Her stomach clenched as she approached Coventry Station. She expected to see police vans or officers skirting the platform. At this hour, commuters were thin and she could see no one out of place. A broadsheet reader boarded. Nancy was certain she would have time to get home, pack essentials and cobble a plan of some sort before the story broke or her identity was established. Would the day begin with a news announcement that Vincent Jonas and his PA were dead?
Nancy’s stomach didn’t unclench as the train got moving again. In fact, the sensation intensified as she approached Bedworth. She swallowed rubber and gritted her teeth as the train juddered to a halt.
She made increased haste on her mile walk to Glebe Hollow. No one had seen her but in this neighbourhood, where terraced roofs sagged beneath the rain, everybody knew everybody else. Nancy pushed the key into the paint-chipped door of number four, Weaver’s Street.
Nancy entered a dingy hallway and padded up the stairs. A fug of beer and dust oozed from the carpet. She skulked past her mother’s closed door and entered the bathroom. She disrobed Vince’s coat and could see the front of her dress suggested Jackson Pollock had gone mad with the maroon. Nancy had taken a train and walked across Bedworth stinking of gin and splattered with Leon’s blood.
Permitting no room for thought, she pulled the straps down and let her dress drop to the floor. She added her bra, pants and shoes to the pile before wrapping them into a tight ball. She started the shower and stepped in.
She could feel a compartment within her brain bulging. She increased the temperature to keep her mind to the present. Pink swirled from her body. Soap, plenty of soap. The flannel scoured her skin. Her fingernails chafed her scalp. Seven years ago, Nancy had worked for the Weston Hill Care Centre. Dr. Croyd had taken a liking to her.
Nancy cut the power, stepped out and rubbed herself down. Thoughts were crowding around her, threatening to swallow her up. Nancy wrapped herself, grabbed Vince’s coat, the ball of clothes and raced into her bedroom.
Nancy nudged a lace curtain aside and scanned the street. Nothing appeared out of place, but a shadow was prodding her from behind. Nancy bunched her hair up and changed into jumper and jeans. She tore open a large clutchbag and slung her clothes inside. She pulled out her handbag from Vince’s coat and a collection of silver bottle-tops spilled out onto the bed. She gazed at them with the odd sensation she had been given the liberty to trespass upon someone else’s property. She picked them up and inspected them closely.
Do you think she’ll go dirty?
A gravelly voice broke the silence: her mother, Sheila.
Nancy closed her hand around the tops. They prickled her skin.
Nancy pushed them into Vince’s pocket. Silence resumed but her mother was waiting. Nancy gathered her clothes and entered the hallway. She prodded Sheila’s door ajar. Sheila had a hospital-style bed with a declinable top. Every surface of the room was crowded with toiletries, perfumes, photos and ornaments. A faint whiff of vodka permeated the air. ‘Did you want something?’ Nancy asked.
Sheila squinted at Nancy with ice-blue eyes snuggled within convoluted flesh and smudged eyeliner. Her cheeks had cellulite rucks.
‘Just wondered if you remembered my prescription, Nance,’ she croaked. ‘Pop down the chemist, will yer?’ Sheila’s diabetes had left her kidney function adrift and the handy excuse to use the mobility scooter when her legs were usable.
Nancy’s voice tightened up. ‘Sure…anything else?’
Sheila drew her false fingernails through her rigid blonde hair that endured the straighteners every day. Her follicles looked as dead as a wig.
‘Yeah, er, me ankles hurt. You couldn’t pop in the off-license, would yer? Just for a tot.’
This script was familiar to Nancy. ‘Why don’t you ask Kelly to get it?’
‘She’s workin’ the early shift today. C’mon, Nance, don’t look at me like that. I’ve got an Anne Summers party booked later.’
Nancy’s eyes hardened. ‘I thought we talked about this, Mum.’
Sheila’s croak augmented into an ear-piercing squawk. ‘Stop puttin’ a downer on the mood, Nancy. It ain’t as if I drink every day.’
Nancy had to agree. Within the context of Sheila’s habitual alco-poppers with doughnut midriffs, Sheila appeared to be a mere social drinker.
Nancy pulled the door behind her. Sheila called out. ‘Nance…’ Sheila couldn’t mask the desperation in her tone. ‘Nance! Don’t forget me prescription, will yer! Me ankles hurt.’
Nancy paused before trudging downstairs. The reality came crashing down. Weaver’s Street had Nancy firmly in its maws. Sheila was ill; Nancy had no money and nowhere to go. The rickety gates of Glebe Hollow confined occupants who had no practical reason to leave. Terror threatened to engulf Nancy’s age-old self-denial. No practical reason at all.