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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