She loved that story of how they met. Telling it to her friend Julie on a rare night out made her smile and her voice shine. She is tender with drunks that tried to elbow in on girls’ conversations with some smart-ass comment and she glows with the glory of the telling.
‘It was a Friday night and I got split up from my mates. We were coming from the Buchanan Galleries. It started pissing down with rain. And I went to get my brolly.’
Julie holds her hand up and motions with two fingers to the barman, whom she thought quite cute, that she wants two more shots. She gulps hers down almost as soon as he pours it, the aniseed burning the back of her throat and, conscious he is watching, she wiggles her wide hips to help it slide down, pushing the other shot glass in front of Nancy. She sneaks a look at herself in the mirror behind the gantry, noting her hair had flattened out in the way she hoped it wouldn’t but knew it would. Nancy hadn’t yet got to the greeting stage where Nancy admitted she thought her marriage would get better. But he put on about five stone. Treated her like a door handle that could be pushed and pulled, always open to his snarly jibes that she was too thin, didn’t have a chest was more like a boy than a girl, that her dark hair had lost its lustre. She would need to stop wearing low cut tops, skirts that hardly covered her arse. Stop wearing so much lippy and dressing like a slut.
Then she would segue into the classic moment, the first time they had sex; well the first time she had sex, he said it would get better. It didn’t. It begot Chantelle and Brogan instead.
The first time Nancy had admitted that Julie had joked she wished somebody would call her thin, even if they were insulting her. And as for dressing as a slut… she had cupped her 38dd breast, if only that helped, she’d try anything.
Now Julie listens. She signals for two more shots. Nancy still has three drinks marking the bar in front of her. Maybe, Julie thought, if she drank enough the story would end up differently and Nancy wouldn’t drone on so much.
Nancy picked up a shot glass, wet her lips. The barman Julie fancied licked his lips too, but Nancy put the glass down without drinking.
‘I was just saying to you,’ she says, to Julie, clutching at her wrist and half patting it. ‘I lost my bag and I was trying to remember where I’d put it. All my money was in it and my phone and everything. I’d no way of getting home. The last trains were away and I’d no money for a taxi, or nothing. I walked as fast as I could, but I didn’t know where I was going, or nothing. There were some boys standing outside that pub The Pot Still and they must have seen me crying. “Whit’s a matter darlin’?’ one of the crowed. Then they were crowded round me, and I felt a hand cupping my bum. I said the wrong thing, I admit it. I said I’d no money and no way of getting home.’
Nancy takes the shot glass, her pinky cocked, dainty, as if she is the Queen of England, as she drinks. She straightens her back and her black eyebrows lifts as if every sip was a surprise. She looks over her shoulder as if checking her bra strap or to see if the drunk guy—that obviously fancied her—had edged in closer and is listening.
‘One of them, straight out, touched my breast as if pinching the texture of an orange and they all laughed like stanks. I admit, I thought they were going to rape me in the middle of the street, and my legs went all wobbly.’
‘Aftershock,’ Julie says, rather too loudly and belches. She hated the next bit about how George had took her hand and rescued her and took her home, not laying a finger on her. You’d have thought Julie had been in Paris and not just up the town. A gentleman with his briefcase and pinstripe suit. She hated that part most of all. He was always trying it on, always trying to shag her. Trying to shag anything with two legs.
Nancy downs the three drinks in front of her, one gulp after the other and wipes her mouth with the side of her hand. Then she is diving down pulling out her purse, pulling out a packet of hankies, tears and sniffles making her sound like a hornet.
‘Hope Street. He was always telling me we met on Hope Street and that means something.’ Nancy scatters loose change, coins and notes across the counter. ‘Four more of those things,’ she says, waving her hand towards the gantry. ‘You know what? We had to get the house renovated. The guy from the Council comes in, and asks where the overflow valve is. You know me. I’m clueless.’
The barman carefully places the shots in front of Nancy and looks at her through his fringe, before turning to get another four for her friend. He comes back and picks his way through the notes and coins and rings the round up in the till. He nudges her bag back across the bar towards her.
Nancy takes the first and the second and stalls at the third, her neck tilting and powder-blue eyes glaze. ‘Bastard,’ she says.
Julie’s got a bit of catching up to do. She drinks in a measured way, her eyes fixed firmly on her friend. She is sure her friend is going to be sick. Even the drunk guy behind her takes a step backwards, but that’s simply to dance by himself, to a track ‘The Whole of the Moon’, blaring from the Jukebox, and he skids sideways into a chair.
Nancy picks up another short, but puts it down again, as if it’s too heavy. ‘The Council guy went through a wee hatch in the bottom cupboard, said there was "a whole lot of shite underneath the floor". He brought them out. Women’s bags. Stacks of them. Discoloured. Mouldy from all those years they’ve been lying there. Mine still had my purse in it. Empty. My purse is always empty.’
Nancy slid down the chair like a runny egg. Sitting on the floor, she says, ‘Hope Street. Fucking Hope Street.’