Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop

Page 21


‘Have you seen Edison?’
‘I’m going to see him when I get bored of hanging out with you.’
‘Is he going to…’ Stephen tried to twist his head round. It looked painful.
‘I think so,’ said Rosie. ‘It’s going to be a long road, a really long road, but it looks like… he should walk again. Moray thinks so.’
There was a long silence.
‘Oh, dear Jesus,’ said Stephen finally. ‘Thank God.’ A single tear ran down his cheek. ‘Can you get that?’
Rosie leapt up with a tissue; he really couldn’t move.
‘Didn’t anyone tell you?’
‘Yes,’ said Stephen. ‘But I only believed it coming from you.’
Rosie put her arms round his neck.
‘Are you going to be okay about this?’ she demanded.
He knew immediately what she meant. Stephen’s brusqueness could sometimes mask a real fragility, and Rosie was worried about this more than anything else.
She moved her hands to his face
‘My love,’ she said.
He cast his eyes down.
‘I… I… You know, at the moment, they’re giving me things to make me sleep, so I don’t really have to think about it…’
‘There’s nothing to think about,’ said Rosie fiercely. ‘There was a terrible accident. You saved a child. The rest got safely out thanks to you. It would have been much, much worse without you. What happened before wasn’t an accident, it was evil. They are not the same.’
‘I know,’ said Stephen.
There was a pause.
‘But the smell. And the dust, and the noise and the darkness. That was all exactly the same.’
Rosie spent an hour with him, reading him stories about celebrities out of the newspaper until he begged for mercy, then they came to change his bandages and she went upstairs.
Intensive Care was very quiet. There was no bustle, no patients making demands, just the squeak of white shoes on highly polished floors and the steady beep of monitors and the decompression of breathing apparatus. It felt disconnected from the rest of the hospital.
She found Hester and Arthur by the furthest bed, closest to the window.
‘Hello,’ she whispered. There was no real need to whisper, nobody was napping, but it felt right somehow. Hester was standing up, despite her pregnancy; her face held none of the full-moon glow of women preparing to give birth, but was pale and drawn and sleepless.
They both acknowledged her but didn’t respond. Rosie decided not to take out the Edinburgh rock she’d brought, Edison’s favourite.
‘What are they saying?’ she asked. Hester gazed at her as if she wasn’t there, but Arthur looked grateful.
‘They’ve put him in a coma,’ he said.
Edison’s body on the bed looked absolutely tiny; he seemed younger without his dirty glasses on, and he was very pale. He was breathing peacefully, tubes everywhere, like an aberration; something foreign in the little body.
‘It’s to stop him moving his head. They need to keep him absolutely still for as long as possible. Give him the best possible chance.’
Rosie nodded.
‘That makes sense.’
‘Then they’re going to put a cast on him. He’s going to be on his back here, then they’ll keep turning him…’
He swallowed, deeply upset at having to talk about his only son in this way.
‘It’s for the best,’ he added.
Hester sniffed loudly. Arthur motioned Rosie away.
‘She’s taking it very hard,’ he said.
‘Of course she is’ said Rosie. ‘Of course she is. Can’t you get her to sit down?’
‘She won’t. She hates modern medicine and all it stands for.’
‘Even now?’ said Rosie.
‘She hates giving up,’ said Arthur, looking slightly sheepish.
‘Well, she wouldn’t be able to treat this with herbs, would she?’ said Rosie, then felt ashamed of her harsh tongue.
‘No,’ said Arthur. ‘But it makes it very difficult, having to interact with doctors and so on.’
‘She doesn’t have to interact,’ said Rosie. ‘She just needs to say thank you.’
Arthur smiled nervously and Rosie instantly felt awful. To change the subject, she indicated the large pile of paper on the bedside cabinet.
‘What’s this?’
Hester looked at it dully.
‘Oh, Mrs Baptiste dropped them off,’ said Arthur. Rosie went over and looked. A pile of cards and letters had been handed in.
‘We miss you, Edison,’ said one. Another had a very clear drawing of a stick man with a massive head and dirty glasses.
‘I think they’ve caught him,’ said Rosie, smiling.
‘WE MISS YOU DOING ALL THE TAKING IN CLAS,’ said another. They were all colourful and beautifully drawn, many with a Christmas theme.
‘Oh, these are wonderful!’ said Rosie. ‘We have to get them strung up so they’re the first thing he sees. How fond people are of him and how much they miss him.’
Hester glanced up briefly.
‘Would you like me to put them up?’ asked Rosie, desperate to be useful. ‘I’ll bring some tape tomorrow. I’m in every day anyway, to see Stephen, you know.’
Hester nodded blankly. Rosie wondered if she even knew that it was Stephen who’d saved her son. If she did, she didn’t seem very interested. But then obviously she had a lot more on her mind than that.
Rosie kissed Edison gently on the cheek. It was as cold as a marble statue.
‘Oh, little man,’ she said. ‘I miss your prattle.’
And then it was back on the lonely journey to an empty house with accounts to be done and stock to be counted, where the fire was unlit, and dinner was unmade, and it was so cold and empty without Lilian or Stephen there, and Rosie was so anxious and exhausted that after she finished her work she had a single glass of water and took herself unhappily back to bed.
Chapter Seven
Rosie had expected the school to reopen the next day – there were still another two weeks to go till the Christmas break – but it didn’t. She opened the shop as usual, as much to let the gossip come to her as to sell sweets. Although she sold plenty of those; lots of children were getting terribly spoiled after their big fright, and she was soon completely out of Edinburgh rock for Edison; he could probably build his own full-sized rock out of it by now. Which would, she mused, be just the kind of project that would appeal to him. Everyone gathered there for news, then headed down to Malik’s and the bakery and Manly’s for more news, then sometimes popped back in again on their way home just to update people.