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.

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