, ever thought about, except when I was getting a pedicure and not really even then, my toes were annoyingly useful when it came to getting about. Even more embarrassing, I had to use the same physio lab as people who had really horrible traumatic injuries and were in wheelchairs and stuff, and I felt the most horrendous fraud marching up and down parallel bars with an injury most people thought was quite amusing, if anything. So I could hardly complain. I did though.)

Claire understood. She was such easy company, and sometimes, when she was very ill, I’d read to her. Most of her books, though, were in French.

“I can’t read this,” I said.

“You ought to be able to,” she said. “You had me.”

“Yeah, kind of,” I muttered.

“You were a good student,” said Claire. “You showed a real aptitude, I remember.”

Suddenly I flashed back on my first-year report card. In amid the “doesn’t apply herselfs” and “could do betters,” I suddenly remembered my French mark had been good. Why hadn’t I applied myself?

“I don’t know,” I said. “I thought school was stupid.”

Claire shook her head. “But I’ve met your parents; they’re lovely. You’re from such a nice family.”

“You don’t have to live with them,” I said, then felt guilty that I’d been mean about them. They’d been in every single day even if, as Dad complained almost constantly, the parking charges were appalling.

“You still live at home?” she asked, surprised, and I felt a bit defensive.

“Neh. I lived with my boyfriend for a bit, but he turned out to be a pillock, so I moved back in, that’s all.”

“I see,” said Claire. She looked at her watch. It was only 9:30 in the morning. We’d already been up for three hours and lunch wasn’t till 12:00.

“If you like,” she said, “I’m bored too. If I taught you some French, you could read to me. And I would feel less like a big, sick, bored bald plum who does nothing but dwell on the past and feel old and stupid and useless. Would you like that?”

I looked down at the magazine I was holding, which had an enormous picture of Kim Kardashian’s arse on it. And she had ten toes.

“Yeah, all right,” I said.

- - -

1972

“It’s nothing,” the man was saying, speaking to be heard over the stiff sea breeze and the honking of the ferries and the rattle of the trains. “It is a tiny…look, la manche. You can swim it. We won’t.”

This did nothing to stem the tide of tears rolling down the girl’s cheeks.

“I would,” she said. “I will swim it for you.”

“You,” he said, “will go back and finish school and do wonderful things and be happy.”

“I don’t want to,” she groaned. “I want to stay here with you.”

The man grimaced and attempted to stop her tears with kisses. They were dripping on his new, oddly shiny uniform.

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