HER ANKLES hadn’t looked fat. They tapered from shapely calves in an ideal body-shot. The flashbulbs had bleached out her face, putting emphasis upon her heavily shaded eyes and pink lipstick. She had pulled it off. In her cocktail dress and plastic shoes, she hadn’t looked a hard-eyed slapper.
Next to her, Vince gazed off camera, reticent, his hairline strimmed and an eyebrow cleaved, but handsome in his long, black overcoat. A step ahead of her, he appeared to lead the way, perhaps somewhere to quarrel in private. That’s how he looked, on the edge of a strop. A couple with chemistry, the press might believe. From afar, they did indeed appear to hold hands. Close up, her small digit hung desperately onto his.
Since the pictures had emerged, her landline had been ringing every evening. Nancy had picked up on one occasion, to hear an ingratiating Brummy brogue. Nancy had ended the call before the woman could get her claws in. Nancy spotted someone waiting outside the house after work. Nancy took a detour to the shops. On her return, the figure had gone. Nancy feared this was just the beginning. The press attention would gain momentum once the identity of Vince's latest aficionado had been officially confirmed.
Nancy got the impression she had lost favour with the residents of Glebe Hollow. No one spoke to her, no one ribbed her about the shots, no one even hurled a gibe. The miasma seemed to lie somewhere between jealousy and betrayal.
Nancy’s mother kept going on about it. ‘Why didn’t you tell no one about it, Nancy?’ she demanded. ‘Bloody Cora has. She’s been shoutin’ from the rooftops! What’s the matter with ya? Your trouble is you don’t say nothin’ to no one. You just stand there like a wallflower, lettin’ the world go by. Think of all the exposure you missed out on, the money!’
Cora’s fifteen minutes had yet to expire. If she was seen about town, everybody got into the habit of hollering across the streets, ‘Hey, Cora, have you got into anymore car crashes recently? Who were you with this time?’
Nancy’s team leader, Louisa had started delegating work on Nancy since the news broke, making her stay late to close redundant accounts. As Nancy took a trip to the filing room, Bex grabbed her by the elbow and shoved her against the filing cabinets. ‘Who the bloody hell do you think you are?’ she hissed.
Air rushed though Nancy’s windpipe, but Bex was unapologetic, gnashing her false fingernails into Nancy’s arm. ‘You think you’re so above everybody round ‘ere, don’t you? So high and bloody mighty!’
Nancy tweezed Bex’s fingers away. ‘Get off me, you mad cow!’
Bex’s chin jutted out in a snarl. ‘Picture this, Nance if you can stretch your imagination that far! Three mates go out for a big night, right? You, me and Cora who’ve stuck around this dump since school. You decide to hang back at the club and the next thing I hear, someone is snapped doing a walkabout with Jonas. The police keep the snaps to themselves ‘cause there’s a crash investigation.’
Nancy stared at Bex, fearing Bex’s ensuing words.
‘In the meantime, I’m writin’ witness statements, talking to the cops and wonderin’ what the hell happened. Then I see you around and it’s like, “Hiya, Nance, how you doin’?” “Fine,” you say. “How are you?” “I’m fine, thank you, so what’s new?” “Well,” you say, “Mum’s going to Weston Super Mare in the spring.” “Fab,” I say, and the next thing I see is a fuckin’ snapshot of you walkin’ out of the Nexus with Jonas!’
Nancy knit her lip.
‘You fuckin’ bitch!’ Bex’s spittle sprayed over her chin. ‘How d’ ya think that makes me feel? Huh? And to really rub it in, Cora’s at large lyin’ her head off while you are just so quietly smug! You are so pompous, Nancy, such a bloody snob who thinks you’re above us all!’
Nancy’s cheeks flushed. ‘I…I’m sorry, Bex.’
‘Stuff your sorry, Nancy, I don’t want your sorry!’
Bex wiped the spittle from her face, puckering up her fringe and smudging her lipstick. She backed off. ‘Was it you?’ she asked quietly.
Nancy didn’t understand the question for a moment.
‘Was it you?’ she repeated, firmly this time, ‘in the limo, when it crashed?’
Nancy opened her mouth to speak when Bex stopped her with a warding off gesture. ‘You know what, Nance? I don’t think I want you tell me. I’d rather not put myself in that position.’
With that, she gave Nancy another shove before storming off.