Chapter Forty Nine: Awakening

“I’m not here to judge you,” said Jenny from her vantage point on the sofa, “I’m here to try and help you.”  Her tone was quiet, and her eyes were full of kind concern, but I could sense her caution and unease as she watched me through wary eyes.

  “You sound like a fucking therapist,” I muttered truculently.  Like everyone these days, she was killing me with kindness, and I felt bad enough already.  In my lycra mini skirt and neat black shirt, with my hair brushed and tied back from my face, I felt naked.  The shirt didn’t hide the scars on my arms for one thing, and the skirt didn’t cover the scars on my legs.  I had wanted to appear in control, in neat, tidy, sensible clothing, but I had failed, just as I have in everything lately.  I made myself meet her eyes as I said, “I suppose you want to talk about the band.”

  “Well, yes,” I had evidently caught her off guard, caught her before she was ready, “I mean, if you want to that is, if you’re ready…”

  “I’m ready,” I replied grimly.  I had to get it over with. 

  “Well then,” she shuffled some papers in her lap, and I knew that she wanted to look at them, not at me, “Fliss might have told you about the tour being cancelled, has she?”

  “No.”

  “Well, now it’s been re-arranged.”

  “When?” I asked, dully.  I didn’t really care, but it seemed important to express an interest.

  “A fortnight today; I discussed it with your mum, and your doctor, and neither of them think you’re ready, so…”

  “Have I been sacked, Jenny?” I asked quietly.  I feel indifferent about so many things these days, but that was one thing that I had to know.

  She shook her head, “but we’re borrowing Andrea for the tour.”  I raised my eyebrows in surprise as she continued, “The Girls From Mars are writing at the moment; they aren’t gigging or promoting anything, and since it’s only for one week, Andrea offered to step in.  She knows some of the songs already of course, from playing gigs with you before.”

  I nodded; it made sense, “What about the photo shoot and videos we were scheduled to do?”

  “Well,” she smiled awkwardly, “I’m sorry, but we went ahead without you on those.”

  “I’m not.”

  “No,” she smiled wryly, “I didn’t think you’d mind.”  She gazed at me directly, “What we need to discuss now, if you’re ready that is, is what you want to do in the long term, with the band, or without the band.”

  “I want to stay with Titanium Rose.”  I said immediately.

  “You’re sure?” She asked, doubtfully, “Because I want you to really think about this, it’s not a hobby anymore, it’s a career, you have a lot of potential as a band, but its potential that can be developed without you as well as with you, and I do believe, and Sandra Dee believe, that this is a crucial point.”

  I raised my eyebrows again, “I thought you were meant to be being nice…”

  “Sometimes being honest is better than being nice,” she said briskly, “and you can’t tell me that you weren’t thinking of leaving the band last year; Katy told me.”

  I stiffened in anger, “And what did Katy say?”

  “She said that you wanted to be a dancer instead, and I know from talking to Fliss, and especially to Nat, that you have the talent for that.”

  “If you talked to Nat,” I snapped, “you’ll know that I have no chance of going back…”

  “But you have other routes into dance than ballet school…”

  I shook my head, my brain suddenly full of questions and contradictions, it wasn’t that I hadn’t thought of that, that I hadn’t thought of trying those other routes, but… “Believe me, Jenny,” I said, coldly, “I’ve had plenty of solitary hours lately in which to consider it…”

  “Yes, of course, um…” She blushed fiercely as she shuffled papers.

  “Does Katy want me to come back?” I enquired.

  She froze mid shuffle, and I knew that I had hit a nerve.  Her expression was carefully schooled when she at last looked up, but I could hear the barely suppressed anger in her voice as she said, “Let me deal with Katy, she isn’t your concern right now.”

  I nodded reluctantly, she was right of course, whatever private battles Katy and I have to fight will have to wait.  I changed tack, “Are you glad that Fergus and I split up?”

  “No,” her voice was mildly indignant, “what on earth made you think that?”

  “Well, you never approved of us being together,” I reasoned awkwardly.

  “Doesn’t matter what I think,” she said wryly, “I thought he was too old for you, and I thought it was bad because he had been your label boss, but he seemed to be good for you… I never disliked him…” She turned away to pick up her papers, and began to sort them out and put them into her bag, “until now” I heard her add, under her breath.

  “He told you what happened, didn’t he?” I persisted.

  “Yes,” she said softly, “he did.”

  I could feel a blush creeping up my face as the sense of betrayal washed over me like a wave.  The mortification must have shown on my face, for Jenny walked over to me and sat down next to me on the sofa, “Now listen,” she said, kindly but firmly, “He only told me because I made him tell me, your mum told me the rest, it’s gone no further than me, and it never will…”

  “The ‘NME’, the press…” I murmured, frantically.

  “I don’t work for the ‘NME’ anymore.”

  I jerked my head up in surprise, I could see the anger and regret in her face as I said, “Oh Jenny, I’m so sorry.”

  “I’m not,” I saw her shoulders tense, “they put me in a very difficult position, between people I care about, and I do care about you, no matter what you think, and my career.  I chose the people I care about.”  Her expression became wary once more as she said, tentatively, “Flora seemed to think you’d seen some of the press coverage about your illness,” she paused for my reaction, and when none came, continued, “She said Fliss left some of it lying around.”

   I nodded, grimly, I didn’t want to get Fliss into trouble, but I wasn’t prepared to lie either.  “I had to find out sooner or later,” I said tensely, “what they were saying about me.”

  “I’d rather it had been later, we all had.”

  “Well, its character building I suppose” I said with false cheeriness “being called an anorexic, self-destructive, attention seeking lunatic.”

  “It’s not personal to you,” she tried to explain “it’s what gets written most of the time about musicians with mental illnesses.”

  I nodded tensely, I knew that, but it didn’t make me feel any better about it, “Jenny,” I began cautiously, “I don’t know if I can do this, but, I really don’t want to do interviews anymore,” I sighed, heavily, “they’ll only be interested in writing about me as some woeful caricature, and I’m not into that, besides,” I concluded, “no one ever wanted to interview me before.”

  She nodded, “I’ll get in touch with Sandra Dee about it today: No one will make you do press if you don’t want to.”

  I nodded gratefully, “Thank you.”

  She watched me with that same thoughtful expression, “This has been worrying you, hasn’t it?”

  I nodded again, “You have no idea,” I admitted, with feeling.

  After Jenny had left, I wandered aimlessly from room to room, thinking… Practically the first thing I had seen upon returning to the world had been the press cuttings about me from the music press, which had taught me not only how they viewed me, but how much they loved that I had fallen from anonymity into the spotlight, and could be used as such for vicious gossip.  It was hardly a newsflash, I’d seen it happen innumerable times before with musicians and film stars, but I had never expected it to happen to me.

  Over the weeks, the music press’ sniping has lost impact, mainly because I haven’t been reading the press, but also because re-entering the world has meant catching up on everything that has happened whilst I’ve been away.  I was sedated throughout the ongoing carnage in Iraq, and I slept through government approved scare mongering about obesity and smoking, in the process going through cold turkey for my own nicotine addiction whilst slowly wasting away.  Asylum seekers were turned away, Haitian presidents ousted, and the tenth anniversary of Bill Hicks and Kurt Cobain’s deaths were marked as I slept.  It seems, even now, as though I am still waking up.

  On the 11th of March, I was awake and wretched as Al Quaeda bombed trains in Madrid, killing hundreds of people and injuring still more. I missed at least two deaths in Israel, and came back to the world just in time to mark the chaos caused by the fire at the B.T plant in Manchester.  For a week, silence seemed to reign as phones lay dead and useless, but the chaos felt normal to me.  All around the world, people die because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I can’t feel anything for them because the pills stop me from feeling; not entirely, but they blur my feelings to such a degree that they no longer feel natural, but instead feel chemical, synthetic, and altogether false.  I no longer cry, but some days I still want to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head, and stay there forever, knowing nothing, feeling nothing.

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Chapter Forty Eight: My Funny Valentine (Part Two)

What follows is very difficult for me to write.  It concerns events that I’m not proud of, and it hurts to remember what happened, but I know that I must.  There are only four people in this world that I will let hold me, firstly, my mother, secondly Nat, thirdly Fliss, and fourthly… but he will never hold me again.  The weather here is cold now, with a sharp breeze and stinging April showers.  It helps me to remember.

  This is what happened on that bleak Sunday the day after Valentines Day, after I returned home.

  My diary and biro lay abandoned next to me, I had finished writing by then and the despair had begun to seep back into my bones. I couldn’t move.  My head rested on my hands, my elbows against my knees, and my eyes were closed.  I didn’t feel safe, if I moved, something would happen, something undetermined but bad, and I couldn’t risk it.

  Far, far away, I heard a key enter a lock, and heard the key turn.  The door opened, and there was a voice, saying my name.  I heard footsteps, and then they halted.  That voice again, saying my name, then warm hands on my icy skin, as he said, “Look at me.”

  But I couldn’t move.

  Carefully, he prised my hands away from my face, and I was forced to open my eyes.  The first thing I saw was his face, directly in front of mine.  He didn’t say anything, but he held me for a very long time.

  He seemed to sense my frozen state, so it was with almost natural ease that he carried me upstairs to the living room, where he cautiously set me down on the sofa, and walked over to the gas fire, switching it on with the elaborate series of dial twists and clicks that Fliss and I have gradually mastered.

  As he sat down next to me, I leant my head against his shoulder and clung to his waist, he put his arm around my shoulder and murmured reassuring words to me, “Everything’s going to be alright.”  But I didn’t feel reassured.  Inside, the panic had turned itself down a few notches to fretting and, then, to fractiousness, but I still felt as though I wasn’t safe, I still felt as though I had been bruised all over.  “Tell me what’s wrong,” he said.

  “Everything,” I was shaking.

  He stroked my right wrist with his thumb, through the sleeve of my top I sensed him touch an inflamed scab and I winced.  Misunderstanding, he let go and moved away from me, leaving me alone once more.  “I didn’t come here for that,” his voice was quiet, almost a whisper, “I came here because you said you needed me.”

  I nodded, “I do need you, please,” I met his eyes, “hold me again, don’t let go of me.”

  His eyes revealed the concern that the rest of his face was trying to hide, but he did as I asked.  He held me again.

  I must have fallen asleep, for when I woke up it was early evening and I could hear voices singing, one high, one low, a man and a girl, singing ‘My Funny Valentine’.  It was coming from the kitchen.  The door opened, and Fergus and Fliss emerged, bearing bowls of soup and a plate of bread.  Fliss set the plate of bread down on the coffee table; she smiled awkwardly but nicely at me, and then retreated to the armchair facing me.  Fergus placed a bowl of soup in front of me, and then sat down next to me on the sofa, “Eat it,” he said kindly, “you’re too thin.”

  I gingerly picked up the bowl of soup; it was balanced on a plate, which was sitting on a tray, and evidently no one was taking any chances.  I placed the tray on my knees and picked up the spoon, it felt heavy in my hand, heavier still when loaded with soup, and my hand began to shake.  I set the tray and its contents down on the coffee table.  Without saying a word, Fergus took the soup back through to the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later with Fliss’ ‘Xena…’ coffee mug, “If you won’t eat it, try drinking it,” he suggested as he handed me the mug.

  Eventually, I managed to drink half of the soup, and by that time the liquid had cooled so much that it was almost cold.  Fliss attempted to ply me with bread and margarine, but backed off when she saw that I didn’t want any.  She left us alone after that.

  We spent the evening lying together on my bed, I clung to him as we kissed, unable to say anything to him, even when he told me he loved me and would never leave me again.  I don’t know that it was love that made me cling to him, or even happiness, I think it was need.  I believe I loved him, as I know that I love him now, but whether I felt it then I don’t know. The entire evening, when I look back on it now, feels like the last night, the very last night, the final night.  It was an evenings intimacy spent in the arms of the man I love, and I trusted him to keep me safe, to protect me from the panic and despair that I could feel welling up inside me, seeping through my skin, into my blood, into my bones.  He felt like the only one who could save me.

  Around midnight, he carefully disentangled himself from me, and said, “I have to go.”

  I sat up, “What do you mean?” the fear must have crept into my voice, for he squeezed my hand and told me, once again, not to worry, everything would be alright.  He leant in close and kissed me, very softly, in a final sort of way, then tried to extract his hand from my grip, “We have work in the morning,” he pleaded.

  “We work in the same place,” I pointed out.

  He wouldn’t look at me, and I increased the pressure on his hand, “Let go,” he cried, “that hurts.”

  “Look at me,” he still couldn’t meet my eyes, “LOOK AT ME!” His eyes bore an expression of surprise as he met my gaze, and I let go of his hand, “It isn’t work, is it?” I demanded, “It’s me, you don’t want to be here with me.”  He bent his head and began to lace up his boots, “Is there someone else?” I persisted, quietly but tensely.

  His head jerked up as though he’d been stung “No!” he flushed with anger “I just need to sleep!”  There was a heavy silence before he added, more calmly, “You don’t sleep, and if I stay here you’ll keep me awake.”  He got to his feet and turned to face me once more, “I worry about you,” he explained in broken tones, “and when I worry about you, I can’t sleep.”

  It felt like a stab to the heart, “You don’t love me,” I whispered, “You just feel sorry for me.”

  “No, that isn’t it.”

  “Isn’t it?” the anger that I had felt coursing through my veins so much earlier in the day decided to return, I felt a burst of energy and fury so intense that it almost made me feel light headed.  I got to my feet and barred his exit, as I demanded, “Isn’t it true?”

  He tried to move me away from the door, but the anger and adrenalin was giving me new strengths.  I could meet his eyes again, and stared at him, unblinking, as I demanded an answer from him.

  “Let me go,” I could sense that he was afraid, so I stepped aside, feeling ashamed.  But I couldn’t let him go, not without one last plea. The fury coursing through my veins made me fast as I pulled off my top and threw it, violently, across the room; the jeans were next, and I kicked them off equally aggressively.  Soon, I was stood before him in my white cotton knickers, yelling at him to “Take a good look!” because “I’m going to give you what you wanted all along!”

  In the silence that followed, I could feel my heart beating too quickly as I watched him.  His eyes were wide with shock; his mouth was slightly open, suggesting the same emotion.  His eyes took in every part of my body, from my huge, shadowed eyes to my ribs, showing through my skin, to the gashes and scars, and cigarette burns on my arms, legs, and chest… He stepped back a pace, his face a mask of horror.

  “What are you waiting for?” I demanded, but the anger was evaporating now, and there was a slight tremor in my voice as I added, “This is what you wanted.”

  “No,” he said at last, “Not like this.”

  “Not anymore,” I muttered bitterly.

  “Never like this” He whispered it with such gentleness that I stared at him, his face was full of pity as he gazed straight into my eyes, and the last vestige of anger I had felt disappeared completely.  I suddenly felt very, very tired as I began to shake.  Tears were leaking from my eyes and trickling down my cheeks as I sank to the floor, on my knees, I stared up at him through tear blurred eyes, and part sobbed, part ranted, “Why do you pity me? Why are you so repulsed by me? I’m not a monster, I’m not…” my sobbing grew harder as despair overwhelmed me like a wave, “I’m not…” I couldn’t speak anymore; I could feel my body shutting down as I sank further and further down to the floor, burying my face in the carpet as my sobbing grew harder and uglier.

  I didn’t know that he was next to me until he touched me, I flinched, and he moved away from me once more.  I heard the floorboards creak as he got to his feet.  There was a rustling noise, and then something soft and warm was placed over me.  I heard footsteps as they moved away from me, and then there was the creak of the door, “Stay with her,” I heard him say in a voice that was neither cold nor warm, “see that she doesn’t hurt herself.”

  “Where are you going?” that was Fliss’ voice, high with anxiety.

  “To phone Rachel.”

  The footsteps moved out of the room then, I heard them move along the hallway, and as he walked away, I knew that I had lost him forever.

Chapter Forty Seven: Lost Between The Gaps

 I don’t remember everything, just… bits and pieces of what happened.  I was outside myself, watching: I saw a painfully thin young woman, her pale freckled skin lacerated in many places, her back covered by a luridly bright snarling tiger which gripped a white lily in its jaws. Her shoulder blades were prominent as she convulsed with sobbing, and her hair was long and tangled; it veiled her as she buried her face in the carpet. I heard the sobbing, the ugly, pained, despairing crying and screaming, and I realised that it was coming from me.

  My mother was holding onto me, holding me up as she forced me to drink from a steaming mug filled with pungent, pale, translucent liquid.  I swallowed with difficulty, the liquid burning my tired throat as I felt my swollen eyelids grow heavy. She helped me to my feet, and my knees gave way as she helped me over to the bed; the last thing I remember is the quilt being put back on the bed, cocooning me in softness and warmth as I closed my eyes.

  I dreamed such dreams…

  I dreamed of Terry, and I remembered, I remembered what happened four years ago. I remembered lying on the sofa in agony, feeling as though I would throw up at any minute; the room was spinning before my eyes, and just looking around was making me feel incredibly dizzy.  I closed my eyes, and tried to think.  I knew that I couldn’t stay, that I must leave, I might have survived this time, but I didn’t want to hang around and wait for him to finish the job.  I was frightened of him, but I was even more frightened of him killing me.

  I don’t know how I made it to the telephone, but I did.  It was painful to move, I had searing pain all down my neck and my back, and my ribs felt as though they were on fire.  On top of this were the dizziness and the mother of all headaches; I didn’t notice the pain in my wrist and face until later.  I reached the phone on my hands and knees and tried, as I dialled, to remember by mothers work number.

  The look on her face when she saw me is forever etched in my memory; she was absolutely horrified, and for the first time in my life, she had nothing to say.  After a moment or two of shocked staring, she reached out to me and tried to hug me to her, but I cried out in pain, and she had to let go of me.  Then she was crying, and I was crying because she was crying (she never cries) and somehow, in the midst of it all, I managed to tell her that I wanted to come home.

  She was sat by my bed when I woke up, and as I slowly and painfully blinked my sore eyes, and slowly moved my muggy seeming head from side to side, she brushed my hair out of my face with her fingers, “Do you want a drink?” she asked when I was still, “or anything to eat?”

  I shook my head, my eyelids were heavy still, and it was a struggle to stay awake, “I let you down,” I whispered, thickly, my tongue felt heavy and strange in my mouth, “I’m sorry.”

  She took hold of my hand, “There’s nothing to be sorry about,” there was an uneasy pause before she added, “I still care about you, Maggie,”

  “I know,” I said.

  “But I can’t put my life on hold for you, not anymore.”

  I nodded wearily, “He’s good for you.”

  She smiled tearfully, “And so are you,” she got up to leave.

  When I closed my eyes, I was back in the past again, back to four years ago.  For the first three months after I left hospital, I was paralysed by my depression, and the longer I stayed in bed, the harder it was to get up.  I felt numb; completely passive in my inactivity.  As time went on, this changed, and one minute I was crying, the next I was thumping the wall in anger and frustration.  I didn’t even know why I was crying, or why I was angry.

  My mother, seeing that I wasn’t safe to be left alone, put her career on hold for six months to look after me.  This worried me, and I spent long hours telling her so, but she would just tell me to stop thinking about it and concentrate on getting well again, “I’ll be fine”, she said.  I realised later that she felt guilty about not guessing what was going on, and that she wished she could have intervened sooner.  She was fretting as much as I was, but for different reasons.

  Whilst I was lying there, she unpacked my belongings and put them away.  Over the weeks and months, she brought me food and drink, which I usually refused, and read to me.  She decorated the room, hung new curtains, and put up pictures.  One day, she came into my room after a long session rooting about in the loft, looking very pleased with herself, “Look what I’ve found,” she said, unrolling the tube of paper she had been carrying; it was her Siouxsie poster, it had been hidden away for years with all her punk stuff.  I watched with a degree of interest as she pinned it to the wall facing my bed and every day, for months afterwards, I would stare across the room at Siouxsie and lock eyes with her black rimmed eyes; she didn’t communicate anything, being a poster, but there was something reassuring about her presence all the same.

  I still have that poster, I took it with me when I moved in with Fliss and, if I look up, I can see her staring out at me across the room.  I still find it comforting.

  The scene shifted, and Fliss was marrying a young, shy looking and awkward seeming, mousy haired girl.  It was spring, and the weather was fresh and scented with the roses from her bouquet.  The light breeze ruffled the lace and chiffon layers of her dress as it blew her long gold hair across her face in fine strands, her blue eyes shone with happiness as people began to throw confetti, rice, and rose petals, then, the image changed.  They were inside now, a hall of some kind, everyone was seated at tables and Fliss was seated next to her mousy partner.  A hand was extended to her, it held an L.P, and I read the name on the cover: Titanium Rose. Fliss’ eyes glistened with tears as she took hold of it, and she looked up into the face of the giver.  It was Nat, but an older, greyer, more haggard Nat that I had ever seen; Fliss seemed no older than eighteen, but Nat looked over sixty.

  The scene shifted again, and I was kissing Fergus up against a tree in a field, it was summer, and the grass was dry and yellow, tickling my bare legs.  Our kisses became longer and more passionate, and the grass caught fire and burned quickly, climbing higher and higher, it didn’t hurt, even as it burnt us alive.

  He was holding my hand as he sat by my bed, his cold, wary fingers stroked my face as he said, “I love you, but… I can’t cope with you when you’re like this.”

  I tried to speak, but no sound emerged.  He stood up to leave, “Please” I whispered, “please…” but I couldn’t finish, I was weighed down, held in place by invisible restraints, “please…” I wanted to tell him I loved him, I wanted to ask him to stay, but he couldn’t hear me, he kept on walking, he was gone.

  Fliss and Flora have been here, and I sense a distance between us; they seem wary of me, frightened of me, of what I might do.  They won’t get too close, or stay long.

  When I closed my eyes again, I was a freedom fighter in a decaying concrete land in which buildings fell every day like so much grey dust.  I fought for peace and justice, justice for the victims of war, and all shunned me, even those I chose to help.  I was diseased, and disease is always contagious, I wore a mask so that no one would have to look at me.  One day, after a fierce days fighting, I used my scarred, rough hands to pull away rubble and free survivors and was joined by a masked soldier who worked at my side.  Normally they don’t like to get so close to me; I see things, I can foretell, I can see the past also, and I spend long months in blackness.  I am scarred; I am unclean, diseased, feared.  The soldier didn’t mind.  We worked all through the night, and as the day broke we staggered past the barricades and shell holes, along the dusty road in search of sustenance.  Roadside café’s would not serve me, but they served the soldier, and we took our leave.  As we unmasked to eat further down the road, I recognised the blonde streaked hair and deep blue eyes of my companion as she turned to face me: Nat.

  As I looked into her eyes, I was thrown back in time once more, to four years ago.  It was during my third month in bed that Nat visited me; she came back from London, where she was working as a P.R, especially.  I think my mum phoned her and asked her to come because, by then, she was so worried that I think she’d try anything.  I wouldn’t get out of bed, even for Nat, so she said, “O.K, I’ll get in then,” and she pulled back the covers and climbed in next to me.  We lay there, side by side, she in her designer clothes, with her immaculate hair and make-up, me in my sweaty nightshirt, and we talked.  She asked me to tell her what had happened, and I did so with little hesitation, Nat was my best friend still then, and I didn’t leave anything out.  Maybe that was wrong, maybe I should have spared her some of the details, but we’d always been honest with each other, and honest always felt like the right thing to be.  I was crying as I told her, and she put her arms around me and stroked my hair.  She told me not to worry, that everything would be alright, and even though I didn’t believe her, I let her comfort me, and she let me cry all over her new expensive clothes.

  I head felt less muggy when I next awoke. Nat was sitting next to me on the bed, and as I turned my head and gazed up at her, she gently placed a hand on my forehead and then removed it once more, “I brought your pills,” she explained as she handed me the by now familiar glass of water.  The first pill was an antidepressant, the second a multivitamin, I swallowed both, handed the glass back to Nat, and lay down once more, resting my head in her lap.  She stroked my hair as I said, “I dreamt about you, at least, I think I did.”

  She smiled, “What was I doing?”

  “All sorts of things, you had your baby, then you were old, then we were soldiers and you helped me…”

  “Shhh…” she stroked my face.

   “I remembered last time, I remembered what happened before.”

  “Which bits?”

  I shuddered, “Everything, just, everything.”

  She sighed, pensively “I know Fergus hurt you, but it’s not the same, not the same as it was with Terry.”

  Tears were in my eyes as I said, “I couldn’t make it work with him, Nat, and it was my fault, for not facing up to Terry and what he did.”

  “You took him to court; he got a suspended sentence…”

  “He’d done it before, I should have told them…”

  “You didn’t want to, you said…”

  “I remembered… everything he did.”

  “Fergus wouldn’t hurt you; he wouldn’t do those things to you…”

  “I let him, I let him do it.”

  “No you didn’t.”  There was a pause before she asked, carefully, “Does Fergus know, about Terry?”

  “He thinks Terry raped me”

  Nat frowned, “Terry did rape you”

  “I consented”

  “He had his hands around your neck!” she exclaimed in horror, “He was strangling you!”

  I didn’t say anything, and we lapsed into silence.  After a few minutes had passed, I said, warily, “Nat…”

  “Hhmm?”

  “Did you fall down the stairs on New Years Eve, or did you throw yourself down the stairs?”

  There was a very long silence, before she said, rather tensely, “I was drunk; I fell.”

  “I don’t believe you.” I said, quietly.

  She shrugged, “Don’t then,” but she sounded tired, as though she didn’t care if I believed her or not.

  “I wouldn’t hate you for admitting it,” I said, quietly.

  Her mouth twisted into a bitter smile, “You would be the only one who wouldn’t…”

  “That’s because I’m mad.”

  She shook her head tiredly, “You aren’t mad; sometimes I think you just live by a different set of rules to the rest of us, a different set of standards…” She looked at her watch, “I need to get going.”  I sat up, and she got to her feet, leaving me to lie back down again.  I turned so that I was lying on my side, my back to her as I pulled my knees in close to my chest and tried not to think.  She kissed me on the cheek, and said, “Don’t worry about Fergus.”

  “He’s left me, hasn’t he?” I said softly.  She didn’t answer.  “It’s O.K, I know he has.”

  “I’m so sorry Maggie,” it all came out in a rush of words, “I tried to talk to him, so did your mum, but he wouldn’t listen.”

  “He was scared,” I murmured.

  “Yes, I think he was.”

  It would have been about two days later when I finally found the motivation to get out of bed.  My legs threatened to give way several times as I walked over to the mirror, which my mother had covered with a dust sheet because, after I had been discharged from hospital, I had told her that I didn’t want to see myself ever again.  It took a long time to remove the dustsheet because my knees kept wobbling, and I had to keep sitting down until it passed, but eventually the sheet was off and I was able to see the worst.

  After so long in bed, my skin was greasy and pasty, my hair was lank because it hadn’t been washed, and I was emaciated with muscle wastage and self-starvation.  When I looked at my face in the mirror, it didn’t look like my face; the eyes were blank and expressionless, and there was just nothing there: it was like my soul had died.  But maybe, I thought as I looked at myself, maybe it hasn’t died, maybe it’s just gone into a long sleep.  Maybe I can get it back.

  I had a shower and got dressed.  It all took a long time because I was very shaky still and kept getting dizzy and having to cling to things.  I got myself some soup and toast, and sat down on the sofa in the living room to eat it all.  As I placed my tray of food down on the table, I espied some lyrics, or poetry, in Fliss’ handwriting.  Curious, I read:

            It’s in the pain on the dance floor

            In the hopeless tears in the toilets

            There is numbness in the air

            A kind of angst and nihilism

            A sort of quiet despair

            She has broken down

            She has shut down

Uneasily, I shifted my attention to the papers surrounding Fliss’ words; these were press cuttings and press releases, and I didn’t want to read them, but I felt I had to.

  I went back to bed after I had read and eaten – I still tired easily – and I wanted to be alone for a while to think about what I’d read.  Certain phrases stuck in my mind like a fishbone in my throat: “Nervous breakdown”, “history of manic depression”, “self-harmer”, “self-abuser”, “eating disorder”, “neurotic”, “sick”, “mental illness”, “attention seeking”, “victim.”  The last one echoed unbearably, “Victim, victim, victim…” be a victim, be a poster child for a cause, an illness, a way of life, be a troubled soul, with a romantic cause, be a victim, be crazy, out of control, troubled, mad, insane, schizophrenic, dangerous, unhinged, unsafe… Alone.  Be a victim, be a label.

  Later, lying in the dark, I overheard a row between Fliss and Flora concerning the lyrics and cuttings Fliss had so carelessly left on the table, “Don’t you see!” yelled Flora, “you could send her straight back to bed, and straight back to being so horribly ill!”

  I didn’t hear Fliss’ response, but I knew that Flora had got it wrong.  If anything, those lyrics, those hastily, thoughtlessly written press cuttings, the apologetic press releases, had made me feel that there were some things worth fighting for.

Chapter Forty Six: My Funny Valentine (Part One)

The only sound in the room was the clinking of knives and forks against our plates as we ate.  I stared at my plate as I shifted the food around absentmindedly and drifted off into my thoughts.  Yesterday was Valentines Day, but I have received no card, no flowers… nothing.  For a few moments I felt sad about it; then anger took over.  It’s over, so why do I expect him to send me flowers?

  “Maggie,” my mother’s voice gently interrupted my thoughts, “you’re not eating; is something wrong?”

  I looked up from my plate as I muttered “I’m not very hungry.”

  “Did you eat before you came out?” she raised her eyebrows as she locked eyes with me.  Her expression said everything.  “At least eat the vegetables.”

  My arm felt hot and sore as I speared my carrots with my fork and mechanically shovelled them into my mouth. I chewed without tasting and then swallowed the greasy mush.  When she stopped watching me, I surreptitiously ran my fingers down the length of my left arm from elbow to wrist.  I could feel the heat from the two-day-old wound, even through the loose cotton of my sleeves.  It made me nervous.

  To take my mind off the small quantities of vegetables I was swallowing, I thought about Titanium Rose.  Our album has gone off to be mixed, and we are shooting two videos next week, plus there will be a photo shoot in Manchester.  I felt tired just thinking about it.

  I didn’t realise just how light-headed I was feeling until I stood up. The sickening dizziness made my head buzz as I swayed and grabbed, blindly, for the edge of the table.  Tired, so tired… somebody caught me as I fell.

  When I came to, I was lying on the sofa.  It was a new sofa I realised as I gazed blearily around me, then, I noticed Thomas; he was sitting in one of the matching armchairs opposite me, “Are you alright?” he asked as I slowly sat up, the dizziness had disappeared but I was so tired my bones ached.  I shivered as I sagged back against the sofa, “Would you like a drink?” I heard him ask as I closed my eyes again.

  “No,” I murmured, “thank you,” it was such a struggle to fight off sleep that, after a while I stopped trying.  I dreamed almost immediately, or so it felt to me, I dreamed that I was watching Titanium Rose perform.  I was in a crowd at a big arena, and the air was heavy with sweat and smoke, the excited screams of the audience rang in my ears, bodies were crammed up against each other, and the stage was metres, not feet, away from the ground.  I saw Fliss, she was wearing a white sequinned mini dress, Katy was in leather, Flora in velvet, but when I turned my attention to the drummer, I didn’t see myself… instead I saw a pale, angular girl, who smiled sardonically at me as she pounded my drum kit with patterns I had written… Amber.  The dream shifted, and this time I was lying on white sheets on a narrow bed, in a narrow, white room, shackled, I turned my head to my left, and saw… Nat, but it wasn’t the Nat I knew, as she moved, I saw the lost look in her dark blue eyes, just as certainly as I saw the toddler on her lap.  I was seeing Dylan’s Nat, I realised, an alternative and disconcerting vision of what might have been if Nat had made different choices.  It was as though I had said it out loud, for the vision lifted the child to the ground and took hold of its hand. It got to its feet, and said, “I made my choice, it’s time to make yours,” and I gazed around me at the white walls… the white, padded, walls, “High security,” reported the voice, “when you lose it, girl, you certainly know how to do it in style.”  I felt the creatures hand on my forehead, cooling my brow, testing my temperature, and I heard my mother saying, quietly, “I wish that she would talk to me.”

  “Maybe it would be easier” said a man’s voice, Thomas, “if I wasn’t here.”

  “No,” I could hear the tiredness in her voice, the weary worry, “I don’t think so; I don’t think it makes a difference anymore.”

  I could sense her eyes on me still as we made tea in the kitchen later, and as I stood by the kettle, waiting for the water to boil, I heard her say, “You’re looking very pale lately,” there was a note of caution in her voice, as though she wasn’t sure how I would respond.

  “I was always pale,” I murmured.

  Her voice grew more confident, “And you’ve been sleeping badly, I can tell.”

  “Yes.”

  An awkward silence descended, and was only broken when the kettle began to boil.  I reached up with both hands to pick three mugs off the shelf that was level with my head, and as I did so, the sleeves of my top slid down my arms, revealing a series of pink and red wounds and scars which contrasted angrily with the white, blue tinged flesh of my arms. I quickly set the mugs down on the counter and hurriedly smoothed my sleeves back into place, but it was too late.

  I felt the pressure of her fingers on my right wrist as she grabbed hold of me, she slid back the sleeve in silence, and I made myself look at her face; then wished I hadn’t.  Her face was a mask of shock and pain as she asked, quietly and tensely, “Is it just your arms?”

  I nodded.

  She let go of my arm, and I re-arranged the sleeve once more, “Explain to me,” she said in a voice tense with anger, “tell me why, why you’re doing this to yourself again”

  “It’s the only thing that works,” I muttered dully.

  “Works” If she had been angry before, she was furious now, “how can you say it works? Have you seen yourself in the mirror lately?”

  It was like a stab to the heart, not because I care what I look like, because I really don’t, but because she was saying that I couldn’t cope.  A kind of nervous energy pushed me on, and I could sense my hands shaking as I snapped defensively, “It works for me! You have no idea what it’s like living with this!”

  “Yes I do,” she said sharply, “and you need help”

  “I’m managing! I’m coping!”

  “No, you’re not,” she was struggling to rein in her temper, “I can tell just by looking at you that you’re not coping; you’re not eating, not sleeping, you’re hurting yourself…”

  “I DON’T HAVE A CHOICE!” I screamed.

  “YOU CAN’T FUNCTION LIKE THIS!” she yelled, “YOU’RE ONLY MAKING THINGS WORSE!”

  I couldn’t stand it any longer, I could feel the pressure mounting up inside me as the pain came flooding back, more, harder, more overwhelming than ever, I stepped outside myself once more, and watched as the stranger that was me stormed out of the back door and strode towards the front of the house, footsteps followed her, speeding up as she increased her pace, and I heard what she couldn’t hear: My mother as she screamed after that tall, retreating form, “I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!” she was screaming, but nothing registered, nothing was heard as the stranger that was me carried on striding forwards, she screamed again, “I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!, D’YOU HEAR ME? I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!”

  I found myself at the bus stop without my coat, my bag, or my money, shivery and nervous in the chilly February air.  Sheer anger and adrenalin appeared to have gotten me that far, but they were rapidly disappearing, leaving only nervous energy and an ever increasing sense of fear. I wasn’t myself, and I could see myself for what I was: frightened, young, and no longer in control of myself, or my actions, I felt my throat close up as I began to hyperventilate, and I clung to the bus shelter until I was able to control my breathing once more.  I wanted to scratch my arms, to re-open some of the angry wounds, or to cut myself afresh, but all I had with me was my bus ticket, my keys, and an eyeliner pencil, all in the pocket of my jeans.  The jeans had been skin-tight when I bought them, about four months ago, now they hung loosely from my hips as I reached into my pocket as the bus approached the stop.

  I felt the tiredness return as I sat down, but the pressure in my head was lessoning at least, my hands were shaking still, I realised, and the anxiety increased as I looked around me, people were openly staring at me, and the realisation made me worse, I tried not to make eye contact with anybody, and concentrated on trying to stop my hands from shaking.  The bus was already travelling through Stockport town centre by the time I achieved this, so I knew that I didn’t have long to decide, “I made my choice, now it’s time to make yours”, all I knew was that I didn’t want to be scared any longer.  I reached into my pocket and withdrew my eyeliner pencil; it was blunt and soft, crayon like in it’s consistency as I wrote on the back of my ticket three simple words:

I NEED YOU

I got off the bus at an earlier stop than usual, and turned down a road that I wouldn’t normally use.  Before too long, I was on a road that I recognised, and outside a house, a door that I knew almost as well as my own.  I knocked, timidly, and then tipped open the letterbox, letting the ticket flutter through the gap to the floor below, like a frail, white moth.  Would he see it? I hoped so.

  I am writing this on the stairs, from here I can see our front door, and I will see him if he comes.  I am very cold, very nervous, what if he doesn’t come? What if he’s met someone else? What if he no longer loves me? What if he despises me? I don’t think I could face that, don’t think I could deal with that, not now, where is he? Where is he? Where is he? Oh, where is he?