Nancy stepped into the foyer. The walls appeared more sedate without the sunlight pouring through the tinted windows. A pinnied figure resembling a white chess pawn pushed a rag across the side of the desk. Nancy guessed she might be the housekeeper with the cosmopolitan cadence.
Henry stood before her, awaiting her next words. Did this reflex always afflict him when presented with a figure assuming authority? Nancy could see how he had wound up the groundskeeper.
‘Can you tell me when Mr. Jonas is expected back?’ she asked.
Henry’s spectacled eyes were unwavering. ‘He’s getting the late flight from London, could be past ten tonight.’
Nancy frowned. ‘Why doesn’t he overnight at his other place in Knightsbridge?’
For one who assumed the subservient role, Henry could inflict the most distilled glower. ‘All his stuff is here,’ he said as though he were stating the obvious.
Nancy maintained eye contact though he uneased her. ‘I don’t follow.’
A crinkle formed beneath one eye. ‘The equipment…for his legs. The doctors aren’t expecting him to walk again. I thought you would have known.’
Another awkward silence.
‘I’m sorry, Nurse, but you don’t seem that well-informed.’
He had called her nurse. She took this as her cue. ‘Oh.’ she regrouped her thoughts. ‘Well, this had not been made clear to me on his previous evaluation. Perhaps I had taken an optimistic view.’ She attempted a small laugh. Henry’s small pupils merely flicked over her face. Nancy would be glad to put some distance from him. ‘I’d best get on,’ she uttered and turned for the stairs, noticing the housekeeper had disappeared into the next room. ‘Henry, can you please tell the housekeeper and anyone else here that I will be taking care of things upstairs for Mr. Jonas. This may take all afternoon.’
Henry returned to his former casual self. ‘Sure. Just give us a shout if you need anything.’
‘I shall,’ Nancy closed, wanting to tell him to sod off and mounted the stairs. His footfalls receded behind her but the stairlift affixed to the Newell post detained her progress. Like the wheelchair she’d seen yesterday, this model appeared to be the pinnacle of its kind: a black leather seat, lever, seatbelt, footrests and a range of shiny buttons. Sheila had planned to get one fitted to her stair-rail anon. Yet again, Sheila would adopt that gratified serenity to inspire sympathy and offers of help from friends and regulars at the Hatchet Inn.
Nancy pulled out her small screwdriver. Finally, that stupid whirring sound of the mobility scooter would find its way inside Sheila’s house. Nancy had always wanted to tip Sheila out of her chair. When it suited her, Sheila could still hang the washing, she could still jive the funky chicken at revelries and waltz between the taxi and a plane bound for Mallorca. No one could argue with the trite excuse about the weather, the good and the bad days. But Nancy couldn’t argue her mother’s calves had of late resembled saveloy sausages. No one could tell her that Sheila’s so-called moderation had actually insulted her system. Sheila owned her denial and she could do what she liked with it.
A Svorn model, Nancy noted; a little pricy for Sheila. Still, any model would do for one afflicted with liver damage and borderline diabetes. Nancy had no choice but to observe her mother’s requests for help in getting her out of bed, pulling her shoes on and in dishing out the pills akin to a nurse working at the Weston Hill Care Centre. You know I love ya, Nancy.
Nancy’s trips to the Quick Shop for the usual came together in a leaden chain that Nancy wore about her neck. Nancy had become an unwitting participant in creating Sheila’s ultimate state. Her mother’s stupid serene expression; her stupid stretch tights and her stupid hospital-style dinner tray. It had all started with a pack of lies.
Nancy pocketed four screws and checked the foyer was still empty. She made her way to the upper landing of Vince’s foyer, pausing at a door ahead. Somewhere downstairs, a radio chirped. Nancy pushed through and found a large utility room that at first appeared empty. Built-in wardrobes blended into walls of buff. She took at punt for a deep drawer that glided elegantly upon an apparent cushion of air.
Bedding of Mulberry silk rippled beneath her touch; primrose, indigo and scarlet. Reflections snaked in elaborate patterns as though a living being. An adjoining door fronted a cavern no smaller than her guestroom at the Cheap Sleep. Towels, bathrobes, throws, curtains and pillowcases had been neatly folded in pullout compartments. Designs not of the high street mesmerized. Prussian blue spliced with scarlet, brocades of chocolate and cream, influences from the Far East, the Mediterranean, South America. What did the stuff she had nicked her entire life amount to but junk deserving a carboot? Her fingers insulted the fabric by a mere touch. Nancy slammed the door shut and aimed low. And yes, aiming low had found herself back home. Linen sheets. Pillowcases. White. In packets never opened. Evidently, Vince’s guests, himself included, had never had to stoop to plain linen.
Nancy tucked the packets beneath her arm and paused at an abutting drawer. Curtains. Pale blue. Cotton.
Nancy reemerged at the landing and made her way to Vince’s room. She found not to her surprise the door locked. Without pause, she placed the packets upon the floor and made her way down.
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