The voice seemed to echo through the hall, and Nancy looked up.
If there were speakers attached to the wall or ceiling, they were well hidden amongst the drapes and tapestries that adorned the walls. The ceiling, perhaps fifty feet overhead was mainly glass and the stars in the night sky were minutely distorted by the warping effect of the glass.
“Nancy,” the voice repeated.
Nancy looked around at the others in the hall. They appeared to move without purpose, sometimes bumping into each other and spinning away in another direction. Others strode purposefully through the crowd, stepping around their shambling colleagues, and stepping aside, in turn, to let others past. No one paid her any attention or gave any indication that they had heard the voice.
Perhaps it wasn’t her. There were hundreds of people here, and that was just the people that she could see. The hall had several doors around its walls and several corridors led off to other parts of the building. She had neither been through any of these doors, nor had she walked down any of the corridors. Why? She could not say.
“Nancy,” the voice said again. It was definitely coming from high up in the cavernous hall, a speaker system laid into the wall, she reasoned. It sounded not unlike the public address system in the building she used to work in.
She had grown to hate the sound of her name being called out across the factory floor. The girls on the shop floor would mimic the reedy quality of the call when it came through: ‘Nancy to reception please,’ ‘Nancy please take a call on line one,’ ‘Nancy please report to management,’ ‘Nancy please, Nancy please, Nancy please...’ As she made her way across the shop floor, past the humming machinery and cackling women, they would follow her with a chorus of ‘Nancy please,’ but sounding Nancy as Narn-See, in a poor effort to reference her silver-spoon upbringing, well, at least as far as the gibbering bitches on the machines saw it.
Why would it be her? She had never heard her name called before. She had heard other names, sure, occasionally names of people she knew. Or at least she thought she knew. Who could want her? Was she wanted for some task? Perhaps it was a task she should have been doing, and they wanted her report, although if that was it, she had no recollection of being asked to do anything. However, she had been very tired recently, and this could all be a symptom of fatigue.
But it’s not her, so why was she even thinking about it? Nancy shook her head and continued on. She bumped into someone who had his head down and apologised. The figure looked up and gave her a blank stare before moving away into the milling crowd.
The corridors. She wanted to see what was down one of the corridors. She had seen people go down them before. Sometimes they came back, but mostly once you went into one, you didn’t come out. She had never really tried asking about what was down them, hadn’t really cared until recently. Something had changed inside her. She wanted to know.
“Nancy.” This time the voice was stern. The voice of a manager wanting to see her last month’s report? She thought not. It was more like a teacher. A teacher who had noticed that she was looking out of the window, probably at some of the boys on the grass playing football, when she should have been looking at the board. Should have been trying to solve some algebra problem or other.
“Is that you?” Nancy spun around to the woman that had addressed her. She stood about a head taller than Nancy and had tight ringlets in her shoulder-length brown hair. She pushed her glasses up her nose as she spoke. “That’s you, right?” she said again.
Nancy glanced around. The pair stood as an island in the sea of people. There was no one else near them. “Are you talking to me?” Nancy pointed to herself and looked around again.
“Sure I am. That’s you, right? You’re Nancy.” The taller woman leaned forward, bringing her eyes level with Nancy’s. “Narn-See.” She tittered. A nervous affectation.
“How do you know my name? It’s Nancy, by the way.”
“Everyone knows your name. Everyone knows everyone’s name around here. That’s Jeff,” She pointed across the hall to a large man with a knitted sweater, “that’s Maggie,” she pointed to a small woman that was pushing her way past a number of other people, “and that’s Tracey. She’s been here a while.”
“Well I don’t know you.” Nancy turned to walk away when the woman put her hand on Nancy’s shoulder.
“I’m Amy.” She offered her hand to Nancy, who shook it. “Good to meet you. You’ll get to know people don’t worry about that. It’s all one big happy family.” She looked up at the roof and span around, arms open.
“I don’t even remember what I’m supposed to be doing. What makes you think that’s for me?” Nancy pointed upwards.
“Nancy. Nancy De’Angelo,” the voice said.
Amy smiled. “Is thatyou?”
Nancy frowned. “Yes. What do I do?”
“Well that depends.”
“On what?” Nancy was ready to move on. There was a corridor about fifty feet in front of her. She wanted to get back to that.
“It depends on if you want to speak to them or not.”
“I don’t even know who theyare. Why did you call me Narn-See?”
“That’s what they called you, wasn’t it? Narn-See please?”
Nancy felt an ache in her temple as Amy spoke. “It was, and I don’t like it.”
“No, I know you don’t. It’s not your fault you were born into money.” Amy smiled and spread her arms again. “Those bitches deserved what they got.”
Nancy licked her lip and paused for a moment. “And what was that?”
“Charcoaled!” Amy threw her head back and laughed. “They got charcoaled!” She held her sides as she rocked forwards, laughing. “Oh, that’s funny!” She wiped away tears that had started to fall.
“How is that funny?”
When Amy had recovered her composure, she looked back at Nancy. “Well, I suppose it’s not funny per se,” She pulled out a tissue and wiped her eyes again, “but it’s just so damn inventive!” She doubled over as she began laughing again.
“Thank you and goodbye.” Nancy spun on her heels and walked away. She managed half a dozen steps before she felt someone grab her wrist.
“I’m sorry,” said Amy. The corners of her mouth still twitched and she looked ready to collapse into hysterics at any point, but she retained her composure. “I think you should go and see what they want. You can at least do that, can’t you?”
“Where do I go?”
“Let me show you.” Amy placed an arm around the smaller woman and turned her towards one of the corridors. She smelled faintly of stale sweat, which made Nancy wrinkle her nose. She hoped she hadn’t made it too obvious, but when the two left the crowd and stepped into the corridor, Amy removed her arm and turned to Nancy. “It gets hot in here. The roof,” She indicated the glass ceiling behind them. “and the people. There’s a lot of them.” She reached into a pocket and pulled out a small bottle of perfume, which she squirted. Nancy didn’t think it helped the situation. The two continued walking.
“So what do you do here?” Nancy asked after a moment of uncomfortable silence.
“Same as everyone else. But let’s not talk about me,” she nudged Nancy, “I want to know about you. How much did those girls get to you?”
Nancy stopped and looked at Amy. “I don’t really want to talk about that. I’ve moved on.”
“Nancy De’Angelo.” The voice echoed in the corridor, and Nancy twitched noticeably.
“Well, I’m not sure they’re finished with you.” Amy smiled. “What happened?”
“You never told me what you know or how you know what you thinkyou know.”
“I think you did something really bad. I think you regret it now. I think talking about it will help.”
“How could you know that?”
“Because it helped me.”
“Helped you how?” Nancy’s voice had dropped. “Helped you with what? You don’t understand what I’ve done.”
“I had a sister.” Amy glanced around. They were still alone. “Even as kids, she was a bitch. If I had something nice, she wanted it: toys, food, attention. You name it. Only problem, was that she carried that through into adulthood and now it wasn’t toys and ice cream, it was my husband. The day I came home to find them in bed together was like a knife in my heart.” She clutched her chest and closed her eyes. “So I did what any rational person would do. I bided my time. Just long enough to think she had got what she wanted. Then I killed her. Knife to the heart. Admittedly, there were thirty seven other stab wounds, but who’s counting, right?” Amy shrugged and smiled.
“You killed someone?” Nancy took a step backwards and put a hand to her mouth.
“Yes. My sister. At the time, it felt like the right thing to do, but after, now that’s the kicker. It felt awful. Just awful. I should have killed him. That was my own flesh and blood. That should not have happened. It doesn’t matter what kind of bitch she was – and trust me, I called her every kind – she was my sister. It took me a while to realise that it was okay to let go of that guilt. And it’s okay for you too.” She placed a hand on Nancy’s shoulder.
“I haven’t killed anyone like you!” Nancy shrugged her shoulder and stepped out of the other woman’s reach.
“No. You killed more. I know it hurts you. I can see it.”
“I don’t know what I was thinking” Nancy said after a moment’s hesitation. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” she repeated, shaking her head.
“Yes you do,” Amy said. “You were thinking ‘these bitches need to die.’” She chuckled. “And they probably did.”
Nancy stood in silence for a long moment, shaking her head. “No, no.” She took another step backwards.
“But they did, though.” Amy’s tone was hushed, and she stepped in closer to Nancy. “Narn-see please,” she sing-songed, “Narn-see please.”
“They wouldn’t stop,” said Nancy, now crying. “They wouldn’t stop. It was every day.” She allowed Amy to put an arm around her shoulder.
Sitting in her office, which overlooked the shop floor, Nancy could hear the chatter and laughter from the women down below. She wanted to join in with whatever joke they were having, but she suspected it was something at her expense, and if it wasn’t, it soon would be.
As if to prove her point, she heard the public address system hiss-crackle and come to life. “Nancy, please could you bring this month’s productivity figures to ...