SHEILA never talked about Nancy’s real father. According to Sheila, the twat who spawned her a daughter was a jailbird who had the nerve to deny Nancy was his.
Nancy took the bus to Kersley on a clear January morning. The man who opened the door to her wore trousers and a plaid shirt three sizes too big. His splodgy silver eyes appeared to have been plonked upon his doughy head in a hurry. He scowled at her without actually scowling. It was an expression she imagined he always wore owing to his job as a panel-beater. He informed Nancy whose hands had gone clammy despite the chill, that he had let the past be. He had paid his dues and preferred not to get involved. Charlie Percival lived in a semi with a wife and two daughters. Nancy suspected the three women in his life did not know of Nancy’s existence. Nancy was also certain that Charlie Percival was not her real father. Nancy didn’t think Sheila really knew who the father was either.
Sheila didn’t understand Nancy’s despondency. Why would she want to get all obsessed over a deserting loser? Sheila’s friend Alexis said so too. Alexis said that the world is full of selfish pricks dressed up as honourable men. The trick is to pick one most likely to honour the CSA when the bastard decides to sod off. Nancy didn’t want Alexis telling her about the world. But Alexis vowed to take Nancy out for a drink on her eighteenth birthday to cheer her up.
Nancy tried to imagine her father with Sheila and couldn’t. Sheila was rarely without a man. In the early years, boyfriends came and went with the full moon. Longevity crept in as Sheila got older, ending with Neil.
Nancy didn’t like some of Sheila’s boyfriends but she disliked the segues even more. Without a boyfriend, Sheila retreated into a cave. Her hair corkscrewed up and mascara-smudge crept further down her cheeks. The kitchen wall still bore a scar from Sheila’s fist print. Glebe Hollow is full of cheating sluts, according to Sheila. She demonstrated their deserved fate by trying to insert the head of one such slut between the park railings down Brick Lane. Sheila did not appear so riled when Kenny had given her the clap. As usual, Sheila went off in a minibus to Blackpool with her work friends for Bacardi Breezers and shopping therapy.
It was during one of Sheila’s jaunts that Nancy got sacked from her job at the Weston Hill Care Centre.
Nancy rested Vince’s overcoat across her lap. The dense fabric weighed like the black upon her eyes. Gently, she pinched the silk lining between finger and thumb and created a ripple. An inner pocket stopped her. Slowly, she inserted her fingers and drew out a leather booklet. She opened it up and found membership cards; Raffles of King’s Road, the Harvard Club of NYC, Il Cormorano of Grisolia, Italy and Les Caves du Roy of St Tropez, France. Stylish logos implied a world full of privileges; private suites, leather armchairs, open fires, casinos, Jacuzzis, steam rooms, valets, yatchs and more. Her dour four walls that passed itself as a bedroom was no place for the objects upon her lap. They should not be here.
A pouch in the front enclosed several business cards. Canvas textured, they had been embossed with an image of a converted chapel or ruin of some kind at the head of a tree-lined lane. The Retreat. She fingered several other business cards similarly embossed with supposed properties belonging to Vincent Jonas: a flat in Knightsbridge, an apartment in New York, a chalet in Cannes and a cottage in Milan. Nancy reckoned Vince seldom dished these out.
She reexamined to the Retreat – located outside the village of Moreton Morrell in Warwickshire. She turned the card over to find a phone number. Nancy pulled her bag over and dug out her mobile. Detached, she watched her hands smoothly activate the screen, tap and draw the phone to her ear.