Chapter Eighteen: Fast Times Across The Pennines

Katy arrived to pick me up at 7pm; I wasn’t quite ready, so I opened my window and chucked my keys down to her so that she could let herself in.  I was just fastening the buckles on my boots when I heard her voice, from behind me, asking “Is Fliss’ room as neat as this?” I nearly jumped out of my skin.

  “How come you don’t make any noise?” I demanded as I spun round to face her.

  She shrugged, “Must have picked it up watching all those episodes of ‘Xena…’ with Fliss,” she surveyed me from head to toe, and shook her head sadly.  “I wish I knew where you got your clothes…” I looked down at my outfit.  It didn’t seem that remarkable to me, it was just the kind of thing I normally wore: Big boots, olive green, a-line mini skirt, tight, cropped, black t-shirt, bearing the legend ‘Sullen Teen’ (bought aged fourteen) in white lettering, and an ex-comprehensive type grey v-neck jumper, frayed and worn, tied around the waist: nothing very spectacular really.

  Katy was, of course, wearing her usual black: Black Doc Marten boots, black boot cut cords, black polyester shirt, and black leather jacket. Her peroxide blonde hair was tied back tightly and severely in a ponytail.  She glanced at her watch and nodded in a businesslike way to herself, “Let’s go.”

  The gig was fantastic; like a jagged flash of bright, frenetic, shiny excitement in a dull rainy week.  Ashleigh Nixon fronts Prick Tease, and she makes for an excellent frontwoman; she swung her glitter-drenched guitar as she snarled, and her brown and blonde hair fell forwards into her face.  The sound was hard, jagged, slightly dark grungy punk. “I’ve seen that snarl and bug eyed expression somewhere before,” remarked Katy thoughtfully as we made our way across the beer and sweat drenched floor, littered with fag ends, to the Princess’s Bar. It was situated in the dimly lit, smoky, table strewn half of the venue, and the wet floor turned to carpet as we walked. The dark wood of the bar was sticky with beer spills as I rested my elbow on it and observed a group of young teenagers, dressed in jeans and band t-shirts, and adorned with Hello Kitty and glitter as they danced to Sleater-Kinney’s ‘Little Babies’.  It was a school night, but they didn’t care; so what if the feedback from the bands tonight meant that they couldn’t hear the drone of tomorrow’s lessons? So what if they fell asleep in assembly, or forgot to do their homework, again? Teenagers have to study too hard anyway.

  The cigarette smoke was a heavy fug, clinging to us, wrapping us up, embracing us…  “You shouldn’t smoke,” said Katy as I sparked up, “it’s bad for you.”

  “Tell me something I don’t know,”

  “O.K, eighty percent of smokers die of smoking related diseases, if you smoke when you’re pregnant you poison your child, and…” she paused for emphasis, “you pay a large chunk of your earnings every week to the government, who squander it further on…”

  I raised a hand in surrender, “I get the picture… but I quite like killing myself, thank you.”

  “Well, at least stop blowing it in my face.”

  Soon we were joined by former Girls From Mars drummer Thayla, Alisha and Elidh from The Trashcan Princesses, the band who had headlined, and Bob from Dew, who with his languid body language, limp, fine hair, and scruffy jeans and t-shirt as usual looked as though he had only just got out of bed.  Alisha and Elidh, meanwhile, were staying true to the glitter mini-dress, high heels, fairy wings, tiaras and sparkle school of thought.  “Is Death Club One still going?” Bob asked Alisha.  She confirmed that it was, and he turned his attention to me and Katy, “You have to come to this club with us, it plays all these old goth records, and E.B.M, gothy trance stuff, industrial stuff, bit of dark metal, bit of indie… it’s a total riot.”

  Katy and I exchanged glances, “Sure,” we replied, “why not?”

  Death Club One was, appropriately enough, situated in a black pit at the bottom of a rather tired old rock bar.  It was the kind of venue that men with bad perms and leather trousers who played air guitar to Whitesnake records flocked to every night of the week, whilst downstairs their black clad, pale faced brethren hid from the light and danced to Christian Death.

  “Goth’s coming back you know,” remarked Alisha as we made our way, single file, down the pitch black, echoing, spiral staircase into the bowels of the club.  The thud of a JAMC record met our ears, an ear mangling guitar, relentless drums, gloomy bass… we had arrived.

  Soon the DJ had switched to Nine Inch Nails, and Thayla had produced a spliff, lit it, and was passing it around.  I took a few drags before passing it on to Katy (I can take or leave hash really) and she had it for a long time before passing it to Bob.  Before long, the four of us had worked our way through five spliffs, and I began to feel quite relaxed.  The music seemed louder and denser somehow, and it seeped into my bones and harrowed my soul.  The voices and laughter of those around me seemed to linger longer than usual, and everything felt clearer and more vivid, yet far away.  It was as though I was watching the events unfold whilst not actually taking part, and I felt drowsy and tired.  I was enjoying the music, the conversation, and the dark, intense, feverish atmosphere, but I wanted to go home and sleep.

  Katy and I left around two a.m and weaved our way, uncertainly, back towards the Princess and the car. I fastened my seatbelt just as Katy yanked us into reverse, and we shot backwards, right into some dustbins on the opposite side of the alleyway, and skidded to a halt with a loud clang.  We looked at each other, and broke into a fit of giggles, tears of mirth rolled down our cheeks as a dustbin lid rolled around in a circle before coming to a noisy standstill just behind us.  Finally, Katy changed gear, put her foot down, and we shot forwards into the night.

  Soon we were on the motorway, driving oh-so-fast along the never-ending road, lamp posts illuminating our way through the blank, still night.  All the windows were down, causing gusts of cold air to snake into the car and sting our skin as we giggled, shouted, screamed, and sang along with the goth CD’s Katy had purchased in a mad binge at Death Club One.  The Sisters Of Mercy were singing ‘This Corrosion’ as we zipped towards the Pennines, The Cure were singing about ‘Lovecats’ as we passed a service station somewhere near Huddersfield, and the March Violets were singing ‘Snakedance’ as we crossed the Pennines.

  The Shaman’s ‘Jesus Loves Amerika’ segued into Nine Inch Nails’ ‘March Of The Pigs’ as we sped towards Manchester.  We were travelling so quickly now, faster, faster, as the night moved towards the morning.  I glanced at Katy to ask her to slow down, and saw her head droop and her eyes close. The car swerved, violently, as I grabbed the wheel, steadying it, stabilising it.

  Katy jerked awake as suddenly as she had nodded out, “Huh?” she mumbled, “What happened?”  But I could tell from her eyes, suddenly wide and frightened, that she already knew.

  “Next service station,” I gasped, my heart pounding as the surge of adrenalin made it hard for me to speak, “next service station, we stop.” I surrendered control of the wheel.

  She nodded in subdued agreement.

  In the largely deserted, artificially bright, white and red perspex cafeteria of the service station, we glumly supped strong black coffee and wondered what to do.  A couple of lorry drivers were enjoying a fry up at the opposite end of the long, neon lit, room as Katy said, in tones of wonder and amazement, “My whole life flashed before my eyes… I always thought people made that up, but I remembered meeting Fliss at primary school, it was so real…”

  “You know,” I said thoughtfully as I downed the last of my coffee, “we probably shouldn’t be drinking this stuff, our heartbeats are probably accelerated enough already, accelerate them anymore and we’ll probably bring on a cardiac arrest.”  I went back to the counter and purchased two more coffees, two big plates of chips, and ten chocolate bars.

  “I remember when I first met Fliss,” Katy was saying, seemingly oblivious as to whether I was listening or not, “on a day in June in 1993… this plump little girl with a cheeky grin and her hair in bunches.”

  “Fliss is younger than you though,” I remarked as I divvied up the chocolate bars between us.

  “True,” she nodded as she speared chips with her fork, “I must really stop smoking hash…” she closed her eyes, and I moved her plate just in time.  She awoke upon impact with the table, “Ow…fuck,” she rubbed her nose cautiously with her right hand; “I think I may have broken something…” her nose was bleeding.  I handed her a paper napkin.  As she mopped up, she grew strangely pensive, “I know,” she began carefully, “that Fliss is growing away from me…”

  “Katy…” I began.

  “No,” she interrupted, “it’s alright… it’s not as though there’s anything I can do about it after all, it’s just…” she caught my eyes with hers, “don’t take her away from me, she’s growing up, I know, but… leave a little bit of the old Fliss, for me.”

  I smiled sadly, “I’ll try…”

  We took it easy for the remainder of our journey home for we were both weary and wary; ready for our beds yet kept awake by the fear that we would fall asleep at the wheel if we relaxed for even a second.  The haze of hash and alcohol was wearing off, and we were jumpy with caffeine and sugar.

  Katy slept in Fliss’ room.

  No sooner had I nodded off, it seemed, than the phone was ringing.  With a great deal of moaning and histrionics, I muttered, cursed, and staggered my way into the hall.  It was Fliss, she was crying, and she wanted Katy.

  Katy’s expression, upon returning from the call, was one of barely contained anger, “I could kill Violet,” she muttered as she flung herself down into one of the armchairs in the living room.

  “What happened?” I asked.

  “She asked Fliss to meet her in London yesterday and, well, you know Fliss; she went without so much as an argument.  The argument came later, when she got there, and Violet told her she’d been seeing someone else.”

  “Who?” I was shocked.

  “That blonde barmaid from Juvenile Hell, Amber…” she clenched her fists, “I could cheerfully swing for Violet” she got to her feet, “Fliss wants me to come and see her in London, she says she can’t go home to her mum and dad ‘cos she’s too upset, and needs someone to talk to. She said she can’t talk to her family about it, it’s not like…”

  “I know,” I interrupted, quietly, “She said, she’d have to come out to them first, before she could even discuss Violet.”

  “And even if she wanted to,” pointed out Katy, “now isn’t the time to do that.”

  “No.”

  She walked across the room, and paused in the doorway, “I’ll get myself cleaned up a bit, then I’ll drive back to Flora’s and pack.”

  I was apprehensive as I said, “You won’t drive to London, will you?”

  “No,” she shook her head, gravely serious, “I’ll catch a train.”

  Once she had left the room, I went back to bed, and slipped back into sleep almost immediately.  I didn’t even notice her leave.

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