Chapter Forty One: Separate Yet Not Apart

I opened my eyes and, carefully and quietly, climbed out of bed.  The neon clock face said 2:55 as I tiptoed past it on my way to the kitchen.  I heard footsteps behind me as I turned on the kitchen light, “What’s the matter?” he asked.

  I turned around, “I just need a drink,” I lied, sotto voce, “that’s all; I won’t be long.”  He waited, and watched as I took a glass from the cupboard and filled it with water from the tap.  “I’ll just drink it; then I’ll be back.”

  “O.K, fine,” he sighed.

  I watched from the kitchen table as he walked back across the landing to bed, then I set my empty glass down with care.  The images were still in my mind as I rested my chin on my palms, and brooded, waiting for morning to come.

I was dancing in the spotlight, and I could feel him watching me as I danced. His eyes seemed to bore into me resentfully, because I’d been good then, and that had frightened him, because he saw that he would lose me to that world, which was a strange world that he didn’t understand.  As I danced, I could feel a trickle seeping into the satin and leather of the shoe; I thought it was sweat, for it was hot under the lights, only later, when I was backstage, slowly removing the snugly fitting shoes from my aching feet, did I discover the dark stains, did I realise it was blood.

  He was shaking me when I woke up, “It’s alright,” he whispered, “just a nightmare, that’s all.”

  I nodded, tiredly, as he hugged me.

  The next night, I went out to an eighties night I sometimes go to with Nat.  The last time I went was a month ago, and it was a very different experience; sunshine and happiness, light and euphoria.  Last night, it was as though the ice cream pastel world and eighties nostalgia had curdled in the sun.  Nat seemed closed to me, and unhappy; she was subdued and monosyllabic, much like myself.  Around midnight, she looked at her watch, “I have to go now,” she said, “I promised him I’d be back early.”

  I nodded.

  “You coming?”

  I shook my head.

  “Well,” she called to me over the strains of ‘Gloria’ as she walked across the floor, “It’s your funeral!”

  It had been two days since I had slept properly, and although I wanted to dance, I didn’t feel as though I had the energy anymore.  The walls moved unsteadily in the light, like sickening confectionary as I walked away.

  But I couldn’t go home yet.

  I found myself outside Dylan and Nat’s house in Victoria at about one o’clock.  The door was open, and I made my way inside.  I could hear voices as I walked through the dark hallway, “I TOLD YOU!!” she was yelling, “I WENT OUT WITH MAGGIE TO MINDWARP, THAT’S ALL!”

  “AND WHAT ABOUT LAST NIGHT?” He roared, “AND THE NIGHT BEFORE, AND THE NIGHT BEFORE THAT? DO YOU REALLY THINK I BELIEVE YOU WHEN YOU SAY YOU’RE WORKING LATE?”

  “I AM WORKING LATE! I RUN A FUCKING NIGHTCLUB FOR FUCKS SAKE!!”

  It didn’t seem like a good idea to stay, so I got up on my toes, and tiptoed out into the night, closing the door behind me.

  And still I wasn’t ready to go home.  The nights are cooler now we’re into late September, and although it was a dry, clear night, I found myself shivering as I walked through the Northern Quarter.  What to do, what to do until morning came again and I could go to work, what to do…

  I arrived back in Heaton Chapel around 4am, and let myself into Fergus’ house with my key.  Everything seemed to be catching up with me as I staggered over to the sofa.  I had barely hit it before my eyes closed.

  He was quiet the next evening as he drove me home from work, and I kept quiet too.  His arms and shoulders were tense as he gripped the steering wheel and, in the passenger seat I tried to make myself invisible.  He hadn’t said anything to me all day, not since he had found my lying comatose on the sofa at seven o’clock, and had been forced to drag me awake.  I kept quiet because I knew; I knew that I had fucked up.

  I stayed with him all evening, and then later, despite my nervous apprehension, I stayed with him all night too.

  Oh why does it have to be such a big deal? We are past those arguments about sex, this isn’t even sex, it’s just sleeping with him, being near to him, holding him… I used to be alright with that.  Why now?

  The dream that night was different.  It was at once more real, and yet, more unreal than the previous dreams.  I dreamt of Terry once more, and he was hurting me as he had before.  I seemed to shut my eyes against it all for a while, only then… the picture changed, and the hands that struck me were different, the voice that taunted me was different, and the face looming over me was different.

  I opened my eyes and looked up into Fergus’ face, and I screamed.

  It wasn’t a short scream of surprise either; it was a long, shrill, hysterical scream of terror.  He tried to soothe me as I thrashed about in his arms, but when that didn’t work, he pinned me to the mattress, and watched in unhappy silence as I slowly stopped hitting him and convulsed into frightened sobbing.  When I pulled away from him, he moved away from me, and turned off the light.  We lay next to each other in the dark, repressive stillness, not touching, not speaking, and hearing only our heartbeats as they hammered in our chests.

  The next night was a battle of nerves as I fought to stay awake until he fell asleep.  When I sensed his breathing become shallow and regular, I quietly got up.  The floorboards creaked a little as I tiptoed across the room, and out onto the landing.  Fliss had gone to bed too, so the living room was empty, and the sofa unoccupied.  It wasn’t the most comfortable of beds, but it would have to do.  If I timed things right, I could be up and dressed before he woke up in the morning, and he would never know that I hadn’t slept with him.  Part of me knew that it would only be a temporary solution, at best, but I knew that I had to try it.  I had to try and get some sleep.

  The tables were turned that night as I slept, for it was the figure before me who cowered on the floor, who pleaded, who cried.  As I towered over him, he looked up at me with pleading brown eyes.  No I thought as I recognised his face please no, not that… But the face in the dream was the same face that I saw when I woke up, and there was a red mark on his face, just under those same brown eyes.

  “Oh God,” I whispered in horror as I touched the mark, cautiously and gently with my fingers.

  He took my hand in his, and stroked my fingers, “It’s alright, it hardly even hurts; I shouldn’t have got so close to you when you were thrashing about.”  His voice was calm and quiet.

  “But I hit you!” I wailed.

  He continued to massage my fingers “Its O.K; its fine…”

  I looked up into his eyes, and saw the combination of fear and concern that he was trying to hide, and I couldn’t face it.  I yanked my hand out of his grasp, and I ran, choking with remorse, into the bathroom.  I turned on the hot water tap, and put the plug in the sink.  The water grew hot quite quickly, and I plunged my hands into the sink as the water scalded my hands.  Only when the tears began to trickle down my cheeks did I lift them out, and pull out the plug.

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Chapter Forty: Body Pictures

I felt happy and light as I skipped down the steps, and I broke into a run as I hit the warm tarmac.  The exercises I’d been doing at home had really started to pay off; I lasted longer than Katy at kickboxing, and was sure that I would keep up at aerobics the next day.  It would be my first lesson, but I was feeling confident about it.  I felt almost euphorically happy.  The sounds and scenes of Victoria flew by in a blissful, sunny blur as my trainer-clad feet pounded the roads and pavements, and I beamed.  I felt so alive, so up…

  It was about half six by the time I reached Juvenile Hell.  Nat was outside on the warm pavement, opening up.  As she turned around to face me, I took in her red eyes and pale face.  She was chewing her lip as she tried to prevent fresh tears from falling.  I pretended not to notice.  “Hello,” she said quietly, her expression was mixed as she commented, “Interesting look… sort of grungy ‘Flashdance’, I don’t think I’ve ever seen denim leggings with a lacy slip and legwarmers before.”  She raised her eyebrows as I giggled, a few heads turned across the street, and her expression became faintly nervous as she said, “Come in, help me set up.”

  The evening sun picked out the gold glitter on the walls inside as I slid ten one pound coins into the jukebox and ran through the selections, picking out all the old Madonna records and cheesy eighties records.  Nat bustled about, getting ready for the show at ten as I danced.  Amber was the only other person around, and she ignored me as well.  When I had run out of records, Nat took hold of my arm and steered me over to the bar.  The light from outside was fading a little as she sat me down in front of a big, cold glass of lemonade.  “Drink,” she commanded in steel edged tones.

  I obeyed.

  As I drank, I saw Amber pass a glass of Bailey’s to Nat, and as she reached out to take it, I saw her fingers close around Amber’s.  A second later, she let go, but I hadn’t missed the look in her eyes when she did so.  Amber met it with her own bland, open expression, which seemed to say nothing but, if you knew what to look for, said everything.  I found myself recalling the week before, when Nat and I had gone to the Filmworks to see ‘Party Monster’.  It had meant breaking my promise to Fergus and, in retaliation; he had gone for a boozy night out with his mates the next night, knowing that I was ready to stay in.

  “You wouldn’t want him to stay every night,” said Nat, bitterly, as we drank our drinks.  Her face bore a sour expression as she added, “It’s one thing dating them, it’s quite another thing living with them and waking up to them wandering around in their underpants every morning.”

  I rolled my eyes impatiently, “I do know that”

  She shrugged, “Well then.”

  We lapsed into an unhappy silence.

  We met up nearly a week after that night, on a wall by John Rylands University Library on Oxford Road.  The last rays of sunlight were disappearing in a pinkish haze as I joined her, and we gazed up at the red brick of the Humanities department where, if the light was right, you could still read the faded message ‘FIGHT AIDS, ACT UP!’ Nat was eating salad from 8th Day, she offered me some as I sat down, but I shook my head.  “Did you get the stuff?” she asked.

  I nodded, and then reached into my bag, drawing out two spray cans and several marker pens.  The bag was light cotton, black with fluorescent coloured squiggles; it had been my school bag when I was six.  She grinned as she got to her feet, smoothing down the too small, too tight t-shirt, a transfer design, advertising The Period Pains ‘Spice Girls (Who Do You Think You Are?)’.  Her jeans were baggy, and had been tie dyed green over the original light blue, they were being held up by a black leather studded belt.  She was wearing a safety pin bracelet, the kind Flora sells in her shop, and had written ‘Boy’ on her right hand set of knuckles and ‘Girl’ on the left in eyeliner.  I was wearing an equally tight Bis t-shirt, with a khaki a-line cotton mini skirt and leather studded wristbands. Nat had, at my insistence, scrawled the phrase ‘Prick Tease’ across the flat of my stomach.

  As we walked along Oxford Road towards Piccadilly, a few cars honked their horns, and assorted men leered out of car windows and made lewd or incomprehensible suggestions to us.  “Maybe we should have gone for boiler suits,” reflected Nat as we selected our first target, a bus stop advert outside the BBC.  This particular advert was a deodorant advert, featuring a man with sweat stains and a dog… you know the one.  After a few moments thought, Nat scrawled THE LYNX EFFECT: No amount of deodorant will get you a shag.  I couldn’t think of anything so I just wrote I feel sorry for the dog.  The toilets in McDonalds on the corner had already been covered in an earnest, and extremely thorough, critique of their food and business practices, so we moved along to Portland Street, where a well known sports drink and advert for the ‘Mail On Sunday’ (Hate and fear, seven days a week) received our clumsy attentions.  Ladyfest Manchester took place last weekend in Hulme, and one of the highlights of the weekend, for a lot of people, was a short, subtitled, Belgium film, ‘What Shall We Do Tonight?’ which showcased the graffiti and billboard sabotage activities of a group of young Belgium women.  It had cheered us up no end.

  “As much as I admire the sentiments, music, and activities of the riot grrrls,” Nat said as we walked down Oldham Street, “I’m always aware that I was a few years too late for it…” I nodded sympathetically.  There was a long, thoughtful silence, before she asked, “Are we feminists, do you think?”

  I shrugged, “I dunno, maybe… don’t you have to have read an approved booklist or something?”

  We sat down on the kerb opposite The Twilight and thought about this.  “I wonder if the riot grrrls were considered ‘proper’ feminists,” wondered Nat.

  I shook my head, “Probably not.”

  There was restlessness in us that night, and it kept us moving, kept us roaming the city streets.  At 3am we were sat on the steps outside Manchester Library, talking… neither of us ready or willing to go home.  “We ought to have more nights like this,” I smiled, “it’s been fun… we always used to have fun, when we went out…”

  “When we were young” sighed Nat. She flexed her fingers as though testing invisible restraints, and gazed at her wedding ring before forming her hands into loose fists.

  “When did it change, Nat?” I asked, quietly, my voice shook a little as I spoke, and shadows settled on the street in the pale moonlight.

  “I don’t know,” she murmured as she played, moodily, with the ring, “after school maybe… men… girls…” She smiled as she ceased her fidgeting.

  “Everything got spoiled when you went away, when I met Terry… it wasn’t the same after that.”

 She sighed, placed her palms down on the cold grey stone behind her, and shook back her hair, “We grew up; that’s all… we can still be close, we still are close…”

  “It’s not the same,” I muttered, and if she saw the tears in my eyes, she didn’t say anything.

  The next night was the night we went to the tattoo parlour.  It wasn’t the parlour we had originally used when we were eighteen, when we got our first tattoos (Nat’s eagle and my dragon) done.  That had been the White Dragon in Stockport, a parlour on Hillgate that had a clear sheet of glass between the walls of designs and the room where the tattooist worked.  It sold rainbow coloured cigarette papers, pipes, tobacco tins, bongs… everything you would need to smoke hash, but without the hash.  This time we went to a Manchester parlour, high up on Oldham Street, way above street level.  The rooms were spacious and minimalist, split level and sombre with black walls and thick white carpets.  A young Morticia handed us books of designs to look through as the early evening sun shone through the large windows.

  Nat was, partly at least, getting a tat done to annoy Dylan, who, despite “having more tattoos than David Beckham,” doesn’t “approve” of tattoos on women.  His least favourite tattooed body part on a woman is, apparently, the outer ankle, or ankles generally; he thinks it’s “slutty.”  “I’m going to get some kind of floral type bracelet thing done, I think,” mused Nat thoughtfully as she slowly explored books of designs, “Maybe more leafy than floral though, I don’t want anything twee…” she looked up, “How about you?”

  But I already knew what I wanted.

  When I showed it to her, her eyebrows shot right up, and she coughed nervously, “Are you sure?”

  I nodded, “Positive.”

  “But… don’t you think you should maybe think about it first? I mean, you are going to be stuck with it for life…”

  Surprisingly, the tattooist, who was a young, pale woman with long fair hair, a faceful of piercings, and a galaxy of multi coloured stars across her shoulders, agreed with her.  “I think it’s beautiful,” she said, in a voice that was both educated and velvety smooth, “but it’s very big, it’ll take me a long time to do, and the lower back can be quite a painful area to have done…”

  “I have got a tattoo,” I snapped, “I know it takes time, I know it hurts…”

  “When I have someone who wants something this big doing, I always ask them to walk away from it today, and come back,” she continued, calmly, “If you really want it doing, think about it some more, and come back, then I’ll do it.”

  She turned her attention back to Nat then, who had decided what she was having, and I sat down to watch in sulky silence, stubbornly resolved to have my own choice of work done, no matter what it took.

  A circle of ivy, red roses, and holly was circling Nat’s right ankle when we left, and I gazed at it resentfully.  It didn’t seem right that Nat should be allowed her choice, yet I was being deprived of mine, I’ll show them, I thought resentfully, grimly determined.  But it was more than that, I know now, I have a depth of insight about our motives now that I didn’t have that night.  Our original tats were done after Nat arrived back from London, and after I’d left Terry, and we were both in a bad place, emotionally, at that time, and… No, not the past… not the past… I can’t go there yet, not yet.  Whenever I close my eyes, he’s there, whenever I got to sleep, I remember… I don’t want to go there, but I can’t stay here either… this place I’m in right now is frightening too, and I can’t face it yet, I need to go somewhere else first, I need to work up to it.  There’s too much space in this narrative, too many gaps… I need to fill some of them in as best I can.  Where to start? With another night, and another adventure.

I was angry that night as we walked along Oldham Street, away from the bright lights and glitter of Juvenile Hell.  I was wearing my black P.V.C jacket over a super short black lycra mini skirt, and a light, black cotton backless top was being held in place by two thin strips of cotton that fastened, loosely, at the base of my spine.  The flesh between the P.V.C and the cotton was inflamed and a little sore as I strode along the street towards Piccadilly, muttering to myself in agitation and anger.

  Nat, clad in plain dark blue jeans and a shimmery, slinky top, made of smoky blue satiny velour and filmy gold chiffon, struggled to keep pace with me as I strode through the buzz, hum and lurid colours of Piccadilly, towards Portland Street and Oxford Road.  As I made to cross the road by the bus station, she took hold of my arm, and gently pulled me back onto the pavement.  Furious, I turned on her, “I’m going there!” I shouted, angrily, over the traffic, “And you’re coming as well!” my voice became an angry mutter, “…going to the ballet school, and I’ll dance for them, and they’ll be so impressed that they’ll give me my place back, and I’ll learn, I’ll learn from them, and…”

  Her expression was one of deep puzzlement as she asked, “What are you on about?”

  I started to mutter again, something about Katy, and the argument we’d had, about how she doubts me, and how she doubts my commitment to the band.  Then I moved onto Fergus, and how he doesn’t trust me, or thinks I don’t trust him, I found myself saying things I have never said, and should never say, aloud.  “Maybe I am frigid,” I muttered as we walked, her arm linked with mine, “maybe I’m really, really fucked up… I never enjoyed sex, even when I could face it, but I just can’t face it anymore, I get so scared, whenever he touches me now, whenever I know, whenever I can sense him wanting sex, wanting more than I’m willing to give…” It was only when Nat made me sit down on the wall that I realised where we were, “This isn’t the Northern Ballet School!” I exclaimed in surprise.

  “No,” she agreed, “It’s not. Now,” her voice was calm, “start at the beginning, and tell me everything.”

  So I told her about my row with Katy, and about the situation with Fergus.  We talked, quite frankly, about sex, and I began to feel a little calmer, a little bit reassured.  “Is it different,” I ventured, timidly, “with girls?” I paused, feeling a little shy and awkward.  “I mean,” I could feel myself blushing, “do they hurt you as much, are they as violent…”

  In the darkness, she smiled a bitter, wry little smile to herself, as she said, “Hhmm, yes… ‘Fraid so, girls can be just as nasty as boys, in every way that boys can.  He can hit you and break you, and so can she…”

  I shook my head vigorously, as though trying to clear the incessant chatter of words and images from my mind, my eyes were suddenly full of tears as I asked, “Then what’s the point?”

  Nat shrugged, her expression was one of sadness as she said “I suppose we all go on hoping… We hope we’ve got it right this time.”

  There was a long, thick, awkward silence, stifling with pain, melancholy, and regret, “I have got it right this time.”  I felt very definite and determined as I said it, and I still feel like that now; I have got it right this time, I know I have.

  Nat sighed, wearily, in the darkness; she yawned a little and rubbed her tired eyes, as she said, carelessly, “So let him fuck you then, you’ll have to at some point in any case.”

  I got up from the wall and took a few steps forward, my mind, so full of words and images became vague and foggy as I moved towards the light.  Somewhere in the distance, very far away, I heard Nat’s voice, saying, uncertainly, “What… what are you doing?” The tarmac of the near empty car park was lit up like a Christmas tree, with all its security lights, and the glow reminded me of a warm and waiting stage as I stepped out into the light.  The music was swelling, loudly, in my head as I took up position and… and then… and then… and then… I really don’t know what happened.

When I came to, I was naked in the darkness, and I was in bed.  I could tell from the darkness that it was night time still, but which night? And what time? Fear wrapped itself around my heart as I began to wonder how long I had been away for.  Somewhere in the distance, I could hear Nat arguing with Fergus, she was shouting, almost screaming, at him, the emotion pouring into her voice as she yelled, “DON’T YOU DARE BLAME ME! I HAVE KNOWN HER, AND LOVED HER, FOR A LOT LONGER THAN YOU HAVE, AND I’M TELLING YOU, THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG…” She seemed to run out of volume, for the next time she spoke, her voice was calmer, almost pleading, as she said, “I’ve seen her like this before, and…” I closed my eyes, and drifted out.

Daylight was shining into my eyes as I blinked anxiously, and as I rolled over, I realised that I was still lying in bed.  Next to me, Fergus stirred and sighed a little as he opened his eyes, and the fact that I was naked suddenly seemed problematic.  Anxiety was racing through me like a drug as I quavered “Whwhat happened?”

  As he turned to face me, I saw that he was frowning, “You don’t remember?”

  Panic squeezed my throat as I said, “No, tell me.”

  “You fainted,” he told me, patient and quiet as he held me, “that’s all”  But he wouldn’t meet my eyes, and I sensed that something more than that had happened; something worse.  My heart began to beat faster, and I found it difficult to breathe.  “Shhh…” he whispered soothingly, “it’s alright, it’s alright… calm down now, it doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter…” he ran his hands, slowly and warily, down the garish, inflamed skin on my back.  As I began to calm down, he continued in that same quiet, soothing whisper, “You were dancing in the car park, and… I saw you, but I didn’t know what was going on at first.  I was so high up, and you looked so small, and you were moving so fast, you were like a moth in the light, flitting about, it was only when your hair caught the light that I knew it was you.”  I heard the pain in his voice as he continued, “I saw the tattoo when we got you home, Nat tried to tell me that she tried to talk you out of getting it done, but I wouldn’t listen to her, and Fliss told me that most of the rent money’s missing…” He cleared his throat awkwardly, before continuing in a very different tone, “I never knew that you could dance like that,” his hands gently stroked my hair “it was the most eerie, beautiful, eerily beautiful thing I ever saw.”  His tone lost its wonder and grew concerned as he said, “Maybe you hit your head, maybe that’s why you don’t remember, does your head hurt?”

  “No,” I whispered.

  He ran his fingers across my scalp, carefully and sensitively, “There’s no lump there.”  He said at last.

  “Then I can’t have hit it then.”

  He ran his hand along my shoulder, and then down my arm, “Do you understand what happened, if you can’t remember?” He murmured.

  I shook my head, and I sensed my heartbeat increase once again as I tried not to think about it.

  “Because when you came round, even when I got you home, you seemed to be looking at me without seeing.  It was like you weren’t there anymore, like you’d gone somewhere else.”

  “Lights were on but no one was home?”  My voice shook as I spoke.

  “Yes,” he frowned, “It’s happened before?”

  I nodded, and then closed my eyes and buried my face in his chest.  The rent money… I had forgotten about that.  It had been a big piece to do, and tattoos cost a lot of money… he told me later that Nat had given Fliss some money, and that he and Fliss had, somehow, found the rest.  They all know that I haven’t got any money.  I think it was at that moment that I realised the true nature of my behaviour of late, and the fear and sadness hit me like an avalanche of water. I tried to stand tall against the torrent, against the flood, but it overwhelmed me almost at once.  “All I want to be is a normal girl, with a normal life,” I said when I re-surfaced, “that’s all I want to be to you.”  He kissed my lightly on the forehead as I closed my eyes again, and I fell into a darkness that was something like sleep.

Chapter Thirty Nine: Images And Words

Katy wasn’t ready, so I walked out onto the floor of the gym on my own, my mind buzzing with words and images that I couldn’t express or articulate; they seemed to speed up and increase in their intensity as I walked over to the punch bag, and as I began to pummel, methodically and slowly at first, then faster and faster, they took over me:  Bony fingers dug into my shoulders as he threw me against the wall, over and over again, I felt dizzy and nauseous, and the hands around my throat were choking me as I closed my eyes.  This was it.  I could feel my breath slowing down.  Somehow I found the strength to bring my knee up, and he let go of me as I opened my eyes and fought for breath.  In the surprised shock that followed, our eyes met and we actually saw each other, for the first time in months.  ‘Please,’ I wanted to say, ‘don’t do this, don’t do this…’ but I was too scared.  Pain shot through my arm as he wrenched it back towards him, and I couldn’t see his face anymore.  I struggled, screamed, pleaded with him to let me go, and he shoved me so that I landed face down on the floor.  He kicked me until I stopped screaming, and after a while, it didn’t even hurt anymore; I closed my eyes against the pain, until eventually, finally, everything went black.

  When I came round, he was sat on the carpet next to me with his head in his hands.  He was crying, and as I looked up, he looked at me and I knew that, no matter who I had to be, no matter what I had to do, I couldn’t go through this again; not with him, not with anyone: It was over now, and I would never let anyone get that close to me again, never let anyone touch me like that again, never let anyone do those things to me again.

  Someone caught my right arm as I drew back for another punch, distracting me, and spinning me round: I found myself face to face with Katy, she shook me, and I wriggled out of her fierce grip with difficulty, “What the hell’s wrong with you?” she hissed, but I shook her off.  I pushed past the rest of our kickboxing class, my head was spinning as I walked, and I felt claustrophobic and trapped; I had to get out.

  By the time I was outside again in my street clothes, the images and words were whirring faster than ever, and I could feel the familiar pain in my head as it began to concentrate itself in my left temple, a throbbing pain, as overwhelming as the images and words.  Through the agony, I could smell the spices of the curry house opposite, and I could hear Laura Branigan’s ‘Self Control’ playing in a shop somewhere as I walked.  It was still unbearably hot, and the sun made everything seem muggier and dirtier somehow.

  Katy was red faced when she caught up with me, and when she realised that I wasn’t going to stop walking, she planted herself directly in front of me, a vision of fury in black and white as she snarled, “What have you taken?”

  My eyes tried to focus on her, and failed, “haven’t taken anything,” I mumbled.

  “Bullshit.”

  “I swear, Katy,” I insisted, “I don’t take drugs…at least,” I amended, “not the illegal ones.  I could do with a really strong sedative right now, believe me…”

    “Our last few band practices, when you’ve even bothered to turn up, have been a joke” she hissed, “you might as well have not been there, you obviously don’t care anymore, you haven’t played drums for weeks now, have you? Not since the tour, you don’t care about us anymore!”

  I muttered something, and she grabbed hold of my arm, my bad arm, which has never been the same since he broke it three years ago, pulling me further off balance so that I stumbled into her.  The pain and annoyance at being touched was immense, I could feel bruising in places I’d knocked recently, it happens a lot these days – I seem to be imbued with some strange physical recklessness that makes me clumsy, makes me walk into things, fall over things; I’m not sure of when it was I last slept – there is so much to do – but the pain is worse when I do, I feel stiff from the bruises when I do.  “You’re going too fast,” she said, “I can’t keep up with you anymore, none of us can… what about the band?”

  I swatted her away, “Fuck the band,” I walked away.

  She followed me, taunting me, “I knew that I could never trust you! We should never have hired you for the band! You were always going to leave when something better came along! I should never have trusted you, never tried to be your friend!!”

  I stopped, “That’s right,” I muttered, not looking at her, “all of this is just some grand scheme to fuck with your head; what I really want to do is dance, not play the drums in some silly punk band.”

  “Are you going to tell the others you’re leaving, or am I?”

  “Do whatever the fuck you want,” I muttered as I continued on my way.

  She didn’t follow me.

  The anger was bubbling away, just under the surface, as I strode furiously through Rusholme; my blurred vision not registering faces or objects, only colours and smells.  The spiced meat smell was stronger now, but it mingled with the car fumes, the noise of engines and conversation, flashes of colour and flesh of every hue in pub beer gardens.  I didn’t collide with anyone as I walked – people got out of my way – and if they said anything, I didn’t hear them.  A rare moment of focus occurred as I passed a billboard, glowing with orange and black, it focused into view as I approached, and I saw that it was a tiger; ferocious and beautiful in the bright early evening sunlight: It closed one beautiful eye, and winked at me, before I moved on, towards Oxford Road, and the sweet relief of pills and liquid.

  The migraine was easing a little by the time I arrived home.  I was about to reach for my key and unlock the door, when a flash of orange and black caught my eye.  I walked around the side of the house, to the garden at the back.  Despite our negligence, the tiger lilies were thriving, and as I bent down to pick a flower, the sense of colour washed over me in a wave, and the grass seemed greener, the flower more deeply orange.  It lasted all of a second, and was gone as I slipped the stem behind my ear and walked back to the front of the house, the tiger and the lily, I muttered to myself as I turned the key in the lock, the lady or the tiger, the fierceness and the fragility, permanence and impermanence…

Chapter Thirty Eight: Spirit Of ‘76

 I hate him; I hate him so much I want to hit him, to punch him over and over again until I can make him look as bad as he makes me feel, I want the blood to fall like tears, the body to buckle and fall to the floor, his heart to break… I am scaring myself now; I don’t know where this latent violence comes from, but I don’t like how it makes me feel, anymore than I like feeling miserable.

  Our argument started, as it always seems to do, in my bedroom yesterday morning; it was about the usual thing, him wanting sex and me not wanting it.  One of these days he won’t even argue with me, he’ll just leave when I say I won’t; I dread it happening, but I know it will.  Maybe I should leave first, but I can’t bring myself to do that, anymore than I can force myself to give him what he wants.

  The sheets clung damply to me in the glare of the morning sun, and heat poured into the room from my tiny window, which was rammed open as far as it would go.  The room was illuminated with a pale green glow, the glaring sunlight tempered by my curtains.  I felt sticky and irritable as I peeled back the upper sheet and sat up.  Next to me, Fergus stirred and rolled over into my space as I stood up.  I could feel his eyes on my back as I walked over to the chair where I had left my clothes.

  “We have to talk about this,” he said in quiet but determined tones as I pulled on my mini skirt and secured the zip and fastener, “if we’re ever going to move forward, you have to tell me…” He broke off, and sighed a little impatiently, “There are pills for sexual dysfunction.”

  I froze and, unable to believe what I had just heard, turned to face him “Is that what you think I am?” I asked slowly, “frigid?”

  He lay on his side, one arm propping up his head as his eyes remained fixed on me “You said it, not me” he said in calm, even tones.

  I pulled on my crop top and tried to think of something else.  I didn’t trust myself to speak until I felt as though my feelings were more under control.

  But he wasn’t going to let me off that easily, “If you won’t discuss anything with me, then how am I supposed to…”

  “THERE ISN’T ANYTHING TO DISCUSS!”

  “YES THERE IS!”

  He was up now, and walking towards me as I pulled on my shoes.  “Pills,” I muttered to myself, “there are pills for bloody everything these days…” I felt him lay a hand on my shoulder, and then release me when I tensed.

   “Well, what am I supposed to think?” he demanded as I turned to face him, “that you don’t trust me, that you don’t love me, that you’re seeing someone else? That you were raped? Just what the hell am I supposed to think?”

  I could feel all the anger and tension, the fear and pain, mostly the pain, welling up inside as I said in an increasingly shaky voice, “Supposing I did what you wanted, supposing I took these pills,” I spat the word, “Supposing they made me more willing, more pliant and passive… is that what you want? Because it sure as hell wouldn’t be me!”

  I saw the frustration in his eyes as he shouted, “You need to deal with whatever’s making you run!”

  I really lost it then, anything that I’d been holding back rushed to the surface as I yelled, “The only person who’s going to make me run is you, because you keep pressuring me!”

  “You’re shutting me out!”

  “Sometimes I have to!”

  For a few moments, there was no sound in the room, in the flat.

  “Trust me,” he murmured as he slipped his arms around my waist, “trust me not to hurt you.”  His eyes were very close to mine, and I sensed the pleading that his voice was trying to hide.

  “You know I can’t”

  He released me, and I walked over to the door, “I need to know why!” he called after me as I confirmed to his expectations by picking up my things and running away.

  Tonight, as the temperature rose towards thirty-eight degrees, we played our gig at The Gates.  The venue was packed full of screaming punters in t-shirts dyed black with sweat and water, their hair dripped that same salty liquid into their feverish eyes, and it trickled down onto their eyeliner, leaving greyish streaks under their eyes.  Up on stage, I could feel my jeans and t-shirt begin to cling, damply, to me before the first song was over.  Fliss and Flora, both in strappy mini dresses, fared little better under the unforgiving lights, and Katy had made the mistake of wearing black, and was suffering accordingly.

  A still pensive Fliss left most of the between songs banter to Katy and Flora, yet managed a little smile when a voice in the crowd yelled, “WE STILL LOVE YOU, FLISS!”

  I truanted from our post gig question and answer session with the press and fanzine writers in order to locate my mum before she went home.  In the hazy darkness, I found her by the bar, ordering the last drink of the evening.  “I’m going to have to start packing up in a minute,” I explained as I refused the drink that she was offering me, “but I wanted to give you this.”  I handed her the CD, ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’ is out at last.

  She turned the CD over in her hands, “’Ode To A’,” she read, “I wonder who that could be about?”

  I shrugged, and stepped aside to let Angel and the Razorblades past, “The fans like it, it’s been a download on our website for a while…”

  “Oh!” realisation dawned in her eyes, “Fliss’ Doris Day tribute.”

  “That’s the one.”

  “How is Fliss? I’ve been very worried about her.”

  I told Fliss of my mother’s concern for her on the tour bus later.  She rolled her big blue eyes heavenwards, and sighed heavily, “It’s bad enough that my mum worries about me, without your mum worrying about me as well.”

  “I thought you’d calmed your mum down.”

  “My dad calmed her down,” she sighed as she curled up on her seat.  Her little bare feet were tucked neatly under the blue skirt of her dress, and her gold hair lay damply against her face as she rested her head against the window, “she’s still secretly hoping that I’ll find myself a nice young man one day though, I haven’t the heart to disillusion her, and she wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

  “Nat said mothers always take it worse.”

  “She was right.”

  She seemed sleepy and fractious, so after a little while I left her to her thoughts and made my way along the bus to where Katy was playing cards with our support group, The Brave Skuds, as Sigur Ros played quietly on the stereo.

  Leeds passed in a blur, but Glasgow lingered in the mind as we drove out of town.  Maybe it was being in Scotland that did it, or maybe it was Fliss’ face when she talked about Adrienne.  I saw so much love in her eyes, so much trust, and sadness… they don’t have another chance, but Fergus and I do.  Or do we? I don’t know.  All I know is that I can’t stop thinking about him.  Everyone else has gone to sleep as I write this, leaving me to write this by the light of my torch as I realise I miss him; I miss him so much it hurts, hurts more than everything he said that morning three, four, five days ago; I need to talk to him, but it’s too late to do so tonight.  Even if I borrowed a mobile from Fliss, Jenny, Katy, or Flora, he would be in bed and be asleep; I need to talk to him in private, but I can’t find a way to do so.

(Leicester)

  Somewhere on the way to Leicester, at another service station, I found a phone and called him.  Thank God that the phone was on the wall by the women’s wash room, and thank God so many people these days have mobile phones: Both of these facts served to provide me with the privacy I needed.  My hands shook with nerves as I slid forty pence into the cold stainless steel slot, they didn’t relax when I dialled his number, and when he picked up the phone, I knew that I had to talk quickly before the money ran out.  “I love you,” I blurted, “even if you think I don’t, I do, but I’m not ready for what you want, I’m so scared you’re going to leave me for someone else, someone who’ll give you what I can’t, and…” my heart was thudding, hard and fast, in my chest, and I could barely breathe as the adrenalin surged through me like fire, “I don’t know what else to say to you, but please don’t leave me, I…”

  “I wasn’t going to leave you,” he said quietly, “how could you think that?”

  “Sometimes it feels like you’re just putting up with me until someone better comes along, like you want me to be someone I can’t be.”

  “No,” he seemed hurt, “it’s never been like that; it never will be like that… I wanted you to stop being scared, that doesn’t mean I don’t love you – I do – and I’ll wait for you; I waited before, you aren’t ready, so I’ll…” the credit was running out.  10p, 0p… “Wait” the pips were going as I tried to think of something to say, but the phone went dead before I was able to.  I hung up the receiver and rested my head against the indifferent steel of the machine; I felt exhausted.

  The phone rang, startling me out of my stillness.  I warily picked up the receiver.  “Maggie?” his voice was nervous and concerned.

  I breathed out, “Yes”

  “Oh thank God,” relief overwhelmed his voice, “I thought you’d gone.”

  “I ran out of money.”

  “I should have called you back straight away.”  It was strange hearing his voice on the phone; it made him seem so much nearer and yet so far away.

  “I suppose I didn’t give you much of a chance…”

  “No,” he sighed, “I’m sorry, Maggie; I knew I was pressuring you, and I knew it was wrong, but… I hate it when you shut me out, and I wanted to be with you so badly… What’s the matter?” He was surprised, “Why are you crying? Please, don’t cry.”

  But I was crying because I was happy.

  (Stockport, again)

He was waiting for me when Fliss and I arrived home.  Our tea was cooking, and he’d even remembered to pick Marmalade up from mum’s house.  “Not that she thanked me for it.”  He commented as he showed us a series of scratches on his hands and arms.

  Fliss surveyed his injuries briefly and dismissively, “She doesn’t like the cat carrier,” she said.

  “’Doesn’t like’ is putting it mildly,” he muttered as he nursed his hand.

  Fliss picked up Marmalade and bore her off to the kitchen for a bowl of Felix.

  Fergus and I faced each other, feeling awkward and shy now that Fliss had left the room.  “Well,” I began, at last.

  He walked over to me and embraced me, holding me tight as he admitted, “You scared me.”

  “I’m sorry” I kissed him.

  He returned the kiss.

  We didn’t go out that night; he didn’t want me to, and I wanted to be with him more.  When it was time for bed, he stayed over, and we left for work together the next morning.

  That day was a Friday, and I had planned to go to Homoelectric with Nat and Dylan.  Fergus agreed, reluctantly, to come too.  I had hoped that he would resent my going less if he came too, but I knew within the first five minutes of our hitting the dance floor that he wasn’t enjoying himself.  Neither, for that matter, was Nat; I watched her and Dylan as they danced to a soully house record that I didn’t know, and as the little silhouettes of light moved to light up their features, I could see him reaching for her, and her moving away from him.  Before the record had finished, she had made her way through the crowd to the bar, and was drinking alone as he watched, forlornly, from the dance floor.  Around twelve, Fergus made his way across the heaving dance floor to where Nat and I were dancing to Peaches, and told me that he was going home.  I nodded, and he kissed me fiercely and lingeringly, and then left.  When I arrived home at three, he was asleep.

  On the Saturday, Dylan had tickets for Mr Scruff: I didn’t even try to talk Fergus into coming with me.

  He woke me up on Sunday morning as he got up to have breakfast “Are you going out tonight?” He asked as I blinked sleepily at him.

  “No,” I stroked his arm with my thumb; “I wanted to spend today with you.”

  “Well,” he stood up, and I could sense his bitterness as he said, “there isn’t much doing on a Sunday I suppose.”

  “Don’t be like that,” I took his hand as he turned away, “If you stay, I promise I won’t go out next week at all, we can be together all week.”

  “And the week after?” he asked, hopefully.

  I smiled cautiously, “Let’s just concentrate on this week first.”

  He hesitated.

  “Please?”

  “O.K”

Chapter Thirty Seven: Across The Years

 Mum was on the phone when Katy and I burst in, and I paused in the hallway, uncertain as to whether I was intruding; Katy, however, had no such qualms, “You’ve got the Beauty Queens L.P, Rachel, haven’t you?” she called breezily as she ran upstairs, not even waiting for a reply.  Mum raised her eyebrows in the direction Katy had run, and I saw her shake her head slowly in mild irritation as she turned around, and noticed me standing there.  “I’ll have to call you back,” she murmured into the mouthpiece, “I’ve just been invaded…” From upstairs, we could hear the sound of the ladder being put up, and the creak of feet, climbing… “Doesn’t hang about, does she?” remarked mum, in distinctly narked tones. 

  I shook my head; I felt that I should apologise for the behaviour of a friend, so I explained, “She’s not used to asking first.”  She opened her mouth to speak, but I got in first, “Who were you speaking to?”

  “Thomas.”

  My sense of awkwardness returned, as I asked, “How’s it going with him?”

  “Well, I think,” she said, not meeting my eyes.

  An invisible weight seemed to settle on me as I nodded, almost to myself; I hadn’t met him, but I’d heard her mention him a lot lately and, whilst she’s had boyfriends before, this one sounded different; for one thing, he had lasted longer than they usually do.

  There was a long, painfully tense silence before she said, rather quietly, “I would always put you first,” she gazed up at me “you know that, don’t you?”

  But it is no longer right for her to do that, not now.  “You don’t have to do that,” I told her, “not anymore.”

  The conversation ended then because Katy emerged at the top of the stairs, carrying a huge cardboard box full of vinyl.  “Give me a hand!” she yelled down to me, and I ran up the stairs to assist, my mood lightening with each step as I recalled the task at hand.

  As we hauled the last box down to the living room, mum hovered in the doorway, her hands on her hips, an expression of annoyed confusion on her face, as she demanded, rhetorically, “Do you mind telling me what this is all about?”

  “The Beauty Queens have reformed!” called back me and Katy in stereo.

  “They’re going on tour!”  Called Katy

  “…playing Manchester in a fortnight” I added, equally excitedly.

  “Oh,” said Mum, facetiously as she joined us, “is that all…”

  The Beauty Queens haven’t toured since July 1980, they split up five months later when Iona Black, Chantel Jones, Serena Llewellyn and Keeley Myerscough left and formed The Playgirls.  Mum saw them live five times in 1979, supporting various more high profile names, and she’s also the only person I know who happens to own their L.P.

  “Come on, Rachel,” protested Katy as she lifted the L.P out of the second box, “you must be at least a little bit excited; you’re talking one off experience here, it’d be like The Slits reforming…”

  Mum shook her head; she seemed a little dazed as she asked, “Original line-up?”

  “Yes,” confirmed Katy, “all seven of them.”

  She shook her head again, “I’m amazed they’ve agreed to do it; I didn’t think there was any love lost between The Playgirls and the other three when they split… I saw them supporting Rip, Rig and Panic in 1980, just before they split, and you could tell it was all about to go pear shaped…”

  “So, you’re not coming to the gig then?” demanded Katy.

  She shook her head, “As much as I loved them at the time, there are some areas of my past I think its best I not revisit.” Her expression grew thoughtful as she added, “But if they make a new record I might be cautiously interested…”

  Katy handed me the L.P, and I gazed for a few moments at the cheap black and pink sleeve, before flipping it over and gazing at the picture of the band on the back.  As is often the case with reluctant geniuses, Iona Black was hidden away towards the back of the picture, on the right side.  The more obvious charms of Lalita James, Chantel Jones, and Keeley Myserscough were posed in the centre of the picture; pretty punkettes in fishnets and stilettos, with P.V.C mini skirts and ripped t-shirts, naively slutty in their vamping.  Iona was blonde then, but her hair was short, and although she was wearing similarly slutty garb, there was something in her posture, in her expression, that suggested she was different.  She was already a minor legend by then, thanks to a brief, ill advised, marriage to Seth Kent, bassist in The Wars, when she was seventeen; it ended six months later when she woke up next to his corpse, the needle sticking out of his arm still.  Maybe that was what made her appear wary, or maybe the demons were already at work by then…

  Katy snatched the L.P from my hands, and marched over to the Hi-Fi with it. As she placed the L.P down on the deck, I noticed mum slip out through the door, and it wasn’t long before I heard her feet on the stairs, retreating, escaping… maybe she would phone Thomas again.

  Later, the three of us watched the video for our next single, ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’.  It was shot mainly in a light, luxuriously elegant suite at one of the big Manchester hotels.  Fliss is very much the star of the piece, and is featured sitting on a white windowsill, her feet bare and resting on the sill, her knees pulled up towards her chest.  She is wearing a light sundress, and gazes out of the window wistfully as she lip synchs to the track.  She looks very sad, but very pretty, which I think is the mood that the director was going for.  It was shot in black and white, with lots of grey, lots of dissolves.  Rumour has it that it was shot at the hotel that Girl Trouble stayed in last summer, in the room that Adrienne surreptitiously seduced Fliss in.  Sandra Dee have been keen to encourage the story, but Fliss says it isn’t true.

  “It reminds me of the video to Siouxsie and the Banshees ‘The Last Beat Of My Heart’,” remarked mum.  Her expression was thoughtful and calculating as she added, “Still, she looks very pretty I must say…I only hope that Sandra Dee know what they’re doing.  Is it about Adrienne?”

  “It might be” I conceded, cautiously, as Katy scowled.  I haven’t really discussed the lyrics to ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’ with Fliss; she’s been too busy working, or else being interviewed, or hanging out with Angel and the Razorblades in Chorlton. 

  “Poor Fliss,” she shook her head.

  Katy had her guitar with her, so we travelled back to Heaton Chapel together and I played her some new drum patterns I’d written.  The neighbours, who live below us, are away on holiday at the moment, and no one seemed inclined to complain about the noise as we played together, trying out ideas, but not jamming: We are not a band who jam.

  It seemed to work well, and the energy flowed through me as we worked, the windows in the room open against the intense summer heat.  Hours passed without us noticing, and it was nearly dark when Fliss joined us, she was humming a melody quietly to herself, but broke off to ask, “Can I join in?” We nodded enthusiastically, and she went off to find her own guitar.  We didn’t stop this informal exchange of ideas until midnight or so, and by then we had two almost complete new songs, plus the beginnings of a third.  Fliss was beaming as she lifted off her guitar; her face was flushed with the heat, and her yellow sundress crumpled and damp.  “That was good,” she said happily, “that was fun,” Something about the way she said it made me smile in turn, for I fear that Fliss hasn’t been having an awful lot of fun lately.

  I went to see ‘Igby Goes Down’ at the Cornerhouse last week, and when I left my mind was racing with thoughts and possibilities in the claustrophobic summer heat.  I was thinking about Iraq, wondering how a war can really be over when the guerrilla warfare seems to be only beginning; I feel guilty about Iraq still, and I have a sensitivity to all that’s going on; I hunger to know everything that is going on in the world, I want to know all the pain and fear, all the truth and violence; I feel as though I’m a sponge, soaking up everything I find out, yet both wanting and needing to know more, about everything: In the intense heat I feel as though my brain is on fast forward, the ideas pouring out of me like sweat… it’s exciting, but it worries me; I’m afraid that I’ll lose the ideas before I can make proper use of them.

  I was anxious about The Beauty Queens gig, but for a different set of reasons.  I spent so long getting ready that night that Katy had arrived to pick me up long before I was ready.  As I stood in front of the mirror, fretting a little as I toyed with my studded wristbands, a kind of fluttery nervous excitement welled up inside me.  From the doorway, I heard Fergus say, “Will you tell her, or shall I? You look fine.”

  “He’s right,” said Katy, truculently, “you look sickeningly fantastic, as always…”

  I pulled at the skin tight plain black t-shirt, which insisted on riding up over my P.V.C mini skirt, “I’m still not sure about this top…”

  “It’s fine…” Katy pulled at my arm, “we’ll be late if we leave it any longer, let’s go”  She averted her eyes as Fergus kissed me, and then pulled at my arm again, “come on…”

  The gig… Oh, the gig, the gig, the gig… How can you describe your fantasy gig? How can you describe your most eagerly anticipated event, the highlight of your life? It was so, so good… it was everything I had hoped for, and yet, it was completely different, both wonderfully familiar and strangely brilliant; a cacophony of noise and jagged guitars, played better, and tighter than on that old L.P… Part of me had half expected to see the audience and the band wearing bondage kecks and P.V.C, like some time transported seventies period piece… I had half expected it, half dreaded it, because it would have been predictable and depressing, yet I needn’t have worried; there were some mohicaned punters in the audience, but less than I expected, and the band were dressed down in black, hair possibly dyed yet only shades of blonde, brown, and black, make-up minimal and muted.  And at the centre of it all, for me anyway, was Iona Black, hiding behind her drum kit and a loose waterfall of jet-black hair.  She seemed largely unaware of her surroundings, or of the audience, and she wore a long brown and black top, with loose flowing sleeves, which hung well below her waist; underneath it she wore black jeans.

  Afterwards, we met up with Nat and, still feverishly excited, made our way towards the backstage area, chatting excitedly.  A tall, stockily built man planted himself in our path, “Passes?” he asked.

  I watched as Katy attempted to spin some blag about us working for ‘NME’, and I could tell by his utterly unmoved expression that he’d heard it all before.  I began to wish that I’d asked Jenny to blag me something I could use.  After a few minutes of stalemate, Nat sighed and produced a piece of paper from her pocket, “I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t have to use this,” she murmured, handing him the paper.  “My name’s Natalie James,” Katy and I frowned; Nat never used her married name, “Lalita’s my sister in law,” he looked up from the piece of paper, nodded, and then handed it back to her. 

  Soon we were flying up the stairs towards the dressing room, chattering and giggling excitedly, without a clue as to what would happen next…  “What the hell was on that piece of paper?” asked Katy, amazed admiration in her voice.

  “Me with no clothes on,” said Nat, cheerfully.

  “Seriously…”

  “Something Dylan got me,” she turned to face us as we reached the top of the stairs, “She really is his sister, you know, well, his half sister anyway… she was at our wedding, you,” she gestured to me, “sat next to her, but I didn’t talk to her until later.”

  Our nerves returned in force once we reached the dressing room.  None of us felt entirely sure as to what we should do, I mean, what do you do? Knock on the door? We couldn’t do it, none of us could, not even Katy, for all her attitude and swagger, not even Nat, for all her family connections.  Katy got down on her knees and peered through the keyhole, “What’s happening?” I half hissed, half whispered.

  “I don’t know,” muttered Katy, “I can’t actually see very much… Oh, hang on, Chantel’s having a fag, and Keeley’s putting nail varnish on a run in her tights…”

  “What’s Iona doing?” I asked.

  “Looking out of the window, she’s got her back to me… Oh, damn, I can’t see…” she trailed off, and then clambered guiltily to her feet as the door swung open, revealing Lalita.

  Lalita James, née Cain, peered down her nose at us, imperiously; there was a touch of amusement in her eyes though, and a smile twitched at the corners of her mouth.  She had been pretty, despite herself, in the picture from 1978, with messy white blonde hair, and angry, piercing blue eyes.  Now the eyes, whilst equally piercing, lacked that disdainful ferocity, and her hair was light brown.  What few lines there were on her face were fairly well disguised, and her hair appeared to be natural, not dyed.  Nat smiled, broadly, “Hello.”

  She and Lalita hugged, and as she emerged from the embrace, Lalita spoke at last, “You didn’t tell me you were coming…” her voice was as it had been at the wedding, largely accentless, but with a faint hint of estuary, eager and interested.  She turned her attention to Katy and me, “Aha, two of the bridesmaids,” she ushered us into the dressing room, “come in, come in…”

  Things moved quite quickly once we were inside, cans of beer were produced and handed around, but when Lalita offered one to me, I shook my head.  “She doesn’t drink,” said Nat, succinctly.  Lalita walked over to the corner where Iona Black stood, still staring out of the window, and gestured to a much smaller stack of smaller cans.  Iona nodded, distractedly, as she handed one to her, and Lalita retraced her steps, “Here you go,” she handed me a can of lemonade.  I reached for it, but my fingers were trembling with nervousness, and I fumbled it, Nat caught it as it fell from my fingers, and passed it back to me.  She has touched this, I thought, reverently, as I pulled back the ring pull.  I slurped the froth from the top of the can, and looked over at her.  She had turned away from the window now, and I was able to see her in profile.  Her dark hair still hung across her face, and as she reached up to brush it out of her eyes, I was able to see that her hands were pale, and that she had long, thin fingers.  My heart began to beat too fast as I was filled with sheer excited joy.  I was so close to her, so close…

  We talked mainly to Lalita, although once she had introduced us, the others began to take a polite interest and became drawn into the conversation.  Only Iona Black stayed in the background, her dark brown eyes seemed wary, her body language defensive.  I found myself staring, openly and blatantly, at her, hoping she would look up, hoping she would meet my eyes with hers, even if only to glare at me, to respond in some way… But she didn’t.  At one point Lalita glanced, quickly, from me to Iona, and I could tell that she had noticed what I was doing, even if she didn’t understand why; it was incredibly rude, I know now, to stare at her like that, but it was like I couldn’t help it.  I don’t know what was with me that night; it was like I was pushing myself, pushing the situation, to see what would happen next.

  The elation didn’t leave me as we left, I still felt very high and emotional, but it was tinged with a kind of vague disappointment, a disappointment that was as tied up with my admiration for Iona Black as my other emotions were.  When I tried to explain how I felt to Katy, she didn’t understand, but when I mentioned it to Nat, her answer was curiously straightforward, “I think she was just shy,” she said, with surprising sensitivity, “she strikes me as someone not entirely comfortable with herself.”

  Katy snorted, “What does she have to be unhappy about?” she made reference to the Renaissance Girls, Iona’s most recent band, “That album was huge! The woman can’t want for money…”

 In the awkward silence that followed, Nat said, rather quietly and pensively, “Has it occurred to you that we put these people on pedestals, and that maybe we shouldn’t?” There was no answer, and in the silence she grew more fierce, “Maybe we shouldn’t make these people our gods, because, one day, inevitably, they come unstuck, and fall off, or reveal themselves to be so breathtakingly ordinary, disappointingly ordinary, that we can’t help but feel utterly disillusioned, disappointed, rejected…”

  Katy giggled, nervously, “God, Nat… lighten up, can’t you?”

  None of us were ready to go home yet, so we headed along Oxford Road until we got to Charles Street, our destination being Retro Bar, and the last few hours of Mass Teens On The Run.  The neon lighting was particularly bright as we made our way out onto the dancefloor, and we threw ourselves into the dancing mêlée as the DJ began to play the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Date With The Night’.  Katy and Nat were soon tired of the heat, but I kept on going, driven by an inner pool of energy that helped me forget my confusion as I threw myself into the dancing.  After about an hour, I returned to the table Katy and Nat had retired to.  Nat pushed a half pint glass of lemonade towards me, and remarked, wistfully, “You know, it’s a pity you had to give up dancing…”

  My energy and sheer need to dance didn’t abate.  When the club finished at two a.m, I danced my way out, up the stairs, and along the streets to the bus stop.  It felt good, it felt more than good: it felt amazing.

  It was around three a.m when I got back to Fergus’, and the euphoria hadn’t left me by the time I climbed into bed.  He was lying with his back to me, and I was feeling particularly amorous as I kissed his neck, “I’m back,” I whispered, enticingly, and he rolled over, groaning a little as he blinked, sleepily, up at me, “Hello,” he murmured, drowsily.

  I kissed his lips, “Were you asleep?”

 He paused to consider this, before replying, “I think so… I’m awake now though.”

  “I’m not sleepy,” I whispered, huskily, as I touched and stroked him. 

  He yawned, “Work in the morning,” he reminded me.

  “I know,” I replied neutrally.

  His eyes flickered closed again, and it wasn’t long before he was asleep.  With a little disappointed sigh, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.