THE INSTANT Nancy’s eyes settled upon Henry’s china blue stare, Vince’s wheelchair morphed into a million needles. She prospected for words. A ball of anguish crippled her voice.
A door crashed.
Heat slithered via her collar to her neck, sending her cheeks a-tingle. Her tongue weighed a ton. Muffled clunks ensued. Another crash. Henry continued to scrutinize. The moment had gone on too long. Now was the time to raise the alarm. Instead, Henry’s eyes shifted to a spot above her head. Nonplussed or cogitation? Nancy couldn’t decipher. Time had shifted out of gear; the before and after had plummeted out of the rulebook. Nancy’s finger made a seismic track over the armrest of the chair. That’s when Henry’s eyes returned to hers. The foyer had fallen silent. Henry took the scent of grass with him and left the room. Instead of turning left towards Vince’s location, Henry made a right for the Edwardian door at the bottom of the gallery. His gait unhurried, implied a task awaited completion within a schedule with time to spare. Nancy watched him go, her flush quickly dissipating.
Nancy found herself within a maintenance room to suit the upkeep of a place like this. Amidst the shelves of fuse boxes, tools and switches, she parked Vince’s wheelchair. She made her way back up the gallery and snuck into the foyer. Vince had gone. Part of her wished the police were now on their way. She wished someone would cuff her and her misplaced rage and take her out of harm’s way. She ascended Vince’s stairs and unlocked the utility room. Out of the nook window, Vince’s extensive lawns fell away to a row of elms ahead. Her breaths condensed onto the window and scanned for an Aaron-sweatered form. A rake emerged from the mist, propped against an apple tree. The pane chilled her cheek, but the apertured view gave nothing else away.
Nancy carried Vince’s drinks trolley down to the foyer. The objects on top pointedly belied the unit’s intended purpose. The castors made a soft rattle as she wheeled the trolley into the meeting room. The cavern complete with suite, appeared empty. She made the long traverse into the kitchen. The marble-topped table had been shifted a foot from the recess wall. Her encounter with Henry revisited. With knit lip, she parked the trolley in front of the stove. This time Henry had locked the key cupboard. Unmanned, four apparently frozen images fed back to the monitor screen. From here, all appeared in working order but Nancy felt uneasy. Henry could only have moved the table after his encounter with her in the maintenance room or Vince would have noticed. What this implied remained ambiguous. Still, Nancy hoped Vince assumed she had reopened this shortcut after she had applied her gum.
Nancy retraced her steps through the kitchen and opened the back door. The front wheel of Henry’s land rover protruded from the rear of Vince’s garage. Her eyes made a steady track across the panorama. The lowering sun cast turreted shapes towards the box hedge. To her left, the base of the apple tree had been cleared of dead leaves. The rake had gone.
Nancy’s next objective took precedence. She closed the door and made her way to Vince’s fridge. On the reverse side of the six-foot silver door she found little to justify such a large utility. But she would not be requiring pesto sauces, caviar, gherkins, fish roe or jars of condiments she could not name.
Half-an-hour later, she grasped the handles, determined to reunite Vince with his drinks trolley. The soft rattle of the castors ensued on her journey back across the meeting room. Her knuckles whitened. Come on, Nance gis a life, will yer! You can’t expect your mam to live like a nun, f’r fuck’s sake. The soft rattle continued.