“See you on Friday at The Jac!” Nancy yells from the back of the black cab before it rattles away down Old Dale Street, rear lights hazy through the mizzle. My raised hand falters mid-air as I take in what she just said. Then I see it.
“You’ve left your bag, Nance!”
I should have known something was up when she stopped wanting to meet for our regular shopping blitz. Nancy used to love shopping. She’d struggle to carry all the different coloured bags. “I needed these shoes!” “This scarf was calling my name!” And of course the books. The second-hand book stalls in Gracie Market made a living from her. I remember one Saturday she bought seventeen. Seventeen books!
“How are you going to find time to read all these, Nance?” I said to her over coffee and cake on Bold Street, her eclectic spoils laid out on the table between us: Angelou, Heinlein, Rowling.
We’d always made time for each other, through uni, marriages, kids, divorces. Until, “I don’t fancy it any more, Debs. Shopping makes me anxious.”
I wondered a little when she let me read the final draft of her latest story. She’d published two novels, back in the nineties. This was her third and it was taking her forever. It was entertaining enough, funny, with interesting characters. I’d expected the plot to be over the top, but I hadn’t expected the mistakes. ‘Jake’ had an app before apps were a thing. ‘Lottie’ had blonde hair in chapter four, but by chapter twelve she was a redhead. I didn’t like to say anything in case there were explanations I’d missed somewhere. Hair dye perhaps. I didn’t want to seem picky.
So I was glad today, when she agreed to meet up at last, hadn’t seen her in months. But she wasn’t herself. The way she spoke about Duncan, her boyfriend back in nineteen-eighty-something, made it sound like they were still together.
I said to her, “Funny how things that happened thirty years ago can still hurt like yesterday.” She looked so puzzled. Then she swore at the waiter in The Beehive for getting our order wrong. He hadn’t. I could hardly look at her.
I picked at the bits of cucumber on the side of my plate. “No need for that, Nance.”
She shrugged and tucked a strand of greying hair behind one ear where an amethyst drop swung. A shiny cat dangled from the other and I wondered if it was a deliberate decision. She’d always had an eccentric style, but this was more thrown together than usual. “I’m sorry, been tired lately, blame the menopause,” she said. So I gave her the benefit of another doubt.
Until now. I could try and brush it off as a joke but I know it isn’t. The Jac was the club we went to together, every Friday, in our teens. It closed twenty-five years ago. I search out her sister’s number on my mobile and press call.
Tricia Lowther grew up in Liverpool, England. Her flash fiction, short stories and poetry have won or been placed in several competitions and been included in magazines, websites and anthologies such as Writer’s Forum magazine, Mslexia and Brilliant Flash Fiction. She’s had non-fiction published widely, including in The Guardian, New Republic and Ms Magazine. Tricia was an award winner in the UK’s Creative Future Literary Awards 2017.