The People's Friend
All Change At The Cosy Café
With so much going on, had Yvonne missed the signs that Bryn was unwell?
THE sun was out and the marketplace was quiet. On market day Mondays you could barely see the buildings around its three sides for the hustle and bustle.
But today the sunlight glanced off the bricks of the old shop terraces, making them glow like fire, their windows gleaming within white-painted frames.
The ivory stucco walls of the one half-timbered building, once the coaching inn, gleamed amidst its latticework of woodwork.
Gwen Johnson stood with her back to all this, instead facing her own Cosy Café.
She had a notepad in one hand, and tapped a pencil against her lips with the other.
Gwen hadn’t noticed Julie until she was right beside her.
“What are you doing out here?”
“I’m thinking,” Gwen said. “Uh-huh,” Julie said slowly. “You’re not still thinking of selling?”
Gwen gave a firm shake of the head.
“No. That was just a mad impulse – I’m over that.”
“I’m relieved to hear it. You love this place too much.” Julie fussed with Freddie, digging his toy dinosaur out from under him and giving it to him.
Gwen smiled as he waved it around his head, making aeroplane noises.
“So, what are you thinking?” Julie returned her attention to her.
“It’s time we had a makeover.” Gwen tapped the point of her pencil on the list she’d begun.
“A fresh coat of paint. New signage. Maybe even change the name.”
“Change the name?” Julie’s voice came out as a shocked squeak. “But it’s always been the Cosy Café!”
“Precisely. Maybe it’s time for something more slick and modern, like – well, I don’t know.” Gwen gave a little shrug.
“I’ll decide on that later.” She consulted her jottings again.
“Outdoor seating,” she said, and turned to look across the square. “It’d be lovely on a day like today.”
Julie nodded, but then they both had the same thought at the same time.
“Market day,” Julie said, her tone flat.
“Market day. The stalls take all the space.” Gwen sighed. “So I couldn’t leave the stuff out, and I’ve nowhere to store it.”
She scored it through on her list.
“OK, let’s look inside.” Indoors, Gwen made them each a mug of coffee, then they stood at the counter, looking around.
Gwen’s notepad was on the counter, and every so often she’d make a little note as thoughts zipped through her mind.
She was aware of some of the regulars casting her curious glances.
It had always bothered her that they’d had to remove the colourful tablecloths.
They’d added a vibrancy to the place and she missed that.
The plain tabletops were perfectly serviceable, but just not the same.
“I can’t afford to replace the furniture,” she said. Again she tapped the pencil against her pursed lips.
“I could paint it, though.” She looked to Julie. “Stick to a colour palette, and paint each table a different colour – chairs, too.”
Julie raised amused eyebrows at her.
“Hark at you talking colour palettes!” she said. Gwen feigned indignation. “I read the home style pages in the magazines, too, you know.”
She scanned the café, and she could feel a new excitement growing.
“Primary colours might be too garish. Shades of blue maybe – blue, teal, sand . . .
“That’d be nice and modern, wouldn’t it?”
She was still bothered by what those two women had said, Julie guessed.
“Modern, but still retaining the café’s essence. The Cosy Café – it’s exactly what it says it is.” Julie swept her arm round.
The café was abuzz with chatter and the clinking of cups, set against the burble of the coffee machine.
“It’s cosy and comfortable and welcoming, not all bare walls and steel and chrome like those modern places.
“Sometimes they seem more like a warehouse than a comfortable café.”
Gwen nodded; she knew what Julie meant.
“This is why people like it here,” Julie said, “and it’s why they keep coming back.” She shook her head.
“Other cafés would give anything for the loyalty of your regulars.”
Gwen knew she was talking sense.
“Thanks, Julie. It’s just what I needed to hear.”
Julie glanced at the clock on the wall.
“I’d best be going. We’re off to get this young man’s feet measured for new shoes and then it’ll be time to meet Sarah from school.
“Did she show you her painting of Grandma and Grandpa last week? I hope you were flattered.”
“Of course I was. You could tell it was us from the hair,” Gwen said loyally. She adored Sarah, her first grandchild.
“She shaved a few pounds off both of us, too. What’s not to like?”
Julie trundled off, and Gwen stood in the doorway to give her a last wave, mug of coffee in hand.
She tipped it up to drain the last of it and lifted her face to the sunshine.
Just one more minute and then she’d get back to work. She’d left Urzula and Darren alone for too long.
Out of habit, she glanced left and right along the street before she turned back into the café, and then, as an idea popped into her head, she did it again, more slowly. “Benches,” she muttered. Maybe she could place a garden bench on either side of the door, snug against the windows, looking out across the square. There was room enough for that.
It would be somewhere for people to perch with their coffee and enjoy the sunshine.
Inside, she found Urzula emptying the dishwasher.
“Let me do that, Urzula – you go for a break. Oh, and can you ask Tomasz to call in and see me? I’ve got a redecorating job for him.”
Tomasz was Urzula’s husband. It was through him that she’d met Urzula in the first place.
It was good to see how he’d prospered from the car washing business he’d started out with to his growing business as a painter and decorator.
Once Gwen finished emptying the dishwasher she’d phone the garden centre to ask if they had any benches in stock.
Yvonne scrolled down the screen of her tablet and pointed. Mel squinted, and Yvonne enlarged the image.
“Oh, you’re right!” Mel exclaimed. “There’s no way that’s a new kitchen. Look at the state of the units – the door’s hanging off.”
“To be fair they didn’t say it was a ‘new’ kitchen. They said ‘upcycled’.”
“That means full of old tat that they’ve painted a bit. Did you go to see it?”
Yvonne shook her head, tapping on another tab.
“It would have been a waste of time. But we are going to see this one . . .”
Mel squinted again, and tilted the screen to try to avoid the reflections.
“Mmm . . . Doesn’t that road get quite busy at school times?”
“True, though I’m not sure how much that would bother us, when we’re both at work all day.”
The shop door pinged,
“Other cafés would give anything for the loyalty of your regulars”
and Yvonne quickly closed her tablet.
Mel went back to arranging her jewellery in the glass cabinet.
She stepped aside as the customer peered over her shoulder.
“You had a silver bangle last week – etched with a pattern like feathers . . .”
“I know the one you mean,” Mel said, reaching down to a lower shelf. “Would you like to try it?”
The woman slid the bangle on.
“It looks good,” Yvonne said as she passed, her arms full of new items for the window.
“I’ll take it,” the woman said, and Mel’s face lit up.
She was always chuffed when someone bought one of her own designs.
“Would you like me to gift wrap it for you?” she said, stepping behind the counter and reaching for a box from the shelf.
“Oh, sorry – sorry –” Yvonne reached past Mel as her mobile erupted. She glanced at the screen:
Usually she rejected calls she didn’t recognise, but in her haste to silence the racket she hit Answer.
“Hello? Yes, this is Yvonne.” She threw Mel and her customer an apologetic grimace and stepped away from them.
“Sorry, who did you say you are again?”
“I’m Jack – I have a stall at the market, just across from
Bryn.” The tinny voice was loud in her ear. “He’s had a bit of a turn. We phoned for an ambulance and they’re taking him to Wellsford County Hospital.
“I’m sorry – I can’t tell you much more than that.”
“But what kind of a turn? Was he conscious?” Panic and fear rose in her chest.
“I’m sorry – I don’t know much. He’d come round when they took him away.”
Come round. That meant he had been unconscious.
“Thank you for phoning. Wellsford County, you said? Thanks.”
She hung up. Mel was looking at her with round eyes. The customer had gone on her way.
“Has something happened to Bryn?”
Yvonne held up her phone, clenched in her hand, her knuckles white, and nodded. Then she drew a shaky breath.
“He’s been taken to hospital – Wellsford County.”
“Go,” Mel said at once. “I can take care of things here. I’ll get your jacket.”
Yvonne let Mel guide her arms into it and then she remembered.
“I don’t have the car! I’ve been leaving it at home to save money to put towards a house.
“How am I going to get to Wellsford?”
Their network of small towns and villages had only a patchy bus service.
“I’ll phone Dad,” Mel said, already dialling. “He’s on a late shift today – he should be at home just now.”
Ted came straight over, and Yvonne was grateful to see him as he opened the door.
“Come on then, lass. The car’s outside. We’ll be there in no time.”
As the houses and trees passed in an unseen blur, Yvonne dialled Gwen’s number, noticing that her hands were shaking.
She heard the clatter of the Cosy Café but then it receded. Gwen had evidently stepped outside as Yvonne explained, halting and panicked.
“What if I lose him, Gwen? What if he – he –”
“Don’t even think that way,” Gwen’s voice said briskly in her ear.
“It took us so long to find each other,” Yvonne said.
“I know, love. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
“There’s no use worrying yourself to death before you know what’s what.
“It’s probably something and nothing. The hospital will take good care of him.
“Just you tell Ted to drive carefully – we want you getting there in one piece.”
“I heard that!” Ted chipped in, and Yvonne couldn’t help a little laugh.
“Oh, you two,” she said, grateful for their efforts at normality.
Gwen spoke soothingly in her ear until Yvonne whispered, “We’re here.”
“Chin up. You need to be brave for Bryn’s sake.” “OK. Thanks.”
Ted locked up the car, and then put his strong arm round her shoulders.
“Chin up,” he said, echoing Gwen as he guided her through the doors.
“Right a bit . . . Yes, just there,” Gwen said, as the two delivery drivers manoeuvred the first bench into place.
“And the other one on the other side of the door, just here.”
She pointed as they offloaded it from their van.
“This OK for you, then?” the driver said, making one final adjustment so that they sat flat and level and snug against the windows.
“Perfect. Thanks – and tell your boss thanks again for the speedy service.”
“Can’t beat local,” the man agreed. “You know what would look great alongside them?
“A couple of tall tubs planted up with a dwarf conifer and some trailers.”
Gwen could visualise it. He was exactly right.
“Good idea. I’ll pop in next time I’m out your way and see what you’ve got. Thanks again!”
He gave her a cheerful toot as the van sped off, and the instant he’d gone the sense of foreboding returned. Bryn was ill.
Oh, what was happening at the hospital?
But another van pulling up brought Tomasz, and again she had to push her worry to one side.
“Good morning, Mrs J. You asked to see me?”
“Morning, Tomasz. Yes, I have a job for you if you want it. I want the café repainted, inside and out.”
She followed him as he sized up the job, but her mind was only half on it.
Tomasz was asking her about colours. She had to concentrate on this.
“I was thinking of a really pale grey for the walls, but with a warmth to it. Deeper grey for the woodwork.” Tomasz nodded.
“I want the furniture to provide colour.
“I want to get rid of the plain wood and paint the tables and chairs in shades of blue – teal, aqua . . .
“Of course, when I say ‘I’, I mean you,” she said with a burst of her usual humour.
He felt the surface of one of the tables and nodded.
“Yes, it will work. I can do that.” He scanned the café.
“When would you want me to do it?”
She’d been thinking about this. Now that she’d made up her mind she was excited to see it done as soon as possible.
“How long will it take? have to close . . .”
How would her regulars feel about that? Tomasz seemed to pick up on her thoughts.
“I will have your customers complaining if they can’t come to their Cosy Café.” He chuckled.
“I could do the walls and the exterior in the evenings,” he said, considering.
“You close early on Saturdays. I could prepare the furniture and paint it on Saturday, then give everything a second coat on Sunday.
“You would open as usual on Monday. Would that suit?”
Gwen gave him a smile. “Would that suit?” she echoed. “Oh, Tomasz, that would be wonderful! I wouldn’t have to close at all. Thank you!”
“It is the least I can do when you have been so
I’ll kind to me and to Urzula,” he said, blushing.
“I will bring you some paint charts,” he said as she walked him to the door.
“Great. Oh, did you notice our new benches?” she said, and then stopped in disbelief.
She was delighted to see her new benches were being used already, but less chuffed that it was by three youngsters, eating burgers from the fast-food place down the road.
They seemed to sense her staring at them, and shuffled off with guilty looks and half-hearted apologies.
“I can paint the Cosy Café name along the backs of the benches,” Tomasz suggested. “That might deter these young cuckoos in the nest.”
She was smiling as she turned back into the café.
She stopped by a table to clear it on her way back to the kitchen, but her eye was caught by Mamie Potts at another table.
Mamie, as smart as ever in her rose coloured zip-up jacket, a silk scarf knotted at her neck, was one of her most loyal and favourite customers.
Usually Mamie was quick with a smile and a cheery word, but right now she was staring into space, her fingers fretting at the napkin in her lap.
“Hello, Mamie, is everything OK?” Mamie startled a little. “I’m just being silly. I had to take Alfie to the vet this morning.
“Oh, it’s nothing serious,” she added quickly, seeing Gwen’s concern.
Gwen knew how Mamie doted on her cats. Alfie was a stray she had rehomed a year ago, and like Floss and Pickles before him, he lived an idyllic life in her care. Mamie leaned closer. “Between me and you he has smelly breath and the vet suggested he’d benefit from having his teeth cleaned.” She bit her lip.
“I took him in this morning.
“They assured me that it’s routine and nothing to worry about, but, oh, Gwen!” She plucked at her arm.
“It’s the form I had to sign. The anaesthetic sounds so dangerous. Poor Alfie might not wake up!”
Gwen found herself saying all the reassuring things that she’d said to Yvonne.
“Now don’t you worry, Mamie, Alfie will be right as rain. They have to have that form just in case.
“Alfie’s a healthy little thing otherwise, isn’t he?” Mamie nodded. “There you are, then. How about I bring you another cup of tea?”
“Thank you, Gwen. You’ve made me feel much better.”
She looked around and then smiled as her blue eyes settled on Gwen again.
“That’s what this place has always been to me, you know, Gwen. I know I’ll always find a friendly face, and someone to listen.” Her gaze turned serious. “I couldn’t help noticing all the coming and going lately.” She peered at Gwen.
“You won’t change the Cosy Café, will you? It’s perfect just the way it is.”
“Bless you for that, Mamie,” Gwen said. “And I promise, we’re just going to give it a lick of paint.”
She was glowing at Mamie’s words as she went to fetch her tea, and smiled as she heard Mamie lean over to a man sitting alone at a neighbouring table.
“You won’t find a kinder person. She’s a gem, is Gwen. An absolute gem.”
A stroke. A stroke. The word ricocheted crazily around her mind as Yvonne sat alone, staring at the advice notices taped to the bland pink walls of the waiting room.
Ted had reluctantly had to leave her.
“I’m sorry, love, but my shift’s due to start. Will you be OK?”
She’d assured him that she’d be fine, but she missed his presence.
Sitting alone here, it was hard not to dwell on all the terrifying possibilities.
It felt as though she had been there for ages. She looked around for a clock but there was none.
She stood up to pace around the room again. The staff had been very good about telling her what was going on. Now they were running a series of tests.
She remembered about the cup of tea a young nurse had brought her.
It was growing cold on the table. She picked it up and sipped it, hardly noticing.
She wondered how Mel was doing. She hadn’t left her alone in the shop before, and she’d have to lock up later.
Did she even know the alarm code?
The door swung open and she composed her face for whatever was coming her way. But to her relief, the faces were dearly familiar.
“Mum! Dad! What are you doing here? Oh, I’m so glad to see you.” This last was muffled as Doll swept her into a comforting hug.
“Ted fetched us,” Albert told her. “He didn’t like leaving you on your own.”
They had obviously dropped everything to come.
Doll had a dusting of flour on her cheek, and her coat was buttoned askew. Albert’s crossword pen was tucked behind his ear.
Her heart tugged at the way one of the points of his shirt collar was sticking out of the neck of his jumper.
They sat down in a tight little group, Doll still clutching her hand.
“What are the doctors saying, pet?”
Yvonne felt that tightness in her throat again.
“One thing they’re considering is that it was a minor stroke,” she told them, and Doll’s hand fluttered to her lips. “Minor, they stressed.”
She was pinning her hopes on that word.
“When I think how I’ve been prattling on about a new house . . .” Yvonne chastised herself. “I should have seen he was ill.” Albert leaned in. “Bryn’s looking forward to that as much as you, pet.”
“He’s been just as excited as you at the plans you’ve been making together,” Doll agreed. “And –”
She broke off as the doctor appeared in her blue scrubs.
They had spoken already and Yvonne had found her quiet air reassuring.
“Right then, Mrs Walton. The good news is that our initial tests show no sign of a stroke.”
“Oh, thank heavens,” Doll whispered.
“Your husband does have low blood pressure though, and he might well be suffering from stress, too.
“As to his collapse, that may have been as simple as him standing for too long and being dehydrated.
“We’ve got him on fluids and he seems much improved.
“We’ll hang on to him to run a few more tests, but try not to worry.”
She bustled off, her mind seeming already to be on her next patient.
“Can I see him, doctor? Please –?” Yvonne called after her, and she returned, full of apologies.
“Sorry – of course. I’ll take you to him.”
Her parents were nodding encouragingly as she followed the doctor out and into a side room.
And at last there was Bryn, propped up in bed, smiling. She had never been so glad to see him in her life.
“Hello, you,” he said, as she perched on the bed and took his hand.
“I thought I’d lost you,” she said, fighting back tears.
He squeezed her hand. “I’m so sorry, sweetheart. What a fuss. I only fainted.”
Yvonne nodded emphatically.
“That’s what the doctor said, though they’re just going to do a few more tests to be sure.” She sighed, then lifted her chin.
“And if they find anything – which they won’t – we’ll deal with it, together.”
“Together,” he agreed, as she rested her forehead against his.
Gwen touched the key to end the call and reached for the café’s calendar.
With a flourish, she wrote two big exclamation marks in the square for the coming Saturday.
“That was Tomasz,” she told Urzula, pointing at her phone. “He can start on Saturday.
“So now we have to work out a plan to get everything ready for him!”.
“Is very exciting,” Urzula agreed.
Gwen looked around the kitchen.
“Darren? Darren, do you have a minute?”
“With you in a mo, Mrs J!” he called cheerfully from the depths of the dishwasher.
As he grinned at her she registered surprise yet again that this tall young man was the same gangly teenager who used to hang out in the café with his pals, nursing their soft drinks for hours.
A good group of lads, they all still called in to say hello when they were passing.
Darren, though, was the one who’d helped out around the café, clearing tables and the like.
He’d wanted to be a chef back then, but had changed his mind since.
“Have you seen those TV programmes, Mrs J? The way the head chef guys yell at all the other guys?” He’d grimaced.
“Nah, don’t fancy that much. So I’m going to rethink my options.”
In the meantime, he seemed happy enough working here at the café.
While they waited, Urzula turned to her, her face showing concern.
“How is Yvonne’s husband? Getting better, I hope?”
“Oh, he is – though to be honest I’m not sure what it is he’s better from!”
After 48 hours of observation, Bryn had been released from hospital.
There was nothing obviously serious, at least, which was a relief, though he wasn’t back working yet. Yvonne was still worried. “He’s just so listless,” her sister had confided when she’d popped round to Gwen’s one evening.
“He’s got none of his usual get up and go.”
“It’ll come, Yvonne. Just give him time,” Gwen said,
but she shared Yvonne’s concern.
This lethargy wasn’t like the strong, energetic Bryn they all knew.
“Right then, what’s the plan, Mrs J?” Darren broke into her thoughts, rubbing his hands together.
“Mrs Johnson?” It was Tomasz, calling through from the café to the kitchen.
“I hope is OK – I brought some paint supplies. Special deal from the wholesaler if I took away today. Can I store it here?”
“Oh – right.” Gwen’s focus snapped back to the café.
“Bring it through and take it out the back. It’ll be OK there for a few days.”
“Out the back” was a yard outside the back door of the kitchen, with an old coal shed in the corner.
It wasn’t a dump, exactly, but even Gwen, flicking her eyes around it, admitted it was unprepossessing: red brick walls, broken slabs, weeds, crates, with the walls shrouded in ivy.
She stepped aside as Darren squeezed past her bearing two big tins of paint, Tomasz following.
“Stow it in the coal shed,” she suggested. “If you can get the door open.”
Darren tugged at the door and it gave. He peered in, then ducked in and out as quickly as he could.
“Did you say it’s the coal shed, Mrs J?” Darren asked as he brought through the last two tins. She nodded, and he looked quizzical.
“Why would they put a coal shed out the back?
“How did the coalman reach it to deliver the coal? Seems weird that he’d bring it through the inside.”
He turned to scan the back of the building.
“What was this place originally, anyway?” Gwen had no idea. They might have thought no more about it, except that in turning back, Darren tripped over a broken slab and stumbled into the ivy-shrouded wall.
The paint tin dangling from his right hand hit the wall with a hollow thunk.
He looked at her, his eyebrows raised.
“That sounded weird.” He put down the tins and tapped at the wall with his knuckles.
Mostly they heard the solid thud of brick, but in one area it was different. He did it again more slowly.
“There must be something here.” He tugged a small hole in the ivy and peered through. “I think I can see a door.”
He glanced back at Gwen. “A door?” she echoed. “Let’s have a look.”
Standing alongside him, she peered through the curtain of ivy.
“Oh, blow it, what have we got to lose? Let’s rip the lot off,” she said, grabbing a handful and tugging. Darren flinched. “Remind me never to let you loose on an Elastoplast, Mrs J,” he said, as she tore off a ragged strip.
And there it was. A door in the wall. But where to?
Darren grasped the rusted metal doorknob and rattled it, finding it locked. He bent to squint through the keyhole below
“Can you see anything?” Gwen asked.
“I think it’s the jitty – you know, from the square through to the car park.”
“Really?” Gwen looked at Darren and Tomasz in astonishment.
“Well, fancy that! All the years I’ve worked here and I never knew this door was here.”
“I wonder if there’s a key?”
Darren was scanning the ground as if he expected to find it lying amidst the weeds.
Gwen hardly heard him. She was looking around at this uninviting little yard, and the seeds of an idea began to germinate in her mind.
“Tomasz,” she said slowly, “how much extra would it cost to paint these old walls?”
To be continued.