Chapter Seventy: Point Of Departure

“I still can’t believe I let Fliss talk me into this,” murmured Adrienne as she stood just outside Manchester Registry Office that chilly December morning.  The wind ruffled the white chiffon mini-dress that she was wearing over white jeans and white patent doc marten boots, and I could see the ‘F’ tattoo through the thin fabric of the dress.  Her dark hair was loose, and the wind was blowing it across her face in thin strands. Next to her, holding her hand, was Fliss, in a white princess line chiffon dress which fell to her knees.  The neckline was low, and I could see her tattoo, the ‘A’ written across her heart in the same permanent script as Adrienne’s ‘F’, carved and seared into the skin forever.  Both were holding bouquets of red roses, and Fliss’ hair was loose.

  The Registry Office was ringed with press, some from the gay and lesbian press, but many more from the tabloids and gossip sheets.  We blinked through the constant, relentless, volley of flashbulbs, and then someone called from the crowd, “HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE A MARRIED WOMAN ADRIENNE?”

  “BLOODY MARVELLOUS!” called back Adrienne immediately.  Her smile was a perfect vision of white enamel against scarlet lipstick.  The cameras drew closer then, and she and Fliss posed together for their benefit, taking great care to display those matching silver rings, which shone out, prettily, from the middle fingers of their right hands. 

  “We weren’t really expecting much press interest,” confessed Adrienne.  A low chuckle ran through the crowd, and she smiled, “we thought you’d all be over in Windsor, covering Elton John and David Furnish.”

  “We weren’t invited!” someone called back.

  Everyone laughed.

  Someone asked if they weren’t perhaps a bit young to be getting married, and Adrienne said, with calm dignity, “No, because if I was marrying a man, twenty wouldn’t be too young, so why should it be too young for us?” She took a deep breath before she continued, “We’re not here today to argue the toss about civil partnerships and the validity of gay marriage, we’re here, essentially, because we love each other and we wanted to do this, not to prove anything to the world, or for publicity or anything that cynical, but because we wanted to do this.  There’s been a partnerships register in Manchester since 2002, so if we’d wanted to, we could have got married before this, but we didn’t want to.  We’re here now because now felt like the right time…” I sensed her awkwardness, “that’s all I can say really…” She shot an agonized glance at Fliss, who responded heroically.

   “I’ve never considered myself to be a fully paid up member of the Pink Pound,” she announced, slightly apologetically, “that isn’t a lifestyle, or stereotype, that I feel very comfortable with.  I firmly believe that the gay community shouldn’t be complacent, and that it needs to take a good hard look at the various divisions and elitist cliques within it’s own ranks, but, at the same time, I believe in gay marriage for the same reason that I believe in heterosexual marriage, because, despite it’s faults, and many of my friends have highlighted its faults to me, one way or another.” I saw Nat grin, sheepishly as she looked away, Fliss continued, in her slightly apologetic way, “I’m not good at speeches, but, I suppose what I mean is that, like a lot of girls, fortunately or unfortunately, I grew up with a desire to walk down the aisle, laden with flowers, in a white dress, and, to be honest, I never saw any reason why I shouldn’t do it.”

  A fresh onslaught of flashbulbs went off as she finished her speech, then the press began to depart, their story gained.

    Fliss sagged a little in relief, “Was I O.K?” she asked, her eyes wide with anxiety, “I’m not used to justifying myself to the worlds press, and I don’t know if I did it very well, I’ve had some arguments with some of my mates at the Basement about it, but I never actually won any of them…”

  Adrienne hugged her, “You were perfect.”  They kissed, softly and lingeringly, no longer caring, or noticing if anyone was watching.

  The intensity of their relationship had not been in any doubt, for me, since they had come home; they not only looked right together, they were right together.  The marriage had been Fliss’ idea originally, she had wanted to marry Adrienne quietly in Paris, but gay marriage is illegal in France.  This didn’t put Fliss off, however, it simply made her set her heart on a Manchester wedding, which would be more special, and which would mean having all her friends around her.  Adrienne was more sceptical, and I suspect that she shares some of my opinions about marriage ceremonies being bizarre and anachronistic, but she conceded to Fliss because; “I could tell how much it meant to her.  Fliss has a very romantic streak and, whilst I don’t always understand the way it manifests itself, I love and respect her too much to just ignore her feelings, besides” she smiled, sheepishly, “I really do love her enough to marry her, it’s just the actual marrying part of the deal I have issues with…”

  As the press departed, I spotted a small, mousy figure, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, she was standing at a slight distance, away from the crowd, she wasn’t with the wedding party, but she was watching just the same.  I walked towards her and, as I drew closer, I saw the damp streaks on her face, “Shouldn’t you be in Uni today?” I asked her.

  She nodded, “But I had to be here,” her voice was choked with emotion, but she was done with crying I think, “I’m not bitter or anything, Maggie, because it would never have worked between us, there would always be Adrienne….”

  “She did love you,” I told her, “she wasn’t lying about that, it’s just…”

  “She loves Adrienne more,” she finished for me.  Her brown eyes were full of pain as she said, “I’ve learnt from it all though, next time I’ll be stronger, next time I’ll not hold back, I’ll be a better girlfriend.”

  I just nodded.  I didn’t trust myself to speak.  As she walked away, and headed back to University, and back to her student pals, my heart travelled with her.  She would have to go to her lectures, to her seminars, see her friends, and pretend that everything was fine.  Or else she would concoct a false story about a feckless boyfriend, and everyone would be incredibly well meaning and sympathetic.  Not for one moment would they think of Emily Garcia; that mousy, quiet, shy girl, one of the very few girls in the engineering department, in connection with Fliss Keale; the pretty, blonde, celebrity wife of Adrienne Du Shanne.  I wanted to help her, but I knew I couldn’t, especially since the pain she was in was partly my fault.  She would have to make her own decisions; I couldn’t make them for her.

  If Adrienne and Fliss had remained in France, it may have been less painful for Emily, but there were more complex reasons for their return than simply being eligible for the partnerships register.  There have been unkind suggestions in the press that they fled Adrienne’s “luxury penthouse apartment” (read: modest flat.) in order to escape the riots in Paris, but that’s not true, and the truth is that they were ready to leave.  As well as tentatively exploring the idea of a solo career, Fliss has been approached by a new digital radio station, based in Manchester, who have picked up on the Djing that she’s done, and will continue to do, for Nat at Girl Night, and they’ve offered her her own show.  She doesn’t get complete control over her playlist, but she does have some influence.  Adrienne, meanwhile, has some acting work; the BBC have hired her to read Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Mary Barton’ for Radio 4’s ‘Book At Bedtime’, and there are some T.V and film companies sniffing around, many of whom she is very suspicious of.  There’s a small film being made in Manchester about the cities “Gunchester” years though, and she’s very interested in that.  The writers sent her agent a script, and if the project goes ahead, she’ll be playing a very scary gang girl with sociopathic tendencies, which she says will be much more challenging than any role involving pole dancing or girl popstars who’ve fallen from grace, which makes up the bulk of what she gets offered.

  From the wedding, we moved on to The Twilight, where Violet is showing her art exhibition, entitled: ‘Friends And Lovers’.  Whether Violet and Nat scheduled the opening of the exhibition deliberately or not, it certainly resolved the problem of a wedding reception for Fliss and Adrienne, given that most of their friends were there.  A massive cheer went up when they arrived, still in their wedding clothes, having led a strange procession of paparazzi, curious onlookers, and friends on a pilgrimage through Manchester city centre en route.

  The mood was more orderly and relaxed than is common at The Twilight, possibly because it was dinnertime and not the evening.  Drinks were being poured and drunk, but in a more restrained manner than was usual.  Looking around me, I spotted some journalists and photographers from the wedding, but there were less of them now, and it was easy to ignore them when I knew they weren’t there for me.  Violet was being interviewed by a tall, fair haired, and slightly earnest woman when we arrived, I recognised the interviewer as someone I’d seen on T.V, which suggested she was fairly important, “Who’s that?” I asked Liberty Belle as we queued at the bar for drinks.

  Liberty obligingly gazed in the direction of Violet and her interviewer, the woman was just packing away her dictaphone, “Marie Flanagan,” Liberty is a woman of few words.

  “Do you know her?”

  Liberty shook her head, “Jenny met her once; she said she was nice.”

  Jenny joined us at the bar, “I hope someone buys this piece off me when it’s done,” she muttered, darkly, “If I’d known there’d be so many London people here, I’d’ve not bothered.” She sloped off again, dejectedly, with Liberty in her wake, and I turned away from the crowd and began to look at the pictures.  Some of them, I knew, were fairly old, and dated from Violet’s art student days in Bolton, but some were more recent.  They were a mixture of photos, sketches and watercolours, but most of all, they were more than simply pretty pictures, they actually revealed something beyond that, something deeper, and more meaningful.

  I stopped in front of a photograph of Fliss; it had been enlarged to poster size, and had been taken, I would guess, when she was sixteen.  She appeared to be asleep, and was facing the camera; her eyes were closed, but there was a rosy glow to her face, and she was smiling slightly.  Her fair hair was trailing across her face, and a ginger and white kitten was standing on her back, looking at her.  The pink straps of Fliss’ nightie showed above the duvet, displaying lightly tanned shoulders, but the focus was on her face.  I turned away from the picture, and watched Fliss, who was talking to Marie Flanagan with Adrienne.  The photograph conveyed a certain girlish innocence that Fliss possessed then but that, I realised as I watched them, she no longer has.  Some of the softness has gone too, but some of it returned when she went back to Adrienne, and Fliss is right: she isn’t a little girl anymore.  That photo was taken four years ago now, when Fliss was with Violet I would suspect, a lot has happened since then.

  I was surprised by the number of pictures there were of Nat, and it was something I raised with Violet later on, when she’d finished talking and schmoozing with the press, “You must have been stalking her for years…” commented Meelan, her dark eyes wide, having counted twenty pictures, of varying sizes, of Nat.

  Violet looked uncharacteristically shy, as she said, “We’ve known each other for a long time…”

  “So,” I said casually, “it’s not that you’ve been trying to figure out how to ask her out ever since you blundered into each other in the village when you were eighteen then?”

  Violet glared at us, “I can see that you two will make a good double act now that Fliss is taken and Nat’s come over to my side…”

  “I’m training her up,” I explained as Meelan smirked, “its part of her musical apprenticeship…”

  “I don’t need training up,” protested Meelan, “I’ve been around, I know…”

  Dotted around the room were pictures of The Girls From Mars, many taken on tour when perhaps certain members of the band were somewhat tired and emotional, as well as separate shots.  There were photos of Andrea and Jasper together, and Jasper alone and apprehensive in a hotel lobby somewhere, and of them both with their baby son, Sam, who was born last month.  Most interesting of all, there were pictures of the fans, and of people Violet must have met on tour.  There were two girls with day-glo hairslides and bracelets, wearing short, garish dresses and fishnet tights, and a gang of male urchins with vaselined spiky hair, dressed in leather and denim, delivering Sid Vicious style sneers to the camera.  There were pictures of The Flirts, of Angel and the Razorblades, of the crowds at Ladyfest Manchester, and… pictures of Titanium Rose.

  There weren’t many pictures of me, fortunately, and I tried not to look too long or hard at those that there were.  It was easier to look at the group shots.  There was a great picture of us from four years ago, huddled together by the tourbus, all eager and expectant, about to head off on tour with The Girls From Mars.  There was a great one of Flora too, spread-eagled on the floor of her shop at Afflecks Palace, pinning patterns to fabric.  There was one of me on the tourbus, talking to Fergus on that first tour we did with The Girls From Mars, it was next to one of me backstage after my “comeback” gig at The Gates, in which I am staring, distractedly, into the mirror, with a very anxious expression on my face, and you can see the scars on my arms because I’ve rolled my sleeves up because of the heat.  There are dark shadows under my eyes, and my face is all bones and huge, frightened eyes.  Fergus came up behind me as I stared at it, “This one’s better,” he murmured, directing me over to a more recent photo.  I don’t remember the occasion at all, but it showed me waiting outside The Gates, smiling slightly self consciously, but looking reasonably normal.  “I’m going to ask Violet if I can buy it,” he told me.  I said that I didn’t think it was that good, but he insisted that he wanted it.  When I asked why, he said it was because it “captures your essence” or something.  Violet was happy enough to sell it to him anyway; she had already had a request from Adrienne for the one of Fliss and her kitten, so once the exhibition is over, it’ll be ours.  I suppose I shall have to get used to seeing pictures of myself.

  A week after the wedding, and the exhibition opening, I had my own photo session.  It had been decreed by Jasper, and agreed by Jenny, that pictures of me needed to be sent out to the press along with the press release announcing that I am joining The Girls From Mars.  To make me feel more comfortable with the idea, and in order to create more natural seeming photos, the shoot took place at home.  Liberty was hired to take the pictures, Flora to style me, and I had no sense of egos doing battle as the two of them worked together, in fact, they appeared to get along very well.  Most of the pictures were taken in our kitchen and living room, and I wore jeans in most of the shots, with very little make-up.  Whilst the shoot was taking place, I noticed Fergus take Jenny off to one side for a chat, and, when they returned, I knew that they had been talking about me.  Jenny gave me a thoughtful, measuring look, before glancing back towards Fergus, and I could guess what he had said to her.  He isn’t going to sit back and watch me get ill again, he said, and if I start to deteriorate, mentally or physically, on tour, he wants me home.  I told him it wasn’t as straightforward as that, and he knows it, but he’s also not prepared to sit back and watch me self-destruct again.

  I had several long chats with Andrea, about drumming mostly, but also about being in bands, and about fame.  She believes she’s been lucky; she is a member of a reasonably well known, well respected band, with a loyal fanbase all around the world, the records sell well, the deal they have is reasonable enough to allow for creativity, but also earns them a reasonable amount of money, and because she is the drummer, she doesn’t get recognised in the street and asked for autographs like Moyra, Violet and Jane do.  “I’ve been able to go about my business largely unhindered,” she told me, “whereas if I was Moyra or Violet, every little detail of my private life would be all over the press.  As it is, no one cares, because I’m the drummer.”

  Andrea and Jasper were absent from the party that waved Violet, Moyra, Jane and me off from Chorlton Street today.  Normally Jasper would be present on the tourbus, but he wants to be with Andrea now the baby’s born, which is understandable.

  As the time of our departure drew ever nearer, the coach station filled up with well-wishers, all wanting to wave us off; Flora was there, also Fliss and Adrienne, Angel and the Razorblades, Meelan, Dew, Shahina, Nat, Fergus, Jenny, and Liberty.  Everyone wished us luck, and Jenny hugged me and told me she would see me soon; she’ll be joining me in London in a few days time, “Behave,” she warned, “or I’ll have Fergus and your mother on my case.”

  I smiled.

  Eventually, everyone trickled away, leaving just Nat and Fergus.  Moyra and Jane very tactfully said that they had something to do, and disappeared, leaving us alone.

  “Well,” said Fergus, awkwardly.

  “You don’t have to say anything,” I said, “I know.”

  And we didn’t say anything; we just clung to each other silently until the coach arrived.  All I could think of as I held him, and as I felt his arms around me, was how much I was going to miss him, but I will come back, I will come back.

  The coach was waiting for us, and Violet and I made our way over to its waiting doors and climbed aboard.  As the coach pulled out of the station, we waved to our two “Rock Widows” and then watched in silence as Nat and Fergus walked slowly away.  I felt sad as I watched them leave, for I know it will be months before I see him again.  I know he trusts me, and I trust him, but I will miss him incredibly badly.  Just now, Violet tapped me on the arm and asked if I was alright, I have been writing ever since we left Manchester, and now we are speeding down the motorway, somewhere near Milton Keynes.  I know where I am going now, and I know that he will be waiting for me when I return.  I am going out into the world, on an adventure, who knows where it will take me? Or what will happen along the way?

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Chapter Sixty Six: This Is The End

So now it’s official: No more Titanium Rose.  I can’t pretend that I don’t regret the end of the band, of this phase of my life, because I do, but that regret is tinged with a huge sense of relief, which quite frequently outweighs the regret.

  Jenny celebrated her newfound freedom by embarking on a weeklong bender with Liberty Belle.  I saw them sleeping it off on the big, flat, wooden benches by the yet-to-be-switched-on fountains in Piccadilly one morning.  Nat says she saw them at Juvenile Hell a few times, but she had to evict them in the end because they had invented a particularly reckless slam dance/stagger, and too many people were getting hurt.  “They went off to the village after that, apparently, where they performed a spirited but not particularly accurate rendition of ‘I Know What Boys Like’ at a karaoke bar, before staggering around Canal Street for several hours, roaring ‘I Am The Fly’ and ‘Totally Wired’ by turns,” she shook her head in mock sadness, “It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch…” I didn’t see Jenny properly until the week after, when Flora and I met her for dinner at Afflecks Palace.  She was clutching a mug of coffee and shivering, even though it’s not even September yet, and was wearing jeans, a ‘Keep It Peel’ t-shirt, and a hoodie with the hood up.  Tangled magenta hair stuck out at angles from inside the hood, and her eyes were so bloodshot they were almost red: She looked very poorly.

  Flora was on her dinner hour when we met Jenny that day.  After the band split, she went home to Scotland for a few weeks to stay with her mum and dad, leaving Debbie in charge of the shop; and the break seems to have done her good.  She is drinking less, and the shop is busier than ever now.

  “What will you do now?” asked Jenny when we left that day.

  “I don’t know,” I admitted.

  Since Fliss left, I’ve been staying with Fergus, thinking about my life, and worrying.  I am twenty-three, and all I have to show for my life are a couple of CD’s, I haven’t even got a job anymore, my last waitressing job having dried up.  All I can do is wander around this dark, deserted house, thinking and brooding, worrying and waiting for Fergus to come home from work each night.  I don’t like this feeling, this sense of being on the edge of misery, feeling hopeless and tearful, I have no control over my life, or my feelings; I am useless.

  Fergus works late a lot, there are a lot of bands recording at Twilight at the moment, and the studio are one engineer short, so he often doesn’t get home until nine or ten.  He leaves food out for me to cook, simple things that he’s prepared beforehand, that I just have to put in to heat.  When he is there, he lavishes attention on me, holding me, and kissing me, making love to me…  It isn’t anything to do with sex that makes me miserable, I’m over that now, or am getting over it, I trust him implicitly, and I know he would never hurt me.  We talk for hours, and I know he senses there is something wrong, that I am keeping things from him, but if I am, it’s because I love him.  I don’t want to hurt him again.

  I spent a long time yesterday gazing at my arms, at those faint white scars.  I wasn’t tempted to cut myself, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it all the same; all those scars… do drug addicts feel like that when they look at the needle tracks on their arms?

  He asked me last night what was wrong, and I said, “Nothing.”  I don’t know what’s wrong; I just know that there is something wrong, and that it will only get worse.

  I was happy a few weeks ago when Fliss phoned.  She is with Adrienne in France, and has no definite plans, but I know she is happy now, and I would rather see her smile again than still be in Titanium Rose.

  I am writing this entry whilst sitting on the edge of Fergus’ bed.  When I moved my right foot just now, I stubbed my toes on something just under the bed.  I am going to stop and take a look, see what’s under there.

  (Later)

I feel a kind of numb detachment as regards what I have just read; both nothingness and despair, anger and embarrassment, fear and apprehension… so many things at once, second by second, something different, so that it feels as if I feel nothing at all.  Too many things to process, and now I’m afraid; because I know… I realise the truth at last.

  Underneath the bed was a small cardboard box, full of books and scribbled notes in Fergus’ handwriting.  Two Mind books were on top, ‘The Complete Guide To Mental Health: The comprehensive guide to choosing therapy, counselling and psychiatric care’ and ‘The Complete Guide To Psychiatric Drugs: A layman’s guide to anti-depressants, tranquillisers and other prescription drugs.’  He had flagged up the sections on anxiety, depression, manic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and self-harm in the first book.  Certain words or phrases were underlined, and further notes had been made on anti-depressants and tranquillisers, and from the third book in the pile, ‘Essential Psychopharmacology of Depression and Bi Polar Disorder.’  There were articles about self-harm, and about eating disorders, along with phone numbers for MIND, the Samaritans, the Eating Disorders Association, 42nd Street, stuff from internet sites… Part of me was amazed that he had had time to research the area so thoroughly, but most of me was appalled.  What worried me most of all was a scrap of paper with a series of questions on it:

  1.) How do I talk to her about her illness?

2.) How can I stop her from hurting herself?

3.) Can post-traumatic stress disorder have a sexual cause?

4.) Could I bring myself to seek treatment for her without her knowledge or consent?

It was the last one that hurt the most, in fact, it didn’t just hurt, it scared me, for I knew what lay behind it, not just pills and counselling, but the full weight of the Mental Health Act, and the power to section those who are deemed to be at risk to themselves, or to those around them.

  I have sat quietly for over an hour now, just thinking.  The books and their notes are back in their box now, and are hidden under the bed once more, but they are far from being out of sight, out of mind.  I have been thinking, and I have made a decision.  I realise that it will always be like this, I will always be angry and unhappy, I will always be afraid, and I will always feel powerless in this constant struggle, trying to understand how and why I feel this way, and always failing, always letting people down.  Letting him down, and I know, I know, that he deserves better.  Despite my chronic indecisiveness, for once I have made a decision.  I know what I must do.

Chapter Sixty Five: Smashing The Looking Glass

“…And move to the right, sweetheart, hand on your hip, lift the skirt up, and open your eyes, wider, c’mon sweetie, really wide, big eyes…”

  Fliss was posed against a white backdrop in a pale pink empire line mini-dress which just about covered her thighs. A pale pink satin ribbon had been tied around her head in a huge bow, and another was tied like a choker around her neck.  As she widened her eyes and parted heavily glossed pink lips, I exchanged a look with Flora.  She raised her eyebrows at me, and then rolled her eyes as she glanced at the stylist, Jared, who was watching the shoot in barely contained rapture.

  “It’s not that I have anything against gay men,” she had remarked earlier as we got changed into various skimpy outfits put aside for us, “but gay male stylists are a real cliché, and I don’t know that they always understand women very well.”  She held her breath as I yanked the zip up on her mini kilt, and then continued, “of course, there are plenty of women who don’t understand women either, but…” she sighed as she threw her hands up in frustration, “Oh I just loathe stylists…”

  I wasn’t so keen on Jared myself; upon meeting him face to face, (well, head to chest: he must be at least a foot shorter than me…) he had positively recoiled, letting out a little squeal as he exclaimed that he was under the impression that I was “One of those pro-ana babes,” and not the strapping amazon wench stood before him.  Very flattering, I’m sure.  I’m going to have to start taking bounty’s out on all those journalists who’ve called me anorexic, it’s bad enough being labelled troubled and difficult without the anorexia tag as well.

  We didn’t do so many group shots this time; it was mainly portraits of us individually, which I loathe.  Jared and the photographer, Kyle, spent a lot of time on Fliss.  As well as the candyfloss pink ensemble, they had her wear a black cutaway mini dress, equally as short as the pink dress, with black bows in her hair, looking sweetly demure.  Other outfits included a manga style sailor suit, complete with baggy socks and mary janes, “Putting the tits back into titillation,” was how Flora wearily surmised it.

  We bore our own photo shoots with a combination of weary impatience and barely contained rage.  Whilst Katy was permitted to stick to the ‘serious rock star’ uniform of jeans and t-shirt, Flora had to flash a bit of leg and cleavage for the lens, and I found my legs to be on permanent display.  Despite being a size fourteen these days, I still have no boobs worth highlighting, which is probably just as well really… as it was, it was mini skirts, hotpants, and skin tight jeans of both the denim and P.V.C variety all the way, the former two being uncomfortable, the latter horribly clammy.  We were both glad when it was over.

  Afterwards, we had band practice upstairs at Twilight Studios.  I could feel the tension in the air as we set up our equipment, and I could see by the self-satisfied smirk on her face that Katy was pleased with herself.

  Over by the stark white walls, and the wide, stone windowsill, Fliss was staring out of the window, a strangely solemn figure in her butterfly flip flops and her blue checked dress, her hair hanging loosely down her back once more.  I walked over to her, and stood next to her, trying to see what she was looking at.  “Do I look like a doll?” she murmured, her voice tight with anger.

  I frowned, “No.”

  “Then why does everyone treat me like one?” she snapped, her eyes flashing, “They see the blonde hair, the blue eyes, and they assume…”

  “Come on,” I lightly touched her arm, “let’s go down to the kitchen for some coffee.”  To my relief, she allowed herself to be led, but I could sense her frustration as we walked.  She wouldn’t look at me, but I know that I would have fried in the glare of her angry eyes had she lifted her gaze from the worn, coffee stained carpet.

  She seemed a little calmer when we returned, and whilst Flora and Katy had evidently had words whilst we were out of the room, they too were outwardly calm, and band practice could commence.  We began with one of Katy’s new songs, ‘Perfect Dream,’ which is about having a sexy (but suitably clean for the pre teen market) dream about the perfect boy, but being too shy to do anything when you meet him in real life.  I’ve done what I can to make it interesting, but it’s still nauseating.  Fliss hates it, especially as Katy makes her sing it in a way that isn’t natural to her.  The chorus is especially drippy, with lots of oohs and sighing and so on, and Katy spent a lot of time going over it with her, not discussing it, but telling Fliss how to sing it.

  The other songs we worked on were new Katy songs too, and were more of the same really.  Flora stopped playing halfway through the second one, and asked, “Why are you writing this kind of shit? We’ve never sung songs about boys.”

  We have, actually, but I knew what Flora meant: We haven’t written fluffy little ditties with passive narratives, they’ve always had an edge somehow.

  Katy didn’t answer, she just said, “If it sells…”

  “Oh, well,” snapped Flora, scathingly, “if it sells, we can be Ashlee, Avril and Amy all in one for all I care.”

  Talk turned to cover versions soon after, with much heated discussion as to which song was to be our next cover for our next tour.  Flora, Fliss and I wanted to try Maxine Darren’s ‘How Can I Hide It From My Heart’, because Fliss played it to us once, and we felt it had great garage rock potential.  Fliss also suggested the Go-Go’s ‘Good Girl’, and Dale and Grace’s ‘I’m Leaving It Up To You’, but Katy favoured something better known; she wanted to do The Bangles ‘Eternal Flame.’

  There was a long icy silence before Fliss said, coldly, “Just what I always wanted to do, perform Atomic Kitten’s cast offs for the lairy beer crowd.”  She turned on Katy, her eyes aflame once more as she snapped “It’s soppy eighties romanticism in short skirts, and I want no part of it.”

  I wasn’t sure where the short skirts reference had come from; maybe Fliss was still seething over the photo shoot.

  “It suits your voice,” said Katy, calmly.

  “So does ‘Barbie Girl’, but you don’t want me to cover that!”

  “Do you want to cover ‘Barbie Girl’?”

  “NO!”  She walked away from the microphone, and unplugged her guitar.

  “What are you doing?” Katy’s voice was quiet, but there was a dangerous edge to her voice.

  “Leaving,” Fliss put her guitar back into its case, and locked it.  She walked over to the chair she had left her bag on, and calmly picked it up.  In the doorway, she paused as she said, “I mean it, Katy, I’m sick of being your little princess, your eye candy… I won’t put up with it anymore, I’m leaving, and I won’t be coming back.  You can hire another singer to front your band, or” she glared at her, “maybe a model would be more appropriate.”  With that last remark, she turned and walked away, closing the door behind her.

  With the closing of the door, I snapped out of my temporary paralysis as I threw down my drumsticks, and jumped to my feet, “Fliss!” I tried to follow her, but Katy was barring my way, “FLISS!”

  “Are you happy now?” she snapped.

  I pushed her, “I haven’t time for this…”

  She swung me round by my elbow so that I was facing her, her grip was painfully hard as she said, “You turned her against me; it’s your fault she wants to leave!”

  I struggled with her, “I didn’t turn her against you; you did that yourself.”

  “Fliss was my best friend until you came along! We grew up together; she’s like my little sister!”

  “Who you just pimped to the lad mags!” I yelled.

  It was Flora who broke the silence as she said, in withering tones, “Maybe if those industry contacts you love so much had treated either Maggie or Adrienne better, maybe Fliss wouldn’t be so bloody disillusioned with the whole music business, you don’t half chat a load of shit sometimes, Katy…”

  As they rounded on each other, Katy relinquished her grip on my arm, and I seized my chance to escape.  This was an argument best kept out of, I felt, and Fliss was the one who mattered then.

  I expected to find her waiting for me at home, but I was disappointed.  It was only half three at that point, so most of our friends were at work.  I phoned Emily’s number, but received no answer.  It’ll be alright, I told myself, they’re probably together, they’ll turn up soon.  But when it got to half six, and Fliss still wasn’t home, I rang Fergus and asked him to drive me over to Emily’s house in Fallowfield.

  As it is July, most of the students have gone home, so there was only Emily there when we knocked.  She blinked sleepy brown eyes at us in the early evening sunshine as she attempted to figure out the motive for our visit.  “Fliss was here,” she confirmed as she curled up in an armchair, “but she left, we argued, and she left.”  She seemed a little puzzled, but wasn’t overly upset, “I assumed that she was going home.”

  “What did you argue about?” I pressed her.

  “The band”

  Back at the flat, I entered her room with a certain amount of trepidation, “Are you sure you should be doing this?” asked Fergus as he followed me inside.

  “I can’t think of any other option, can you?”

  “Have you tried her mobile?”

  I nodded, “It was switched off.”

  We sat down on Fliss’ neatly made bed and looked around us.  Her room had changed a lot since that day, nearly four years ago, when we had moved in.  Marmalade was curled up on Fliss’ pillow; she woke up when we sat down on the bed and surveyed us with unforgiving amber eyes.  Fliss usually lets her sleep on the bed, situations permitting that is.  I walked over to the windowsill and gazed out at the street, Think, I ordered myself, where would she go?

  Behind me, I heard the movement of paper and turned around.  Fergus was looking through a selection of books and fanzines by Fliss’ bed.  Hilary McKay’s ‘Permanent Rose’ was rubbing spines with ‘A Country Punk’ fanzine, and Emily Prager’s ‘Roger Fishbite.’  No clues there then.

  I opened her wardrobe and carefully checked to see if anything was missing.  There were no obvious gaps, but I missed a few outfits here and there, including Fliss’ fifties style ballgown, and a pair of jeans that I knew hadn’t been worn recently.

  “Where would she keep her address book?” I wondered aloud.

  Fergus handed me Fliss’ bag that she had taken to rehearsal, “Her purse and mobile have gone.”

 “Anything else?”

  “No, but I can’t see her guitar anywhere, can you?”

  “No, not now you mention it…”

  Over on Fliss’ dressing table were two framed photographs, one on either side of the mirror.  One was of Adrienne, dating from the time in 2003 when she had stayed with us; the other was a more recent photo of Emily, posed self-consciously by the stage at Juvenile Hell.  I opened the drawer beneath Adrienne’s picture, a tiny, ornate, brass knobbed drawer, so small I hadn’t noticed it at first.  Inside was an envelope containing letters, which I glanced at, then decided that Fliss wouldn’t want me to read.

  Fergus saw my shoulders tense, “What is it?” he put his arm around my waist, and peered over my shoulder.

  “Love letters,” I said quietly as I slid them back into the envelope, “Adrienne to Fliss.”  I placed the envelope down on the table and lifted out a second envelope.  This one contained photos, photos Fergus glanced at before quietly slipping them back into the envelope, his face unreadable.

  Underneath the two envelopes was a book, I turned over the pages with great care, careful not to smudge any of the writing, “It’s lyrics,” I said at last, “and poetry, there’s some drawings too…” It was quite a thick book, and things were dated.  “There’s the original lyrics to ‘Be My Girl’” I said, “and look,” I pointed to a particularly messy page, “’Itchy Fingers’, she wrote that with Violet.”

  “’Grey Eyed Girl’,” Fergus read over my shoulder, “I don’t remember that.”

  “No, nor do I,” I scanned the lyrics, “It’s recent, and…”

  “It’s about Katy,” said Fergus, softly.

  “How can you tell?”

  “’My shadow, my sister?’ and look,” he pointed to a different paragraph of Fliss’ scrawl, “that bit’s about childhood.”

  I flicked back a bit, and saw ‘My Heart Is In Your Hands’, and another Adrienne song, ‘She’s Trouble’, then I came to the songs written when I was ill, ‘I’ll Get Along’, ‘If You Only Had Me’, ‘Tap Dance’, ‘Your Face’, ‘I Feel For Her’, ‘Turn Me Crazy’, and… There was a song that I had seen before, but I know we never played it; I had seen it on the table in our living room, amidst newspaper cuttings, now I read it all, and so many feelings came back as I read.  Fergus held me, his head rested on my shoulder as he read it with me.  My vision became blurred with tears as I followed the lines:

 
Silence reins as she screams inside her head

Make it stop, make it stop

Put everything back

The way it was.

“Are you alright?” Fergus asked.

  I nodded.

  “You’re shaking like you’ve seen a ghost.”

  “I have,” I whispered.

  “How did she know all that stuff?”

  I shook my head, “I don’t know, I suppose I wasn’t as good at hiding what was going on as I thought.”  But it was the last verse that haunted me:

And the all seeing eyes

Of those who went before

Tell a story

A story that no one wants to know

A story of darkness from light

Fear from happiness

The harshness of the spotlight

The dark hours of the soul

How they died inside for rock’n’roll.

Shakily, I put the book and the two envelopes back in their drawer.  Over on the bed, Marmalade stretched and stood up.  I saw Fergus reach across to the space the cat had vacated, “A letter,” he said.  He was about to break the seal, but I saw him hesitate.  He handed it to me, “She would want you to open it.”

  It was a short note:

  Maggie,

I can’t be in the band anymore, I can’t pretend to be the little girl I was four years ago, I’m sorry.  I’m going somewhere where I can think, I will get in touch soon, but you mustn’t worry.  I will be with someone who can help me and look after me, as I know Fergus will look after you.

  Look after Marmalade for me, remember she likes the pouches and the dried food better than the tins.

Fliss

 

  He stayed with me that night, I would have asked him to, had he not already decided to, because I didn’t want to be alone then.  I felt very tired and shaky, and I could feel an indefinable sadness growing inside my soul.  It was because I was missing Fliss, but it was also more than that: I knew, but I didn’t want to, what was likely to happen next.  Fliss words haunt me still:

She has broken down

She has shut down

They haunt me even now, because they remind me, of what has been, and of what is to come, it mustn’t come though, it mustn’t happen again, not now.  As I drifted off into sleep, I remembered Fliss, I saw her face, and I saw her holding her cat.  I saw her running around the flat when we first moved in, and I saw her storming out of rehearsal, heard her say the words that she had written in her letter, “I can’t pretend to be the little girl I was four years ago.”  I can’t pretend, can’t be that girl, I’m not a little girl anymore.  She isn’t, I know that now, why did it take so long for me to realise it?

Chapter Sixty Four: 185 Miles Away

The searing, humid heat as we travelled through London and along the motorway to home was almost unbearable.  I found myself leaning, listlessly, against the glass of the coach window again as I checked off all the districts of London we passed through once more, in reverse this time, SW something to NW11.  Fliss has her publishing deal now, secured at the eleventh hour with Salva, Alan Mitchelman’s new company.  The paperwork isn’t done yet, but it’s going to happen.

  She and I headed over to Juvenile Hell as soon as we got home.  It was the Angel and the Razorblades single launch tonight, and both Emily and Fergus were there.  He held me tightly as I walked into his arms, he didn’t say ‘How did it go?’ or ‘Are you O.K?’ He knew it had gone badly, and he knew I wasn’t O.K.  But he couldn’t know how I felt about the bombs, about the surreal experience of being caught up, in a very tiny way, in something that is bigger than you or I, something terrible and permanent, something I remain preoccupied with, despite myself.  Not in a nightmares and sleeplessness sense, but in the way I flinch whenever I hear a siren.  The way I watch, warily, whenever a police van goes by.  I feel nervous, yet not afraid.  I feel… something else.

  The evening was marred by Emily and Fliss and an argument that they had towards the end of the night.  I sensed sullenness on both sides throughout the night, but, nonetheless, was surprised to see Fliss erupt so emotionally and publicly.  I gathered that Emily was unwilling to take sides where arguments over Titanium Rose are concerned.

  In bed last night, I lay in Fergus’ arms and tried to take my mind off the band and our situation.  I had told Fergus about the meeting, but it hadn’t helped: Katy was on my mind still.  “I’m afraid she’s turning into a monster,” I confessed.

  He sighed, “Katy’s hard, she always has been… she’s decided that the bigger a bitch she becomes, the better she’ll do… it’s tough for her, very few women produce, even these days, she has to be hard to survive.”

  “Then why is she taking it out on us? Why is she making us her enemies?”

  “I don’t know.”

  Downstairs, the doorbell rang, and with a weary reluctance, I moved out of his arms, “I’ll go.”

  I yawned as I fumbled on a dressing gown, and then walked, slowly, along the corridor, across the landing, and down the stairs.  I could see the blurred outline of the figure before I opened the door: Emily.

  As I watched her spring up the stairs ahead of me, and make her way through to Fliss’ room, I couldn’t help but smile, tired though I was.  I was becoming accustomed to Emily’s visits.  I have watched her relationship with Fliss subtly change over the past few months, yet I am still unsure as to the true nature of their feelings for each other.  They seem closer, and Emily has spent the night, but I don’t know how far things have gone, and I would never ask.  I have never seen them kiss though.

  And as for me, how do I feel? I feel nothing, nothing but a kind of emptiness, sadness now that we have returned from London.  I don’t know where it comes from, or how to stop it, and I don’t know what I want anymore.  I feel afraid, for myself, for my friends, for the future… I feel afraid about things that I can’t understand, but it’s more than that, because I know… I know what is coming.

Chapter Sixty Three: Jenny Takes Charge

Things appear to be, ostensibly, more or less back to normal in London today, as far as I can tell.  I felt nervous and hollow as I walked with Fliss, Jenny and Flora to Goodge Street today, only to find that we still couldn’t travel from there, and would have to walk it to Tottenham Court Road to get the Central line.  This was no hardship, as we walked much further yesterday, and at least most of the tube is back on.  You may wonder how I can seem so calm about using the tube after yesterday, but I don’t feel afraid at all.  It’s not so much that I don’t live here, and that we’ll be going home next week, it’s more a combination of defiance and nihilism that I find hard to explain or articulate.

  Jenny’s friend, Tara, met us outside Bethnal Green tube, and she and Jenny talked in subdued, low voices as we walked through the streets to her flat.  The recording session was sparse and intimate, mainly just Fliss and her guitar, with occasional percussion from Flora, Jenny, Tara and me.  The ‘home studio’ was really just an eight track, but it was what was needed for Fliss’ sparse, simple songs, and the relaxed atmosphere of the flat was less intimidating than a conventional studio is to her, so she was able to relax into the songs and, as a result, the finished session was very strong and pure.

  I could tell that Tara had been utterly disarmed by Fliss and her songs, “You are planning to go shopping for a publishing deal with this CD, aren’t you?” she said to Jenny as we paused for dinner.  Jenny didn’t say anything, but she had a wicked smile on her face.

  “But I already have a publishing deal,” said Fliss, puzzled.

  “For anything you write as Titanium Rose,” explained Jenny, “not for anything else.”  Her eyes held a look of steely determination as she explained, “What I’d like to do, before we go home on Monday, is to have got you a publishing deal of your own, for the songs you’re writing now, or at least have tried to get you a deal.”

  “Oh, you won’t have any trouble I don’t think,” said Tara confidently, “not with those songs, not with those looks either.”

  Fliss shyly looked away, self conscious and embarrassed.

  We left feeling very optimistic, and with a complete demo.  “We could do with some photos to go with it,” mused Jenny, “I’ll have to take some tonight, or over the weekend.”  It was dusty and humid on the tube as we travelled back to the West End, and at Tottenham Court Road a friendly American girl gave Fliss some chocolate as we waited for a train back to Goodge Street.  Through the gaps on the opposite platform, I heard a woman apologising to one of the London Underground staff about all the people who’d been horrible to him the day before.

Chapter Sixty Two: Heart Of The City

We left Carr Saunders at nine o’clock this morning, Fliss and Jenny up ahead, Flora and me trailing behind, a little sleepy in the summer breeze as we headed down Tottenham Court Road to Goodge Street tube station.  Fliss had her guitar case slung over her back, and her blonde hair trailed over it in soft waves, moving in the breeze.  She was wearing her blue and white checked dress, and looked very young and fresh.

  They were just shutting the station when we arrived.  Not many people were around, it seemed, and there were temporary signs propped up in the station itself: ‘No Service From This Station.’  Jenny sighed in slight irritation as we paused by the gates, unsure as to what to do.  “Well,” she said, slowly, “we’re only travelling to Tottenham Court Road on the Northern Line, let’s walk it, we can pick up a train there instead.”

  Tottenham Court Road was busy with the morning’s commuters, sharply dressed, but harassed.  As we walked past a mural painted on the wall of a café opposite Heals, I heard a woman grumble that a power failure the morning after the Olympic decision was “typical.”  Somehow, we ended up at Warren Street instead of Tottenham Court Road, having read the map wrong and walked in the wrong direction, it was there that we discovered that the whole network was out, due to a power surge, and that we’d have to get a bus if we wanted to get to Bethnal Green.  We hesitated outside the station as the crowds surged past us, pushing us back to the edge of the pavement.  We were travelling to Bethnal Green in order to lay down some recordings of Fliss’ songs, as Jenny knows someone there who has a home studio that we could borrow, so our journey was important, but not as crucial as that of those who were struggling to get to work.  I shiver to think of it now, but in the busy disruption this morning, my thoughts were simple and uncomplicated, so it was with this common sense that I said, “We don’t really know where we’re going, let’s walk down to Tottenham Court Road and see if the Central line’s likely to be back on soon, if we get a bus, we’ll get lost.”

  The others exchanged glances, then nodded in agreement, and we set off back the way we’d just come.  The wide pavements of Tottenham Court Road were still heaving with people as we walked, but everyone seemed to be walking briskly, with a sort of pent up aggression, the strain showed a little on their faces as they contemplated hours docked from pay, and as shoes unsuited to distance walking began to pinch and rub.  There was no new news when we reached Tottenham Court Road, and not knowing how long the network was likely to be down, we headed for Oxford Circus, in search of a souvenir shop that Fliss wanted to find that sold ‘Mind The Gap’ mugs and London tube map shirts.  She was intent on finding a pair of London tube map boxer shorts for Kylie to wear on stage.  It seems strange now to recall how quickly our minds switched from travel to shopping, how calm we were, how everything felt like a big, exciting, bright and vivid summer adventure, but it would be a lie to say I sensed a wrongness in the air at that point, because I didn’t.

  We stopped for a travel update at Oxford Circus and, as we waited, patiently and placidly, in the queue of commuters a dazed looking man in a suit, carrying a briefcase was overheard to say that he’d been on a train earlier where there’d been some kind of explosion, different lines and destinations were bandied around as people tried to find out how to reach previously simple destinations.  A man in a London Underground uniform listened to a voice on a receiver, interrupting another’s bus stop directions as the news came through that all the buses across London had just been withdrawn.  A surge of apprehension, dread, and sheer nervous adrenalin began to work its way through my body as I began to suspect that something bigger than a simple electrical fault had happened.

  As we walked back along Oxford Circus towards Tottenham Court Road, police cars and ambulances roared past us, sirens at full, jarring, blare, and when I looked up, I could see helicopters in the sky.  The commuters and tourists on Tottenham Court Road seemed dazed and weary then, still moving with purpose past the shops, along the crowded pavement.  Further along the road, I saw an unusually motionless crowd, so big that it was blocking the wide pavement and spilling out into the road.  As we drew closer, I heard Jem’s ‘They’ blaring out of some open shop doorway, and as we reached the crowd, we became a part of their uneasy stillness and silence.  They were gathered around a shop window, in which there was a television showing Sky News.  Unusually, the volume had been turned up, meaning that we could hear as well as see the headlines: ‘EXPLOSIONS IN CENTRAL LONDON’ against the footage of ambulances and stretchers outside underground stations.  And as we stood in the silent crowd, with sirens screaming past us, people walking round us, confirmation came through of an explosion on a bus.

  STOP

  Don’t try to think.

  Don’t process, don’t analyse.

  Just stand still and wait.

  Wait.

  Wait.

I could feel the sense of nervousness, of tiredness, climbing as I watched the images and personal testimonies as they rolled across the screen.  At last, my mind cleared a little, and I was able to view the footage rather more subjectively, not just as someone in central London, failing to match the terror on screen with the surreal calm around me, but as a Manchester girl, as someone with loved ones who wouldn’t have the advantage of what, I suppose, was the reaction at street level.  My first thought was of Fergus, hearing something in passing at work, and not knowing if I was safe.  My second, rapid, thought was of my mother turning on the television and seeing the same footage that I was seeing; Ambulances and stretchers, the mangled remains of a London bus, strangely calm survivors, with blood on their clothes and faces, relating things that they should never be asked to relate, debris and dazed faces…  I knew that Fliss was next to me, even though I hadn’t looked to check, and I found myself speaking in an odd, tight voice that didn’t feel as though it belonged to me, “I need to borrow your mobile.”

  She handed it to me in silence and, barely taking her eyes off the screen, gave me wordless instructions as to how to use it.  Fergus’ mobile was switched to ansaphone, so I left a brief message, telling him we were all fine and not to worry, I’d phone him later.  Thomas answered when I phoned home, and I exhaled in relief as I heard his voice, “Maggie? To what do I owe the pleasure?” his voice was jocular and slightly amused.

  My hands had been shaking ever since I had taken Fliss’ mobile from her, I realised, but there was no time to worry about that now “Is my mum around?” I asked; a slight tremor in my voice as I tried to stay calm.

  “She’s still in bed, but she’s awake, if you want me to fetch her…” he trailed off as though ready to put the receiver down and go into the bedroom to fetch her.

  “No,” I said, quickly, “I need to tell you, then you can tell her… There’s been some explosions in London, but I’m O.K, we’re all O.K.  It looks worse on T.V, I think, so, try to stop her from watching the news today, if you can.”

  “I’ll do my best,” he promised, and I sensed that the tone had changed now: he knew it was serious.  There was an awkward pause, “Are you sure you’re O.K?”

  A siren wailed in my ear, bringing me back to the immediate situation as I replied, “Yes, I’m fine… I have to go.” The amount of police cars, police vans, ambulances and helicopters had increased as I wrapped up the call and handed the phone back to Fliss.  A man pushing a woman in a wheelchair was trying to fight his way through the crowd, and as we stepped aside, reluctantly, to let them through, I knew that we had heard and seen everything on the screen that could be useful to us at that point: It was time to go back to the hall.  Helicopters, police vans, and ambulances accompanied us as we headed back down Tottenham Court Road, parting from us as we turned off down Goodge Street and they continued in the direction of Warren Street.  I didn’t realise until much, much later just where they were heading, or how many people they would take away.

  We hadn’t long arrived back at Carr Saunders when a fax arrived at Reception, advising everyone to stay exactly where they were for the moment.  With little else to do, we joined the crowd of guests in the T.V lounge and watched the latest news.  Unlike the crowd on Tottenham Court Road, the lounge was noisy with conversation, making what little news there was hard to understand.  It sounded like six tube bombs and a bus bomb, but no one seemed that sure, and after a while, we retreated to our rooms.  Across the corridor, I could hear Fliss playing chords on her guitar as Flora slept and I read Dodie Smith’s ‘The Town In Bloom.’  Hours passed in still, uneasy, silence.

In the afternoon, I heard what sounded like air gun shots, and it was only later tonight, when watching the T.V once more, that I realised that what I’d been hearing was controlled explosions being carried out.

    In the early evening, Flora woke up and stretched.  She got to her feet, and began, restlessly, to pace the room, “I can’t stand this,” she snapped, “I need to know what’s happening!”

  Without moving from the bed, or putting down my book, I reminded her of the advice we’d been given to stay put. 

  “I don’t care,” she snapped, “I need to go out!”

  I put my book down with a sigh, “To get drunk?” I asked.  She glared at me.  “Well, today’s a perfect day to drown your sorrows I suppose,” I murmured, almost to myself.

  She glared at me for a few minutes in barely contained fury, then her bottom lip began to tremble, her eyes began to blink, and she collapsed onto her bed in floods of tears.  I felt like joining in, but I was too tired to cry, and I felt as though enough tears had been cried already.  There were four bombs and, so far, thirty-seven people are dead, hundreds more are injured.

Chapter Sixty One: How Bands Fall Apart (in London)

We arrived in London yesterday, and as we meandered through the warm city streets on the coach, I marked off each district we passed through on our way to Victoria Coach Station.  It was sunny outside, and slightly humid on the coach; the city monuments seemed very large and white, very shiny, and slightly intimidating to me.  I watched from the window of the National Express as we passed a forty something punk with an orange mohican sitting on the pavement in Golders Green Bus Station; his face was tanned and lined, and he was wearing dishevelled denim.  I remember wondering if he’d ever posed for a ‘Greetings From London’ postcard in his youth; it seemed likely.

  I found myself feeling strangely queasy as I surveyed the wealth of the West End from the coach window, particularly as we crawled past Selfridges and I saw immaculately dressed women staggering along the pavement, trailing huge, bulging, boutique bags bearing the name of the store.  Everything had the appearance of being so affluent as to be obscene, but I suspect that this response has, at least in part, been generated by Live 8 and G8, which both took place over the weekend: Fliss and I have been watching programmes about poverty all week.

  Carr Saunders Hall, where we’re staying, is on the same street as Saatchi & Saatchi but, despite being in the West End, is reassuringly modest.  Jenny told me a few weeks back that she was booking us into student accommodation for this trip, mainly, she said, because she didn’t want Flora to have access to a hotel bar. I happened to notice as we checked in that there’s a bar directly opposite, so Jenny’s plans to keep Flora off the booze seem doomed to failure.

  There was an element of expectation in the air as we set out for the RMC International offices this morning, “Isn’t the Olympic bid decision announced today?” mused Jenny as we walked along Tottenham Court Road to Goodge Street tube station in the early morning sunshine.

  I shrugged, “Who cares?”

  Fliss and I recalled watching the opening ceremony to the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games on the little T.V above the bar upstairs at Retro Bar whilst waiting for X-Offender to start downstairs.  We could see the planes performing their display on T.V, and would probably have been able to see and hear them live, had we got up from the snug, sofa like seating and stepped outside, but we couldn’t be bothered.

  This story, and related stories, lasted us until we had to change at the Embankment, then we shut up as we negotiated the crowds of commuters on our way to the Circle line.

  Katy had already arrived by the time we were shown into the startlingly white meeting room up on the fourth floor of the RMC offices.  She was talking to Angel Smith as we entered, and her crisp, black, cropped sleeved shirt and black jeans clashed with our altogether more ragged and random ensembles.  Jenny and Fliss had made an effort, but Flora and I had opted for comfort over style.  I saw a sneer flicker across Angel’s face as she looked at us, ‘Yokels’ it seemed to say, or ‘Paupers’.  It had felt safe to jeer at her back in Manchester, because we had been on our own turf, but now we were on her turf, and the tables were turned.  Also present at the meeting was some Australian guy from RMC, called Nathan, who may have been an accountant for all I know, as it was obvious from the start that music wasn’t his strong suit, and Andrew Ryans, from our publishing company, Say, who was interested in negotiating a new contract.

  “But the old contract’s fine,” said Jenny, puzzled, “we went over it six months ago…”

  Katy cleared her throat, and I saw her exchange a look with him.

  Aha, so that’s it… I thought, and as Andrew began to outline what could only be Katy’s proposals, I knew.

  On the way out, Flora had a screaming row with Jenny, “HOW COULD YOU LET THAT BITCH HAVE 75% OF OUR PUBLISHING?”

  “BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW!”

  “SOME FUCKING MANAGER!” jeered Flora as she stormed off.

  I saw Jenny sigh.  There were bags under her eyes, and her expression was one of surprise, as though she had just been slapped.

  It hadn’t just been that our share of the royalties had dropped, though that was bad enough; it was the knowledge that Katy had our label and our publisher firmly under her thumb that really stung.  As Fliss said to Jenny on the tube as we travelled back to the West End, “It’s bad enough that she’s had the press under her thumb for the past eighteen months.”

  Jenny laughed, bitterly, “No one has the press under their thumb, believe me…”

  An air of gloom had settled over us, one that contrasted sharply with a London that had just won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics.  Well, at least someone was happy.

  Earlier tonight, I helped Jenny to arrange pre packed salads onto plastic plates in the communal kitchen as Fliss played her guitar alone in a room some way down the corridor.  When we had finished, I made Jenny creep along the corridor towards her and Fliss’ room.  Our floor is mainly home to a group of American economics students, who Jenny immediately sized up and dubbed the “Young Americans.”  We passed a number of them as we tiptoed along the corridor, and they watched our stealthy movements with broadly hostile eyes.  Fliss was playing clear, simple chords slowly and starkly and, as we drew closer, we could hear her pure, girlish voice soar as she sang:

My sins lie like tears on your skin

I want to touch you

But you’re too far away

I have heard Fliss play this song a lot lately, and it’s become one of my favourites.  Jenny stood still as she listened, an intent expression on her face.  Halfway through, Fliss stopped, there was a brief pause, then she began to play again, a different tune this time, with an almost eerie, repetitive series of chords that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, she played it several times before she began to sing and, when she did, it was self conscious and stilted, as though she was trying it out, seeing if it worked.  I drew Jenny back to the kitchen, saying quietly once we were out of earshot, “Can we really let a song like that go?”

  Jenny shook her head sadly, “No,” she sighed, “and if we can’t get Katy to leave, or to start using Fliss’ songs again, I’m afraid I may have to talk Fliss into pursuing a solo career, I can’t afford to let her languish in this Cinderella situation any longer.”

    It was about an hour ago when I was woken up by Flora banging on the door; she was swearing thoroughly, if not entirely distinctly, “Bloody bollocking swipe cards,” she mumbled as she staggered into the room behind me.  I could smell the alcohol as she collapsed onto her bed, the white key card that had proved so tricky to operate slid from her unresisting fingers to the floor as she closed her eyes.  With a shake of the head, I walked back over to the door and locked it once more.  “Is this what you wanted, Flora?” I spat, bitterly, as I walked back over to my own bed, “is this what all the years of band practice and gigs were leading up to? Was it worth all the hard graft?”  A snore emerged from her prone form and in a fit of temper I hit her with my pillow before getting back into bed and trying to get to sleep.

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