google-site-verification: googlec7224cac6d883d54.html Nora by Charles J Harwood: February 2014

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.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 24.3

Vexation stung as she left the room. Somehow Vince still managed to have the last word, even when he didn’t. Vince still managed to prescribe his arrogance without his scotch, his silk sheets or even the use of his legs. She dropped his pillow at the foot of his bedroom door and added a blanket. She would aid his campaign in his refusal to sleep in his room. He could sleep on the floor and continue to be the Vince that scoffed at her.
Towels and a bowel of warm water in arm, she descended the stairs. At this moment, she felt more nurse than ever. She relished the shield of her outfit and the rap of her shoes. His arrogance brought out the Nora within her and she sort of liked it. Vince appeared expectant as she entered the room. He had taken off his knee braces and put them in the corner. Nancy paused before depositing the bowel on the floor. She unrolled the towel over an adjacent, more capacious couch that enabled Vince to recline horizontally. He did so, using the crutches in this transfer. Nancy washed her hands without helping. The couch gave a squeak as he rested his head upon the arm-support. She unfurled the bottom of his bathrobe. ‘I couldn’t help noticing your legs are undressed.’
Vince’s tone emerged short yet throaty. ‘The stitches itched like hell last night. The damned dressing got in the way.’
Nancy’s breath caught in her throat at the sight. She tried not to let it show in her voice. ‘You obviously needed a fresh dressing.’
Vince’s voice came back flatly. ‘A nurse was due to change it yesterday…but you took care of her.’
Nancy refused to admit fault. She seized a hand-wipe from the trolley’s lower tray and worked the tissue between her fingers. A clinical tang cut through Vince’s aromatic fusion of seashell and well-water. She raised the bottom of Vince’s bathrobe to pipe antiseptic lotion along the ridges of his wounds. The shock of what she was seeing began to sink in as she spread her fingers over his knees. Vince’s right leg twitched. Notches that had no business being there protruded from both kneecaps in ugly asymmetry. Sunset hues blotched out from ridged scars that ran down the flanks of Vince’s knee joints. In places, bruised skin appeared to bank up against the line of scar, bringing the illusion of patchwork. Within these folds, flaky skin had partially curdled. A line of stubble separated the injured area from his lower legs. Below this line, muscle and sinew from a former life had proved the best sculptor. Now the aesthetic and the deformed vied for attention.
Nancy worked the antiseptic cream over the broad areas of Vince’s legs. A tic developed within Vince’s right knee. Nancy maintained pressure for the benefit of the pores. Her fingers enclosed the force of his spasms. Vince grunted. Nancy brought her thumbs to the sides of his kneecaps and pushed the cream into the seams of his scars. Vince cried out. Her thumbs continued to make a circuit. ‘Just being thorough, Mr. Jonas.’
Vince hissed through gritted teeth. ‘What sort of mother did you have?’
Her fingertip exorcised the curdled skin from his scar tissue. ‘She made me what I am.’ At her periphery, his left hand groped at the edge of the couch.
‘Do your best, Nora…won’t you?’
Nancy eased the pressure before letting go. Without delay, she enclosed her index finger within a clean cloth. She then excavated all traces of dead skin that dared to evade her. Double-Barreled Nurse with her falsies could not have equalled Nancy in thoroughness. Vince’s right thigh now joined kneecap in a spasmodic dance. His voice came out a strangled whisper. ‘Soon, Nora… very soon… I will be adrift somewhere… miles from this grim climate… and your grim company. I will be sipping wine with good friends… watching the sun go down… the water lapping at my feet… and above all… I will be with someone who will please me.’
Residual dead skin gathered at the cloth’s leading edge. ‘I’m sorry you find my company grim, Mr. Jonas.’
‘Don’t be sorry, Nora. You have made me appreciate the good things in life.’
Nancy paused in her task and felt an imperative to look ahead. Her sights fixated upon the door leading to the foyer. Beyond the doorframe, the gloom shifted. Her nape hairs twitched. Was someone watching her? Nancy lowered her gaze not wanting to draw attention. The ambiguity tormented her but she wouldn’t look again. She hoped she had simply neglected to close the door or imagined what she’d seen.
Nancy turned to encounter the full force of Vince’s glare. Sweat speckled his brow and his fevered eyes demanded an answer. Nancy suppressed a gasp. ‘Lay back, Mr. Jonas. I have not finished.’
The dressing at his throat jerked as he swallowed. Mouth firmly-seamed, he complied, the couch whispering against his bathrobe as he lowered his head onto the armrest.
Clothed finger poised, Nancy set her sights upon a seamed scar below his left kneecap. She didn’t want Vince to cry out anymore. She didn’t want him to make a sound. But a pink gash intersecting the wound warned this may not always be possible.
Clothed finger touched down; a sweep across the seam. Vince submitted to a choked whimper. Another sweep. Vince’s leg jerked. The gloom beyond the doorframe continued to survey her. A cherry-sized portion of antiseptic cream slowly departed from her fingertip into the recesses of Vince’s scars. Vince made small sounds along the way.
The task done, Nancy washed her hands. Vince’s cries had satisfied the gloom beyond the door. The gloom beyond the door can now retreat with the memory and dwell upon it. Clean towel failed to cleanse her soiled hands. The gloom had latched onto her purpose and made it dirty.
Nancy groped at her run of tasks. She applied a light dressing below the knee. She applied another just above. She repeated the procedure on Vince’s other knee. The emergence from her trance brought her to silence. The creases of Vince’s bathrobe shifted with each breath. Nancy folded the towel. ‘Your wounds shouldn’t itch tonight, Mr. Jonas,’ she said.
Vince grasped the edge of the couch and levered himself up. His fevered state had passed, leaving his hair damp and his eyelids heavy. With a clatter, she placed everything on the lower tray of the trolley. ‘You haven’t eaten since yesterday,’ she remarked.
Vince shifted onto his tailbone. ‘I think you should know, Nora that cheese sandwiches and custard creams are not really to my taste.’
Nancy raised an eyebrow. ‘Don’t worry, Mr. Jonas. You’ll get a taste for it.’ She poised herself behind the trolley ready to wheel it out.
‘Nora.’
Nancy paused, looking at him.
Heavy shadows flickered over his face. ‘Nothing.’

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 24.2

Abrupt silence caused her eardrums to buzz. Henry’s hand froze in pre-wipe. Silence expired to a round of detonations more significant in weight. Henry’s hands proceeded to burrow into the cloth, his eyes not leaving hers. The menacing andante instilled a wish to be anywhere but here. But Henry did not appear phased, even when Spartan thuds flourished out into a crashing dissonance. Nancy didn’t like the complicit nuance of his level gaze. She didn’t like being couched into looking away and how this could be misconstrued by one who spent hours shaving the space above the box hedge. Naïve and easily-bossed Henry had latched onto her somehow. To what end, she couldn’t be sure.
In a chill of unease, Nancy shifted away and retreated from the kitchen. She stepped through the threshold into an airspace rammed with thunderous booms. Nancy froze in place. The griffin-headed Newell post continued to gaze indifferent; the lights above Vince’s door continued to flicker from left to right. The explosion to end all came with a searing crack.
A low clatter sent her morning’s coffee rippling against the wall of her stomach. She backed into the under-stairs recess as the gallery door squeaked. A shadow lurched into view. The hem of a bathrobe flapped above feet out of step with the crutches. Black ankle hair, wine-blotched legs, nodule-ridden shins and meandering scars scorched her sights. Vince’s robe barely concealed his abdomen, glistening, pink and hairy. The rest of his colour converged upon his face, berry-hued and atopped with a flattened mop. Overshadowing brows denied her view of his eyes but his downward grimace told her he had a mission. His nostrils flickered on spotting her beneath the stairs. In ecstatic frenzy, he dropped his crutches and made a lurching saunter her way. The flanks of his bathrobe lapped against hinged knee braces. One step. Two steps. Navy boxers flashed. Three steps. Four steps. His breaths hissed. Nancy emerged from her trance and darted for the surveillance room.
Nancy had not encountered Henry’s magnified eyes in the kitchen and was grateful. For half-an-hour, she dare not step outside; she dare not enter the foyer. She also knew better than to peek through the window in search for Henry. He wouldn’t be found; Henry had his rake and his strimmer and his garden duties for camouflage. Nancy also knew Henry had granted her access through Vince’s gates this morning.
Vince had taken four steps without the crutches. She mulled over this as she listened out for movement and conjectured that Vince had retreated somewhere to rest his legs and recover his pride. Her hands idled as she sat on the rocker by the stove. Nancy could achieve a lot with minimal effort, like her twelve-year-old shoplifting self. Don’t try. Own the objective. Nancy discovered a handy little app that provided a mini version of the four-image composite on Vince’s monitor. Nancy no longer had to sit in the surveillance room to see what the monitor saw. Most applications were password protected but Vince’s contacts weren’t. She spoke to a nice man called Magnus Elbers who understood her concerns completely and would convey the message to all concerned.
Nancy prepared cheese and pickle sandwiches, coffee and custard creams. She walked the tray to the drawing room. The hem of Vince’s bathrobe wafted in a draft as she entered. Carefully, she shifted Vince’s untouched breakfast to deposit his lunch on top of the drinks trolley. Vince’s stony profile remained in profile. Post fury had left his forehair skewed and his skin a-glow.
‘I’m sorry about earlier.’ Nancy uttered and meant it. She presented his pills. This spurred Vince to turn his head. ‘But you won’t be needing these, Mr. Jonas.’
Vince’s eyes flicked upwards to meet hers.
‘Your prescription,’ Nancy forged on. ‘It says to apply liberally to the affected area once a day. It is unopened, as are your antibiotics.’
Vince gave a contemptuous snort. ‘You are funny, Nora, really funny…after you almost broke my legs…’ His sneer dropped like a stone leaving his eyes cold. ‘I don’t see why I should let you near me.’
‘And yet I saw you take four steps without the crutches, Mr. Jonas.’
Vince responded only by presenting his profile to her. She pushed the trolley toward him. ‘Enjoy your lunch, Mr. Jonas. I will return to apply your prescription.’

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 24.1

BREAKFAST at the Cheap Sleep saw Nancy swipe the screen of her slimline Samsung which vomited a string of texts. ‘Where R U?’ ‘Where the FK R U?’ ‘Call us, N 4 FKS sake!’ ‘Cop asking Qs about U.’ ‘Your job on the line.’ ‘Sheila going mad.’ ‘Ring us, you bloody mong!’ Alongside each text, mug shots appeared to pull faces intended or not. The gurning mouth of Sheila, the goggle eyes of Cora, the puckered sulk of Bex. Nancy’s own was little better: a premenstrual cob-on that passed for a smile. Nancy had an off button that did not change who she was.
Mr. Cuban Heels approached the only nurse of the establishment to lower the ribbed sock of his right foot. ‘Dodgy ankle,’ he explained. ‘What is this couch potato to do to replace squash?’ Nancy suggested he put his Cubans to bed and drained her coffee. Just Call Me Stu wanted very much to be her patient but Nancy explained her books were full.
Vince’s gates gave no sign anything was amiss as Nancy pointed her device. The gates complied. Nancy knit her lip. She parked her Punto on a marked space in front of Vince’s garage. Henry’s land rover could not be seen.
Moments later, Vince’s drinks trolley ferried tea, toast and jam to the drawing room. She knew moments before pushing the trolley through that an empty couch would greet her. Something nagged her despite everything appearing as it should. The stench of betrayal gathered in the air. Nancy hoped she was wrong but many times Sheila had proved her right.
Nancy’s eyes made a scan of the room before lowering herself. A scavenge along the maw of the couch brought her fingertips against plastic. Through layers of upholstery, she dragged out three pill bottles. Her mouth twisted at the sight. She dropped the bottles into her jacket pocket.
The stench of betrayal clung to her like a wet mantle as she made her way to the gallery. First door to the right surprised her with a warm waft of seashell. She nudged the door to find a tiled area with a footbath, towels, shower and coals in a bucket. Steam bubbled from beneath a wooden door. Such arrogance from another human being left her aghast. He should have been awaiting her at the gates this morning or busy in the surveillance room prying out her gum with a paperclip or engaged in some similar activity that gained him an advantage. But no. Such efforts were beneath Mr. Vincent Jonas who enjoyed his morning saunas and a pop of uppers of an evening. Mr. Vincent Jonas had a scheduled flight to Cannes this evening. Amy with the override code would transcend Nancy’s gum. Dapper, even with crutches, Vince could order with clipped tone to have this sick fraud removed from his home. Desperation was not Vince’s style; no imposter was worth it.
Nancy proceeded to the maintenance room. She pushed Vince’s wheelchair aside and grasped the end of a yard-brush. She made her way back to the sauna and pushed the shaft into the closed space of the door handle. The gap below belched another steamy thermal. Nancy proceeded to the foyer to shortcut through the surveillance room. She could forgive his arrogance; she could not forgive the pills.
Movement on the monitor screen snagged her progress. The bottom right feed informed her Henry was talking to the black man of the white Mazda. The front wheel of Nancy’s Punto flickered in the corner. Both men would see her if she stepped into the kitchen.
Henry snuck a hand into his jeans pocket and used the other to nudge his glasses to the bridge of his nose. Mazda Man continued to twirl his lips around syllables. Henry kept nudging his glasses before leaning in. His brand of arm-crossing emitted a restive signal. Mazda Man liked to talk and he wasn’t listening.
A resonant barrage oscillated beneath her feet. Nancy jerked away, almost slipping over the swivel chair. She planted her hand against the wall and elbowed the access way door ajar. Suddenly, the thudding sharpened in frequency to a round of clacks that caused her knuckles to rattle against the doorframe. In a panic, Nancy reversed through the surveillance room, but she had forgotten herself. Amid the din, water percolated through a single faucet over the sink. Below, Henry’s ruddy hands writhed. Mazda Man had gone from the window but the pounding continued. Henry killed the flow and gave his hands a flick before grabbing a cloth. He turned and his slightly magnified eyes came to rest upon hers.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 23.2

In the foyer, mock candles switched to night mode. A shadow reared within. Nighttime always did this. Where did she now belong, but the limo on the night side of the train station? To her, Weaver’s Street represented a past she could no longer touch. The crash felt real and it was still happening somewhere in her head.
Behind Vince’s desk, she noticed a walnut door bearing carvings which blended into a panelled wall. She reached for the doorknob and pushed the trolley before her. A flame-effect fire sent capering shadows around what appeared to be a drawing room. Vince’s crutches rested against the edge of a red couch in front. The upright axis of his head implied vigilance. She wheeled the trolley into the room and pulled level with the couch. Vince had changed into a grey sweatshirt and slacks. On him, even the baggiest attire creased at the right places. She surmised he had scaled the stairs to shower or perhaps used another washroom on the ground floor. Either way, she would refrain from praise or even an acknowledgment. Vince slowly turned his head and his shadowy eyes brushed against the revised contents of his drinks trolley. No scotch, no bourbon, but antibiotic cream, scissors, bandages and hand-wipes. On top he would find fish-fingers, chips and mushy peas; digestive biscuits would provide a suitable dunker for a glass of milk – all her own offering. Disdain skewed his face as his eyes levelled with hers. ‘Where’s my scotch?’
Nancy replied only by wheeling the trolley beside him.
Vince’s tone gathered menace. ‘I said, where’s my scotch?’
‘I will be back once you have eaten, Mr. Jonas. You wounds are overdue a fresh dressing.’
His jaw clenched. ‘Sure thing, Nora...’ His eyes narrowed. ‘…once I’ve stuck pins into my eyeballs.’
Nancy guessed Vince had yet to grow accustomed to her officious tone. She quietly left the room.
Nancy vowed she would impose upon Vince only as an employee here and she kept to her word, finishing off her ham baguette and a flask of coffee prepared at the Cheap Sleep. But in disabling the automatic mode of the gates, she had rendered her device useless. She could no longer enter or leave the premises. But Henry had the override code. Nancy finished her coffee and approached the window. The wheel of Henry’s truck could still be seen behind Vince’s garage. Nancy encountered a thousand questions on Henry’s reasons for not raising the alarm. Was he pretending all was well in a fit of indecision? Was he pretending he hadn’t seen her in fear he would lose his job? Had he retired into that naïve side of himself that could cope only with pruning the trees? Their meeting in the maintenance room meant his word against hers.
Nancy cleared her leftovers and returned to the drawing room. Dusk had closed in and Nancy should soon be heading off. Her final check on Vince presented a setting as before, his form unmoved, his supper untouched. Nancy grasped the handles of the drinks trolley, deciding to forgo the leg treatment this evening. ‘Not going to bed?’ she asked.
Vince’s face, immobile, glimmered in the half-light. Nancy nudged the trolley forwards which sent the castors rattling out of the room.
The Punto grunted into life. Beige headlights warned a new battery overdue. Worn tyres crunched up the drive. At the gates, Nancy pointed her device. To her bafflement, the gates opened. Only Henry could have done this. Would he grant her access tomorrow? Their meeting in the maintenance room left her uncertain. Either way, Nancy would not be stopping the night; she was here as a nurse after all. Oncoming headlights blurred her vision but no rain smattered the windscreen.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 23.1

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.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 22.4

She backed the chair up, pulling the door handle on doing so. Golf no longer interested her. The siege had ended and Vince may yet be triumphant. She toggled the stick of the wheelchair and the heel of Vince’s crutch came into view. The sight unsettled her. The foyer opened out. Vince had barely moved from the spot. Jitters plagued the muscles in his legs but his resolve would forbid him from falling.
Nancy didn’t meet his gaze as she cruised the wheelchair though the doorframe; she wouldn’t offer him his chair. She paused, turning in time to see him shuffle towards the surveillance room. She put the chair in drive and made a right turn past the Newell post. The entryway adjacent to the meeting room led into a gallery.
Sunlit casements on the right hurled cubist shapes upon the opposing wall. Doors and photos drifted past as the motor idled forwards. At the terminus, an Edwardian door made steady approach. Succulent plants on the other side promised an ideal retreat, a conservatory overlooking fields, perhaps.
‘No-r-a!’
Suddenly, the Edwardian door couldn’t arrive quickly enough. A door crashed. On her command, the wheelchair gained speed. Nancy kept her sights ahead but didn’t think the Edwardian door would provide the answer to her problem. Escape was not the objective, but to take her person from Vince’s sight. On impulse, she veered left, hitting the windowsill. Reverse. She backed into one of the doors behind her. Her stomach in her mouth, she depressed the handle and the door gave way. She disappeared from the gallery.
The door drifted closed and her wheelchair continued backing up. Too soon, an obstruction impeded her progress.
She twisted round; she glanced up. The reflections on his spectacles made his eyes impossible to read.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 22.3

Nora's Visit
Nancy’s thumb gave a twitch and Vince’s wheelchair went flat-out; the footplates crashed against the architrave. Fury scorched her veins. She nudged the lever again. Vince’s desk tumbled into a blur. His roomy foyer gave her free reign. Vince’s shifting crutch made progress at her right, but not enough. Her knees bobbed on speeding past. Air lapped against her face as she veered towards the stairs to cut across the tiles. The lever nudged into reverse. Her rear wheels crashed against the access way door. A hundred bolts quaked.
Vince’s form fell still. The head of his crutches vanished into the drapes of his shirt, pallid against his now burgundy complexion. His tone clipped her ears with economy. ‘You have no idea, Nora.’
Nancy’s fingers trembled over the lever. ‘Yes, I do, Mr. Jonas. More than you will ever know.’ Vince gaze remained resolute. He owned his self-denial and he could do what he liked with it. Nancy raised her fist for the door knob. ‘I could grant you access to this room, if I wanted Mr. Jonas. The police and all your payroll riffraff could barge in and give you back your scotch and your TV and your CT room and your phone and your wheelchair and your stupid silk sheets. But you will never walk again.’
Vince’s right crutch twitched. For the first time, his voice surrendered to rage. ‘That is my business, Nora! Not yours!’ The plaster at his throat quivered with the force.
Nancy twisted the knob and nudged the door. The wheelchair clunked against the panel. She reversed into the surveillance room. Her footplates clear, the door closed in front of her. Vince’s canted yet stanch form complete with unwavering lour slid from view. The green button sat at the corner of her vision. Her hands shook. She didn’t care if the black man with the Mazda burst through the main entrance. She didn’t care if the assigned police officer from Kirkby Magnor station read out her rights and cuffed her. She only cared about the white hot pulsar spinning within her gut. Lungs tightened, permitted but shallow sips of air. The four-image composite on the monitor screen told her no one now waited at Vince’s gates.
But Davenport had remarked that there appeared to be a communication fault. Nancy pushed the wheelchair aside and vertigo pulsed at her temples. Consistent with Vince’s other applications, this security system typified the pinnacle of design. All components ensconced within reinforced steel, no prying hands could tamper. She would bet that any breach in connection would spur an alarm – anything would spur an alarm. She foraged within a cabinet above to find funky gadgets; remote control swat helicopters, magnetic levitators; anything to while the hours of the surveillance staff. Plastic pieces toppled over the desk. Amidst the plastic detritus, a mini golf ball bobbed yet remained on the tee. She took to her seat. She strongly sensed Vince’s presence on the other side of the door. Was he gazing at her if not for the barrier? In here, time was arbitrary. He had her. She gave the ball a flick. Only after the third go did the tee relinquish the ball.
A zipped compartment within her satchel bag came in handy for small things like keys, change, gum. Nancy unpeeled the wrapper and stuck an oblong into her mouth. Spearmint spurred saliva overload. Her molars pummeled plasticity into the gum. A second put. This time the ball rolled to the fourth flick. She stuck another oblong into her mouth. The foyer on the other side remained quiet. Was he still there? She attempted a third put. The ball came to rest at the edge of the green. Golf proved not her forte after all. But she could chew. Chewing was something she did to deter people from approaching her. She ejected the gum via the tip of her tongue and pinched it between finger and thumb. Davenport’s communication fault would soon become a prophesy. She pressed the gum over the grid of holes next to the amber button. As though by magic the gum’s volume decreased by half. One piece of gum became forty-five morsels. Gum could fill the smallest space and liked to stay there.
With her thumb, she scraped the surplus and rolled that into a second ball. She pushed it into the seam around the star-shaped button. On doing so, override became automatic, and back again. Gum liked narrow gaps. Gum tended to mushroom out on the other side, creating a cushion for any object. This button now had a cushion that liked to stay there. Nancy may still have wasted two sticks of gum; how Vince keyed his chief code or alerted the station remained a mystery.

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Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 22.2

Lime Tree Avenue had exhausted its supply of supercars for now. Nancy depressed the amber switch and spun in her seat. The shadows beneath his eyes had returned but without the irony. No muscle mobilized his face, no frown, no smirk. He simply watched her. Sweat speckled his sallow skin, his hair hugged his scalp. Nancy grew acutely aware of the table between them and feared it may be insufficient. But no. His crutches had become his shackles. He could not possibly scale this lofty plateau cut from marble. ‘You made it,’ she simply said. Below the tabletop, her fingers twirled.
Vince did not appear out of breath. She had not heard the clack. How long had he been standing there? Why hadn’t he called out during her discourse with one of his callers? The answer came immediately: because her finger would have slammed the amber switch before he could make sense. Vince made a slow retreat, such an act not his style. The kitchen darkened as the sunlight plunged behind cloud. Waiting her out would have achieved nothing, she realised; he had the ideal stakeout but she still commanded the surveillance area. She had done her best to make her lie into a truth and his powers to alert Kirkby Magnor station remained out of his reach.
But then he could still hobble down to the gates and wait for someone to greet him, like he said.
The buzzer rankled her. Nancy turned. The amber light flashed again. A tall black man in a taupe suit loomed over a white Mazda. Off screen, the right handlebar of Vince’s wheelchair no longer conjoined its shadow on the door panel. The buzz resounded. Her heart gave a sickening stutter. Nancy was certain Vince had noticed. She no longer saw any point in pushing the chair back into place. Vince was on his way through the meeting room to force his way in. Her actions seemed to time-lag behind her wishes.
Fingers clutched the grips too late as did her grapple for the door handle. The draught from the foyer offered no relief for her panic. The footplates of the wheelchair slammed against the panel. The shock tore into her shoulders. The footplates slashed through the doorway. She had expected to see his canted form beneath the stairs but a mere instant had passed. She wheeled the chair to Vince’s desk. The access way door clicked closed behind her. Once an armor, her outfit impeded her motions as a straightjacket. A clack no longer emerged from the meeting room but a thud. The pulsation informed her Vince had only one thing in mind. On the other side of the access way door, the amber light buzzed in a three-beat stutter. Her mouth bunched into a hard seam. The black man with the Mazda was still waiting.
Nancy had not viewed the passage of her surroundings from this height since the age of eight. The small of her back nestled against a bolster in the seat. Right thumb caressed a lever. She could override on manual if she wanted. The steel rims made easy reach of her palms. Footplates rendered her ankle muscles redundant. Her entire lower body became redundant. She took aim for the archway into the meeting room. No ticking of wheels made sneaking possible. Strands of her hair drifted in the breeze. How could she do this? She was wearing someone else’s clothes, using someone else’s toothbrush, comb, underwear – only much worse.
Beneath the seat, a motor whirred like the limo, silent, powerful. She nudged the lever right. The rear wheels clouted a bureau in the corner. She nudged the lever left. The cavernous room pivoted about her. Paintings by de Kooning, Chagall and Albers roiled into a blur. She pulled back. The arched windows drifted and came to rest on her right. Dead centre of the meeting room, Vince’s crutches had fallen still. Earlier he had watched without expression, yet borne from muscle tone. Now all tenor had vanished, his face slack in a mask of inertia. Nancy had come this far and now she could not go back. She scooted forwards and into self-loathing. ‘It’s rather comfortable.’ She scooted backwards, concluding with a pirouette. ‘Comfortable and convenient.’ She made a ninety-degree to face the doorway. ‘I could get used to this.’ And now to face front. ‘Is this what you want, Mr. Jonas?’ She made a ninety-degree to face the window. ‘To be stuck in something convenient for the rest of your life?’ The wheels made a reverse with a skid.
Vince hadn’t moved. The shadows on his face hardened. This CEO of Nexus Corporations had never expected to see the display before him. A decibel from silence, his voice strung syllables together as though one word. ‘Give-me-back-my-chair.’
The sound depressed her. She closed her eyes and nudged the lever. The wheelchair skidded forwards driving ripples through her hair. She counted to two. She stopped. Her sights confirmed a hand-width of airspace separated Vince’s right crutch from her arm-rest. A count of three would have driven his crutch from beneath him. As a malevolent child, she peered up to meet his glower. Sweat and cut grass leached from his shirt. She wrenched the lever to reverse, the chair scooted backwards. The moment her rear wheels knocked the bureau, the thud of his crutches resumed. Lumbering progress weighed with dogma, as heavy as her despair. His shoulders pitched, his feet dragged, his crutches slammed. As surely as the ebb and flow of the tides, he staggered through the archway. His thuds rang out against the walls of the foyer.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 22.1

SHEILA had been right about Aunt Millie but not in the way Nancy had expected. Millie didn’t seem to know the difference between rhetoric and an actual question. If Nancy moaned, ‘why is this road so busy?’ Millie would explain that the lights at the bottom of Leopold Road couldn’t filter the volume of rush hour traffic properly. If Nancy remarked that school holidays were too short, Mille would explain that school holidays amount to fifteen weeks a year which is quite a lot actually. Nancy is lucky not to be born in North Korea or Ghana. Millie spent half her waking hours picking up bits from the carpet despite vacuuming every morning. She kept to her word and provided a solid meal per day. Nancy didn’t meet Mark as arranged on account of the rain, but didn’t do so even when the sun filtered through her curtains. In a sneaky way, Nancy liked it. She liked the routine, the square meals the warmth, Millie’s squareness, Millie’s morality etched into her wind chimes and her kitsch wall prints. But this would not stop Nancy from spurning Millie’s squareness if Bex or Alexis asked about her stay in Leighton Buzzard. Nancy would agree that Sheila’s holiday in Magaluf had sounded miles more stirring and wished she were there. Millie had a fetish for board games and cards and quiz shows; she still monitors paperclips for her beloved crown court. Yawn, yawn.
On returning to Sheila’s at the end of the Easter holidays to find Sheila’s new boyfriend Graham had moved in complete with heart-shaped balloons, ribbons, roses and silk cushions, Nancy ran away. She spent two days making up for lost time being outside before the police picked her up at the West Orchards shopping centre in Coventry. Nancy didn’t see Millie again until she got sacked from her job at the Weston Hill Care Centre.
‘Hello, I’m Mr. Jonas’ nurse.’
Nancy eyed the woman on the top left of the screen standing next to an Audi convertible. Nancy had been wrong about the cars nurses drive. Nancy cleared her throat. ‘I think you might be mistaken, I am Mr. Jonas’ nurse.’
The woman towered over the speaker system. She petted her silk scarf atop a blue and white striped coat, sixties retro. She breathed a deep contralto. ‘I do not understand. You say you are Mr. Jonas’ nurse?’
‘That’s right.’
‘There must be some mistake. I am Nurse Geraldine Wilson-Clark. I am here to administer Mr. Jonas’ treatment before he takes his flight to Cannes this evening.’
Nancy had forgotten about that. ‘I think you are mistaken. I am Nurse Nora Clements. I have been contracted here to oversee Mr. Jonas’ care.’
The woman’s hair cascaded in saffron waves attainable only from a top salon. ‘I am sorry, Ms. Clements, Mr. Jonas never said anything about another nurse in his care.’
‘Oh, no,’ Nancy asserted. ‘Mr. Jonas will only require one nurse.’ Nancy’s eyes hooded over. ‘If you don’t mind my saying, you don’t look like a nurse.’
‘I’m sorry?’
‘You are wearing falsies.’
‘What?’
‘False fingernails. Isn’t that counterproductive in light of what you do?’
Double-Barreled Nurse appeared to freeze on screen. ‘Look I am Mr. Jonas’ nurse simply wishing to administer his treatment for today.’
‘No,’ Nancy asserted. ‘I am Mr. Jonas’ nurse and I suggest that you get those falsies removed.’
‘But, I am Mr. Jonas’ nurse.’
‘No. I am Mr. Jonas’ nurse.’
Nurse Geraldine Wilson-Clark drew back from the speaker. She betrayed a small wobble as though torn between two options. Finally, she stepped away from the gates. She got back into her Audi convertible and started up.
‘Truman Davenport, I’ve just told you.’
Nancy swivelled her seat sidelong to the speaker and reclined. ‘I’m sorry, what was your business?’
Davenport’s stocky form filled the right quadrant of the screen. ‘It’s a private matter between Mr. Jonas and myself.’
Nancy picked her fingernail. ‘Tell me, does everybody address him as Mr. Jonas?’
The sun rebounded against Davenport’s pink scalp clashing against his mulberry plaid jacket. ‘What is the meaning of this question?’
‘It’s just that if it’s a private matter, I would have expected you to address him as Vince or Vincent.’
Davenport’s head froze in place. ‘Is there a communication fault here?’
‘A communication fault?’
‘It’s just when I say something, little sense seems to come back.’
Mr. Davenport had a point. Nancy would action this as soon as the call ended. ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Davenport. It’s just been a very long day and Mr. Jonas has filled my schedule to bursting point before he leaves for Cannes this evening.’
‘He’s going to Cannes?’
‘Yes. Didn’t you know?’ I have to oversee his care before he takes his flight.’
The sun faded, darkening Davenport’s dome from pink to cerise. ‘I have been trying to call him all day but his phone is switched off.’
‘Well, I don’t know what to say. You could send him a text.’
Davenport shifted from the speakerphone before Nancy had the chance to bid him farewell. The door of his yellow Ferrari could not be discerned from the bodywork until Davenport opened it and let himself in.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 21.2

Nancy depressed the amber button which cut the call. Coffman’s snowy head remained on screen. Nancy screwed the cap of her flask and shoved it into her satchel bag. A steely plane brushed against her thigh. Nancy twirled round to see Vince’s wheelchair drifting from the door. Vince’s final salvo must have jolted the brakes and spurred the propelling force. Vexed, she seized the handles and pushed the wheelchair back in place. She surmised Vince not realising he had cleared the obstruction was making his way through the meeting room. Somewhere she could comprehend Vince’s rhythmic clack. Coffman’s snowy head remained on screen. Why doesn’t he buzz off?
She grabbed her bag. On a final thought, she checked the brakes of Vince’s chair. The bar was lowered but this offered no assurance the barricade would hold if Vince fancied another go at the door.
Nancy slid over the tabletop and took a route across the kitchen. Vince’s crutches clacked against the meeting room floor to her right. Nancy didn’t look. The lock obliged, the scent of wet leaves beckoned. The autumn air eddied around her ankles. Nancy decided to take a walk. She hoped Vince would too. The box hedge made neat oblongs against the skyline due to Henry’s tenacity yesterday. She paused at a secluded seat honed from granite overlooked by a replica of Rodin’s The Kiss. She wouldn’t be sitting here. Nancy passed a walkway fashioned from willow. A sunny day would spawn a profusion of sun dapples and a dreamy amble. She didn’t pass through. The manicured turf skimmed beneath her feet. Desiccated leaves scurried down the slope towards a copse overlooking a pond. The lawns gave way to the rough. Hillocks scuffed her heels; field grass whipped her calves. Bumpy terrain caused her feet to pitch and her knees to brace. The slope propelled her forwards. Exertion seeped through her collar in body heat. She unfastened her top button. On reaching the copse, she took her post next to the hawthorn hedge shielding Vince’s electrified fence. Beyond, farmer’s field provided fallow for what she thought were Shetlands. She nestled within the crook of an oak. Nancy wished for the thigh-deep grass, thigh-burning slopes and tricky footholds. She wanted the landscape to swallow her whole.
The grass behind her made a dry sough. She didn’t turn. Pressure converged at her breastbone in unpleasant anticipation. The breeze finally conveyed his laboured breaths. ‘My phone,’ his growl came, ‘my fuckin’ phone.’
Nancy twisted on her tailbone. Vince eyed her from the foot of an oak twenty feet behind her. Heavily propped by his crutches he appeared to be in mid-tumble. He head was lowered as a stalker of prey. ‘You have taken my phone, just like you have taken my TV, my drinks trolley, the contents of my cabinet, my wheelchair, my stairlift and my CT room. You have taken everything right down to my silk sheets!’
Gis a life, Nancy, what sort of gal would expect her mother to do without a tot? Slowly Nancy lowered her heels on the grass and faced him. ‘You need to go back to basics, Mr. Jonas.’
Vince’s chin jutted in truculence. His lips quivered. She appraised his rippling shirt, damp at the armpits and yellowed at the collar. He seemed to detect her scrutiny. ‘I expect you to return my kitchen table to its former position and I expect you to bring me back my wheelchair.’
‘You fell asleep in the landing, Mr. Jonas. You were drunk and you fell asleep.’
His tone submitted to a sibilant croak. ‘I have news for you, Nora. If I can walk to this point, I can walk to those gates. Once I am done with you here, I am going back inside to freshen up. I will then take a walk to the checkpoint. At some point of the day, one of my visitors will greet me there. I will then request that a call is issued to the station and have you removed.’
‘But not before you freshen up.’
His brows twitched.
‘You don’t want to go to the gates looking like that do you?’
Once again, Vince appeared to wisen up too quickly. His eyes grew intent before doing a deliberate wander over the open neck of her blouse. His eyes continued to make a downward track via each button of her coat until he reached the waistband of her skirt. His upper lip did a little incline on checking out her stockings. She couldn’t help herself. Her self-assured heels did a coltish shift over the grass. Shadows formed beneath his eyes as his flicked up to hers. He was laughing at her like on that night in the limo. An inner turmoil impeded her smile. ‘You will have a long wait, Mr. Jonas,’ she said. Nancy straightened up, squaring her heels. ‘You will be expecting no visitors today.’ She gave her coat pocket a little pat, alluding to his phone.
Nancy pulled the flanks of her coat together and made her way to the pond. ‘Have a nice walk, Mr. Jonas.’ She turned in time to see the shadows fade out beneath his eyes.
From here, Henry’s box hedge appeared small; Vince’s fortress bearing down atop a steep slope seemed miles away. Even in her sturdy heels, Nancy’s calves pulled like catgut. Nancy had wanted it this way. Vince could enter her watch post by the oaks, but may not be returning for some time. The advantage hers, Nancy could get busy in the surveillance room, turning her lie into the truth.

Nora by Charles J Harwood Chapter 21.1

Nancy's Oxfords
JUST Call Me Stu commented that Nancy was the best dressed lodger the Cheap Sleep had ever seen. He asked what business had brought her here. Nancy thought he wanted to park his torso next to hers and told him she was a nurse. This piqued the interest of Mr. Cuban Heels. ‘What sort?’ he asked.
‘The serious sort,’ she replied, ‘the sort that adheres to a strict routine and puts up with no nonsense.’
Stu responded with a quizzical gaze. Nancy bit noisily into her toast which spurred a hearty chuckle. ‘I like you, Nora,’ he said. ‘I like you very much.’
What Mr. Cuban Heels didn’t get was that Nancy wasn’t joking.
Nancy pulled up in front of Vince’s gates at nine prompt. She idled the Punto and pointed her device. To the command of Millie, the gates, clicked, the gates whirred. Stately elms drifted by on her right; rippling lawns receded to her left. Vince’s mighty chapel door loomed ahead. Nancy parked on a space normally occupied by a Lamborghini. Her Punto required but half the surface area.
Nancy straightened her coat and made her approach. She paused before foraging in her pocket. The gates had closed behind her. The air fell still. Would Vince be waiting behind the door, she wondered? She inserted E1 key. Would he be watching her from the surveillance room, his finger resting on the green button? The lock disengaged. Would she find him seated in the meeting room, his face sly in the knowledge it was just a matter of time? Nancy pushed her way through. Silence descended upon her. She glanced about; the place appeared deserted. The stairlift remained at the foot of the Newell post; the access way remained closed.
Nancy took a stroll up the stairs and knew an instant before Vince’s slumped form drifted into view that he had not moved. In a blink, she could see Sheila lying there. Nancy approached. Scotch and sweat made a faint bouquet above him. Nancy’s Oxford depressed a floorboard near Vince’s head and found a squeak. She gratified in it. ‘Did you sleep well, Mr. Jonas?’ she asked.
The sight disappointed her. Pride had impeded his efforts and perhaps alcohol too. The twitch of his right thumb indicated a coming-to, albeit groggy. Nancy didn’t dwell to take in his rumpled clothes, his mouth ajar. The spectacle was nothing new. Nancy went down to complete the first task of the day. The star-shaped button now on override, Nancy reclined in the swivel seat within the surveillance room and rested her heels upon Vince’s wheelchair. She poured a flask of tea. The flavours of Vince’s food, like the comforts of his spare bedrooms would remain guessed at; as one employed here, she would not impose herself in that way.
Her coat pocket rippled against her thigh. Her fingers encountered a smooth edge whereupon a recollection flickered. She fished out Vince’s phone to encounter the bearded face of Mr. Bronwyn James. She ended the call and switched the phone off. Nancy savoured her second sip. Unsteady clunks started up from the landing. Nancy swiveled on her seat and placed her rump on the table top. A smart buzz stopped her. Above the monitor, an amber light flashed. Another buzz. Movement on the screen drew her eye. She neared.
Top left informed her a snowy-haired man in a black overcoat was standing outside Vince’s gates. Beside him, a blue Bentley ticked over. The man’s head dipped off-screen. Another buzz. Nancy gazed at the figure as a fox caught in headlights. Clunks above kept pace, or was Vince’s rump sliding down each riser? Snow Hair persisted. A third buzz. Nancy would have to blag her way out of this or Snow Hair could bring company next time. Her finger slid across the amber light and pressed. She coughed and neared her lips to the speaker. ‘Hello?’
Snow Hair’s head remained still. ‘Amy?’ A constrained tone, as though from a tight windpipe.
‘Yes?’
‘Amy, dearest, it’s Paul Coffman. The gates are not responding here. Is Vince not available?’
Dearest? ‘Paul, I’m so sorry, Mr. Jonas will not be taking callers today. He is receiving care.’
Coffman’s mouth drew down. ‘Oh,’ his gerbilly jowls pulled sideways. ‘Well, that’s rather unprecedented. I thought the consultant from the clinic was not due until two.’
The footfalls had stopped. The air fell still. ‘It’s not a consultant,’ Nancy informed him, ‘it’s a nurse.’
Coffman did not seem to take this in. ‘A nurse?’          
‘Yes. Nurse Nora Clements. She’s very good.’
The handle of the access door rattled. Nancy’s stomach bounced against her diaphragm.
Coffman’s head continued to occupy the lower corner of the screen. ‘So when will he be free?’
The door was now oscillating against Vince’s wheelchair. Nancy replied smoothly, ‘next week.’
‘Next week?’
The rattling stopped. The door took a jolt. ‘Like I said,’ Nancy continued, ‘Mr. Jonas is under the nurse’s care and should not be disturbed.’
Another jolt.
‘Coffman lowered his head to the speaker. ‘What’s that noise?’
Nancy could feel the vibration in her tailbone. ‘What noise?’
‘That…that banging.’
‘I don’t hear anything.’
The room fell silent. Nancy realised now was the time to make her move. ‘I’m so worry about all the inconvenience, Paul.’ Nancy tried to sound even. ‘Mr. Jonas will be in touch with you as soon as he is able to.’