Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweetshop

Page 8


‘Have you ever been to London at Christmas?’
‘Yes,’ said Moray promptly. ‘Full of people wearing suits getting off with other people wearing suits at four o’clock in the afternoon completely pissed. Awful.’
‘No, it’s lovely!’ said Rosie, surprised. ‘All the shops decorated, and the taxi lights and the Oxford Street displays… Okay, it’s freezing and the Oxford Street displays are all sponsored and you can never get a taxi…’
‘And everybody’s pissed…’
‘And everybody’s pissed… No, shut up, it’s brilliant.’
‘Feel free to hurtle about pissed in the day,’ said Moray. ‘I’m sure no one will notice or comment. Or be remotely surprised, actually.’
‘I think you’re off my Christmas list.’
‘Oh, boo-hoo,’ said Moray. ‘I shall have to wave goodbye to seventy-nine pence worth of cost-price slightly damaged liquorice allsorts.’
‘It was going to be lemon sherbets, actually.’
‘How will I overcome the pain?’
Lilian’s care home wasn’t decorated for Christmas yet, but it looked pretty nestled in its lovely gardens, tucked in cosily under a hill. It had in its time been a grand house built by a newly rich cotton trader from Derby; then a First World War hospital, then a school, and over the years it had been scraped out so often it was amazing they had managed to make it as homely as they did. The matron, Cathryn Thompson, greeted Rosie warmly. Regular visiting was practically compulsory here; you had to sign something to promise that you would.
‘Nothing kills as fast as loneliness,’ Miss Thompson had said, to which Moray had added sotto voce, ‘Just typhus, pneumonia, cardiac arrest, septicaemia and being shot,’ at which she had given him a look and said, ‘Do you remember your first visit here, straight out of medical school?’ which had shut Moray up faster than anything Rosie could have possibly imagined.
‘She’s in the games room, playing canasta with Mrs Carr. I’m glad you’re here, actually, it’s on the verge of actual violence.’
Sure enough, in the games room an icy silence had descended. A ring of grey heads surrounded the table where two people were facing each other, locked in mortal combat, like a scene from Casino Royale.
‘May I go out?’ Ida Delia was grimacing.
‘Yes!’ said Lilian decisively.
Ida Delia laid down seven cards, and there was an intake of breath at the table. Everyone’s face turned to Lilian expectantly. She didn’t lose her cool for an instant.
‘Well, I suppose…’ she said, laying out a trail of kings and sevens on the table. It didn’t make any sense to Rosie at all, but the rest of the spectators gasped and burst into applause.
‘Thank you,’ said Lilian calmly, as Ida Delia swore loudly and appeared on the brink of angry tears. Lilian carefully scooped up the large pile of chocolate caramels that had been accumulating in the centre of the table. She picked out several and donated them to an old chap who’d been dealing, as a tip. He thanked her.
‘Aunt Lil,’ said Rosie softly. Lilian’s face lit up as she saw her favourite relative. She got up slowly, and although normally not in the least bit demonstrative, put her arms around her. All of this was done very much for Ida Delia’s benefit, Rosie could see. Ida had had one child, the sullen offspring of her short-lived marriage to Henry Carr, the love of Lilian’s life. Although it was not at all an appealing habit, Rosie knew that Lilian took pleasure in rubbing her closeness to her great-niece in Ida Delia’s face.
‘Rosie!’ said Lilian loudly. ‘Now you must tell me all about your gorgeous young bloke, Stephen Lakeman, son of LADY LIPTON UP AT LIPTON HALL.’
Rosie gave her the look, but Lilian returned it with one of complete innocence.
‘Let’s go and talk by the coffee bar,’ said Rosie. The reception rooms downstairs – without television; residents had those in their rooms if they wished to watch, but the communal areas were for reading, playing cards and making conversation – were divided into themed areas, to make people feel they had more places to go than they actually did. It worked rather well.
Lilian looked a little disappointed – she would have liked to carry on a discussion of her great-niece’s virtues and triumphs at high volume in front of everyone – but acquiesced, not before adding, ‘Oh, and it’s Moray, our HANDSOME LOCAL GP. Here to see JUST ME, SOCIALLY, and there’s NOT EVEN ANYTHING WRONG WITH ME.’
Medical diagnoses were a hot game of one-upmanship in the home. Moray already saw more of the place than he would generally have chosen to without his hefty salary, so this was a prize indeed. Lilian tilted up her cheek to be kissed, which Moray did with a twinkle. He was fond of the old stick.
‘So,’ said Lilian, as they all sat down with very acceptable cappuccinos. This was not that surprising; Rosie had led the whip-round the previous year to buy the place a Nespresso machine. Matron had confided in her later that it had raised the number of visitors significantly. ‘What news?’
‘How’s life here?’ asked Rosie. ‘Because it looks to me like you’re rather enjoying yourself.’
Lilian did her best to disguise a smirk.
‘No, no, not at all, abandoned in the depths of despair, as you well know. Sad, alone, unwanted, without visitors, nothing to live for…’
Rosie rolled her eyes.
‘Well, actually. About that. Angie’s coming over.’
Lilian’s face lit up. She had always been particularly fond of her niece, a pretty, headstrong type. If Angie wanted to do something, she just did it. Which sometimes worked out well – Australia – and sometimes badly – Rosie barely knew her father. But on balance, Lilian thought, it was always easier to regret the things you had tried in life that had gone wrong rather than the things you hadn’t. She knew that better than anyone.
‘Oh MARVELLOUS,’ she said. ‘I must tell Ida Delia.’
‘Leave off that poor woman,’ said Moray. ‘Hasn’t she suffered enough?’
‘No,’ said Lilian shortly.
‘That’s not all,’ said Rosie quickly. ‘Pip’s coming too. And Desleigh, his wife…’
‘What kind of a name is Desleigh?’ said Lilian.