Chapter Fourteen: The End Of An Era

I heard about the collapse of One Way Or Another from Nat; she phoned me a couple of days ago and left a message with Fliss.  I did call her back, but there was no reply, so my opportunity to speak to her about it came tonight, at our gig at The Gates.

  It was a cruel irony that saw us back there only weeks after the triumph that was our launch party.  For now, of course, things are very different.  The One Way Or Another banner no longer hung behind us as we played, and there were no DJ’s, just the Strokes album, played repeatedly by the sound crew through the speakers.  All the glitz, good humour, colour, and enthusiasm had gone.  We were no longer bending an over excited audience of friends, fans, and family to our will in a palace of our own construction.  We were playing in a bleak, dank, cold, dingy cellar, on a stage held together by milk crates.  The rain, which had been pelting down without remorse for the past week, persuaded most of our friends to stay at home, so our audience was made up of the other bands on the bill and a handful of bored students.  The palace, built on sand, had crumbled into the sea.

  “I did phone him,” I informed Nat as we leant against the bar and gloomily watched the headliners, Grunt Pig, perform their hybrid of rap, metal, and Liam Gallagher impressions to a lukewarm audience, “but he never called me back.”

  She shifted awkwardly in the light from the bar and trained her eyes to the floor, “I know.”

  “Oh?”

  “Yeah,” she reached into her large, black patent leather handbag and drew out her cigarettes and Betty Boop lighter, “I was there… when he checked the machine I mean… He gave me a lift to work that day,” she wouldn’t meet my eyes, “he mustn’t have checked it that night, maybe he was out or something…” she trailed off as she lit her cigarette, and her eyes strayed past me to the bottles behind the bar.  I sensed a vague discomfort on her part, which I didn’t understand.

  Fergus wasn’t here tonight, which, given the circumstances, was perhaps just as well…

  “What did he do for us anyway?” snapped Katy as she stalked the dressing room like an enraged tigress, “We’re better off without him,” we watched as she kicked the newly painted walls with her docs, “couldn’t even be bothered to show tonight,” she muttered moodily.

  “Maybe he was worried about what we’d think of him,” suggested Fliss, a little apprehensively.  She was curled up in one of the new armchairs, and was watching Katy’s pacing with an increasingly alarmed expression.

  “More like he’s banging some tart back at his flat,” retorted Katy.

  I gripped the arms of the armchair I was sitting in.  Fliss happened to glance in my direction at that moment, and I saw a brief, silent, coded exchange take place a moment later between her and Flora.  Flora nodded, and Fliss got up from her chair, “Let’s do a couple of rounds on the games machines,” she said to Katy.

  “Did you know anything?” asked Flora a few minutes later as she rested her elbows on the slippery surface of the bar.  “Did you have any idea?”

  I nodded guiltily, “But I never thought that things were this bad.”  I added hastily.

  “Why didn’t you tell us?”

  The guilt lay heavily on me as I admitted, “I just thought that things would be alright.”

  It seemed oddly poignant to play ‘The Battle You Cannot Win’ tonight, and to hear Fliss sing those words, the words that I wrote in anger, that are true, but, well, are they true now? He could win now, he could win me over, despite everything that’s happened; I knew it from the moment that Fliss sang ‘Never Sleep,’ to the melody that she had written, but with the words that I had helped to write, I almost wanted him to be there to hear them.

                                    I never asked for you

                                    Never wanted you

                                    Before

                                    But now

                                    I do, oh I do

                                    Want you

Yet I’m glad now that he wasn’t there.

  I had gone to bed more or less as soon as Fliss and I arrived home, but around three or four ish I woke up again.  I was thirsty, so I went to the kitchen for a glass of water.  The lights were on in the living room as I passed along the hallway, because Fliss was still up, and she was watching a video of last weeks Girls From Mars gig at The Gates.  Neither of us went to the gig and so, curious about what I’d missed, I joined her on the sofa.

  The Girls From Mars set had nearly finished, and after the band had left the stage, a DJ played indie, punk and mainstream dance records, whilst the aspiring video director took to panning around the club, catching the energy of the crowd, the heat and humidity of the dancing, and the wide array of flesh on display.  Occasionally, the camera lingered on people of interest, such as Moyra, coolly ensconced with a fresh pint at the side of the stage, or Liberty Belle and Jenny Malone, working, not drowning.  After a few minutes of this, the camera began to close in on a curvaceous, P.V.C and lycra clad beauty with blonde highlights in her light brown hair.  She was dancing with a taller man, dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans, his jaw length wavy hair flicked across his face, and she smoothed stray strands away as she stroked his face.  The camera homed in even closer, capturing the growing intimacy of the couple as the music changed from Garbage to Girls On Top.  Soon he had his arms around her waist, and she slipped her arms around his neck as she leant in close and began to kiss him, briefly and almost casually at first, then longer, and much more passionately.

  Fliss picked up the remote control and stopped the tape.  Nat and Fergus were still dancing together, in my mind, as she ejected the video and put it back in its case.

  Be good to me, Fliss had sung earlier, be good to me.  Don’t hurt me.  Because I can’t be hurt by you too.

  I can’t cry.  I want to, but I can’t.  Instead I keep on seeing her kissing him, I keep dwelling on the way his arms encircled her, and I know that they look right together. The song they had been dancing to was ‘We Don’t Give A Damn About Our Friends,’ which makes me smile I have to say; smile though your heart is breaking.  It’s not as though there’s anyone present that I need to pretend to, and yet… I need to pretend in order to go on.  Because without the pretence that everything is fine, my world will crumble, we go on because we hope for something better, and that’s what I want: something better.

  I can’t sleep, I can’t cry, I am numb.  I am stone.

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Chapter Thirteen: Intrigue And Arguments

Despite Nat’s concerns, the launch of our second single, ‘Running Wild/Hathor’s Lament’ went off without a hitch.  Fergus even gave us a launch party for it, at The Gates…

  I arrived at about six p.m, having come straight from work, to find him hanging the One Way Or Another banner at the back of the stage with the aid of one of the bar staff.  I watched as the pair of them signalled to each other, stumbled and tripped over the sheet-banner’s edges, which trailed across the stage, and eventually succeeded in aligning both sides.  The sheet itself was fluorescent pink, the writing fluorescent green.

  In between unloading drums, guitars, and amps, I paused to observe the transformation of the normally dank, dark and cold Gates into something altogether more vivid, colourful, warm, welcoming and trashy.  Dew, also on the bill to perform, were to D.J, along with Liberty Belle, our quiet photographer friend who Katy had discovered could mix electro, industrial, E.B.M, punk and goth in a highly slick manner.  A One Way Or Another stall was being set up next to the turntables, which would later dispense catalogues, 7”’s, C.D’s and t-shirts with cheerful exuberance.

  By the time we had returned from our tea of chips, pizza, and stewed tea, Angel and the Razorblades, the third band on the bill, were just finishing their soundcheck.  As we got our first drinks of the evening they retired to the dressing room and emerged a few minutes later, fake fur trimmed parkas having been slung over their stage clothes.  The lurid fabric of the dresses, and fishnet tights, clashed with the everyday practicality of the coats as two pairs of stilettos and two pairs of trainers clattered up the stairs, only to return once their owners had filled up on fast food and, if they could pass for eighteen, cheap booze.

  The doors opened at half eight, and a cheering mixture of friends, relatives, and fans began to trickle down the stairs, through the doors, and into the room.

  I talked to Violet for a while about The Girls From Mars, newly returned from London A&R land.  Apparently Hardpop, the London indie, are the label they like best at the moment.  “They sent us this twenty five year old A&R woman in a Supervixon t-shirt, with a P.V.C mini skirt, fishnets, and knee high kitten heeled boots.  She was like a vision from ‘Rock’n’Roll Babes From Outer Space.’”  She enthused.

  In the darkness, Fliss nudged her, “You can’t sign to them because their A&R woman has nice legs.”

  “Oh, it wasn’t that,” said Violet, defensively, “but you wouldn’t believe how far off the mark a lot of these other record companies have been: They think we’re a bunch of actresses, models and escort girls being svengalied by Jasper, or they think we’re a lesbian heavy metal band.”  She sighed, “They can’t get their heads around the fact that we’re girls, and we play our own instruments and write our own songs, more than competently in both cases, and that we’re serious about doing this, and that we want a long career, not a one track wonder moment on some indie laydeez CD compilation.”  She paused for breath, then added, bitterly, “It’s like riot grrrl never happened.”

  The Razorblades took to the stage and began to plug in their guitars.  Yan, their guitarist, works at the Heaton’s Fryery with Fliss, and she knows Kylie, Rosa, and Kit quite well through him.  I watched as she took Violet by the hand and led her through the crowd, past a contingent of hardened first generation punks with sceptical expressions, past the Hello Kitty contingent, past the school and college kids, right to the front.  As the band tuned up, I saw Violet slip her arms around Fliss’ waist, and watched as Fliss leant back into her arms.

  Nat and Fergus both seemed to be avoiding me, I’m not entirely sure why, but I suspect it’s got something to do with Fergus and his financial situation.  I did phone Fergus, incidentally, a few nights ago, but I just got his ansaphone.  I left a message, but he never called me back.  I suppose Nat is mad at me for not speaking to him and that Fergus is still mad at me for rejecting him.  What a mess.

  I did eventually manage to corner him for a brief period tonight, but I never mentioned our kiss: I wasn’t lying when I told Fliss that I wouldn’t do anything about being in love with him.  True to my word to Nat, I instead tried to ask him about the label.  Not that it came to anything.

  “When you become a feeder label for some anonymous corporation,” he slurred bitterly into his pint glass, “when all your bands are tempted by money…” he spat the word, “instead of integrity.”

  Liberty was playing Cervo Boyz as I made my inevitably loud reply, “We haven’t been!”

  “You will be,” he muttered, darkly, as he downed his pint in fast, long gulps.  He was about to lean over the bar from the vantage point of his stool, and order another drink, but I stopped him.  “What?” his bitter mutter was fast becoming an angry slur, “afraid I can’t pay for it?”

  “You shouldn’t be drinking,” I was worried for him, “not when you feel like this…”

  “What do you know about it?” he muttered as he pulled himself to his feet.  He swayed as he continued his tirade, “Un-ilike you, I have non problem holding my drink…” I watched as he stumbled off in the direction of the cigarette machine.

  Later, from the opposite side of the room, I was able to observe a curious series of exchanges between him and Nat.  Over the ear splitting strains of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, it was impossible to hear what they were screaming at each other, but I saw her gesture both to me and to herself, and her face was a mask of anger.  He appeared to be less angry, probably because he was the less sober.  He took her by the shoulders once her tirade was complete, but still angry; she shook him off her, and left.

  I followed her out onto the cold, wet street, but by the time I had reached her, she was in a taxi and on her way home.  As the car drove past me I saw her on the back seat, her head was tilted back, and she was crying.

  Violet, Fliss and I were drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream later, back at home, when Fliss happened to mention the argument that we had both observed between Nat and Fergus, “Did you notice it?” she asked us both.

  I gazed into the froth of my hot chocolate, “No,” I lied, “I didn’t see anything.”

  “Nor me,” said Violet, and I noticed, but chose not to remark on, the speed with which she changed the subject.

  Fliss took the mugs through to the kitchen, and in the minute in which she was out of the room, Violet turned to me, and said, very quietly, “You shouldn’t blame Nat for what happened.”

  I was about to ask her what she meant when Fliss returned.  She and Violet retired to her room, and I was left feeling puzzled, puzzled and vaguely uneasy.

Chapter Twelve: A Kind Of Wistful Loneliness

I got off the bus in Heaton Chapel at ten o’clock and, figuring that Fliss was about due to clock off at the Heaton’s Fryery, made a slight diversion along the dark and busy A6 to pick her up.  The chip shop was full of shift workers and clubbers en route to Manchester when I arrived, and it was as noisy as any pub, but I could just about make out Fliss’ bunches and diamante tiara, busily bobbing about above their heads as she shovelled chips into barms or nans, and expertly wrapped them.  I slid my way through the crowd to a small wooden bench built into the shop wall, where I found Violet waiting with barely contained impatience.  A couple of not entirely sober young men were eyeing her speculatively, and she met their eyes with a look of pure poisonous disdain, which only seemed to encourage them.  I joined her on the bench, and she moved her bag to make room for me.  “How long have you been waiting?” I asked politely.

  She gazed up at the white tiled ceiling, and sighed, “Too long.”

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Fliss slide around the side of the counter, only to be replaced by a slim Chinese boy.  She blinked a few times in confusion as she spotted Violet, and me “Hello,” she said uncertainly, wiping her eyes tiredly with her hands, “Do I have an escort home?”

  It took us ages to get out.  Some of the regulars had come in; old men, and shift workers from McVities, and Fliss had a few words with them on the way out.  They love Fliss at the Fryery; they used to call her the deeley-bopper kid when she wore deeley-boppers to work; now it’s Princess Felicity because she’s switched to tiaras.

  As we walked along the A6, and turned off towards home, Violet said, rather urgently, “I had to see you, Fliss, I got a call from Jasper,” Jasper is The Girls From Mars’ manager, I don’t think it’s his real name, more likely it’s some kind of nickname, “telling me to pack and be ready to leave for London in the morning, we’re meeting an A&R again.”

  Fliss nodded.  She looked vaguely eccentric in her white overalls, with her bunches and tiara, but her face was serious as she asked, “How long for?”

  Violet sighed, “I don’t know,” she took hold of her hand, and the two of them fell behind, talking softly amongst themselves as I strode on ahead.  I would have liked to have known more about The Girls From Mars’ trip to London, but knew instinctively that Violet was only there for Fliss, not conversation.  The bag she was carrying told me she planned to go straight to the station in the morning: It’s a long way from Bolton to Stockport, especially at night.

  Back at the flat, I made myself scarce with a pack of B&H, some hot chocolate, and my copy of ‘I Capture The Castle’.  As I lay in bed, smoking and reading, (I know I shouldn’t smoke in bed, or whilst reading, but it’s a bad habit with a lot of history attached, so I find it a hard one to break) I could hear the soft, muffled, rhythmic moans and groans from the next room even with my door shut.  I put down my book with a sigh: I’d been hoping to get lost in the world of Cassandra Mortmain and forget about Fergus for a while, only now I felt lonelier than I’d ever felt before.  I decided as I stubbed out my cigarette and switched off the light that there is nothing more isolating than the sounds of someone else having sex.  A kind of despair washed over me as I lay there, trying not to listen.  It wasn’t that I was envious or jealous: I was simply lonely.

  Violet had gone before I left for work at eight, and Fliss was quiet over breakfast, pensive almost as she thoughtfully mashed her cornflakes into a cream coloured mush in her cereal bowl.

  That night we went to The Gates to see Failure Is The New Success, an art rock ensemble from Preston.  Slinky, from Bradford, were on first, and they were good, sort of poppy glam, light metal; very thrashy and energetic.  Deep in the dark and smoky bowels of The Gates, I found Nat, propping the bar up; she seemed strangely downbeat and ordinary, not at all her usual glamorous self.  Fliss quickly made her way through the crowd to the front of the stage, and began to jump about to Slinky, beaming blissfully all the while.  She was wearing a white slip dress that night, decorated with lace, and she hadn’t even attempted to hide the love bite on her neck.  Nat watched her rather wistfully as she downed her pint, “I always had a soft spot for Fliss,” she remarked suddenly.

  I nearly choked on my drink, “Really?!?…”

  “Yes,” she sighed, her eyes still on Fliss as she danced, “but it seemed best to kept quiet about it until now.”  She grew thoughtful as she turned her attention away from Fliss, and back towards me.  Her expression was serious, and she seemed sincere as she confessed, “Well, I wasn’t going to be the one to break her heart, and I knew someone was going to… I didn’t want it to be me.”   I didn’t feel that there was anything I could say, so I kept quiet as she turned her attention back to Fliss, her bunches flicking back and forth as she danced, blissfully unaware of Nat’s eyes on her.  “If I was with Fliss, I’d hurt her.  I don’t think I could do that… it would be like kicking Bambi…”

  I smiled, sadly.

  “And that’s why I kept quiet; besides,” she met my eyes, and there was an intensity that she was trying to hide as she said, “she isn’t interested in me, and I have my pride.”

  I smiled, but if I had suspected that Nat was a little the worse for wear, that was as nothing compared to Jenny Malone, whose magenta hair made her easy to spot as she lurched around the floor with a brooding Liberty Belle in tow.  They had been dancing in the moshpit to Slinky too, but one of The Gates bouncers had hauled them out when they became too excitable.

  “I’ve been hearing things,” said Nat, tensely, as we watched Jenny stagger, smack, straight into a pillar and fall to the floor in an ungainly heap, “about One Way Or Another, from her and Liberty, they say Aiden from Dew told them that Fergus tried to touch him for money for the new record, only Aiden wasn’t having any.”

  I nodded, but my heart sank as she continued.

  “Apparently Hardpop are interested in signing Dew, and they’re willing to pay Fergus’ debts in exchange for their back catalogue.”

  “What” the sinking feeling turned to panic as I asked “all the One Way Or Another back catalogue?”

  “No,” Nat quickly sought to reassure me, “just Dew’s back catalogue.  They’re a good label, Hardpop… But Fergus is thinking about dropping some bands or folding the label, I’m pretty sure that’s true…”

  I felt slightly sick as I admitted, “I know he hasn’t much money: Is it really that bad though?”

  She seemed worried, “I don’t know – he wouldn’t tell me anything – but you need to talk to him, find out what’s going on…”

  “I’ll tell Flora, she can phone him about it.”

  “I think it would be better coming from you,” she said, softly, seemingly unable to meet my eye.

  I looked away in discomfort. I could feel myself blushing as the band finished their set, but I reluctantly agreed to phone him.  I don’t particularly want to, not after our last meeting, but I suppose I shall have to now.  The second Titanium Rose single is due out soon though, and as far I know, there are no plans to put the date back or cancel the release; Nat’s probably worried about nothing.

  In looking for Fliss after the Slinky set, I spotted Meelan, the fourteen year old drummer from Clinch, whose drumming I had so admired at The Twilight.  She was leaning against the wall, a little away from the stage, staring, seemingly at nothing.  Her face was serious, as though she was thinking, but her clothes belied her youth; a Nirvana t-shirt and dog collar complimented scruffy skater style jeans that looked very new, and she was wearing black leather studded wristbands.  She was tiny, and her long black hair made her seem even smaller.  I wanted to walk over and talk to her, but something held me back… it seems strange to admit it now, but I felt in awe of her.  She may only be fourteen, but there’s a lot of talent there, and it was intimidating to me: I am six years older than her, yet I could never be that good.

  It came as a surprise to me when, a mere five minutes later, she moved away from the wall and walked over to me.  “Hi,” she said, extending a hand to me, “I’m Meelan.”

  I shook her hand.  Her accent was Lancashire, quite broad, and she was so tiny that she had to crane her neck in order to meet my eyes.  “Fergus said when I saw him at The Twilight a week or so ago that you’d liked my drumming.”  I nodded, faintly taken aback by her directness and confidence, “You’re Maggie, right?”  Again, I nodded.  She smiled, a delightful smile that lit up her entire face, and made her seem younger, less like a cool, self possessed musician, more like the young schoolgirl she was, “I haven’t heard Titanium Rose yet, but I’ve met Fliss, I see her around with Violet a lot in Bolton, and The Girls From Mars live near me.”

  I found her easier to talk to after this, and it wasn’t long before we had exchanged gig anecdotes, drumming styles, and favourite bands.  It warmed my soul and made me feel very happy inside to be able to talk to another girl about drumming, because I hardly ever meet any girl drummers: there are others out there, but we’re spread pretty thin, even these days.

  Back at home; Fliss said, rather tentatively, “It was nice of Fergus to hook you up with Meelan.”

  I nodded, and sank deeper into my armchair, closing my eyes.  I’d pulled a long shift at work, and the gig had finished me off.

  “Maggie?” asked Fliss, cautiously.

  “Hhmm?” I opened my eyes.

  I could sense her discomfort as she asked, “What are you going to do about him?”

  My hackles were up as I replied, rather sharply, “Phone him, and ask him what’s happening with One Way Or Another…”

  There was an awkward pause, during which I could almost feel Fliss searching for the right thing to say.  At last she said, “And what are you going to do about being in love with him?”

  I closed my eyes again.

  “Maggie?”

  “Nothing,” I sighed, “I’m going to do nothing.”

  I made the mistake of changing the subject to Violet, and Fliss grew very pink, and became very coy.  “Is she your first girlfriend, Fliss?” I teased.

  She squirmed a little, obviously embarrassed as she replied, rather quietly, “No,” her face showed her reluctance to divulge any information, so I didn’t push for details.

  After another awkward silence, she uncurled a little, and said, “Do you think A&R people will be coming after Titanium Rose soon?”

  “Maybe,” I said, neutrally.

Chapter Eleven: Alias Belle And Malone

We had agreed to meet Jenny Malone (from the ‘NME’) at six p.m tonight, but as it was, things didn’t work out that way.  Jenny and her photographer, Liberty Belle, arrived in Chorlton at six p.m sharp, just as Flora arrived home from work, but Fliss and Katy were both stranded on buses at that time, and I was still traipsing through the snow to the bus stop.  Still, by 7pm, we had all made our weary, convoluted way to Flora and Katy’s snow dusted home.

  Jenny and Liberty, it turns out, are the new girls on the block at ‘NME’.  “It’s a locality thing,” explained Jenny; she spoke quickly, and with a strong scouse accent, but something about her choice of words suggested she wasn’t a Liverpool native. “I was the one who suggested interviewing you, but no one in London wanted to do it, so I got it.”  She had long, wavy and unruly magenta coloured hair that she forever had to shake back when it fell across her face.  Her jeans were tight, stonewashed, and diamante studded, and she was wearing a Red Vinyl Fur t-shirt.  A diamante stud twinkled against her naval, matching the ones on her jeans as she lounged on the floor of Flora and Katy’s living room.  “This is my first full piece.” She said, excitedly. “They usually have me doing local gigs or reviewing the singles.” I decided that I liked her, and I knew that Flora and Katy did too, if only because one of the first things she had done upon entering the house was to congratulate them on their taste in décor.

  There have been some adjustments made to the house in Chorlton following Fliss’ departure.  The landlord has forbidden Flora and Katy to paint the walls, but doesn’t seem to mind drawing pins, blue tack or staples, so the room is covered in posters of Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sophie Dahl, Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law.  There is also a ‘Xena, Warrior Princess’ shrine, and the beginnings of a Manga shrine, although these are both housed in the room that used to belong to Fliss: Flora is currently using it as her sewing and manufacturing room.

  Of the two ‘NME’ girls, Liberty was the quieter.  I’ve seen her at The Gates a couple of times, as she often does the photos at gigs around Manchester.  She is tall and skinny, with very straight black shoulder length hair, which is parted in the middle, framing a small, delicately featured, heart shaped face.  I got the impression that she could be pretty, but had made a conscious decision not to be, and had, instead, chosen to be as quiet and invisible as possible.  Her movements were small and muted, she rarely spoke, but when she did her voice was low and quiet, and she never smiled.  Her small, snub nose sported a nose ring, and her left eyebrow and tongue were also pierced.  Her eyes were grey and gravely serious.  Both she and Jenny seemed quite young, mid twenties tops I would say, and, like Jenny, Liberty was wearing jeans and a band t-shirt.  But her jeans were scruffier, light and torn, and she was wearing a Hooker t-shirt, not a Red Vinyl Fur one.

  The interview was candid and friendly, with anecdotes extracted easily on both sides.  Whilst we were changing out of our work clothes, Flora showed Jenny and Liberty around the house.  Flora’s bedroom is particularly spectacular these days, she has covered all the walls with red and gold drapes and hung strings of gold stars from the ceiling, and the floor is covered in rag rugs.  The kitchen isn’t bad either, it is adorned with Hollywood stars of old such as Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo, along with copies of the Martha Seward ‘White Trash Guides’ that Flora had bought as cards, and then enlarged on a colour photocopier.  As we waited for the others to finish getting ready, I worked my way around the kitchen, reading them all.

  Eventually the others were ready, and we headed into Manchester with Jenny and Liberty, our destination Fab Café on Portland Street where we had agreed to meet Violet and Andrea, who is the new drummer in The Girls From Mars.

  I love Fab Café; it’s quite a little club, and the dance floor is tiny, but the atmosphere and misé-en-scene is fantastic; it’s kitschy sixties chic, pure and simple, right down to the pinball machine and the Darlek.  When Tiger Lounge used to do their thing there on Thursday nights, the pillars were decorated with fake tiger fur, a woman in a Catwoman outfit took your money and gave you a lollipop, and as you descended into the darkness, the T.V monitors would be playing a loop of Andy Warhol, Betty Page, ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s’, ‘Gilda’, ‘The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle’, and ‘Man Who Fell To Earth’ clips as the dance floor heaved to the sounds of Tommy James And The Shondelles ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ or Betty Boo’s ‘Where Are You Baby?’

  Tonight’s atmosphere was more restrained.  We sat our drinks down on top of the old pinball machine, and then set about procuring tiny tins of peanuts, olives and other snacks from the dispenser at the bar.  I had olives, Fliss had sugared almonds, and Flora had salted peanuts.  Violet and Andrea, who had arrived some time before us, were tucking into the Fab Café T.V dinner special of beans and potato waffles.  Fliss took up the seat adjacent to Violet, and Violet shared her meal.  The rest of us picked up chips in Piccadilly later.

  “Who else are you interviewing apart from us and The Girls From Mars?” Flora asked Jenny, over the strains of ‘The Avengers’ theme.

  Jenny exhaled a stream of cigarette smoke, “Fergus from One Way Or Another: We’ve already done the record shops, Afflecks and all that earlier, but if there’s any places people mention that we haven’t done today, then we’ll do them tomorrow.  We’ll do Dew and Clinch tonight, after the gig.”

  The gig in question was at The Twilight Café.  Fergus would be there because both bands are One Way Or Another bands.  He was sitting at a table by the stage when we made our way inside; it was covered with records and fanzines for sale, as well as the One Way Or Another catalogue.  I went over to say hello, and introduced him to Jenny and Liberty in the process.  Liberty took a few photos of his makeshift stall, and I left them to talk.

  Red candles in green wine bottles lit the room, and the sound guy was playing ‘The Best Of Lou Reed And The Velvet Underground.’  All along the bar, groups of people were talking, laughing, drinking, and smoking as they made the most of their respite from the bitter January air.  The tables were less crowded, so Flora and I bagsed our favourite table, tucked away between the bar and the window.  It has nice long wooden benches, which come in handy when there are a lot of you sitting together.

  Clinch played an amazing set.  They’re a band that I haven’t seen before, or heard anything about, and they were a total revelation.  The drummer is particularly good, she is very young, very small and fragile looking with dark hair, light brown skin, and big brown eyes.  She plays with a precision and complexity that I admire so much it hurts.

  I talked to Fergus after the gig, and he told me that the young girls name is Meelan, and that she’s fourteen.  I must have looked astonished, for he added hastily, “She goes to a special music school though.  She’s, like, a scholarship musical genius girl.”  He must have noticed the envy in my eyes because he quickly changed the subject, “You look really good tonight.”

  I laughed; I couldn’t help it, if I had made any effort at all with my outfit I might have been flattered, but I was still wearing my work skirt and shoes. All I’d done to change was remove the decidedly skanky flesh coloured tights that I have to wear for work, and swapped the shirt for my bootleg Siouxsie And The Banshees t-shirt, which had long ago transformed itself from a clean white colour to a dubious greyish green.

  Then it occurred to me, as he placed his hand on my bare knee, that he was probably flirting with me, or trying to: That wiped the smile off my face.  I turned to look at him, and took his hand in mine; my only intention had been to remove it from my knee, but he must have got the wrong idea because he leant towards me and tilted his head as though to kiss me.  I tried to back away from him, but he put his arms around my waist and pulled me closer to him.  As his lips met mine, I panicked and began to struggle with him, only he held onto me, for what seemed like hours.  In reality, it was probably only a few seconds before he let go.  I scrambled away from him; my heart was beating too fast as I got to my feet, and I cried out as he grabbed my hand and pulled me back onto the bench. His eyes told me that he was both worried and hurt as he asked, “What’s the matter?” I couldn’t answer him, but I could sense his grip lessoning, then his thumb, stroking my wrist.  “What are you afraid of?” But I still couldn’t answer him.  My mind wasn’t focused on the present at that point.  I was remembering the past.

  Terry had grabbed my wrists, just as he had, over a year ago now.  He had twisted it and tightened his grip when I tried to run, and had smacked my wrist against the living room wall when I struggled with him.  He had me pressed up against that wall so tightly that I could barely breathe, then, he had kissed me, and it was horrible; his tongue in my mouth, pushing harder and harder against me, had made me gag: There was no love there; it was all force, all violence, and all pain… There was more, much more that he did.

  Violet and Fliss broke the moment; I came to and found them both crouched in front of me, asking me if I was alright, over and over again.  “Yes,” I said, eventually, “I’m O.K” Where was Fergus? I wanted to ask.

  “Was he hurting you?” asked Violet.

  I shook my head, “Nn, no” I stuttered, “he didn’t hurt me, I, I panicked.”

  Then, something clicked in my mind.  He hadn’t hurt me.  He had taken advantage of me, which was bad, but… it was forgivable.  More forgivable than if he had hurt me.  But still… he had taken advantage of me, and he had put me in a position that I couldn’t deal with, and he had kissed me… and suddenly that was all that mattered for a few minutes.

  In my mind, I saw him.  I saw his face when he was talking to me on the bus when we were on tour, I saw his eyes light up as we talked.  We had clicked then, and there had seemed to be so much to talk about.  I saw the way his hair was always falling into his eyes, and the impatient way that he would tuck it behind his ears.  I saw his slow, white teethed smile, and the way he held his cigarettes when he was smoking.  I saw him take my hand that time on the sofa, and in my mind, I kissed him.

  Nat says that I get excited about the little details, not the bigger picture, and maybe she’s right.  A kiss can do a lot of things; a kiss can even change your mind… Nat would never settle for just a kiss, but I would.  Maybe I’ll have to.

  You can’t be in love with him, said a disgusted voice in my mind, he’s the record label guy, you can’t fuck the record label guy, first rule of rock’n’roll girldom.  Who said anything about fucking? Argued my other self.  If you get involved with him, the band will suffer, said the voice again, and people will say you only got a deal through fucking the label guy, do you really want that? But I’m not fucking the label guy, I reasoned.  No, said the voice, knowingly, But you will, won’t you? I might do, one day.  Don’t do it, urged the voice.  Do what? Fall in love with him.  “But I already have.”

  As Fliss and Violet exchanged glances, I realised that I had said it out loud.

  “Already have what?” asked Fliss.  She was clutching my hand and was gazing up at my face in a distinctly worried fashion.

  “Fallen in love with him,” it was almost a whisper, but I could tell that she had heard me, and that she knew who I meant, as well as what it meant.