Chapter Thirty Six: Not Talking About It

 The Saturday after the wedding was a warm and breezy sunny day.  I lay in bed with my head on Fergus’ chest, feeling his breath on my face. He stroked my hair, very slightly, very gently, but his eyes were worried as he murmured, “I wish you would tell me what he did to you.”  My heart began to beat a little faster as I looked away from him, “I can’t” I whispered.

He stopped stroking my hair, and I turned my back on him, my thoughts a jumbled mess as I buried my head in the pillow.  After a few minutes, I sensed his fingers on my spine, and I found myself flinching involuntarily, for the first time in nearly a year.  He had wanted to have sex with me the night before, and I had stopped him. He hadn’t questioned me then, just rolled off me and gone to sleep, but I had known that he was losing patience; I could sense it, in every inch of his body.

  “I know he hurt you,” began Fergus, carefully, “but,” he hesitated, “You would tell me, wouldn’t you? If it was sexual as well, if he hurt you in a sexual way?”

  The implied question interrupted my thoughts, and it confused me because I didn’t have an answer for it.  Then I began to ask myself if he had raped me, if consenting only because he wasn’t going to leave me in peace otherwise, was rape, if I had consented because I was frightened of him, and if that was rape, if I had let him do things to me because I was too scared to say no.  So many scenarios, so many situations where he had had the upper hand, and where I had wanted to say no to him, but hadn’t done.  What did that make him? And what did it make me? I didn’t like to think of the relationship I’d had with Terry as being like that, but that was how he was making me feel…  A familiar, fierce, insistent pain was beginning to throb in my left temple as I closed my eyes once more; I was tenser than I had realised “I really don’t want to talk about this now.” I whispered, “Could you get me a glass of water and my migraine pills?”

  I heard the bed creak, then the floorboards as he climbed out of bed.  I rolled over to face him.  He seemed to tower over me, and there was an edge to his voice as he asked, “Do you want your other pills as well?”

  “What other pills?” I asked, quietly.

  “The ones you can’t drink with”

  I flushed, “My anti-depressants,” I admitted, “I came off them last month.”  Then, in case the significance had bypassed him somehow, I added, “I’m clean, Fergus.”

  He stared at me for a long time; it was as though he was studying me.  Not because he didn’t believe me I don’t think, but because he was trying to see inside my head.  He was reading me, like he used to do when we first met; I thought we were past all that now.

  The next morning, after a fraught and sleepless night, I staggered along the corridor, wincing as the bright sunlight hurt my eyes.  Despite my weariness, my mind was in turmoil, preoccupied by thoughts that I couldn’t control.  I found myself dwelling on Terry, despite myself, and I found myself reliving some of the things that he had done to me, things that I had not forgotten, but which I had driven back into the furthest recesses of my mind, where I wouldn’t have to deal with them.  I had spent a sizeable amount of the previous night arguing with myself as to what, if anything, I should tell Fergus, and he had been fast asleep next to me the whole time, blissfully unaware of my restlessness.  At least he had slept, and wasn’t that better than telling him? Wasn’t it better to let him believe a lie if that gave him peace of mind? Wasn’t it better if he believed that nothing really that bad had happened to me? That I wasn’t broken, or damaged, or… or… or any of those other adjectives that people would use to describe someone in my situation: I couldn’t find an answer that morning, and I still can’t find an answer now.  As I walked towards the living room, I could hear Fliss singing:

            She packed her case

            And kissed goodbye

            Then flew away from me.

The melody seemed to have been lifted from an old Doris Day song that Fliss had on tape somewhere, but the lyrics were new, and sad, so very sad.

  She jerked her head up in surprise as I entered the room, and blushed fiercely as she hastily folded up the piece of paper she had been reading.  I made to leave, but she stopped me and motioned for me to join her on the sofa.  I guessed that the letter was from Adrienne, though I didn’t want to ask because I could sense her awkwardness.  In the end, Fliss brought it up.  “She’s in France,” she said pensively, “I think she means to stay.”  Tears were shining in her eyes as she looked up at me, “I miss her,” there was a tremor in her voice now, “I miss her so much…” she began to cry, softly at first, and then harder.  The letter fell to the floor, forgotten.

  Nat and Dylan returned from their Russian honeymoon a few days ago now, and I saw them last night at Juvenile Hell.  Nat was holding court to a number of press people and miner celebrities when I arrived, and Dylan was gazing at her adoringly.  Once the schmoozing was over with, she returned to his side, and didn’t leave it once all evening; whenever I saw her she was smiling and smiling; she seemed so alive. .

  I saw Fergus almost as soon as I arrived; he was by the bar, chatting to some friends from work who I don’t know very well.  After our last meeting, I was wary of approaching him lest he was still angry with me, so I waited instead for him to come looking for me.

  We didn’t talk about our conversation that morning until we were in the car, travelling home.  “Do you love me?” he asked once there was a lull in our conversation.  “Of course I love you” I replied, a little startled.

  “Like Nat loves Dylan?” he persisted.

  “More than that,” I insisted.

  When we reached the flat, he stopped but didn’t switch off the engine.  “I won’t come in,” he said, tensely, “I think its best I don’t.”

  I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just nodded and then got out of the car.  I stood on the pavement for what felt like a long time, watching him drive away into the summer sunset.

Chapter Thirty Five: Dearly Beloved…

 Fliss and I arrived at Nat’s flat around 11am.  It was a sultry, humid kind of morning, and whilst Fliss seemed cool enough in her yellow cotton sundress, I was sticky hot in my jeans and t-shirt.  Nat wasn’t ready when we arrived, and she seemed exhausted as she slowly opened the door to us.  She was wearing a pair of grubby jeans and a half shirt, out of which an ample amount of cleavage spilled, and she was barefoot.  Her hair was a tangled mess, and her face seemed strangely naked without make-up.  There was a love bite on her neck.  I raised an eyebrow, and she looked away a little sheepishly as she gestured for us to follow her.

  She shuffled along the hall slowly and with a slight stagger, and I took in the slovenly state of the flat as we joined Flora and Katy in Nat’s bedroom to get ready.  Dirty plates had been left lying around, for days or weeks possibly, clothes and condoms were strewn all over the place, and there were reams and reams of dirty knickers spilling out of every corner.  “Nat” Fliss sighed, her eyes wide in wonder, disgust, and admiration, “You are…”

  “Yeah,” sighed Nat, wearily, “I know.”

  She left us to get ready.

  We each had a silver satin sheath dress to wear, and a posy of white foxgloves to carry, and the effect was mixed at best.  Katy suited silver best; it went well with her dyed black hair and lightly tanned colouring.  Fliss, with her fair hair, pale blue eyes, and fair colouring looked like an ethereal little ghost, whereas Flora and I quickly discovered that silver clashed violently with our hair and colouring.  We gloomily set about the task of applying our make-up to the accompaniment of the trickling water from the shower.

  When Nat returned, she was wearing an ankle length black satin sheath dress with a plunging neckline that displayed almost as much cleavage as the half shirt had.  Her hair hung loose to midway down her back, and she wore black patent kitten heels, had no veil, and was carrying a bouquet of purple foxgloves.

  Katy’s jaw dropped “Black?” She exclaimed in horror.

  Nat sighed in exasperation as she placed her free hand on her hip, “Well, I could hardly wear white now, could I?”  She’d done her best to cover up the love bite on her neck, but you could still see it, if you looked hard.

  “Black is a traditional wedding colour in Spain and Iceland,” quoted Fliss, “I read that in ‘Brides’.”

  A car horn hooted outside, “That’ll be the taxi.”  Said Nat as she picked up her keys and ushered us towards the door.

  “I thought the whole point of a wedding was to have a big flash car with ribbons and everything,” muttered a disgruntled Katy.

  I saw Nat’s shoulder’s tense in anger as she snapped, “Yes, well, I’ve been very busy just lately!”

  “It’ll match our dresses” said Fliss brightly as we climbed inside the black cab; she, at least, was smiling.

  Outside the registry office a heated discussion occurred as we waited to go in as to who would be the chief bridesmaid, “You two are the oldest,” said Nat, gesturing to Flora and me, “It should be one of you two.”

  “I hear if you’re the chief bridesmaid then you have to dance with the best man,” said Katy, with a wicked gleam in her eye.

  “I’ll dance with you Katy,” said Flora, hastily, “Maggie can be chief bridesmaid.”

  “But who will I dance with?” asked Fliss, plaintively.

  The wedding march (‘By The Way’ by Heavenly, which was probably Nat’s choice.) struck up at that point, so all further discussion was curtailed as Nat proceeded down the aisle, followed by me, Flora, Katy, and lastly Fliss.  “Hold it with both hands!” I heard Fliss hiss to Katy, who was carrying her posy, casually, in her left hand and looked as though she was gripping a pint glass.

  I can’t remember all the details of the ceremony, so I’m unsure as to how Nat’s not being given away by anyone was got around, or as to what was said before the vows.  Nat looked very pretty, and Dylan looked very smart in pale grey and white, but I didn’t really notice the best man, whose name was Ed, until I had to walk back up the aisle with him after signing the register: The Built To Spill version of ‘By The Way’ was playing then.

  The reception took place at a nearby hotel, and the room was light and spacious, lit up by the afternoon sun.  There was a steady chatter as we were seated at tables, and I found myself seated next to a woman in her late thirties or early forties called Lalita Cain, who I discovered to be Dylan’s older sister.  Despite her neat appearance, she seemed to share her brother’s energy and vitality and, as such, we got along very well.

  Before Nat and Dylan left, all the eligible women in the room warily lined up as Nat prepared to throw her bouquet.  To my horror, I saw as it took flight that it was heading for me.  I stepped to my left and collided with Katy, who had evidently been miles away, and as we stumbled I saw Fliss jump high in the air and snatch the bouquet before it could fall to the ground.  She cradled it like a child for the remainder of the evening, and was still cradling it when Fergus took me by the hand and led me outside to the car.  As I sat down in the front passenger seat, he kissed me lightly on the cheek before closing the door then he opened the door for Fliss and her bouquet.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq, from a peculiarly British and, often, Mancunian viewpoint: Unusual and powerful commentary I read/heard at the time.

It seems odd to be writing about press coverage and discussion of the invasion of Iraq, and its immediate aftermath, in 2011. But during the course of writing ‘Screaming In Public’ (mainly 2001-2006, with extra edits up to 2009) it became increasingly obvious that the story would have to reflect not only a particular musical and cultural scene, in Manchester and beyond, but also local, national, and often international events. I started writing what would become the final version of the story (earlier versions, going as far back as 1995, need not be discussed here) in August 2001, about 3 weeks before 9/11, and would say that whilst I had no desire to write a novel about 9/11 and its consequences, to an extent I didn’t really have much of a choice. I chose not to dwell on 9/11 much in itself for the simple reason that, like the majority of the world, 9/11 was something both I and my characters experienced only remotely on T.V.

When it came to writing about the period immediately before and after the invasion of Iraq, this remoteness wasn’t an option, and as such the discussions, machinations, spin, lies, politics and protests all had to be acknowledged, given that they all had much more obvious day to day impact on the everyday Stopfordian and Mancunian than 9/11 did. Whether you were pro or anti war, whether you felt it was inevitable or preventable, you simply couldn’t escape from it. And you were expected to take sides.

As a student at MMU at the time, at the height of much student anger and discussion about the war, I happened across a piece of polemical writing, which had been casually littered across the English department, presumably in the hope that people would pick it up and read it. It wasn’t signed, merely dated 10/2002, and headed ‘An Invitation’.

In 1990 a 15-year-old girl appeared on TV receiving wide media coverage to say that she had witnessed an atrocity carried out in Iraq in a children [sic] hospital in Kuwait. When it turned out to be a fake story it was ignored by the media. It was invented to change public perceptions and go to war. This was 1990’s concrete evidence. Today’s evidence must be more attractive to sell the war to the public! But, how much does it help feeding people with lies, hate and fears unnecessarily. After all, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean equipped with the latest technology and mighty power? With thse destructive technologies they bombed everything including sheep. Sheep are totally innocent animals.

Another reason for attacking Iraq is to hide war crimes, that were committed in 91 and 98, by installing a puppet government to help bury appalling evidences. Dragging other nations to their knees in such a humiliating way is immoral. This letter is to avoid further wars and collective punishments. It’s in remembrance of the many who had no hand in political life. But, suffered for so long and then finished in silence in this world that is characterized by communications and fast information exchange. This is an invitation for peace. Thank you.

Feelings were running high, with a number of Stop The War coalition groups active in Manchester throughout 2002 and 2003, something reflected by City Life columnist Danny Moran’s regular forays into the world of the angry activist. In early February 2003 he wrote of an attempt to ‘flan’ New York mayor Rudi Giuliani at a book signing at Waterstones (City Life, 5-20th Feb 2003) along with a number of examples of civil disobediance, and clashes between police and anti-war protesters at rallies on Oxford Road. In March of that year he talked to an activist planning to fly out to Iraq as a human shield, and attended anti-war coalition meetings in town, concerned with planning actions for the day of the invasion, and the bombing campaign known as ‘Operation Shock And Awe’. He wrote of his great hope, on the 8th March 2003, that the protests would work, that the city would be shut down, chaos and press coverage ensue, and that ultimately the government would have to back down. But it rained instead, and protesters dwindled away.

On the day British and American troops invaded Iraq, school kids and students across Manchester walked out of schools, colleges, and universities, and joined the anti-war marches. This is often forgotten, and it also doesn’t seem to have occurred to many people in recent months that some of those schoolchildren, say for example Big Issue columnist Robert David’s then 11 year old son, who marched that day, would now be in the 18-21 kind of age group, and that a number of those young anti-war veterans may well have been engaged in more recent bouts of student activism, specifically the Gaza occupations at a number of universities in 2009, and most recently the protests against the rise in tuition fees and the abolition of the EMA. City Life also reported on the large number of students and schoolkids who walked out on March 19th 2003, the subheading to the piece being “GMP exasperated as Riot Squads face school uniforms on Albert Square Peace Demo.” As the article reported:

While police estimated 600-700 protesters on the march, hundreds more held vigils and sit-ins on school premises. Manchester’s Stop The War Coalitions only involvement was a flyer posted on their website, with recruits gathered through a flyer, email and text campaign. Planning meetings, meanwhile, maintained a stringent under-18 entry policy. (City Life, 2-9th April, 2003)

A similar example of youthful precociousness was reported in the same issue of the late listings mag, when Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox appeared in Bolton as part of the stations On The Road music roadshow event. A Q&A went badly off message when, as columnist Citizen put it, the normally “intellectually demanding posers as ‘who’s your favourite popstar?’ and ‘Do you prefer wearing thongs or knickers?’ were followed by ‘Do you think Blair was wrong to go to war without full UN resolutions?'” Cox’s response was indicative of the BBC: She was highly embarrassed and refused to answer on the grounds of maintaining impartiality.

Once ‘Operation Shock And Awe’ had begun, and the protesters had returned home embittered, angry, and in some cases with letters home from irate school teachers, media coverage went into even further overload. Private Eye, in typically cynical mode, wrote of the operation as being defined by the concept of ‘Event TV’, with media pressure for “a quick win” on the basis that war was perceived to make great T.V. (Private Eye, 4-17th April 2003) It added:

Admittedly cynics argue that the media wanted a war because ratings for news shows rise during conflicts. There was a lift in the figures at the beginning but ratings were falling sharply by the second half of the week. This suggests that theories about ‘stripping’ are correct. The audience has a shorter attention-span: one-day cricket, five-day war.

Of course, it was never going to be a 5 day war, but the coverage of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad on 9th April 2003, widely reported at the time as ‘The End’ of the war, despite appearances to the contrary, bear out this theory that there were two wars really: the media war and the real one.

Private Eye was especially good in its reporting of the reporting, capturing both the hysteria and the hyperbole that overtook many news channels and newspapers, plus the sheer tedium and unhelpfulness of much of the information for the average viewer and reader. By April, much left wing media coverage was fixed on the ‘reconstruction’ of a supposed post-war Iraq, with much cynicism as to profit making opportunities for U.S firms. By July, the target had become Guantanomo Bay and Camp Delta, formerly Camp X-Ray, which would itself inspire a group of artists in Hulme to stage a living, breathing replica of it later that year.

Chapter 34 of Screaming In Public reflects a moment in the fictional narrative where real life events quite simply swamped the story, and as such had to be inserted, and made part of the story as best they could. This does happen once more, at another, later, point in the story, and I’m aware that a similar explanation of real life events will be necessary then as well.

Chapter Thirty Four: FCUK The War

March the nineteenth was a cold day, and when Fergus picked me up for work it was so chilly that there was almost a frost and I could see my breath in front of my face.  You wouldn’t have known it by dinnertime though.  I met Flora for lunch on Oxford Road, I forget why now, possibly simply for conversation; we lunched at the 8th Day, next to the Manchester Metropolitan University Union.  Across the road All Saints Park was littered with students lounging in jeans and t-shirts, enjoying the sunshine, and we were struck by the increasingly large number of people who were on the move down Oxford Road.  I thought that they were heading into Piccadilly, but Flora thought Saint Anne’s Square.

  We followed the procession to the corner of Oxford Road and Whitworth Street, where we were privileged to witness one of the more surreal sights of the day, for when we arrived we were able to observe an oldish man, a much younger man, and a dog, all of whom were stood in the middle of three lanes of traffic, engrossed in a conversation, the topic of which I know not what.  They were largely oblivious to the traffic as it swerved around them, screeching noisily with all the horns screaming, and I wondered, aloud, if it was some kind of act of civil disobedience directed as an anti war protest, but no one was able to answer me.

  We parted company further down the road, and I turned into Saint Peter’s Square.  Central Library was gloriously bright in the sunshine, but the square was quiet as I walked towards Piccadilly, passing the Peace Garden and the metrolink platforms in the process.  Someone, or several someone’s, had tied strips of white cotton sheeting to the trees and railings there, and they waved forlornly in the breeze, like little flags as I made my way back to work, my mind buzzing.

  Robin Cook had resigned earlier that week, and Saddam Hussein had (unsurprisingly) turned down George Bush’s ultimatum that he abandon both the presidency and Iraq or else see his country bombed, which I expect is what Bush wanted all along.  In the House of Commons, a vote sullenly gave a small majority in favour of war, and twenty-four hours later the bombs began to fall on Iraq.  Across Manchester on the day that the bombing began, workers and school kids, students and sixth formers, walked out at midday and assembled in Saint Anne’s Square.  Fergus and I went for the first time and I saw my mother there, with a man I didn’t know, I saw Flora and Katy, along with Fliss’ school friends, Angel and the Razorblades, from Chorlton, and Meelan from Bolton: We looked at each other, and at the police, the press, the curious onlookers, we looked at each other, and we thought, “This can’t happen.” Only it did, and suddenly we felt even more powerless than before.

  On the sixteenth of April, a week after the war was deemed to have ended, Flora, Katy, Fergus, Jenny, Liberty Belle and I attended the launch party for the Girls From Mars’ album.  It took place at the Twilight Café on an extremely bright, extremely hot, close and humid evening that felt as though it belonged more to August than to April.  The local news had been full of families picnicking in Heaton Park, and men in shorts and no shirts.

  Because of the heat, and the occasion perhaps too, a generous amount of flesh was on display that night; hot pants and mini skirts were the order of the day, with skimpy little tops that looked as though they could come undone at any second. The men suffered in jeans or cargo pants, and poly cotton shirts or t-shirts; the alcohol flowed freely as the café filled up, and the noise increased as the night became wilder.

  Back at the flat, Fergus and I stripped down to our underwear and threw ourselves down on my bed.  He kissed me with increasing passion as I held him and ran my fingers through his hair, he started to caress my breasts, and after a few minutes I felt his hands travel down my body to my waist.  I kissed him though my heart was beating so fast that I felt as though I was suffocating, and I knew as he started to slide my knickers towards my hips that I was scared. I tried to pull away from him, slowly at first, then harder, faster; he let me go, and then moved away from me, giving me as much space as the narrow bed allowed.  As I lay there, my heart hammering in my chest, my body shaking, he said “It doesn’t hurt you know” his voice was quiet and calm in the thick tense air.

  “I know what it feels like,” my voice trembled.

  “Then why won’t you let me?” I could sense the hurt in his voice.

  “Because I’m not ready to,” I whispered.

  I heard the impatience creep into his voice as he said, “You’re not ready to, but you’ve been ready before?”

  I nodded.

  In the silence, all I could hear was my breathing, coming too fast still, raggedly, unevenly.

  “You don’t trust me,” he demanded, “do you?”

  “I do trust you,” I sighed as I propped myself up on my elbow, “but it just doesn’t feel right for me.”  In the process of trying to make him understand, I placed my hand on his arm, but he shook me off “I’m not ready,” I pleaded, “I’m…”

  “What?” He snapped, “Scared?”

  “Yes”

  He gazed into my eyes, and I could see the pain and hear it in his voice as he said, “Then you don’t trust me.”

  “I told you” I said, impatiently, “It’s not that.  I do trust you…”

  The light switch made an angry snapping noise as he flicked it off, and we lay next to each other in silence. I was furious, and I could sense his anger, even though I couldn’t completely understand it.

  In the cool rationality of the morning, it was all forgotten.  We drove into work, went out to dinner, and drove home once more.

  Fliss was going through her mail when I walked into the living room.  She was sitting on the sofa, surrounded by luggage, having just returned from visiting her parents in the Cotswolds.  The furore over Adrienne has all but disappeared, what with the war in Iraq, but Fliss has been obliged to haul her private life over the coals once more, this time for the benefit of her mum and dad.  She seemed tense as she looked up at me.  “Nat called, to remind us of her upcoming nuptials, and to say she’s got our dresses.”

  I pulled a face: I am a most unwilling bridesmaid.

  Fliss observed my expression, and a faint smile tugged at the downcast corners of her mouth.  “Why are you dreading it so much?” She asked.  “It’s meant to be the bride who gets nervous, not the bridesmaid; I think it’ll be fun.”

  “But are weddings meant to be fun?” I asked, cynically.

  Fliss shrugged and smiled wistfully, “Well,” she said “it kind of kills the happy couple thing otherwise, I would have thought.”

  I nodded reluctantly, and made my way through to the kitchen, thinking about couples, happy and otherwise.

Chapter Thirty Three: A love like this…

On the day that we moved here, over a year ago now, Fliss brought with her some packs of neon glow stars, and arranged them, with painstaking care and precision, on her bedroom ceiling in the shape of the night sky.  She liked to watch the sky at night, she said, and having her own artificial sky to gaze at was something that seemed to soothe her in the fractious months after Violet left her.  On the night of Adrienne’s arrival, I had walked through the shadows along the corridor to my own room and, as I passed her bedroom, had heard her describing and naming the various stars in a sleepy murmur.  I don’t imagine that Adrienne was any more interested in astrology than Violet had been that night at the coach park, but she appeared to be making vaguely interested noises as Fliss blithely continued her commentary.

  The pale sun shone weakly on me the following morning as I made my way along that same corridor, and the pale light was complimented by a girls voice, low and faintly husky, slightly breathy in quality, singing Blondie’s ‘Pretty Baby.’  As I drew closer to the kitchen, the singing grew louder, and I could hear the unmistakable, joyful sound of Fliss’ giggle.  Both the singing and the giggling suddenly ceased as I rounded the corner, and in the outline of the kitchen doorway, I saw Fliss lean forwards, quite suddenly, and pull her towards her with a kind of fierce passion, Adrienne stopped singing, and gazed into her eyes for a few moments, and then they kissed, not gently and softly, but with that same fierce passion, pressed closely against each other, holding onto each other as though they were afraid to let go.

  I prolonged my entrance into the kitchen for as long as possible, but still felt as though I was intruding as I crossed that threshold and saw them spring apart, almost as though it was a reflex.  Their shared expression was furtive as they gazed off into space, and as Fliss moved over to the table, and Adrienne returned to the coffee she’d been making, both seemed a little flushed and flustered.  “Don’t mind me,” I murmured, trying to sound natural rather than peevish, as I grabbed a glass of milk.  The atmosphere was heavy with unsaid words and unexpressed feelings, unbearably so, I felt, so I tiptoed out of the room without another word, feeling… not jealous, for what have I to be jealous of? But… I don’t know, sad perhaps, a thread of melancholy seems, even now, to weave its way through my heart just to remember that morning.

  I watched Adrienne from the kitchen table as she made coffee for herself and Fliss the morning after our night out at X-Offender.  She had traded the previous night’s glamour for her usual denim rags, and her plaid shirt was, as usual, tied around her waist.  She was wearing one of Fliss’ t-shirts, which was pale yellow in colour, and had a picture of Miffy on the front; it was as tight on her as it was on Fliss, and was stretched a little across her chest, finishing a few inches short of the waistband of her jeans, and revealing a wide band of pale, toned flesh.  She had brushed out her hair, and the previous nights ringlets had all but vanished under the assault as it hung, loose and ruffled, down her back.  She murmured, almost to herself, as she stirred the water, “I don’t know where this is going to lead…”

  “Nor do I,” I confessed, ruefully.

  I saw the confusion in her face as she turned to me, “I love her,” she said, a little unnecessarily, “I love her so much, but,” she sighed, “everything’s happened so quickly, and…” She rubbed her eyes, tiredly, “I feel as though I’m losing the threads of my life almost… I don’t know who I am anymore, or what I am, or… what I’m going to be.”  Her expression became clouded by guilt as she confessed, “I feel lost.”

  Just how lost didn’t become apparent until the Monday night, when I arrived home from work to find them both in tears, having argued.  Adrienne, it transpired, needed some time and space to think.  “You’re leaving me,” wailed Fliss, “you’re leaving me because you’re too scared to stay and give us a chance!”

  “I’m not leaving you” Adrienne’s voice was taut, her expression pained, and her eyes tired, “I need space, I need peace and quiet; I can’t think here…”

  “Let me go with you!” pleaded Fliss.

  “No,” moaned Adrienne “you’re needed here; I won’t let you leave Titanium Rose because of me”

  “Let me come with you!” Fliss’ pleading became increasingly insistent and desperate, “We could go abroad, or we could…”

  “No!” she shouted, and in the awful, repressive silence that followed, she said, in a voice so taut it could snap, “I have to be alone.”

  Fliss snuffled, pathetically, “You don’t love me.”

  “I do love you, Fliss,” murmured Adrienne, sadly, “it’s because I love you that I have to go… I have a lot of thinking to do, I’ve a lot of decisions to make, choices I have to make, and I can’t afford to make a mistake… I can’t decide here, because you’re here and…”

  “But what about me?” wailed Fliss, tears running down her cheeks.

  Adrienne was crying as she took her in her arms, she kissed her and their tears merged and melted together.  “You deserve better than this,” she whispered, “You know you do.”

  In the cool rationality of the evening, when Fliss had cried herself into exhaustion and sleep, Adrienne tiptoed, cautiously, and warily, into the kitchen.  “Can we talk?” she asked, a little nervously.

  I set down my book, and nodded.

  “I have to go abroad,” she confessed, a minute or two later as we watched the last rays of sunlight disappear behind the dark clouds.  “I need to be somewhere where the press won’t be so interested in me…” Tiredly, she rubbed her forehead with the palm of her hand, “I was thinking Holland; I’ve always wanted to visit Amsterdam…”

  I nodded in the shadowy half-light; I felt both sad and somehow relieved, “When will you go?”

  “At the end of the week, I think,” she said, wearily, “the longer I leave it, the harder it’s going to be.”

  “You’ve thought about this?” I cautioned.

  She nodded unhappily.

  That was on the Monday; by Tuesday the atmosphere in the flat had defused or altered in some way so that when I left for work the mood wasn’t of despair anymore, but of weary resignation.  That was the day that they went into town and got tattoos; Fliss had the initial ‘A’ tattooed over her heart, and Adrienne had ‘F’ tattooed over her heart.  Both were very pale and quiet upon their return, and I watched with a sinking heart as they lay in each other’s arms on the sofa, holding each other tight, their eyes shiny with tears.

  At one am on Friday morning, Fergus drove Fliss, Adrienne and I to terminal one of Manchester Airport.  We stood some distance away from them, quietly observing as they sat next to each other amidst the sea of white, on the hard airport seating, holding hands and leaning against each other, isolated against the world.  All too soon, the 3:25 KLM flight to Amsterdam was announced, and they both got to their feet.  I took Fergus by the hand, and led him away towards the entrance so that they could say goodbye.

  Fliss caught up with us a few minutes later, looking so small and lost that I hurt for her.  “Take me home,” she said, dully, her face a mask of misery, and we did.

  She cried all the way home, and was still crying when I put her to bed.  I could hear her sobbing still, even as I lay down next to Fergus in my own bed, even as I closed my eyes and drifted into sleep.