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.

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