Nancy went into Sheila’s bedroom to assemble a hospital bag. Sheila thought she looked like a pig without her mascara. Tissues and chocolate boxes littered the place. Last year’s snow globes anchored stacks of Ibiza postcards in place. Clothes cascaded over the bed-board, smelling of wardrobe and sale deodorant. Nancy’s heel barreled over a cluster of cheeky mugs from Great Yarmouth. All had been stained with fortified dregs.
Nancy found a flask of navy rum behind the curtain. She could have emptied the amber nectar down the sink and felt good about it. She could have exorcised the room of clutter with the aid of bin bags and detergent. Nancy gathered night clothes, toiletries and makeup for Sheila and left the room untouched.
Nancy nudged the curtains aside. A road bollard cast an ashen glow over a wilted fence opposite. She feared spotting a figure there, two figures and possibly a van or a police car. Press interest was converging to a point. With the photos out, no one could argue Nancy hadn’t entered the limo on the night of the crash. Vince wasn’t talking. Unchecked speculation would bleed out like ink on blotting paper.
The limo knew. The truth had been imprinted upon the crumpled fascias and the shattered glass. Once the interior had been immaculate, not a scratch in sight. Now, even the air within had been contorted; gouges on the leather seats, blood on her dress, a dagger shaped like India, an incision doused with the very stuff she had imbibed at the Hatchet Inn. He wouldn’t have chosen her to save his life. That may be, but the fact remained, he now belonged to her.
Nancy took the Fiat Punto out for a drive at five am. Nancy filled her up at the Eaton Road garage before parking near the Boot pub opposite the hospital. The onset of the rush hour traffic spurred her on. Adam Bede ward had clicked over to the day shift. A ward nurse checked Nancy in. Quietly, Nancy drew back Sheila’s curtains. Sheila’s beige form emitted rhythmic grunts in slumber. Her chin rested on her chest and her shoulders sagged. Beside her, a profusion of get-well cards stood to attention.
A cheeky one from Alexis: ‘I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure a margarita will clear your head.’ Carla: Get well soon so I can stop being so nice.’ Cora’s mum: Stop feeling so sorry for yourself, we got some partyin’ to do!’ Sheila belonged to the folks of Glebe Hollow in equal measure, it seemed. Nancy deposited Sheila’s’ hospital bag onto the chair next to the bed and returned to her car.
Coventry had stirred to life once Nancy had parked near the Belgrade Theatre. She withdrew cash in bulk; no credit card transaction to leave a trail. Self belief burgeoned with each purchase. No one here knew her, but she encountered herself on a newsstand outside West Orchards. The Daily Mail: The One that Got Away: Questions over Girl in Jonas’ Shoot. Egyptian eyes, festooning ringlets and lip-gloss came together to form the quintessential party girl no one could associate with the woman now perusing the headline.
Louisa would be panicking by now. Without a mind, Nancy’s guided her Fiat onto the A46 out of Coventry. Only the signs for Kirkby Magnor concerned her now. Before long, Nancy was turning off at Barford for the A429. A mile outside the civil parish of Wellesbourne, Nancy found herself tunnelling through a canopy of huge chestnuts towards a green. Cottages and paddocks radiated out from a central hub. Nancy continued up Stone Road towards a large Edwardian house with huge bays.
Matt Burroughs overseer of the Cheap Sleep Hostel greeted her on the doorstep. A rangy man with a dark beard, he could have played base for a progressive rock band in the seventies. The interior belied the exterior, being desperately in need of modernization. The place smelled of bean broth and singed dust. Nancy noticed hessian patches in the brown carpet as he led her to the second floor. ‘Are you visiting long? Burroughs asked.
‘It depends,’ Nancy replied.
Burroughs nodded, abstracted. A cagooled man and presumably his son clopped by.
The landing tapered to a narrow hall on the top floor. Burroughs opened a cream door pimpled with paint drips leading to a loft room overlooking a paddock. A small circular window brought a quaint aspect to an otherwise plain room with a sloping ceiling. A tallboy and a bunk-bed were the only furnishings. Nancy opened the tallboy to find a mirror and several wire hangers within. ‘It’s perfect,’ Nancy said and paid cash up front.
He handed her the keys. Burroughs’ courtesy and economy of questions suited her well.
Nancy deposited her bag on the bed and unpacked. The top floor comprised two bedrooms and a shared shower. At this time of year, few lodgers had taken rooms and the entire floor remained exclusively hers. Waterstains skirted the walls and the splash-backs had been lined with stick-on plastic tiles embossed with fleur-de-lis. The boiler clattered as the hot water system activated. The meandering pipes rendered the temperature adjuster apathetic. But with her face scrubbed of makeup and her hair gathered in a bun, she had cast off Sheila’s party girl daughter of Weaver’s Street. She felt liberated, lighter if somewhat bleak.