Chapter Twenty Two: Birthday Girl

The sun rises early and relentlessly these days, making for warm still mornings, glaringly hot, humid afternoons and sultry evenings.  As the days have dragged on they have become hotter and stiller, closer and more stifling.  The air outside is thick with dust, pollen, and traffic fumes, and the litter on the streets rots and decomposes without being washed away.  From the drooping plants in their dry and cracked soil to the dogs roaming the streets, tongues lolling out of their mouths, to the shirtless men lying on sun loungers in their back gardens, newspapers covering their lobster red flesh… every species known to nature longs for rain.

  We held Fliss’ birthday party here last night, quite late, so as to allow for the weather to cool a little and for those of us who work on Saturdays to get home and change from damp and grimy work clothes into crisp, fresh party outfits.

  Fliss emerged from her bedroom around eight ish, wearing a pale pink cotton a-line sundress, which reached to just above her knees.  Her hair was in bunches and tied with velvet ribbons, which matched the dress, and she was wearing a pink and white seashell necklace; on her feet were a pair of new pink butterfly flip flops, a present from me.  Her mouth, daubed with lip-gloss, was trying to smile but I could see from her eyes that her heart wasn’t really in it.

  “Well, turn around, let’s have a look,” I said encouragingly.  She obliged, causing the hem of the dress to catch the air and lift up and out as her bunches twirled with her.  “Very nice,” I said, as she came to a standstill, her face slightly flushed.

  She surveyed my own outfit of dark blue jeans and black cotton shirt, knotted at the waist, with a doubtful expression.  “I didn’t want to be noticed much,” I explained.

  “Not even by Fergus?”

  I blushed “Yes, but… this is your party, not mine”

  “I don’t mind if you dress up”

  “I’m fine as I am”

  I made my way from the living room back into the kitchen where I was arranging the food on the surface next to the window.  Glasses were in short supply, so Katy and Flora were bringing some of their own, along with some bottles.  Peanuts and crisps were next, followed by biscuits, sandwiches… I was just putting the last of these onto plates when I heard footsteps on the lino.  I turned around just as he slipped his arms around my waist, and put my arms around his neck.  We kissed as Fliss slipped out of the room, and emerged from the embrace as she started the first CD of the evening, a sixties compilation; Dionne Warwick was singing ‘Walk On By’, which seems to be Fliss’ anthem at the moment.

  Soon Flora and Katy had arrived, bearing booze, confectionary, and a large cardboard cake box, the latter of which Flora quickly passed to me as Katy distracted Fliss.  I noticed that Katy had dyed her hair back to its natural brown and had begun to experiment with colours other than black.  She was wearing dark blue jeans with a red halter-top, and I felt strangely disconcerted by this change in her.  “Suits her, I think,” said Flora, as I returned from the kitchen.

  “Did you have anything to do with…?”

  “No, entirely of her own will”

  I shook my head in amazement; maybe it was the heat.

  Not many people had arrived by that point; Flora and Katy, Fergus of course, and all of Angel and the Razorblades, but they were it.  Nevertheless, Fliss was the centre of attention and was, at that point, sitting in one of the armchairs, unwrapping her presents, and beaming with happiness as her friends looked adoringly on.  The sound of ripping paper filled the air, and was complimented by the clinking of glasses and the CD player, currently playing Billie Davis’ ‘Walk In My Shoes’ at mid volume.  Some of Flora’s fashion student friends arrived next in a blur of designer punk clothes, dyed and teased hair, nicotine and spirits.  I had done all that I could with the food and drink, so, seeing that Fliss was happy and that everyone was nicely occupied, I went to find Fergus.

  He was outside in the garden that Fliss and I share with the couple in the flat below.  “Look” he pointed to the fence where some vivid orange flowers were growing “Tiger lilies” he walked through the calf length scorched and yellowing grass to the fence, and I watched as he picked a single flower and reversed his path.  The evening sun was turning the clouds pink and gold as he reached me and, perfectly seriously, held out the flower to me.  From the kitchen window above, I could hear Sophie Ellis-Bextor, singing ‘Take Me Home’.  I took the flower from him and tucked it behind my ear.  ‘Take Me Home’ finished, and ‘Lover’ commenced, Fliss must have been playing the whole album.  “Shall we dance?” he asked.

  “Yes please”

  The grass tickled my legs as I danced with him, slow and close, until the song finished.  It was too hot for dancing really, so we sat on the wall for a while, smoking and listening to the sounds of the party.  I rested my head against his shoulder and he put his arm around my waist.  I could have stayed there all night.

  Too soon, there was a knock at the door and, with a sigh; we made our way back to the front of the house.  There was a girl standing by the door who I had never seen before.  “Hiya” she had a thick Lancashire accent; not Bolton, broader than that, and she seemed very friendly.  “Nat’s just parking the car, she said to run along and knock.” She extended a pale arm.  We shook hands “I’m Rene”

  “Maggie” I was just introducing Fergus to the girl when Nat arrived, fresh from the night’s entertainments at Juvenile Hell.

  “Violet took Amber off to the south of France for a week, so I’ve been borrowing this one” she gestured to the girl “to fill in”.

  “Don’t tell Fliss about Violet and Amber” I warned her.

  “Course I won’t”

  We all traipsed up the stairs, Nat first in her glitzy ensemble, then the girl in her threadbare ripped and faded pale blue jeans and ripped t-shirt, a plaid shirt tied around her waist.  Her slim wrists were sporting studded wristbands, and her long dark brown hair needed washing.  I wondered where Nat had picked her up; I didn’t believe for a minute that she had found her at Juvenile Hell.

  The music grew louder as we neared the top of the stairs; the chatter of conversation, and the odd shriek complimented the throb of the bass.  Nat opened the door, and we re-entered the party.

  It took a few minutes to re-adjust my senses to the noise, the air, by now thick with the heat and smoke, and the sight of so many people, many of them strangers, gathered in so small a place.  After the last rays of sunlight in the peaceful dusk, the glare of the lights, smell of food, drink, sweat, perfume and smoke, and the soundtrack of laughter, chatter and music was overwhelming.  Nat and the girl quickly vanished into the thick of it all, whilst Fergus and I sought sanctuary in the kitchen.

  Sophie Ellis-Bextor finished and was replaced by Blondie’s ‘Parallel Lines,’ the volume was pushed up to max, and was it my imagination or did the smoke grow denser and slightly more fragrant?  The heat was unbearable, and the air was filled with the sound of shoes clattering up and down the stairs as their owners ran down to let people in, or made their way downstairs in a quest for fresh, cool air.  When I re-entered the living room, I had long lost track of what was going on, of who had arrived and who had left, and of who was outside taking a breather.  So, feeling a little dazed, I sat down next to Fergus on the sofa and put my arms around him.  He kissed me lightly on the forehead, and together we surveyed the bewildering range of social and sexual interaction unfolding before us.  Nat was talking to Flora and some of her fashion student friends, seemingly about clothes, whilst Katy was curled up in one of the armchairs, carefully stroking an ecstatically happy Marmalade; she caught me watching her, and smiled.  Meelan, clad as ever in baggy skater jeans, was rifling through our collection of records, CD’s and tapes as a tipsy Angel and the Razorblades singer tottered past her in the direction of the kitchen, not looking at all well.  Concerned, I followed her and, seeing that she was desperately in need of fresh air, led her slowly and steadily down the stairs.  I had just got her outside onto the doorstep when she threw up.

  Patiently, I held her hair away from her face and waited until she had finished.  “I’ll never drink again,” she vowed, fervently and emotionally “Never ever”.

  “Or not until next week anyway” I added sagely.

  She started heaving again, and I got out of the way just in time.

  Having put the young singer, by now sleepy and headachy, to bed in my room, I re-joined Fergus on the sofa.  He was watching Fliss, who was engaged in a seemingly intense conversation with Rene, the pale, scruffy girl Nat had brought along earlier.  “Do you know who that is?” he asked me as we continued to watch them “Really is I mean?”

  “No” I couldn’t see what he was getting at all “Should I?”

  “She’s Adrienne Du Shanne”

  “Who?”

  “You know” he struck a pose that would have looked flirtatious on a woman but that, on him, just seemed camp, and began to sing in a hackneyed, pop/rap combination “’Cos I’m the girl who just won’t quit, I’m in and out, and you won’t sleep, I’m here to…”

  “Yes, alright,” I interrupted, “I get the idea – I can’t stand that song.”

  “Ah,” he smiled, knowingly, “But you knew it.”

  I sighed, wearily, and recited in a sing-song voice of boredom, “’Ghetto Girl’ by Girl Trouble, from their second album ‘Girls In Trouble’, which was the biggest selling album of last year, or so we’re told, making them the second, or was it third? I forget, biggest girl band of all time… girl power, rah rah rah…”  I knew all about Girl Trouble, how could I not? Their records and pictures, their relationships and marriages, their drunken exploits and tearful strops were in my face on a day to day basis, thanks to the media. Not a day went by, it seemed, without one or more of them appearing in their underwear on the cover of ‘FHM’, ‘Loaded’, ‘Later’, ‘The Sun’, ‘The News Of The World’, ‘Playboy’… tabloid headlines were written about them, designer clothes were made for them, at least two of them had had cocaine sex in (presumably different) west end nightclubs, and those songs they sung that weren’t covers had titles like ‘Late Night Call’, ‘Midnight Ride’, ‘Speaking In Tongues’. (Nat always said that they should just name their songs after cocktails and have done with it.) Number one record after number one record, all served up by four pouty doe eyed madams aged between sixteen and eighteen, who looked about twenty five, and who had succeeded in annoying me even more than the Spice Girls had when I was fourteen and was listening to Kenickie. Hot pants and micro mini skirts with fishnet tights and bikini tops were their trademark look, and they were matched by thick cover girl make-up and long flowing locks.  I took another look at the girl talking to Fliss “That can’t be one of them…”

  Fergus nodded vigorously “No, it’s definitely her.  They’re recording at a studio near Twilight, I saw them on my way home yesterday, signing autographs as they were leaving; it’s definitely her.”

  “But what’s she doing here?”

  He shrugged “I did think that she was one of Nat’s conquests, before I realised who she was, but that can’t be right can it? Girl Trouble just about have the word ‘Heterosexual’ tattooed across their…”

  I held up a hand in protest “Don’t…”

  We didn’t find a satisfactory answer to any of our questions, and I was beginning to feel drowsy as Saturday became Sunday.  People began to couple up, or leave, or both, and when I next opened my eyes, I could no longer see Fliss.  Fergus was asleep, so I got up and wandered, blearily, around the house.  The young girl I had left in my room earlier was by now fast asleep and snoring; her Doc Marten clad feet were hanging off the side of the bed.  I unlaced her boots for her, and removed them, placing them on the floor where she would be sure to see them when she woke up.  Afterwards, I worked my way from room to room, growing increasingly weary as I stumbled across innumerable couples fumbling with each other, and what appeared to be a badly put together bong in the bathroom.  I’ll deal with it all in the morning.  I thought to myself as I returned to the living room and Fergus, still fast asleep on the sofa.  He stirred briefly as I leant against him, and then went back to sleep.  Within minutes I was asleep too.

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