NOT only did Nancy know the site of an emergency airway puncture, she also knew the incision site for a breast implant, a kidney removal and a C section. Dr. Croyd of the Weston Hill Care Centre had tracked his finger over numerous incision sites of her body. Varicose veins were his favourite. Incisions were long and could be applied to any limb, moving upwards or downwards. At sixteen, Nancy believed she was somehow to blame. Had she given him unconscious signals? Had he misinterpreted her ditzy need for flattery?
Yes, qualified practitioners instilled envy and fascination within her; even the routine task of changing a catheter bag or cleaning a tracheostomy tube. Nancy wished she could do something like that, to possess the knowledge and make a difference to someone’s life.
Dr. Croyd had latched himself onto her innocence and enthusiasm. She had latched herself onto this father figure who seemed to believe she had untapped intelligence, spark and a pretty face.
Trainee nurses came and went. They stalked the wards in trim hips, long lashes and sleek hair. Nancy nurtured a shameful hope that one of them would divert Dr. Croyd’s attentions. He showed nothing but gracious respect for these graduates. Nancy wanted to shave her hair off.
Sheila took Nancy for a celebratory drink at the Hatchet Inn when Nancy got the job. ‘My daughter’s gonna be a nurse,’ she declared as though the credit were hers. Sheila then turned to Nancy and said, ‘Yous a pretty gal. You can work yourself up nice and steady with a face like yours. Use what you got. We Hutchens know how to use what we got.’ Her throat had then rebounded in a harsh chortle. ‘Yous a lot like me, Nance. At your age, I would’ve been in with them nice doctors like a hog in shit!’
But Nancy knew a thing or two about the Weston Hill Care Centre. A privately run home for the elderly, an upper circle of carers routinely over-administered sedatives to make patients docile. Ward shifts flowed by with little incident. Nurse Truman had read the entire works of Martina Cole whilst on duty. Nancy had once witnessed a patient’s son talking his father into signing a power of attorney to the family will. The patient had been docile. Once the son had departed, the patient had told Nancy she was lovely. If he had his own way, he would have signed over all his effects to her. Everybody thought Nancy was lovely. She has a lovely face. The recreation room was hardly used and the inpatients were always watching TV.
Nancy meant to go straight to the police station and make her statement, she really did, but the next thing she knew she found herself slumped upon her bed and the night had closed in. Shivers skittered up her spine and her tongue hugged the roof of her mouth like the soles of a salamander to a leaf. Thirst had pushed through the membranes of her sleep. Rain had hissed through the forest of her brain and she couldn’t get enough; the drizzle flecked her tongue in measly portions. Her body didn’t want to move but she desperately needed a pee. The room pulsated around her as her body shuffled from her bed. The landing light flashed at her. Sheila would have gone out; her door was closed, probably given up on waiting for her tot in the belief Nancy had succumbed to a hangover from Bex’s bash. Nancy didn’t remember slaking her thirst or relieving herself, but she must have done so, for her next awakening found her simply cold, so cold she wanted to die. The thought of changing into her pyjamas spurred a wracking shudder that wrung tears from her eyes. Nancy knew little about the aftereffects of a car crash but her adrenaline had probably created a false sense of wellbeing. Her inspection after her shower yielded nothing: no bruises, no contusions no cuts, not even a scratch. But the limo had done something. It had done something quietly.
The shivers subsided in the small hours but her thirst lingered. Nancy vowed to check herself in at the doctors before her mother got up the next morning, then she would ring in sick and write her statement.
Silly Nancy, you should be dead.
Something detonated in her head. Nancy shot up from her pillow. The house remained silent and nothing stirred. Never in her life had Nancy hallucinated yet the sound was real. It seemed real. The limo had screeched along the cats-eyes, the glass had splintered at the overpass; the chasm had engulfed her. The blood-speckled dagger flashed in the dark.
What has she done?
At this point, Nancy blacked out into sleep.
Nancy’s handwriting had gone skewed and weird. Why couldn’t she keep her hand steady? The police statement was supposed to be short; just a few sentences or so, but an hour had elapsed by the time she had finished. Nancy had rung in sick two days ago but hadn’t been to the doctors. She felt better today anyway except for a dull ache around her sinuses. Through the tinted glass window, Nancy spotted Bex clopping her way up the ramp. Her pencil skirt slitted at the right place and her hair had seen the hot oil. Nancy waited until Bex had disappeared from sight before making her leave from the station.
On passing the Co-op’s glass frontage Nancy saw the limo. An aerial view, the squashed bug at the bottom of a deep ditch teemed with fluorescent drones. The images could have been transmitted from California or Paris or Hong Kong. Nancy couldn’t reconcile the images with her experience of the crash. The two seemed poles apart.
Vince’s face suddenly filled the screen. Nancy lurched back. He gazed accusingly at her, his brows knit and his lips firmly-seamed. They’d had sex in the limo and now he can no longer speak. Nancy averted her gaze as a mother shoved a toddler-laden buggy past. Suddenly, he was everywhere – outside the off license, on the newsstands, gracing the placards. He was staring at her.
How could she?
Nancy cupped her face in her hands. She didn’t want to know and yet she was desperate to know. A small whimper escaped her at the idea of one or the other. She parted her fingers to a slitted view. The local anchorman was now describing the scene. Nancy wished she could hear him yet she was afraid of what she might learn.
Cora’s face came on. Her auburn hair had been softly waved with golden highlights and her skin shone with over-applied foundation.
Her mouth was moving.
She seemed to concede midsentence, her painted eyebrows almost vanishing into her fringe and then she listened, nodding and glancing at the camera.
Her mouth started moving again.
Nancy dashed into the shop. All TVs were muted beneath Michael singing about Billie Jean. Cora’s big face filled a HD with Blu-ray. She puckered a smile designed to deter wrinkles from her eyes. The camera flicked to Teddy Jay, the West Midlands newsreader. His clean-shaven square face took in Cora’s every word. Clipboard on lap, he gesticulated his next question. Back to Cora, she still wore that infuriatingly fake smile, her eyebrows now consumed by her fringe.