The office was deserted by the time Nancy had finished her shift. Her drive home transported her back to Hampton in Arden train station. Her carriage ride had been a journey between death and life and Bex didn’t know. Nobody cared. Louisa only cared about the figures. Sales were down again this month. Nancy shouldn’t be here. She should be back in the crashed limo at the foot of the bridge in eternal night. Only, the limo was no longer there.
Nancy pushed open the front door to find the landline ringing. As Nancy picked up the phone and a soft Asian voice conveyed the news, the limo continued to cruise somewhere on the nights side of the lonely train station. Nancy is on autopilot too, as she recites the script, ending with ‘thank you.’
Nancy took a lift to the second floor of the George Eliot hospital. Pine disinfectant tinged the air. Strip-lights buzzed above trolleys, monitors and loitering staff. The night brought a sullen aspect to Adam Bede ward on the Cheveral wing. Nancy drifted towards the desk and immediately spotted Sheila Hutchens’ name printed on the whiteboard.
The nurse at the desk instructed Nancy to take a seat in the waiting room opposite while she call the consultant. Nancy did so. The grid of plastic chairs adjoined two wards of beds. A sallow-faced man lounged in pressure tights reading a newspaper. Opposite, a jowly woman with frizzy hair dozed on high cushions. A drip had been attached to her wrist.
Painkiller administered by drip has a safety valve, Nancy recalled, to prevent overdose. Tampering with the mechanism poses the likely risk of discovery. But painkillers given by hand can be open to abuse. A young ward nurse wheeled a trolley to do the meds Temperature, pulse and blood pressure were recorded next. The Weston Hill Care Centre had a med rota of four hours. Painkillers were kept in a locked cupboard next to the washroom. Only doctors and qualified nurses were allowed a key. Some painkillers in tablet form looked quite similar to one another. Certain brands bore no logo and resembled mint pastels. Patients who had difficulty swallowing were given a powdered form blended with honey and a preferred fruit juice to mask the bitterness. Bert liked strawberry. Another patient, Alice liked orange. Morphine could be added without anyone noticing. Nancy had tried a few drops of the fruit blend herself and likened the flavor to fruit concentrate.
The patients at the Weston Hill Care Centre were quite happy. Everybody loved Nancy. They kept saying so. Nancy had a pretty face that brightened up the day.
Nancy glanced up to encounter Dr. Kamat’s furrowed expression. A tall doctor in a white overcoat, Dr. Kamat adopted an informal cant to the head to put her at ease. He extended his hand and she stood and took his in a light, dry shake.
‘Miss Hutchens, your mother suffered a blackout due to alcohol overload in her bloodstream. We suspect concussion may have delayed her regaining consciousness.’
Nancy’s face hardened ‘You mean she was pissed.’
Dr. Kamat retained his soft cadence. ‘She was highly intoxicated, yes. I am not happy with your mother’s condition. I have recommended a stay in hospital for a liver scan and possibly a referral to heptology. I fear another drink could kill her.’
Nancy kept a resolute stance. ‘Where was she found?’
Dr. Kamat hesitated. ‘I am told…’ he referred to his clipboard. ‘She was found at the…the Hatchet Inn toilets in Glebe Hollow.’ Dr. Kamat’s doleful eyes drifted back to hers. ‘She was lucky she was lying on her front when she vomited.’
Vomited? A vignette pierced her brain. Her mother’s legs sprawled over the grey flagstones, the cubicle door laden with cartoon cocks and admissions of sex. The stench of sick. The clink of glasses somewhere, indifferent chatter. ‘I should have…’ A spasm cut her words. ‘I should have done something.’
Dr. Kamat spoke quietly. ‘I am sorry, Miss Hutchens.’