She lifted the glass and drained half the contents. Her tonsils convulsed as the cold spirits passed through. Wet, yet dry and sour activated memories long dormant. Her eighteenth birthday, getting pissed with Alexis; meeting her first boyfriend, Gary Chapman at the Percival per Friday night for vodka shots; hobbling round Bedworth town centre with Bex and Cora with a bottle of cider. Friends forged from social drinking came quickly and easily, Nancy noticed. Enemies too. Once, Nancy had passed out on the steps of Boot’s chemist. Sheila thought it was funny. Nancy had lots of friends.
Bono’s Dad surprised her with a forceful shoulder hug. ‘Here’s some heartfelt words to take with yer.’ Nancy’s drink quivered in her hand. ‘Your mom’s a good ‘un. She livens the place up like its Christmas, she does. She’s A-one and any daughter of hers is a pal ‘o mine. Tell her that from Donnie Higgs. She’ll know who I am.’
Nancy’s tight smile slipped. Slowly, she placed the glass back on the bar. ‘Sure,’ she uttered.
Ralph called over, ‘Give Sheila me best too, won’t you?’
Nancy took her bag and retreated from the bar.
‘Where you going?’ Bono’s Dad asked.
Nancy didn’t turn. ‘Just to powder my nose.’
The smell of damp leaves wafted over her face as she pushed the doors open. Laughter from the barroom rippled the air. Somebody clapped. Nancy paused at the toilet door. She pushed through. Rain had soaked into the smell of disinfectant and urine. No longer exhibiting cartoon cocks and admissions of sex, the doors had been painted blue. The tissue dispenser was empty and a solitary mirror had mottled with age. A dark stain on the floor drew her eye. Nancy approached. The stain appeared darker on one side than the other. The shape vaguely resembled a witch on a broomstick, only the broomstick had begun to fade out into the surrounding flagstones. The witch’s profile stretched out in anamorphosis towards the cubicle door. A lower vantage point would resolve this distortion. The disinfectant had failed to lift the oils of Sheila’s vomit, which had now soaked into the stones.
So far as Nancy could remember, the toilets had always looked like this. Sheila had probably used these toilets more than the one beneath her own roof. Once, Sheila had been eighteen. Her porcelain eyes and petite figure would have turned heads. Barefaced and challenging, Sheila imprinted the brains of teachers and employers who encountered her in their lives. A tearaway fondly reminisced, only the reality might not have been so palatable.
Once it had not been too late. Even in her twenties waitressing for Witherspoons without a GCSE to her name and snagged by motherhood, Sheila had her chance. Somewhere in her thirties, her life had become more forged. Now Nancy could see that Sheila was incapable of comprehending anything beyond Glebe Hollow. The Hatchet Inn had seen Sheila enter its doors four times per week for almost forty years. So much time spent somewhere should have something to show for, shouldn’t it? Sheila’s life story had been embossed within its doors – her birthdays, her Christmases, her ups and downs, her relationships and afternoon swifties. It had all ended with a dark stain in the shape of a witch on a broomstick upon the toilet floor. Albert Wheeler would go over the stain tomorrow with his wet mop, and the day after that until the stain could no longer be seen.