NANCY changed Vince’s sheets, she administered his antibiotics and wheeled the trolley beside him. She cut, she cleansed, she applied. Vince took everything she gave. She pulled the dressings tight. She could see by his glower that she had been thorough.
Nancy wheeled the trolley to the kitchen to wash her hands and paused on seeing Henry at the sink. He glanced her way. ‘Oh, hi, Nora.’
Her smile felt stretched. ‘Hi, Henry.’
Henry saw Nancy wanted to use the sink and moved aside. ‘Er…Sorry.’
Nancy stepped forward and flicked the tap. ‘Wasn’t that somethin’?’ he began as Nancy dispensed liquid soap onto her hands. Nancy glanced round to see Henry lift a mug from the table. He blew into the steam. ‘It’s just what the bossy cow deserved.’
Nancy massaged the soap between fingers before letting the hot water surge over.
‘Did you…did you give Mr. Jonas his treatment?’
The bubbles disappeared into a vortex. ‘Yes.’
‘Were you thorough?’
She could picture Henry sipping his tea, awaiting her answer. ‘Yes.’
‘I…I couldn’t help but notice you don’t have latex gloves with your other stuff here. I suppose they just get in the way, don’t they…of being thorough, I mean.’
Nancy let the water cascade even though the soap had vanished. Her fingers nestled beside the whirlpool and decided they would stay there while Henry stood behind her. She heard him plonk his mug down.
‘Well, I suppose I’d best get going,’ His boots squeaked. ‘I’ll be down by the elms if you need me.’ He moved to the back door and paused with a little smile before leaving. ‘Quiet day today…no visitors.’
Nancy had neglected to close the drawing room door earlier. She had forgotten to take vigilance as she cut, cleansed and applied.
The elms couldn’t be seen from here. She would have to stand on the Lakeland slabs at the front of the house to see him. She wasn’t about to make herself visible only to him. Instead, she assembled cheese sandwiches, tea and chocolate digestives to find the drawing room empty. She glanced out to see Vince lurch across the lawn. At first she thought he had seen Henry but quickly realised Vince wasn’t heading for the elms. It seemed Vince was taking a walk. Brows knit, she returned to the kitchen to pack the food in a Tupperware box and brew fresh tea for a flask. She placed everything in a bag and grabbed her coat.
No leaf blotted the lawn, no wind stirred the trees. Abrasions on the turf divulged of Vince’s passage to the copse. From here, only the tops of the oaks could be seen. Was he going this way to prove he now could? She trudged past the box hedge to gaze upon the elms behind. The grounds appeared well-kept yet she had seldom seen Henry at work. This unsettled her for some reason. Nancy continued past the willow walkway with the dreamy amble. By the time the slope had opened out to her, the sun had disappeared behind cloud. A breeze set the oaks creaking. Vince rested at the base of the Y-shaped oak she had occupied previously. She could see only the back of his head. As she entered the dip, his crutches shifted into view. They did not rest beside him, but against the trunk of an oak on the opposite side of the pond. Had he walked unaided for this distance?
Nancy eased her pace, reluctant to proceed further. His blue sweatshirt rippled in the breeze, his shoulders square; from here, a non-cripple. She wanted to see his fifty paces crutchless. Nancy stopped at a trunk directly behind his location to lower her picnic bag. He bowed to the fields in front to disclose three Shetlands. Ripples scoured an inverted sky behind him. At bow’s end, the wind fondled his hair and a hand grasped a bottle. She had seen a bottle like that in his drawing room. The other hand teased the lid and pulled it off. The cylinder upended to liberate a quantity. He opened his mouth to kiss his palm and the white dots vanished. Inverted sky disintegrated in a gust. Bottle pocketed, he flexed a shoulder to retrieve a second vessel. This one winked against the sky as though metallic. Thumb twirled cap – a silver hipflask, she deduced. Vince brought the mouth to his. A brisk appreciation.
Vince’s sweatshirt continued to ripple in the breeze.
Thunder burgeoned from deep within. Nancy’s lower lip trembled. His image blurred in response. She contained an urge to kick his lunch across the grass but nothing could dispel the cutting sensation inside. She made herself small at the base of the trunk. Nettles prickled her thighs. A thousand nettles would not be enough. Ground-moss became a patch of carpet at the back of the sofa when she was seven. The betrayal. The lies.
How could he?
The stitching of her coat grazed the couch grass skirting the trees; grit pierced her palms. The pond lapped gently against the clay-soil bringing a brackish aroma. Ahead, the scuffmarks at the base of his crutches grew clearer. She was probably to blame for every scratch. Still the past few days had fulfilled the bearers and they remained serviceable. Her fingers encircled the shaft above to separate one from the other. One crutch, not two.
The crossbar came to rest upon her shoulder before she sought out the shelter of the oak of earlier. Without looking back, she straightened up and took a brisk walk back to the house.