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.

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