Chapter One: Footsteps In The Dark

 The bus was quiet tonight. The shift workers, pub regulars and club goers had all set off for home before me, so I had the bus largely to myself.  The dim orange lighting created pockets of light amidst the creaking shadows as we travelled at a maniacs pace towards Ardwick, and across the aisle from me, a gaunt, dark featured man slept, sprawled across his seat. But I was too excited to sleep, my brain was humming impatiently, even though my body was tired, and I couldn’t wait to get home and write in here about tonight.  As I gazed out of the window into the night, I noticed a small and ragged group of drunks, weaving their way along the damp grey pavement, and as we drew closer to Stockport, the streets became darker and darker as the street lighting grew paler and more inconsistent.

  A wonderful baking smell of melting golden syrup, caramelised sugar, melting butter, and toasted oats floated in through the open windows on the breezy night air as we neared the McVities factory in Heaton Chapel, and the yellow glare of the bus headlights lit up the sign, which read:

Stockport

Twinned with Beziers and Heilbronn.

 What few bus passengers there were disembarked at a variety of stops between the town centre and Davenport, so that when the driver called out, “Anyone going past Stepping Hill?” I was the only one left to call back, “Yes!”

  The night seemed blacker and stiller than any night I could remember as I got off the bus, but I could see the bus driver in the dim light, and I watched as he turned the vehicle around in the middle of the now empty A6.  As he headed back towards Manchester, I waved, and he waved back.  In the silent night, the click and clunk of my boots on the tarmac and pavement seemed deafeningly loud.

  Mum was just going to bed when I arrived home, “You’re up late,” I commented as I walked through the dark hallway and into the warm glow of the living room.

  “I could say the same about you,” she remarked as I dumped my bag down on the floor and threw myself down into the nearest armchair, “I was worried, I wish you’d buy a mobile, that way you could at least let me know when you’ll be late.”

  I shrugged, “Sorry.” I unwrapped the parcel of newspaper I’d been carrying, and offered it to her as she made to walk past me, “Want some chips?”

  She paused, and then peered, suspiciously, into the newspaper, “Where did you get them?”

  “John’s Supper Bar.”

  She relaxed, “Go on then,” she took a few, and had eaten them before she reached the doorway, “Don’t stay up too late,” I heard her say, just before I heard her feet on the stairs, taking her up to bed.

  The chips are gone now, and I’m ready to start writing.  I thought that I would write about tonight so that when I’m older and life is different I can look back on this time and, if I’m unhappy then, I’ll know that it wasn’t always so.  Maybe I’ll look back on what I’ve written tonight in ten years or so and laugh at my naiveté, but I hope not. 

  Tonight Fliss, Flora and I went out to The Gates to see The Lollies, Sarah Dougher, The Bangs, and The Gossip on the Ladyfest tour.  The weather was quite nice and sunny as we queued up outside and there were a lot of people there.  Some were sitting on the pavement feigning boredom, whilst others chatted excitedly in clusters, or slouched against the dark, grimy Gates walls.  Several of the girls were proudly sporting the pink on black Ladyfest Scotland t-shirts and were talking in fast, excited voices.  I caught the odd phrase here and there, “Unbelievable, God it was so cool…” “Last time I was here was for Katastrophy Wife and Hooker,” “Can’t believe I’ve got to go home next week…” There were a variety of looks and styles going on, including a number of girls in denim skirts, customised with glitter, wearing Hello Kitty or Sunnydale High t-shirts, and carrying pastel Hello Kitty handbags of every colour.  Their trainers were pastel too, and they wore them with multi coloured stripy knee socks, pulled right up.  Their wrists were a mass of multi coloured plastic beads.  Of strong contrast to them were those dressed in black and leopard skin, sombre and stylish, wearing black nail varnish, and lashings of black eyeliner.

  Fliss joined a collection of similarly young or younger girls in the Hello Kitty group once we were inside, and Flora and I watched as they piled their pretty pastel handbags on top of each other, and danced around them to The Lollies.  Fliss’ fair hair, which was gathered up into bunches, bobbed as she danced, and the skirt of her pale pink slip dress shimmered as it caught the light.  Everything was going fine until the pipes burst, which was when we found ourselves being dispersed from the dark, warm basement, through the doors, up the stairs, and out into the cool evening sunshine of Newton Street, where we stood blinking and disorientated for a few minutes.

  Fliss slung on her Bagpuss backpack over her white cardigan and slip dress, and bounced over to the steps opposite The Gates, where Flora and I had taken up disillusioned residence.  Her little white and pink trainer clad feet shifted in impatience as she said, “Let’s go somewhere.”

  Flora shook her head gloomily.  It was beginning to rain, and the dampness was making her long, thick, brassy hair cling to her forehead and face in damp strands, “Let’s not.”  Fliss pouted, so Flora added, gently, “We might miss something.”

  Fliss turned to me for support, her large blue eyes pleading, “Where did you want to go?” I asked.

  “Oh, around,” she replied vaguely, “I wanted to go for a walk.”

  “In this?” The rain was getting quite heavy, and those members of the audience who had coats were quickly pulling them on.

  She nodded.

  I shook my head.

  “Oh well,” she sighed dejectedly as she wrapped the too big cardigan around herself for warmth.

  After what seemed an age, it was determined that the gig was going to be moved to The Twilight Café, and that the bands could go on once the Twilight bands had finished playing at around 11:30pm.  Once this was decided, things happened pretty quickly.  People began to text their friends, who had taken shelter in various surrounding pubs, and a group of us volunteered to carry equipment across to the new venue.

  The last band were still performing when we reached the Twilight, and the long, illuminated, table strewn café was teeming with both their audience and refugees from The Gates as we fought our way through to the stage with our precious cargo.

  We set down the cymbals and drum we’d been carrying, and then made our way, slowly, back through the crowd.  Flora was already at the bar, ordering drinks.

  After the gig, we walked to Portland Street where we picked up a bus to Chorlton.  Flora closed her eyes as she sank back into her seat, and I smiled quietly to myself as I savoured the gig.  Next to me, Fliss was beaming with happiness as she rooted through her bag for her phone.

  Katy, our guitarist, was halfway to bed when the three of us arrived back at the house.  She scowled reproachfully at me as I followed the others inside.  Where height is concerned, she is almost as small as Fliss, but whereas Fliss has always exuded a kind of friendly softness, Katy has always come across as being a good deal harder.  Her bleached white-blonde hair was pulled back from her sharp, pallid face into a ponytail, and she was wearing black pyjamas.

  Fliss hung up her Bagpuss bag and disembarked to make mugs of tea whilst Flora and Katy walked through to the living room, the latter complaining of feeling tired whilst the former continued to talk excitedly of the gig.  I followed a few steps behind them.

  Always a dark room, the living room was badly lit by a series of lamps, and cluttered with magazines, a tailors dummy, T.V and video.  A Hi-Fi system stood in one corner, and numerous musical and non musical paraphernalia had been scattered hither and thither, including Fliss’ copy of ‘Angel Food’ fanzine, which had got mixed up with someone else’s CD’s, and innumerable plectrums which were lying on top of the Hi-Fi, and on the table.  We were sitting on a rather dingy moss green sofa, which was complemented by two similarly dingy moss green armchairs, a scarred pine coffee table, and a couple of grey wooden chairs that Flora and Fliss had decorated via a method of flicking loaded paint brushes in the vague direction of the chair, until boredom had set in.

  Fliss placed three mugs of tea down on the coffee table in front of the sofa and sat down in between me and Flora, “Shall I do toast?”

  “If you like,” replied Flora, wearily rubbing her eyes.  We drank our tea and, when the toast was ready, set about arranging days and times for band practice next week and the week after.  This is always difficult, as our work and study commitments rarely seem to mean that we’re all available at the same time. I have two jobs, so I regularly work from nine to five as a Catering Assistant, and then follow it with an evening of market research, which only really leaves the weekends, when everyone wants to go out instead of rehearse. Katy has a similar schedule, albeit with different jobs, whereas Fliss and Flora work even odder hours.  Once we’d finally arranged it, I decided that it was time to head for home.

  “You can sleep here if you like,” offered Flora, her brown eyes kind.  She is the eldest member of the household in Chorlton and, as such, tends to be the one to make such offers.

  “No, thanks,” I got up from the sagging sofa, and picked up my bag, “I’ve got work in the morning.”

  “You wouldn’t want to slum it on the sofa now, would you?” sneered Katy, her grey eyes cold.

  “No,” it was easier to agree with her, especially when I knew that she didn’t want me to stay, “it hurts my back.”

  “I could sleep on the sofa if you like,” offered Fliss, “you could have my bed.”

  “Don’t bother, Fliss,” muttered Katy to her friend, “she won’t stay.”

  She and I glared at each other for a few moments before I dropped my gaze.  “I have to go.”

  It seemed easier to let her win the argument, I reflected, as I stepped out into the night.  I’ve been aware of the fact that Katy doesn’t like me ever since I joined Titanium Rose, but I always thought that she would come around to the idea.  Their previous drummer was a friend of hers, but he left to go to university over a year ago now, and she really needs to get over it, because I’m not going anywhere.  I like being in the band, and hanging out with Fliss and Flora tonight was good fun.  If only Katy could see that.

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Welcome to Screaming In Public

This blog has been set up to serialise my debut novel, Screaming In Public. I’ve left some details about it over on the About section, but just want to stress here that what you are about to start reading (if you do) is A Work Of Fiction rather than details of my day to day life. I could do a ‘proper’ blog, but it’d be bloody boring if I did, and I tend to be the pen and paper sort of diarist, not the blogging kind of diarist.

The books heroine, Maggie Davis, is – I suspect – much the same, in that what follows is her journal.

The story takes place between August 2001 and Early 2006. It is not a short book, and because people have busy lives and short attention spans, I’ve decided to put up one chapter a week. The next entry will be chapter one…

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