Chapter Nine: Identity Crisis

Tonight was the One Way Or Another Christmas party, and we took no prisoners in the glamour stakes: all stops were pulled, and everything was permissible, turbo-charged, full on; blitz fucking reig.

  Fliss and I got ready at the flat after work.  I decided to wear my PVC mini skirt with black stay ups (I hate tights) and a black chiffon shirt; the shirt was transparent, so I wore my best black bra. (To be honest, I could have gone without the bra, but I had to wear something under the shirt or risk getting arrested.)  I wore my Docs, as I couldn’t be faffed with heels, and then pinned up my hair and began to apply my make-up.  First powder (ivory), and then eye shadow and eyeliner (black), then lastly the lipstick (scarlet.)  I was done.  I like doing the vamp look because it’s fairly easy to do, and I can put it on without really thinking about it; there was never going to be any point in wearing anything cleavage-y or cute because it would look as though I was trying to be something I’m not, whereas you know where you are with the vamp look; it says hands off as much as it says sex.

  Fliss was still trying to decide what to wear when I made my way through to her room.  Clothes were scattered all over the floor in a mass of colour, along with rejected records and magazine clippings, and I felt a hair slide crunch under my boots as I made my way in.  Fliss was standing at the centre of the storm in her bra and knickers, her right hand rested on her hip as an Atari Teenage Riot tape blared out; she was evidently having an identity crisis.

  I waded through a pile of dirty washing to her (as ever) unmade bed and sat down.  “It’s not that I don’t have anything to wear,” she said, “but I just can’t decide on the look I want tonight.  It feels as though we’re on show, and that I should look the part, but I don’t know what part…” she turned to examine my own outfit, and remarked brightly “You look nice.”  “Thanks,” I turned my mind to her problem, “Wear what you’ll be most comfortable in.”

  “I don’t think I can be comfortable in anything tonight.”

  I shrugged, “Then pick an image and run with it.”

  “I can’t!” it emerged as a drawn out wail, “I’m too nervous! I can’t get it right!” She threw herself down next to me on the bed, and leant her head against my side. She smelt vaguely of milk and biscuits. “I’m worried about what people will think,” her voice was muffled slightly, “and if any journalists will be there, and Violet, what if she doesn’t like…”

  “Shhh…” I gave her what I hoped was a comforting squeeze.  I’d never seen her like this before, she was so nervous and wound up, and I knew that I would have to calm her down if we were to get anywhere.  There was still plenty of time until we had to go out though, so I took charge of the situation.

  I began by picking all the clothes up off the floor, smoothing them, and hanging them back up on Fliss’ clothes rack.  Then, I turned the Atari Teenage Riot tape off, and looked through her music collection for something more soothing.  I settled on a Sandie Shaw best of in the end, and as it played, I picked up the records and magazine clippings, and stacked them in neat piles on Fliss’ chest of drawers.

  From the bed, a rather woeful Fliss watched as I began to rifle through her rack of tightly packed, brightly coloured clothes, and located a short, princess line, light blue satin effect dress with spaghetti straps.  “Put this one on,” I passed it to her, “let’s see how it looks.”

  I heard her stand up; and there was a rustle of fabric as she slid the dress over her head.  I turned around to see what it looked like, and found Fliss slouching unhappily, as she protested, “I look like a little girl.”  I thought she looked sweet.  The blue brought out the blue in her eyes, and the line suited her.

  “You are a little girl,” I pointed out as she scowled at me, “and, like it or not, you have little girl looks, so you might as well make the most of them.”

  “I want to look sexy,” she moaned.

  I shrugged, “alright then.”

  She took off the dress and handed it back to me, and I began to rifle through the clothes on the rack in search of something sexy.  The problem, I quickly discovered, was that Fliss lives almost entirely in slip dresses or mini skirts and t-shirts, and that the kind of clothes on the rack were therefore girly rather than sexy.  An image of Violet sprang to mind, and I took in the knee-high boots, tight, cropped t-shirt, and tight, slit skirt.  “What does Violet like you in?” I asked casually.

  I could almost feel Fliss tense, “What do you mean?” she asked, warily.

  “Simple question I’d’ve thought,” I calmly continued to flick through her clothes.  There really were some nice outfits there; it was a pity that Fliss couldn’t see it.  I had ideas as to how to dress her, but I couldn’t make her wear what I picked out.

  She was silent for so long that I went over to the bed and sat down beside her once more.  She stared glumly at her knees as she said in a voice barely above a whisper, “I’m not like you, I don’t have that confidence, that sophistication, but I need to have it, if I’m going to keep her.”

  “Fliss,” I said, equally quietly, “she wouldn’t be with you if she didn’t like you as you were.  If she wants you to change…”

  “No, no, it’s not…”

  “…Then she isn’t really interested in you.”

  I sensed that she was thinking about this, and eventually, she nodded, “You’re right.”

  “About what?”

  “All of it,” she grew pensive, “and, besides, it wouldn’t work… I can’t look sexy; I’ve tried…” she burst into tears.

  “Shh…” I awkwardly clasped her to my non-existent bosom; it felt like the right thing to do, although I did feel vaguely ridiculous.

  “Why couldn’t I look older?” she sobbed, “why couldn’t I be tall, and thin, and…”

  “Don’t go too fast,” I said as I self consciously patted her on the back, “don’t try to do everything at once,” I was turning into my mother, I decided, what with the patting and everything, “things’ll happen fast enough…” yes, definitely my mother… It was unnerving, but Fliss seemed to find it comforting.  She nodded and snuffled a little.  Marmalade, her ginger and white kitten had appeared in the doorway, so I scooped her up and presented her to Fliss to stroke.  Whilst she was occupied with the little cat, I fished out the blue dress I had picked out before and searched for other items to go with it.

  In the end, Fliss wore the blue dress with black tights and black stilettos, which seemed to boost her confidence as well as her height.  I wouldn’t do her make-up as I had done my own, but I pinned up her fair hair and applied some lip-gloss and blue eye shadow to her unblemished face; she doesn’t really need make-up.  Then, I hunted out a blue velvet choker of mine for her, and lent her my elbow length blue velvet gloves; I thought that they were a bit much, but Fliss wouldn’t take them off, so I indulged her.  She doesn’t have pierced ears or anything, so that was that.  She was done, and we were ready at last.

  We met up with Flora and Katy at Vanilla, off Sackville Street.  They were engrossed in cocktails and an episode of ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ on the big screen when we arrived, which made a change from ‘Bad Girls,’ their usual viewing passion. I got lemonades for Fliss and me, and we walked up the twisting staircase, past the glitter ball and huge, pink sign for woman, and joined them at their small, round table.  I could see the bar and tables downstairs from our corner, and could just make out Violet, over the balcony, swaggering her way into the pale pink, Vanilla domain, through the crowd, to the bar.

  ‘Ab.Fab.’ finished, and the T.V was switched over to pop videos.  Violet was drinking cocktails too, I noticed, and I began to feel a bit left out.  To take my mind off drinking, I asked Violet about the previous years Christmas party, which she and the other members of The Girls From Mars had attended.  “It was meant to be fancy dress,” she said, pausing for a slurp of her cocktail, “but loads of people wimped out.  I went though, I went as Xena.”

  “Pity it wasn’t this year,” said Flora, slyly, “that way you could have taken Fliss and she could have gone as Gabrielle.”

  Fliss turned a becoming shade of pink, and Violet smiled indulgently in her direction as she took hold of her hand, “Who would you have gone as, Flora?” she asked, “Boadicea?”

  Flora shook her head, “Something a little less mythological would’ve been my line, but Maggie could do a passable Willow from ‘Buffy…’”

  I refrained from answering her on this point.

  The party was at a club called Hardpop, which was situated somewhere between Piccadilly and Oxford Road (I wasn’t really paying attention.)  We arrived at about half ten, got in for free because we were on the guest list, and were promptly engulfed by a cloud of cigarette smoke as we stepped inside the gloomy club.  The darkness was lit, intermittently, by flashes of fast moving, U.V lighting, and it was all very tacky and kitsch.  A D.J was playing old sixties garage rock records when we first arrived and, once my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I was able to observe that it was Aiden, the guitarist from Dew.

  Hardpop is a small, intimate club in the basement of a slightly larger pub.  It doesn’t have a proper stage (the bands set up and play in one of the corners of the club) but there’s a nice dance floor.  The atmosphere seemed friendly, albeit a little drunk, and there was lots of tinsel and glitter flying about.  I noticed that several people were wearing Santa hats and/or false Santa style beards, and that reindeer antler headbands were also a popular choice of headgear, and I began to regret my vamp look.

  Then, just as I was beginning to feel really uncomfortable and out of place, Fergus came over and sat down next to me.  “Why the long face?” he seemed genuinely concerned.

  “Oh,” I sighed, “I just feel a little over dressed, that’s all.”

  He glanced down at my shirt, “Over dressed?” he met my eyes, and we both laughed, “That’s better,” he said, “Do you want a drink?”

  I gestured to my glass of lemonade, “Got one.”

  “Proper drink.”

  “I don’t drink alcohol.”

  “Why not?”

   Now it’s funny, but no one has ever asked me that.  Usually when you say that you don’t drink, people back off because they assume that you’re either a recovering alcoholic or that you’re religious or straight edge, so no one normally asks why.  I was a bit stumped, so rather than tell the truth, I fudged it.  “You know me,” I smiled, but it was a false smile, “I don’t like to lose control.”

  “Why not?” His eyes searched my face for clues, “might do you good.”

  I could feel my hackles rising, “I’m quite happy here with my lemonade, thanks,” it came out a bit snappy and prissy, which hadn’t been what I’d intended at all, “I just… don’t drink.”  I couldn’t meet his eyes, “I…” I hesitated.  I considered telling him the truth, but… no.

  Nat came blundering across the floor to us then, breaking up our téte á téte.  Her blonde streaked hair hung in curls to her shoulders, a white, semi translucent, crinkle cotton shirt was covering a black vest top, and her tight, dark blue jeans had been dusted with glitter, and sparkled in the U.V lighting.  Despite her immaculate ensemble though, she was a mess.  I gathered that she and Nick, her boyfriend of four stormy months, had broken up.  And as if that wasn’t bad enough… “That bitch Jasmine’s here, with Shahina.”  Shahina was the girl that Jasmine, Nat’s partner before Nick, had left Nat for.  I could tell that she had been crying, but she didn’t seem drunk or hysterical in any way.  She was pale, and her eyes were red from crying, but her lips were fixed in a grim line.  She was determined to tough the evening out.  “I won’t leave,” she stated grimly, “I won’t give her the satisfaction.”  The determination made her seem stronger somehow, and dignified.  I think, really, that’s all you’ve got left when you’ve been rejected, dignity I mean.  A kind of icy fire was driving her on, and it prevented her from doing anything stupid.

  Fliss went home with Violet, so I took Nat home with me.  She cried a lot once we were back at the flat, and for the second time that night, I found myself cast as comforter.

  It quickly became apparent that Nat was still in love with Jasmine.  “You know what song they were playing tonight when I looked across the room and noticed her?” she wept as she lay with her head in my lap, “Electronic, ‘Getting Away With It.’”

  I nodded sympathetically, although I couldn’t see the significance myself.  “She’ll see sense,” I said, “She’s just trying to get to you.”

  “Yes,” she sobbed, “and it’s bloody working…”

  I put her to bed in my room about five-ish.  Fliss’ room was empty of course, but I couldn’t put her in there.  Its six thirty now, and I’m absolutely exhausted.  Every time I yawn, I close my eyes and sag a little deeper into the sofa.  It’s time to sign off before I nod off altogether.  I’m bedding down here tonight, but I dare say I’m so tired that I could sleep anywhere.

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