Chapter Forty Three: December Days

Cold, so cold… no matter how many layers of clothing I wear, I am still icy cold.  My eyes are sore, they flicker constantly, and my head aches so hard, so painfully.  Cold, so cold… the icy winds, the early nights and dark days of winter have driven away the golden sun, and it will rain until May, rain and rain and rain.

  “Once again, from the top” the voice spoke coldly and distantly in my cans as I waited at the drums, and stared bleakly around the cold grey studio.

  “What?” I snapped.

  “Again, from the top,” there was no change in the producers tone at all.

  “Why?”

  “You’re still going too fast”

  I could feel the anger firing through me as I got to my feet, “There was nothing wrong with those takes!” I yelled at the faces behind the glass, “I’m playing at the right speed! Everyone else is playing too bloody slow!”

  As I got closer, I could see them all behind the thick glass, exchanging looks, and I could imagine what they were saying, “She really thinks she’s something, doesn’t she?” “We could have gone home by now if it wasn’t for her”, “We should have sacked her months ago.”  They all had their eyes on me, and were waiting, as though they were watching a recently lit firework.  I kept my eye on them as I walked towards the door.  I didn’t think that anyone would stop me, but I wanted to be sure.

  We’ve been ensconced at Twilight Studios for the best part of a month now, recording our album.  I’d like to say that it’s been a pleasurable experience, but on the whole it hasn’t been.  Katy is co-producing, along with Sean Cooke, who was recommended to us by The Girls From Mars, and, as such, she has a lot more power behind the desk than Fliss, Flora, and I do.  “I hate that man,” seethed Flora at the end of the first week as we prepared to go home, “but,” she conceded, reluctantly, “He does know how to get the best out of you.”  Fliss nodded in glum agreement.  Sean Cooke had been particularly hard on her, I thought.  He frequently told her to stop standing about looking pretty, and he pushed her beyond her natural vocal range on the grounds that it was “good for you.”  He thought I was lazy and incompetent, and he didn’t mince his words in telling me so.

  “Interesting show of temper,” remarked Jenny.  She was standing by the main entrance to the studios, barring my way.

  I shoved her aside, “Tell it to Sean, not me.”

  She grasped hold of my arm, carefully but firmly, and pulled me back inside, “Sit,” she snapped, and gestured to a nearby seat in the lobby.

  I threw myself down onto the cold plastic chair.

  “What the hell is going on?” she snapped as I slouched in sullen silence, “Why are you acting like this?”

  “Like what?” I snapped.

  There was a brief, uncomfortable pause, before she decided to try a different tack, “What’s wrong, Maggie?” she asked in tones of mild exasperation.

  “Nothing”

  “Then why are you biting everyone’s head off?”

  “Look who’s talking.”

  The barb seemed to have pierced her, at least a little bit, and her expression became thoughtful.  “Alright,” she said, at last, “If there’s nothing wrong, why have you been so distracted? Why hasn’t your playing been up to its usually high standard?” Her voice was louder now, and I could see that she was having trouble controlling her temper, “Why is Sean Cooke leaning on Sandra Dee to draft in a session drummer to replace you?”

  “Fine,” I snapped as I got to my feet, “I’ll be off then shall I?”

  She pulled me down again, “You know that Sandra Dee don’t want that, neither do I, neither do the band… we all know how good you are, but you do seem to be distracted lately, and, well, we’re all, well… concerned” She gazed sternly up into my eyes, “Especially me” I looked away as she continued, “I won’t be here next week, so I can’t be here to argue your case for you, you’re going to have to be firing at one hundred per cent, because you’re going to have to prove to him that you’re as good as we know you are.”

  “Yes, well,” I muttered bitterly, “I’ll try to be a good little girl next week.”

  “That wasn’t what I meant,” she was trying to be stern, but I saw the spark of humour in her eyes.

  “It was really” I smiled sheepishly, “You just said it differently.”

  She sighed as she rested her head on her palms, and scrutinised my face with thoughtful eyes, “Of all of you, I feel I know you the least… why is that?”

  I shrugged, “Maybe I like it that way.”

  “You have secrets.”  It wasn’t a question.

  “Everybody has secrets” I stood up, and slowly slipped my arms inside my coat, “Not just me, I have my reasons for being who I am.”  She didn’t try to stop me from leaving.

  As I made my way through the car park, I was reminded of Fergus.  Although we have broken up, I’ve seen him every day since, at work.  We see each other three times a day on average: in the morning, at dinnertime, and at half five when I go home.  We don’t talk; we just nod grimly to each other in passing.  It is awkward, agonising… but that is how it must be.  Or so I thought…

  On Friday the 12th of December, I was late into work because my bus was late.  It had been raining, and I had left the house without my umbrella, the consequence of which was that I was soaked to the skin by the time I reached the studio.  Shivering with cold, I hung my long black coat over the radiator and turned my attention to the switchboard, which was still switched to ansaphone.

  I was about to switch the machine off when I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, and stopped.  There was a polythene cup on my desk, and it was warm to my touch.  I removed the lid: Black coffee.  Next to it was an envelope with my name scrawled on it in handwriting that I knew all too well.

  Inside, he had written:

  Dearest Maggie,

  It is with a certain amount of regret that I must tell you that I am leaving Manchester and returning to Scotland for a time.  Perhaps it will be for the best, as it will give us both time to think.  I am leaving tomorrow morning; firstly for Glasgow to spend Christmas with my family, then in the New Year I will be working for a studio in Stirling for a while.  I will be back on the 12th February.

  Before I leave, I had to tell you that I still love you.  I think I always will.  I want you back, for all it would mean in the present circumstances, I hate this atmosphere there is between us.  Without you, there would be little to return to Manchester for.

  All my love,

  Fergus.

  I felt nothing as I read his words, but I couldn’t let so honest a card go unanswered.  I found a piece of paper and a pen, and I wrote:

  I love you, but we can’t be together, is futile to pretend otherwise.  You should be with someone who makes you happy.

I passed it to him as he walked past my desk on his way back from dinner.

  At half five, the night was black and stormy as I put on my coat.  I wasn’t looking forward to the walk to the bus stop, but it had to be done.  I braced myself, and walked out into the night, straight into Fergus.

  “Did you mean it?” he asked, tightly, “What you wrote?”

  “Yes, I did… I’m sorry,” I continued walking.

  He followed me, “Sorry for what; for loving me or for not being with me?”

  “Either, both…”

  “People who love each other should be together”

  I stopped, and then turned around to face him, “Not you and me.”

  “Why not?”

  I couldn’t answer him.  The wind whipped my hair and the rain lashed my face as I tried not to meet his eyes.  He put his arms around my waist, and I rested my head on his shoulder, “You don’t want this to end, do you?” he murmured.

  “No, but I have to,” I knew that I should move out of his arms, but I didn’t want to.

  “Why?”

 “Because I can’t give you what you want and because what we had wasn’t enough for you”

  “It could be enough,” he said, but I could hear the doubt in his voice.

  “No,” I sighed, “I was stupid to think it could ever be right.  We just don’t live in that kind of a world.”  I raised my head from his shoulder, “I do love you, I…”

  He kissed me, and I let my feelings for him get the better of me as I kissed him back, for a long, long time.  It felt both beautifully sad, and tacky, what with the rain and everything, but I knew that I didn’t want it to end.

  “It’s over,” I whispered when we stopped.

  “No,” his eyes bored into me, “it’s not.”

  I hung my head.  I had run out of things to say.  He pressed a piece of paper into my hand, “Phone numbers,” he explained, “If you would call me…”

  “No.”  I was as firm as I dared to be.

  “Keep them anyway,” he forced the piece of paper, wet by now, into my cold hand, my numb fingers closed around it.  “Let me give you a lift home,” he said as I slipped the paper into one of my pockets.

  “No, I’m fine.”  If he drove me home, I told myself, we would have to say goodbye all over again, and I didn’t think that I could bear it, whatever the weather was like.

  “But it’s pouring down!” he protested.

  “I want to walk,” I maintained stubbornly, “I need to think…” He caught my hand as I made to go.

  “Think about what I said…” he urged.

  I nodded, and he released my hand.  Through the dark and relentless downpour, I could feel him watching me as I walked away.

  Fliss went home to her parents for Christmas, and I had already agreed months ago to spend Christmas with mum.  Tony had taken his family off to Spain, sparing me the annual torture of visiting him.  It was only as I journeyed from Heaton Chapel to Hazel Grove that I remembered that mum and I wouldn’t be alone this Christmas, Thomas, the boyfriend, would also be present.  I sagged a little lower in my seat on the bus, I had forgotten.

  Things began badly: “Good God!” he exclaimed in astonishment, “She looks just like you when you were that age.”  I could tell that he was scrutinising me equally as much as I was scrutinising him.  He was tall and broad, with very dark brown hair, and he was clean-shaven.  His clothes were fairly non-descript; jeans and t-shirt, but I noticed his eyes, which were a muddy green; they were framed by long, luxurious brown eyelashes, unusually long for a man.  He must have been quite a looker when he was younger.

  I didn’t really know what to make of him, or what to say to him.  What do you say on occasions like this? I had met my mother’s boyfriends before, and had usually found something to say to them, but this felt different somehow.  Both of them were waiting expectantly for a response from me, but I was tongue tied still.  Eventually, I managed to say hello, and to shake his hand, but it felt weird.  I was wary, and I wasn’t sure why.

  “Tony’s daughter?” he asked mum.

  She nodded.

  “That would explain the height”

  I was unsure as to whether I was meant to stand there patiently and be dissected, or whether I was meant to give as good as I got.  In the end, I did neither.  I simply left the room.

  I didn’t like him, I decided, as I waited in the kitchen for the kettle to boil.  He made me feel like a stranger in my own home, and, worst of all, she was letting him do it.  Then, I remembered… it wasn’t my home anymore, I had as good as told her so, months ago.  I told her to put him first.  But, as much as I disliked him, I decided to make an effort.  I made drinks for them both as well as for myself.

  “Has Fergus gone home to Glasgow for Christmas?” asked mum as I handed her a drink.  She was next to him on the sofa, holding his hand, so I claimed the armchair.

  “Yes,” I replied, guardedly.

  “And how’s the recording going?” she asked with interest.

  I just shrugged.

  I took the time to take in the room, which had been decorated far better than if simply mum or I had done it.  The tree was magnificent; it had new decorations instead of our old ragged tinsel and scuffed baubles, and had been dusted with fake snow.  The windows had been decorated with fairy lights and more snow, and it all looked extremely picturesque.  I complimented him on his handiwork, and he seemed pleased.

  But it was an uneasy truce.  In my old bedroom later I stood in front of my old full length mirror and stared at my reflection; huge green eyes stared back at me, her eyes, but they were blank and expressionless, surrounded by dark shadows and bagged skin.  The face was as pale as milk, with freckles that stood out in sharp contrast to the pallid skin, and my cheekbones were showing through.  Was it really my face? I could feel the sense of panic rising in my chest as I muttered, “Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? WhoamIwhoamIwhoamIwhoamI… stop it, stop it…” it was getting worse, I could barely breathe.  “Stop…” tears were pouring down my cheeks as I reached for the scissors on the chest of drawers next to me and slashed, wildly, at my arm, eventually drawing blood.  My ragged breathing slowed as I calmed down.  I let go of the scissors.

  Everyone was in bed as I made my way to the bathroom, everywhere was dark, and cold… so cold.  It slowed me down, and I felt frightened… of being alone, of myself perhaps.  I don’t know.  But I’m cold, so cold… I can’t get warm at all, no matter what I do.  So cold.

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