google-site-verification: googlec7224cac6d883d54.html Nora by Charles J Harwood

Nora by Charles J Harwood Prologue

IT HAD all started with a look: blue eyes from an English father; ebony hair from an Italian mother. Once he had not cared that his eyelashes cast long shadows upon his cheeks, that he had the Cupid’s bow of a cherub or that his cheekbones chiseled out at a geometric angle, but when he did, he became what the English termed a wanker or a prick. Perhaps they confused the expression for a heartbreaker.
The camera loved him at least.
He could recline on silk sheets for cologne or seethe in a sportscar. His life became the silk sheet he had once reclined upon: smooth, compliant and without substance. In pursuit of something, he enterprised. His upbringing on Lake Como receded as he found himself sipping sangria on a Monte Carlo balcony, basking on his cruiser in Cannes or cheering Chelsea within a glass suite above the terraces.
His choice expanded with his acquisitions: hotels, leisure centres, nightclubs, a recording studio. Those he found company with complied to fulfill their talents, wit, resource and diplomacy.
He convinced himself he’d fallen in love and got bored. He got high and watched endless sunrises. American girls were fun, the English rose, a tease; Europeans were flamboyant but he knew how to let them all down easy.
He reinvented himself. No longer just a playboy but a mind turned industrious. He managed and delegated. The routine grounded him and his prosperity burgeoned. He hosted charity events to satisfy his guilt but concealed his disdain for the unfortunate. Soulless, someone had gibed about his lifestyle, but that was fine by him. Those that gibed would never be seen next to royalty, pop stars or politicians. The alternative was unthinkable. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Until the day he had glimpsed her face in the half-light, unrepentant and not of his world. As the black void engulfed him, his worldly achievements counted for nothing.
He thought he’d never wake again.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 27.3

The night clawed at her temples. She faced-off the dark in a feverish quest. For what, she wasn’t sure. The box hedge stirred in the dark; the couch grass whispered. What company did Rodin’s The Kiss keep? What about the dreamy amble? The security light had provided the perfect stage. She had given a spectator something to look at. A shudder slithered up her spine and pooled at the base of her throat.
Her fingers trembled as she grappled for his other crutch resting against the back door. The upper spindle slipped through her fingers. She had the notion the thing was trying to evade her. In her smart clothes, she felt a sham. She was still daughter of Sheila.
Vince had barely moved when she returned to him. ‘Mr. Jonas.’ Her voice came low and insistent. ‘It is time to get up now. I have your other crutch.’
She could feel the eyes within the box hedge, his boot planted in the grass, his glasses reflecting. Nancy neared her mouth to Vince’s ear and the word please teased at her lips. Vince’s wheezing had lessened and his eye made a weary blink. He swallowed noisily. Please wanted to leave her lips but she wouldn’t let it. Despite the shame burning her chest, she conjured the nurse within. ‘It’s time to get up now, Mr. Jonas,’ she said quietly so the box hedge wouldn’t hear. Vince’s eye flicked her way. She proffered his crutch.
For a moment, Vince didn’t respond, seemingly locked within a cocoon of inertia. She would wait and she would keep offering the crutch. ‘It’s time to get up now, Mr. Jonas.’ Gentle yet firm. When had he raised his trembling hand? Nancy couldn’t be sure, as time had dissolved behind a screen. His second crutch came to life. His journey to a standing position involved no further hand from her. Phases in deliberation made a simple maneouvre look graceless and difficult: the flexing of a knee, the twisting of a shoulder. The security light carved out his wretched form as he battled gravity. His crutches trembled, his crutches slipped, his heel twisted. He grazed his elbow, saliva dribbled down his chin, he snorted balls of condensation. Cords contorted his neck and sweat soaked his collar. Sightless, he groped his way to the top of his crutches. Nancy did not intervene.
The box hedge continued to watch.
Nancy’s eyes remained on Vince. He tucked the crutch-pads beneath his armpits; his fingers took position at the crossbars. Both soles came to rest upon the patio. Unceremonious, Nancy entered the house.
An eternity later, the limo flickered around her as Vince’s pallor bleached to ashen. His blanket whispered between her fingers as she straightened it over his abdomen. His lungs submitted to another wheezing ripple before his pillow consumed the back of his head. Throughout his journey, his wheelchair remained in the rain, the screws to his stairlift in her satchel-bag. He didn’t ask for them. He didn’t ask for anything. Only her presence assisted his lurch throughout the house. Her presence became the needle that wouldn’t let him settle. The stairs arrived at the dead of night. Each riser taunted his twisted form. But Vince had endless attempts as the minutes grinded past. And all the while, his sweaty grasp inched up the banister.
Before straightening his blanket, Nancy helped him out of his sweatshirt. He collapsed onto his back. She slipped off his slacks. Heat radiated from his body. She unfastened his knee braces. A maze of shadows obscured the sight and she was grateful. She went into the bathroom to find a cabinet devoid of painkillers. She filled a glass with water. When she returned, she found sleep had pulled all tension from his face. He continued to wheeze, though softly through his mouth. Shame prickled her again. She could barely look at him as she deposited the glass on the dresser. She stepped to Vince’s window to encounter an inkblot of oak-tops splintering the sky. The box hedge lurked somewhere to the right. But the lone apple tree proved a favoured prop for Henry’s garden tools. In the gloom, Nancy could make out a pole. Nancy knew before exiting the premises that Henry had set the gates on automatic again.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 27.2

Nancy had completed Big Ben by the time dusk descended. She would leave the sky for him. The sky was nothing but blue – an expanse of blue. She took his crutch for a walk across the meeting room for its reunion with the other. The wind had dropped by the time she had reached the back door and she made out a lurching shadow beyond the box hedge. She hoped he could see her silhouette against the backlight. She would stand here until her knees tired. The shape seemed to stop and then she realised he was shifting his crutch to the other side. The shape did several motions at once without really moving – a sort of hobble, a sort of hop, a shuffle. Nancy did not think the shape would ever make it past the garages. The CCTV above the lintel would be sending the feed to the monitor right now; a shape morphing from the shadows, moving yet not moving.
Nancy crossed her arms. The security light flicked on. His ghastly form bleached her eyes. Sweat left a sickly patina on his face; grass stains tarnished his sweatshirt. Canted hips skewed his legs. How many times had that crutch served his left side, and then his right? How many times had he crawled? No one inhabited his face for the death of muscle tone. His eyes had all but closed; his lower lip detached from the upper, a murmur skulked within each wheeze. His crutch skittered against the patio slabs. He stopped, he lurched, he staggered onboard. He grasped his crutch with both hands as though to push it into the ground, and proceeded to lower himself down. A wall of defiance surged inside her. ‘Don’t you dare!’
His pleas timed-in with each exhalation. ‘You took my crutch…’
‘Yes, Mr. Jonas.’
His crutch fell with a clatter. Vince’s hands sought out the patio floor. His elbows trembled. ‘My legs…’
‘Don’t give me that!’ Her tone could not be sharp enough. ‘I’ve heard all the excuses in the world.’ The space between patio and sweatshirt continued to lessen. Fury shot up from within. She stepped towards him. ‘Get up.’ Vince was finally prostrate on the floor, his limbs spread-eagled across the slabs.
Nancy wasn’t moved. He had brought this on himself. ‘I said, get up!’
His profile came to rest upon the slabs, his eye now closed, his mouth open. She had seen that face before, atopped a slumped form in various positions and locations: on the stairs, on the living room carpet, at doorways. You know I love ya, Nancy. She grit her teeth as the image of him kissing his palm flooded her brain. ‘You loser!’ Her hands shook. ‘You stinking lousy loser! I knew you’d sell-out in the end! I knew you’d give in! I hope it rains on you!’
She brought the tip of her Oxfords to the tip of his nose. She arrowed her palm at his head. ‘Hand them over.’ The insensate, she had learned, complied little more than the sober, using their state to be awkward. She decided she hadn’t the time and her fingers slid with practiced ease into the back pocket of his slacks. As her fingers encountered the container, she revisited the betrayal in the drawing room along with a chain of betrayals converging into the distance. Nancy’s life had taught her lies can be dressed up in creative way, like shit in a multi-coloured coat. Sheila had a rack of excuses for her only daughter and right now, Nancy would rather not hear Vince’s version of events. She clutched the pill bottle; she clutched the hipflask. She unscrewed the top of the former. She upended it, just as Vince had done so by the oak tree and white pills spilled into her palm.
‘What are these, Mr. Jonas?’ she seethed and flung them into the night. A hiss returned as the pills rebounded against the slabs like dried peas. Vince’s leg twitched. ‘And wasn’t it a little early in the day for this?’ She uncapped the hipflask which bore a Jack Daniels logo. She took a sniff and detected none of the nectar to remind her of home. She sneered and took a nip. The dregs coated her tongue with orange juice. The floor tumbled. A ten-ton arm brought the pill bottle to reading distance and she recognized the label immediately; one that had caused her to preserve its contents from her dispatch down the toilet along with his scotch: paracetamol. And by the amount she had hurled into the night, he had not taken much.
Vince emitted a groan. The security light picked her out. The CCTV picked her out. The monitor screen exhibited her on the lower right holding an empty paracetamol bottle and an empty hipflask that had once contained fruit juice. Vince’s prostrate form and a single crutch lay at her feet. This wasn’t very nurse of her. She had lost the Nora. She should have known. She had permitted the shabbiness of Glebe Hollow to sneak in. What had she become?

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 27.1

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.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 26.2

A mere minute seemed to pass before Vince’s door opened again. Amy emerged, her face purple. Gently she closed the door and daggered Nancy with that Cleopatra glare. ‘He says he will be down to take his treatment after breakfast.’
Nancy’s thumbs stopped twirling. Wild orchid revisited as Amy stepped past. Violet glinted from her doughnut bun before she presented her glower. ‘Nora Clements.’ Her expression fell still. ‘I can’t find anything about that name to substantiate the stuff you told me the other day. I don’t reckon you knew Mr. Fairchild and I don’t believe you helped him quit smoking.’
Nancy’s throat tightened. ‘I knew Mr. Fairchild.’
Amy snorted. ‘I’ve heard my share of bullshit from opportunists and blackmailers out for somethin’. I’ve just gotta figure out how you got your hands on those business cards.’
Nancy knit her lip.
‘Go give Mr. Jonas his treatment. I’ll be here to serve your medicine soon, Nora Clements, sooner than you think. You can bank on that.’ Amy slid her bag into the fold of her armpit and continued down the stairs. Before Nancy had reached the top, Amy had slipped from sight. Henry loitered at Vince’s desk but Nancy did not wish to encounter him. She backed herself into the utility room and peeked out of the window. Only once his denimmed figure had emerged from the back of Vince’s garage did she enter the foyer.
Amy’s convertible had gone. The gallery’s row of casements presented an aspect unfettered of vehicles. Cubist shapes of light and dark channeled her sights to the Edwardian door at the bottom of the gallery. Curious, she approached what appeared to be a sun-dappled fig tree on the other side of the glass.
Within a huge conservatory, black leather couches and a view across the copse hinted at design bent on music appreciation. Racks of LPs and CDs one day collectable accompanied the mandatory upload – thousands of albums, according to the teak music system with five-foot speakers. A favoured playlist informed Nancy that in spite of his passion for the new, Vince had a thing for the eighties, disco, soul, Motown and the female voice. Nancy pressed a button to be engulfed by Joan Armatrading’s Love and Affection. She killed the power feeling somewhat guilty. She forwarded the selection to find the evocative title, Hurts by Johnny Cash and played the first few bars. Someone had put a message within an album sleeve of Aretha’s, Lady Soul ‘to the Adonis of Notturno.’ Vince’s first taste of success, Nancy recalled: a model for men’s cologne before launching a brand of his own. He had then conceived Nexus nightclubs, beach resorts, hotels and a record label. Vince had grown notoriety for his playboy lifestyle which would appear to conclude with his engagement to Honor Palance, a bond-like female lead in action movies. The pap wagered on wedding bells before Vince dumped her, allegedly by text. He had dalliances with models, a diplomat’s daughter a baroness and countless respectable hopefuls.
That look, that sidelong leer.
Nancy closed the door to appraise the photos on his gallery wall: parties, yatchs, entourages, resorts. Leon toasted the viewer in one shot. A rare photo of Vince sitting alone arrested her. The lens seemed an intrusion to one who stared fiercely, his hair slicked back, his brows arched in condescension. Ruthless intelligence lurked behind that look; torment beyond his supremacy where few could get past. What did he think about when he was alone at night? A draught fondled her cheek. She glanced aside. Light from the foyer etched out his form, imposing yet encumbered by the crutches. Nancy lowered her gaze, abashed he had caught her looking at his picture. Sunlight shimmered on the wall as his crutches clunked. His shadow slid into view before stopping. She pinched her lip. ‘You don’t stay here much, do you, Mr. Jonas?’
His tone was quiet. ‘It’s where I entertain guests.’
Nancy made a retreat for the music room. His crutches started up behind her. Discomfiture coloured her cheeks to assume a casual pace, as speedy as casual could be. His tempo fell in with hers. Photos and casements glided past. Her Oxfords got smart, as though between duties. The fig tree neared ahead. His crutches creaked, his crutches clacked. Air caressed her knees and Vince leveled up. Light and shadow, light and shadow, as a passenger on a carriage. From casual to brisk, her toes arrowed ahead. To her left, she glimpsed his crossbar within his grasp. She knit her jaw and extended her palms to bounce against the glass at the end of the gallery. She twisted neatly to face him.
Vince stopped before her, his breaths steady and his pallor fresh, like the toothpaste on his breath. Nancy lifted her chin and realised defiance likened a prelude to a kiss. Her throat opened out and her pulse drew his eyes. Shackled to his crutches, he would have to explore her by mouth. Her top button fastened, he would have to taste both cotton and flesh. But he had the liberty to push his tongue beneath her collar and fill the depression at her throat.
Without taking his eyes from her pulse, he rested his crutches on the wall either side of her. He then planted his hands upon the doorframe to fence her in. Nancy kept her eyes on his; her fingernails pinching her palms. He leaned in. A fresh dressing enclosed his throat, which twitched when he spoke. ‘My legs,’ he uttered. ‘They don’t hurt so much…I can keep up with you.’
Nancy’s crisp tone wavered. ‘That’s good, Mr. Jonas. It shows what a good night’s sleep can do.’
His eyes hooded over. He gathered his crutches and retreated from her. Nancy kneaded her hands as Vince disappeared into the foyer. He would await her in the drawing room to receive a fresh dressing. She would cloak herself in nurse to cleanse his legs with the rigor he should now expect from her.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 26.1

BEFORE falling asleep, Vince had asked Nancy if she had seen the film Misery. The remark stung. ‘No,’ she had replied to his sleeping face. ‘But did anyone tell you, Mr. Jonas that you snore?’ she had then gone down to wheel his chair behind the bins to get wet in the rain.
Vince had not moved when she served breakfast the next morning. Cannes would not have found him in a more wholesome state – no narcotic, no alcohol to taint his bloodstream, only the surrender of a heavy head to a soft pillow. She liked seeing him like this. She quietly lowered his tray onto the dresser and went downstairs. Once in the kitchen, she went over Vince’s drinks trolley with disinfectant. She did not hear the approach until soft cockney broke the silence. ‘How’s Mr. Jonas doing?’
Nancy paused in spraying again. ‘Okay,’ she replied.
Henry’s garden boots shifted to her right. ‘Good.’ The smell of engine oil wafted over her. ‘Y’ know, I…I don’t like the stuff that goes on here…I don’t like the yes-people that buzz around Mr. Jonas like flies round shit. But you got him outta bed. You’ve got him biting. That’s gotta be good.’ Henry coughed and his voice took a lower cadence. ‘What I’m tryin’ to say, Nora, is I’m gonna do my best to take care of stuff here. I’ve worked for Mr. Jonas for years. Nobody will be bugging you.’ No shift in boot this time. ‘You can continue giving Mr. Jonas his treatment. You needn’t worry about a thing.’
The muscles in her shoulders stiffened. Nancy gave the trolley another spray and drew the cloth over the lower shelf. Henry’s shadow retreated.
Ladened with fresh dressings and antiseptics, the trolley rattled back to a spot overlooking the fragmented face of Big Ben. The child within itched to connect a few pieces, but resisted until Vince jointed her. Nancy went back up to the utility room to gather fresh towels. Vince’s room remained silent on passing. She approached the window. Would she spot Henry’s rake, his strimmer, a spade? No but this did not guarantee Henry wouldn’t cross paths with her again. She hoped he would busy himself in a plot of Vince’s grounds to make the prospect unlikely.
Nancy backed from the window in time to see a shadow next to her Punto. Her breaths condensed upon the window, where the front grille of a red BMW convertible emerged. A buzzer sounded somewhere downstairs. Nancy dropped the towels and darted to the head of the landing just as Amy entered the foyer.
Angry Spice draped her leopard-spotted coat over the Newell post and as though by magic Henry appeared from beneath the stairs. He glanced Nancy’s way in a complicit signal. Amy unwound her silk scarf to join her leopard-spotted coat as though the mistress of these premises. The Tudor walls amplified her nasal exhalations to convey that the job of Mr. Jonas’ PA a busy vocation. Her hair now in a doughnut bun glinted violet, like her lipstick, which stretched into a formal smile on spotting Henry. ‘Good morning, Henry,’ she breezed.
Henry cupped the elbow patches of his jumper in an attempt to appear casual. ‘Good morning, Amy. I…I didn’t expect you today.’
‘Traffic was bloody murder. Put the kettle on will you?’
Henry lingered, torn between Amy’s request and the present situation. Amy didn’t notice. She opened her handbag and reapplied lipstick through a small mirror on a flap. She glanced up and her eyes latched onto Nancy’s form at the top of the stairs. In mid-application, Amy’s face froze. The lipstick continued to complete a slow lap of her lower lip before the cylinder fell into her bag. Amy engaged the clasp with a rap. ‘What the hell is she doing here?’
Henry continued to pet the elbow patches of his jumper. ‘This is Mr. Jonas’ nurse.’
Amy’s heavy-lidded eyes did not move from Nancy’s ‘I think we both know that’s questionable, Henry don’t we?’ And then her eyelids lowered to a Cleopatra lour. ‘I thought Mr. Jonas was supposed to be in Cannes today.’
Nancy’s returned a smile she didn’t feel ‘I decided he should not go. He is sleeping and should not be disturbed.’
Amy’s lips pulled tight. ‘Don’t give me that. He never sleeps past six.’ She gathered her bag and boarded the first riser. Nancy rested her palm upon the upper balustrade. Amy read the signal and took a pause. ‘You’d better move it, Nursey.’ To her left, Henry’s eyes continued to flirt with Nancy’s, his moist lips twirling. Wild orchid body spray prickled the air preceding Amy’s ascent. After a deliberate trek, Amy rounded the corner. Nancy realised she could do nothing. Amy’s gait conveyed the belief PA outranked nurse. Amy apparently outranked everybody here except Mr. Jonas. Still, Nancy didn’t step aside as Amy’s eyes, like her form, brushed past, seeing this nurse unworthy of words or a glance. Only Vince’s door now existed in Amy’s eyes. Angular knuckles rapped upon wood. Amy and her polka dot dress slunk into Vince’s room. Nancy watched her go. Below, Henry’s presence weighed heavily. Nancy kept her eyes lowered; her twirling thumbs the only movement in the room. Nancy was not finished here unless Vine himself authorized the phone call.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 25.1

HE WANTED to fuck the righteousness out of her.
He knew moments before she had left the room with his drinks trolley that she would be preparing supper for him. A fare not to be found in his fridge, she would rustle up something poignantly plain like always. Marmalade sandwiches no less and a mug of warm milk. Her deed remained unspoken. No taxi had pulled up outside his gates; no escort awaited him at the airport. The French Riviera complete with sun would have to do without him. To pique his despair, the night had brought rain. Smatters plagued his windows underlying what she’d taken from him. Vince’s palette grasped for anything to savour within her offering but orange peel and milk left a sour aftertaste.
Her hands had taken everything out of him, but he would never beg her to stop. In the wake of her treatment, his legs had felt battered yet cleansed. Countless nurses had treated him since the crash. Only Nora seemed to mean it. She laughed at him, raged at him and despaired at him without actually changing her expression. She had the gall to enter his study with the choice of Monopoly or a thousand-piece jigsaw to console his missed flight. He made his choice and she instructed him to do the edges first. Sky, grass and buildings can then be distinguished. The remaining pieces can be found to fit somewhere. Pieces of similar colours and/or patterns can be used to fit en-masse to the remainder of the puzzle.
Vince questioned her sanity. Somehow she had tricked her way into his home. She had sent his visitors packing and confiscated both the convenient and the essential. He sorely missed his phone, not to mention his wheelchair. Vince wanted to believe and could easily believe she was indeed crazy. He had met plenty of crazy people in his life and her actions, on face value, would indicate the same. But shrewdness and self-possession oozed from her being. She didn’t want anything his contacts wanted. She had cheated the gates simply by not taking anything. But she still wanted something from him.
Once he had completed Big Ben’s face and part of the sky, Nora administered his antibiotics. His hedonistic past latched onto her role as a bossy nurse. He’d partaken in sexual role-play in the past based on master and servant themes spiced with bondage. A real life situation differed from role-play in insomuch as describing a taste and actually tasting it. Her hands personified her attitude: square, clipped and impeccably clean. Vince had a thing about hands. He couldn’t abide by a woman with gnarled, stubby or pudgy hands, even if she had the face of Venus.
Nora didn’t help him to bed as nurses should. Nora-like, she waited at the top of the stairs. Vince braced-up the pork chops that passed for knees and sweated his way past the stairlift. His left knee begged him and begged him. His right knee dragged behind like a plank of wood. Quadriceps rattled within his skin. Bees swarmed about the ligament-cluster of both knee joints. A million prickles converged upon the apex of his shinbones and jack-hammered their way down to his ankles. Sweat trickled down his spine. His teeth clenched, the dressing at his throat bobbed with each snort. Clearly, he could see her square, impeccably clean hand around his cock. His left knee juddered. Another brace. Her thumb, gentle yet firm, drew a circle around his foreskin. The upper landing opened out. Vince’s eyes sought out her hands. And there they were, clasped at her front, neat, clean and without encouragement, without praise. She infuriated him.
He shuffled across the landing to encounter her mockery of a sleeping space upon the floor. With his bare foot, he gave the blanket a little kick. His eyes met hers. She seemed pleased without changing her expression.
He continued to lurch and snort his way to his bed. Nora folded his bedcover outwards. On lowering himself, Vince tore open the Velcro of his knee-braces and cast them aside. He brought his body parallel to the bed-frame, his knees singing. Vince wouldn’t be needing painkillers tonight. The back of his head fell endlessly, not on a pillow but onto her hand. If he tried to counter the force, her fingers would clamp shut, entrapped his hair. He did not want to fight it; in fact he found the sensation erotic. His eyelids weighing like wrecking-balls permitted one last appraisal of her as she gazed down upon him. No, he wasn’t going to die tonight.
‘Did you ever see that film, Misery?’ he asked.