Chapter Seventy: Point Of Departure

“I still can’t believe I let Fliss talk me into this,” murmured Adrienne as she stood just outside Manchester Registry Office that chilly December morning.  The wind ruffled the white chiffon mini-dress that she was wearing over white jeans and white patent doc marten boots, and I could see the ‘F’ tattoo through the thin fabric of the dress.  Her dark hair was loose, and the wind was blowing it across her face in thin strands. Next to her, holding her hand, was Fliss, in a white princess line chiffon dress which fell to her knees.  The neckline was low, and I could see her tattoo, the ‘A’ written across her heart in the same permanent script as Adrienne’s ‘F’, carved and seared into the skin forever.  Both were holding bouquets of red roses, and Fliss’ hair was loose.

  The Registry Office was ringed with press, some from the gay and lesbian press, but many more from the tabloids and gossip sheets.  We blinked through the constant, relentless, volley of flashbulbs, and then someone called from the crowd, “HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE A MARRIED WOMAN ADRIENNE?”

  “BLOODY MARVELLOUS!” called back Adrienne immediately.  Her smile was a perfect vision of white enamel against scarlet lipstick.  The cameras drew closer then, and she and Fliss posed together for their benefit, taking great care to display those matching silver rings, which shone out, prettily, from the middle fingers of their right hands. 

  “We weren’t really expecting much press interest,” confessed Adrienne.  A low chuckle ran through the crowd, and she smiled, “we thought you’d all be over in Windsor, covering Elton John and David Furnish.”

  “We weren’t invited!” someone called back.

  Everyone laughed.

  Someone asked if they weren’t perhaps a bit young to be getting married, and Adrienne said, with calm dignity, “No, because if I was marrying a man, twenty wouldn’t be too young, so why should it be too young for us?” She took a deep breath before she continued, “We’re not here today to argue the toss about civil partnerships and the validity of gay marriage, we’re here, essentially, because we love each other and we wanted to do this, not to prove anything to the world, or for publicity or anything that cynical, but because we wanted to do this.  There’s been a partnerships register in Manchester since 2002, so if we’d wanted to, we could have got married before this, but we didn’t want to.  We’re here now because now felt like the right time…” I sensed her awkwardness, “that’s all I can say really…” She shot an agonized glance at Fliss, who responded heroically.

   “I’ve never considered myself to be a fully paid up member of the Pink Pound,” she announced, slightly apologetically, “that isn’t a lifestyle, or stereotype, that I feel very comfortable with.  I firmly believe that the gay community shouldn’t be complacent, and that it needs to take a good hard look at the various divisions and elitist cliques within it’s own ranks, but, at the same time, I believe in gay marriage for the same reason that I believe in heterosexual marriage, because, despite it’s faults, and many of my friends have highlighted its faults to me, one way or another.” I saw Nat grin, sheepishly as she looked away, Fliss continued, in her slightly apologetic way, “I’m not good at speeches, but, I suppose what I mean is that, like a lot of girls, fortunately or unfortunately, I grew up with a desire to walk down the aisle, laden with flowers, in a white dress, and, to be honest, I never saw any reason why I shouldn’t do it.”

  A fresh onslaught of flashbulbs went off as she finished her speech, then the press began to depart, their story gained.

    Fliss sagged a little in relief, “Was I O.K?” she asked, her eyes wide with anxiety, “I’m not used to justifying myself to the worlds press, and I don’t know if I did it very well, I’ve had some arguments with some of my mates at the Basement about it, but I never actually won any of them…”

  Adrienne hugged her, “You were perfect.”  They kissed, softly and lingeringly, no longer caring, or noticing if anyone was watching.

  The intensity of their relationship had not been in any doubt, for me, since they had come home; they not only looked right together, they were right together.  The marriage had been Fliss’ idea originally, she had wanted to marry Adrienne quietly in Paris, but gay marriage is illegal in France.  This didn’t put Fliss off, however, it simply made her set her heart on a Manchester wedding, which would be more special, and which would mean having all her friends around her.  Adrienne was more sceptical, and I suspect that she shares some of my opinions about marriage ceremonies being bizarre and anachronistic, but she conceded to Fliss because; “I could tell how much it meant to her.  Fliss has a very romantic streak and, whilst I don’t always understand the way it manifests itself, I love and respect her too much to just ignore her feelings, besides” she smiled, sheepishly, “I really do love her enough to marry her, it’s just the actual marrying part of the deal I have issues with…”

  As the press departed, I spotted a small, mousy figure, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, she was standing at a slight distance, away from the crowd, she wasn’t with the wedding party, but she was watching just the same.  I walked towards her and, as I drew closer, I saw the damp streaks on her face, “Shouldn’t you be in Uni today?” I asked her.

  She nodded, “But I had to be here,” her voice was choked with emotion, but she was done with crying I think, “I’m not bitter or anything, Maggie, because it would never have worked between us, there would always be Adrienne….”

  “She did love you,” I told her, “she wasn’t lying about that, it’s just…”

  “She loves Adrienne more,” she finished for me.  Her brown eyes were full of pain as she said, “I’ve learnt from it all though, next time I’ll be stronger, next time I’ll not hold back, I’ll be a better girlfriend.”

  I just nodded.  I didn’t trust myself to speak.  As she walked away, and headed back to University, and back to her student pals, my heart travelled with her.  She would have to go to her lectures, to her seminars, see her friends, and pretend that everything was fine.  Or else she would concoct a false story about a feckless boyfriend, and everyone would be incredibly well meaning and sympathetic.  Not for one moment would they think of Emily Garcia; that mousy, quiet, shy girl, one of the very few girls in the engineering department, in connection with Fliss Keale; the pretty, blonde, celebrity wife of Adrienne Du Shanne.  I wanted to help her, but I knew I couldn’t, especially since the pain she was in was partly my fault.  She would have to make her own decisions; I couldn’t make them for her.

  If Adrienne and Fliss had remained in France, it may have been less painful for Emily, but there were more complex reasons for their return than simply being eligible for the partnerships register.  There have been unkind suggestions in the press that they fled Adrienne’s “luxury penthouse apartment” (read: modest flat.) in order to escape the riots in Paris, but that’s not true, and the truth is that they were ready to leave.  As well as tentatively exploring the idea of a solo career, Fliss has been approached by a new digital radio station, based in Manchester, who have picked up on the Djing that she’s done, and will continue to do, for Nat at Girl Night, and they’ve offered her her own show.  She doesn’t get complete control over her playlist, but she does have some influence.  Adrienne, meanwhile, has some acting work; the BBC have hired her to read Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Mary Barton’ for Radio 4’s ‘Book At Bedtime’, and there are some T.V and film companies sniffing around, many of whom she is very suspicious of.  There’s a small film being made in Manchester about the cities “Gunchester” years though, and she’s very interested in that.  The writers sent her agent a script, and if the project goes ahead, she’ll be playing a very scary gang girl with sociopathic tendencies, which she says will be much more challenging than any role involving pole dancing or girl popstars who’ve fallen from grace, which makes up the bulk of what she gets offered.

  From the wedding, we moved on to The Twilight, where Violet is showing her art exhibition, entitled: ‘Friends And Lovers’.  Whether Violet and Nat scheduled the opening of the exhibition deliberately or not, it certainly resolved the problem of a wedding reception for Fliss and Adrienne, given that most of their friends were there.  A massive cheer went up when they arrived, still in their wedding clothes, having led a strange procession of paparazzi, curious onlookers, and friends on a pilgrimage through Manchester city centre en route.

  The mood was more orderly and relaxed than is common at The Twilight, possibly because it was dinnertime and not the evening.  Drinks were being poured and drunk, but in a more restrained manner than was usual.  Looking around me, I spotted some journalists and photographers from the wedding, but there were less of them now, and it was easy to ignore them when I knew they weren’t there for me.  Violet was being interviewed by a tall, fair haired, and slightly earnest woman when we arrived, I recognised the interviewer as someone I’d seen on T.V, which suggested she was fairly important, “Who’s that?” I asked Liberty Belle as we queued at the bar for drinks.

  Liberty obligingly gazed in the direction of Violet and her interviewer, the woman was just packing away her dictaphone, “Marie Flanagan,” Liberty is a woman of few words.

  “Do you know her?”

  Liberty shook her head, “Jenny met her once; she said she was nice.”

  Jenny joined us at the bar, “I hope someone buys this piece off me when it’s done,” she muttered, darkly, “If I’d known there’d be so many London people here, I’d’ve not bothered.” She sloped off again, dejectedly, with Liberty in her wake, and I turned away from the crowd and began to look at the pictures.  Some of them, I knew, were fairly old, and dated from Violet’s art student days in Bolton, but some were more recent.  They were a mixture of photos, sketches and watercolours, but most of all, they were more than simply pretty pictures, they actually revealed something beyond that, something deeper, and more meaningful.

  I stopped in front of a photograph of Fliss; it had been enlarged to poster size, and had been taken, I would guess, when she was sixteen.  She appeared to be asleep, and was facing the camera; her eyes were closed, but there was a rosy glow to her face, and she was smiling slightly.  Her fair hair was trailing across her face, and a ginger and white kitten was standing on her back, looking at her.  The pink straps of Fliss’ nightie showed above the duvet, displaying lightly tanned shoulders, but the focus was on her face.  I turned away from the picture, and watched Fliss, who was talking to Marie Flanagan with Adrienne.  The photograph conveyed a certain girlish innocence that Fliss possessed then but that, I realised as I watched them, she no longer has.  Some of the softness has gone too, but some of it returned when she went back to Adrienne, and Fliss is right: she isn’t a little girl anymore.  That photo was taken four years ago now, when Fliss was with Violet I would suspect, a lot has happened since then.

  I was surprised by the number of pictures there were of Nat, and it was something I raised with Violet later on, when she’d finished talking and schmoozing with the press, “You must have been stalking her for years…” commented Meelan, her dark eyes wide, having counted twenty pictures, of varying sizes, of Nat.

  Violet looked uncharacteristically shy, as she said, “We’ve known each other for a long time…”

  “So,” I said casually, “it’s not that you’ve been trying to figure out how to ask her out ever since you blundered into each other in the village when you were eighteen then?”

  Violet glared at us, “I can see that you two will make a good double act now that Fliss is taken and Nat’s come over to my side…”

  “I’m training her up,” I explained as Meelan smirked, “its part of her musical apprenticeship…”

  “I don’t need training up,” protested Meelan, “I’ve been around, I know…”

  Dotted around the room were pictures of The Girls From Mars, many taken on tour when perhaps certain members of the band were somewhat tired and emotional, as well as separate shots.  There were photos of Andrea and Jasper together, and Jasper alone and apprehensive in a hotel lobby somewhere, and of them both with their baby son, Sam, who was born last month.  Most interesting of all, there were pictures of the fans, and of people Violet must have met on tour.  There were two girls with day-glo hairslides and bracelets, wearing short, garish dresses and fishnet tights, and a gang of male urchins with vaselined spiky hair, dressed in leather and denim, delivering Sid Vicious style sneers to the camera.  There were pictures of The Flirts, of Angel and the Razorblades, of the crowds at Ladyfest Manchester, and… pictures of Titanium Rose.

  There weren’t many pictures of me, fortunately, and I tried not to look too long or hard at those that there were.  It was easier to look at the group shots.  There was a great picture of us from four years ago, huddled together by the tourbus, all eager and expectant, about to head off on tour with The Girls From Mars.  There was a great one of Flora too, spread-eagled on the floor of her shop at Afflecks Palace, pinning patterns to fabric.  There was one of me on the tourbus, talking to Fergus on that first tour we did with The Girls From Mars, it was next to one of me backstage after my “comeback” gig at The Gates, in which I am staring, distractedly, into the mirror, with a very anxious expression on my face, and you can see the scars on my arms because I’ve rolled my sleeves up because of the heat.  There are dark shadows under my eyes, and my face is all bones and huge, frightened eyes.  Fergus came up behind me as I stared at it, “This one’s better,” he murmured, directing me over to a more recent photo.  I don’t remember the occasion at all, but it showed me waiting outside The Gates, smiling slightly self consciously, but looking reasonably normal.  “I’m going to ask Violet if I can buy it,” he told me.  I said that I didn’t think it was that good, but he insisted that he wanted it.  When I asked why, he said it was because it “captures your essence” or something.  Violet was happy enough to sell it to him anyway; she had already had a request from Adrienne for the one of Fliss and her kitten, so once the exhibition is over, it’ll be ours.  I suppose I shall have to get used to seeing pictures of myself.

  A week after the wedding, and the exhibition opening, I had my own photo session.  It had been decreed by Jasper, and agreed by Jenny, that pictures of me needed to be sent out to the press along with the press release announcing that I am joining The Girls From Mars.  To make me feel more comfortable with the idea, and in order to create more natural seeming photos, the shoot took place at home.  Liberty was hired to take the pictures, Flora to style me, and I had no sense of egos doing battle as the two of them worked together, in fact, they appeared to get along very well.  Most of the pictures were taken in our kitchen and living room, and I wore jeans in most of the shots, with very little make-up.  Whilst the shoot was taking place, I noticed Fergus take Jenny off to one side for a chat, and, when they returned, I knew that they had been talking about me.  Jenny gave me a thoughtful, measuring look, before glancing back towards Fergus, and I could guess what he had said to her.  He isn’t going to sit back and watch me get ill again, he said, and if I start to deteriorate, mentally or physically, on tour, he wants me home.  I told him it wasn’t as straightforward as that, and he knows it, but he’s also not prepared to sit back and watch me self-destruct again.

  I had several long chats with Andrea, about drumming mostly, but also about being in bands, and about fame.  She believes she’s been lucky; she is a member of a reasonably well known, well respected band, with a loyal fanbase all around the world, the records sell well, the deal they have is reasonable enough to allow for creativity, but also earns them a reasonable amount of money, and because she is the drummer, she doesn’t get recognised in the street and asked for autographs like Moyra, Violet and Jane do.  “I’ve been able to go about my business largely unhindered,” she told me, “whereas if I was Moyra or Violet, every little detail of my private life would be all over the press.  As it is, no one cares, because I’m the drummer.”

  Andrea and Jasper were absent from the party that waved Violet, Moyra, Jane and me off from Chorlton Street today.  Normally Jasper would be present on the tourbus, but he wants to be with Andrea now the baby’s born, which is understandable.

  As the time of our departure drew ever nearer, the coach station filled up with well-wishers, all wanting to wave us off; Flora was there, also Fliss and Adrienne, Angel and the Razorblades, Meelan, Dew, Shahina, Nat, Fergus, Jenny, and Liberty.  Everyone wished us luck, and Jenny hugged me and told me she would see me soon; she’ll be joining me in London in a few days time, “Behave,” she warned, “or I’ll have Fergus and your mother on my case.”

  I smiled.

  Eventually, everyone trickled away, leaving just Nat and Fergus.  Moyra and Jane very tactfully said that they had something to do, and disappeared, leaving us alone.

  “Well,” said Fergus, awkwardly.

  “You don’t have to say anything,” I said, “I know.”

  And we didn’t say anything; we just clung to each other silently until the coach arrived.  All I could think of as I held him, and as I felt his arms around me, was how much I was going to miss him, but I will come back, I will come back.

  The coach was waiting for us, and Violet and I made our way over to its waiting doors and climbed aboard.  As the coach pulled out of the station, we waved to our two “Rock Widows” and then watched in silence as Nat and Fergus walked slowly away.  I felt sad as I watched them leave, for I know it will be months before I see him again.  I know he trusts me, and I trust him, but I will miss him incredibly badly.  Just now, Violet tapped me on the arm and asked if I was alright, I have been writing ever since we left Manchester, and now we are speeding down the motorway, somewhere near Milton Keynes.  I know where I am going now, and I know that he will be waiting for me when I return.  I am going out into the world, on an adventure, who knows where it will take me? Or what will happen along the way?

Chapter Sixty Nine: Interlude

A couple of days after I’d been to see mum, Thomas, and Elisabeth Ann, Fergus and I went to see Angel and the Razorblades play at Retro Bar. When the gig finished we walked over to Scubar on Oxford Road for Girl Night.  Nat’s been banned from holding it at Juvenile Hell because of the infamous Valentines Day party, which seems very unfair… “It’s not what I would call a satisfactory solution,” she said, as we fought our way through the crowds to the bar, “I love Scubar, and they seem to like having me here, but it’s too small really, I need somewhere bigger.”

  “Did you try the village?” asked Fergus as we joined The Girls From Mars at their table by the bar.

  Violet snorted in disgust, “Yes, she’s tried the village, she’s tried around Piccadilly too, she’s tried everywhere; it basically comes down to politics…”

  “Vee,” murmured Nat, “keep the politics out of it; it’s incredibly tedious and boring…”

  “I don’t care,” snapped Violet, furiously, she turned back to Fergus, “The situation is basically this: The straight venues think Girl Night attracts too gay a crowd, the gay venues think it attracts too straight a crowd, and they’d all rather do something different, something that brings in more money, basically.”

  “But you always packed out Juvenile Hell…” I protested.

  Nat turned to me, “The thing is, we queer girls here,” she gestured to herself and Violet, “and our absent friends,” a reference to Fliss, “are effectively caught between a straight music scene which, particularly in Manchester, still thrives on male bravado, and a conservative, again, male dominated, gay scene, and neither scene has ever given much of a welcome to young keyed up punk girls, who don’t have a lot of money to spend, who don’t wear designer clothes, and who insist on dancing to un-commercial, un-familiar records.”

  “And Scubar does?” asked Fergus, sceptically.  The last time we had been there, we’d witnessed the tail end of a freshers week skool disco night, and had seen an overgrown schoolgirl dragging an overgrown schoolboy off behind the club by the tie, hell-bent on having her wicked way with him.

  “Scubar,” explained Nat, tersely, “is a student club and, as such, whilst not necessarily being pro queer, is used to a younger crowd, and is ostensibly equal rights.”

  She confessed that she was considering leaving Juvenile Hell in order to start her own club, “But no one has that kind of money, least of all me.  At least Ladyfest Brighton’s coming up, that’s something, and there’s always Kaffequeeria, but I’d like more.” She sighed, “I’m going to try and track down those girls who do Shake-O-Rama; I hear they’re having venue trouble too, maybe we can work together.”

  As much as I love Girl Night, Nat’s right; Scubar is too small for it.  It seemed as though you’d just start to lose yourself to a particularly great record, only to get trod on or elbowed by someone else, and you’d be distracted and have to start again.  In the shadows against the red brick walls, and amidst the pillars, I saw most of the old Girl Night regulars, including Meelan and her mates from Clinch, also Dew and Angel and the Razorblades.  Kit has started doing some Djing for Nat, along with Sabine, and some of Meelan’s mates.  “But I wish Fliss would come home,” sighed Nat, “I miss her so much…”

  “We all do.”

  “I know,” she raised a glass, “we shall never see her like again,” she drank.

  Thursday nights seem to be getting more and more like Friday nights, I thought, as we walked along Portland Street at half two.  The pavements had been furred with vomit by 8pm, and there was a dangerous atmosphere in the air as we walked; the pubs and clubs had emptied, but no one seemed to have gone home yet.  Fergus had his arm around me, and in front of us, Nat and Violet were talking quietly.  By the turning for Chorlton Street, some guy with a bottle leered from a bench and roared, “LESBIANS!”

  I heard Nat sigh as we continued walking; she took Violet’s hand as she murmured, “Do I have it tattooed on my forehead or something?”

  Violet proceeded to check, “No,” she said, neutrally, “nor are you wearing a necklace that says ‘Queer As Fuck’ I notice.”

  Somewhere behind us, the guy was still shouting, and people were gazing in our direction, curiously, and in a not entirely friendly way, as Nat said, “Do you think I should?” in anxious tones, “I could shave my head as well.”

  “No,” said Violet, decisively.

  Fergus didn’t find it remotely funny, however, he turned and started to make his way back the way we’d come, until I tugged on his arm, “Don’t,” I murmured, “he’s drunk, it won’t do any good.”

  Violet and Nat, who’d also stopped, nodded in unison, “She’s right, it won’t do any good.”

  Just then, I heard a voice somewhere behind us, “Did you just call us lesbians?” I turned in surprise.  A group of about six twenty something women had gathered around the bloke on the bench.  He stuttered some kind of a response, but it was too late, even as we moved away, they were closing in for the kill.

  Violet sniggered; Nat was content to merely smirk.

 “Aren’t you angry?” demanded Fergus as we waited for taxi’s.

  Violet and Nat shrugged, and Nat said, sardonically, “Que sera sera…”

  “Lairy drunken men are lairy drunken men,” said Violet, philosophically, “and besides, you get the odd good reaction sometimes, and plenty of no reaction at all…” 

  Fergus shook his head sadly.

  “Cheer up, Fergus,” said Nat, with almost forced cheerfulness, “we respect you as a man who will never ask if he can come home with us and watch.”

  He smiled a little, “Ha ha.”

  We got the first taxi, and they waved us off cheerfully, still holding hands, still smiling.

  When we arrived home, there was an ansaphone message from Fliss, “Bonjour mes amis,” it began, “nous retournons en Angleterre…”

Chapter Sixty Eight: Arrival

It was about 4am on the Sunday morning when Thomas called, and I could hear the emotion in his voice, the slightly stunned delight coming over the line, as he told me, “It’s a girl, Elisabeth Ann, seven pounds, two ounces, and she’s fine.  They’re both fine.”

  “Do they still weigh babies in pounds and ounces?” I asked, curiously, after a brief, awkward silence.

  “Oh Maggie…” he laughed, I could have said anything I think; he was so emotionally high that it wouldn’t have mattered. 

  I recovered my faculties at last, “Congratulations, the both of you, and send her my love.”

  “I will”

    It feels terrible to write that I didn’t visit my mother and my new baby half sister in hospital but the truth is; I just couldn’t face it.  They were in Stepping Hill, the hospital I was taken to last month, and, well, I’m not good with hospitals at the best of times.  As it was, I waited a week before going to see them.

  I felt very nervous as I knocked on the door that cold Sunday morning, it’s hard to explain why exactly, but I didn’t feel ready to see my mum just then. Now that the baby has arrived, I have to accept and adjust to the changes that she will inevitably bring, but I’m still not entirely at peace with that. I would like to be, for everyone’s sake, but I’m just not. The whiney, selfish, self centred, childish part of me doesn’t want to share my mother, and it’s going to take time to get over myself.

  But it wasn’t just because of the baby that I was feeling nervous, it was because of what happened last month, of how I felt then, and how I feel now.  I couldn’t face seeing her, knowing that I would have to tell her what I’d done.

  The baby was asleep in her cot in mum and Thomas’ room when I arrived, her skin was very smooth and slightly pink, and what little hair she had was pale reddish blonde.  “She’s a very quiet little girl,” whispered mum from next to me, and I could hear the affection in her voice, as she added, “very serious I think…”

  “Was I a quiet baby?” I whispered back.

  She explained, without taking her eyes off Elisabeth Ann, that I had been what was known as a “difficult baby,” which I read as being shorthand for “child from hell,”

  “You wouldn’t let me feed you, and you used to snatch the spoon off me and throw the food all over the place, and you howled…” she winced in memory, “So did I actually,” she confessed, quietly, “we howled in stereo for about the first six months, I think…”

  I tried not to feel upset about this.  It has occurred to me before, of course, that she might not have had a particularly great time raising me, but I didn’t like to think that I might have contributed to the problem, or that I was the problem. 

  “Still,” she said, brightly, as Thomas came into the room, “at least there’s someone else to feed her, change the nappies, and wake up in the middle of the night when I’m too tired this time…” he kissed her, and put his arm around her shoulders.  Then we settled into silence as we watched the sleeping baby once more.  She had been dressed in yellow, I noticed, and appeared to be drowning in a sea of white and yellow bedding, above which hung a farmyard mobile, featuring a number of friendly looking sheep and cows.

  “Sorry I didn’t come sooner,” I said, quietly, as we moved into the living room.

  “Well, you’re here now,” she said, as she eased herself onto the sofa “sit down.”

  As we drank our drinks, later, I told them about the invitation I’d received to join the Girls From Mars, and about how I wasn’t sure about it. “I don’t think Fergus wants me to do it,” I said, feeling slightly pathetic. “I think he’s afraid of what would happen, to us, and… to me.”

  “What do you mean?” she asked.

 “He’s worried about my health,” I said quietly, dreading the repercussions as I said it, “my mental health,” I couldn’t look at her.

  “But you’ve been doing so well lately,” she said, soothingly.

  I shook my head “I’ve had a few setbacks lately,” 

  I watched as she nodded, sadly, to herself.  “I see,” she didn’t probe me as to what I meant, but I could tell that she was disappointed, just as clearly as I could tell that she wasn’t surprised. 

  “Sorry,” I said, involuntarily.

   She shook her head in distraction, “Don’t be sorry,” she murmured, “Never be sorry,”

  I got to my feet.  I felt as though I’d ruined everyone’s day as I said, “I should go.”

  “No,” she said, looking up sharply, “don’t go… I’ve been thinking about what you said…”

  I sat down once more.

  “There are a number of things I feel I should tell you, they should help you decide… Firstly, you are a far better drummer than you are a waitress, secondly, I don’t believe that Fergus would leave you again, and also, I think this chance you have, if you took it, would probably strengthen what you two have more than it would damage it.  Thirdly,” She met my eyes, and her expression was gravely serious as she said, “you don’t have to be passive about this, you can be in control, of what you do and don’t become involved with in The Girls From Mars.  You have a great many useful friends, Maggie, and they’d all be willing to help you to be in The Girls From Mars, and be comfortable with being in The Girls From Mars.”

    Thomas offered me a lift home, and it seemed rude to say no, so I accepted with wary thanks.  The weather wasn’t fantastic, and it would save me from getting wet.  Mum stood in the doorway, holding Elisabeth Ann, who had woken up with a high, keening, slightly wet sounding cry as is usual for those who have the disadvantage of having no teeth.   Despite this, it wasn’t a particularly shrill or demonstrative cry; it was almost apologetic, as though she was politely trying to draw attention to the fact that she needed feeding.  She hasn’t, as yet, learnt to roar and howl.  I smiled and waved to them both as I climbed into the passenger seat, and mum waved back as she watched the car reverse out onto the road.

  We talked a little on the way home, and whilst I did my best to keep up my end of the conversation, I was aware that we were making small talk; the situation had a depressingly familiar feel to it and our conversation soon petered out.  The early evening darkness was creeping in as we passed The Blossoms in Heaviley, and I found myself thinking about Elisabeth Ann. 

  Thomas almost echoed my thoughts as he said, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but you didn’t seem entirely comfortable at home today.”

  I looked up, guiltily, “Was it that obvious?”

  He nodded.

  “I’m sorry,” I couldn’t look at him, so I gazed at my hands, clasped tightly together in my lap, “I shouldn’t have come; I knew it was going to be…” I stopped myself in time.  “I… felt a little out of place,” I said, more carefully, “it was like walking in on a picture of a family, I felt as though I was intruding.”

  He didn’t say anything for several minutes, but when he did, I could sense the tension in his voice, “You said that we were a family, but you didn’t include yourself in that remark, I’m just wondering why.”

  “I don’t believe I am a part of your family.” It felt strangely good to say it at last, and I felt able to look up and meet his eye once more.

  “My family is your family,” he shrugged, “your mum, your sister…”

 “Half sister.”

  He turned to me, and said, sharply, “Does that half make such a difference to you?”

  I hesitated, “I don’t know,” I confessed at last, my confidence dipping again, “I don’t know how it feels to have a sister, or a brother, I just knows how it feels to have a half sister and two half brothers. Now, I have another half sister. It feels the same, but it also feels different because…” I stopped. I wasn’t sure why it was different, just that it was.

  “Because she’s Rachel’s, not Tony’s” he finished from me.

  I nodded.

  After the long silence, he said quietly, “Your mother cares about you, as do I. We both love you; we don’t want you to feel pushed out.”

  “Maybe it’s because we were always a team,” I reflected, “it was always the two of us, and now…”

  “You’re sharing her with me and Elisabeth Ann.”

  “Yes”

  “It doesn’t have to be either/or, it can be both.”

  “I know that, I think, deep down… I just don’t want to be in the way.”

  “You aren’t in the way, how you could be?”

  “Because with Elisabeth Ann I become an afterthought again, a mistake again.”

  “Why do you feel you were a mistake?”

  “Well, I know I wasn’t a planned baby.”

  He was quiet for a few moments before he said, “I’ve known your mother a long time; we were students together, before she met your dad.”

  “I know, she told me.”

  “She was very determined: she knew what she was doing when she decided to keep you.”

  There was another awkward silence, before I said, “I remind her too much of Tony sometimes, I think.”

  He sighed as he said, “I think she accepted Tony for who he is a long time ago. Maybe you should too.”

  We lapsed into silence again.

  After a while, he asked, “Are you going to tell me about some of the setbacks you’ve been having lately?” He added, tentatively, “I think I understand why you don’t want to tell Rachel, but you can talk to me, if it would make you feel better.”

  “It’s best I don’t” I said quickly.

  “Sure?”

  “Yes.”

  “You don’t have to keep everything bottled up, you know, it can help to talk about it.”

  “I know, and thanks,” I smiled, awkwardly, “but I already talked it over with Fergus, and I’m hoping that particular crisis is over now.”  There was another lengthy silence before I asked, “Are you going to marry my mother?”

  We were nearly home now, and I saw him hesitate before he replied, “I’d like to, but she hasn’t said yes yet. Would you like me to?”

  “I don’t know,” I confessed, “I don’t think she knows either.”

  “I did wonder if she didn’t want to say yes until she’d got you used to the idea.” He confessed as he stopped the car. “But I could be wrong.”

  “You could ask her again,” I said hesitantly.

  “Would you like me to?”

  I thought about it for a few moments. “Yes” I said at last, “I would.”

Chapter Sixty Seven: Time Suspended

As we lay in bed that night, I sensed his eagerness for sex, and I let him fuck me; it would be the last time, I knew that, and I wanted him to, for reasons I can’t fully explain.  It wasn’t just because I loved him, and wanted it, but because it would never happen again, and because I hoped that, one day, he would be able to forgive me for what I was about to do.

  Once he was breathing the steady rhythm of sleep, I slipped out of his warm arms and tiptoed over to the chair where I had left my clothes.  I could just make out the black slip, near the top of the pile, and I slid it over my head in silence.  I went into the kitchen to write the letter and, once it was done, I folded the sheets of paper twice and slipped it inside an envelope; then I wrote his name in careful letters on the front.  Back in the bedroom, I put it next to his bedside lamp, and paused in the darkness to watch him for a few moments.  He was lying on his back, his hair hanging loose, and his expression was happy as he breathed the regular, shallow breath of sleep.  My eyes filled with tears as I stooped to kiss him, and when I moved away, his face shone with the tears I had dripped onto his face.

  I felt strangely calm, despite the tears, as I went back to the kitchen.  I could feel the sadness in my heart, but it couldn’t overwhelm me then, for I was so sure that I was doing the right thing.  I opened the cupboard under the sink and removed a plain, unassuming carrier bag, it rustled as I placed it down on the table and removed its contents: a bottle of vodka, four packs of 32 Paracetomal tablets, and my anti-depressants, of which I had twelve left.  I got a glass from the cupboard, and then emptied out the Paracetomal onto the table.  I neatly stacked them into piles of ten, and then turned my attention to the anti-depressants.

  The Paracetomal were chalky and bitter in my mouth, the anti-depressants sweet and brittle as I swallowed, but I got them down.  I had decided to use as little vodka as possible, as I didn’t want to start feeling drunk until I had got most, if not all, of the pills down.  Once I’d done that, I downed the rest of the bottle as quickly as possible then, feeling rather light headed, went back to bed.

  He hadn’t stirred whilst I’d been away, but I felt a pang of guilt as I lay back down next to him.  I rested my head on his chest, and closed my eyes, hoping that I’d done what I could to make things as easy as possible for him.

  When I woke, about an hour or so later, I knew that something was wrong; I felt nauseated and sluggish, but it was far worse than that; I was icy cold and I felt lethargic and faint.  I couldn’t walk, so I crawled on my hands and knees towards the bathroom where, using the walls and the door as support, I opened the door, then closed and locked it behind me.  I fell to my knees afterwards, what little energy I had was gone as I crawled over to the toilet, and stuck my head inside the bowl, waiting for the inevitable.  When the sickness came, it came with a vengeance, and I have never been as violently sick as I was that night.  My stomach ached with a constant dull pain, my head throbbed, and I couldn’t have moved even if I’d wanted to.

  After a while, I heard him try the door, then, finding it locked, he knocked, “Are you alright?”

  I managed to stop throwing up long enough to call back, “Yes,” before the sickness overwhelmed me again, and I had to stick my head back inside the bowl.  Everything’s going wrong, I thought miserably, what if he finds the note? What if he goes into the kitchen? My eyes felt odd and heavy, and my head felt heavy too as I lifted it up. I don’t know what happened next.

  The banging woke me up, it was coming from nearby I realised as I moved my still heavy head and opened my dully aching eyes; it was irregular but loud, I felt the vibrations as I lay on the floor. When I moved, I felt a terrible, sharp, stabbing pain somewhere around my stomach, and I curled up in agony as I moaned. The pale moonlight shone through the window onto my face as I lay there, then light burst into the room as the lock splintered away from the door and the door swung open.

  He was next to me then, I felt his hands, warm against my cold clammy skin as he held me in his arms; I heard the panic in his voice as he murmured to me, “It’s going to be O.K, darling, I promise… I called an ambulance, but you mustn’t go to sleep, got to stay awake, please, please,” he seemed to choke, “please, don’t die, don’t die…”

  The pain was so great that it was all that I could do to stay quiet, but as he held me, I gave up the battle and began to give in to the pain as I cried; I couldn’t speak.

  “Don’t die,” he whispered, “please, please, don’t die, please.”  He sniffed, and I knew that he was crying.

  When I next awoke, I was lying on a trolley, being wheeled down a long white echoing corridor.  Lines of different colours adorned the ceiling and floor as I gazed, vacantly, at them.  It still hurt inside, but the pain had become a part of me, I felt as though I was in a fog, though I could hear things, they seemed a long way off,  “Don’t tell my mum,” I pleaded in a tiny voice as I closed my eyes once more, “please, don’t tell my mum…”

  I don’t remember having my stomach pumped, but it must have happened because my throat was painfully sore when I next came to.  My head ached as my eyes flickered open and, as I took in the white walls and stark white furniture around me, I felt the sense of panic rush, screaming, to the surface.  I remembered the dream I had last year, the padded cell, I made my choice, now its time to make yours, Nat had said, and the doors had slammed shut behind her, locking me in.  I turned to my right, and saw Fergus, he was holding my hand, and he looked very old and tired as he gazed at me through eyes red with crying.  “Take me home,” I whispered, a note of pleading entered my voice as I continued, “please, take me home, I don’t belong here,” I began to cry, “please…”

  He squeezed my hand, then, with his free hand, he reached over and wiped the tears from my face with careful fingers.  “They’re going to discharge you later,” he murmured, wearily, “but you’ll have to come back for appointments at outpatients, they say, they want to assess you.”

  “I don’t want to be assessed, what if they want to re-admit me? What if they send me to a psychiatric hospital?” the panic made my voice shake, “I’m not ill!”

  He sighed, “They want to know why you did it; they want to make sure it won’t happen again, but they’re sending you home because they need the bed.”

  “Did they call my mum?”

  “No, I told them I was your next of kin, I thought it best.”

  “How did you, how did they…”

  “I told them we’re married.”

  “Oh”

  There was a long, long silence.

  “I could marry you…” he began, thoughtfully.

  “It doesn’t seem very wise,” I said, cautiously, lest I hurt his feelings, “being married to me.”

  “Well,” he admitted, wryly, “it would certainly be eventful.”

  I smiled, tentatively, “I’d kiss you, but I probably taste of sick.”

  He nodded, “Yes, you puked up most of what you’d taken before we got you here they said” his eyes were serious as he said “Don’t do that again, please… I never want to have to go through that ever again, I came so close to losing you, and I don’t even know why…” He took a folded, crumpled, wad of paper out of his jeans pocket and gazed at it unhappily, “I suppose,” he said, hesitantly, “that the answer is in here.”  He made to open it and then stopped; I watched as he put the letter back into its envelope and folded it once more.  “When we get home tonight,” he said, tensely, “I want you to read this to me.”

  I opened my mouth to protest.

  “…And we’re going to talk,” he met my eyes, and his expression was stern as he added, “I think it’s long overdue, don’t you?”

  I squeezed his hand, “I’m so sorry…” I whispered.

  “Well,” he admitted, “that’s something I suppose.”

  The house felt cold when we arrived home later that evening.  Marmalade was waiting for us outside, crying to be let in, I scooped her up and cuddled her to me, and she began to purr.  I sat down with her on the sofa, Fergus joined me, and we sat in silence for about half an hour. When the cat got bored and jumped down from my lap I saw him reach into his pocket and produce the letter.  He handed it to me, and I unfolded it and slid the letter out from its envelope.  As I unfolded the pages, I said, “I’d like a drink.”

  “Nothing alcoholic,” he said, firmly.

  “No,” I agreed, “some milk, or tea.”

  When he returned, I was gazing at the words that I had written only a day beforehand.  He nodded to me as he handed me the mug, and I took a deep breath, then began to read:

  “My dearest love, I cannot ask you to forgive me for what I have done, but I ask that you try to understand.  I know that suicide is the cowards way out, and if I were a stronger person I would try to find another way, but I can’t.  I love you too much to keep on hurting you, which I know I have been doing.  I found the box of books under your bed, and feel I should at least try to answer the questions you wanted answers to.  I have never talked to you about my illness because I couldn’t bear to, though I have often felt I should over the past ten months.  You have done some research of your own, and have no doubt formed your own theories about my behaviour in the past and in the present.  I understand, I think, why you felt the need to do this, but I still felt horrified when I realised what you had done.  I should have talked to you, but it is too late now.  At least you won’t have to know anymore.  You can’t stop me from hurting myself, only I can do that.  I haven’t cut myself since February 2004, but I can’t guarantee I won’t again.  I realise that I am unstable, a loose canon, dangerous maybe, and I know what I must do.  By killing myself I am saving you from a life of misery, I love you too much to put you in a position whereby you would one day have to give permission for me to be detained under the Mental Health Act, I couldn’t put you in that position, I would sooner die.  I never told you everything that Terry did to me, I felt I should spare you that, and I still do.  It is enough to say that any sexual dysfunction you believe I had, or have, probably at least partially stems from some or all of the things he did to me.  I have had depression, on and off, from the age of thirteen, but was not diagnosed until after I left him, when I was eighteen.  I was diagnosed as having a medium-serious level of reactive depression.  When I was ill last year and the year before, I never received a clear cut diagnosis, so it is possible that it was post-traumatic stress disorder, or it may have been manic depression, both phrases were mentioned at various points by my mother, my G.P, and the psychotherapist I saw at the hospital.  None reached a conclusion.

  What is happening to me now feels like depression.  It will only get worse, that I know, I feel as though I ache inside, and I want to sleep forever.  I know that you have been trying to help me, that you love and care about me, that you have been looking after me, but I am not a child, and I know what I must do.  There are other women out there who will love you if you just give them a chance, women who are together and know where they’re going in life, who can be a true partner, not a burden, and I will become a burden to you one day, if not now; I never want to be that.  You need someone who can love you unconditionally, who won’t let you down, who will treat you properly.  Who will be equal to you.  I am too young for you, too screwed up and neurotic, too sick, too cold, too emotionally and psychologically unpredictable.  I do not deserve you, and I won’t be your burden and responsibility any longer.  I love you, but I must say goodbye.”

  As I cried, he asked, “Do you feel the same now?” I couldn’t answer him, and he ran his fingers along my arm, “Do you still want to save me from yourself? I mean, that was what you meant, wasn’t it?”

  “How can we go on as we are, as I am? How can we? After what I’ve done…”

  He took me in his arms and, as I sobbed into his shoulder, he spoke calmly and determinedly, “We can, and we will, if you want to, we will go on.”

  “But how can we?”

  “Because, despite what you think, you are strong, and I won’t leave you again… I know more this time, I can see the signs, I’ve been seeing them for weeks, I was working out what to do, or say, only, I never realised it was leading up to last night.”  He squeezed me tight, “Promise me, promise me, if you ever feel like that again, ever, even for a few minutes, seconds even, you’ll tell me.”

  I had stopped crying, and my throat felt sore as I asked, shakily, “But would you listen?”

  “Always,” he whispered.  It was getting late, and as he held me, he confessed, “I’m almost afraid to go to bed, I only hope that I can trust you still to be here when I wake up, can I?”

  I nodded, “I promise.”

  He kissed me.

  “Do I still taste of sick?”

  He laughed, “No.”

  We did talk that week, not just about what I’d done, but about why he’d bought those books and done all that research without discussing it with me.  “It was last year,” he admitted, “when we weren’t together, it was my sister’s idea; she thought it wouldn’t do any harm to be prepared, since she knew I was determined to be with you.”  He smiled, cautiously, “I wanted to talk about it with you, but I couldn’t, I remembered how defensive you got when I asked you about Terry, and besides,” he pulled a face, “I know all about that, every time I’m with you, every time we have sex, I’m conscious of what he did to you, I know there are certain things you can’t face, certain places I can’t touch you, certain things I could never do, because of him.” 

  I looked away, my face flushed in discomfort and embarrassment, “Don’t you hate me for that?” I asked.

  “No,” I turned back to face him, surprised.  His expression was earnest, “I could never hate you for that, I hated you for refusing to talk about it, for not telling me, but I could never hate you for that.”

  “I am,” I hesitated, “better than I was…”

  “I know,” he said, “I always knew it would be different…”

  “You mean ‘difficult’” I interrupted.

  “Perhaps,” he reflected, “but that wasn’t what I meant, I meant it would be different because it was difficult.  You were so hard to win over, and I knew, from fairly early on, that you were never going to be a fling or a one night stand, that it was all or nothing…” He paused before adding, a little flippantly, “Of course, I loved you by then, so it didn’t matter.”

  “Was I worth it?” I asked, quietly.

  “Yes,” he kissed me, “even in the bad times, you were worth it, you still are.”

  At the end of the week, I received a particularly shocking phonecall.  It was from Jasper, The Girls From Mars manager, “Are you free to talk?” he enquired, rather intensely.

  “Yes,” I replied, a little puzzled, “Why?”

  “Because the new Girls From Mars album’s being mixed at the moment, and I need to have found a replacement drummer for Andrea before the band go out on tour.” Andrea isn’t leaving the band, she is expecting a baby in a few months time, and, as such, she’s officially on maternity leave.  “I asked her who she would recommend approaching first, and she suggested you.”

  I was so surprised I couldn’t speak.

  “Hello? Maggie? Are you there?”

  “Yes,” I let out the breath I’d been holding, and it came out as a gasp.

  Fergus hovered behind me.  He had been about to feed Marmalade, but must have picked up on the general oddness of the phonecall.

  “Well?” he asked, “what do you think? I know you don’t have any band commitments at the moment or I’d’ve heard.”

  “Yes,” I said, still distracted, “but…”

  He said that he would give me a month to think about it.  “No longer than a month though, I’d like to know before then really.”

  “I’ll do my best, I have a lot to think about, a lot to sort out…”

  “Well,” he sounded vaguely impatient “I’ll await your response then…”

  The call ended.

  When I told Fergus about it, a strange, closed look settled over his face, “Well,” he said at last, “I wouldn’t stop you from doing it…”

  “But,” I prompted.

  He sighed, and the closed look was replaced by one of exasperated concern, “I don’t know if you’re up to the stress of touring with The Girls From Mars, it’s not like touring with Titanium Rose.”

  I nodded.

  “But,” another sigh, “it’s your choice to make.”

  I nodded again, “It’s not something I’d take on lightly.”

  “I know, but…” I could see the worry, it was written all over his face, “I can see you not being able to resist a challenge this big, whether it would be healthy for you to do it or not.”

  “Or healthy for us,” I added softly, still reeling from Jaspers’ phonecall.

Chapter Sixty Six: This Is The End

So now it’s official: No more Titanium Rose.  I can’t pretend that I don’t regret the end of the band, of this phase of my life, because I do, but that regret is tinged with a huge sense of relief, which quite frequently outweighs the regret.

  Jenny celebrated her newfound freedom by embarking on a weeklong bender with Liberty Belle.  I saw them sleeping it off on the big, flat, wooden benches by the yet-to-be-switched-on fountains in Piccadilly one morning.  Nat says she saw them at Juvenile Hell a few times, but she had to evict them in the end because they had invented a particularly reckless slam dance/stagger, and too many people were getting hurt.  “They went off to the village after that, apparently, where they performed a spirited but not particularly accurate rendition of ‘I Know What Boys Like’ at a karaoke bar, before staggering around Canal Street for several hours, roaring ‘I Am The Fly’ and ‘Totally Wired’ by turns,” she shook her head in mock sadness, “It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch…” I didn’t see Jenny properly until the week after, when Flora and I met her for dinner at Afflecks Palace.  She was clutching a mug of coffee and shivering, even though it’s not even September yet, and was wearing jeans, a ‘Keep It Peel’ t-shirt, and a hoodie with the hood up.  Tangled magenta hair stuck out at angles from inside the hood, and her eyes were so bloodshot they were almost red: She looked very poorly.

  Flora was on her dinner hour when we met Jenny that day.  After the band split, she went home to Scotland for a few weeks to stay with her mum and dad, leaving Debbie in charge of the shop; and the break seems to have done her good.  She is drinking less, and the shop is busier than ever now.

  “What will you do now?” asked Jenny when we left that day.

  “I don’t know,” I admitted.

  Since Fliss left, I’ve been staying with Fergus, thinking about my life, and worrying.  I am twenty-three, and all I have to show for my life are a couple of CD’s, I haven’t even got a job anymore, my last waitressing job having dried up.  All I can do is wander around this dark, deserted house, thinking and brooding, worrying and waiting for Fergus to come home from work each night.  I don’t like this feeling, this sense of being on the edge of misery, feeling hopeless and tearful, I have no control over my life, or my feelings; I am useless.

  Fergus works late a lot, there are a lot of bands recording at Twilight at the moment, and the studio are one engineer short, so he often doesn’t get home until nine or ten.  He leaves food out for me to cook, simple things that he’s prepared beforehand, that I just have to put in to heat.  When he is there, he lavishes attention on me, holding me, and kissing me, making love to me…  It isn’t anything to do with sex that makes me miserable, I’m over that now, or am getting over it, I trust him implicitly, and I know he would never hurt me.  We talk for hours, and I know he senses there is something wrong, that I am keeping things from him, but if I am, it’s because I love him.  I don’t want to hurt him again.

  I spent a long time yesterday gazing at my arms, at those faint white scars.  I wasn’t tempted to cut myself, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it all the same; all those scars… do drug addicts feel like that when they look at the needle tracks on their arms?

  He asked me last night what was wrong, and I said, “Nothing.”  I don’t know what’s wrong; I just know that there is something wrong, and that it will only get worse.

  I was happy a few weeks ago when Fliss phoned.  She is with Adrienne in France, and has no definite plans, but I know she is happy now, and I would rather see her smile again than still be in Titanium Rose.

  I am writing this entry whilst sitting on the edge of Fergus’ bed.  When I moved my right foot just now, I stubbed my toes on something just under the bed.  I am going to stop and take a look, see what’s under there.

  (Later)

I feel a kind of numb detachment as regards what I have just read; both nothingness and despair, anger and embarrassment, fear and apprehension… so many things at once, second by second, something different, so that it feels as if I feel nothing at all.  Too many things to process, and now I’m afraid; because I know… I realise the truth at last.

  Underneath the bed was a small cardboard box, full of books and scribbled notes in Fergus’ handwriting.  Two Mind books were on top, ‘The Complete Guide To Mental Health: The comprehensive guide to choosing therapy, counselling and psychiatric care’ and ‘The Complete Guide To Psychiatric Drugs: A layman’s guide to anti-depressants, tranquillisers and other prescription drugs.’  He had flagged up the sections on anxiety, depression, manic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and self-harm in the first book.  Certain words or phrases were underlined, and further notes had been made on anti-depressants and tranquillisers, and from the third book in the pile, ‘Essential Psychopharmacology of Depression and Bi Polar Disorder.’  There were articles about self-harm, and about eating disorders, along with phone numbers for MIND, the Samaritans, the Eating Disorders Association, 42nd Street, stuff from internet sites… Part of me was amazed that he had had time to research the area so thoroughly, but most of me was appalled.  What worried me most of all was a scrap of paper with a series of questions on it:

  1.) How do I talk to her about her illness?

2.) How can I stop her from hurting herself?

3.) Can post-traumatic stress disorder have a sexual cause?

4.) Could I bring myself to seek treatment for her without her knowledge or consent?

It was the last one that hurt the most, in fact, it didn’t just hurt, it scared me, for I knew what lay behind it, not just pills and counselling, but the full weight of the Mental Health Act, and the power to section those who are deemed to be at risk to themselves, or to those around them.

  I have sat quietly for over an hour now, just thinking.  The books and their notes are back in their box now, and are hidden under the bed once more, but they are far from being out of sight, out of mind.  I have been thinking, and I have made a decision.  I realise that it will always be like this, I will always be angry and unhappy, I will always be afraid, and I will always feel powerless in this constant struggle, trying to understand how and why I feel this way, and always failing, always letting people down.  Letting him down, and I know, I know, that he deserves better.  Despite my chronic indecisiveness, for once I have made a decision.  I know what I must do.

Chapter Sixty Five: Smashing The Looking Glass

“…And move to the right, sweetheart, hand on your hip, lift the skirt up, and open your eyes, wider, c’mon sweetie, really wide, big eyes…”

  Fliss was posed against a white backdrop in a pale pink empire line mini-dress which just about covered her thighs. A pale pink satin ribbon had been tied around her head in a huge bow, and another was tied like a choker around her neck.  As she widened her eyes and parted heavily glossed pink lips, I exchanged a look with Flora.  She raised her eyebrows at me, and then rolled her eyes as she glanced at the stylist, Jared, who was watching the shoot in barely contained rapture.

  “It’s not that I have anything against gay men,” she had remarked earlier as we got changed into various skimpy outfits put aside for us, “but gay male stylists are a real cliché, and I don’t know that they always understand women very well.”  She held her breath as I yanked the zip up on her mini kilt, and then continued, “of course, there are plenty of women who don’t understand women either, but…” she sighed as she threw her hands up in frustration, “Oh I just loathe stylists…”

  I wasn’t so keen on Jared myself; upon meeting him face to face, (well, head to chest: he must be at least a foot shorter than me…) he had positively recoiled, letting out a little squeal as he exclaimed that he was under the impression that I was “One of those pro-ana babes,” and not the strapping amazon wench stood before him.  Very flattering, I’m sure.  I’m going to have to start taking bounty’s out on all those journalists who’ve called me anorexic, it’s bad enough being labelled troubled and difficult without the anorexia tag as well.

  We didn’t do so many group shots this time; it was mainly portraits of us individually, which I loathe.  Jared and the photographer, Kyle, spent a lot of time on Fliss.  As well as the candyfloss pink ensemble, they had her wear a black cutaway mini dress, equally as short as the pink dress, with black bows in her hair, looking sweetly demure.  Other outfits included a manga style sailor suit, complete with baggy socks and mary janes, “Putting the tits back into titillation,” was how Flora wearily surmised it.

  We bore our own photo shoots with a combination of weary impatience and barely contained rage.  Whilst Katy was permitted to stick to the ‘serious rock star’ uniform of jeans and t-shirt, Flora had to flash a bit of leg and cleavage for the lens, and I found my legs to be on permanent display.  Despite being a size fourteen these days, I still have no boobs worth highlighting, which is probably just as well really… as it was, it was mini skirts, hotpants, and skin tight jeans of both the denim and P.V.C variety all the way, the former two being uncomfortable, the latter horribly clammy.  We were both glad when it was over.

  Afterwards, we had band practice upstairs at Twilight Studios.  I could feel the tension in the air as we set up our equipment, and I could see by the self-satisfied smirk on her face that Katy was pleased with herself.

  Over by the stark white walls, and the wide, stone windowsill, Fliss was staring out of the window, a strangely solemn figure in her butterfly flip flops and her blue checked dress, her hair hanging loosely down her back once more.  I walked over to her, and stood next to her, trying to see what she was looking at.  “Do I look like a doll?” she murmured, her voice tight with anger.

  I frowned, “No.”

  “Then why does everyone treat me like one?” she snapped, her eyes flashing, “They see the blonde hair, the blue eyes, and they assume…”

  “Come on,” I lightly touched her arm, “let’s go down to the kitchen for some coffee.”  To my relief, she allowed herself to be led, but I could sense her frustration as we walked.  She wouldn’t look at me, but I know that I would have fried in the glare of her angry eyes had she lifted her gaze from the worn, coffee stained carpet.

  She seemed a little calmer when we returned, and whilst Flora and Katy had evidently had words whilst we were out of the room, they too were outwardly calm, and band practice could commence.  We began with one of Katy’s new songs, ‘Perfect Dream,’ which is about having a sexy (but suitably clean for the pre teen market) dream about the perfect boy, but being too shy to do anything when you meet him in real life.  I’ve done what I can to make it interesting, but it’s still nauseating.  Fliss hates it, especially as Katy makes her sing it in a way that isn’t natural to her.  The chorus is especially drippy, with lots of oohs and sighing and so on, and Katy spent a lot of time going over it with her, not discussing it, but telling Fliss how to sing it.

  The other songs we worked on were new Katy songs too, and were more of the same really.  Flora stopped playing halfway through the second one, and asked, “Why are you writing this kind of shit? We’ve never sung songs about boys.”

  We have, actually, but I knew what Flora meant: We haven’t written fluffy little ditties with passive narratives, they’ve always had an edge somehow.

  Katy didn’t answer, she just said, “If it sells…”

  “Oh, well,” snapped Flora, scathingly, “if it sells, we can be Ashlee, Avril and Amy all in one for all I care.”

  Talk turned to cover versions soon after, with much heated discussion as to which song was to be our next cover for our next tour.  Flora, Fliss and I wanted to try Maxine Darren’s ‘How Can I Hide It From My Heart’, because Fliss played it to us once, and we felt it had great garage rock potential.  Fliss also suggested the Go-Go’s ‘Good Girl’, and Dale and Grace’s ‘I’m Leaving It Up To You’, but Katy favoured something better known; she wanted to do The Bangles ‘Eternal Flame.’

  There was a long icy silence before Fliss said, coldly, “Just what I always wanted to do, perform Atomic Kitten’s cast offs for the lairy beer crowd.”  She turned on Katy, her eyes aflame once more as she snapped “It’s soppy eighties romanticism in short skirts, and I want no part of it.”

  I wasn’t sure where the short skirts reference had come from; maybe Fliss was still seething over the photo shoot.

  “It suits your voice,” said Katy, calmly.

  “So does ‘Barbie Girl’, but you don’t want me to cover that!”

  “Do you want to cover ‘Barbie Girl’?”

  “NO!”  She walked away from the microphone, and unplugged her guitar.

  “What are you doing?” Katy’s voice was quiet, but there was a dangerous edge to her voice.

  “Leaving,” Fliss put her guitar back into its case, and locked it.  She walked over to the chair she had left her bag on, and calmly picked it up.  In the doorway, she paused as she said, “I mean it, Katy, I’m sick of being your little princess, your eye candy… I won’t put up with it anymore, I’m leaving, and I won’t be coming back.  You can hire another singer to front your band, or” she glared at her, “maybe a model would be more appropriate.”  With that last remark, she turned and walked away, closing the door behind her.

  With the closing of the door, I snapped out of my temporary paralysis as I threw down my drumsticks, and jumped to my feet, “Fliss!” I tried to follow her, but Katy was barring my way, “FLISS!”

  “Are you happy now?” she snapped.

  I pushed her, “I haven’t time for this…”

  She swung me round by my elbow so that I was facing her, her grip was painfully hard as she said, “You turned her against me; it’s your fault she wants to leave!”

  I struggled with her, “I didn’t turn her against you; you did that yourself.”

  “Fliss was my best friend until you came along! We grew up together; she’s like my little sister!”

  “Who you just pimped to the lad mags!” I yelled.

  It was Flora who broke the silence as she said, in withering tones, “Maybe if those industry contacts you love so much had treated either Maggie or Adrienne better, maybe Fliss wouldn’t be so bloody disillusioned with the whole music business, you don’t half chat a load of shit sometimes, Katy…”

  As they rounded on each other, Katy relinquished her grip on my arm, and I seized my chance to escape.  This was an argument best kept out of, I felt, and Fliss was the one who mattered then.

  I expected to find her waiting for me at home, but I was disappointed.  It was only half three at that point, so most of our friends were at work.  I phoned Emily’s number, but received no answer.  It’ll be alright, I told myself, they’re probably together, they’ll turn up soon.  But when it got to half six, and Fliss still wasn’t home, I rang Fergus and asked him to drive me over to Emily’s house in Fallowfield.

  As it is July, most of the students have gone home, so there was only Emily there when we knocked.  She blinked sleepy brown eyes at us in the early evening sunshine as she attempted to figure out the motive for our visit.  “Fliss was here,” she confirmed as she curled up in an armchair, “but she left, we argued, and she left.”  She seemed a little puzzled, but wasn’t overly upset, “I assumed that she was going home.”

  “What did you argue about?” I pressed her.

  “The band”

  Back at the flat, I entered her room with a certain amount of trepidation, “Are you sure you should be doing this?” asked Fergus as he followed me inside.

  “I can’t think of any other option, can you?”

  “Have you tried her mobile?”

  I nodded, “It was switched off.”

  We sat down on Fliss’ neatly made bed and looked around us.  Her room had changed a lot since that day, nearly four years ago, when we had moved in.  Marmalade was curled up on Fliss’ pillow; she woke up when we sat down on the bed and surveyed us with unforgiving amber eyes.  Fliss usually lets her sleep on the bed, situations permitting that is.  I walked over to the windowsill and gazed out at the street, Think, I ordered myself, where would she go?

  Behind me, I heard the movement of paper and turned around.  Fergus was looking through a selection of books and fanzines by Fliss’ bed.  Hilary McKay’s ‘Permanent Rose’ was rubbing spines with ‘A Country Punk’ fanzine, and Emily Prager’s ‘Roger Fishbite.’  No clues there then.

  I opened her wardrobe and carefully checked to see if anything was missing.  There were no obvious gaps, but I missed a few outfits here and there, including Fliss’ fifties style ballgown, and a pair of jeans that I knew hadn’t been worn recently.

  “Where would she keep her address book?” I wondered aloud.

  Fergus handed me Fliss’ bag that she had taken to rehearsal, “Her purse and mobile have gone.”

 “Anything else?”

  “No, but I can’t see her guitar anywhere, can you?”

  “No, not now you mention it…”

  Over on Fliss’ dressing table were two framed photographs, one on either side of the mirror.  One was of Adrienne, dating from the time in 2003 when she had stayed with us; the other was a more recent photo of Emily, posed self-consciously by the stage at Juvenile Hell.  I opened the drawer beneath Adrienne’s picture, a tiny, ornate, brass knobbed drawer, so small I hadn’t noticed it at first.  Inside was an envelope containing letters, which I glanced at, then decided that Fliss wouldn’t want me to read.

  Fergus saw my shoulders tense, “What is it?” he put his arm around my waist, and peered over my shoulder.

  “Love letters,” I said quietly as I slid them back into the envelope, “Adrienne to Fliss.”  I placed the envelope down on the table and lifted out a second envelope.  This one contained photos, photos Fergus glanced at before quietly slipping them back into the envelope, his face unreadable.

  Underneath the two envelopes was a book, I turned over the pages with great care, careful not to smudge any of the writing, “It’s lyrics,” I said at last, “and poetry, there’s some drawings too…” It was quite a thick book, and things were dated.  “There’s the original lyrics to ‘Be My Girl’” I said, “and look,” I pointed to a particularly messy page, “’Itchy Fingers’, she wrote that with Violet.”

  “’Grey Eyed Girl’,” Fergus read over my shoulder, “I don’t remember that.”

  “No, nor do I,” I scanned the lyrics, “It’s recent, and…”

  “It’s about Katy,” said Fergus, softly.

  “How can you tell?”

  “’My shadow, my sister?’ and look,” he pointed to a different paragraph of Fliss’ scrawl, “that bit’s about childhood.”

  I flicked back a bit, and saw ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’, and another Adrienne song, ‘She’s Trouble’, then I came to the songs written when I was ill, ‘I’ll Get Along’, ‘If You Only Had Me’, ‘Tap Dance’, ‘Your Face’, ‘I Feel For Her’, ‘Turn Me Crazy’, and… There was a song that I had seen before, but I know we never played it; I had seen it on the table in our living room, amidst newspaper cuttings, now I read it all, and so many feelings came back as I read.  Fergus held me, his head rested on my shoulder as he read it with me.  My vision became blurred with tears as I followed the lines:

 
Silence reins as she screams inside her head

Make it stop, make it stop

Put everything back

The way it was.

“Are you alright?” Fergus asked.

  I nodded.

  “You’re shaking like you’ve seen a ghost.”

  “I have,” I whispered.

  “How did she know all that stuff?”

  I shook my head, “I don’t know, I suppose I wasn’t as good at hiding what was going on as I thought.”  But it was the last verse that haunted me:

And the all seeing eyes

Of those who went before

Tell a story

A story that no one wants to know

A story of darkness from light

Fear from happiness

The harshness of the spotlight

The dark hours of the soul

How they died inside for rock’n’roll.

Shakily, I put the book and the two envelopes back in their drawer.  Over on the bed, Marmalade stretched and stood up.  I saw Fergus reach across to the space the cat had vacated, “A letter,” he said.  He was about to break the seal, but I saw him hesitate.  He handed it to me, “She would want you to open it.”

  It was a short note:

  Maggie,

I can’t be in the band anymore, I can’t pretend to be the little girl I was four years ago, I’m sorry.  I’m going somewhere where I can think, I will get in touch soon, but you mustn’t worry.  I will be with someone who can help me and look after me, as I know Fergus will look after you.

  Look after Marmalade for me, remember she likes the pouches and the dried food better than the tins.

Fliss

 

  He stayed with me that night, I would have asked him to, had he not already decided to, because I didn’t want to be alone then.  I felt very tired and shaky, and I could feel an indefinable sadness growing inside my soul.  It was because I was missing Fliss, but it was also more than that: I knew, but I didn’t want to, what was likely to happen next.  Fliss words haunt me still:

She has broken down

She has shut down

They haunt me even now, because they remind me, of what has been, and of what is to come, it mustn’t come though, it mustn’t happen again, not now.  As I drifted off into sleep, I remembered Fliss, I saw her face, and I saw her holding her cat.  I saw her running around the flat when we first moved in, and I saw her storming out of rehearsal, heard her say the words that she had written in her letter, “I can’t pretend to be the little girl I was four years ago.”  I can’t pretend, can’t be that girl, I’m not a little girl anymore.  She isn’t, I know that now, why did it take so long for me to realise it?

Chapter Sixty Four: 185 Miles Away

The searing, humid heat as we travelled through London and along the motorway to home was almost unbearable.  I found myself leaning, listlessly, against the glass of the coach window again as I checked off all the districts of London we passed through once more, in reverse this time, SW something to NW11.  Fliss has her publishing deal now, secured at the eleventh hour with Salva, Alan Mitchelman’s new company.  The paperwork isn’t done yet, but it’s going to happen.

  She and I headed over to Juvenile Hell as soon as we got home.  It was the Angel and the Razorblades single launch tonight, and both Emily and Fergus were there.  He held me tightly as I walked into his arms, he didn’t say ‘How did it go?’ or ‘Are you O.K?’ He knew it had gone badly, and he knew I wasn’t O.K.  But he couldn’t know how I felt about the bombs, about the surreal experience of being caught up, in a very tiny way, in something that is bigger than you or I, something terrible and permanent, something I remain preoccupied with, despite myself.  Not in a nightmares and sleeplessness sense, but in the way I flinch whenever I hear a siren.  The way I watch, warily, whenever a police van goes by.  I feel nervous, yet not afraid.  I feel… something else.

  The evening was marred by Emily and Fliss and an argument that they had towards the end of the night.  I sensed sullenness on both sides throughout the night, but, nonetheless, was surprised to see Fliss erupt so emotionally and publicly.  I gathered that Emily was unwilling to take sides where arguments over Titanium Rose are concerned.

  In bed last night, I lay in Fergus’ arms and tried to take my mind off the band and our situation.  I had told Fergus about the meeting, but it hadn’t helped: Katy was on my mind still.  “I’m afraid she’s turning into a monster,” I confessed.

  He sighed, “Katy’s hard, she always has been… she’s decided that the bigger a bitch she becomes, the better she’ll do… it’s tough for her, very few women produce, even these days, she has to be hard to survive.”

  “Then why is she taking it out on us? Why is she making us her enemies?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Downstairs, the doorbell rang, and with a weary reluctance, I moved out of his arms, “I’ll go.”

  I yawned as I fumbled on a dressing gown, and then walked, slowly, along the corridor, across the landing, and down the stairs.  I could see the blurred outline of the figure before I opened the door: Emily.

  As I watched her spring up the stairs ahead of me, and make her way through to Fliss’ room, I couldn’t help but smile, tired though I was.  I was becoming accustomed to Emily’s visits.  I have watched her relationship with Fliss subtly change over the past few months, yet I am still unsure as to the true nature of their feelings for each other.  They seem closer, and Emily has spent the night, but I don’t know how far things have gone, and I would never ask.  I have never seen them kiss though.

  And as for me, how do I feel? I feel nothing, nothing but a kind of emptiness, sadness now that we have returned from London.  I don’t know where it comes from, or how to stop it, and I don’t know what I want anymore.  I feel afraid, for myself, for my friends, for the future… I feel afraid about things that I can’t understand, but it’s more than that, because I know… I know what is coming.

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