Tension-headache gathered at her temples as she approached the pub. The thick panel door gave a squeak as she pushed through. The interior hadn’t changed much. Predominantly brown, a small entryway led into a lounge, a barroom and toilets. Nancy continued into the lounge. Old yeast and burnt chips had stamped a bouquet into the fabric. Aged photos spiced the walls; racehorses, farm scenes and dogs. Bon Jovi’s Living’ on a Prayer played out on the stereo. Three men sat drinking at a table near the bar. Nancy ground her molars and ambled inside. Behind the bar, Danny wheeler’s dad, Albert Wheeler wiped beer glasses. This was Sheila’s world, the heart of Sheila’s life, a life that Nancy didn’t understand.
As Nancy approached, Albert, wall-eyed and pot-bellied, stacked the beer glasses in a rack. He smiled amicably as Nancy rested her bag on the top. ‘Good evening,’ he grunted, ‘what’ll you fancy?’
She could feel the eyes of the three men behind her. Sheila had done this countless times. Why couldn’t Nancy? She squared her shoulders. ‘Gin and tonic please,’ she replied with a small smile.
‘Good lass, comin’ right up.’ Albert grabbed a glass and pushed it beneath an overhead dispenser. A shadow drifted over the bar. Guinness wafted over her. Nancy didn’t turn but retained her small smile.
‘Are you who I think you are?’ came a Back Country baritone. Albert deposited her gin and tonic onto a mat before her. Nancy paid up.
‘Yous Sheila’s daughter, aren’t you?’ the baritone persisted.
Nancy turned to find a man who could’ve been Bono’s dad standing next to her, only shorter and stouter. His broad grin rendered his mouth lipless.
‘Yes, I am,’ Nancy replied.
Albert cut in with a throaty chortle. ‘By Christ! I’d forgotten she got a daughter! How have you been, Pet? I’ve not seen your pretty face here for quite a while.’
Nancy shrugged at this. ‘I’ve been…busy.’
Bono’s Dad hollered over to his table of two, ‘Hey, Ralph, this is Sheil’s daughter!’
A skinny man with an oversized goiter lifted his beer to her. ‘How you doin’ Sheil’s Daughter?’
Nancy merely nodded, her smile growing thin.
Albert stuck her change in the till. ‘I’m…er sorry about what happened to your mum, Lass. I called the ambulance as soon as I realised what happened.’
Bono’s Dad plonked his Guinness down after taking a nip. ‘Don’t you fret, Lass, she’s a belly of iron, has our Sheila. She’s a party girl. Some of us are just made that way. It’s a gift. Here…’ he slid Nancy’s gin and tonic towards her. ‘You ain’t touched your drink.’
Nancy fondled the glass. In the next room, a vending machine fanfared a five-note bar. She lifted the glass and pressed her upper lip against the rim. Condensation tickled her tongue. She licked the ice as it clinked against her teeth. For once, she challenged an inner resistance. Nancy would go the other way; she would try to appreciate and to understand.