Chapter Twenty Six: Pressure

Another day… and another night out at Juvenile Hell: It can be too easy to become blasé and resigned to nightlife, especially when you end up going out as often as we do. We go out because it’s what we do, and we do it because it’s the only way we get to see our friends. Sometimes we go out to see the bands play, sometimes we go out to dance, but not as often as I would like… Too often it feels as though we go out simply to be seen. Forgive me, I am feeling sorry for myself… But I hadn’t really wanted to go to Juvenile Hell that night. I was feeling tired and irritable again, and I didn’t know why. I made myself go in the end because Fergus and Fliss both wanted to and I didn’t want to be a grouch. Nat was on fine old form when we arrived; It was a Friday night, and she was merrily tottering around her red and gold domain, assisted by a tall, black and blonde haired man in designer combat trousers.  “MAGGIE!!” she screamed when she spotted me making my way through the throng.  I waved, and she unsteadily charged and staggered her way through the crowd, dragging him behind her, and crashing to a halt directly in front of Fergus and me a few minutes later.  I could smell the alcohol as she loudly proclaimed, for his benefit, “This is my best friend in the whole world.” I smiled awkwardly “And, and also, co-conspirer in my first business enterprise, Minx Records.” She added, equally loudly, referring to the record label we had run together when we were sixteen.  I nodded to the bloke she’d towed over, but he was too busy groping her to notice.  I felt faintly embarrassed, and I could sense Fergus giving me funny looks as we stood there, watching him.  Nat was obviously preoccupied, so I was about to slip away when she turned her attention back to us.  “Oh!” she said in a voice that was still too loud “This is Dylan, you saw him last time you were here, when he was photographing me for ‘City Life’.” I looked him over: the guy with the Beckham haircut…  He was quite good looking up close.  I noted an expensive looking chain and watch in addition to the designer clothes.

  “How many do you think she’s had?” wondered Fergus as we made our way over to the bar.  I shrugged.  When I looked over a few minutes later, they’d found a discreet corner and were necking enthusiastically

  Fliss was already at the bar, talking to a suitably glamorous Violet.  But when I joined them, I discovered that it was Violet who was making all the effort.  Fliss was just listening, and nodding periodically.

  After a while, the first band of the night walked out onto the stage, and Fliss made her excuses and slipped through the crowd to the front of the stage.  Violet watched her go with a mournful expression “I was being friendly,” she protested, sadly, “but it was like she was only being polite to me.”  She turned to me, and I sensed her confusion as she said “I know I’ve been away for a few months, but, what happened to the sweet little girl I left behind?”

  “You broke her heart.” I replied, succinctly.

  She nodded regretfully, and her eyes were sad as she said “But when did she turn into such a sex kitten?”

  Fergus and I exchanged a private look.  He had been very surprised earlier in the evening when, after an hours wait, Fliss had finally emerged from her bedroom wearing a simple but slinky black backless dress and black stilettos, her hair had been curled and she was immaculately made up, with flawless foundation, pale pink lip gloss, and pale blue eye shadow. 

  “I’ve seen one of those dresses,” said Violet, quietly, her eyes still on Fliss as she continued “When I was in London.  It was on display at Selfridges, and it cost about four hundred pounds.” I could sense her lust as she said, “I’d like to know how it ended up on Fliss…”

  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Nat weaving her way over to the bar, her clothes were awry, and her lipstick was smudged all over her face.  “Maybe it was a different dress,” I said neutrally.

  Violet shook her head “I saw the label; it looked like the real thing to me.”  She turned to Nat, who was about to knock back a shot of something pale pink that smelt vaguely of almonds and cherries, “Did you buy that dress for Fliss?”

  Nat craned her neck to get a better look at Fliss, and then snorted “No, catch me with that much spare change…” she eyed Violet warily “Why did you think it was me?”

  Violet shrugged dejectedly.

  “What’s the big deal?” I asked, “It’s only a dress”

  “Top range Harvey Nicks,” said Nat shrewdly “Unless I’m very much mistaken…” She knocked back her drink, grimacing slightly as the liquid hit the back of her throat. We lapsed into silence again, until Nat remarked, rather hoarsely, “You’re just peeved because you think she’s found herself a sugar mommy.”

  “She does have someone else,” I murmured.  I quickly wished that I hadn’t though, because they all turned on me, and the unspoken question hung in the air ‘WHO?’ As I gave a deliberately vague account of the girl I’d seen shinning down our drainpipe a few months back now, Nat choked on her second shot.  “What?” I asked suspiciously.

  She was puce from coughing before she was finally able to answer, “Nothing” she spluttered; “It was the image of her shinning down the drainpipe, that’s all…”

  Violet narrowed her eyes “You know who it is, don’t you?” she said venomously.

  “I might do,” conceded Nat.

  “Then spill…”

  “Dear me, is that the time” Nat glanced at her wrist, looking for a watch she didn’t have.  I detected a faint smirk.  “I really must be getting back to…” she hesitated “what I was doing before.”

  “Check his pockets for a pack of three first,” advised Violet cattily.

  Nat smiled dreamily “First things first” she half murmured, half slurred as she got up.

  “Hetty sell-out” muttered Violet bitterly.

  “I am not a hetty sell-out,” slurred Nat “and anyway,” she hiccupped, loudly, “anyway… I have the urge upon me tonight.”  We watched as she weaved her way back through the crowds to where she had left Dylan.

  Fliss retired to her bedroom with her mobile as soon as we arrived home, leaving us to stay up and talk into the early hours.  “I never knew that you’d run a record label with Nat.” he said, interested “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  I shrugged indifferently “It was a long time ago, we were very young.  We only released two records – then we ran out of money.”

  “How old were you?”

  “We were both sixteen.  Fifteen when we had the idea, sixteen when we started releasing records though” I felt a little embarrassed “It was just a little label, Fergus, everyone does them…”

  He shook his head “You make it sound like dying your hair or something, something easy.”

  “Well” I conceded, “it wasn’t all that hard really, it was just expensive.”

  “I know,” he said.  There was a long silence before he asked, “Would you do it again?” I shook my head “With me?” he asked tentatively, but I shook my head again.

  “I don’t want to do it anymore” I explained “I wouldn’t enjoy it anymore.”

  “What about if you had the money to do something else?” he asked.

  “Like what?”

  “I don’t know, let’s think about it.”

  And we did.  We ruled out doing a festival, mainly because Ladyfest is coming to Manchester next year and, if we seriously did it, then the two events would clash.  But we both liked the idea of a one off Christmas party, and we discussed it long into the night.  We decided that it should be a theme party, with costumes, and that there should be bands as well as DJ’s, and maybe films and stalls.

  We stayed up, long into the night, one Sunday last month at his house, just talking about it all in detail, getting increasingly excited and worked up about it.  After a brief lull in the conversation, he looked at his watch, and winced.  “What?” I asked.  He told me it was two am, and added “Don’t you have to be up at six thirty?”

  I cursed.

  “You can sleep here, if you like I mean.”  He wouldn’t look at me, and I experienced one of the rare awkward silences that still occasionally occur between us.  We hadn’t slept together since the night we got together.  This was my fault, not his, and it was something that I had wanted to resolve quite badly, but had felt too awkward to do so, as unlikely as that sounds.  You must think me frigid, or incredibly inhibited at any rate, to be so awkward about it, but it’s not as simple as that.  I didn’t use to be like that, but I’ve grown wary and… out of practice, shy.  It wasn’t even as though it was about sex either, it was just about being near to him

  But by then, it didn’t matter.  I was so tired, so relaxed, and so trusting that I just said, “Yes, I would.”

  The alarm woke me at six thirty, and I opened my eyes with a moan of pain.  My head ached intensely, unbearably.  It felt as though someone had my head in a vice and was tightening the constraints, squeezing my skull, whilst at the same time malevolent elves hit my brain with mallets and stabbed me in the eyes with needles.  I lay still for a few minutes, hoping that the pain would go away.  Then, I tried to move my eyes and, as I did so, a wave of such excruciating nausea and dizziness hit me that I had to close them immediately.

  The dizziness passed and, somehow, I managed to sit up and move over to the edge of the bed.  But the pain and the dizzy nausea returned, causing me to close my eyes and rest my head in my hands as I tried not to think about how I was going to get into the office, and how I was to cope with eight hours sat in front of a flickering computer screen next to a phone that never stopped ringing.  I told myself that if I emptied my mind, closed my eyes, and kept perfectly still for about five minutes, I would be fine.

  One minute… agony.

  Second minute… I felt increasingly sick.

  Third minute… Why is my body temperature shooting up and down in that alarming way?

  Fourth minute… his hand on my shoulder, asking me if I was alright.

  Fifth minute… my answer “I’m fine.”

  Then I stood up too quickly and fell over because my balance was completely shot.

  He picked me up off the floor and put me back to bed.

  “A migraine” pronounced the doctor at nine o’clock, with rather disturbing cheerfulness “have you had them before?”

  I shook my head, and then closed my eyes as the wave of nausea crashed over me once again.

  Back at the house, I went back to bed and took the sedatives that the doctor had prescribed.  By the time Fergus returned from phoning work for me, my eyelids were already drooping, and I was sinking further and further down the pillow.  As I closed my eyes, I heard him, distantly, telling me that he would look in on me at dinner.  I was asleep before he had even left the house.

  It was dark when I woke up, and as I turned my head slightly, I realised that the pain had gone.  I felt groggy, and I still felt as though elves had been digging holes in my head, but at least they had stopped digging.  Fergus was watching me from a chair next to the bed.  “What time is it?” I asked him slowly and carefully.

  “Eight thirty, just gone.” He replied “I looked in on you at dinner, but you were still fast asleep.  I didn’t want to wake you up, so I left again.”

  “How long have you been sitting there?” I asked as I shakily hauled myself up by the arms.

  “About an hour or so, I kept looking in on you when I got home from work, and when it got to half seven, I got a bit worried.”

  I smiled, wearily “Thank you…”

  “How do you feel?” he still looked worried.

  “Much better, but groggy”

  “That’s probably the medication.”

  “Probably”

  “Would you like something to eat?”

  I nodded, and when he said that he would get me something, I said, “No, I’ll get up.  I need to anyway.”

  In bed that night, he asked me “Is something wrong?”

  “No, why?”

  “You said that the doctor said something about stress this morning, that’s all.”

  I nodded “I just hate my job so much.  I wish I could leave, but we need the money.”

  “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked gently.

  I shook my head “No” I whispered.  I felt tearful just thinking about it.

  “I wish you didn’t need the money,” he said as he turned off the light.

  I slept uneasily and fretfully that night.

  On the Saturday, Fergus slept over at our house, and we spent Sunday morning watching T.V in the living room, talking, and generally messing around.  When Fliss emerged from her bedroom around dinnertime, I was lying on the sofa, my head in his lap as he read me gossip pieces from Fliss’ copy of ‘Sugar’, interspaced with stories that he had made up.  “’It’ girl, Lalage Ferrini, whose father was recently outed as a politician, plans to launch a raunchy new career as a topless gangsta rapper…” I laughed, and he flicked forwards a few pages “Ah, here’s one for all the girls… ‘Has Jailbait’s Nyree had a bum lift?’ forget the conflict in Israel, the war in Afghanistan, or the up and coming war in Iraq, what we really want to know is whether arse is the new tits.”

  Fliss was beginning to warm to his theme as she curled up in the armchair opposite with Marmalade, “Boy band The Romford Crew announce their ongoing search for talent.”

  “Ah, well” Fergus began flicking through the pages again “If its boy bands you’re after” he stopped flicking, and his eyes scanned the print “here’s one: Dangerous!’ Jay Adams spotted out, again, with Girl Trouble’s Adrienne Du Shanne.  The blonde sex god was spotted leaving an exclusive West End party in the company of the sultry siren last week, making it the third sighting of the couple this month.”

  Fliss smiled thinly “I read somewhere else that it was a cynical ploy by their marketing teams.”

  “Well, maybe” conceded Fergus as he passed her the magazine “But they look quite friendly here.”

  Fliss inspected the centrefold dispassionately; “She doesn’t look as though she’s enjoying mashing faces with him, though, does she?”

  Fergus inspected the image, “Now you mention it, no… and he doesn’t look as happy as he should do either…”

  “Oh, so you’d like to trade places?” I teased, “I feel sordid now…”

  He kissed me, “Don’t feel sordid…”

  “But you would, wouldn’t you?” I persisted.

  “What?”

  “Snog her”

  “Well, yeah, I mean…” he looked rather sheepish, “come on…”

  Fliss giggled. We asked her what the joke was, but that just made her laugh even more, so that eventually she ran through to the kitchen, red in the face, with her fist in her mouth.

  When she came back, we were watching an entertainment show on Channel Five.  They were showing the most recent Girl Trouble video, which was all come on and cleavage, suggesting that arse hadn’t become the new tits in their case. The overall feel was of something very slick and dehumanised, something a little too perfect to be real.  Fergus pointed to a beautiful girl with dark, glossy curls as she stalked along the video’s urban street, her slim tanned legs set off by incredibly high heeled boots, “That’s Adrienne,” he said.  Her dark eyes were framed by dark make-up like a bruise, and her mouth was painted a glossy plum colour.  The camera shifted position then, it lingered on her legs as the song finished and the video drew to a close.  She stayed in my mind though… not because I had liked the song particularly, but because she had presence.  The programme cut to an interview with her at an awards ceremony or album launch of some kind, and the unseen interviewer asked her a question about her relationship with Jay Adams.  She laughed, but it seemed a bit strained, and she seemed tired as she smiled a coy little smile and peered up at the camera through her eyelashes.  “He’s a close friend.”  Her accent wasn’t as broad as I remember it being at Fliss’ party, and her voice seemed to be an octave or two higher, which struck me as odd.

  “How close?” persisted the interviewer.

  Fliss moved closer to the screen, both she and Fergus were wearing an expression best described as hypnotic longing.

  The popstar hesitated, and then said “Close… that’s all I’m prepared to say.”

  The interview finished, and the camera drew our attention back to the presenters, who appeared to be about twelve, and who sounded as though they’d ingested far too many ecstasy tablets and e-numbers that morning. “I like her t-shirt,” said Fliss suddenly, as the female half of the duo walked over to where a band was waiting to play out over the shows credits.

  “I didn’t care for his hair,” deadpanned Fergus.

  She smiled.

  As the weeks have passed, Fliss seems to have withdrawn further and further into herself. She and her mobile are currently undergoing a trial separation, interrupted by incoming calls roughly twice a day.  These conversations are marked by silence on Fliss’ part, and characterised by a tense, unhappy expression.  She spends a lot of time alone, listening to ‘They Don’t Know’, (the Tracy Ullman version) and writing songs. Sometimes at night, I hear her crying, but I don’t know what to do, or what to say. I wish I did.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: