Chapter Fifty Three: The Poster Girl For Fucked Up Rock’N’Roll Girldom

Titanium Rose, Angel Oil tour, 7th-21st September, 2004 – SELECTED PRESS CUTTINGS…

“It Isn’t Easy Being This Tough…

Katy Heathley sits, glowering, as only she can, in a dark corner of her local.  As she spots us entering the pub, her expression lifts a little, and she forces herself to smile.  It’s a brief smile, rather like a passing glimpse of the sun just before it disappears behind the clouds once more, but it reveals that there is a heart beating behind the scarily determined work ethic.  “You’re late,” she informs us as we sit down.  It is not a great start.

  At 21, Titanium Rose’s taciturn, occasionally volatile guitarist and chief songwriter has moved centre stage to become the rock in a band who all so often seem to be on the verge of being torn apart by personal demons.  “It’s not easy,” she confesses wryly, as she tucks a strand of short black hair behind her ear, “At times, I do feel as though I’m the one making all the effort, certainly it’s felt like that a lot over these last twelve months or so.”  She freely admits that she and drummer Maggie Davis (who is set to make her return to the live stage at the bands Manchester gig on 7th September) have an antagonistic relationship at best, “It made such a difference having Andrea in the band,” she sighs, going on to refer to the Girls From Mars’ drummer as a “genius.”  “I’d reached a stalemate with Maggie; we couldn’t work together at all, even before all the anorexia and self-destructive behaviour I frequently found her impossible, and I know that Flora was getting fed up with her when we recorded the album.”

  As well as writing nine of the twelve songs on ‘Angel Oil’, Katy also co-produced the album, alongside Sean Cooke, who produced The Girls From Mars’ acclaimed debut.  With his encouragement, (“She has absolutely no problem at all creating her own authority, there’s a toughness there, you know not to push her too hard ‘cos you know just how far she’ll let you push it: Very few women can pull that off.”) she has worked with a number of bands this year, including Shanti Nair’s The Flirts, whose third single, ‘Witch Girl’, she produced, “The Flirts are nice to work with,” she admits, “Shanti’s a great guitarist, and they do what I tell them!”

(Dafydd Williams, City Life, 1st September 2004.)

 

“Strange reports are filtering through to NME from the Molotov Cocktail camp concerning the behaviour of our favourite ‘troubled’ drummer, Maggie Davis.  This latter day Ophelia may be refusing to give interviews these days, but apparently she isn’t averse to showing off the many scars and lacerations that her anorexic body has been subjected to, “like a child with a new toy,” as one eyewitness put it.  “I don’t have a problem with her,” said drummer Dave Treacy, “but she’s fucking anti-social, and we’d all feel better if she cheered up.”

(NME, 15th September 2004)

Not Such An English Rose

Eighteen months ago, Fliss Keale was the supporting player in a celebrity sex scandal that gripped the nation.  In the course of those mad few months, she lost her job, her girlfriend, and the trust of her family, whilst gaining a tattoo, “several notebooks worth of lyrics,” and the kind of wisdom that can only be gained through bitter experience.  She was only seventeen years old.  Fast forward to the present day, and she is hard at work touring the U.K with her band, Titanium Rose, quietly writing songs, whilst gradually putting the past behind her.  “I might be ready to fall in love again,” she tells Raymond Crosby.

  She stands on the steps of the tourbus, her honey-blonde hair worn high in a ponytail, her soft blue eyes hidden behind a pair of heart shaped rose tinted sunglasses.  Her red shirt is tight, and clings at the chest, whilst her white skirt reaches to just above her knees.  Her tiny feet are slipping in and out of a pair of dainty white sandals, which appear to have been patterned with cherries.  She has the fresh-faced innocence of a twelve-year-old schoolgirl and the sophistication of the young Vanessa Paradis, and in the next twelve months it’s predicted that her name and face will, once more, be everywhere: But for all the right reasons this time.

(The Guardian, 30th September 2004.)

“SHOW US YER SCARS!” yelled some heckler in the audience at Oxford, “FUCK OFF!” I snarled as I shoved my way back through the crowd to the dressing room.  I was fed up with it all, I decided as the door slammed behind me; I could take the ‘mad’ drummer comments, the knowing smirks and whispered conversations, but I was getting seriously hacked off with the anorexic self-harmer shit.  What made it worse was that absolutely no one understood how I felt.  I was beginning to miss Nat I realised as I looked around the overcrowded dressing room, she would understand, and besides, she knew how to make me laugh, how to make me ‘Cheer up’…

  The London date of our tour went well; it was the last night, and Molotov Cocktail spent the day gearing up for a session in rehab: I’m amazed they could stand up by eight o’clock, let alone play.  London audiences tend to resist us very well as a rule, but there were a lot of Molotov Cocktail fans there, plus some of our fans have been following the whole tour and were there to give us some support; included in their ranks, I was pleased to note, were Angel and the Razorblades.  Katy was riding high on our album review in ‘NME’, so she was on good form, and as such, the rest of us were able to relax.  Most of them went onto a club afterwards, but Fliss wanted to go back to the hotel to rest her voice, and Emily (who has been doing the sound on this tour) and I decided to join her.

  As we walked along the brightly lit, still crowded, warm streets, we ran into Fergus and the girl we’d seen him with at the Manchester gig; Fay, the girl he had told us was his sister.  They had both been at the gig, it transpired, and had really enjoyed it.  I paid close attention to her as the five of us walked back to the hotel; she and I walked together, with Fliss and Emily up front, and Fergus behind.  I didn’t want to talk to her, but she was evidently keen to talk to me, and I found her voice to be soft, with an accent that was like his, only broader.  They didn’t look alike, but her gaze was every bit as fierce as his, except that this time it wasn’t a sexually questioning gaze, but a soul searching one: She was weighing me up, seeing if I was worthy of him.

  Once we reached the hotel, Fay went into the bar, leaving Fliss, Emily, Fergus and I to climb the stairs.  I had thought that Fergus had come back to talk to Emily, but when she and Fliss turned right for Emily’s and Jenny’s room, he didn’t follow them.  Instead, he followed me in silence to the room that I was to share with Fliss, and waited patiently as I unlocked the door.  I wasn’t surprised to hear him follow me in, and as he closed the door behind him, I asked, “What do you want?”

  “Oh,” his voice was light and careless as he ran his fingers across the dark pine of the door, but he wouldn’t look at me, “I just thought I’d watch you show off the bloody scars like a child with a new toy.”  I could feel the anger rising up inside as he continued, “That’s what it said, isn’t it?” He was carrying the previous weeks ‘NME’, and at last turned to look at me, “Long sleeves and jeans today I see, despite the heat.”

  “If you’ve come here to yell at me, you’re too late,” I snapped, “everyone else already has.”

  “Was it a sudden compulsion to show off? Or do you do it for anyone who asks, like a party trick?”

  “Get out.” I hissed.

  He didn’t get out; instead he walked over to the kettle on top of the sideboard and calmly filled it with water from the tap. 

  “I was asked to show someone my scars,” I stated, simply, my voice shaking with rage, “I didn’t know she was a journalist, and I couldn’t think of a reason not to.  Next time, I’ll have plenty of reasons why not, none the least being stuck up as the poster girl for fucked up rock’n’roll girldom!”

  Minutes passed.  He didn’t say anything, and I watched as he poured out two cups of tea.  He passed one to me without looking at me, then took his own over to the window, where he gazed out into the London night.

  “If you despise me so much,” I said at last, “why are you here?”

  He didn’t look away from the window, “I don’t despise you,” he said, quietly.

  “Well,” I set the empty cup down by the sink, “I’m too tired to play games tonight,” I walked back over to my bed and picked up my nightshirt, “I’m getting ready for bed,” I announced as I made my way into the en suite bathroom.

  It didn’t take me long to get changed, but I took my time over it all the same, I needed time to think; next door was a man who I still loved, but who, I was increasingly convinced, neither loved or cared about me anymore.  Why was he here? And, more to the point, how could I persuade him to leave before he hurt me even more than he already had?  Being selfish, it never really occurred to me to consider the amount of pain that I had caused him in turn.

  He was still standing by the window when I emerged, but he turned around at the sound of the bathroom door closing, and watched as I walked over to the bed and sat down.  Slowly, he walked over to me, then he crouched down in front of me and took hold of my hands, there was an agonising few moments before he leant forward and kissed me, lightly and slowly, “I’m sorry,” he murmured, “I treated you badly, and… well, I’m sorry.”  He made to get up, but I took hold of his hand.  He gazed at me intently, his eyes still solemn, so grave and serious, “Seeing you here tonight, like this, it’s… odd, it reminds me of the first tour we did together, you got up one morning without putting your make-up on, you looked so pretty and young, and yet old at the same time.”  He got to his feet, wincing slightly as he did so, and then walked out of the room without another word.

  I was still trying to process what had just happened when Fliss returned.  She was flushed, and she seemed to be more alert than I’ve seen her for months.  “I have to talk to you,” she said in a quiet, strained, excited voice.  I knew that I couldn’t talk to her then, so I forced myself to smile, before asking, with false brightness, “What is it?” She exhaled noisily, before saying huskily, “I think I’m in love with Emily.”

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Chapter Fifty Two: The Exile Returns

Time has been running away with me these last few weeks.  I had become accustomed to the way that the summer-autumn days dragged greyly by, one after another, repetitively and meaninglessly, and had given little thought or care for the future, yet all that has changed now: The future has caught up with me.

  I think that I first became aware of it the morning after I saw Fergus and his girlfriend at the restaurant.  No sooner did I stop crying, it seems, than I was back at The Twilight, rehearsing songs with Titanium Rose, and concentrating so hard on them that I barely noticed the days passing as they lead, inevitably, to tonight, and to the dense, smoky, grimy familiar gloom of The Gates.

  The enormity of the task ahead seemed to dawn on me as I waited at the side of the stage with Fliss, Flora and Katy, and I went weak at the knees.  None of us spoke as the heavy bass of Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take Me Out’ faded and was replaced by the less insistent thud of Bananarama’s ‘Cruel Summer.’ (Fliss’ choice)  I took a few tentative steps away from the warm, close darkness of what is laughingly referred to as the “backstage area,” and warily stepped out into the light.

  I could hear Flora, a few steps behind me, as I skirted around the edge of the stage towards my drums, and as I moved, a light as white and bright as titanium in the flame seared my eyes, so that I stopped moving and, blinded, turned towards the crowd.  As my eyes adjusted to the light, I began to notice the noise for the first time.  They were cheering, and whistling, and screaming… wildly and shrilly, so that no one voice was distinct, it was all one sound, one incredible, loud, sound.  When I looked around the stage, I saw that Fliss had yet to make her entrance, and I turned back to the crowd feeling puzzled.  “YOU!” mouthed Flora, from across the stage, “THEY’RE CHEERING FOR YOU!”  My heart began to beat a little faster, and I blushed, partly from embarrassment, partly from confusion.  I was shocked, but also very touched by the fuss that they were making, for I’d never really thought of my role within the band as being anything other than a support role.  Even so, it appears that, over the years, people have noticed me, and that, despite everything, they seem to quite like me, which is all rather puzzling really… why would they like me? Why would they think anything of me at all?  Eventually, the light drifted off me as Fliss and Katy came into view, and I walked over to my drums and sat down, my heart thudding in my chest as I picked up my sticks.

  When I began our first song, ‘Your Face’, a fast, hectic, punk pop anthem-to-be, I felt the old adrenalin surge through me.  I felt more alert than I had done for months, more alive, and… happy, and I knew that it wasn’t the drugs, that it was real happiness. When I looked up at the crowd a few minutes later, my heart began to pound again, but with joy this time; Mum was there, as was Nat. The Girls From Mars had also come, and most of them were stood next to Shahina, our promoter, who in turn was surrounded by various members of Angel and the Razorblades and Dew.

  It was with mixed feelings that I spotted Fergus. He was with a woman, I couldn’t help but notice, but she appeared to be younger than the one that I had seen him with at work that night.  This one was petite in build, with short, dark hair.  She must have sensed that I was watching her for she suddenly jerked her head as though alerted to something, and our eyes met, and locked, for a few moments.  I looked away with mixed feelings.

  The rest of the set went well, and towards the end of ‘Be My Girl’, I noticed a young, mousy, scruffy looking girl in the sound booth swap places with an equally young, but altogether more sophisticated seeming, dark haired girl.  I couldn’t recall having seen either of them before, so they must have come with Shahina when she became the new promoter.

  I forced myself to join the crowd once our set was finished, and was immediately pounced on by Nat, along with The Girls From Mars, all of whom were very kind.  I grew embarrassed all over again as they praised our set, and my playing, and it was a relief when they changed topics.  The heavy smoke filled air turned blue as Moyra and Violet began to regale us with stories of their U.S and European tours, and Violet confirmed for us the established underground rumour that she’d been sleeping with Shanti Nair, guitarist in the Girls From Mars’ support band, The Flirts.

  Nat smirked, sleepily, upon discovering this.  Her eyes were half closed, like a cat, as she dragged, smugly, on her cigarette. 

  “Anyway,” said Violet, liltingly, as she focused her attention on Nat, “I’ve been hearing some pretty choice gossip about you lately,”

  “Which bit would that be?” enquired Nat, sweetly.

  “About you being shacked up with Amber.”

  I saw Nat tense, and could only presume that Violet hadn’t heard the full story.  I blushed as I remembered exactly what the full story was… “I need to go and change,” I murmured, quickly excusing myself.

  It was as I was hopping about in one of the grimy, vomit stained toilet cubicles a few minutes later, changing out of my damp and stained stage clothes, that I realised how drunk Nat was.  There was a loud crash, followed by a stream of mangled guitar notes, which ebbed again as the door to the toilets slammed shut once more.  “You couldn’t have loved him, lovely,” soothed Violet, “not if Amber got you into bed so quickly afterwards.”

  I heard sobbing: the noisy, histrionic, slightly hysterical sobbing that comes when emotions, or alcohol, overtake everyday restraints.

  “I knew you were sexually attracted,” continued Violet, earnestly, “but it wasn’t any reason to marry him.”

  “He was my Fabrice!” wailed Nat, her voice wobbling, “I honestly thought that, but then he wasn’t… he was Anthony Kroesig all over again.”

  Violet seemed to sigh, heavily, “Then Amber came along and you mistook her for Christian Talbot?”

  If Nat issued any kind of reply to this cryptic remark, I missed it as I hurried to pull on my boots.

  “Nat,” Violet’s tone was wearily kind, albeit a little exasperated, “You are not Linda Radlett!”

  They had left by the time I emerged, and as the door closed behind me, I was able to make out Fliss, striding across the beer stained black floor from the stage towards me.  Her voice contained an uncharacteristically angry note, as she said, “Katy wants you to pack up your kit.”

  “Now?” we may have been the last band on, but the dark haired girl in the sound booth was happily playing lazy, summery guitar records, and the night was still young.

  “Yeah,” she was sullen, and the expression on her face suggested that any further discussion would be futile.  I shrugged, and then made my way over to the stage.

  The young scruffy mouse of a girl from the sound booth was on hand to assist Fliss and me, and we dismantled the kit in no time at all.  Katy waltzed past the crowd of half-hearted dancers without offering to help or even acknowledge us.  A crowd of fans, journalists, and photographers were buzzing around her, and I observed the scene dispassionately; she was quick to turn on the charm for them, I noticed.

  We carried the drums one by one up the dimly lit staircase, and outside to Katy’s car, and I took the opportunity to ask Fliss about the two girls who I had seen earlier in the sound booth.

  “The dark haired girl is Sabine,” sighed Fliss as she helped me lift the bass drum into the boot, “She’s a DJ who sometimes does the Juvenile Hell Girl Night’s.  The other girl is Emily, she’s a student, she does the sound whenever she can, and she does work experience at Twilight – Fergus looks after her, she wants to be a sound engineer, or so I’ve heard.”  She paused, and her expression became wistful as she remarked, almost to herself, “Sabine’s pretty, isn’t she?”

  I nodded, “Very.”

  She sighed, and then shrugged to herself as she gazed at a puddle in the road, “Oh well…” her expression was coy as she watched a petrol swirl turn the grey water rainbow colours.

  As we made our way back down the stairs, we crossed paths with Fergus and his lady friend, who were heading in the opposite direction.  I felt my hackles rise as we nodded to each other, and I was prepared for things to be awkward, if not actually unpleasant, but he seemed friendly enough.  As he complimented us on the show, my eyes strayed to his hands, and I noticed that he wasn’t clasping hers.  She stood a little away from him, watching… His voice interrupted my thoughts, “This is my sister, Fay” he gestured to her and I nodded cautiously in her direction; I was discomforted to discover that her dark eyes were even more penetrating up close than at a distance.  She is slight, like him, but her hair and eyes are a darker brown, and she has the same pale, milky coloured skin as I have.  Where he is tall, she is short, and there was nothing in her manner to suggest that she was related to him.  If only I could have heard her speak, maybe then I could have believed him.

  As we re-entered the post gig party, we could see Emily, Fergus’ protégée, up on stage, packing up.  Fliss joined her, and I returned to the bar, where I found Jenny deep in conversation with my mother.  Liberty Belle was darting about, taking pictures of the crowd, and Fliss and Emily paused to pose for her, only to be shouted at by Katy as she passed by with her trail of disciples, “TODAY, FLISS, TODAY!”

  Fliss quickly darted away from Emily, and back to the guitar leads, and I began to assist, “When did Katy get so bossy?” I asked as I moved the three guitar cases offstage.

  “About three months ago,” muttered Flora as she joined us.

  “What do you say to another hot chocolate and video fest?” I asked Fliss hopefully, but she shook her head, “Sorry, work tomorrow,” she ran off the stage with the leads in her hands, and I picked up the first guitar and slowly followed, feeling puzzled and a little hurt by her abruptness.

4.48 Psychosis

I had intended to do a post looking at Sarah Kane’s play 4.48 Psychosis. I was going to try to explain it to people, and then try to explain why it had such an impact on me, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this would be a bit pointless. Kane’s work is not easy to assess and analyse: everyone will read it differently, and I really don’t think that she would have wanted her work to be reduced to simplistic summaries.

Having said that, I will explain a little about how I encountered her and her work, and why 4.48 Psychosis had such an impact on me personally.

I did an English degree at Manchester Metropolitan University between 2001 and 2004. The very last text I studied before taking my finals was 4.48 Psychosis, and the studying of it happened to coincide with the initial drafts of chapters 46, 47, and 48 – a trio of chapters I’ve always thought of as ‘The Nervous Breakdown Chapters’. Given that 4.48 Psychosis is also about mental illness, the coincidence of the two things was rather unnerving to say the least.

Kane apparently took inspiration from Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ and C.S Lewis’ ‘The Silver Chair’ in writing the play, which – when read rather than performed – comes across more as a stream of consciousness piece than actual theatre. Much has been made of the fact that Kane killed herself prior to it’s theatrical debut in 2000, and this fact, and the subject of mental illness, resulted in a number of critics viewing the play purely as an extended suicide note. This was not how I read it: I read it as a very honest account of the mental processes of, the treatment of, and societies reactions to mental illness and mental health patients. I also saw it as a searing critique of mental health services in Britain in the late 1990’s.

Rather than try to analyse the play further, I shall type in an extract of it. If Kane’s estate object to me doing this I will, of course, take it down:

It wasn’t for long, I wasn’t there long. But drinking bitter black coffee I catch that medicinal smell in a cloud of ancient tobacco and something touches me in that still sobbing place and a wound from two years ago opens like a cadaver and long buried shame roars its foul decaying grief.

 A room of expressionless faces staring blankly at my pain, so devoid of  meaning there must be evil intent.

Dr This and Dr That and Dr Whatsit who’s just passing and thought he’d pop in to take the piss as well. Burning in a hot tunnel of dismay, my humiliation complete as I shake without reason and stumble over words and have nothing to say about my ‘illness’ which anyway only amounts to knowing that there’s no point in anything because I’m going to die. And I am deadlocked by that smooth psychiatric voice of reason which tells me there is an objective reality in which my body and mind are one. But I am not here and never have been. Dr This writes it down and Dr That attempts a sympathetic murmur. Watching me, judging me, smelling the crippling failure oozing from my skin, my desperation clawing and all-consuming panic drenching me as I gape in horror at the world and wonder why everyone is smiling and looking at me with secret knowledge of my aching shame.

Shame shame shame.

Drown in your fucking shame.

Chapter Fifty One: Silver Service

So, back into the world, and back into waitressing; a profession that, if it didn’t welcome me back with open arms, was certainly not surprised by my return to the ranks.  Of course, it’s been very difficult getting work at all.  The politicians may tell us that unemployment is the lowest it’s ever been in decades, but even the most unskilled of office work will only employ staff with a two-year clean bill of health.  Oh, they’ll accept the odd day off with a cold, the occasional virus, the rare bout of flu, but anything long term, anything un-seeable, anything vague and controversial, or, especially, anything mental, and they’ll hire someone else.  Catering is so much more pragmatic: as long as you turn up and do the job, they don’t care.

  I was thinking about this as I walked from the warm, cramped, organised chaos of the kitchen to the restaurant floor.  The coarse yellow linoleum changed to plush red carpet as I made the transition, and my mind turned itself to the business at hand as I began to walk towards my next table.  The man and the woman on table twelve were gazing into each others eyes, and their menus lay, forgotten, in front of them as they caressed each others hands.  I smiled, thinking that if Fliss were here she would enjoy speculating on their circumstances: Were they married? Engaged? About to be engaged? Maybe it was an affair; maybe they were business contacts, discovering that they had a little too much in common… “You watch too much soap opera,” I would tell her at this point, but Fliss never bothered with soap operas, with the exception of ‘The Archers’, which she listened to, religiously, every Sunday morning.  As I was thinking this, the man who had been paying so much attention to his date turned away from her and began to consult the menu, he tucked a stray lock of hair behind his ear, evidently distracted, and at that moment, I noticed who he was.

  From that moment on, it was as though I was watching something unfold from a distance, like I was watching actors playing out a scene on T.V.  This wasn’t my life, things like this only happened in bad melodramas.

  I began to feel a kind of numb despair as I walked towards the table.  I wanted to keep my face blank and expressionless, because anything was better than revealing how I felt.  The society we live in is very good at teaching us how to talk about sex, but it’s not very good at teaching us how to talk about love, so it’s hard for me to write how I felt beyond the numb despair.  I felt hurt, but that doesn’t really cover it, it was so much more painful than simply pain, “May I take your order please?” my voice came out quieter than I had meant it to, and neither of them heard me at first.  I repeated my question, and he jerked his head as though he was startled.  His eyes met mine for a second before I looked down at my notepad and my pen, poised and ready.  His voice was bland and distant as he gave me his order, and I turned to the woman, who ummed and aahed for an eternity.  Three times she changed her starter, twice her main course, and when I read it back to her, it was still wrong.  Of course, it was my fault, the customer is always right.  I discreetly examined her as she made her decision, she was curvy and little, with blonde hair and brown eyes, and she was wearing a low cut dress that revealed an expanse of cleavage.  When she moved, a red satin bra strap slid out from under the dress, it contrasted with her golden tan and expensive seeming jewellery, the dress looked expensive too: A designer woman then, and older than me too, classier than me, more mature, more experienced than me.  As I wrote down her order for the final time, she stared, pointedly, at the long sleeves of my white poly cotton shirt.

  The shirt was something of a sore point; the uniform for this particular restaurant is a black skirt with flesh coloured tights, black shoes, and a white, short sleeved shirt, and I’d known that this would cause problems from the start. I’d tried various ingenious ways of covering my arms whilst still wearing a short sleeved shirt, with mixed success, but eventually I was forced to go out onto the floor with bare arms.  It had caused embarrassment with customers initially, and they had looked away with discomforted expressions, or open disgust, as I placed their food down in front of them, reactions that had only served to make me more self conscious of the problem. I tried to move my arms in such as way that meant that they couldn’t see my scars, but this twice caused me to drop things, and I was forced to give it up.  After a complaint from a customer, my scars and I were now allowed to hide ourselves in long sleeved shirts.

  I returned to the kitchen with my order.  Raisa, a young, spirited waitress with blonde plaits that she wore strapped to her head like a ballet dancer, was venting her spleen about something or other, and I stopped to listen.  It quickly transpired that one of Raisa’s tables comprised of a group of middle aged businessmen who, having taken a shine to her curvaceous figure, had proceeded to pinch and grope her, “FUCKING, FUCKING…” apparently no word could be found that was bad enough, “ANIMALS!!” one of her plaits un-pinned itself and flew down to her shoulder, and she growled out something very rude in Polish as she reached for the pins and clips and set about fixing it.

  “Which table is it?” I asked, casually.

  “Eight,” she snarled through gritted teeth.

  “Swap you for twelve,” I said, I liked Raisa, and aside from the fact that she was teaching me to swear in Polish, she would cope better with Fergus’ finicky girlfriend.

  She got up on her tip toes and, resembling a ballet dancer more than ever, peered through the glass in the door, “O.K,” she agreed, smiling happily as she returned to the fray once more.

  It was after midnight by the time I left.  Behind me, the shutters were being pulled down and locked as I pulled on my P.V.C jacket and then rooted through my bag for my bus ticket.  It was then that I sensed it: In the still darkness of the night, someone was watching me.  I looked up sharply, and began to wonder how best to set about defending myself should they attack.  There was a car parked opposite the restaurant with a man in the front seat, he was smoking a cigarette, and as I began to walk towards the bus stop, I heard the engine start.  Soon, the car had pulled up alongside me, “Can I give you a lift?” he asked.

  I looked straight ahead and carried on walking as I said, “I don’t get into cars with strange men.”

  “Don’t you trust me?” he seemed hurt.

  “No, I don’t,” I snapped, “and besides, didn’t you have your girlfriend with you? Where’ve you hidden her?”

  I got the impression that I’d hit a nerve, “I’ve already taken her home; she’s waiting for me back at my place.”

  “Then go to her.”

  “I’ll drive you home,” he insisted, “it’s on the way anyway.”

I stopped walking, and turned to face him, “Did you come back for me ‘specially?”

  He nodded.

  I shrugged, there was no answer to that, “Well,” I managed at last, “you didn’t have to.”

  “I wanted to,” he said stubbornly.

  I think it was because I was too tired to argue that I got into the car.  I couldn’t look at him, so I stared grimly ahead as I willed it to be over.  He held a cigarette packet under my nose, but I waved it away, “I’ve given up.”

  “Very virtuous of you,” he murmured, a little sarcastically.

  “Not really,” I muttered.

  We drove for about ten minutes in silence before he spoke again, and there was a nervous inflection to his voice as he said, “You look well.”

  I wanted to cry, nothing had changed, I was still a monster to him, and he was still scared, “Yeah,” I snapped, “must be all the Loradine and psychiatry.”  I don’t see a psychiatrist actually, but he wouldn’t know that.

  His hands tightened their grip on the steering wheel as his shoulders tensed, “I’m sorry,” he said carefully, “if anything I said whilst you were ill…”

  I didn’t give him a chance to finish, I could feel a surge of emotion tearing through me, giving me only two options: attack or cry, “Stop treating me like an animal in the zoo!” I yelled, “Stop treating me like something in a cage that’s dangerous!” he seemed baffled by my outburst, but I couldn’t stop myself, “Everyone’s so quick to judge me, to judge any of us! I have doctors, and journalists, and record company people, and… and everyone trying to dig around in my head, trying to understand me, like I’m some bloody lab rat under observation!! They’re all trying desperately hard not to upset me, or set me off, that they’ve forgotten to treat me like a human being!! And now you’re doing the exact same thing! Trying to get rid of the guilt you feel for dumping me whilst I was under sedation, and it won’t work! I don’t know what you want…”

  “I don’t want anything” he said quietly, “Its over.”

  “Then why are you driving me home?”  He didn’t say anything, but then, I didn’t really expect him to, and because it is over, I decided that I had nothing to lose.  “You asked me once why I didn’t drink alcohol,” I said quietly, “Well, aside from the fact that alcohol interferes with my medication, I don’t like to get drunk.  When you get drunk, you lose control, and it leaves gaps in the memory as to what you actually did.  Because of things that have happened to me, I have gaps in my memory, and I’m aware that, if I get drunk and lose control it’s all one big laugh, but if I involuntarily lose control, I make people afraid, and they start clamouring for me to be locked up.  I don’t want to lose control, so I don’t drink.  No one cares how I feel, nobody cares about treating me normally because I’m not normal anymore, and my feelings don’t count.  In the past, they’d have put me in an asylum for the rest of my life and left me to rot, and they can still do it now, they can strap me down and give me E.C.T if they think I’m mad enough, they can dose me up to the eyeballs so that I don’t even know my own name, but they won’t lift a finger to help me lead a normal life because, as far as they’re concerned, I’m not normal, I don’t deserve their help because they think I did it to myself, that it’s all my fault.”

  “I shouldn’t have said it,” I confessed to Fliss later as we drank hot chocolate with marshmallows, “but it was like I had to say it to someone, if anyone else asks me how I’m feeling, I swear, I’ll kill them… I’m not feeling anything, that’s…”

  “Yes you are, you’re angry,” said Fliss, her eyes puzzled.

  “Do you blame me?”

  “No, not at all, you’re also hurt and upset; all feelings you know, and all genuine.”

  “Maybe I’m becoming tolerant to my medication,” I muttered bitterly.

  “Maybe he really hurt you tonight,” she murmured shrewdly.

  There was a long pause before I said; “I hate it when you’re right.”

  Fliss smiled wisely as she stroked Marmalade, who was curled up asleep in her lap.  Gone were the tight tops and super short skirts, the naively applied make-up, her hair hung loose to her shoulders, and she was wearing a plain yet well-cut print dress.  It hung to her knees, and the blue flower motif brought out the blue in her eyes.  She seems comfortable with herself these days, more self-assured, more mature.

  “You’ve grown up without telling me,” I accused.

  Her smile became a little superior as she replied, “I’ve been grown up for a long time.”

  Having worked our way through ‘Buffy…’ and ‘Xena…’ comparatively recently, we settled down with our ‘Daria’ videos.  As Fliss fast-forwarded the adverts, I asked, “Did you know,” I tried to sound casual, but a note of uncertainty crept into my voice as I added, “that he was seeing someone else?”

  Fliss focused even harder on the T.V screen as she nodded, I could sense her awkwardness as she said, “Jenny told me, she and Liberty have seen him around,” she pressed play, “with various women; one night stands, never the same one twice, but, similar type,” a note of distaste had crept into her voice.

  “Couldn’t you have warned me?” I murmured.

  She hesitated, “It seemed better not to,” she said carefully, “I’m sorry,” her voice was surer now, and she was speaking faster, “I should have done.”

  “Well” I muttered as we returned our attention to the screen, “at least he got what he wanted.”

  That night in bed, I cried for the first time since my breakdown.

Chapter Fifty: Far Away In Time

The flat has felt very empty since Fliss left to go on tour, and Marmalade has separation anxiety and has taken to mewing pitifully all night, every night. I let her sleep at the end of my bed; it seems to help.

  I didn’t want to leave the flat today, as it’s the first time I’ve been outside since February, but something was calling me, a yearning guitar riff, a lonely melody, which led me to Hazel Grove in search of my mother’s Martha And The Muffins ‘Echo Beach’ 7”.

  The weather was surprisingly warm when I left the house, but I didn’t feel reassured.  I had taken care to cover my body in clothes that were bland enough to make me invisible, but my hackles were up all the same.  A neighbours door slamming made me jump, gangs of kids coming home from Saint James’ made me nervous, so I kept my head down as I walked to the bus stop.

  On the bus, I looked out of the window as though seeing the world for the first time, and took care to mark off each district as the bus trundled along the A6.  Soon we were in Hazel Grove; the white monolithic Sainsburys building heralding our arrival. I got off opposite MacDonalds, a smaller but equally invasive monstrosity, and slowly and nervously began to walk to my mother’s house.

  As I made my way down the path to the front door, I was forced to recall my last visit, the one that had ended when I stormed out, my mother screaming after me.  I took a deep breath, and knocked on the door.

  The door opened, revealing Thomas, clad in a suit and tie and holding a piece of toast.  We awkwardly exchanged glances before he said, “Rachel’s still at work, she’s got an evening class tonight.”  As I turned to leave, he said, “Don’t go, I’ll fix you something to eat, and you can wait.”

  I demurred, but I really wanted that Martha and the Muffins 7”, so… “O.K,” I nodded, and he stepped aside to let me past.

  “I didn’t realise that you were up to leaving the house yet,” he said as he steered me into the living room and onto the sofa.

  “I’m not really,” I admitted “this is my first attempt.”

  “How’s it been?”

  “Pretty terrible” It was strangely easy to talk to him, “You don’t have to feed me you know; everyone else has been…”

  “It wouldn’t be any trouble; I’ll need to cook my own dinner anyway…”

  “Tea”

  “Dinner, tea; whichever”

  “Well, alright then, do you want any help with it?”

  “Possibly, but I shan’t start it yet, and it doesn’t sound as though you came over simply to be fed”

  “No,” I agreed.

  “Do you need Rachel for it, or can I help?”

  “Well,” I began awkwardly, “I kind of need to ask her, but… I want to borrow some of her records.  Do you know where she keeps them at the moment?”

  He shook his head, “You would probably know better than me.”

  “Well, she used to keep them in the loft, but…”

  “I’ll get the ladder; you can go up and look.”

  Later, as I sorted through the records, he confessed, “I was never really into punk, I mean, I liked some of it, but it never had the same pull for me as it seems to have done for your mum and dad.”

  I pulled out Neena’s ’99 Red Balloons’, “She used to sing me this when I was little,” I commented as I put it to one side, “I used to love it, I’ve been trying to remember what else she sang me, or played me, when I was little.”

  By the time he left to start preparing tea, I had located The Raincoats ‘No Ones Little Girl’, 10,000 Maniacs first L.P, some Throwing Muses, The Beauty Queens L.P, and a selection of Smiths 7”’s.  At last, I found the Martha and the Muffins 7”, squashed between Strawberry Switchblade and This Mortal Coil.  I walked over to the Hi-Fi, switched it on, lifted up the lid of the hardly used record player, and lined up the record.  The moment the opening chords faded in, I began to dance.

  As the record began to fade again, and the static began to crackle, I became aware of Thomas, watching me from the doorway.  He dried a mug with a tea towel as he remarked, “You’re very like her you know.”

  I stopped dancing, “I know,” I wheezed, “everyone tells me, it’s the hair and the eyes.”

  “No,” he shook his head, “it’s more than that,” he finished drying the mug, “Can you help me with the vegetables? I fancied a roast dinner, but it takes time.”

  As I peeled potatoes, he asked, “Is it normally you or young Fliss who does the cooking at home?”

  I smiled, it sounded as though he had taken rather a shine to ‘young Fliss’, “Are you obsessed with food?”

  “No, just making small talk.  I thought it might be less irritating than asking you how you’re feeling lately, that’s generally annoying when you’re depressed I’ve found.”

  I nodded sagely, “It would be irritating enough if I wasn’t depressed; it’s one of those questions that people never really want an honest answer to.”

  “It’s on a checklist of questions, yes”

  “How do you know this?” I asked sharply.

  He hesitated, and then said, in a rather less jovial tone, “I had a particularly bad bout of depression shortly after my wife left me, five years ago.”

  “Oh,” I said quietly.

  An awkward silence followed as I resumed peeling and slicing the vegetables. 

  “Why did she leave you?” I asked, cautiously, then, seeing the expression on his face, I quickly added, “If it’s not too rude to ask.”

  He sighed, “There’s never just one reason…”

  “No,” I murmured as I thought of Fergus and Terry, and of Nat and Dylan. “I suppose not.”

  “She met somebody else, but it was over before then really.”  He smiled, but there was a strong trace of bitterness as he said, “I was too plodding and boring, I think, and I suppose we wanted different things by then.”  His smile became brighter, and the bitterness disappeared, as he added, “Maybe it was all for a reason though, I probably wouldn’t have met your mum again otherwise.”

  I smiled wryly as I admitted, “I’m glad you did.  I wasn’t at first, but… I am now.”

  Mum still hadn’t come home from work by the time we had finished tea, so Thomas offered to drive me home to Heaton Chapel. “They’ll only get knocked about on the bus,” he pointed out as he gestured to the records.

  In the car on the way home, he asked, “have you talked to Fergus lately?”

  I could feel the colour rising to my cheeks as I realised, “You know what happened,” I said softly, “I suppose everybody does.”

  “I drove your mum to the house that night,” he confessed.

  I was right: Everybody knows.

  “I think you scared him,” he said carefully, “and I think that he would come back.”

  I shook my head.

  “Well,” he said kindly, “you don’t know if you don’t try, he seemed to care about you.”

  “How do you know that?”

  “He phoned for help; he stayed until he knew you were safe.”

  “He dumped me,” we pulled up in front of the flat, “I have to go, thanks for tea, and for helping me with the records and everything.”

  “Want me to help carry them in?”

  “Thanks, but… I’ll be fine.”

  He nodded.

  Later, as I sat with Marmalade on the floor in the living room, listening to records as the sun set outside, I thought about what he’d said; it was strangely comforting, “He seemed to care about you.”  It was probably true, but only as hindsight, not as anything to build hopes on, for despite what Thomas had said, I knew that I didn’t have the right to try and win Fergus back.