Chapter Six: Singles

Tonight we commenced the arduous task of packaging the records.  We undertook to do this here at the kitchen table, just me, Fliss, Flora, Katy, Nat, Violet and Fergus.  It was cold, so Fliss and I dragged Fliss’ little portable heater into the kitchen to warm things up a bit before everyone arrived.  We also dug out my tape machine, which I usually use for bootlegging gigs, and placed it by the window.  As I stacked the tapes into neat piles, Fliss lined up jars of coffee, packets of tea bags, and clean mugs.  It was going to be a long, long night.

  Fergus arrived first, and Fliss and I helped him to unload boxes of records, sleeves, and stickers from his car.  Soon the others had arrived, and a production line of sorts was in progress around our kitchen table.  Over on the other side of the kitchen, I made the tea and paused to watch the moon as it settled into those dark clouds like a pearl into cushioned velvet.

  At the table, Fergus cut the excess paper away from the record sleeves, which he then passed on to Nat, who bagged the sleeves and stacked them at my end of the table.  Meanwhile, Katy cut the sticky labels, and passed them on to Flora, who stuck them to a pile of 7”’s in inner sleeves. The stickered records then came to me, Fliss, and Violet, who paired them with the bagged sleeves, which we had, in the meantime, been rubber stamping with the One Way Or Another logo; lots of arrows pointing in different directions, and the phrase ‘One Way Or Another’ picked out in ransom note lettering.  The tea, coffee, and cigarette smoke flowed steadily and constantly as we each completed our part, and Fliss and I took it in turn to brew up, switch ashtrays, and swap tapes.

  About halfway through the evening, I got up to change tapes and upon walking back to the table, found that the conversation had turned to our upcoming tour, which Fergus has been arranging to promote the E.P.  “Yeah,” he was saying, “I’ve upgraded you from a transit to a coach now that The Girls From Mars are coming as well.”

  “Are we sleeping on the coach?” enquired Violet, her grey catlike eyes fixed on him.

  “Yes, why?” he replied, warily.

  She kept her eyes on him as she purred, “You must have a very understanding girlfriend, letting you go off for a fortnight,” her voice dipped a few octaves, and acquired a trace of sexual menace, “with a coach full of young, attractive, available ladies,” her eyes were deceptively innocent as she focused on his face.  “Well?” she asked a few moments later, when he hadn’t replied.

  He hadn’t broken the stare, but appeared to be thinking about his response.  There was no trace of embarrassment or awkwardness as he said, simply, “I don’t have a girlfriend.”

  “Too many tour bus shenanigans eh?” leered Katy.

  “No,” he and Nat exchanged what could only be a private, silent exchange.

  At last, she came to his rescue, “I do believe he’s saving himself.”

  “Ah,” teased Violet, huskily, “but for who?”

  “Maybe the lady in question is proving difficult,” he replied quietly.

  I could feel the colour rising to my cheeks as I replied, equally quietly, “Maybe she isn’t interested.”

  Nat broke the silence, “This ashtray’s full again, do you want me to change it?”

  “No,” I got to my feet, “I’ll do it.”

  By the end of the evening, the kitchen was barely visible through the fug of cigarette smoke.  Every ashtray was overflowing, and there were no spares left, so I left them on the table to cool down and extinguish properly, and carried the dirty mugs over the sink.  Fliss and Violet had kindly volunteered to do the washing up.

  Nat had already left with Flora and Katy, leaving Fergus and me alone in the living room, which after the crowded, noisy warmth of the kitchen seemed suddenly cold and empty.  He was sitting in one of the armchairs, reading ‘Electra’, but looked up as I came in, and put the fanzine back down on the floor where he had found it, amidst a pile of Fliss’ Louise Rennison books, mix tapes, and hair ribbons.  I sat down on the sofa, opposite him.

  “Can we be friends?” he asked at last.

  I didn’t trust myself to meet his eyes as I replied, “I suppose so.”

  “You suppose so?” there was something akin to a sneer in his voice.

  “Do you want us to be friends?” I asked quietly, “or is it that you like trying to pull girls in bands? Something to brag about to your mates at the studio, is it? ‘Look at that slapper in NME, I’ve had her, she wasn’t that good, but I wouldn’t kick her out of bed’.”

  He got up from the armchair and walked across to the sofa. As he sat down next to me, he said, “Is it so hard for you to believe that I find you attractive?” his voice was barely above a whisper, and I was uncomfortably aware of his proximity to me.  I silently willed him to move away from me, but it didn’t work; I was going to have to move, but how could I do it without it looking suspicious? He wouldn’t understand.  “Look at me.”

  I looked up.  He was looking at me just as he had weeks ago when we were recording, and the intensity of his gaze made me feel just as uncomfortable as it had then.  He was reading me again, and I couldn’t look away.  He took hold of my hand.

  I flinched, jerking out of his grasp, “Don’t,” I could hear the fear in my voice, and I couldn’t face his reaction.  I ran over to the window and, with trembling fingers, drew back one of the curtains slightly, and peered out.  My heart was hammering in my chest as I gazed across the dark, wet street, and saw… his car.  I felt scared, but I was also angry, angry and sad… because it needn’t have happened.

  I heard him stand up, and I could hear the floorboards creaking as he walked across them.  Soon, he was standing behind me.  “I won’t,” he said, very quietly and calmly, “at least, not yet.”  I heard him walk back across the floor, and I heard the creak of the door as he left.

  I could hear Fliss and Violet singing harmonies in the kitchen as I closed the curtains again.  They were singing ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’, Fliss’ voice soared higher than Violet’s, it was pure and immature, a girls voice.  I walked back over to the sofa and sat down, then rested my head in my hands and sighed.  Another fine mess, I thought to myself.  I had been right; he hadn’t understood.  Oh, why did he have to get interested in me? Why couldn’t it have been someone else? Why did he have to go and fuck everything up?

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